Spending and Saving in South Korea

One of the (many) reasons I love living in Korea is the lower cost of many things which are ridiculously overpriced in the UK. The best example is probably eating meals out; when I’m in England, going out for a meal is a treat and an expensive one at that. Meals themselves are so much more expensive, plus the drinks (water not included in England, and even worse, no free coffee at the end), and 12.5% service charge on top of that… it adds up to a costly evening out, rather than a convenient meal as it has become in Korea. 

And meals are just one thing which is cheaper in Korea. Here are some of the best deals, which we’ve taken full advantage of whilst living here…

Eating Out 

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As mentioned, eating is so much cheaper. A cheap meal in England would be, at the least around £10 (18,000 won) and that’s without side dishes, starter or dessert, or service charge. If you were also paying for drinks and a starter/ dessert, you’d end up easily spending £20 (36,000 won)… and that’s at a cheap restaurant.

Comparing that to Korea: my favourite luxury buffet costs £19 (33,000 won), for all-you-can-eat sushi and seafood. £19 in a sushi restaurant in England wouldn’t get you very far at all… In other ‘expensive’ restaurants, meals can cost around £9 (16,000 won), and we feel like we’re splashing out. We’re in for a shock when we get home; I’m going to miss being able to eat out regularly without going bankrupt.

Public Transport

£11 (20,000 won) for a 3 hour journey in a luxury coach? Yes please. Getting a 1 and 1/2 hour train journey into the capital city for about £5 (8,000 won)? Amazing. That would cost you about 5 times as much if you were travelling to London, and that’s if you paid in advance and at off-peak times. Otherwise the prices are even more extortionate.

Taxis

The ease and comfort of travelling around in taxis is something that will be sorely missed. It’s actually as cheap (if not cheaper if there are a couple of you) than taking the bus. A 20-minute taxi ride in Seoul only costs about £10 (18,000 won). I dread to think how much that would cost in London.

Hairdressers

One of my favourite cheap things! I avoid having my hair cut in England because I don’t want to spend £25 (over 40,000 won) on a 10-minute trim. Then I found out that in Korea, you only have to pay £7 (12,000 won) for this treatment. They even style it for free for you. It’s no wonder why I’ve kept up-to-date with hair appointments since I’ve been here…

Bills

Extremely cheap council tax, and monthly bills which are about a tenth of the price back in England. Our electricity bill is about £10 (18,000 won) a month… the first time I saw it, I genuinely thought they’d made a mistake. It’s great not wanting to cry when you receive a bill.

Cinema

I love going to the cinema, and was so excited to see that it’s about half the price in Korea. Even at peak times, it’s only £6 (10,000 won), and that’s without the half-price vouchers you get given pretty much every time you go to the cinema. Needless to say we’ve seen about 10 times the amount of films that we normally would go to watch at the cinema.

Sushi

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I know that I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s so good it deserves to be mentioned again. Being able to buy rolls of Gimbap (the equivalent of Futomaki) for less than £1 (2,000 won) is just the best thing ever. Plus, the pick-and-mix nigri which is less than 50p (600 won) a piece is probably the best thing I’ve ever seen.

Good Cosmetics

 I was a little wary of buying make-up in Korea, simply because it was so cheap I thought it must be pretty rubbish. Then I bought an eyeliner for about £4 (7,000 won) and I was an instant convert, realising that the makeup is actually pretty amazing; the eyeliner was definitely better than the £20 I used to buy in England. I’m going to have to get stuff imported when I leave…

 It’s fair to say that there is also a fair amount of expensive things in Korea, such as imported foods (cereals, sweets, certain fruits, teas), underwear (clothes are relatively cheap, but underwear is strangely pricey here), deodorants (seriously expensive), and pretty much most things Western. If you eat at a lot of Western restaurants and shop at places like H&M or Forever 21, you’ll find yourself spending a lot more money.  

