Wow, time flies.
I flew to Korea 3 months ago with the goal of keeping up this blog during the entirety of my trip, little did I know that I would be so consumed by the experience that I would have no time to actually write about them....nevertheless, I'll try to sum up my time here so far. :)
The past few months have felt like one long, exciting week. I came to Korea with very few expectations, mainly because I had no idea what to expect. As many of you know, this is the first time I have ever lived outside of the United States; moreover, I'm not only living in another country, but I am living in a country with a vastly different culture than the US. I knew that living here for my last semester in college was a risk. I risked potentially not enjoying my time here, I risked missing my friends and family a bit too much. But after the past three months, I can say that this was the best risk I have ever taken. A lot has happened, and I'll try to catch you guys up on all the details of my travels in the next few weeks, but for now, I'll sum it up with my 5 favorite experiences in Korea so far.
1. Visiting a Cat and Dog Cafe
I didn't know it was possible to love coffee even more than I already do, but drinking coffee while petting cats and dogs definitely makes the coffee taste 10 times better (yes, that's a fact.) And yes, this is totally a normal thing to do in Korea. Cat, dog, and even raccoon (this is next on my to-go list) cafes are all over Seoul.
Since many people in Korea live in full-family apartments, having pets isn't always sensible. Hence, animal cafes are the perfect solution (plus, how could you not love petting dogs without having to clean up their poop? Win-win.) Both times I visited the cafes, it was later in the day, so the cats and dogs were tired, but I still got to cuddle a dachshound while drinking a latte...I was happy.
I had less luck sitting with a cat in the cat cafe, apparently when cats are tired they would rather sit in a corner than in your lap. I did get to meet the grumpy cat though, which was clearly on my bucket list.
If you ever visit Seoul, please waste no time stopping by one of these cafes. You won't regret it. (unless you try to pet the grumpy cat)
2. Climbing Achasan Mountain
As soon as I flew into Seoul I wanted to hike one of the many mountains that I saw in the distance. One of my favorite things about Seoul so far is that there are mountains everywhere. After living here, I'm convinced that there is no way I'll be able to live somewhere without mountains after my travels (sorry Ohio..)
In other words, hiking up Achasan mountain with a group of friends was definitely one of my favorite experiences so far. The mountain is located Gyeonggi, which is a small town about an hour from our campus. It was an easy hike up and the views were beautiful from bottom to top.
After walking halfway up the mountain, we stopped for a picnic in the shade.
And our picnic quickly turned into a nap...
Even better than the nap and sandwiches, was the view once we reached the top of the mountain. Despite the air not being the best quality that day (a common problem in Seoul) it was still an incredible feeling to look over the city from the top of a mountain.
4. Lotte World Fireworks
Ever since my dad set off annual 4th of July fireworks in our front yard, I've always loved watching fireworks, so you can imagine my excitement when I heard that there was going to be a firework show from the 5th tallest building in the world.
Lotte world is an amusement park located in southeastern Seoul. On April 3rd, they held a public grand opening event of the Lotte World Tower. It was a Sunday night when some friends and I found out about the opening and decided last-minute to travel an hour to see the fireworks...and, yes, it was totally worth it.
I was expecting the fireworks to be similar to the ones I had seen before...loud bursts of color above a building, but nope, these fireworks were like nothing I had seen before. They were shot out of the side of the tower, and the firework show quickly became a work of art.
You can also see a video of the fireworks on my Instagram...
Even though the fireworks only lasted about 10 minutes, it was definitely worth the two hours it took to get there and back.
4. Exploring Gangnam
As many of you may know, Seoul is a HUGE city. Huge as in 3x the population of New York. Seoul is made of 9 major regions, each one having a different personality. So far, I have visited four major regions, Itaewon, Hongdae, Myeongdong, and Gangnam. Itaewon and Hongdae are known as being the foreigner capitals in Seoul - filled with western restaurants, clubs, and shops. Myeongdong is a food and shopping haven for both foreigners and locals, it was easy to spend the whole day trying street food and walking through local clothing shops. Above all though, the most interesting province thus far was Gangnam.
Gangnam is known as the nuve rich area in Seoul. I have been there three times now, twice during the day and once to explore the nightlife. During the day you can find people wearing $1,000 outfits shopping down the main street in the center of the region. Both the restaurants and shops are very modern, with traditional streets hidden in the back of the city. Gangnam also sits next to the Han River, which runs through the cetner of Seoul, it offers a nice skyline view and even a bike trail that runs all the way to my University (which is on my Korean bucket list).
