What should we do in South Korea?

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buckeye7983
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What should we do in South Korea?

Post by buckeye7983 » Wed Aug 12, 2015 11:51 am

We will be visiting South Korea for the first time this winter. We know it will be quite cold and will pack/dress appropriately.

Any suggestions of what to do when we are there (tours, historic sites, natural wonders, etc.)? Any good books or websites to recommend for guidance?

Thanks!

lowerleisureclass
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by lowerleisureclass » Wed Aug 12, 2015 12:26 pm

It's been a loooong time, but I was there for a month in 1993. A visit to Minsok Korean Folk Village near Seoul would be worthwhile -- it's a kind of living museum where you can see traditional houses, watch artisans working at their crafts, see traditional dances, etc. Also there's a park and amusement park next door.

Kyongju/Gyeongju was the seat of the ancient Shilla kingdom for 1,000 years and the Bulkuksa Temple complex, Cheomseongdae astronomical observatory built in the 7th century, and the National Museum there are worth visiting.

The tour of the Joint Securities Area (demilitarized zone) was pretty interesting too, though I must admit my brother and skipped about half of it to go drink in the officer's club with his buddies who were stationed there. That was interesting too, just in a different way!

Be sure to check out the celadon pottery; it's beautiful. I didn't go, but the Icheon Ceramics Village in Gyeonggi-do is supposed to be good -- you can see the potters at work, and purchase stuff as well.
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kewper
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by kewper » Wed Aug 12, 2015 8:07 pm

I lived in South Korea for a year and loved it. I would recommend what the post above suggests. I would also recommend trying out a spa/sauna. They are unbelievable. There are some upscale ones so you can ask your hotel for a recommendation. Usually there are coed and single-sex areas, as well as snacks, napping areas, many hot tubs.

In Seoul, you can wander around Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung royal palaces I believe for free. They are huge and beautiful. I also would recommend the Dongdaemun market which is huge and you can find all kinds of wonderful things. Upscale shopping is elsewhere. If you are normal sized American though sometimes clothes are hard to find that fit. Which meant I was in rags by the time I left the country.

I would also recommend wandering around Insadong. Very charming. There are tea shops, etc.

Definitely eat barbecue.

The subways in Seoul are very easy to use and people are very friendly and will help you (most young people will speak some English). I used the Lonely Planet guide when I was there. I thought it was useful but no special recommendation.

ieee488
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by ieee488 » Wed Aug 12, 2015 8:44 pm

kewper wrote:
Definitely eat barbecue.
How common is dog meat?
Do you find it in the restaurants?
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TravelGeek
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by TravelGeek » Wed Aug 12, 2015 9:32 pm

I only spent a few days in Seoul a few years back. Some things I would recommend from memory:

- USO tour of the DMZ (open to anyone, but book in advance): http://www.koridoor.co.kr/bbs/board.php ... =JSA%2FDMZ

- Hwaseong Fortress UNESCO world heritage site, easily reachable from Seoul by train. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hwaseong_Fortress

warner25
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by warner25 » Wed Aug 12, 2015 10:13 pm

Here are my thoughts as an American who recently moved back home after living in Seoul for a year:

The winter was similar to the mid-Atlantic region, which is certainly more mild than many places in the US. I still walked to work everyday wearing a light jacket, hat, and gloves. I only remember one or two snowstorms that resulted in any accumulation. Unfortunately, winter probably removes hiking as an option, which is too bad; there are some awesome hiking opportunities right around Seoul, accessible by public transit, with views overlooking the city.

Speaking of public transit, the subway is fantastic: extremely clean and reliable +/- 60 seconds. There is a great Android app to help navigate the system. If you are trying to drive a car around Seoul, instead of walking and using the subway, you are doing it wrong. I'm a city person and walking around Seoul is the safest I've ever felt in a major city. Violent crime is unheard of. Be cautious, however, of vehicular traffic as a pedestrian... traffic signals are taken only as suggestions, and don't seem to apply to motorcycles at all.

I did most of the top 10-20 "things to do in Seoul" on TripAdvisor, and I would recommend starting with that. The USO JSA/DMZ tour is good if you know the history. My one regret is not getting down to see and hike Jeju, but that's probably not a winter activity.

A book to read before going would be "The Impossible Country," which gives an overview South Korean history, culture, and trends.
ieee488 wrote:How common is dog meat?
I never saw it there. My understanding is that Koreans eat dog like Americans eat possum... i.e. it's a caricature which, if true, is only true in "redneck" areas of the country among a tiny minority of the population.

rainyday1
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by rainyday1 » Thu Aug 13, 2015 7:48 am

Seoul is one of the most amazing cities I have visited! We went in the spring and absolutely loved it. We were only there for 3 days but could have easily spent a week and not seen everything. We did find that English was not widely spoken. However, when we pulled out the map a couple of times, someone would approach us and ask us if we needed help. They kindly pointed us in the right direction and one time even walked us to our nearby destination.

