Since the last post was about getting Lasek in Korea, I thought I would give you travel tips and ideas for staying, shopping, and eating in Korea! First of all, lets get rid of any fear. This is not North Korea we are talking about. North Korea is the crazy one you hear about on the news. You can not actually travel there. What we are talking about is South Korea. They are a loving, kid friendly and hard working country. Do not be worried about getting around, all subways have english and lots of Koreans speak a bit of english. And do not forget about google translate, it is awesome if you get stuck. You do want to download the app Waze which will help you easily get around and which subway or bus to take.
Money and Travel
At the airport you want to exchange around $200 into Won. This helps you pay for subway tickets, busses, shopping, and street food etc. Everything else will take your regular credit card. You just want some cash for cheap shopping, and taxis, subway, buses. Cool thing is you get an automatic discount on everything you buy because of the currency exchange. The dollar is stronger, so on your credit card you will see it come through cheaper than the won they told you.
Download the Waze app and get a subway map at the airport. You mostly will travel by subway and then you can take a taxi the rest of the way if you do not want to walk. All you need to know about taking subways is which side or track to go to when your in the subway. You do this by looking at the end of the subway line and that will be the name in the subways so you know which side you are on and which direction you are going. Again, all the signs have english names and the Waze app will also tell you, but it is good to have the map.
Buy your subway ticket down in the subway and use for that trip. At the end of your trip you turn in the card into another machine and they give you some money back. They have all the machines at every stop so this is not hard. After you get out of your subway station you will know how far you need to walk and decide to flag a taxi or walk it. Again, the add tells you or you can see on the map.
Shopping In Korea
Let me tell you the shopping is amazing. While we lived there I got a petty dress coat made with a custom removable hood. The hood being big enough to put over “done up” hair! I also printed off my computer several pairs of boots that I liked online. Then I cut out the portion of each the picture of the part of the boot I liked and glued it all together. I then took this pasted picture to a shoe store and they made my that boot custom to fit my foot. How cool is that? They are very good with pictures, whatever you want, show them and they will make it to fit you.
If you do not have time to make anything custom- oh and I have to mention the mens suits. Find an Armani suit you like online and then you can pick for fabric, or get the Armani fabric and have a custom suit made to fit your body. These suits cost maybe $120 dollars. Whatever you can come up with- it can be made! Now, if you do not have time to wait for anything to be made, just the shopping is amazing as well. Korea has HUGE shopping in bulk (or not) for beads, fabric, beauty and health products, all at a fraction of the cost of what you would pay in the states. And for the exact same fabric/beads you would buy here.
More Shopping- The Markets
Namdaemun Market is more outside, old school street markets, vendors and lining up for miles selling odds and ends. There is some indoor. This is more wholesale prices. You can bargain back and forth on a price and find fun toys for kids, clothes and so much more. Here is where you will need Won.
Dongdaemun Market is all mostly indoor in large buildings. Lots of vendors and all crammed inside but here is where you will find your fabric in bulk, or how much you want for dirt cheap. Anything for beading, jewelry, clothes and your business to bring back home. I found a little girls red gap coat and paid $9, husband did not understand what a great find that was when we did not even have a girl yet.
Myeong-dong Shopping Street is more ritzy, outdoors mall. Lots of fun stuff, Korea is known for their skin care! They are a lot of amazing, fun products so do not skip those. This would have all kinds of clothes, shoes, bags etc.
Korean Bath Houses
You MUST try out the Korean Bath houses/spas. The most authentic and traditional, oldest one is in Yongsan-gu, it is called Dragon Hill Spa, you can find reviews and pictures on Tripadvisor. These bath houses are places to unwind and relax. Open 24 hours, bath houses are for healing and relaxing. This one is large and will cost you more around $50, kids are welcome and these are family friendly. These are places to lay round, nap, eat, go to the sauna and detox, and hang out in the water. Men and women separate and go get a lockers and then change into their clean spa clothes. Then you meet back up in the facilities.
If you would like a more modern and updated version: this one is in a HUGE mall. You walk into a whole other world inside the mall to go heal and relax. You can stay here for up to 6 hours. This one is in Starfield Hanem, it is a bit more expensive but way worth the experience. You can eat in the spa or out in the food court after/before and then shop till you drop. It will be more expensive shopping than the Namdaemun and Dongdaemun Markets because this is a regular mall. This bath house is updated and more modern than the traditional Dragon Hill, you can see a review and pictures here- Aquafield or on Tripadvisor. This is a family friendly place and you can bring kids. If it just you, it is an amazing experience too.
Let me describe the experience…
You separate into men and women sections. You first get a locker outside to put your shoes in. Then you go to the counter and pick up a second locker key for clothes and pick up your bath house clothes. Then you go in and find your locker and change. You then can go into the bath house and this is where the men and women meet up. There are several saunas to choose from with all different temperatures. Each has a different “theme”, your job in each of these is to enjoy and relax. Some are hot and you sweat out toxins, others are for meditation.