But honestly, being in Korea has been pretty good for my bank account. The best part? If you do end up treating yourself and spending a lot of money on something, it’s likely to be something you enjoy, rather than on a bill/ an expensive train journey. And don’t even get me started on the fact that you don’t lose half your paycheck paying taxes, or I might cry thinking about the fact that at some point I’ll go home and have to start suffering that loss again…

Same Chains, Different Countries = Unexpected Menu

Siqbal,Wikimedia Commons
Siqbal,Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes, even if you love Korean food, you just crave something from home- a burger and chips, a glazed doughnut, or a big cheesy pizza. Luckily, there is an ever-increasing number of Western chains across Korea, offering food for just these occasions. However, that’s not to say the menus are exactly the same.. sure, you can still find a plain cheese burger on the Macdonalds menu, or a margherita pizza (no sweetcorn, please), but there are always a few variations/ additions to the menu that have that distinctive Korean ‘twist’.

Let’s have a look at some of the more interesting Korean alternatives you can find on the menu in some popular Western chains:

MacDonalds

mcdonalds.co.kr
mcdonalds.co.kr

The Bulgogi Burger is an option available in most burger places across Korea, and is a nice addition to the Macdonalds menu; adding a delicious sauce to a plain burger is a win, in my opinion!

There is also the choice of a shrimp burger: lots of shrimps moulded into a burger patty. Or, the Shanghai Burger, a version of the Western standard chicken sandwiches, but with ‘spicy seasoning’… well, it is Korea!

To complete your Korean Macdonalds, order a green tea frappe or an affogato.

Baskin Robbins 

miasuraya.com
miasuraya.com

There is always some sort of cheesecake flavoured ice cream in Baskin Robbins, obviously a favourite in Korea.

And, of course, green tea ice cream, an odd but surprisingly good option.

Other flavours include: melon, lemon, cotton candy, sherbet, and don’t forget that classic combination, apple-mint. Mmm.

Starbucks

istarbucks.co.kr
istarbucks.co.kr

As the picture confirms, red bean and green tea cream frappuchinos are only available in Korea. What am I going to do back in England?!

You also have the choice of foods such as egg and potato burrito, black olive sausage danish pastry, sweet potato cake or even a spinach lasagne- that definitely isn’t available in the UK!

 

Burger King

burgerking.co.kr
burgerking.co.kr

If you’re a garlic fan, you should head to a Korean Burger King, home of the Garlic Steak Burger: an ordinary burger, with a topping of crushed garlic.

And it goes without saying that there is also a range of bulgogi burgers on the menu.

 

Pizza Hut

koreataste.org
koreataste.org

Topping choices for pizzas include: garlic, cream cheese, sweet potato, normal potato or broccoli. There is also a huge choice of crusts: the ‘star edge’ crust’, filled with cranberry cream cheese, or apple-cinnamon cream cheese, or the ‘rich gold’ crust, made of sweet potato, mozzarella and cheddar. A three-layered crust certainly seems decadent for a pizza!

Dunkin Donuts

dunkindonuts.co.kr
dunkindonuts.co.kr

Koreans love rice so much, they even use it for doughnuts! This item on the Dunkin Donuts menu is made with sticky rice, instead of traditional doughnut ingredients. They come in different flavours including green tea and sweet potato, if you couldn’t have guessed!

There is also always a huge range of ridiculously cute doughnuts in heart-shapes, animal-shapes etc… Koreans know how to make eating fun!

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TGI Fridays

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tgif.co.kr
tgif.co.kr
tgif.co.kr

 

 

 

 

 

You can see the normal favourites on the TGI Fridays menu: steak, ribs, chips. But it has some extra meals which are distinctly Korean: a salad topped with fruit and mascarpone, pasta in a bread bowl, and most importantly, the choice of fried-rice as a side dish. Phew.

Dominoes

dominos.co.kr
dominos.co.kr

Similarly to Pizza Hut, Dominoes pushes the barrier with its new and exciting crusts and toppings. Cheese roll crusts, double-cheese crusts, cheesecake mousse (really), syrup, mango hot sauce and garlic flakes. Definitely more exciting than your plain-old pepperoni.

 

 

 

 
Outback Steakhouse

outback.co.kr
outback.co.kr

Similarly to how Koreans make pizzas a lot more elaborate, some of the dishes at Outback have far more ingredients than in other countries.

For example, their cheese lobster, which comes with a shrimp cake, jacket potato, vegetables and a pot of salad on the side.

They also offer a traditional Korean ‘dosirak’ or lunchbox, with a nice selection of food to takeaway,- a good option if you’re on the move!

