While Seoul is a city of many talents, if there’s anything worth travelling to the global capital for, it’s to savour its mouth-watering array of street foods. On every street corner, inside every subway station, and even in the shopping malls, the edible wares of hundreds of thousands of food carts (or pochangmachas) beckon with tantalising aromas: spicy-sweet tteokbokki, dough-y bungeoppang, moreish eomuk, and – of course – the famous fried chicken. With so much on offer, and only so many hours (and calories) in a day, make the most of Korea’s culinary delights with our handy guide to street food.
Tteokbokki (떡볶이): New York has bagels, London has fish and chips, and Seoul has tteokbokki. Spicy, with just enough sweetness to keep you coming back for more, tteokbokki is a favourite among locals and foreigners alike. While, the doughy rice cake may give the jaw a bit of a workout, it’s a flavourful delight that warms the heart and the tongue.
Recommended spot: Singdang-dong, Tteokbokki Town
Eomuk (어묵): If you hadn’t noticed already, fish is all the rage here in Korea. And eomuk (or Korean fish cake) is possibly our favourite way to consume it. While we 100% recommend stuffing your stomach with it, the real challenge is to enjoy it in as many different ways as possible, from skewered and in a broth (eomuk guk) to deep-fried. Handy hint: Most tteokbokki has eomuk in it, so save a buck and taste two for the price of one.
Recommended spot: Gwangjang Market
Tornado Potato: Seen around the world, this roadside delicacy’s roots can be traced right back here, to Seoul. More specifically, to Myeongdong – the home of experimental street food trends. Simply, a tornado potato is whole potato wound around a skewer and then splashed, dipped, and decorated with a tasteful selection of spices, resulting in a wholesome and salty flavour – delish!
Recommended spot: Myeongdong Shopping Street
Fried chicken: You won’t get far in Seoul without being stopped in your tracks by the scintillating scent of fried chicken. With their own secret blend of herbs and spices, Korea is, without a doubt, the OG of this world-wide favourite. Hot tip: transform your chicken into chimaek by enjoying it with maekju (beer). If you are curious about the start of Korean fried chicken, check out 10 Mag’s article on it’s history here.
Recommended spot: Anywhere in Hongdae
Hot dogs: Korean hot dogs are not your typical bun stuffed with dog, in fact they have a closer resemblance to corn dogs. But, while they are deliciously moreish, the best thing about Korean hot dogs is that there is such variation. From tornado-potato hotdogs and french-fry hot dogs to tteokbokki and deep-fried noodle hot dogs, there is a dog for everyone.
Recommended spot: Myeongdong Shopping Street
A Taste of Adventure
Beondegi (번데기): If you enjoy a more bizarre menu, then Korea won’t disappoint. We recommend diving right into the deep end and grabbing a handful of beondegi, or roasted silkworm pupae. It’s easy to mistake them for toasted, steaming nuts; however when biting down, you’re sure to get a mouthful of surprise.
Recommended spot: Namdaemun Market or Gwangjang Market
Soondae (순대): Another favourite is soondae (not to be confused with the sweet, cold treat – sundae). Simply put, soondae is blood sausage – specifically pork blood. While, the concept may be hard to stomach, this street food is deliciously rich and packed with flavour, even if it is a tad gory.
Recommended spot: Namdaemun Market or Gwangjang Market
Sweet, Sweet Escape
Those with a sweet tooth, beware. The streets of Seoul are a smorgasbord of sugary treats that are as tempting to the eye as the tastebuds. From 32cm ice-cream, frozen yoghurt, and every type of waffle imaginable to a rainbow-delight of cotton candy, all the old favourites are readily available.
Bungeoppang (붕어빵): However, try something a little different with this tasty treat: bungeoppang. While hotteok (호떡) (a sweet, stuffed pancake) is the most commonly enjoyed dessert in Seoul, our favourite doughy delight is bungeoppang. Similar to the Instagram-famous Japanese taiyaki, bungeoppang is a fish-shaped waffle usually stuffed with sweet red bean paste. However, it can also be enjoyed with a mouthful (the fish’s and yours) of ice-cream.
Recommended spot: Myeongdong Shopping Street
With this short, sweet (and some not so sweet) guide to Seoul’s street food in hand, the only advice we have left to give is this: come hungry when coming to Seoul. 맛있게 드세요! Or, bon appetit!
