Singaporeans are the masters of the mini break, so if you’re planning a whirlwind trip to Seoul and the Gyeonggi province, Editor-in-Chief Claire Starkey shares how to make the most.
If you’re flying in on Friday night, be warned: the traffic is terrible
and it will take you far longer and far more money than you would hope
to get into town. Grab a snack and make sure you pick up a portable
Wi-Fi router at the airport, instead of in town. Or better yet, just
fly overnight on a Thursday.
Where to stay
Having spent hours looking for places to stay on Airbnb, I can safely say that, as a general rule, it’s not worth it. Go for a cheap 3-star hotel instead. Not only is it comfortable, but your concierge can help you out with things like booking taxis and local food recommendations. This proved surprisingly important as Google Maps is quite unreliable in Seoul due to GPS restrictions; and Uber also posed problems.
If you’re looking for something a little more shiok, try L7. Located in Myeong-dong, this new haunt has cute little photo opps everywhere, like the rooftop bar, the neon signs, and yellow miscellaneous items, all perfectly ﬂatlay-ed on the wall. I think you can tell a lot about a hotel by their bathroom supplies and robes; for the record, here they are MALIN+GOETZ and deliciously ﬂuffy, respectively.
Pack light, because the land of K-Beauty is full of products you won’t get back home, and all your favourites at a fraction of the price. Maximise your shopping experience by focusing on one or two key areas. We recommend Myeong-dong and Gangnam. These are recommended not only by me, but also SSIN, K-Beauty vlogging superstar and Seoul-dweller, so they’re super legit.
Nestled in Myeong-dong is a Harry Potteresque cluster of lanes ﬁlled with delights. The two main streets meet in the centre of the block, with one beginning from Myeong-dong Subway Station and the other from Lotte Department Store. Here, you’ll ﬁnd just about every K-Beauty brand ever, as well as the main clothing labels, both local and international. There are loads of great food options here, which is lucky because you’ve probably worked up quite an appetite.
Night owl? Check out the all-night malls in Dongdaemun – they open from 10am to 5am.
If you’re big on K-Pop or K-Dramas, no doubt you’re hoping for a celebrity sighting or two. Unfortunately, hanging outside the big entertainment companies doesn’t offer much of a guarantee, so I recommend you hit up the Grévin wax museum.
Besides the usual celebs, it also features local superstars like G-Dragon, Kim Soo-hyun and their K-friends.
A breath of fresh air
With your credit card now ofﬁcially calling for a time out, it’s time to get out of town to see something a little different. Rent a car (with a driver if you can, due to the aforementioned Google Maps issues) and head out of the city. Just outside Seoul, the landscape begins to change – blurring quickly from slabs of grey concrete to the blue-green slopes of mountains. By the time you reach your ﬁrst stop at Sansawon, a destination popular for its traditional rice liquor, the air has a tranquility about it that’s so special I wrote “it’s so peaceful” twice in my notes.
In the Sansa Garden, you’ll ﬁnd the most beautiful ceramic pots stacked side by side, each holding around 600L of rice alcohol; and some beautiful traditional buildings. Keep an eye out for the (now dry) river stream, which is an homage to the old palace drinking games. In the early days, a glass of alcohol was put at the top of the stream, and you had to make up a poem by the time it reached you, or you were punished by having to down the glass.
Inside the adjacent home brewing culture gallery, you’ll learn more about how this traditional rice liquor is made, and get to sample a few too.
A short ride away is Pocheon Art Valley. Once an old quarry, it has been turned into a sculpture trail. It’s also where they shot The Legend of the Blue Sea. After the obligatory tourist shot (preferably of you trying to reenact the famed lantern scene), catch the monorail up to the planetarium for a quick trip through the stars. If you’re visiting between May and October, they also host concerts at the Sanmaru Outdoor Stage, set against the mountain range.
A beautiful tour
If you’re obsessed with K-Beauty (so, all of us), chances are you’ve heard of Amorepaciﬁc.The leading beauty company in Korea is home to your staples like Mamonde, LANEIGE, Sulwhasoo and ETUDE HOUSE.
I very highly recommend visiting the Sulwhasoo ﬂagship store in Gangnam, which should more accurately be called the Sulwhasoo gallery, because it’s that beautiful. Designed to mimic the light of lanterns, it features light wood, shadowed light and brass detailings, and is full of special little areas like a spot that offers a gift-wrapping service, where you can get your products wrapped in traditional cloth. There are also guided tours and classes on offer. Refresh yourself with a few testers or splurge on a custom facial, which your tired skin will be eternally grateful for.
And the Amorepaciﬁc Story Garden is a must-visit for beauty diehards. It’s in Osan, which is about a 45-minute drive out of the city. Here, you’ll learn the history of Amorepaciﬁc as well as get to sneak a peek of the factory where the magic happens, pose for a mock Amorepaciﬁc advertisement, and score your own engraved lipstick! Head to storygarden.amorepaciﬁc.com to book a tour.
With a whirlwind weekend schedule, you’ll likely be running almost exclusively on caffeinated beverages. Luckily, good quality ones can be found on almost every corner.
While all of them are cute, keep an eye out for LINE and Kakao cafes, which are ﬁlled with lifesized versions of their signature characters. The LINE cafe in Gangnam is three-storeys high, and each level features special sets for you to take amazing pictures (and what’s honestly the best selﬁe lighting I have ever seen).
Top of the world
If you have time for one last goodbye, head up to Seoul Sky. 123 ﬂoors up in the air, the tower offers panoramic views… and one last adrenaline rush via the platform, where you can see straight through to the drop below.
This trip was made possible by Korea Tourism Organization.
Images 123RF.com, Destination Seoul Text Claire Starkey.