Korea is a beautiful place, but its beauty is not something that can be appreciated right away. Compared to China, Japan, or even other Southeast Asian countries, traditional Korea is less visually stimulating- its architecture and traditional designs are subtle, simple. The mountains are neither high nor low; there are few “landmark” places to take pictures. A small peninsula that has been constantly under attack from neighboring countries, the beauty of Korea is not in what you see, but what you feel.
The most beautiful places in Korea are not in Seoul. Seoul is like over-caffeinated Manhattan- everyone is busy, no one sleeps, and people are extremely fashion-conscious. The buildings are modern and high, the streets are crowded, and everyone moves fast. It’s hard to imagine that 60 years ago, the entire city was damaged by war and completely undeveloped.
Seoul is huge. Over 10 million people live here. Huge. The Han River, which dissects the city into North/South, is very wide and unlike any river that runs through a big metropolitan city (in terms of width).
Coex, where the conference is located in, is in Gangnam, the southern part of Seoul. Gangnam literally means “south of the river”. It is also the name of a district. While Seoul is thousands of years old, Gangnam is only a few decades old. It used to be rice paddies and orchards not too long ago, which is why the architecture is all relatively modern. It doesn’t have much character- there are a lot of high rises and new buildings squished together. If you want to see the “old” Seoul, you have to go north of the river. The heart of Seoul- the old city that is thousands of years old- is in the northern part of Seoul, where you will find the old palaces and old gates to the city.
From the Airport
You can take the train or subway, but these options all require transferring, which can be a pain if you have a lot of luggage. If you want to get to Gangnam the easiest option is actually a limousine bus. It goes directly to the location you want to go. Here is the link for the bus that goes to the Intercontinental hotel: https://www.iccoex.com/eng/company/map/bus.do;jsessionid=917E3F5D7DB95F3E83FFA2A77AA20E5F
- Jjimjilbang- large saunas/baths. http://blog.korea.net/?p=20198
- Karaoke- You get private rooms- no singing in front of strangers! Some places are fancier than others
- Cosmetics stores- along with the proliferation of plastic surgery clinics, you will find a lot of cosmetics stores where you can try stuff
1. Where are the grocery stores? Seoul has limited space so you don’t see sprawling stores or malls. The most common grocery stores are in the basement of department stores. These tend to be a little pricey but the quality is excellent and they also have gourmet food courts. More affordable grocery chains are Emart or Homeplus- most are open 24 hours.
- Department store food court: Department store food courts are not like U.S. mall food courts- the food quality is very high, diverse, and great if you don’t mind the crowd.
- Sanchon: A temple food, vegetarian experience http://www.sanchon.com/en/index.php
- Noryangjin Fish Market: Do you want fresh sushi or squirming live octopus? This is a wholesale seafood market, but vendors will also chop up fresh fish to eat on the spot.
- Itaewon: The heart of the expat community, here is where you can find the most global cuisine packed into several blocks.
- Kwangjang Market: so many yummy street foods
Other Things to Do
- Hiking: Korea is a great place to hike; the mountains are beautiful but not that high, making it great for amateur hikers. Koreans take their hiking gear pretty seriously too; it is quite common to find older adults in fashionable hiking gear. Bukhansan National Park, on the northern side of Seoul, is lovely (see blog post by Jack and Jill). For more serious hikers, Jirisan (mount jiri) and Soraksan (mount sorak) are several hours away but worth the trip.
- Biking the Han River: The Han river has pretty good biking paths that extend beyond Seoul (see blog post by MyTanFeet).
- Cool Architecture: Seoul has a lot of buildings designed by globally renowned architects. Some recent additions are the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (designed by Zaha Hadid) and the Seoul City Hall (iArc). Here is a great article on CNN Travel with an overview of the best of best.
- Jeju Island: If you have a couple days to spare, Jeju island is one of the most beautiful semi-tropical islands I’ve been to in the world. It is quite small, with a volcano rising in the center, but it is so unique. The beaches are different on each side of the island- the western beaches are shallow with turquoise water, like the Caribbean; the southern beaches are a dark blue water with substantial waves and both white sandy beaches and black stone beaches; the southeast/eastern areas are tall cliffs, perfect for sea kayaking, and the northern beaches have beautiful rock formations. Aside from some manmade attractions like the Teddy Bear museum (which is actually pretty decent), the natural beauty of this island is incredible. Rent a car or scooter, drive around the perimeter, stopping by the various beaches, and then hike up the volcanic mountain to see the beautiful crater lake at the top. With caves, horseback riding, waterfalls, and tasty Jeju pork on the menu, this island will give you the most bang for your buck.
- Clubbing: There are two types of clubs in Korea- the Korean “nightclubs” and the western-style clubs. The Korean nightclubs are huge (often spanning multiple floors) and have an interesting dating culture, where the waiters’ task is to bring cute girls to men’s tables. One has to order liquor and some food dish (e.g., fruit, salads, appetizers) by the table, rather than by person, so it’s better to go in numbers. Even then, the alcohol can be pretty pricey. These Korean nightclubs are most often found in Gangnam. The music at Korean nightclubs are usually K-pop. The other type of “western” club are techno, rock, or hip-hop clubs that sell beer or drinks to individuals rather than groups. A lot of these clubs are in the Hongdae area near Hongik University.(see blog for some hip clubs)