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A few days in Seoul 

After two weeks in Japan, we stopped in Seoul for five nights before heading back to Los Angeles. It was very cold and I definitely had a moment of thinking I should've planned to stop in Tahiti or Hawaii or someplace warm. But I'm really glad we didn't because as it turned out... Seoul is great! We had an amazing time and really got a sense of the Korean people and their incredible history. 

We were visiting when Park Geun-hye was at the height of her political scandal and when Kim Jong-un's half brother was murdered in Malaysia. One night we got a call that our trip to the DMZ was cancelled with no further information or explanation. The next morning we decided to explore some other areas of Seoul instead. When we got off the subway, a tremendous amount of police were lining the subway exits, none of whom spoke English. It was a little harrowing, but thankfully that was the only excitement of the trip. The South Koreans are lovely, hospitable people and I really think that going off the beaten path to get the most authentic version of the country while visiting is worth the effort. 

Things that we did that we highly recommend:

  • Ome Cooking Class. I love learning about a new city and culture through food. We started the class by meeting at one of Seoul's biggest markets, Gwangjang Market. We met several local vendors, like the guy who makes fresh sesame oil at his stall in the market. We went back to the kitchen and learned to make delicious local food like: japchae, gimbap, spicy soup, and a Korean pancake. 

  • Bukchon Hanok Village. This gives a sense of old South Korea, which is in stark contrast to the buzzing, modern metropolis that you see throughout the rest of the city. 

  • Gyeongbokgung Palace. I highly recommend going for the changing of the guards. The pageantry and spectacle is worth working your day around. 

  • Changdeokgung Palace. You will want to devote a fair amount of time to exploring all of the buildings that comprise this palace. Built in 1395, it served as the home of Kings of the Joseon dynasty, the Kings' households, as well as the government of Joseon. The architecture and painted details are exquisite. 

  • Korean War National Museum. This was the highlight of our trip without a doubt. It is very interesting and informative, yet not the least bit dull and stuffy. I think you will have a much greater appreciation for the Korean people and their incredible fortitude after spending time at this museum. 

  • Lotte World. Need a break from the old stuff and history for a bit? Lotte World is the place to go. Brimming with excited local teenagers, this place is a great way to wile away several hours riding indoor and outdoor amusement rides. 

  • Namsan Cable Car to N Seoul Tower. For beautiful views of the city. We left a lock with our name on the top. 

  • Ice Skating. There are several outdoor rinks to choose from, but we enjoyed skating at Seoul Plaza. You'll definitely need a hot chocolate to warm up afterwards. 

  • Kukkiwon. This is the international headquarters of taekwondo. My daughter has been practicing this martial art for several years and we were excited to see the arena and museum at Kukkiwon. Unfortunately there we no matches while we were in town, but a kind man showed us around the facilities and we got a sense of the practice that happens there. 

  • Korean Spa. My kids aren't big on spas, but I just had to take them to a real Korean spa. They loved the hot and cold rooms and plunges and they really loved the extensive foot massages after all the walking we'd been doing. 

  • The Trick Eye Museum and Ice Museum. My kids thought this was really hilarious! The ice room was fun, but quick because it is seriously freezing in there. 

Where we stayed:

Park Hyatt. This is a great location in Gangnam, right next to a subway entrance. We had a very easy time getting around from this hotel. I would say it feels like it caters to businessmen types- and maybe that's because we were there in winter and it's not a popular tourist destination at that time. But we were really comfortable here and the kids loved the pool, which requires you wear their swim caps, as you can see above. 

Food you should try:

  • Korean BBQ

  • Bibimbap

  • Kimbap

  • Bungeoppang

  • Tteokbokki

  • Bulgogi

  • Japchae