Seoul with Carmen: Cousin Edition

My cousin came to Seoul for two weeks during her vacation and stayed with me. For the two weeks, I’ve been playing tour guide. And I was mentioning this little development with a friend of mine who half-jokingly said that I can create a travel guide by this point. I replied that I wouldn’t — I would just direct people to my travel blog here. But he did make a valid point – I have had more than enough visitors in the past two years in Korea to have places that I would recommend tourists to go to in Seoul.

It’s not easy playing the tour guide. There are so many things you have to know in advance about your guest – their food preferences, their interests, their language ability, the budget. So the following just happens to be the places that I took (or directed) my cousin. Many of these places I’ve blogged about before and some are new. Many are the places that I tend to take my visitors. A little bit of Korean culture, a whole lot of shopping, and even more food are involved.

My cousin, Tiffanie, who will be featured in this post, is also an avid blogger. She’s got a wonderful food blog here.  Be sure to check her blog out- I’m curious myself as to what she thought of her time in Korea! I’m going to post links to her blog posts at the end of this as well. You can also see how parts of our Korean adventure played out on Twitter with the twitter hashtag #cousinsinseoul

THE CULTURE

Dongdaemun Design Plaza: The unique and strangely beautiful design of the DDP itself is worth a look. And it’s quite conveniently located across the shopping malls at Dongdaemun for those who just want to snap a quick picture across the street. But currently, the best attraction at the DDP (according to yours truly) are the LED flowers on the roof as one of the installations from the art museum.

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Universal Ballet’s The Nutcracker: There are so many non-verbal shows in Seoul that are worth watching. I’ve seen a few myself but in fitting with the holiday season, I took my cousin to watch The Nutcracker. It was our first ballet performance ever and it was quite entertaining. Korea has a wide range of performances that are definitely worth catching if you have enough time in Seoul.

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Photo credit: Tiffanie

Gwanghwamun and Gyeongbokgung: Even for those are not interested in museums and history of a new place – I think it’s at least a token of respect to visit some historical places in Seoul. So, one palace is good. Gyeongbokgung is not my favourite but it was conveniently located to other places that I brought my cousin.

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Lotte World: Nothing like a day of fun rides. Lotte World is an indoor and outdoor amusement park in Seoul. Which is great because when the weather is freezing, at least there’s the indoor park to keep you busy. Lots of different rides. And the nighttime parade was amazing – truly. Magical and full of wonder.

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Namsan Tower: Although it’s not the tallest in the world. Namsan Tower is a fun experience – you can take the cable car from the bottom of the mountain to the top. And then go up to the observatory in the tower. The windows also tell you the direction you’re looking in and how far you are from certain cities. It’s fun to find your own – represent!

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Unhyeongung: I had not intended to take my cousin here at first but she expressed interest in wearing a hanbok. And on my last visit here alone, I noticed that they offer a hanbok experience. For the price of 3300 won, you can rent a hanbok for about 10 minutes, walk around the royal residence, and take a few pictures.

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Ihwa Mural Village: This was not a priority but definitely a nice break from all the eating and shopping. Take some cute pictures as memories.

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Other places and culture things we did: taking Korean booth sticker photos and Cheonggyecheon stream.

THE SHOPPING

Myeongdong: Without a doubt, my favourite place to go for shopping and street food snacking. There’s just so much – cosmetics, clothes, cafes, and department stores. And generally, it’s the favourite place that my visitors end up loving and visiting repeatedly while they’re here in Korea. My cousin was no exception.

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Samcheongdong and Insadong: Samcheongdong has always reminded me of Main Street, Markham. Which my cousin commented on as well. It’s the perfect place for window shopping as well but I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t frequented any of the cute and cool little restaurants in the area. I have done more of my shopping and dining in Insadong though. I love the traditional feel of the two neighbouring shopping streets. You can also enjoy some street food in the area. I highly recommend the fried pancakes (hotteok).

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Other shopping areas to consider: Dongdaemun, Lotte Departments and Duty Free are all around the city, supermarkets like E-mart.

THE FOOD

Shabu Shabu: The first meal for many of those who stay with me because there’s a location conveniently across the street. It’s a lot of food – but it’s so healthy and light that I think it’s a good start for those on their first nights – before the meating and street food snacking begins. The particular branch that I like – Ssamchon – takes on a Vietnamese-style to it as well – shabu shabu with Vietnamese rice wraps.

Korean Barbecue: If you think you’ve had Korean barbecue before, think again. Koreans do it differently – and you can find these more “traditional” meat restaurants around the city. It just cooks the meat differently.

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Seoga and Cook: Busy busy busy restaurant. But definitely worth the hour wait on New Year’s Eve. It was a lot of food but so delicious and the Jeju Mandarin ade in the cute jar was definitely worth it.

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Cafe Mamas: A trip to Seoul would not be complete without visiting my favourite brunch chain. I still love their sandwiches and paninis – but I would stay away from the chicken salad. Too dry for my taste.

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Myeongdong Kyoja: This is one of the restaurants that I always take my visitors to. Hand-cut noodles with dumplings in Myeongdong. These noodles are delicious and a favourite amongst Koreans and foreigners alike.

Street Food in Myeongdong: Chestnuts, potato sticks, dumplings, chicken skewers, strawberry mochi, cotton candy, dried squids, and the list goes on. The street food is endless in Myeongdong and you can probably fill your stomachs on the streets without ever entering a restaurant. A lot of the street food also changes according to the season.

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Photo credit: Tiffanie.

Hello Kitty Cafe: The cafe has moved since last year. And the new location and building is significantly improved. It’s in a small alley – in a beautiful white and very pink house. The theme of the cafe seems to be that you are in Hello Kitty’s house. You can visit her little bedroom as well. It’s quite cute and they have also improved the menu items.

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Capi Capi Loom Loom: Better known as the Rilakkuma cafe, this little cafe is a cozy little place in an area lesser known to tourists. Definitely worth a visit if you don’t wish to visit Hello Kitty Cafe – or want to do both and experience the cute cafe culture here in Korea.

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Gwangjang Market: It’s the Asian experience for sure to eat at a busy market on little benches or stools. Ordering food from the little Korean ladies who man (woman?) the stall. The atmosphere alone is worth going to visit Gwangjang Market – but the food is so good as well, especially on a cold winter evening.

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Other food to eat: ordering McDelivery or just going to McDonalds and trying the Korean menu items like the bulgogi burger, gamjatang, galbitang, and trying Korean pizza (think sweet potato, corn, and other things you don’t typically find in your slice of pizza).

My Chalkboard Kitchen blog posts on Korea: (to be updated)

Day 1&2 – Last Minute Trip to Seoul (part 1) – here.
Day 3 – Seoul (part 2) – here.
Day 4 – Seoul (part 3) – here.
Day 5 – Seoul (part 4) – here.

Tiffanie’s personal blog posts on Korea: (to be updated)

Day 1-3 in Seoul – here.
Day 4 in Seoul – here.
Day 5 in Seoul – here.
Day 6 in Seoul – Hello Kitty Cafe – here.

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