Home to a number of style rule breakers and internationally-acclaimed trendsetters (G-Dragon, to name one), Seoul is saturated with experimental fashion. And the best part is, all you have to do for a front-row seat is hit the city’s streets. Alas, we cannot all live in Seoul, so for those who are forced to watch from afar, we have found (and then sufficiently stalked) the Instagrams of our five favorite (and perhaps lesser-known) street style photographers and influencers for your personal viewing pleasure. Added bonus: Begin planning next year’s wardrobe with their top trend forecasts for 2019.
British photographer Alex Finch may be known for capturing Seoul Fashion Week since 2014 (spot his work in the pages of Vogue), however, he has been shooting street style for even longer. It was 6 years ago that he took to the streets to capture Seoul’s best-dressed, and it is still a passion of his. Not only will you spot the faces of well-known fashionistas such as Irene Kim, but Alex also features ordinary people and off-duty models on his Instagram.
Fashion blogger and influencer, Cheri stands out on the streets as much as on social media. Her styling career started in her mom’s closet, and now, with over 60 000 followers, her Instagram boasts a diverse collection of colorful and bold looks from sporty cool to soft and sweet. Her unique take on mixing patterns and materials makes her a serious trendsetter to watch.
Model Park Taemin is the epitome of effortless cool. While his looks are not as ‘out-there’ as some, his refined style is right at home on the fashionably diverse streets of Seoul. Throughout his life, Taemin has enjoyed exploring different styles and clothing, so a career in fashion came naturally to him. We only hope that one day we’re able to pull off fire looks as casually as he does.
After living next to Garosugil (Sinsa’s famous fashion road) for 4 years, Daniel Luna’s fascination with fashion was sufficiently piqued. “I’ve always been into design, but living there made me consider nuance in fashion on a deeper level,” he comments. However, it wasn’t until he moved to Hongdae that he started street style photography. Visit his Instagram for a curated lookbook of playful and forward-thinking Seoul fashion.
2019 Trend Forecast: For winter, I expect to see exaggerated and uniquely-designed down jackets as well as more evolution of trackwear and tech. Oversized flame and dragon shirts paired with black, utility working shoes will also be big. Lastly, in terms of colors, Pantone’s Aspen Yellow seems to be the one for spring.
Park Gyuri has been interested in fashion most of her life, and began her career in fashion in high school, leading to her starting her own fashion blog when she was 20 years old. Now, she has over 50 000 fans on Instagram who follow for her sophisticated, slick, and stylish looks. Freedom is her aesthetic and she loves being able to show off her personal style without feeling repressed.
@gyuri_pp in 3 words (almost): Romantic sick, unique, and feminine street.
2019 Trend Forecast: Leopard is very popular now, and this pattern is likely to continue being popular in 2019.
Although Jay Lim has already made a name for himself in fashion photography, no article about Seoul street style would be complete without him. Follow him for all the latest and greatest looks from Korean celebs and models, as well as any well-dressed passerby that happens to catch his eye.
Up until the early 2000s, Korea’s expat population was mainly made up of US military personnel and a rag-tag group of ESL teachers. Now, people from around the world are all eagerly flocking to this Asian city for business, traveling, teaching, or just a change of pace. In fact, as of 2016, there were over 1.5 million foreigners living here, making up 3.4% of the population. It’s pretty clear; Korea has quickly become one of the popular kids.
While we all have our own reasons for making the dramatic move to Korea, it’s common amongst most expats to experience a sense of displacement, not belonging, and a general feeling of being lost. But, with just a little effort and energy, Korea can become your home (even if just for now).
Problem: I’ve just arrived in Korea and I’m feeling overwhelmed
Solution: Indulge in familiar favorites for a short while
Your first few days in Korea will be spent almost entirely in survival mode. It can be very overwhelming to process. In preparation, collect a few familiar favorites to find comfort in while settling into your new country. You may not have Wi-Fi when you arrive, so before jumping onto the plane, load your laptop with some of your best feel-good movies and binge-worthy series, or fill up your Kindle with a bunch of your most cherished books. Unfortunately, actual paperbacks may be too bulky to travel with – perhaps bring one or two – but try using electronic devices instead.