Lastly, the unfortunately titled dessert: ‘Chocolate Thunder From Down Under’. It looks delicious, but maybe re-think the name? It doesn’t conjure up the best mental image in the world…

KFC

kfckorea.com
kfckorea.com

If you are a meat-lover, you’re going to love the new item on the Korean KFC menu: three types of meat in one ‘burger’. In fact, there’s no bread, as the burger is sandwiched between two fried-chicken fillets. With some bacon added in for fun, because we all know that two types of meat just isn’t enough.

On the side, choose from a range of side-salads: sweet corn, pumpkin, pickles, or if you want more meat, potato with bacon.

Papa John’s

pji.co.kr
pji.co.kr

The menu is similar to Pizza Hut and Dominoes with it’s creative range of toppings. But at Papa John’s, even the appearance of pizza is exciting: you can order them in a heart shape. Now there’s romance if I’ve ever seen it!

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We’ve also had some unexpected surprises when ordering food which aren’t from popular chains. The most frequent additions to western-sounding foods? Kimchi and Gochuchang (red pepper paste) which are frequently added. Probably the most memorable oddity though, was ordering a classic beef burger at an ‘American’ restaurant… only to find when it came that you got a banana with chocolate sauce on the side. Eating them separately-great! Eating them together- I’m not so sure… chocolate banana and burger is a bit more wacky than I like my fusion!

Next time you go to a Western chain in Korea, will you go for a safe option, or will you be a bit more adventurous? Cheese pizza or cream cheese pizza? Oh, the choices…

 

The Best Night At The Beastro

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Delicious food, good service, weird cocktails and free wine? Yes please. Where do you go to get these things? The Beastro Restaurant in Seoul, my new favourite place.

I’ve already written about the fact that Hongdae is one of my favourite areas in Seoul, and so it’s not surprising that I was excited to spend this weekend there. After spending hours exploring interesting side-streets, discovering new shops and cafes, and eating some pretty delicious food, I was one happy girl. The highlight of the trip? Finding an amazing new restaurant, The Beastro. Seeing as it’s number one on Trip Advisor, I was expecting it to be good, but it exceeded my expectations. So good was it that I had eaten half my meal before I thought to take any photos of the food, oops… so I’ll have to show you photos from The Beastro’s Facebook Page to give you an idea of their food.

IMG_7491I was immediately impressed with the restaurant; there was a 45 minute wait as we hadn’t booked in advance, but unlike a lot of restaurants when you’re asked to wait at the bar and so persuaded to spend more money on drinks, we were told we’d receive a free glass of wine while we waited. Well, this was a good way to instantly win me over! I was waiting for some sort of catch, or an expensive service-charge, but it never came. Nope, just a nice glass of wine… which was actually really good, not some disgusting cheap stuff. It was definitely a good start.

We were pretty hungry by the time we sat down to eat and the food couldn’t come quickly enough. Luckily, it was amazing service and so we didn’t have to wait long. The menu is quite small and select: appetizers include Salmon Rillettes, Red Pepper Soup, Kale and Ricotta Salad, and Roasted Eggplant Caesar Salad, mains are Carrot Risotto, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Roast Chicken, Pork Cheeks, Southern Fried Chicken, Hanger Steak, and Pork Belly. There are also some side dishes such as Fried Bree Wheel, Buffalo Mac and Cheese, and Chimmichurri Fries. It’s a good selection, and by keeping the menu on the smaller side, the meals are fresher and the quality that much better.

www.facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul/photos_stream
facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul

We ordered the Salmon Rillete, Southern Fried Chicken and the Hanger Steak… and all three were amazing. My boyfriend and I shared the salmon rillette and it was perfect: light and refreshing with big chunks of salmon in it. I absolutely love salmon so I was always going to like it, but it was some of the best salmon I’ve eaten in Korea.

https://www.facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul/photos_stream
facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul

Then, on to the mains… Now I’m not even a big steak fan, but wanted to try something different, and this meal converted me; the meat was almost buttery, it was so tasty and accompanied by an amazing gravy. I didn’t expect it to be so good, especially because it was reasonably priced at 19,000 won. My boyfriend devoured his chicken, which was incredibly juicy and tasty. The chicken came with some mashed potato and a ‘biscuit’ which I can only describe as a scone-like buttery treat.

