Trip Report: Seoul (Part 1)

Thrifty Travel Mama - Seoul, South Korea with Kids, Part 1With the risk of boring you, I’ll rinse and repeat.  We LOVED our trip to South Korea.  Staying with friends made me feel instantly at home, rather than the usual wish to go home.  No icky are-these-sheets-really-clean feelings.  No I-can’t-decide-what-to-eat-for-dinner tonight.  No why-did-we-think-this-was-a-good-idea thoughts.

Knowing a few people who could show us around, give us advice, and help us process our experience smashed the stress level as low as it could possibly be on a first trip to Asia with two boys under four and no real Korean language skills to speak of.

As I mentioned yesterday, Seoul is a BIG city.  Before we arrived, I worked out an itinerary allowing for flexibility, naps, wandering, etc.  But, we didn’t get to everything on the itinerary because of the time it took to actually get from A to B.  Our favorites may have been different had we visited everything on our wish list.  But, this is real life, and it’s not perfect.  Good thing perfection isn’t a necessary ingredient for enjoyment.

Without further ado, here are the High Fives from our trip to Seoul, South Korea.

Cheonggyecheon Stream.  This is a stream turned highway turned stream again in downtown Seoul.  It’s a nice break from the endless cityscape.  We didn’t spend much time here, but I could easily see this as a fun place for a weekend walk if we lived there.  I’ve heard it’s even more amazing after dark.  But with a kids’ bedtime of 730pm, a night visit just ain’t happenin’.

The Spring, designed by Claes Oldenberg, at the entrance of the stream.

Insadong.  This corner of Seoul houses traditional art galleries, paper shops, antique stores, etc.  We found most of our souvenirs here (and no, we did not buy any snow globes, paper weights, magnets, or keychains).  I thought perhaps better bargains on souvenirs would be had at markets like Namdemun, but unless you’re buying in bulk, the place to go is Insadong.

We like funky t-shirts from places we have been.  I saw very few t-shirts while in Seoul other than junky cheeseball “I Heart Korea” models.  My friend clued me in: Koreans don’t wear t-shirts.  Well, that explains it. Insadong had the only t-shirt shop I saw with interesting, non-touristy designs.  I thought the price of 26,000W was a bit much and passed.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see any other t-shirts until we returned to the Seoul Incheon Airport where dollar-store quality models were going for 29,000W.  Bummer, yo.

Running around Insadong.

The War Memorial of Korea.  Wow, what a find.  I usually immediately cross off museums from any list of attractions.  I detest guided tours, and taking two little boys into a place filled with “no touch” items is some kind of weird self-inflicted torture.   But, I came across a tip online mentioning that the outdoor portion of this museum is full of airplanes, helicopters, tanks, ships, etc. which one can climb in, on, under, around, etc.   And, most thrilling to me, the museum was free!  My boys LOVED exploring all the vehicles and protested heavily when it was time to leave.

This is only part of the outdoor portion of the War Memorial!

LOOK, mama! A-planes!

Namsan Hanok Village.  Another freebie, the Hanok Village is a place to discover what Korean life was like before fifty-story high-rise apartment buildings and televisions in every car/bus/subway/train/plane/mobile phone.  I must admit, we visited the village for the sole purpose of trying on hanbok (more on that later), but we enjoyed poking around and trying to figure out the ancient contraptions.

A walkway in the Hanok Village.

Myeongdong & Namdemun Markets.  Shopping is an integral part of the Seoul experience.  Koreans love to shop!  They also seriously love knock-offs.  Everywhere I looked people old and young were covered in Louis Vuitton, Coach, Gucci, etc.  Wondering where to find your own LV patterned trousers?  Head to Myeongdong or Namdemun.  However, I have to say that visiting these markets with children is not the ideal scenario.  We kept the boys happy with a foot-long green tea and vanilla swirled ice cream cone and only stayed an hour and a half.  Any more time or lack of sugar and this would have gone from High Five to Low Blow.

The dizzying Myeongdong market.

The Blue House.  This is the Korean version of the White House.  This was a whole experience in itself, so I’ll devote an entire post to our visit.

Gyeongbokgung Palace.  Seoul has four or five main palaces.  I knew we’d only have time for one, so we took our friends’ recommendation and chose Gyeongbokgung.  We were not disappointed!  The changing of the guard ceremony is fun for kids and adults to watch, admission is inexpensive (3,000W for adults/little kiddos free), and the architecture and palace grounds are simply stunning.  I could have spent at least a half day here, including picnic lunch.

Gate in front of Gyeongbokgung.

This dude was up in the gate honking his horn.

Dream job: historial reenactment drummer.

Sweet hat and stellar fake beard.

Gwanghwamun Square.  Okay, I’ll admit, this made my list just because I’d seen it in a recent Korean TV series.  But, even if you’re not into Korean TV, this square is still worth a look.  The boys thought it was totally cool to run around crazy in the middle of traffic.  We were only able to briefly check out the giant statues at either end of the square as it started to drizzle and then pour.  Had it not been raining, the boys would have been trying to run through the fountain in front of the statue of Lee Sun Shin.  If you find yourself in Gwanghwamun Square, don’t forget to sneak a peak at the heavily fortified US embassy.  I thought about trying to find a reason to visit, but I’d left my passport back at the ranch.

Gwanghwamun Square entrance to/from the subway. Statue of Lee Sun Shin in the rain.

Olympic Park.  A bit by accident, we visited this extremely out-of-the-way park twice during our visit.  Fortunately, we saw different sides each time: first the impressive World Peace Gate, and second the back side and nature-y part.  Our enjoyment of this place had more to do with the company we kept, but Olympic Park is still a wonderful distraction from the concrete forest surrounding it.

A portion of the World Peace Gate.

Next up, I’ll share our Low Blows from Seoul, followed by a Trip Report of our time in Jeju Island, South Korea.

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7 thoughts on “Trip Report: Seoul (Part 1)

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