Seoul is amazing. Skyscrapers sprout high up into the grey skies, and the intricate architecture of the buildings amazes me as I walk along its bustling streets. Korea is known for its sumptuous food, cheap drinks, and of course, its pop culture dominance. This is probably why Seoul has become a travel hotspot for tourists from all over the world.
Talking about Korean pop culture, the recent hype of the hit TV series, Descendants of the Sun, has brought its lead actor, Song Joong-ki, onto magazine covers, and his face is plastered on billboards, life-sized posters, and even street lamps and tea cups in small coffee houses. This infatuation over Song alone shows how K-pop has such a huge impact on our lives.
However, aside from K-pop and flashy buildings, Seoul has so much more to offer. Venture into F&B establishments located along paths that are less taken, and you might find the most delectable and crispy chimaek (Korean fried chicken). Be adventurous on your next trip to Seoul. Look beyond the malls at Gangnam and explore the small streets and boutique hotels that might just be the best places for comfort food and rest.
Staying In Style
Comfort is of utmost importance when it comes to travelling. Like putting on a pair of shoes with the right size for the right occasion, the accommodation for your stay in Korea should put you at ease. Besides comfort, there’s also no harm in choosing a hotel that is injected with some fun elements. Here are three hotels with unique and interesting concepts that might catch your fancy.
Located near the Sinseol-dong subway station, Hotel Boutique 9 serves a wide range of guests because of its unexpected room themes. You might have heard of hotels with customised suites, but have you heard of a Funny Suite? It comes with a game station (Xbox or PlayStation) of your choice. Other suites include the Garden Suite, which comes with a rooftop garden, as well as the Billiard and Spa Suites.
If you have a keen eye for photography, head down to Hotel April. Apart from the big museums in Seoul such as the National Museum of Seoul or the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), Hotel April houses its own mini collection of photographic works by local rising photographers.
Given the rich traditions of the Korean culture, Rak-Ko-Jae Hanok Hotel strikes a sweet harmony between the Hanok, traditional Korean architecture, and nature, providing you with an intimate local living experience. With a rich history dating back 130 years, Rak-Ko-Jae was renovated earlier in 2003 by renowned carpenter Young Jin Chung, who embraces the fusion of modernity and traditions, while incorporating nature as one of the key elements in his design.
Shopping in Seoul Apgujeong
It is not difficult to know where the top luxury labels and brands are in Seoul, as it is steadily establishing itself as a fashion capital. Stepping out of the Apgujeong subway station, you will be greeted by rows of branded shops. Along the streets of Apgujeong and Cheongdam-dong, you will find premier departmental stores and leading luxury brand boutiques that will keep you busy for the entire day.
If you are looking to bring home some chic designs from upcoming local designers, head over to the Garosu-gil Road near the Sinsa subway station, which is dotted with small, stylish and artistic shops. Another popular shopping haven is Common Ground, the world’s biggest cargo container pop-up shopping complex. Comprising about 200 containers, the four-storey mall houses an impressive line-up of trendy hipster brands that are on the frontier of the ever-changing Korean fashion industry.
InsadongLove At First Bite
There’s one thing in Seoul you can’t miss: food. Walking on the streets, you can’t help but be enticed by the aromas coming from the food stalls that line up across the city, as well as the restaurants that park themselves in cosy shophouses. Korean street food remains the crux of Korean cuisine, with mouth-watering favourites such as the tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), hweori gamja (tornado-shaped potato), and chimaek (fried chicken). For those who are more adventurous, there’s the sannakji (octopus sashimi). Other well-known Korean cuisine such as the samgyetang (Ginseng chicken soup), budae jjigae (army stew), and pajeon (pancake) are also ubiquitous in food markets and restaurants.
But of course, dining out in this day and age is more than just about food and its taste, as our preferences change ever so quickly. We are constantly searching for novel dining experiences that offer a clever play between different elements, and the unexpected fusion of ingredients that produces a combination of flavours that is so delectable that we would fall in love with it at first bite.
If you have yet to experience dining in the dark, Le Noir at the Vault provides you with just that. An intriguing dining experience, to say the least, it isolates your sense of taste and smell, thereby enhancing your appreciation of its dishes. Alternatively, you can also dine at Ciné de Chef, which is a luxurious combination of movie theatre and gourmet restaurant that allows you to enjoy a premium meal and the latest blockbusters at the same time. Another establishment you may want to try is the Jung Sik Dang restaurant. Its head-chef, Jung Sik Yum, serves up molecular gastronomy using traditional Korean ingredients.
Celebrating its cultures through its hotels, food, and streets, there is no doubt that Seoul is the ideal destination for a short getaway.
Text by Dewey Sim
This article was first published in Men’s Folio.