48 hours in Seoul, S.Korea

 A weekend in Seoul!

Seoul has a been on my to-do list for more than five years so when my good friend surprised me with a weekend away including a return flight for under £150 I was all in. My friend has visited Seoul numerous times and is practically a local. We had talked about taking this trip since we became friends so it was a very exciting moment when everything was booked and we were at the airport waiting to board our flight.

We arrived in Seoul around 10:30am and had to endure the usual airport dramatics which took more than one hour. Fortunately for myself being British and her being European, we had an easy time. Whilst waiting in line I spotted two Russian girls not having quite the same luck. Later I saw them wondering the streets of Seoul having a blast. Good on them!

Thanks to my local/non local travel friend we made it to the hostel effortlessly via subway. It took approximately one hour from the airport to our chosen accommodation.

Note: You can purchase a transport card in the subway station from a machine vendor. The cost varies depending on how much you intend to use the card. It can be used for the subway and bus. It also has some other perks.

Accommodation – Kimchee Guesthouse

After a five minute walk from the subway station, we arrived at our hostel which is located in the Hongdae area of Seoul. We were welcomed by very pleasant staff who recognised my friend from previous visits so they upgraded our room for free. “It’s not what you know, but who you know“. We originally paid for a shared dorm at approx £6 per night but ended up with a private twin room. We were off to a great start!

Note: Check-in at 3 pm but you can leave your luggage with the staff and head out for the day.

A quick freshen up and a change of clothes later, we set off to do some exploring and eat lunch. My friend was extremely excited to show me around and introduce me to her favourite places so I just let her lead the way. As a solo traveller, this was an interesting change of pace for me but also a welcomed one.

Our first stop was of course for coffee. Mega coffee to be exact. This is no coffee for the light-hearted. The takeaway cup was bigger than my head, contained 2+ shots of espresso and was only about £3.50. The menu is diverse so even if you don’t like coffee you can opt for tea or hot chocolate.

Mega Coffee: I tried the mint frap (the green looking coffee)

Hongdae

Hongdae: Full of people all day and night

Hongdae is an area of Seoul busting with young, stylish university students and local entrepreneurs going about their day. Everywhere you turn your eyes are met with locals working hard in their privately owned shops, food vendors selling local delicious treats, street performers showcasing their singing and dancing talents and so much more.

We ended up spending the remainder of our day wondering the beautiful streets of Hongdae with some light shopping, trying local food and soaking up the atmosphere and of course the sunshine.

Something to remember. At night time the streets are ablaze with an array of Neon lights as far as the eye can see. Although at first it’s wonderful to see but after a while it starts to hurt your eyes.

P.D.A – Public Displays of Affection are very common in Seoul and I am guessing in South Korea in general (I am just making an assumption). I don’t particularly mind if couples want to be very affectionate in public but the volume of it was a little overwhelming. It’s nice to know the couples there seem to be madly in love with each other. You don’t see that everywhere.

Jogyesa Temple

An array of colourful lanterns

You can easily spot the temple from way across the street due to the immense colours coming from the sheer volume of hanging lanterns. To add to it’s beauty, the sun was shining upon them as if it were planned somehow creating a rainbow effect over the entire temple. I haven’t even gotten to the temple itself yet which was stunning with a strong element of the colour green with intricate detail painted onto the exterior using flowers and animals. Simply picturesque.

The contrast of colours is just breathtaking!

Yeouido Park

Enjoy a stroll in the park

We happened to have some time to spare late in the afternoon thanks to planning our day extremely well. Approximately half an hour subway journey from the temple, we arrived at the Park which was much bigger than I had anticipated. Walking along the pathways and across the grass area was just a lovely way to cap off the day. Stumbling across a local BBQ vendor was lucky and happened to be just in time to see the sunset over the river which was a pleasant surprise.

Note: We were there in April and the flowers were starting to bloom but not fully.
The view across the river

Bukchon Village

Waking up bright and early and after a much needed filling breakfast, we headed to Bukchon Village. I honestly I had no idea what to expect but thankfully it was more than I could have hoped for. Walking around this old style, beautiful, romantic village was the perfect way to spend half a day. I ended up buying a small wooden painting from a local painter, had a virgin strawberry mojito, visited the tea museum and so much more.

