This article is written by Ali, someone who came to Korea not knowing what to expect, or really anything about Korea at all. He talks about his experiences in Korea in the 12 days he spent here, and how he went from knowing next to nothing about the country to becoming someone who loves it. It’s always interesting to hear the experiences of others, and Ali’s experiences as someone who came to Korea not knowing what he was getting into, are both fascinating and inspiring. I hope you enjoy reading about his trip as much as I did, and if you want to learn more about him, check out his other awesome content on Youtube and Instagram or at the bottom of the page.
Table of Contents
Peer Into My Seoul
I am going to start this article off by stating that the only prior exposure I really had to Korea before my first trip back in 2015 was by endlessly replaying Gangnam style as well as various other k pop songs on YouTube bands big at the time such as BIGBANG (see what I did there?) and 2NE1 (I am a Minzy Bias).
I myself have actually always had a long term interest in Japan out of all the countries in Asia, but something about Korea piqued my interest. By something, I mean the music, food, culture and overall uniqueness of the country and it’s people. A lot of somethings now that I think about it. Why not take the trip to Japan or to China you might ask. Both of these two countries being more popular and well known compared to Korea at the time, and in a lot of respects even now I would say. Well, I felt that it would have been a mistake to overlook somewhere unfamiliar which could give me moments of wonder and surprise as I wouldn’t know what to expect compared to the aforementioned countries. Also, I felt Korea and Seoul itself could give me an experience that was all my own, the excitement of the unknown and figuratively going in blind and not knowing what to expect was too strong to ignore.
So through sheer curiosity and intrigue, I decided that the first place I would visit in 2015 would be Seoul. With very little hesitation (besides flying, I hate flying and believe humans should remain on the ground and not thousands of feet above it) I made my way halfway around the world to spend 12 days in the countries capital, which for some people might just equal Korea itself. It was the only place I visited while in Korea, but I didn’t feel like I missed out. Though, at the same time I feel like what I saw was just a small part of Korea and the city of Seoul itself.
Seoul’s streets at night.
My First Day in Seoul
Remembering my first day, upon landing in Incheon airport I was immediately struck by how efficient and modern everything seemed. This was just the airport! I heard that Korea had a world leading internet connection speed and access rate, and after finding WiFi at the airport and on the train to my destination I could see why. After checking out, I then managed to miraculously make my way to the right train station close to where I was staying, so I was feeling quite proud of myself before I realized I had no way to make out the location of my hostel. Until a kind Korean man asked me in completely word perfect English if I was okay. I wasn’t and told him that much and he then went out of his way to help me find the hostel (which it turns out was only a few minutes from where I was). I was very grateful that he took the time out of his day to help me like that and from then on I thought that South Koreans might just be some of the kindest people around. It could have been just that one man was but that statement honestly held true throughout my stay in Seoul.
Settling into my first night I realized I needed to eat unless I wanted to have my holiday cut short by malnutrition. So what did I do? I went to the local convenience store and bought a multitude of Lotte brand potato chips and chocolates (Shout outs go to the banana chips and confusingly named Ghana chocolate bars, top eats). They were all delicious and I still to this day think that South Korea has the best selection of potato chips/potato chip flavors/potato chip anything of anywhere I have ever been (other flavors include honey butter, churro, chocolate, caramel waffle and that’s not even the start).
South Korea has the best selection of potato chips/potato chip flavors/potato chip anything of anywhere I have ever seen.
Also, that same night I was introduced to kimchi, the staple Korean dish of fermented spicy cabbage. If you feel those three words sound like they shouldn’t go together then you are right. Except when you actually try it and see just how wrong you were all along. I had it more or less the whole time I was there thanks in small part to my hostel having it available free to customers… Not that that was my reason to stay in that particular hostel or anything… Anyway the jist of the story is when in Korea, try kimchi.
If you’re in Korea, try kimchi!
