7 things to do this winter in and around Seoul

Posted on September 13, 2010

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This summer I took you on a nostalgic trip to my home country Malta, with a series of posts entitled ’10 things to do in Malta this summer’. Following a bitter-sweet trip to this lovely island, I showed you 10 ways to experience Maltese and Gozitan life like locals do, and was rewarded with many many readers, (a lot of them Spanish, who seem to love my little island) and a few who personally thanked me for my posts. With summer nearly over and people already wondering where they could run away to for a mid-winter trip (I’m secretly wishing for a boring beach holiday), I’m going to share with you 10 things you can do in Winter in and around Seoul. Seoul, in Winter? I hear you asking incredulously. Yes, Seoul, and in winter.  And this is why…

I visited the South Korean capital almost 2 years ago bang in the middle of winter, and was rewarded with a trip which pretty much changed my life. When we think about Asia, we think of Japan, China, Thailand and Bali, but very few of us think South Korea. In this series of posts, I want to show you how you’ve all been very very wrong not to have visited yet. It’s a beautiful and magical place. So stay tuned as through the coming weeks, I give you the inside scoop on a region which remains persistently off the Asian tourist track. In the mean time, here are a few things you should remember, know and learn before getting yourself to this inspiring country:

Practise using steel chopsticks

Korea is the only Asian nation which uses steel chopsticks. While the habit was initially introduced by royalty afraid of being poisoned (steel tarnishes when it comes into contact with poisonous substances), it persisted into modern times and now is more a matter of hygiene, not to mention the fact that such utensils are environmentally friendly when compared to their unrecyclable wooden counterparts.

Learn the Korean alphabet

While most foreigners tend to take one look at Asian characters and feel themselves swoon at the very thought of attempting to learn them, Korean characters are in fact very easy to memorise as they are largely phonetic. There are many excellent language sites which teach you about each character and its pronunciation, and you will find that  after a few hours of study and a couple of weeks of practice you’ll be all set to go. Not only will the ability to read Korean characters prove immensely useful, but it will be also gain you the admiration of the locals who appreciate immensely foreigners who take the time to learn it.

Learn a few Korean phrases

Seoul is a surprisingly English-friendly city. Subway announcements are made in English and Korean, and many restaurants have menus with English translations. If they don’t, they will usually have a useful picture so you can figure out exactly what you’re ordering. While most young people go to considerable lengths to study English, not many actually feel comfortable speaking it, so if you seek help by asking the locals and they reply that they don’t speak English very well, it’s usually a matter of shyness. The key is to speak slowly and pronounce your words clearly, and to be patient if the pronunciation of the Korean you’re speaking to is difficult to understand, as it does take a bit of getting used to. Learning a few standard Korean phrases to be used when facing elder non-English speaking Koreans can be very effective at breaking the ice and causing a few warm smiles.

Seoul is modern and relatively cheap

I personally fell in love with Seoul because it is at the same time as modern and technology-crazy as countries like Japan and Singapore, but affordable in a way that these two countries are not. With a bit of research you will find comfortable accommodation that does not cost a fortune, and though it may be nothing fancy, it will be clean and conveniently located. My personal recommendation is Guesthouse Korea, where I stayed for the entire length of my trip. Click here for my review of it. Eating out and sightseeing are also incredibly affordable, if not downright cheap (depending on your currency conversion)

South Korea may be joined at the hip with North Korea, but it is safe

Despite the dark cloud which North Korea  is to South Korea, at no point during my trip did I feel unsafe. Talks of war between the two Koreas are often dismissed by locals, since South Korea’s citizens at least seem to think everything is ok and that the two countries are moving more towards peace than towards conflict.

Now that you’re all set, all you need is to buy your ticket, pack a warm jacket and an open-mind, and prepare to embark on a journey of surprising discoveries.

And of course, stay tuned. In the meantime, you can also get your imagination going by reading posts I’ve already published about South Korea. Learn about a chance encounter with a middle-aged Korean man, the pleasure of walking through Seoul with a local, a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria with a crazy interior, the district of Insadong, and Seoul’s two Buddhist temples.

-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.travelwithdenden.wordpress.com

 

 

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Posted in: Seoul