Four years ago, when PSY’s hit song took the world by storm, we all learnt the phrase “Gangnam Style”- a reference to the lifestyle of the young and rich in the upscale region of Seoul. Korea, and more particularly Seoul, has today become synonymous with the towering malls that line its streets, its bustling nightlife, and the dazzle of K-idols sporting the latest trends. As global trendsetters don trademark Korean styles, Korea has slowly crept up the list of go-to travel places for vacationers, an ideal shopping hub for huge hauls back to Singapore.
If you’re tired of seeing store after store of similar looking off-shoulder crops, and your feet already ache at the grueling thought of even more shopping, fret not – there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Seoul. From its food to its natural sights, Korea has lots more to offer. We’ll let you in on some hidden gems that Korea has to boast, and maybe you can indulge in some of these novel experiences the next time you set foot in the land of K-Pop.
Live out your K-Idol dreams
There’s nothing to be ashamed of- with the catchy tunes and iconic dance moves, surely you have grooved along to K-Pop before, some of us way more than others. For mega fans that want the full idol experience, take a visit to SM TOWN studios, home of groups like SNSD, Super Junior and EXO. You can see for yourself the inner workings of the company, and maybe even catch a glimpse of oppas and unnies as they pass through.
Other entertainment companies such as YG and Cube Entertainment also allow fans in, and you can even have a seat at the Cube Café and pick out some special merchandise to take home. A more realistic experience of the trainee lives would take you to some of the dance courses offered all around Seoul by professional instructors- some of whom have even choreographed idol group dances.
If you’re really feeling up to the challenge, and think you have what it takes to become a star, you can look into some of the more unique experiences. Some studios even partner up with entertainment agencies to provide you with full training courses, and a chance to stage a professional showcase in front of agency scouts- so your superstar dreams actually can become reality.
Take a peek into Korea’s history at The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
In 1953, when the Armistice Agreement was signed during the Korean War that divided the country into two, this border was established. This strip, the most militarised border in the world, has become a symbol of the horrors that have marked Korea’s history. At the same time, within the Joint Security Area, all negotiations with North Korea have been held, signifying as well the hopes and dreams of a better Korea. Here, you can explore observatories, tunnels, and see what being on the frontline of the North-South conflict truly feels like.
Immerse yourself into Korean culture
Time-travel into the past as you experience putting on a traditional Korean hanbok costume, and snap some photos will you’re at it. The bright and vibrant hanbok is a traditional Korean dress for both men and women, and is often worn during festivals and celebrations. Apart from doing this at the studio, perhaps take a trip down to the many palaces and temples found within Seoul itself. They offer a quiet sanctuary away from the city’s buzz, and many provide hanbok rentals as well. A remnant of the Joseon Dynasty, the Deoksugung Palace is one such place, and if you’re lucky enough, you may catch the traditional changing of the guards ceremony.
Re-enact your favourite K-Drama scenes
See the iconic Seoul skyline in its full glory as you cruise along the Han River in the very heart of Seoul, and take in the scenery it has to offer. Along the waterfront, there rests many landmarks, and each bridge and building encountered along the way has its own story to tell.
At the same time, cosy up to your partner and maybe even sneak a kiss – playing out an iconic moment from the household drama “My Love From The Star”. For a more quaint and peaceful outing, take a trip out of the city centre and find yourself in the serene Nami Island, where the hillside brick roofs of Petite France will transport you to another world. The private gardens have thousands of plant species, and these backdrops are once again the perfect spots to re-imagine your favourite scenes from “Winter Sonata” or “Secret Garden” in your own special way.
Learn how to ski
For the restless thrill-junkies, in the winter, opt for a ski tour instead. The ski resorts offer varying difficulty levels, and you can slowly challenge yourself to the different pistes as you get better and better. High up the slopes, you also enjoy picturesque and panoramic views of the winter wonderland that is Korea. Some resorts even offer snowboarding lessons, a novel experience for the already seasoned ski masters.
Visit some quirky cafés for a quick caffeine fix
Seoul is full of cosy cafés, from cat cafés, sheep cafés, to even character-themed Rilakkuma ones, it’s only up to you to pick your favourite. Along Garuso-gil, you will find many interesting eateries for you to pop into for a sweet treat and some me-time in a quiet corner. Hongdae too, boasts some quirky confectioneries with vintage concepts.
However, one particular café has made the list of Buzzfeed’s 25 must-go cafés in the world: the Dreamy Camera Café. Located in the outskirts of Seoul, photography enthusiasts will find themselves in paradise with its huge exterior and vast of collection of vintage cameras. With an idyllic setting for a quick getaway from the city, who could ask for more?
Eat like a local
Walk along any street in Seoul, and you are sure to find a good restaurant serving up their piping hot delicacies that burst with authentic flavor. No Korean experience would be complete without savouring the country’s unique cuisine, and you can find a variety of food tours that take you to the best places and plunge you straight into the full Korean gastronomic experience. Most people will mention having tried “chimac”, a popular Korean snack that refers to the perfect combination of beer and fried chicken. Relax along the Han River with a picnic mat and grab a sinful bite amongst the locals.
Haggle in a local market
Travel programmes on our television screens are always quick to feature traditional Korean markets and the fresh finds available. From raw octopus to juicy Korean strawberries, these bustling marketplaces are where you will find the very best of Seoul and its vibrant spirit. Food aside, traditional folk handicrafts, textiles and herbal medicines can be found within the treasure troves of their markets. Namdaemun, Dongdaemun, Gyeongdong Markets are just a taste of the market scene in Korea. Get your bargaining skills, shopping bags and cardboard cartons ready for a day of endless purchases as you try to bring the best of Korea back home.
See the autumn leaves
Imagine yourself in a period drama, sitting in a palace sipping on tea, surrounded by the quiet of the woods and crunch of the leaves. Come autumn, parts of Korea are transformed into a sea of orange and red hues, and their national parks are the best places to be at this time of the year. Their maple leaves and ginko trees are perfect for hikers, or even a short romantic stroll. Historical temples and shrines punctuate the mountainside views, guaranteeing you a safe sightseeing haven away from the noise of the city.
Channel your inner farmer
Vineyards and fruit picking always come to mind as the key highlights of a European travel itinerary. However, you’ll find that day trips out of Seoul can too take you to countryside views where you get to taste the best wines and go hands on with grape jam or even herb soap making.
Tucked away in Gyeonggi-do, you can even find the “apple watermelon”, more commonly known as the food favourite of the twins on “The Return of Superman”. These farms will take you through the authentic agricultural experience, teaching you to pick out the freshest produce of the day, and how to reproduce some of their best dishes back in your own kitchen.
The next time you are planning your Korea trip, look beyond the food and the shopping. You have no idea what you are missing out on.