That’s also not mentioning other staple dishes such as bulgogi, tteoboki, bibimbap and the too many to count, or to eat, street foods available anywhere and everywhere. How Koreans stay generally so thin is beyond my comprehension, because I wouldn’t be able to stop eating even if my life depended on it. That was how good the food was, from anywhere as small as a street food cart to a large chain restaurant. You won’t go hungry in Seoul unless you are on a diet or don’t like Korean food (which makes me question why you are even in Seoul, to begin with to be honest).
Korean fried rice
Sights and Sounds of Seoul
After feeding my stomach, the next step was to feed my eyes (with sights and landmarks, not food. Don’t worry!). I made my way around as much of Seoul as 288 hours would allow and saw things I had only ever seen in photos or heard about. As a result, I was able to create my own memories and stories, an experience all my own. I went to the N Seoul Tower, Seoul grand park, Myeongdong market, Itaewon, The Grand Palace, and many other places I won’t spoil by mentioning here (because you should go visit them yourself instead). Seoul is somewhere you can see pictures of and so you might think you know what to expect but it’s only once you actually get there and actually see the historic buildings, world-renowned landmarks and experience your own version of Korean daily life that you realize how small that perspective really is when compared to how big of an impression Seoul will leave on you.
I felt that Korea was welcoming to me in so many ways. Getting around was simple and cost-effective, more people spoke English than you would expect, and Seoul itself was a place full of new and interesting things to do at every turn. A memorable story encompassing a lot of these points was a time I went to the castle wall ruins a little outside of central Seoul and subsequently got lost (one of the many times I got lost in Seoul but that’s more due to my poor sense of direction really). I found myself looking for the nearest train station. After a lot of aimless walking I happened to spot a Korean grandpa working out on some public gym equipment which shocked me on account of his mobility at his age as well as having never seen anyone lifting weights in the middle of a public park before. It was the first time I had seen free to use gym equipment, not in an actual gym. I asked him if he knew which way to go, he did one better and guided me in person through the roughly 45-minute route back to the station. Korean people and their penchant for kindness strike again.
Why You Should Visit Korea
Even if it’s not written down in a guidebook or doesn’t seem like a good idea at first going against what everyone else does, doing something unexpected or unplanned is what you should do when in Korea, you might just find a place with unforgettable food, a place with an unforgettable view or even unwittingly find an unforgettable memory and instance exclusive only to you.
On the whole I would say that Korea taught me that travelling to a new place where you are unaware of what to expect isn’t as scary as it seems, it taught me that if you put the effort in to learn about, understand, and respect a new culture and country, that you can find enjoyable and everlasting experiences. It taught me that though Korea is a country small in size it’s big in heart. I even picked up on smaller things such as the food being especially spicy, natives always keeping on trend and dressing in style, and new high rise buildings littering the skyline amongst the more traditional structures. I wouldn’t have known nearly as much had I not experienced seeing these things in person.
Namsan Tower in the clouds
Korea as a country and Seoul as a city have their own stereotypes but if you learn to look at both with a fresh perspective, underneath the exterior is a special place and a special country. Don’t overlook Korea because of the more renowned countries either side of it, and don’t miss out on something because you either know little or nothing about it. Don’t be afraid, because Seoul is one of the most welcoming places I have ever been with some of the most welcoming people I could ever meet. I left for Korea knowing little, but when it came time to head home I knew one thing I hadn’t before, and that was that I couldn’t wait to come back.
Korea is often categorized as the place to go to when looking for K-pop, fried chicken or cheap plastic surgery (in no particular order) but it’s so much more than that, it’s a place where you can find your Seoul, just like I did.
About The Author
Hi there, I am Ali. I am 28 years old and I love travelling, especially around Asia. I am an English tutor most of the time that I am not sleeping. I make YouTube videos (mostly about Japan right now as I lived there for a year) so if that interests you feel free to visit my channel aligoesabroad. I also have an Instagram where I post pictures of my travels with long encompassing descriptions, aligoesabroad is the name for that too because I am bad at being original. I hope you enjoyed my article and I look forward to any and all support over social media. Thank you!