Gangnam also has great food. During the day we ate a western brunch, and at night we ate at a famous Japanese restaurant in the heart of the city. We had to wait two hours for a table if that tells you anything about how good the food was.
My favorite part of Gangnam, as you may have guessed, was definitely doing Gangnam style in front of the Gangnam style sign...yes, my life was made.
5. A day in Myeongdong: Protests, Gyeongbokgung Palace, and Seoul Tower
Gyeongbokgung Palace and Seoul Tower lie in the heart of Seoul between Namsan and Myeongdong. I visited them early in the semester, but it is still one of my favorite experiences so far - and a must do for anyone visiting Seoul for a short time.
On our way to the palace, we mistakenly made our way through one of the largest protests in Seoul that lead to the impeachment of Park-Guen-Hye. We witnessed two separate protests. The first, and largest, was a protest against the impeachment of former president Park, and the second was a much more mellow protest in favor of the impeachment. Although we did not plan to see these protests, it was an eye-opening experience to witness first hand how the South Korean government scandal had directly affected the citizens. Even though we felt out of place, as we had no involvement with the protests of ramifications, seeing the protests made me feel as though I was a part of the culture. It was definitely one hell of a way to be introduced to South Korea.
After finally making our way through the protests, outside of the madness sat the Gyeongbokgung palace, which was what we actually came to see.
Seoul is known for being a city made up of both traditional landmarks and modern sky-scrapers. Gyeongbokgung Palace is one of the most popular palaces in Seoul. It looks quite odd positioned adjacent to several skyscrapers and subway station entrances, but once you enter the palace, it's easy to forget that you are in the middle of a busy city.
While visiting the palace, a common site to see is both tourists and Koreans dressed in traditional clothing. The traditional Korean clothing is called hanbok. Hanboks aren't easy to miss, as they are beautifully and brightly patterned dresses that could not be mistaken for any modern Korean fashion.
A popular activity for tourists is to rent a hanbok for a day and journey through the thousand-year-old palaces, feeling as though you were there during the traditional Korean era. Although, we did not rent hanbooks for the day, we did get to speak with and take (many) pictures with those who did.
The inside of the palace was a true work of art. Seoul is full of palaces, and all of them have similar architecture, so after awhile, it becomes normal to see the beautifully painted roofs and walls, but since this was my first palace...I was mind blown by the design and detail.
The palaces are open to the public, and they often have traditional Korean dancing events held in them, as well as guided tours on the history of each palace. Despite this being a common tourist destination, seeing the palaces is a must-do while in Seoul.
After visiting the palace, we explored a more modern destination in Seoul: Namsum Seoul Tower. (Often shortened to N Seoul Tower or Seoul Tower.) The tower near the palace is, but we still had to take a 20-minute subway ride to get there...I wasn't kidding about Seoul being a huge city.
Seoul Tower is one of the most popular - and awesome - attractions in Seoul. The tower is nearly 240 meters tall (or 775 feet) and is located on top of Namsam mountain (hence the name.) Most people take a cable car to get to the top of the tower, but you can also walk to the top on a path that wraps around the side of the mountain. Since my friends and I were feeling adventurous, and college-student broke, we decided to take the free, long, and beautiful walk to the top of the mountain. The heavy breathing and winding stairs were no match for the incredible views that we saw on our way up to the mountain; needless to say, it was worth the hike.
By the time we got to the time of the tower we were slightly (very) out of breath. Luckily, there is not much to do at the top besides look over at the incredible view of the city. From the top of the tower, you can look over the north, south, east, and west part of Seoul. I truly didn't understand how large Seoul was until I realized that in every direction I looked, I couldn't see where the city ended. Lucky for us, we went on a day when the sky was not that polluted, and even luckier...we came right at sunset. If you know me at all, you know how happy I was to watch the sun go down over ths skyline. I couldn't have asked for a better view of the city.
I've had so many incredible experiences in Korea so far, and I've met some amazing people who I know will be lifelong friends. I wish I could take all of you with me through my adventures, but I guess this blog is the best way to do that. With that said, I'll try to keep you updated more often!
I hope you enjoyed reading about my favorite experiences so far...there are many more to come! Until next time ;)