Let’s play dress up

Dress up in traditional clothing and walk the streets of Bukchon Village

While wondering the never ending streets I kept seeing locals and non-locals doing the same thing but dressed in traditional Korean clothing. It was a very hot day so I am glad I didn’t take part in the dress up activity but if I were to go back during a different, cooler season I would definitely get involved with some dress up fun. Personally I think it would be good to do with a small group of friends or even as a family.

The Tea Museum

We stumbled upon the museum by accident whilst climbing some steps to get a good view of the village. In fact, the tea museum was more than just a museum. It was quaint and well designed with a small collection of tea apparatus, a small hidden garden with a pond surrounded by blossoming trees and flowers plus a roof top cafe over-looking the entire village.

Note: The entrance fee was less than £1 and I would happily go visit again in the future.
Stunning view from the Tea Museum Cafe

The Food

Whether or not you have visited South Korea will not determine whether or not you have enjoyed great Korean food. BUT there is something to be said about food prepared and eaten in the country of its origin. I have eaten plenty of Korean food in my time but after experiencing it in Seoul I can say with certainty that it is tons better there. I have never eaten so much food in such a short period of time. I have zero complaints about anything food related. Beyond delicious!

BBQ

Enjoy some delicious BBQ with friends

I’m sure you have all heard of or eaten Korean BBQ. Please make some time to try some different BBQ restaurants while in Seoul. You will not be disappointed.

Monster Pizza

Grab a slice of pizza

A huge slice of pizza for about £2 is something worth trying.  Of course there are many flavour options with a variety of toppings and spices plus you can choose from a collection of sodas and beers to wash it down with. It opens at 5 pm  and stays open till the early hours of the morning. I know what you’re thinking, it’s the perfect place to go after a night on the town. Well, you would be right!

Traditional dessert

I didn’t quite catch the name of this dish but you will see it advertised on most cafe windows, around areas with street food and in small restaurants. It tastes like ice-cream but it is in fact shaved ice with a topping plus added milk. It is super strange but super delicious.

You have to try it to understand it

A few remaining pictures from my weekend in Seoul

For those who are considering taking a trip to Seoul, I highly recommend it. And for anyone who has never considered it, I hope this short article has triggered a desire to visit in the future. I fully intend to go back in the near future and spend some more time there plus travelling around other cities too.

Va Va Vang Vieng – Laos

Known for it’s Tubing activity, Vang Vieng has plenty more to offer from it’s Street Food to The Happy Bar to The Blue Lagoon.

Sandwiches, Burgers and Smoothie stalls are dotted along most streets in the city and they are super cheap, convenient but most of all, delicious and available at all hours of the day and night.

The Hostel (Chillao Youth Hostel)

Conveniently located, this hostel was a great choice for many reasons. Every night Happy Hour included unlimited free local Whiskey by the bottle. Your only expense is a mixer if you feel you need one. Needless to say, if you choose to stay there, you will be drunk most of the time but that just means guaranteed fun in my mind.

The hostel breakfast and Whiskey group

Myself and two travel buddies shared a private room which looking back, I am glad we did. After already travelling for quite some time, a private room can be a nice change from a shared dorm. If you’re worried about making friends here, don’t! You will have plenty of opportunities. Breakfast time is a great way to meet people over a free omelette and coffee, or at Happy Hour or whilst out Tubing.

Note: We paid around $4 per night.

The Streets of Vang Vieng

The streets of Vang Vieng

Enjoy a nice relaxing day of wondering the streets of Vang Vieng or venture further to some more spectacular views. You can even stop off at some local shops to buy some souvenirs or clothes. The locals didn’t seem that open to bargaining so respect their prices and only buy something if you truly want or need it.

Tubing

The Famous Tubing!

Although it has calmed down a lot in recent years to ensure the safety of the tourists, it’s still a truly enjoyable experience from beginning to end. The friends I travelled with are both sociable like me so within minutes of renting our tubes, we already had a group forming. Its true what they say, “The more the merrier”.

