As the ten days flew by in a blur, leaving little time to sit and write about our adventures, I only managed to take it all down in note form. So instead of a story-like blog post, I’m going to share my top five reasons as to why we had a great time but also why South Korea is one of my favourite places in the world.
#1 ~ The scenery:
Danny and I visited a couple of temples and the main palace: Gyeongbokgung, as well as other scenic parts of both Seoul and Busan. Seoul is a surprisingly hilly city (similar to Sheffield in the UK) as it is surrounded by mountains with peaks as high as 836 metres. I love the fact that in many parts of Seoul there are lookout points down over the city or looking up at the mountain ranges that surround it. It doesn’t felt like you are separated from nature like I feel in other major cities like London.
This also means that there is a contrast of seeing older, traditional buildings against a modern backdrop. My favourite parts of the city to pass by were the gates, Namdaemun and Dongdaemun that sit at the centre of major roundabouts in the heart of the city.
Another highlight of the city is the Han River. It is massive and thankfully compared to some Chinese rivers, not brown! The best part is that you can walk or cycle all the along the south bank with the opportunity to use various outdoor gym equipment sites. It is also very common for Koreans to gather there on weekday evenings, or mostly Friday and Saturday nights to have chicken and beer and chat until the early hours. This is also done in Busan (more likely to be seafood with the beer though) by the seaside looking at Gwangandaeyo Bridge that lights up every night from 8pm.
I could go on and on… but let’s move on to number two!
#2 ~ the streets:
This one is basically expressing my love for the orange taxis. I feel like it is a sign that I do need to live in Korea at some point… if I can nail the language during my master’s degree…
The streets are large and wide, Seoul and Busan are both quite spacious cities for quite a small country. 7-Elevens, CU’s and other small convenience stores called Storyway can be found on almost every block and were so so useful for Danny and I. Most days we bought our lunch there as we weren’t starving but needed enough to get us through to our big evening meals. We normally bought a sushi roll called kimbap that was available in a variety of flavours like egg, tuna mayonnaise, spicy tuna, pork bulgogi, and kimchi. In my opinion, it is definitely better than any sandwich. But then again, I am Asian-biased… It’s busy as it is a capital city but the pavements are hardly ever as cramped as London and New York etc.
#3 ~ food & the markets:
From the image on the right, you can see we had quite a few Korean delicacies! The most popular meal is Korean BBQ, among other known dishes is a ‘bibimbap’ which is a hot rice bowl with cold thinly sliced vegetables and an egg on top that you mix together to cook it.
The top left picture is of the food at a restaurant called Myeongdong Kyoja (명동교자): it is a noodle restaurant located near Myeongdong Cathedral that has been in business for about 40 years. The restaurant is known for their knife-cut, handmade kal-guksu (noodle soup) which is its main menu item. Next to the noodles is the mandu (which are dumplings). It was also served with kimchi.
The pictures below are bibimbap on the left and Japanese pork rice with yellow radish on the right. Below is my favourite and must try if you ever venture near South Korea… Chicken and beer!! It’s a tradition to have it delivered to the river side and eaten with beer, soju and only a small torchlight or similar to be able to see. ❤
The first dish on the right was taken when we were waiting for the main event… It was in Haeundae, Busan at a very traditional Korean restaurant where they sit on the floor at low tables. The main dish was freshly barbequed/stir fried eel with onions and spring onions cooked in a spicy sauce… We survived the spice! The only thing that Danny and I did not expect was the fact that when the dish was first served uncooked, the chopped eel would still be moving and wriggling to show how fresh it was. Eek!! It was not for the faint-hearted…
Below that is a tamer dish called 보쌈 (pronounced ‘bos-sum’) which is boiled pork belly (which tastes amazing) thinly sliced laid out in rows. It is served with cabbage leaves, garlic, a spicy sauce, kimchi and a salty dip as well. The method of eating 보쌈 is to put a cabbage leaf in your hand, pick up the meat with your chopsticks and season it how you want, then place it in the leaf. You can add garlic or kimchi for added flavour…. Then you attempt to fit it all in your mouth! It’s not a meal to have on your first date if you’re wanting tofu to be the impression that you’re civilised and have table manners… It can be a little messy. Nevertheless, it was fantastic.
And finally, we come across the famous Korean BBQ. We had pork belly and beef (the pork is so much better) and it was soooo delicious. Maybe it’s because we drink beer and soju with these meals so anything starts to taste fantastic… but I think that Korean food is really unheard of and I would love to see more Korean restaurants in the UK in the future. Danny’s favourite is Bibimbap. I feel that my heart is torn between Chicken and Beer and the meal we had on the final night.
So there you go, a small introduction of Korean dishes and a display of why the food is part of my top five reasons for loving South Korea.
#4 ~ Culture:
Korean culture isn’t one to jump out at you like Indian or Chinese with colours and impressionable quirks, habits or events. Out of the three, China, Japanese and Korea, it is the dark horse. Koreans live in their own little bubble that works happily within itself without the outside world influence or opinion. They live in a work hard, play hard society. I guess being tourists means we experienced the play hard side of life and that’s a lot of fun! We could be out late in the evenings and be able to sleep in the next day… Many Koreans are awake and working from 8am to normally 8pm with the occasional early exit but a more common later night. Many South Koreans find the lifestyle tiring and sadly aren’t the most content people with their lives. Many students we’ve met will openly tell you that they don’t like South Korea… Yet I feel the culture, like any nation, keeps them together and does make it a fantastic place to live despite its disadvantages.
Korea is actually a really safe country. Many people have mentioned that is it safe to leave your laptop and belongings at a table in a coffee shop to go to the bathroom and return to find nothing missing. Who would’ve thought!? I felt that Danny and I were safe no matter where we were and were able to trust the Koreans around us.
One cultural thing I picked up on… and then an American friend Abbie pointed out… is that Koreans disapprove of bare shoulders. It is very uncommon to see a young adult or teenage Korean girl or guy wearing tops with straps of any kind. Instead, their tops halves may be covered by their backsides could be on show as short shorts are not frowned upon… Odd? I think so. I felt guilty wearing anything that bore my shoulders to the world when I am normally so accustomed to being aware that my skirt or shorts are above mid-thigh-ish.
I think the fact that I have yet to study Korean culture in depth and greater understanding always comes with language learning… It’s exciting!
#5 ~ the transport:
I only have a little to say about the transport in South Korea and that is: it’s great! Danny and I were able to catch various buses or metros to where we wanted to go easily and never had a problem. Using tickets in Seoul is more of a foreigner/tourist thing as everyone has the Korean version of an oyster card; a t-money card. Another fantastic thing I loved was that if your journey involved a metro ride then a bus or vice versa, you were not charged for the individual vehicles rather the whole journey. Such a good feature! 😀
The KTX trains to various parts of the peninsula are all modern, clean and efficient with free wifi and big chairs. Our two and a half trip journey down to Busan was really easy. Another reason why Korea is a trusting nation is that there wasn’t one ticket barrier nor someone checking tickets on the train. We (as honest citizens) had bought tickets but I was curious to know how many people get on those trains having not done so… I would like to think none 😀
We really enjoyed going to both Seoul and Busan over the ten days and this photo above (that Danny took) really captures what it was like for me. Who knew transport could be a highlight!? Luckily we didn’t have any journeys that went wrong so thumbs up to our Korean transport experience! Hence, that is the fifth reason why I love South Korea.
And, in one way or another, that’s our ten days!
Hope you enjoyed and maybe want to google more about South Korea, K-Pop, the language and even the delicious food… 😀