Filivino’s Guide to Seoul
Filivino and family recently went to Seoul!
Not long after our trip to Denver we were back in the air for an extended international trip to Seoul, South Korea. While this was not my first trip to Seoul, it was our first trip with a child on hand. And this post will focus on this trip, a future post may include our trips to Jeju, Busan, and the DMZ. And this may become a multipart post because we were there a while and there is TONS to do!
I found the most of the time when we told someone we were going to Korea, the reactions, were, “Business?”, “Military”, and “Why?”. Unfortunately people don’t really know a lot about Korea as a travel destination which is too bad because it is an extraordinarily beautiful country with lovely people and something to offer everyone.
Things to know:
It took a good three days for us to adjust to the time change. The subtitle of this part of the blog is “Dragged around the world by a toddler”, but on this trip, in the beginning, we were the ones dragging the toddler around. Which brings me to tip #1.
Tip #1 – Bring a stroller. Flying Lad fell asleep a number of times while we were out and about. We brought an umbrella stroller. It would’ve been nice to have a stroller that reclined to keep his head from falling forward as he slept, but our umbrella stroller was a bit easier to lug around. You will notice around Seoul that anyone else that has a stroller has something super fancy. Don’t get stroller envy! You need to be agile and light!
Back to the jet lag. One day we’d be falling asleep and Flying Lad would still be up playing on the computer and would come to bed when the battery died. The next day, Flying Lad would fall asleep in the early evening and wake up in the middle of the night (fully rested)!
Another thing about waking up early–breakfast. Most coffee shops and restaurants don’t open until 8:00 or later, which feels late when you’re waking up at 5 or 6 AM. There are some cafes that open early – 6:30/7:30 – Starbucks, for example – and we got some yogurt at a convenience store one morning. We were really happy to have breakfast included at our second hotel and that the buffet opened at 6:30. I eat eggs and veggies in the morning and Flying Lad likes oatmeal some mornings, a breakfast sandwich others, so having the hotel breakfast buffet just downstairs helped us get a healthy start to our days.
I think a great way to get a lay of the land in a big city is a hop on hop off bus tour. There were a few different routes to choose from. We chose the one that took us to Namsangol Hanok Village, Seoul Tower, and Insadong.
At Namsangol Hanok Village, I wish I had noticed the free tours being offered by volunteers. I walked in on the right hand side of the road and they were stationed on the left, so keep an eye out for them.
Good to know – the bus doesn’t seem to follow the schedule. I tried to take note of the schedules posted at each place when we got off the bus (even taking a picture once, so I could refer back to it), another time I kept track of how long it had been since we got off the last bus, but we generally found ourselves waiting ~15 minutes for a bus.
Seoul Tower – It’s an uphill walk to the base of the tower from where the bus drops you off. Next time, instead of taking the bus, we’ll head to the place where you can catch the cable car, which is walking distance from Myeongdong.
Tip #2: Tourist Guide Booklet
This became my bible. It’s a pocket sized booklet. Thin and easy to carry. I picked mine up at the Tourist Info center in Myeongdong and brought it with me everywhere. Also, those official tourist guides–the people in the red shirts manning the centers and on the streets in pairs–are very helpful. The first one gave us great directions on where to catch the hop on hop off bus and recommended a couple of chicken ginseng soup restaurants. The second one directed us to a yummy ice cream shop.
Tip #3: Free hotel shuttle van
Our first day venturing out from the JW Marriott, one of the guest relations specialists, Barbara, informed us of the free shuttle the hotel operated on weekends and holidays, with stops in Itaewon and Myeongdong. This was super convenient. Traveling with a toddler and taking our stroller along, we were taking lots of cabs, so using the free shuttle van when we could was nice, so be sure to check if your hotel provides any free shuttles.
We had read a few articles which gave us some ideas to put on our list of what to eat in Seoul.
In addition to the usual suspects–Korean BBQ, Korean Fried Chicken, street food–we greatly enjoyed:
Chicken ginseng soup (Samgyetang)
A small whole chicken, stuffed with ginseng, jujube, and rice, slow cooked in broth. Flying Lad really enjoyed this. This soup is supposed to cure what ails you. It is full of lots of herbs and is basically a super fancy chicken soup. And the one we had was amazing! One thing to keep in mind is that you will be given a couple of small dishes on the side – salt and a combination of sesame oil and other flavors. Don’t dump these in your soup. Use them to dip your chicken on if it’s not quite to your flavor profile.
Pork Skirt Meat (Galmaesigal)
No, there are no pigs wandering about wearing tutus. But this was worth the trip. When I asked one of the concierges, he said, “Oh, yes, this place is famous for that dish.” It was different from anything we’d had before/in the States, and it was SO good! You get a sort of standard KBBQ table, but the grill has a lip around the side that you pour an egg mixture in. The flavors from the pork roll down the sides of the grill while the eggs cook to something akin to an omelette. This was one of those times when Flying Lad had fallen asleep. We had to maneuver the stroller through a maze of “chairs” (they were really steel barrels) and grills to our spot in the back and had to lean him back against the wall so his head wouldn’t droop forward. He missed out.