Problem: I don’t know where anything is
Solution: Get comfortable with your neighborhood
While, it’s easy to live off CU food forever, only emerging from your apartment to go to work or stock up on ramen, soon it will be necessary to venture into further pastures and check out your local grocery store, or perhaps pay a visit to the doctor. After a few meanders around the neighborhood, you will be one step closer to feeling at home. Handy tip: find the local spots where you are most welcome and comfortable. There is such simple joy in being recognized. Discover the restaurant that offers 24-hour pizza delivery, the bakery with real bread that tastes just like home, the pharmacist who always greets you with a smile, and doctor who can speak enough English to help you. And, while exploring helps in knowing how to get around, it also keeps excitement levels up and chases away the persistent foreigner blues.
Problem: I’m feeling lonely
Solution: Make good friends and spend time with them
While characters in books or movies may keep you company for your first few days, real human contact is a make or break factor when moving overseas. When arriving in a new place completely alone, social networks will be your answer. Not only can the initial socializing be done from the comfort of your own home, but you can chat, and meet, people that you never would have otherwise. Meetup and Tinder are very popular, and there are many Facebook groups (such as Expats in Korea) and organisations (GlobalSeoulMates is a biggie) that provide solace and familiarity during the lonelier times.
Problem: My apartment feels unfamiliar and lonely
Solution: Fill your personal space with comfort items
Your first paycheck will bring you yet another step closer to home. Use it to turn your sparse, cold, and unforgiving apartment into a cozy and welcoming haven. Take the time (and spend the money) necessary to make your apartment comfortable. Scatter those cushions, spread a rug or two, invest in a really soft blanket. Go overboard with plants (a jungle home is totally okay), or ironically-funny mugs. Decorate the walls with happy memories, photographs of your loved ones, meaningful quotes; do whatever you need to do to enjoy being in your own space.
Problem: I’m feeling lost and aimless
Solution: Set a goal and get into a routine
While spontaneity and adventure look great on Instagram, it isn’t necessarily the healthiest or most efficient way to settle into a new country. Find your routine: be it work, gym, a day set aside for ‘me-time’, a weekly dinner with friends; anything that keeps you grounded during the turbulence of moving overseas. Even if you don’t stick to it all the time, it’s nice to have something to come back to when you begin to feel a little aimless.
Problem: I’m finding it difficult to leave the comfort of my apartment
Solution: Find your happy places
When we think of our home countries, most often our nostalgic memories are tied to places: especially places we frequented often. So, make an effort to find those places in Korea. Be it a quiet beach in Sokcho, a rooftop cafe in Noksapyeong, a tiny brunch spot in Hannam, a board game café in Hongdae, or even a grimy underground club in Itaewon: any place that will tempt you out of the house. These familiar places, that you can return to again and again, will become your safety nets around the city, eventually turning it into your home.
Problem: I’m struggling to communicate and feel like an outsider
Solution: Learn some Korean
This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but it’s surprisingly easy to live in Korea (especially big cities like Seoul) without speaking any Korean. However, being able to understand and communicate with those around you will bring a sense of belonging, transforming you from outsider to being a part of the community (plus it will you get an abundance of smiles and compliments, and who doesn’t want that).
“Home is what you make of it.” Or so the saying goes. Korea will never feel the same as the country you grew up in, but a home comes in many forms. Building a home in a foreign country is an active process;you have to lay it brick by brick. Find the pleasure in experiencing comfort in a slightly different way, find beauty in the imperfections, and eventually, you will find home.
The journey to Koh Yao Noi starts on a motorized longboat wavering across Phang Nga Bay – one of Thailand’s many beauties. And, it ends on a peaceful, barely-populated island sandwiched between two of Thailand’s biggest party hubs, Krabi and Phuket.
One of Thailand’s last true unspoiled island getaways, Koh Yao Noi is 147km² of lush rice fields, forests, a smattering of beaches, one or two small towns (no high rises here), and a community deadset on maintaining their peaceful lifestyle. Life is so slow-paced, in fact, that the island only got its first 7-11 in 2018.
A population of 18 000, of which 90% are Muslim, keeps the island quiet. However, a visit here comes hand-in-hand with respect for the community’s customs. Dress should be modest, and drinking outside of the island’s few restaurants and bars – which are often empty – is generally frowned upon. But, a low-key lifestyle leads to a trusting and close community. Motorbikes are left unattended, key still in the ignition, and the bombardment of merchants desperate to sell their wares typical of other parts of Thailand is non-existent here. Unbeknownst to most, it’s the tropical island of your dreams.
