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Meandering in Seoul

3 Feb

It is the last few days of a generous break inspired by the Lunar New Year. While Korean families were busy cooking up a storm for the holiday, I was grateful for an extended vacation.  I took myself on a little outing in Seoul and rented a studio for a few days.

A fresh little spot in Hongdae

A fresh little spot in Hongdae

First, I have to share my excitement at my accommodation find.  As hotel rates in Seoul are typically unfriendly to the budget traveler, I turned to airbnb.com.  It is one of my favorite sites for exploring affordable and interesting places to stay anywhere in the globe.  Airbnb is not your typical accommodation search.  Its listings range from the colorful and decadent to the intimate and affordable. Airbnb hosts are regular people and families from all over the world with some extra space to share with travelers. There are options for any price range plus plenty of personal reviews from past guests to guide you in the right direction.

Located on a quiet artsy street

Located on a quiet artsy street

After some persistent searching, I found a little studio apartment to rent in a charming neighborhood in Seoul called Hongdae.  It was perfect for me.  Private, clean and comfortable, small kitchen, moderate price, plus a great location and a secure building.

To make it even better, I got an amazing deal.  On top of the already fair pricing, I took a chance and did a google search for coupons for airbnb.  You know what I am talking about, the cryptic code you enter at checkout that saves you money. And guess what, I found one!  And even better, it worked! (as sometimes they do… and sometimes they don’t…)  With the coupon, I saved $100 on my three-night booking.  Quite a deal!Airbnb-logo

While the viability of that coupon has already come… and gone, I do want to pass on some airbnb saving to you.  Simply register for airbnb HERE  (at no charge) and on your first booking you will automatically receive $25 OFF your total cost. Not a bad deal!

As the Lunar New Year is a holiday that sends people out of the cities to be with their families, I enjoyed a few days of Seoul a bit more on the quiet side.  It was easier to get a seat on the subway and at least some streets afforded a casual leisurely pace.



While in Seoul I went to see the well-known and long running show, Nanta.  The theater was in Myeong-dong, a busy shopping district. I had heard good things about the show from friends, but in truth had no idea what to expect. I sat in the intimate theater excited to simply have the treat of a new experience.  As the lights dimmed and the show began, my heart leapt at the pleasure of the dramatic music and seeing bodies move and dance.

Nanta, in short, is a theatrical performance running since 1997 inspired by the art of traditional Korean drumming.  As Nanta is set in a comedic kitchen, rather than drums mostly, the performers use knives, and whatever else they can get their hands on for a spectacular drumming display.  The performers were engaging and entertaining as their bodies, faces and percussion lured us in.  It was a sold out show that evening and I’m glad I went to check it out.

I did my best to feed myself while meandering in Seoul for three days.  In earnest, it is not always easy.  I am a sensitive soul and that includes the foods I eat, most notably sugar, which is in most Korean foods. I began with a few favorites. Lunch at Gusto Taco in Sangsu with a friend.  Chicken curry at Khajuraho Indian Cuisine in Hongdae.



I was determined to eat some Korean food. I asked for a recommendation at a tourist information booth and made my way to a fresh Korean restaurant.  I tried something simple that I knew I could eat.  Bibimbap.  Traditionally, it’s veggies and an egg served over rice.  If I don’t use the chili paste served with it, filled with sugar, I am good to go.  When my food arrived, while the presentation was lovely, I was sad to see a plate filled with food I couldn’t eat.  Soup, kimchi, and marinated vegetables all filled with sugar and not for me.  What was left?  Some rice, greens and an egg.  While not a unpaletable meal, a bit less than what I had desired.  And so it goes.

I enjoyed my time in Seoul but afterwards was also content to get back to the quiet hills of Paju.  When I returned home I was distraught to discover that I left the charger for my computer at the apartment in Seoul.  I contacted the host of the studio and was relieved to hear it was there.  I needed this right away so I made the unwanted trek back to Seoul to claim my charger.

Korean Home Cookin'!

Korean Home Cookin’!

When I arrived the host was there preparing the room for the next guest.  A young Korean woman working full-time in marketing and running this as a side-business, she couldn’t have been friendlier.  She brought me some traditional Korean food that she and her mom had prepared to ease the pain of my unexpectd return journey.  It looked delicious and lucky for me, most of it was no sugar added. Connecting with her and receiving her gift made the trip back a bright spot in the day.

When I returned to Paju the second time I was surprised to see a parade of people and cars at the cemetery just up the street from English Village.  As is tradition for the Lunar New Year, they were there honoring their ancestors.  It was so crowded that there was a professional in the middle of the road directing traffic.

But I am home now, in my comfy English Village apartment. Soon I will be easing back into work life.  It’s been a great week.  Explorations in Seoul.  Connections with a few friends and new connections.  Plus some laid back time on my own.

How about you?  Any great travel stories, ideas or deals to share?  It’s always good to hear from you! Good-bye for now from the dwindling vacation days at Paju English Village.

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