South Korea, along with Japan, are the two most eagerly awaited destinations of the year. After a month and a half of wonder in Japan, we take the plane, direction Seoul, where we will stay 40 days
Part 1: Travel Diary
We arrive at the Incheon airport, which is so big that it takes us a long time to go and see all the SIM card stores and the different distributors. Finally, we decide to buy a 30 days SIM card at CU (a convenience store) and given the catastrophic rates offered by money exchanges, to withdraw money at KEB (the ATM on the left in the photo, the only one that accepts my Mastercard from Société Générale). I withdraw only 300,000won, the fee is 7200won, it’s expensive!
Then we take a “limousine bus”, number 6001, whose tickets we pay by credit card, without any problem (14,000won/person) – this bus takes us directly to Sinyongsan station, near our Airbnb
Those going to Myeong dong can take the bus 6015. And those who want to save money can take the subway (3,000won only) but with some changes
As in Tokyo, the check-in at the Airbnb is done automatically, you just have to enter the code of the door to open it. Easy! We are on the 11th floor, with opposite on the other apartments of the opposite tower. We are so used to the almost new Tokyo apartment that this Seoul apartment seems a little “HLM” compared to Tokyo lol 🙂 But after a few days, we get used to it and feel really good
I don’t know why, but I am seized by an apprehension that is stronger than I am and that makes me stay in the apartment for the first few days. Maybe I’m afraid of being judged. I have absolutely no desire to wear make-up, but all Korean women spread their face with 3 layers of concealers, BB cream, cushions etc. that I feel like a pestilence next to it. I feel looks of reproach and judgment on myself when I don’t wear makeup and it makes me feel very uncomfortable
Korean dramas (which is why most tourists are here) convey the super-smooth image of gallant Koreans, of a teddy bear world where the poor girl ends up married to a handsome, rich young man. But don’t believe everything we are shown, Korean society is more violent than that, with its share of injustice, racism, mistreatment, suffering at the same time at work, in high school (teachers won’t hesitate to cut the students’ hair as a punishment), competition, the importance of appearance (a photo is mandatory to apply for this or that job, and at 18, almost all of them go under the knife, if only to have big, big eyes). In addition, from the airport, there are many pubs for cosmetic surgery institutes
When I don’t feel great, there’s always one activity that I definitely enjoy: shopping. Myeongdong is a neighborhood that is mentioned every time in travel vlogs in Seoul. It’s a paradise for cosmetics. So you take the subway to go there
For the subway, we buy the T-money card which is used for the subway but also for the payment of small purchases as well (at the drinks machines for example). The deposit is 2500yen, and we charge the card with 20,000won, it’s not much since each trip costs 1250won
I go to The Saem to buy their famous concealer. The salesgirl pisses me off by pointing out all the flaws in my face and promises me that a $50 cream will fix it all. She should have looked in the mirror first, that one!
Since I’ve already stocked up on cosmetics in Japan and Korean cosmetics don’t do well for me, I’m only taking this. Korean women walk down the street with a transparent bandage on imperfections, so when I went to Olive Young (the equivalent of Sephora in Korea) I bought two to see if it’s effective (this type of product does not exist in Japan). And then the concealer of The Saem (5000won), legendary because you can hide everything with it, I’ve never seen a concealer as good. And two masks because you can never have enough moisturizing masks
Unlike in Japan which is in over-packaging, here in South Korea, we aren’t given a plastic bag, nor a receipt – unless we specifically ask for it
In spite of the street-food stands, we aren’t in the mood to eat in the street. We opt for a bibimbap. It is very good, but I expected better. We are in South Korea what! Why their bibimbap is only as good as in Paris?
JB opts for an unusual dessert: a 32cm vanilla-chocolate ice cream. Unfortunately, it’s not good at all and since there’s no trash can in the street, he has to finish it. There it is!
Bukchon Hanok Village
We have an appointment with two digital nomads to visit this neighborhood together. It’s super nice, the houses are frozen in time, which gives postcard pictures. At the beginning, we are lost, and then we open the Naver application and go rather in the zone where there is a concentration of cafes, it is where we see beautiful houses
But the inhabitants aren’t happy at all! They stick a lot of stuff on their doors, to say “silence”, or “do not enter, private property”, so much the flow of tourists (disrespectful for most of them) disturbs them. They also put up signs to denounce the government, which has done nothing to protect them, to better organize the flow of tourists… and they consider themselves slaves of the government
Indeed, it isn’t organized at all, we visit the zone like that, the guides speak super loud, and when we live in traditional houses like that, the sound insulation isn’t at all well developed
A 10mn walk from there is Insadong, a small street concentrated of cute shops and handicrafts … to empty your wallet in a few minutes
There is this absolutely extraordinary place where you can find lots of cute things
At the very top is a place where you can hang the equivalent of love locks, but made of plastic and 3D..
