A definitive guide to travelling around Korea

There are countries that you visit with a specific set of people. You go to the United States, for example, with your family, because you usually stay longer periods and you stay with relatives you rarely see. (And only a true tita can handle so many designer outlets.) Hong Kong is ideal for new couples because strict parents won’t notice that you’ve been gone all day — it’s a two-and-a-half-hour flight! Going from one point of EDSA to the other takes longer.

But South Korea is that rare part of the world that works with any traveling group. You can be with friends, family, or all by yourself, and you’re guaranteed to have a good time. In the last few years, the country has become a preferred tourist destination; in 2017, over 13 million tourists visited Korea, and more than 200,000 of those visitors came from the Philippines. In fact, Korea has become so popular among Filipinos that the Korean Embassy now requires visa applications to be coursed through accredited travel agencies. You can even apply for multiple entry visas to Korea, if you are a user of certain types of credit cards. (So if you’re planning a visit soon, better check these rules out.)

 

Korea is so unpretentious about its charms — its cities and provinces are clean and orderly, but they feel very lived-in too. 

 

So what is it about Korea that makes it so enticing to see? In the two times I’ve visited, I can honestly say that I come back home with a renewed sense of purpose. Korea is so unpretentious about its charms — its cities and provinces are clean and orderly, but they feel very lived-in too. It is simply a part of their lives to have working train systems, wide roads, and decent public service on the regular. (You can imagine how mind-blowing this is.) The people, especially the women, are all stylish in some way. They might not dress the same, but I often catch myself checking out gals walking on the street to see how they do their makeup or style their outfits. It is a travesty that we, the Filipino nation, do not look this collectively cute.

 

Korea is that rare place that’s got something for everyone.

 

And this is perhaps Korea’s greatest gift to the world: the gift of beauty, of a new kind of Asian cuteness. K-beauty is a phenomenon that has spread like wildfire, and the Philippines was not spared. Korean beauty brands can be found all over the country, and come in varying price points and products. K-pop and K-dramas have certainly helped, with so many of us looking up to our idols, wanting to look just a little bit like them. Because of this, the Korea Tourism Organization (the government arm that promotes the country’s tourism industry) put together a brilliant itinerary for anyone who’d like to experience the best of Korean fashion and beauty. And if you happen to be in a bigger group — where you just know that everyone would like to do a million different things — there are also a couple of things to do beyond luxury spas and life-changing makeovers. Like I said, Korea is that rare place that’s got something for everyone.

Look good in the city that invented looking good

A visit to the Sulwhasoo Balance Spa at their flagship store is a must — especially if you’re in the mood to treat yourself. Not only can you get a lovely massage and facial using their products (they’ve got loads of options for you to choose from, and they’ll pick out products to address your skin concerns), but you can also shop at the ground floor and have them wrapped using traditional Korean giftwrap paper. The store itself, a multi-level building in a matte gold finish, is a wonder itself. You won’t run out of things to take photos of, trust me. (18, Dosan-daero 45-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul) Just a few blocks away is Dashing Diva, a nail spa situated in a quiet neighborhood with lots of shops and cafes nearby. (656-21 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul)

My personal highlight of the trip was our K-beauty makeover day at Jenny House. This beauty salon is a celebrity favorite, with many of K-pop and K-drama idols coming to visit to get a host of salon treatments. They’ve got a men’s barbershop, a nail spa floor, an entire room full of makeup, and even wedding consultations for extra pre-nup looks. When we came to visit, our guide told us the guy sitting in one of the salon chairs was from the group Wanna One. When it came to my actual makeover, they gave me the best look I’ve probably ever had: natural waves and makeup. I loved the lip tint they used so much that I bought it at Club Clio that same evening. The services are a bit on the pricey side, but I’d definitely recommend it for a genuine Korean beauty experience. (www.jennyhouse.co.kr) You can also shop for their in-house products online, if you wanna get a taste of the Jenny House life. (www.jennyhousemall.com)

For a spa treat outside of Seoul, Pocheon Herb Island is worth a visit. It’s kind of a wacky place to see, because there’s so much going on — giant statues, exhibits full of clowns and other strange trinkets, and the spa itself has a pretty strong Swiss country theme going on. We got to try an immersive spa experience that included sitting in an aromatherapy bath and lying down a hay bed that looked like coffins. (It was a surreal sensory deprivation experience, because they covered us with hot towels all over.) Totally worth coming to see, just because this feels like something you can only come up with in a dream. (35, Cheongsin-ro 947beon-gil, Pocheon-si, Gyeonggi-do)

