My girls and I planned a last minute trip to South Korea over part of October holiday. Ava (8) had a good friend in kindergarten that moved back home, and this would be the first time they had seen each other since. It was a sweet friendship, so her mom and I both decided it would be a great idea to visit. They live in the heart of Seoul, and since we had never been there, we filled the 4-day trip with an exhausting, kid-friendly schedule.
The first full day was packed full of Seoul-culture experiences, starting with a subway ride to:
- Insadong-gil, a famous walking street full of specialty shops, souvenirs, snack stalls, cafes and plenty of photo opportunities. We enjoyed strolling around seeing what there was to buy, taste and experience. There we even saw the winner of the Korean version of American Idol!
- Bukchon Hanok Village was on our way to lunch, an area complete with traditional architecture, quaint galleries, and the Korean sticky rice snack Tteok-kkochi (something my daughter Leah (10) knew about from friends at school).
- Samcheong-Dong Walk, another renowned shopping area, hosts the famous noodle restaurant Samcheong-Dong Sujebi. The line outside was a testament to its popularity, although the wait wasn’t bad. Inside looked much like an American diner, and the menu was the same for all – sujebi, a hot pot style of noodles, kimchi and potato pancakes.
- Gyeongbokgung Palace was next. The location of the palace is fascinating and very deliberate. With mountains to the north and the city and water to the south, its placement was meant for luck. The girls had a great time exploring the different parts that were the prince’s chambers, the queen’s chambers and all other royal sections.
- N Seoul Tower, an iconic structure at the city’s center, is a must-see. Taking the cable car you get views of the city from all sides. We didn’t go up the observation deck, but the base of the tower offered plenty to do. A fun tradition is the Locks of Love – you buy a padlock and a message tag, find space along the fence to secure it, then throw away the key. The intent is for love messages, but anything will work. Ava and her friend June wrote a sweet friendship message to each other, then tossed the key as tradition dictates. Leah read that there are over 4 million locks on the tower base to date.
Day two was designed for the kids to have fun, and for mom to shop a little:
- KidZania is a Mexican start-up play place that reminded me of Christopher Lay’s post about EE City (click here). As a matter of fact, I think it’s exactly the same other than the name. KidZania is in many countries and will be in the U.S. in 2012. Basically, you pay a fee for five hours of fun. Kids earn money at make-believe work stations such as house painting, hospital work or flight school; and spend money at shops such as Dunkin Donuts, a bottling company, or cooking school. The girls got to try four and five stations each in that time frame, the lines making it the most frustrating part of the experience. Otherwise, the kid-sized ambience was pretty incredible, and I imagine we’ll be checking out EE City very soon. Note to parents of older kids, my 10-year old had a blast, although the average age was younger than she. On their website, KidZania suggests it’s suitable for ages 4-14.
- Costco was a must-see for me. I can’t help it; I’m American and miss my Costco. The girls were dropped back home to burn off energy with the MANY playgrounds where we were staying, while Sue and I headed to the busiest Costco I’ve ever seen in my life. Though Halloween is not a big holiday in Korea, they did have some decorations and enough candy for me to stock up (making for a very heavy suitcase).
- Dongdaemun Market (DDM) is famous for opening at 9pm and going until sunrise. The area was lit up and busy – everything from department store shopping to bargain markets. After a late dinner, the girls were still up for going, and we treated them with a midnight waffle for being such good sports. Yes, I said midnight. (As a side note, I had no clue that there were so many donuts and waffles in Korea!).
The last full day there, Sue had to return to work. However, she arranged for us to go to:
- Everland, a DisneyWorld Magic Kingdom-style theme park, complete with knock off Emporium stores and It’s a Small World rides. Because Korean schools were in session, it was not very crowded, and the girls were able to enjoy every ride that they wanted to without waiting in long lines.
With several little things in between, this was our main itinerary for a busy four days of fun. Seoul is a sprawling city, and there is plenty to do. For kid-friendly itineraries, those I mentioned plus Lotte World are great. For historical sites, there are many palaces, museums and sights to see, including the DMZ between North and South Korea. It’s a night-life city, so if you’re up for burning the midnight oil, shopping, restaurants and clubs await. And the short hour-and-a-half flight makes it even more appealing for a quick get-away.
Our hostess was the absolute best, arranging everything from our accommodations (a guest room of the apartment complex where her mom lives; a nice “hotel” type room for only about $50 a night!), to our travel (we never had to go it alone), to the activities that she thought we’d each enjoy. Our next trip to Korea will, hopefully, not inconvenience her quite so much as we will be able to chart our own course. But the main purpose of the trip was to reconnect friends, and that was done with gusto.