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facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul

Both meals tasted amazing, and were satisfying but not too heavy and filling (not that I would have complained if someone had given me some more, of course!). I imagine if you ordered a side of fries or mac and cheese, you’d end up very full though, as we saw both dishes being served and they looked rich and large (but delicious too).

The drinks were also winners: the cocktails have rather odd names, ‘Piss and Vinegar’ probably being the weirdest. We chose ‘Good Thymes’ which was a refreshing mix of wine, honey, lemon and thyme. It didn’t even taste alcoholic it was so sweet and light, which could have been pretty dangerous had we ordered more…

facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul
facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul

What I loved about the restaurant (apart from the food) was the service; the waitresses, barmen and chefs alike were so friendly, helpful and welcoming and the atmosphere was great. One of the chefs actually came over to advise us on our order and allow us to try the salmon rillette before we decided whether to order another appetiser which we really appreciated; there’s not many places where you’d receive such good service. It made the night even better and ensured that we’d happily go back.

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facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul

So for any foodies, if you’re looking for a new place to eat, go to The Beastro! To get there, head to Hongik University Station, go out Exit 9, head to the playground, and The Beastro is on the second floor above MAC make-up shop. You can book in advance, but if you fancy a free glass of wine then maybe you won’t mind showing up and having to wait a little bit… now there’s an incentive if you still need one!

 

Bulgogi, Bibimbap And One Brilliant Cooking Class

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If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know all about my love of food, especially my new-found love of Korean food. So imagine my excitement when I found, quite by accident, cooking classes for foreigners in Seoul. I immediately booked a class, excited not only for the experience, but also so that I could start to recreate my favourite meals at home. After all, I will at some point go back to England, and if I don’t know how to make Bibimbap by then it will be a disaster.

I wanted to share my experience of the cooking class, simply because it was one of the best, if not the best thing I’ve done in Seoul. It’s fun, interesting, and you learn something new, Oh, and you get a delicious meal at the end (how delicious will depend on your cooking skills, of course).

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A little bit about the classes: they are run by The Food And Culture Academy and you can find their website here. The Academy is located in Jongno Gu, Seoul and directions can be found on their website. The prices range from 20,000 won to 65,000 won, and this includes: the price of the class, the meal at the end with some side dishes included, and a copy of the recipe you followed. There is a huge selection of cooking choices, including: Bulgogi, Bibimbap, Dakgalbi, Japchae, Mandu, Paejon, Gimbap, and different types of Kimchi. If, like us, you’d like to cook more than one thing, there is a 1 + 1 option.

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Getting bandaged after my little accident!

Don’t worry if you’re not a talented cook- the website calls the class ‘An Intensive Cooking Class for Avid Cooks’, but this shouldn’t put you off, as it’s not a scarily serious or difficult class by any means. Two minutes into the class, I chopped straight into my finger while cutting an onion, so I didn’t exactly prove myself as a super-advanced cook by any means! There is a chef with you at all times to direct you and make everything simple and easy (luckily).

So we chose two things off the menu, cooking one first and leaving it to rest while we started on the second. This was a good way to do it, but also meant that at the end of the class we had not one, but two meals to eat. For someone with a big appetite like me, it was obviously great, but make sure you go feeling hungry!

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How it works- the cook simply instructs you as you go through, step by step.  It’s good because you can also ask questions about what you’re making, which is pretty interesting! We learnt a lot about the history of the food and the different variations throughout the country. And obviously the main benefit of having your own chef is that you’re closely guided as you cook. You’re not just given a recipe and left to work through it.

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When you’ve finished, there’s an area for taking photos of you standing proudly with your food; you can even dress up in Hanbok if you choose, to feel even more Korean and properly get into the spirit of things. Then, there’s a separate eating area where you can sit and enjoy your food. It’s nice that you’re given a few side dishes, as it feels like sitting down in a restaurant for a proper meal.

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So, if there was one thing in Korea that I’d recommend doing, whether you’re here on holiday or living here, it would be this cooking class. It’s excellently run, the staff are so friendly and helpful, and it’s a chance to learn about your favourite foods and how to recreate them yourselves. Most importantly, it’s a great way to eat and have fun; it sure beats going down to the local cafe!

To find out more, check their website and get yourself booked in to a class. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Stepping Out Of Seoul

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It can be pretty hard to find proper tourist guides for South Korea, especially if you want to look outside of Seoul, and it annoys me. Why? Because there are so many beautiful and interesting places to visit.