Getting around - Korean Airlines sponsors buses that run from the airport to most of the major hotels. That is a great way to get into town. We spent $100 US on a car to take us into Seoul and about $15 US on the Korean Airlines bus back to airport. Take the KAL bus! Once in Seoul, we did the hop-on/ hop-off bus tour. It is pretty cheap and makes it very easy to hit the popular sights. Plan your stops in advance though. We missed a stop and thought we would just go back around to it. It takes a LONG time to make it all the way around the loop. The metro was also very clean and would be easy to use, but again, map it out before you get on. The Korean names are long and can be a bit confusing if you don't know where you're going.

We arranged a walking tour through our hotel the first day. It was fantastic but very long (prob 7-10 miles). We saw the changing of the guard at the palace, the traditional village mentioned above, went to the top of the Seoul tower and got to hear a lot about the history and lifestyle of Korea. The top of the Seoul tower also gives you an appreciation for the enormity of Seoul.

There is also a huge history museum, which we did not want to take a whole morning to visit. It is supposed to be excellent as well. The Myeong-dong district was amazing to walk around. There is so much street food there, and it all looks clean and delicious (as opposed to some of the places we have been in Asia). I could have taken a day to eat at all the stalls there! There are also many markets to hit, it all just depends on your interests. It is an amazing place to visit! Enjoy!

Editing to add - Definitely do the DMZ tour as well!

kewper
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by kewper » Thu Aug 13, 2015 7:52 am

ieee488 wrote:
kewper wrote:
Definitely eat barbecue.
How common is dog meat?
Do you find it in the restaurants?

Generally, dog meat is served in specialized dog restaurants. If you see 보신탕 (bosintang) that is a dog soup restaurant. Otherwise you wouldn't see it just in a regular restaurant.

sesq
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by sesq » Thu Aug 13, 2015 9:17 am

I went for a week or so with my family, visiting my brother-in-law who was stationed there. The highlights to me were the DMZ and the BBQ. We also saw palaces, the Seoul tower (space needle on a hill), the war museum and several other sights. I got a custom suit and a sports jacket made in the shopping district, which is fun. I am not a clothing expert, but its kind of fun to have and they have been my go to ever since when I need formal wear. If you get measured early in your trip they will have it made before you leave.

wolf359
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by wolf359 » Thu Aug 13, 2015 10:56 pm

If you bring your iPhone, get the following apps:
Subway Korea
TripAdvisor
VisitKorea
FreeWifiKorea

In TripAdvisor, you can download cities so you can explore what to do while offline. Download that before you get there. Then you can explore what to do while on the plane.

Don't buy an international data plan. Use the free wifi in all the tourist areas. Or buy an Olleh pre-paid WiFi card. It costs:
W3,300 for one day
W9,900 for 4 days

I got the 4 days, and used it on the days I wasn't going to be in the free areas.

We had AT&T and turned on the lowest world travel plan. Calling is expensive, but texts are free. Guess what we used most to talk to each other. Since it has a minimal data plan, use WiFi. Don't forget to turn off your Cellular Data and Data Roaming features in your iPhone, so your apps don't use your cellular data in the background.

Our most-used app was Subway Korea, to navigate the subway system. You can go anywhere on the subway.

Palace Tours/Museums -- South Korea has tons of these, and they're EXTREMELY well funded. They're all high quality. War Museum, Museum of Korea, Hangul Museum, Folk Museum, they're all worth it. Some are free, some have admission.

Our kids' favorites: Bau House, to play with the dogs. TrickEye Museum and its competitor Alive Museum are best described as interactive art. You pose for photos and become part of the paintings. Cooking Nanta! is a show worth seeing. It can be seen without understanding Korean. Seoul Tower (aka Namsan Tower) is the space needle. It may be too cold in winter, but we went to the top in the summer. Lotte World is a Disney knockoff amusement park (indoor, so you can go in winter.) There's a children's museum at the National Folk Museum that the kids liked -- it featured poop. They came back to the US singing a Korean pooping song.

Favorite foods: most of the street foods are interesting and worth trying. Bingsoo is their version of shaved ice. Some of them are closer to snow. Go to the food courts in the major department stores (Shinsegae, Lotte, Hyundai, Galleria). They're usually in the basement. You can go there over and over. There are groceries, carts, sit-down restaurants, and counters. Go just before closing to get deals on the food they'd otherwise have to throw away.

They have Big Red Buses that circle the city. They're a good way to get an overview of the city. Avoid the open double-decker in the winter.