The ever expanding group

On our tubing journey two bars were open along the way.  A worker shouts you in, you jump off your tube and drag yourself out of the water which has a pretty strong current so be ready to move those legs. The first stop for us was a huge wooden seating area resembling the deck of a boat with no exterior at all. You simply buy your drinks from the small bar and enjoy them in the hot sun accompanied by other travellers and good music. There was also an outdoor mud bath which most intoxicated people couldn’t help but throw themselves into, quickly turning the whole area into a mud fight. But don’t worry there are showers and even if you are not part of the fight you will most likely get caught in the crossfire.

Once you have had your fill of alcohol and mud at the first bar, you jump back onto your tube and float further down the river. You can’t beat the contrasting feeling of cold water beneath you; the hot sun above you whilst relaxing on a soft tube with a slight buzz. Not too long after, another worker spots the many tubes heading towards him and before you know it, we’re dragging ourselves out of the water yet again. This time it’s not so easy, I wonder why.

This bar was in much higher spirits than the previous with people knocking back shots, dancing under a water fountain and generally just letting their hair down. This is where our little group grew ten fold. With the music blasting all around you, the sun beaming down upon you, what better way to take it all in than with an ice cold beer.

Watch the sun set whilst floating along the never ending river

Hours later we all broke off into smaller groups to head back. Myself and my two travel buddies, beer in hand floated slowly down the river enjoying each others company and relaxing after all the dancing. What we didn’t know was that towards the end you need to fight the current, using all of your energy for about 30 minutes straight to somehow get out of the river at the stop sign before being swept away by the increasingly strong current.

After returning our tubes and waiting for the other arrivals we continued the drinking with some much needed BBQ. Some even continued to the bars. All in all it was one of those experiences you will never forget. Some of the people I met on that day have continued to be a part of my life and a few of us already have future travel plans together.

The Bar Scene

Although there are many bars to choose from, I noticed that two particular bars seemed to be the most popular amongst the backpackers.

You can never watch too much F.R.I.E.N.D.S

F.R.I.E.N.D.S Bar – These bars (Yes – there were many) can be found  along numerous roads. Each F.R.I.E.N.D.S bar differs in décor, menu and comfort but of course the common factor is that they all play the T.V series F.R.I.E.N.D.S all day, everyday. I don’t know anyone who dislikes the T.V series including my own father so I think it’s a very clever idea and it certainly worked on me.

Happiness comes in many forms

 

            The Happy Bar – Want to feel happy? Get high! Two pages of the

menu are dedicated to Happy food and drinks. Prices seemed reasonable and it was busy every night with both locals and tourists looking for the perfect chill spot after a long day of outdoor activities in the scorching sun.

 

The Blue Lagoon & The Cave

If you have had enough of tubing, F.R.I.E.N.D.S bars and free Whiskey from the hostel, maybe you can take a day trip to the Blue Lagoon and Cave. Our day trip was organised and booked through our hostel but you could do it by yourself.

Note: No Entrance fee, just a transportation fee.
Head up the steps to find a cave just waiting to be explored

A short car journey later and you have arrived at a beautiful area filled with children’s laughter, the smell of BBQ and a view of a crystal clear blue lagoon. The sun was too strong to sit out so we

first decided to explore the cave. Luckily the stone steps up to the cave entrance were shaded by trees but they were very steep, slightly unstable making it quite a challenge. I would suggest wearing some kind of sports shoes and have both hands free to assist yourself in the climb up.

Immediately on entering the cave you feel the chill surround you and the ground is wet and slippery. Wearing a head torch would be the smart thing due to the severe lack of light inside. The cave itself is a fun place to walk around, take some pictures, sit and relax. I was in there around an hour before heading back outside to soak up the suns rays, but not before the steep walk down the steps. Be sure to take some time to explore the area. You won’t regret it. It is simply beautiful.

Once back in the sun our group sat with food and old beers, played some chilled music and just relaxed. The younger two members headed to the lagoon to jump off the very high tree ledge into the water. Thanks to my GoPro they have great action pictures plus some from in the water. A few hours later we headed back to the hostel to shower and have a few cheeky Whiskeys to end the day.

Dare to leap!

Get yourself to Vang Vieng for some Tubing and much more!