Any tips for a trip to Seoul?

Assuming its northern neighbor hasn’t wiped it off the map with an artillery barrage by then, I’m planning to travel to Seoul sometime within the next month or two. Anyone with experience who can tell me what I must see/eat/avoid in the four days I’ll be there would earn my eternal gratitude and be forever considered an objectively awesome person by all.

When I was there in 2002, I drove by a place called the Giant Big Man Club. I always wanted to go inside, but never did. Such regrets!

Looks like a bunch of people have snapped photos of it…

Avoid high profile targets.

I wouldn’t go at this point in time.

Hook up with Tom Vasel (of BGG fame) and play some games.

One of my missions is to find a copy of GemBlo (despite its awful name). I suppose finding Vasel should be higher on my priority list, although if it worked out visiting his place would likely inspire a terminal case of nerd jealousy.

Hmm…aside from the usual places…

  • There’s a Korean Folk village in the metropolitan area that’s modeled from how Korea villages were like in the past.
  • The Cheonggyecheon area is pretty nice.
  • Insadong is very well known for its shops that sell traditional Korean art and ceramicware.
  • Samcheondong is a bit like Seoul’s Soho, with lots of little art galleries, cafes and boutiques.

You’ll be fine. It’s a wonderful city, and especially modern. When I was there I stayed at the Lotte (the closest Lotte hotel to downtown skyline.) It was rather expensive but a fabulous place to stay.

A lot of folks would recommend Changdeokgung Palace but I found the tour so-so. If you MUST see a palace and would like to get more history on Seoul, Gyeongbokgung Palace is your best bet. There are other palaces and historic sites though. If you are truly interested your best bet is one of the historic tours. Don’t forget the war memorials and military stuff (although the DMZ at this time might not be a great idea.) There are plenty of tours around Seoul, including day tour buses so if you want to hit a lot in one day I would recommend that.

If you are in to shopping, visit Insa-dong, a long street area with shopping, etc. There is also a theme park in Seoul (Everland?) but I have not been. It might be great for young children though. Techno Mart is where you want to go if you are looking for computers or electronics. There are also several big department stores (Lotte is one, Hyundai is another) and many more in-building shopping areas, strip shopping areas and markets. The Itaewon area is foreigner friendly, but technically so are the others, you’ll just need a phrasebook. You could spend a fortune in Seoul. Know what you want and have your hotel concierge give you the best location.

If you get at least one day (or evening) of clear skies and you have a camera, you need to visit one of the towers. Seoul Tower is the one I visited and it’s quite nice, be sure and eat at the restaurant. Also at least one evening be downtown and take the walk along Cheonggyecheon stream. The streets are raised around it but you can go down and walk along it at night, it’s well lit and quite nice.

There are restaurants everywhere, and if you don’t like Korean food there are a huge amount of both western and other world cuisine available. You should really try kimchi if possible and kimchi jiggae (kimchi stew) or bibimbap (rice style dishes.) Don’t be surprised if you have a lot of banchan or kimchi side dishes with anything you order. And unlike here, most food is meant to be shared from the middle of the table. At many places that table could be very low on the floor and you will be sans shoes and sitting with your feet underneath. I had some absolutely wonderful sushi while there but for the life of me I can’t remember the name of the restaurant. Koreans love sushi though, you should have no problem finding that or seafood if you enjoy it.

You can rent a phone that will work in Seoul right in the airport. As with any foreign city if you don’t speak Korean be sure and have a business card for your hotel (with the phone number) as well as the destinations you would like to see written on business cards (on the back or hopefully have the hotel give you a card for the actual destination.) Taxi’s are easy to find but your hotel can call one as well. There is also a subway but I did not use it, I was afraid I would end up somewhere with no ability to read the map. :) In the worst case, get the number for an AAFES cab. This is what the American military/families use, as they are cab drivers that can speak English. Make sure any cab turns on the meter when you get in (common sense.)

The one thing I wanted to do in Korea but did not have time was to find a cyber cafe to at least say I’ve been in one, they are supposedly everywhere. I found the people very friendly, the city very clean and nearly all the food I tried was delicious. I would trade places with you in a heartbeat.

EDIT: I forgot to mention that there are western stores and chains everywhere. If you have a coffee addiction you will not be able to go 2 blocks without seeing a Starbucks or something similar (doughnuts, 7-11, etc.) I urge you to not fall into the temptation to eat only western food while you are there. Korean food is wonderful.