Winter is also great for shopping. You can get everywhere on the subway, and many stops link directly to underground malls. It's possible to use the subways to get to many underground shopping areas. If you want to shop and it's too cold for the street level stuff, try Coex Center, Yongsan, Kwanghee Fashion Mall, or the Express Bus Terminal (really). There are shops in the subway tunnels as well.

One advantage of flying Korean Airlines is that the boarding passes can be used to get some major discounts on shows, the amusement parks, and other major entertainment venues. Ask KAL for more information.

While at the airport, and before you leave, get the Seoul City Pass or Seoul City Pass Plus (google them for information/differences). They're tourist versions of the subway pass that are only available at the airport. Which one is better depends on what you intend to do and how long you're there.

Everything was cash. The luxury hotels and restaurants might have accepted credit cards, but we pretty much stuck to cash. We observed locals using credit cards, but they were local brands. The best ATM or credit card to bring is a Citibank card. We saw Citibank ATMs around, and they can be used to access your US Citibank account (but we didn't have one.)

wolf359
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by wolf359 » Thu Aug 13, 2015 11:13 pm

To clarify: Bau House is a like a café, but with dogs. Live dogs (for playing, not eating.) There's about 35 dogs roaming around freely. There are competing dog cafes, but we only went to one.

They also have Cat Cafes, if you prefer that.

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duffman12
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by duffman12 » Fri Aug 14, 2015 2:08 am

Hey I was in Seoul for a week in July !

Defintely have to do the DMZ/Panmunjom tour. Very interesting experience and I learnt alot
Might not apply to your but Korean Baseball I found was insanely awesome amd cheap ! (Although I'm from Australia and have never seen a baseball game before, but now I've fallen in love with it!)
Also eating Korean BBQ is a must !

One thing to remember is Seoul doesn't really have a CBD it has a lot of districts that are packed but there is no real core like Hong Kong has for example ?
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Jerrybaby
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by Jerrybaby » Sat Aug 22, 2015 1:50 am

ieee488 wrote:
kewper wrote:
Definitely eat barbecue.
How common is dog meat?
Do you find it in the restaurants?
Actually, dog meat consumption was more or less derived from the time of poverty many experienced in the decades following the Korean War. Back in the '90s in Seoul, you could find restaurants that served dog meat (though rare), but it was considered more or less a delicacy, and quite expensive. And mostly only popular among the older generations who had consumed it in their distant past. There may be some validity to the idea that dog meat might now be consumed in more rural areas distant from Seoul, but my experience is mainly in Seoul and surrounding areas. Having relationships with many Koreans and having spent a good deal of time in Seoul, dog meat consumption is generally considered an embarrassment from the past and has virtually zero popularity these days. I have been to many restaurants in Seoul in recent years, and there was never a hint that dog meat was offered. I have a working knowledge of spoken and written Korean, so I am usually more aware than the typical tourist.

warner25
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by warner25 » Sat Aug 22, 2015 6:20 am

wolf359 wrote:Everything was cash. The luxury hotels and restaurants might have accepted credit cards, but we pretty much stuck to cash. We observed locals using credit cards, but they were local brands. The best ATM or credit card to bring is a Citibank card. We saw Citibank ATMs around, and they can be used to access your US Citibank account (but we didn't have one.)
I actually used my regular MasterCard (with foreign transaction fee waived) for almost everything.

The only issue I ever had was trying to buy things online from local a Korean vendor; that required certain local brands of credit card, so I had to have a Korean friend help me do some type of wire transfer from a local bank. That was interesting: walking into the bank, giving a handwritten note (which I can't read) to the teller, she nods and says something I don't entirely understand, so I handover ~$500 cash, and then get a receipt that I can't really read. My purchase arrived a few days later, though, as advertised.

daveatca
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do in South Korea?

Post by daveatca » Sat Aug 22, 2015 8:40 pm

Watch a major war at very close range?
Some injury may occur.
Not recommended for infants and pregnant women.

likegarden
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by likegarden » Sun Aug 23, 2015 7:08 am

I traveled to South Korea on business trips 13 times one week each in the 1990s. All those trips were very good experiences. Sightseeing tours were offered at the major hotels. As someone already wrote, do not use taxis from the airport to hotels, some had bad experiences, I used buses going to all the major hotels.

bpp
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Re: What should we do in South Korea?

Post by bpp » Sun Aug 23, 2015 8:50 am

If you don't know or plan to learn any Korean, at least learn the "alphabet," Hangul. It is really easy to learn (you can learn it on the plane ride over), and it will make getting around much more easy and enjoyable. And yes, even if you don't know any Korean besides the names of some food dishes, it will come in handy for recognizing English loan-words. (Even better if you know Japanese, since lots of Chinese loanwords are pronounced the same or almost the same in Korean as they are in Japanese.) Plus generally useful for reading place names.

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