We’ve had so many good experiences exploring Korea (not counting the times we’ve gotten lost on local buses and ended up stranded in the middle of nowhere) and found many things which are worthwhile doing, even if they’re not advertised in tourist brochures.

Here is my expat guide to places outside of the capital city, things to do when you want to step out of Seoul.

Chiaksan National Park

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Ok, so with Chiaksan right on my doorstep (as I live in Wonju) it’s an obvious place for me to visit. But it is definitely worth taking a trip to; the hike is definitely tough though, so be prepared. But the good thing about Chiaksan is that you don’t have to reach the peak to experience the beauty of the place; there are temples, waterfalls, rivers and so much gorgeous greenery before you even reach the incline. We have been a couple of times just to wander around the temple and walk the gentle walk to the main waterfall, which is a great picnic area.

For hikers and nature lovers, this is truly somewhere you should take the time to visit. (Oh, but I’d advise you not to visit Chiak Dreamland which is close by- I’ve heard only negative things about it, so it doesn’t seem worth the time or money).

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Baegunsan National Forest

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This is another beauty spot right where I live, so I’ve got no excuse not to visit! But if you’re near the Wonju area, Baegunsan Forest is another prime hiking and nature spot definitely worth taking the time to explore. It is less famous than Chiaksan, but the scenery is beautiful and there are so many nice spots to sit and relax, that in my opinion it’s just as worthwhile visiting.

There are a few different hiking options: a longer gentle course and a tougher short route. But the reason I love Baegunsan is the lakes and rocky areas at the bottom of the mountain. You could spend a couple of hours exploring these or having a picnic. If you’re craving serenity, Baegunsan would be an ideal place!

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Seoraksan National Park

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This is the last hiking place, promise.

Again, an area of amazing scenery which is lovely to walk around. The hike is tough, so prepare for a lot of steps, but it’s much shorter than other mountains such as Chiaksan, which makes it much more doable. There is also a cable car you can take to another peak if hiking isn’t your thing!

Sokcho itself is a wonderful area too, with beaches and a fish market (Jungang Market) so it’s a nice place to spend a weekend.

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 Gangneung (Gyeongpo) 

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Who doesn’t like the beach? And if you’d rather a less crowded beach than those down in Busan, Gangneung and Gyeongpo Beach is a good alternative. It’s particularly nice because it’s surrounded by trees and it’s also next to Gyeongpo Lake which is pretty and peaceful.

In the area there’s also a sea train and a zip line, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous. Plenty to do to make for a good day out!

Oh, one thing- check the weather forecast before you go as it tends to be breezier than other areas. One time we went we found this out the hard way, by nearly being blown over the moment we reached the beach- bad times.

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 Nami Island

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Ok, so yes it’s touristy and yes it’s all artificial and yes it can get very busy. But, that being said, if you want to go somewhere for a nice wander round, maybe a cycle, perhaps a bike ride, and have the chance for a short ferry ride (only 5 minutes), then Nami Island is a nice place for a day out. As long as you’re not expecting it to be the most beautiful place in Korea, you won’t be disappointed.

Take a picnic, visit the ostriches, read a book by the water- it’s a pleasant place, just don’t expect anything wonderful.

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Chuncheon’s Dakgalbi Alley and Myeongdong Street

1374326_10152041514524305_2086301037_nFor any dakgalbi lovers, this place is perfect. A whole street full of dakgalbi restaurants. It’s pretty delicious! The only problem is choosing which restaurant to go in…

As for Myeongdong Street- it’s a good place to go shopping, but don’t expect it to be as good as Myeongdong in Seoul by any means. There is a large underground market and lots of shops for sure, but it isn’t as good as the real thing.

Still, a large shopping area right next to a whole street of dakgalbi restaurants? It can’t be that bad, can it?!

 Cheongpyeong Temple and Soyang Dam

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This area is definitely worth a mention. The Soyang Dam is at the head of the Soyang river and is absolutely huge. But the real attraction is the area over the river; you can take a short ferry over to a beautiful valley where you can walk to the Cheongpyeong Temple, seeing waterfalls, statues, and streams along the way.

If you like hiking then you can also hike around the area instead of taking a ferry over. Whichever way you go, it’s worth it.