One of the last things we got to do in Korea before we left was to make our own perfume. Aromind is located in such a quiet pocket of Seoul, full of traditional buildings, that it was easy to feel super zen about making a scent for yourself. We were tasked to smell a bunch of different scents and write down our notes about each one. I ended up with what my companions called a date night scent — sweet citrus, cherry blossom and muschio. It wasn’t a scent I’d ever pick out in a store, but it was a nice realization that I can still surprise myself sometimes. Come visit for a scent of your own and a mini-existential crisis, which I highly recommend. (19-7, Bukchon-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul)

Eat Korean food, and eat lots of it

Everyone who visits Korea will always be there for the food — otherwise, why bother coming at all? But if I told you everything we ate in Korea, I would use up the entire newspaper. So if here’s a short list of some places we did get to visit, which may not have similar counterparts back here in the Philippines. There’s Palsaik Samgyeopsal, which is famous for its eight flavors of pork BBQ. There’s ginseng, wine, pine leaves, garlic, herb, curry, miso paste and hot. (I personally loved ginseng and miso paste.) Best part is, they keep their doors open and the seats are also compartments for bags and jackets, so you don’t leave smelling like food. One set is about 34,000 won, good for three people. (107-111 Nogosan-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul)

If you want more traditional eating experiences that you don’t see much in the Philippines, I highly recommend having bibimbap at Jeonggangwon. Located in Pyeongchang, this place is the authority on traditional Korea cuisine. You can even take traditional cooking classes (you just need to call in advance) and try various traditional condiments, made right there in the compound. (21 Baekokpo-ri, Yongpyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do)

Just a few minutes away is Seolbong, which serves country chicken soup. Now, chicken soup isn’t just found in Korea, but this is rather special. A clear broth is filled with their native chicken — bigger than the chicken we’re used to — and some rice and vegetables that you eat with salt and a type of Korean leaf. It’s totally weird but totally worth it: an unstudied Korean dish that’s packed with flavor. (344-66 Hoenggye-ri, Daegwalnyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do)

Everything else, you come to see too

If I hadn’t said it enough, there are a lot of things to do in Korea. For K-drama fans, that may involve making a pilgrimage to some choice film locations of their favorite shows. We got to see places like the Pocheon Art Valley (where they shot The Legend of the Blue Sea). For Goblin fans, places like Samyang Farm, Jumunjin Beach and Woljeongsa Woods will look very familiar.

To those who’d like to experience Korea beyond its pop culture, there are some places worth visiting. Top of mind is K Style Hub by the Korea Tourism Organization, which I personally think is a great primer on visiting the country. You can consult with them on your itinerary, ask help for things like medical tourism (going to doctors and getting checkups), and you can visit their interactive exhibits to find out more about the country. You’d think that this would be a totally corny place to visit, but Korea’s cultural center is pretty interesting, and most features are free for you to try. I’m not even kidding, this was one of my favorite places to visit in Korea. (40 Cheonggyecheon-ro, Da-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul)

Should you happen to travel with younger companions, a trip to Running Man should be on the agenda. It’s a pretty small arcade, but you’ll end up bone tired after a few minutes. You and your friends will have to compete for points by doing a bunch of challenges like screaming as loud as you can, throwing balls into impossible holes, or going through a mirror maze. You have one hour to reach a certain number of points, so it’s an extreme adrenaline rush. (B1/F, Hana Building, 41 Insa-dong, 5-gil, Jongro-gu, Seoul)

For me, though, it was a visit to the Seoul Sky Observatory that truly made my heart beat fast. The Sky Deck on the 118th floor freaked me out so much, with its transparent glass floor that looked straight down the streets of Seoul (it’s only 486 meters, no big deal). They even had a cool trick that smoked out the glass floor then — poof! — the glass becomes transparent again and you’ll feel like you’re about to fall in. I swear to god, I could not run out of there faster. The view, however, made me stay a little while longer. (300 Olympic-ro, Jamsil 6(yuk)-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul)

The Sky Deck on the 118th floor freaked me out so much, with its transparent glass floor that looked straight down the streets of Seoul (it’s only 486 meters, no big deal).

You may get in touch with the Korea Tourism Organization office in Manila on Facebook.

Tags:
#beauty #culture #spaces #travel

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