it forms a nice corridor dedicated to love
Next door there is a café where you can drink from mini WCs. Yes, mini WCs. And the cushions are in the shape of droppings 😀 ahahah
If you’re gaga for cats, you’ll find plenty of by-products like that
There’s even a store where you can take pictures of yourself, photoshope the pictures and print them, while wearing hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) for 10,000won
We end our walk by a bulgogi restaurant. It’s really too good and not so expensive (14,000won)
Lotus Lantern Festival
We are too lucky to be in the right place during the Lotus Lantern Festival, which celebrates Buddha’s birthday. Lanterns are hung all over the city and the festivities take place during 3 days
We first visited the Jogyesa Temple. A picture shows us the letters formed by the lanterns
The lanterns seen from below
The temple itself is very beautiful
It’s really beautiful! I think everything is made of paper (except for the metal structure) and then hand painted
At one point, a Korean guy comes up to us and says something in Korean. He did it to all of us. I think it’s to insult us but we pretend not to hear it. Older people in South Korea don’t seem to like foreigners because they still associate us with the atrocities caused by American soldiers. We can’t blame them too much, because Western tourists aren’t yet numerous here, and the government does not yet include in its education program any lessons or knowledge helping globalization. I have heard that even mixed-race children are often excluded in the classroom
The young people behave normally with us, but they don’t speak English very well. On the other hand, when they hear us say hello in Korean, they are super happy and give us a big smile up to our ears. When we went to the post office, a young man did some translation for us at the counter, it’s super nice !!!
We then take the subway to Seoul Station to go to the Cheonggyecheon Stream. It is the place of love appointment par excellence, where you can walk right next to the river (with transparent water). Today, this river is full of lanterns and there is even a night market + food trucks. At one point, JB gets an umbrella in his eye. I’m walking in front of it and I notice it only a few minutes later. I see a Korean woman running towards us, she explains to me with gestures what happened to JB and asks if he is okay. It’s really LOVED!
At one point, a Korean guy tries to talk to us by asking JB to take a picture for him. But it was just an attempt to practice English. We are so absorbed by the beauty of the lanterns that we do not understand the nuance of his request at the time, and we regret it because it is one of the rare moments when we could have exchanged a little longer with a Korean
The next day, since it’s raining like hell, we’ll spend a long time at the nearby shopping mall, which is very popular with the locals
There is a bookstore there, where people can sit and read for hours (on real tables, too). It’s an educational medium like any other and you can do it in any bookstore. And the manga and magazines are laminated so people can only read mega smart books 😀
There is a space dedicated to Totoro in the bookstore where you can buy derivative products
In the DIY area (which I like the most in all bookstores), I spot two books on the art of making hanbok miniatures. But I end up buying a book on paper flowers + a magazine to update myself on fashion + beauty trends in South Korea
We have lunch in a Korean-Japanese fusion restaurant which serves me a real coal oven on the table
We will be able to withdraw 500,000won for only 3600won fee at Woori bank. Even if our card is accepted everywhere for payment, we still need cash from time to time and with 500,000won, I think we will be able to hold on for a little while (it’s the equivalent of 500$)
Part 2: Practical Tips
- SIM cards are cheaper in convenience stores like CU, 7eleven… attention you have to follow the instructions to send a passport photo and set up the APN to get 3G. For 30 days, we had to pay 35,000won for 1GB
- Download Naver Map and City mapper because Google Maps and Tripadvisor don’t work very well here
- Download also the i Tour Seoul app, which is really good for your visits
- Think about buying the T-money for your subway and bus trips. You can buy it in the subway or in the convenience stores (CU, 7eleven). It’s cheaper if you buy the T-money and moreover it’s more practical. You have to beep the card before and after, and you have to take it out to beep. We paged it with the wallet, filled with bank cards and the machine didn’t like it.
- Learn to say a few words in Korean, you will attract sympathy from the Koreans. Download the Korean dictionary on Google Translate before you come because many menus aren’t necessarily translated into English. However, menus often include pictures.
- At the restaurant, there is a button to call the waiters and ask for the bill. Press this button instead of raising your arms.
- Unlike in Japan, the prices displayed already include VAT. There isn’thing to pay in addition.
- We were able to withdraw money from woori bank. Attention there are always two types of ATMs: the one for locals and the one for tourists. You have to look for ATMs marked “Global ATM” which display the logos of Visa, Mastercard etc. Fees vary from bank to bank and you can only withdraw up to 1,000,000won at a time.
- Payment by credit card is accepted almost everywhere, except for street food and during sales of certain brands. You should still bring some cash with you.
Did you like this article? Discover all our Seoul & Jeju travel diaries:
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #1 : Discovery of Myeongdong & Lotus Lantern Festival
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #2: Namdaemun Market, Namsangol Hanok Village and Gangnam
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #3: Changdeokgung Palace, Insadong, Noryangjin Fish Market, Hongdae, Namsan Tower, Seoul City Tour Bus
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #4: Seoul with friends
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #5 : Lotte World, tickets, flagship attractions, magic pass
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #6: War Memorial Hall of Korea, Barbecue, Lenses and Shopping
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #7: Marinated raw crab, Gilsangsa Temple, Suyeonsanbang, shopping in Myeong-dong
Travel Diary Seoul (South Korea) #8: B2B Market, Palais Royal, Notre-Dame de Paris, Barbecues