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Garden of Morning Calm- Lighting Festival

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It’s hard to show how spectacular this place was in photos, but it really was amazing and exceeded my expectations. I’ve never been to the Garden Of Morning Calm during the day, but at night, lit up with thousands of lights, it was stunning. You can spend a good couple of hours walking around the gardens, there are even different areas with different ‘themes’, so there’s plenty to look around. There’s also a couple of nice restaurants and a few street-food stalls, so you can make an evening out of it.

One tip- be careful about when you go. We made the mistake of going on the last weekend, which also happened to be White Day and it was absolutely packed- it took over an hour in standstill traffic on a local bus to get there, and the bus going back was delayed for over an hour. Also, taxis refused to go there because it was so busy. Lesson learnt.

Taebaeksan Mountain Snow Festival

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Another unique experience which was a lot of fun! The sculptures were pretty incredible, and again, the festival was in such a nice area, surrounded by mountains that it was a pretty place to explore.

The only negative is that it was a lot smaller than expected and we were finished pretty quickly. A lot of the attractions, such as the snow slide and small skating pond were aimed more for children than adults. So I wouldn’t advise anyone to travel for hours to get to the festival, as it might not be worth the journey.

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Hanu Beef Festival 

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This was a surprisingly good festival, in another beautiful area. The festival was on a river and surrounded by forestry. Even better, there are some hot springs close by which you can visit a the same time.

A highlight for me was seeing all the cattle; it was almost like visiting a farm (smell included, unfortunately). There were tons of stalls selling various food and beauty products, and enough street-food stalls to please any foodie. On top of this there were pop-up restaurants, selling a good selection of delicious foods, including of course the famous Hanu beef.

Great scenic area, animals, shopping and good food- what’s not to love?

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DMZ Tour

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We did the DMZ tour with the WINK group on Facebook and it was a good choice, the only negative being that we didn’t visit the Panmunjeom area, which was a shame. Instead, we saw the Freedom Bridge, two of the tunnels, an observation desk, and a solider took us on tour of a battle field. So we definitely managed to do a lot of interesting things in one day, and it was well organised.

A surprising highlight of the trip was where we stopped for lunch in Cheolwon; there was a beautiful canyon which we had time to visit, and it was a such a lovely place to stop. This made the trip that bit more special, and I’d definitely recommend it.

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 This is just a handful of places outside of Seoul, but they alone prove that there are so many wonderful places to visit which aren’t hugely advertised to tourists. If you have any more suggestions of interesting places, please let me know so I can go on some new adventures, and explore Korea some more…

Seoul Wandering

miestai.net
miestai.net
Though we don’t live in Seoul, we’ve taken many trips to the capital and have made so many good memories there. Even though Itaewon is the main expat area, we’ve only been there twice, and both times only for food (which was, thankfully, delicious). Instead, we’ve tried to go to different areas and experience different things, not only the main tourist attractions.I thought I’d share with you my thoughts about Seoul- what is worth doing, what isn’t, and everything in between. So here we go… this is my Expat Guide To Seoul.
 
The Palace District
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I have to admit that we only went to the palace district  because my parents were visiting, after we’d been here for close to a year. But, it turned out to be well worth the wait- not only amazing buildings but pretty scenery too, which I didn’t expect in the middle of Seoul.If you’re going to the Palace District, it’s definitely worth it to get the combination ticket, which allows you entrance into all of the palaces and is valid for one month.And my favourite palace? Definitely Changdeokgung- make sure you visit the Secret Garden which is absolutely beautiful. You will feel a million miles from the city!
 
Cheonggyecheon stream1380188_10201378081526937_136722976_n

Is it odd to find a stream running through the middle of a city? Sure. Do we mind? Not at all.

The Cheonggyecheon stream is definitely worth a visit, and luckily you can join in at numerous places in the city (if you want to go from the start, go to Cheonggye Plaza where the stream begins).

Sure, you can still hear noises from the city, but it does feel more serene down by the stream than up in the busy streets.  It’s a nice area to stop and have lunch, or take a romantic stroll in the evening when it’s all lit up.

Definitely worth going to see if you’re in the area, if only to see some greenery in the middle of a concrete jungle.