Where to Stay
While Koh Yao Noi’s rustic atmosphere has recently been punctured by a couple of luxury resorts, the best way to experience the wild island’s offerings is through its budget accommodation. Tha Khao Pier Bungalow is perched right on the edge of the island, facing Krabi. A narrow road is all that separates you from the tranquil milky blue of Phang Nga Bay. Complete with wi-fi, a private bathroom, a comfortable bed, and an awe-inspiring view (especially at sunrise), Tha Khao Pier Bungalow has all one needs for a restful escape from everyday life.
If luxury is your desire, then Ani Villas is a total knockout. Think private chefs, a beachfront swimming pool, a spa, as well as yoga lessons: a dream-worthy resort on a dream-worthy island. And, the aesthetics do not disappoint. Inspired by the temples of northern Thailand, the design of this stunning getaway is enough to contest even the iconic limestone stacks of Phang Nga Bay.
If you’re looking to experience something more in the middle – spoiling but relaxed – book a room at Koyao Island Resort. This barefoot-chic resort features 18 thatched-roof bungalows, all with open-air showers and private courtyards, as well as a much-advertised happy hour which can be enjoyed on giant cushions in the resort’s neat gardens, overlooking the rolling sea beyond.
What to Eat
Traditional Thai food is rich in flavor and makes the most of its underwater fare.
While the south of Koh Yao Noi is saturated with guesthouses, curio, and souvenir shops, as well as a large collection of restaurants and bars offering both Western and traditionally Thai food and drinks, we recommend exploring the Northern half of the island. How to get around? Rent a scooter from the pier as you arrive and navigate the island at your own pace. The only traffic you will encounter is a herd or two of water buffalo.
Northern Koh Yao Noi is fairly undeveloped – and almost completely un-mapped. Google Maps will do no more than show you a large green space with one road running along the edge of it that leads to the tip of the island. The journey is filled with lush rice fields and small fishing villages – many of them on stilts over the mud flats. Pause your travels at a restaurant called Goya Sunset Restaurant and Bar, halfway along the Northern road. Half-built and barely-recognizable, this open wooden structure extends over the mud flats at low tide and into the water at high tide. The friendly owner (who speaks fluent English) will welcome you with a smile and a handshake. Ask him to surprise you with a meal and he will be sure to whip up something special, such as a wholesome King Prawn and Rice soup.
At the end of the road, a small beach sits opposite a number of half-complete constructions, most of which will be transformed into tropical bars featuring a view of the stars and the sea paired with fruity and refreshing cocktails. For a visit to Koh Yao Noi in 2019, these will surely be the ‘it’ spots to hang out.
Things to Do
Like the island itself, activities on Koh Yao Noi are slow-paced compared to the rest of Thailand. Despite the laid-back trend, there is a still something for everyone.
Foodie fanatics can get a taste of and have a hand at cooking some local island cuisine with Mina’s Cooking Class. Born in raised in Koh Yao Noi, Mina will have you experimenting with local spices and flavors using traditional cooking utensils and recipes.
Those hunting for physical activity can join a number of yoga and Muay Thai classes around the island – most of them gazing over the beautiful bay of Phang Nga. For some more adventure, jump on a rickety long boat to visit Big Tree – a Koh Yao Noi landmark.
For those searching for pure relaxation, traditional Thai and hot stone massages are a-plenty. Or if you’re looking for the perfect Instagram shot, head down to Long Beach (beware of the bumpy dirt road that leads to it) to find a small stretch of sand decorated with hammocks and swings dangling over the water, complete with fresh coconut water (fresh as in the coconut gets opened right in front of you).
If you’re looking for a holiday saturated with wild nightlife and buzzing beach bars, then Koh Yao Noi should not be on your bucket list. But, if you’re craving a peaceful night under a sky dripping with stars, the only sound the waves lapping on the shore, and an abundance of nature around you, then rest awhile on Koh Yao Noi: Thailand’s last true unspoiled gem.
The long-awaited summer vacation began on a Thursday. We were only booked to leave to Jeju Island the next Monday so, for the next four days, I slept. Clearly, the exhaustion from teaching was real. That Monday, I donned my heavy backpack and jumped on the subway to meet Jess at Gimpo Airport. For the first time in months, I felt like I belonged. Perhaps, it was because I now looked how foreigners in Korea are expected to look – like tourists.
