Growing up watching Korean soap operas – Winter Sonata, Autumn in My Heart and My Lovely Sam Soon, to name a few – made me a sappy soul and a hopeless romantic.
No surprise then that the capital of Korea, Seoul, was one of my dream travel destinations. And last October, I finally realised that dream.
I had planned the trip for over a year with four other friends, aiming to visit a good friend who was pursuing her doctoratal degree at Seoul National University (SNU).
Being a first-time traveller to Seoul, it was an amazing experience immersing myself in local culture and tradition, and interacting with Koreans. It’s true that whenever you travel, always make it a point to make local friends.
I decided to explore some places of interest recommended by a special friend who previously studied in the City of the Rising Sun. Here are the top five highlights during my trip to Seoul:
1. River cruise and sunset at Seoul Marina Club and Yacht
The most beautiful sunset I’ve ever witnessed with a great view of the Hangang River! Located in Yeouido area, Seoul Marina Club and Yacht is a perfect getaway if you want to get away from the city’s busy streets and enjoy some tranquility by the river.
The marina club also offers leisure boats and cruise services. We decided to rent a private yacht and had a great time being entertained by our Airbnb host who showed off his sailing skills.
The city lights are mesmerising to watch at night. If you’re here in the summer, the weather will be perfectly warm and breezy but bundle up against the cold wind during other seasons.
2) Hanbok photoshoot at Bukchon Hanok Village
Architecture enthusiasts will surely appreciate the uniqueness of Korean’s traditional houses, called ‘Hanok’. ‘Bukchon’ on the other hand literally means the ‘northern village’.
Strategically located around the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine, the village has been around since the Joseon Dynasty (from the 1390s to 1890s).
A lot of the houses have been turned into cultural centres, guesthouses, restaurant and tea houses that provide tourists a closer look into traditional Korean culture.
I took the opportunity to rent a Hanbok, which is the traditional Korean dress and had a photoshoot around the village. Definitely Instagram worthy!
3) Myeongdong’s street food
I cannot deny my deep love of street food. The famous Myeongdong Street, known for its variety of street food, is definitely a food haven for foodies.
As a tourist attraction, the prices at Myeongdong are hiked up compared to street vendors elsewhere. But since it is tourist-friendly, you can interact with the vendors and ask them about their food and ingredients.
As a Halal foodie, I avoided anything with meat. I am definitely still craving some Gyeranbang (Korean egg cake), Hotteok (Korean sweet pancake), Pajeon (Korean pancake), Ddeokgochi (pan-fried rice cake) and the freshly grilled octopus!
4) The grandeur Gyeongbukgung Palace
As a first-timer to Seoul, the Gyeongbukgung Palace is a must-visit. It is the largest of all five palaces in Seoul and (arguably) the most beautiful. The palace was built in 1395 and since it is closed every Tuesday, you have to plan properly to observe the opening and closing of the Royal Palace Gates and also the Royal Guard changing ceremonies.
These ceremonies are a great opportunity for visitors to observe the colourful traditional costumes of the palace guards and the very intricate custom.
There is also a free guided tour available for visitors which starts in front of the Gyeongbukgung Palace Information Centre (inside the Heungnyemun Gate).
5) Lovelocks at Namsan Seoul Tower
In order to reach the Namsan Seoul Tower, I took the Namsan Cable Car but you can opt to ride the bus to the Namsan Peak where the tower is located.
Built in 1969, it is actually Korea’s first integrated transmission tower, beaming television and radio broadcasts across the capital. It was only opened to the public in 1980 and soon became a national landmark.
The tower has also became a romantic pilgrimage of sorts for couples who wish to “declare eternal love” by locking padlocks onto the tower’s railings.
Korean TV dramas and movies have fuelled this romantic craze. As a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic, my heart melted reading all the love noyes written on the lovelocks left at Namsan Seoul Tower.
Apart from couples expressing their love for each other, other lovelocks are dedicated to parents and family members – an extremely heart-warming experience.
Of course, I instantly wished I could return to Seoul again one day – future partner in tow – so we can lock our own lovelock. Can’t wait!