Seoul feels like another home to me. It was once coined “Land of the Morning Calm’ but over the past decade Seoul has really transformed to a fast-moving, lightning-speed metropolis. A favorite destination amongst Asia’s elite and stylish jet-setters, Korea is known for its shopping, skyscrapers, royal palaces, temples, night markets, Korean BBQ, soju, jjimjilbangs, karaoke, beauty products, K-drama, and K-pop (my playlist here). Seoul is made up of 25 districts (gu 구/區, similar to boroughs) and within those districts are individual neighborhoods (dong 동/洞). To make it even more complicated, neighborhoods may overlap districts, or be broken down into multiple areas with different names. The Han River divides the city into two halves: Ganbuk (north) and Gangnam (south) of the river. Taking Namsan Park as your centre, to the north are: Dongdaemun, Samcheong-dong and Myeongdong and Insa-dong, north-west is: Namdaemun Market, south is: nightlife-y Itaewon, and south-east are: glam Apgujeong-dong and Cheongdam-dong.
Outside of hotels, almost no one speaks English. My Korean friends thinks I’m wrong here, but I think you really need someone that speaks Korean to get around. The streets are very confusing and winding, so it’s very easy to get lost if you are walking around. The good thing though is the metro is in English, so you can literally use it to navigate the city. There is no bad time to visit Seoul, but the winters can get very cold and snowy, but if you’re used to NYC winters, you’ll fit right in. Seoulites are extremely image conscious, but also often outwardly conservative; so be prepared to be judged on your appearance. Etiquette is extremely important to Koreans, so you must be respectful to elders and authorities and never, ever fill your own glass!
Jjimjilbang (bath house) are unlike any traditional spa in the West. The jjimjilbang’s have pinewood-burning kiln and cave saunas where you can indulge in a scrub, massage, facial, and enjoy the pools and baths on the weekends. Hotel Prima Spa is in Gangnam-gu and is a spa featuring an outdoor hot spring, volcanic rock pool, and suntan room with separate floors for ladies and men. If you’re feeling really adventurous, head to Jeju Island about 40-minutes outside of Seoul for a holiday filled with a relaxing escape with volcanic sanctuary and the sandy beaches. Of course, after any spa experience, you will get to enjoy Korean food and fresh squeezed juices. Bukchon Hanok Village is a village in Seoul that lays between the majestic Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung palaces from a bygone era of Seoul that seems to be disappearing more and more as time goes on. Bukchon has narrow alleyways with homes that have the traditional curved tiled roofs and charm of how Seoul used to be. My favorite teahouse is Cha Masineun Tteul. I like to bring my notebook and relax with my tea.