Two hours after skimming through the airport, and the airways, we were on Jeju Island. Flashbacks to my last jet-lagged arrival, not even a year before, had me searching for familiarities from the sky: “Hey, there’s that theme park we saw last time. And those random lights in the sea (buoys obviously). Oh, and look we’re landing, I remember this runway!”. Jess’ patience is eternal.
A quick stop at the CU for a late-night feast, and soon we were being ushered to our hotel room by a very wary hotel manager. I’m pretty sure he was convinced we were going to destroy his hotel room; probably have an orgy/satanic ritual. Luckily for him, we don’t participate in orgies on Monday nights and satanism is no longer the ‘in’ thing, so we just slept.
The real holiday started with rushed showers and a frantic packing of bags the next morning as we realised we only had 20 minutes to leave our hotel. This felt more like the travelling style I was used to. Unusually well-rested, we found our bus with ease and rounded the coast of Jeju towards our next destination – the Blue Hawaii Resort.
Now, I usually don’t trust hotels with fancy af names… They’re much like gelled-up boys wearing too much bling with overwhelmingly flashy cars. But, while the Blue Hawaii Resort was far from top-of-the-range, our room had an enchanting view of the ocean, and below, an averagely-fancy pool and chill area. The only negative? We were the only non-family there.
This wasn’t a problem until it came to swimming time. As I have mentioned before, Koreans don’t really wear bikinis. Partly because they are discrete beings and partly because they are terrified of the sun (rightly so – that shit be nasty). So, two foreign girls with all the right curves in all the right places and two itsy-bitsy pieces of material strung delicately across their “bits”, in front of a bunch of kids and pervy old men was Totally Inappropriate. Without exaggeration, it took us a seriously awkward hour to shift from our clothed state next to the pool, to a Practically Naked state inside the pool. Probably much to the hilarity of everyone around us.
Wednesday was spent at Hyeopjae Beach (협재해변) – famous for its view of some island that I can’t remember the name of. Being able to relax on the beach for an entire day without suffering from exhaustion or a hangover is certainly a blessing, and something I should probably look into doing more often.
Highlight of the day? Once again, appreciating how safe Korea is. We abandoned our bags under an umbrella and didn’t see them again for several hours. On our return, they were exactly as we had left them. Still pleasantly surprised every time.
After a last-minute decision, we were soon on a bus to our next (and favourite) destination: Seogwipo (서귀포시). A promising pension (“a whole house to yourself!”) was our home for the night. While comfortable, it was certainly no house. But, no matter, we spent maybe four hours in that room overall (three of them sleeping).
After dumping our bags, it was time to visit my favourite place in Jeju: Jungmun Beach (중문색달 해변). This was where the magic had begun to happen on my trip last year, where two beautiful lifeguards had whisked us straight off the beach and into their cars. However, this time around it felt different. While, the beach and sea were as beautiful as ever, and, no doubt, the people maybe even more beautiful, we were more jaded. The naivete and childish excitement from the previous year had darkened into cynicism and higher expectations. Fortunately, the joy of splashing in the sea quickly washed the bitter taste from my mouth. After all, no day spent on the beach can be a bad one – right???
Wednesday night appears in bits and pieces: dancing to Kpop in the pension, a married (with child) man asking to pay for an hour of ‘skinship’, a bucket or two (or three) filled with cranberry juice and eight shots of vodka, dancing on stage, and, finally, falling asleep very hungry.
As expected, Thursday was a struggle. Unable to stay in bed all day (we had to clear out by 11am and move to our next home for the night), we went back to the one place we knew would make us feel better: Jungmun Beach, of course. On this day, we got very sunburnt, but also very happy. We left the beach long after the sun had gone down and attempted to hitchhike to our next hostel. Embarrassment forced us to take the bus.
Friday. The first day of two days of messiness. Messy is how I would describe most things that Jess and I do together, and we’d avoided it for too long. We knew that if we didn’t dive down the distinctively dirty route, destiny would surely punish us. We decided not to book accommodation for Friday night: our plan was to party the night through and then bus back to Jeju City (a cool two hours away) and catch the 8.30am flight back to Busan. A plan that worked surprisingly well.