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Aquarium, 63 Building

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Ok so honestly, we were disappointed by the 63 building, as our students had built it up to be the ‘best place to go in Korea’. So we had pretty high expectations. That’s not to say it was awful, just not anywhere near as good as expected.

We went to the Aquarium which was very small, and so packed with people you could barely move. It didn’t really seem worth the 19,000 won as we were finished in well under an hour. I can’t comment on the rest of the attractions, as it was so busy we decided to give it a miss, rather than queuing for ages for a ticket.

Verdict? Fine for a quick visit, but don’t expect anything amazing. Oh, and don’t go on a public holiday or weekend if you can avoid it, unless you enjoy long queues and over-excited children.

Seoul Grand Park

934887_10200435545764132_2012431898_n This was the first place we went to visit in Seoul and we were pretty impressed. It was the perfect time of year; cherry blossoms were out and it was sunny but not too hot.

You could easily spend a whole day here; there is an absolutely huge zoo which takes hours to walk around, botanical gardens, a rose garden, a sky lift, and tons of scenery to look at. Plus, the entrance fee to the zoo is only 3000 won- pretty amazing.

If you want to go somewhere where you don’t feel like you’re in the middle of the city, this would be the place to go.

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Snow Spoon Cafe

Michaela Den, commons.wikimedia
Michaela Den, commons.wikimedia

It wasn’t going to be long before I spoke about food, and this cafe is definitely worth a mention. For any frozen yoghurt lovers like me, you have to go here.

Snow Spoon is located in Hongdae and is a self-serve fro-yo cafe. There are tons of different flavours (plain, chocolate, green tea, strawberry) and toppings (everything from fruit to chocolate to cookies).

The only bad thing about Snow Spoon? The temptation to get over excited when making your fro-yo, resulting in spending too much money and eating way too much. Oh well, it’s definitely worth it!

Myeongdong

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Myeongdong is definitely good for any expats wanting to find shops from home; H & M, Forever 21, Body Shop, Gap, the list goes on. Plus, there are tons of cool bars and restaurants to choose from.

Definitely the best place to go for a shopping spree, just beware of the crowds- if you’re in a rush it probably isn’t the place to go!

Namdaemun Market

IGEL, commons.wikimedia
IGEL, commons.wikimedia

Just down the road from Myeongdong, this is the more traditional shopping area. A huge market selling everything from clothes to jewellery to kitchen equipment to food. This is the place to come for a few bargains and unusual finds.

Again, it’s always crowded so get ready to fight your way through.

 

High Street Market

IMG_3370 After craving a proper sandwich for about a year, High Street Market was a God-send. It’s an amazing deli/ shop in Itaewon with truly amazing food.

The majority of the shop-food is imported, things like oatmeal, granola, condiments, fresh cheese and meats. And the deli serves just delicious sandwiches filled with salmon, beef, pulled pork and humus (obviously not all together). They also have a good selection of cakes and sweet treats in their bakery.

We went to Itaewon just to go to High Street Market, and we weren’t disappointed. If you’re ever craving a good sandwich, this is the place to go!

Namsan Seoul Tower

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This is worth a trip at night when the tower is all lit-up and the shining lights of Seoul make for a good view. To make it that little bit more fun, it’s good to take the cable car to and from the tower (and it’s also much easier than taking a bus to the top).

One thing about the tower: don’t be fooled by the pictures on the Namsan Tower website, which make the ‘N Terrace’ look like an elegant, romantic bar, because it really isn’t. Sure, it has some ‘couple sofas’ overlooking the city, but you are served your drink in a plastic beer cup and it’s usually too crowded to even get a seat. Nice, but not what the picture promises.

Trick Eye Museum
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This museum is well worth a visit if you’re in the Hongdae area, and a good opportunity to take souvenir photos too. It’s good fun going around, although you have to get used to posing while having a queue of people watching you.

The highlight for me? The ice sculpture area. Although, seriously, it was absolutely freezing, especially as we were dressed in summer clothes at the time…

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European Christmas Market

Ok, this was the biggest disappointment of anything in Seoul. When I hear the words ‘Christmas Market’ I think festive, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas music, you get the idea. Needless to say I was super excited to get into the Christmas spirit by going to this market. Unfortunately, it ended up being a small square of white tents, blaring loud (non-Christmas) music and so many people you could barely move.