There are areas outside to take naps, eat and hang out. After your done with the saunas, you can pay a little more and go to the pools, this you separate men/women and remove your bath house clothes. When you are done and want to leave the bath house you separate into men/women again and go back to your lockers. At this point there are washing stations with all of the products needed are there for you to wash and scrub. You have your own mirror, stool and shower head. After you are done washing you can go get dressed and they have another room where you can blow dry your hair and get ready. Then your done! All relaxed and rejuvenated. This was my girls most favorite memory and experience.
Cheaper, more basic option
A cheaper option are the bath houses that are much smaller and are in the smaller cities. I had one like this right around the corner from my apartment. These only cost you $3. You can stay as long as you want. They are much smaller, and do not provide the clothing, food etc. They usually only have one sauna room. In these, they have 6 different pools at all different temperatures. In these smaller ones, kids can go to, but the men and women are NOT together. They separate and stay separated till they are done using the facilities.
You first get your locker and undress, then as you walk in, you go to the washing stations with mirrors and wash up to get clean to use the pools (do not SKIP this, it is rude and gross). You can then sit and do hot and cold therapy in the pools for as long as you want. If you want to pay a couple extra bucks, some offer a service where you can take your turn at a massage table and get a scrub down by a nice lady. They scrub you (if you do not do this regularly at home you will be a m a z e d) and then wash your hair, and they use all the lotions, milks, and yummy stuff on your skin.
Let me tell you….. you feel like a brand. new. person when you walk out of there.
I would say out of all the options, I would choose and stick with this simple one. If you do not want the scrub down service, you can simply wash at the stations and scrub yourself. Out in the entrance DO buy the scrubbies they use in the bath houses! They do not mold like loofas do, they dry fast and they do not just simply lather your soap, they actually scrub. They are flat and about as big as your hand in all different colors. You can buy one for pennies and a package for $2.
Ok on to food. This is my husbands favorite part. He drags us all around just for food, stops just for food and no distance too far for food. Here are some things to look up and try that are our favorite. Maybe… I should have him write this section (?)
- First all I wanted was the black grapes and Asian pears. These grapes I have never found anywhere else, they taste so different and sweet. The skin is thinker and you just suck the inside out. The Asian pears are huge! Hard like an apple with the texture and juiciness of a pear. We found them at E Mart, this is their mall/grocery store. They also have a cafeteria of lots of different Korean foods and you can eat for cheap.
- Do try the cold noodles called In Korea, they are extremely popular in the summer, called Naengmyeon is a cold noodle dish of thin, chewy noodles that are made with buckwheat and potato or sweet potato starch. It is an experience of noodles, spicy, chilled and so good. We got ours at E Mart in the cafeteria, the kids loved this one.
- Next I love love the hot stone rice bowl called Dolsot Bibimbap. You can get this not in a hot stone but I think the hot stone is a lot better. You can get this with meat or no meat. Mostly rice and veggies the hot stone cooks the eggs as you mix it up with the sauces and the rice gets crispy on the outside.
- All you can eat Korean BBQ for $9! Calling all meat lovers these are the spots for you. We google Korean BBQ in whatever city you are in and blogs will come up. He went to one called Chak Han Pig. These are restaurants where you are given the food and you get to cook it in front of you and then eat all together. Best about the food in Korea is all the side dishes that come with your food.
More Eating…We Have Lots of Pictures
- Do try the breakfast trucks on the side of the road where they have breakfast sandwiches and kimbob (Gimbap) this is a rolled up rice and veggies in seaweed.
- Try the dessert bowls that look like a snow cone, but instead of shaving ice they shave ice cream. The desserts and baked goods are not over sweet like desserts are here in the states. They are so good and melted in your mouth. We went to a place called the Korean Dessert Cafe.
- And do not forget the Melona green popsicles and banana milk! You can get these at any corner store in the deep freezer. Sometimes in the stops in the subways.
- This is our favorite dish called Tak Galbi, which is a chicken stir fry with vegetables like potatoes, mushrooms and rice noodles with a yummy red sauce. We have not been able to find this one back in the states. This one is an easy dish for vegetarian and the hubby still gets his meat.
If you go to the Dragon Bath house, you will be at the Yongsan subway station and pleeeeease bring me back some tea at the drink stop inside of the station by the doors. It was so good! For serious, Korea does not mess around with drinks. Tea houses, fresh juices and all of the coffee places are so good. I wish I would have just bought some extra tea bags to bring home. Usually these drink stops are by bakeries, do try the yummy goods in there. The breads are different than the states, super soft and dense but not heavy.
The possibilities are endless in the county called Korea, we look at pictures and want to go back right now. Did I mention the airbnb places to stay are a good price? They will message and talk to you in english if you are worried about that. There is a lot more but this is a long post already and I think we got the basics covered. Who wants to go?!