Torrential rain joined us for breakfast; a very unwelcome guest. However, while our bags, hair, clothes, and general beings were dampened, our spirits were not. So we grabbed a cab to Hwanguji (황우지) – a rockpool near Oedolgae Rock (외돌개) we had visited (and swam in) the previous year. A kindly woman at the top of the cliff path agreed to look after our backpacks (LOVE KOREANS), and we eagerly began our steep and slippery walk down to the sea. Two minutes later we were rudely stopped by police tape and a sign banning entry due to dangerous sea conditions. First plan for the day foiled. No worries, we thought, we’ll head to Old Favourite.
Jungmun Beach felt like home at this point. However, we were greeted with devastating news: swimming was banned. Clearly this sea was also suffering from dangerous conditions. We had nowhere else to go though, so we set up camp on the sand and slipped into depression as the tantalising water teased us.
We spent the whole day like this. Our moods did lighten when the surfers started entering the water (a lot of them were first-timers and therefore v. entertaining to watch), however, soon we were antsy to swim again. We decided to sneak off down the beach, out of the lifeguards’ (who had been desperately blowing their whistles all day at anyone who dared put a toe near the water) sight, and get our fix. Unfortunately, an undercover lifeguard (apparently that’s a thing in Korea) spotted us as we dashed into the water and we got a very stern talking to.
Slightly ashamed we returned to our little camp of books, bags and towels and quietly (and hypocritically) spent the day lambasting all of the Arrogant Foreigners who dared to disrespect the lifeguards by going into the ocean, despite knowing they weren’t allowed to.
With nowhere to go, we stayed at the beach until it had emptied, hoping to use the public showers to get ready for our night of partying. We waited too long, and discovered that the showers were locked. No problem! We are resourceful, and instead, used the basins in the public toilet to clean the worst of the sweat and salt off of our bodies. I only flashed one child so, all in all, a fairly successful mission. However, the encroaching cockroaches soon convinced us to find a better bathroom. The bagel restaurant (Cafe del Serano or something) near our party place for the night would suit.
After gorging ourselves on salmon and avocado bagels, we disappeared into a beautifully-clean bathroom for a good hour to don make-up and appropriate clothing. If the management of that cafe ever reads this, I sincerely apologise for using and abusing your bathroom in that manner.
Next stop, predrinks at the usual: outside a convenience store. Revitalised by soju and Hot6 (Korea’s Red Bull), we disappeared into Monkey Beach, Jeju Island’s only (and best) club, unless you count the Aroma Superdome, which is more of an interactive viewing experience if you ask me. A kindly security guard stashed our backpacks, and feeling considerably lighter we headed to the bar for one of those dangerous cranberry and vodka buckets.
Dancing, playing pool, flirting with Mongolian vaulters (the ones who do acrobats on horseback not the ones who jump over things), and hyping Jess up to do things like jump a giant skipping rope and enter into a pull-up contest made the night go quickly.
Soon, we were stumbling towards a bus back to Jeju City and our airplane. In a half-asleep state, we made it to the airport (where I suffered through eating a very dry scone), onto our plane, and into Busan – Korea’s Cape Town.
A jjimjilbang (Korean spa) was our first stop in Busan. R100 later, we were clean and on our way to the communal sleeping room, where I promptly passed out. Honestly, jjimjilbang’s are paradise on earth and should be more appreciated.
By this point we were way past the point of feeling ashamed of our bodies in bikinis, so we swaggered our way onto Gwangali Beach and soaked up the sun, salt, and the forever unavoidable stares. Pizza and beer (oh wait, is this why I can’t lose weight??) revived us and we spent the rest of the evening desperately trying to find a cool club to party at, only to end up at Thursday Party (shame).
On Sunday morning, I was mentally and physically (seriously) ready to go home. This was cool, because it was my first time feeling homesick for Seoul. The journey home was a blur, and after cramming sushi into our eager stomachs, Jess and I parted. My tiny apartment welcomed me with open arms on my return. I scoffed a bowl of cheap ramen (thanks Past Cat for stocking up!), and sunk deep into sleep and back into reality.
I definitely spend too much time in Itaewon. Not entirely sure what the appeal is considering the night always consists of excessive dirt (I have to basically cremate any pair of shoes I wear there), spending way too much money, excessively sweating in badly-airconditioned, crowded spaces (I think one day Jess might actually have a heart attack from overheating), and having to bat off one too many drunken fellas. All for what? The love of busting our asses to the same songs over and over? The rush that comes from living our best lives (lollll)? Who knows.