Honestly, if it wasn’t for a couple of the stalls selling Christmas cards and advent calendars, I wouldn’t have known it was a Christmas market. It does have foods from other European countries, sure, but Christmas market? I wouldn’t call it that.

Seoul National Museum

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If you want to feel cultured and learn more about Korea, this would be a good place to go.

It’s a beautiful building with nice surroundings. If you’re interested in history and culture, you could definitely spend half a day here. There are endless relics, paintings and statues to look at and get a good feel for the history of Korea.

My only negative? It feels in some ways more of a gallery than a museum; the majority of the museum is ‘don’t touch’ displays, without anything interactive to allow you to feel more involved.

Cat/ Dog Cafes

IMG_1961 993726_10201378060166403_776624522_nCat and Dog cafes are pretty much my favourite thing in Korea, and there are so many in Seoul, you don’t know where to start! You can spend hours easily amused playing with the animals, and it’s just the best thing ever!

For any animal lover these cafes are perfect. The best ones we have found are, ‘Cat’s Attic’ ‘Tom’s Cat Cafe’, and ‘Bau House Dog Cafe’. As I’ve said before, don’t wear your best clothes when you go to a dog one- I learnt this lesson the hard way after being dribbled on by an old bulldog for an hour. Nice…

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Winter Ice Skating

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The one highlight of freezing winter months? The opening of ice rinks in Seoul. We went to Seoul Square for ice skating, for the incredibly cheap price of 1000 won per hour, and it wasn’t even overly crowded, despite being a Saturday.

If you prefer a more sophisticated skate, there are places such as Grand Hyatt Ice Rink, where there are less children and it’s beautifully lit-up at night time. Of course the price is much more as you have to pay up to 40,000 won.

Whether you prefer cheap and cheerful or elegant and expensive, there will be somewhere to suit you. Endless hours of skating fun (and some bumps along the way).

Coreanos Mexican Restaurant

Ernesto Andrade, commons.wikimedia
Ernesto Andrade, commons.wikimedia

The food here is simply incredible. The best Mexican food I’ve ever had, without doubt. Tacos, Burritos, Nachos, Fries, Tostadas,  all of it is just so good. The only danger you have (which we experienced) is ordering way too much, not being able to resist finishing the huge amount of food, and eating until you literally can’t move (and I mean literally- we had to sit in a subway station until we recovered).

There are two in Seoul- one in Apgujeong and the other in Itaewon. You just have to go and try it. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

 

Cooking Class

IMG_4448 This is not only the most fun thing I’ve done in Korea, but I’ve never felt more Korean than when learning how to cook Korean food!

We took a class with the Food and Culture Academy in Seoul, and it was so enjoyable. You can select what dishes you want to cook in advance (we chose Bulgogi and, of course my favourite, Bibimbap) and there is a huge variety of meals to choose from. Then you are taught to cook them with a chef, and at the end you can eat your food and are presented with a certificate.

It’s an experience which I’d highly recommend, especially for all you foodies out there. Don’t be put off if you’re not a whizz in the kitchen- I actually sliced my finger open within the first five minutes and had to be given a first aid kit, so don’t worry, you couldn’t embarrass yourself more than I did!

Hyehwa-dong

IMG_2671 This place was an unexpected delight; we stayed here for a night simply because it was convenient, but soon found out it was such a lovely area.

The buildings are almost European-looking, old fashioned and rustic. The streets are full of amazing bars, brunch places, cute little cafes and so many delicious-looking restaurants. We were so sad to only be staying one night.

All in all, it’s clear to see I’m a fan of Seoul and everything it has to offer. There is always something to visit, a new cafe or restaurant to try, a new area to explore. But what I’ve learnt about Seoul? That the best things aren’t necessarily those on the front page of a tourist website; yes, the 63 Building and Namsan Tower are nice to see, but they aren’t the best things to do in Seoul. 

I’d advise just going to different areas and wandering around the streets- by doing this, we’ve discovered some amazing and unique places. My favourite two areas in Seoul? Hongdae- cat cafes galore, an H & M, endless restaurants and of course, the best frozen yoghurt place in Seoul. And Hyehwa-dong- a place found totally by accident, but which is beautiful at night and different to the rest of the city. 

For now I’ll look forward to my next visit, dreaming about Coreanos and wishing there was one where I lived…