Heart and Seoul

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The Travelers
Gigi Schrijvers van Zenden, her husband Teddy, and their daughter Gabrielle (4).

The Cost
The total cost was around USD 2,188. Airfare cost USD 980, hotel accommodations cost RMB 758, and other expenses (food, transport, shopping, sightseeing) came to USD 450.

The Plan
The family planned a five-day trip to Seoul flying Asiana Airlines (but Air China tends to have better deals). The flight took only 90 minutes,  making Seoul a quick getaway. They stayed at PJ Hotel, conveniently located near Myeongdong. The family took the airport bus to the hotel, which stops about a block away. However, the walk from the bus stop to the hotel required them to travel under a strange underpass, which was a little scary in the middle of the night. In the bright of day, it is actually a quaint street, with nothing to fear save for the occasional speedy motorcycle and the fishy smell from nearby Korean restaurants.

The Sights
The itinerary included seeing the lovely Gyeongbokgung Palace, which was very manageable with small children in tow. It was fun watching the changing of the guards and the view of the mountains in the backgroundwas amazing. Shopping along Insadong, a shop-lined street with funky, albeit touristy wares, was fun. Parents should note that shop owners are not as child-friendly in Seoul as they are in Beijing.

On their third day, they went to Lotte World, Korea’s version of Disneyland. It is mostly indoors, easy-to-navigate and doable in about five hours. Gabrielle had to be coerced to do the balloon ride, which gives a bird’s-eye view of the entire place, but for the most part, she loved it. They also enjoyed the parade.

Their fourth day was dedicated to shopping. Seoul’s markets are definitely pricier than their Beijing counterparts, but they stock really cool items that you just don’t see in Beijing. In Dongdaemun, the clothing market dubbed Pyounghwa Fashion Town is outrageously unending. The family only managed to peruse one aisle of the first floor of the three-storey building before throwing in the towel. Gangnam Terminal Underground Shopping Center is also worth a look. Their day ended with a meal at Burger King, a Krispy Kreme donut and a taste experiment in peculiar ice cream flavors.

Their fifth and last day was a Sunday, so the family went to Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral, a beautiful church that sits atop a hill. After the service, they wandered around the area (really interesting, even at 10am) and found a congee restaurant, which provided them with a yummy breakfast. Gigi swears it’s the best congee she’s ever had.

The Best Part
Seoul was fascinating, clean, orderly, and fun, with a good mix of things to do. The food in Seoul proved to be a highlight. Each restaurant has its own style of bibimbap (mixed rice) and it quickly became the staple meal for Gigi. The street food is fantastic and the city seems hygienic enough for it to be safe; but, as a general rule, travelers should eat street food at their own risk. The family recommends tryinglittle baked dough balls, similar to Hong Kong pancakes, but with a delicious filling.

The Worst Part
In the airport bus on the way back to the airport, Gabrielle threw up. However, the people on the bus were very nice, offering plastic bags for the "undesirables" and packets of wet wipes to help with the clean up.

Most Unexpected Event
Seoul appears to be divided into shopping zones, with some items sold only on certain streets. Adjacent to the hotel was a row of printer stores, behind it a street selling bathroom supplies, and not much farther were lighting shops. Opposite the hotel was a row of shops with big windows displaying pets for sale. Customers can sit at a table and choose a pet to play with.

Family Friendly Features
A lot of people speak English and there is never a shortage of people willing to help out. Once at a subway station, a woman clearly in a rush, stopped to give the family directions and even walked quite a distance to show them how to get to Lotte Mart – the only supermarket they managed to find besides convenient stores. The food was enjoyable, especially for Gabrielle who loves noodles. Also, the coffee shop Coffee Bean is everywhere and is a fun treat when you need a break from all of the sight-seeing.

The family recommends going to Seoul at the end of October when the weather is nice and warm, and not too chilly at night. The subway is great for getting around. Nandaemun Market was unimpressive, but that’s possibly because the shopping is so great in Beijing.



*Correction: The print edition mistakenly said they have two daughters. They only have one daughter: 4-year-old Gabrielle.

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