The 5 Best Things I Did in South Korea
I was recently invited to a “YouTuber week” in Korea with Korea Tourism, and I leapt at the opportunity to go. Aside from Gangnam Style, BTS, and K-Beauty, I didn’t know much about Korea prior to visiting, so I knew I was in for a big experience. In no particular order, here are the five best things I did during my week there.
1. Rent Hanbok and head to Gyeongbokgung Palace
Renting Hanbok - traditional Korean dress - was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. It was like playing dress-up for the first time in decades. You get to pick whatever colors you want (there are SO many pretty ones, it’s hard to choose), and you will feel like real-life royalty when you step out of the shop. The city of Seoul seems to encourage visitors to rent Hanbok too - admission into palaces is free if you’re wearing it. We went to Gyeongbokgung Palace which is absolutely stunning.
2. Tour the DMZ and look across the North Korean border
The DMZ (demilitarized zone) is the area between the North and South Korean borders. I was a little nervous when I first saw this on our itinerary… I didn’t exactly want to be poking around the North Korean border. Turns out, DMZ tours are a totally normal tourist attraction in South Korea (there were even field trips of kids there). We drove from Seoul to the DMZ following the route of the North Korean spies that infiltrated South Korea and attempted to assassinate its president in 1974. Once we reached the DMZ, we stood on a viewing platform with binoculars and looked over into North Korea. Pretty surreal.
3. Explore Jeju Island
To say Jeju Island is popular would be an understatement - there are over 170 flights every day from Seoul to Jeju airport. Jeju is home to the famous Haenyeo - the free diving “sea women” of Korea. A few hundred years ago, the women of Jeju were losing their men at sea. Without their providers, they learned how to free dive to collect seafood to make a living. It ended up flipping gender roles for generations to come, as the women became the fishers for the families. And while Jeju is quite modern today, you will still see hundreds of women out in the water free diving for a living. It’s absolutely incredible! The island is small enough that you can drive from one side to the other in just a couple of hours, so you can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Consider making a stop at Sunrise Peak, a UNESCO site formed by hydrovolcanic eruptions over 5000 years ago.
4. Visit Jogyesa Temple (both day AND night)
If you’re unsure what time of year to plan your trip to Seoul, I highly recommend considering May so you can see Jogyesa Temple decorated with lanterns for Buddha’s birthday celebration (be sure to check the specific dates of this when planning your trip). The display at night is absolutely stunning. And don’t forget to go back during the day so you can hear monks leading prayer services - it’s so beautiful!
5. Stroll through Bukchon Hanok village
Nestled in the modernity of Seoul is Bukchon Hanok, a traditional village preserved to show a 600-year-old urban setting. I went in the morning and it was very quiet. Be sure to check out the Baek In-Je House Museum, the largest remaining hanok (traditional Korean house) in the city. If you’re looking for some great photos, this area has a really traditional Korean feel.
I had a great time visiting Korea and was surprised at how much it had to offer - I need to go back! My trip was in May, which was perfect for weather. Huge thanks to Korea Tourism for organizing such a fun week!
Have you been to Korea?