Noodle soup at Myeongdong Kyoga
This was a place I had read about and when I told Barbara that we were headed into Myeongdong for lunch, she asked if we were going to have the noodles at Myeongdong Kyoga. I hadn’t planned to, since I’m trying to watch my carbs, but when in Seoul, so off we went and boy am I glad we did. The noodles were so silky and the broth so rich. Mmm! Flying Lad nommed the noodles.
There are SO many GREAT choices of places to eat. We asked one of the hotel concierges for a recommendation for a chicken place and he told us where he and his coworkers go, downstairs in the subway station, and it was great! The crust on the chicken tasted like a potato chip. So crisp and well-seasoned. Thanks, Lui!
The department store food halls
It was so fun walking around and seeing all the offerings. We could spend months trying to eat everything we wanted to try. It became a default place for us to go, because it was air conditioned, you could get a seat, a glass of water, and a reasonably priced delicious meal. Did I mention, there is so much to choose from? Not Korean, but one of the yummiest things we had in a food hall was a Bake cheese tart. It’s a (3) bite sized freshly baked cheesecake-like delicious meltiness in a shortbread tart cup. Not really a custard, not really a cheesecake, not a cake. Nom! So good! Check out our own recipe!
This post would not be complete without the toddler specific stuff.
There are a number of kids cafes. The first one we went to was the Tayo Café. Unfortunately, we didn’t go to the big one, as it was far from our hotel, but there was a small one at the Lotte Department store close to us and Flying Lad had an amazing time there.
The concierge at the Park Hyatt let us know about the Pororo Café at the CoEx shopping mall, just across the way from the hotel, so we took Flying Lad there on day 2. This kids café was much bigger than the first one we went to and he had a ball there! One sort of funny thing we noticed while we were there, is that because it is a “cafe” and they do serve coffee, it attracted a lot of business men on break. Perhaps because there is a lot of seating and it’s away from the crowd… or maybe Pororo makes amazing coffee, but there were a lot of older gentlemen having coffee breaks there. And don’t worry it wasn’t in a creepy way.
And while you’re out and about keep an eye out for actual Tayo buses!
Speaking of the Park Hyatt in Seoul, it’s very much a business sort of hotel. But, they did leave a teddy bear and a t-shirt on the bed for Flying Lad! This is something I have never seen at any other hotel we’ve stayed in. It was a very nice touch.
There were a couple of kids cafes close to our second hotel, the JW Marriott. The Animal Café in Famille Station looked like fun and the Shinsegae department store had something called Littland. Truth be told the Little Shinsegae floor (10) seemed like a giant playground for a toddler. It had a HUGE toy selection and lots of areas for kids to play with the toys. There were Legos and Playmobil train sets and Tayo and Pororo toys and cars–all sorts of things. Flying Lad would’ve been happy to spend most of his time in Seoul there. And there was a super fancy baby food store near the toys as well.
Quick aside here – Car seats are not required in Korea. So you can either do as the locals do, or you can bring your own which is not very convenient. That being said we had the hotel come pick us up at the airport and they did provide one as we had requested. Also, more recently we’ve been using this on our travels. Perhaps I’ll write up a full review. mostly positive.
Another place we really enjoyed at the Shinsegae department store connected to the JW Marriott was the S Garden. Located on the top floor, there’s a play area with sand and structures to climb on. There’s a small grassy area to run around in and a little fish pond to sit beside. Oh, and of course, if you play in the sandy area, there are air jets you can use to get all of the sand off of your shoes and clothes!
Another place Flying Lad, and Flying Momma and Dad, really enjoyed was Seoul Forest. It was quite the oasis from the crowds of the shopping areas and there was a playground Flying Lad had a lot of fun playing on.
If your toddler just needs a place to run around, there’s plenty of room down by the river. We went to the Banpo Hangang Park to watch the Rainbow Fountain show, but while we waited, we walked around and looked at the Somesevit buildings and Flying Lad played “Chasee!” with Flying Dad in the open space. If you’re hungry, you can have Chimak (beer and fried chicken) delivered right to you!
There are a few toddler specific eats I’ll mention.
We were on vacation and it was hot so we indulged Flying Lad in an ice cream a day. A few of the best –
Ever since we went to Turkey a few years ago we’ve been trying to find a place to get Turkish ice cream. If you’ve never had, it the texture is like no other. It’s a bit… chewy. It really is amazing. And apparently it has to come with a show from the server. And Flying Lad loved the show.
Watching them create the ice cream roses was fascinating. It’s more spectacle than anything else, but it sure is fun to look at and eat. And eating them was pretty fun, too.
Vanilla ice cream in a fish-shaped cone topped with honeycomb
Similar to the fried fish-shaped red bean cakes you see everywhere, you can get one that’s hollowed out to old ice cream. And wow–that was a mouthful! It was unique, fun to look at, and delicious.
This is a big thing right now. Flying Lad enjoyed the scoop of chocolate ice cream while Flying Dad and Flying Momma enjoyed the ice flakes.
Ice cream in a cane shaped tube
Flying Lad really enjoyed this one. Not sure if it was because it was the biggest. The cone tasted kind of like stale cereal and the ice cream was just like an icy soft serve. This one is definitely more spectacle than anything else. You can skip it if you’re curious.
Really tall ice cream!
In the food hall at the Shinsegae you can get this super-tall ice cream cone. Basically it’s soft serve that the re-freeze. It’s another spectacle that’s not really worth getting.
Do you have any experiences to share about traveling in Seoul with a toddler?