Over winter break, I was fortunate enough to visit my older sister in South Korea. Overall, it was an amazing trip that blew a hole through my wallet, but it was definitely worth it. I made memories that I will never forget and experienced things I never imagined I would.
Hongdae is the place where most college students hang out. It’s very hip and full of Korea’s latest trends. If you want to shop at a bargain, this is the place to go. It is also home to dozens of themed coffee shops. By themed coffee shops I mean cafes such as meerkat cafes and dog cafes. My sister and I visited a meerkat cafe where I got to play with meerkats, raccoons, foxes and coatis. The price to be allowed into the cafe was $12 per person which wasn’t bad considering we were getting to play with different animals. I was scared to interact with the animals, but when I saw how playful and cute they were, I pushed past my fear. I also got to visit a flower cafe, Arriate which was, obviously, full of flowers. Guests had the option of buying bouquets of flowers as well as coffee. The cafe had two floors with a ceiling that had flowers hanging down. It was a fun experience that I might never get in the U.S.
Lucky for us, we got to visit South Korea’s five palaces, shrine and secret garden on the coldest day of the year. The palaces are relatively close to one another, but you have to take trains to visit some of them. My sister and I ran through the palaces to try to get some warmth, but were unsuccessful. The palaces include a lot of historical background on South Korea’s early history. Depending on what shop you go to, you can rent a Hanbok (South Korean traditional dress for semi-formal or formal attire during traditional occasions) and take pictures while wearing it at the palaces. Unfortunately, it was too cold for me to get to rent one, but I saw a lot of girls wearing beautiful ones that made me a little jealous. The secret garden tour is usually 90 minutes during spring when all the plants are in bloom, but during winter, they cut it down to 70 minutes. However, because it was the coldest day of the year and a lot of us in the English tour were foreigners who were not used to the weather, they had to cut it down to 50 minutes. I would recommend making this a destination to visit during spring for the beautiful flowers I heard of or during February and September when it’s free to visit the main palace, Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Details: If you are under the age of 18, you can pay an average of $5 to visit every palace, secret garden, and shrine. Those older than 18 pay an average of $10. However, visitors do have the option to just pay for the main palace. A lot of places with discounts for foreigners will ask to see your passport, so I would recommend bringing it along.
- Ihwa Mural Village
One of the most fun and FREE places to visit and show off your trip on Instagram is the Ihwa Mural Village. Originally the village, home to mostly poor and elderly people, was meant to be demolished due to decay. However, in 2006, the government’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism “Art in the City” campaign decided to try to save the village by beautifying it. Around 70 artists came together to paint murals all over the stairs and walls of the village in order to make it more attractive to Korean citizens as well as tourists. Although it takes some stair climbing, the view from the top does not compare to anything else. The murals are creative and fun to take pictures in. Overall, it was a fun mini activity to do during the day.
Although a little bit more luxurious than Rodeo Drive, it’s a lot of fun to visit. I would recommend taking at least $200 or around 223,670.00 South Korean won if you want to shop at the makeup shops alone. Korea is one of the leading countries in the beauty industry. Their makeup is innovative and inspires a lot of Western brands to incorporate those ideas into their own brands. Some of my favorite makeup shops to visit were Etude House, the Face Shop, Aritaum, Olive Young and more. However, Gangnam is not just the home to makeup shops. It has hundreds of brands and stores to shop at whether it’s clothes or food. I may or may not have eaten cake for dinner and breakfast more than twice, so I got very acquainted with the best dessert shops. One of my favorite dessert shops to visit was Billy Angel. It had a variety of cake that were decorated beautifully and tasted just as amazing. The interior decorating and aesthetic of the store was pastels, so it was great for Instagram pictures.
- Lotte World
This might seem a little childish, but a lot of fun. Every year, my family goes to Disneyland around Christmas time. However, this year I was in South Korea, so I was not able to go to Disneyland. My sister had previously told me about a theme park mainly for kids and couples who want to take pictures, but it seemed like a load of fun. Lotte World, owned by the major Lotte Corporation, is a mini indoor theme park in what appeared to have been a mall. The first floor had an ice rink and the next three floors were a mix of rides as well as places to eat and shop. Although it was no Disneyland, it was still fun. It had around 3 actual roller coasters and the rest were mini rides like their own version of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland tea cups. That one was the most surprising because I did not think it would be that exciting, but it turned out to spin a lot faster than any of the different teacup versions I have ever ridden in America. One of my favorite things about the park was their mechanical air balloons that went around the whole park. Although the line was around 2 hours long, it was definitely exciting. Normally they have a giant castle like at Disneyland where guests can take pictures, but when I was there, they had a special musical happening at different times that took up the space of the castle. The theme park also has their own version of Disney’s electric parade which passes by twice a day. I was surprised to see that everyone in the parade was a foreigner, but I was told it’s so that the parade resembles Disney’s. Going to Lotte World was definitely a day full of laughter.
Details: Foreigners can get discounts and coupons if you check their website. It’s around $70-$100 per person depending on your age as well as discount. I would recommend bringing your passport just in case they ask for proof that you are a foreigner.
- DDP LED Rose Garden
The DDP LED rose garden is best to visit at night so you can appreciate the lights to their full potential. The DDP LED Rose Garden is an exhibition of roses that light up automatically as the sun sets. The exhibition is located next to the Yigansumun Exhibition Hall at Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). The rose garden first began as a special temporary exhibition, however, it became so popular that the museum decided to extend the time that the roses would be on display. The rose garden is a popular place for Seoulites and tourists. Many Korean TV shows have also filmed here.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”