On realising clubbing is definitely a waste of time, I’m trying to keep away from the temptation for awhile. It’s hard though, cause heeeyyy, we wanna party!
I miss it though, so here’s a GIF set of a typical night in Itaewon as a tribute.
Getting ready and feeling fly AF with all my swaggy Seoul style.
Realising I’ll never be able to pull off that cool fashion like the locals do and actually look like this.
Ayyy there’s a party on the subway ayyy yeah.
Me balancing ice cups of soju and Hot6 on the way to our predrink spot on the sidewalk.
When you can’t even have a conversation because hopefuls keep asking where you’re from.
The line at Soap when anyone remotely good is playing.
Waiting for an hour and paying 20 000₩ to get in, only to realise that the music actually sucks.
Showing up at our usual even though we said we wouldn’t.
Handing over all my grocery money for entrance (for the second time of the night).
Descending into the pits of hell that is our usual (sssh it’s a secret) at 3am and heading straight for the aircon.
One time a girl spilled her drink on me and I was thankful because it cooled me down a little.
Can see this happening in the near future. For now, ice cubes stolen from various ice buckets will do.
Hitting the dance floor convinced I look like this…
How I definitely, without a doubt, actually look.
When you feel those wandering hands and that sweaty body grinding against your back. (아니요 아니요 아니요!!!)
Finally leaving the club at 8am and the sun has rudely risen before you.
A lot of Korean clubs are underground, so leaving after the sun has come up is much like walking ‘into the light’, except what’s on the other side is just the raw horror of Itaewon in the early morning. We have literally turned around and gone straight back into the club again before, unable to handle the truth.
Attempting to stay awake on the subway.
This is especially difficult when attempted alone, surrounded by eager fitness fanatics who are heading out for their morning hike.
Stopping at the CU for a light snack before bed.
Finally getting into bed, after washing off the grime, feeling like a princess.
If you’re desperate for the beach, and Seoul’s crowded public pools just don’t do it for you (I mean, do they do it for anyone??), and you don’t want to hop on a plane to Jeju-do, or bus on down to busy busy Busan, then Sokcho is where it’s at yo! It’s sleepy, it’s barely developed, and it boasts marvelously fresh sushi and literal picture-perfect beaches.
Here are my favourite moments from my slightly-longer-than-expected weekend in Sokcho.
1. Seeing the ocean from our 12th-storey room
My friend (and co-teacher, Lisa) did a fantastic job of getting us a room with a gorgeous sea view. In fact, the view was so beautiful that we sacrificed our air conditioner for it. Later, we realised that this was a terrible mistake, of course. But, for a short while, we were blissful.
2. Strolling through the town to get to the beach
For all you Capetonians, this was just like wandering through Muizenberg! Same dirty but pleasant atmosphere, tiny alleys, small, colourful houses and distinctive ocean smell. I felt at home for the first time in months.
3. Swimming in the sea (!!)
Ah yissss, give me that cold-ish, crystal-clear water. Give me that crunchy, white sand. Give me that sweet, sweet reason to live. I could’ve floated there forever. Minus the creepy old men and their snorkels and goggles, I would’ve been in heaven.
4. Sushi. Sushi. Sushiiiii baby.
Once again, Lisa wins the game. We snuck out of the sun and into a small sushi restaurant that gave us so much delicious nigiri, tempura, noodles etc that it had to come on a wheelie-tray-thing (that’s the scientific name). And when it stopped coming, Lisa only ordered more. A girl after my own heart I say.
5. Bada Jeongwon (바다정원)
바다정원 or Seaside Garden was 100% the highlight of my trip. A stern building greeted us as we jostled over a Very Bad Road (as the taxi driver informed us), but in front… A manicured lawn, dotted with couples and families enjoying sweet treats, gazed out onto a private beach. The only entrance? A small picket gate decorated by a rose-adorned arch. While Lisa and Jessica (another teacher at my school) disappeared to tackle the pastry bar, Jess (my BFF4E amen) and I literally skipped with joy onto the beach – naturally.
Non-existent waves lapped against the shore, the horizon went on for miles, a small island peeked its head above the ocean’s surface, the world faded around me, a bird made romantic seaside sounds in the distance. I was giddy with happiness.
We stayed until after sunset, all sitting in silence, appreciating the pink, turning to red, glow surrounding us. It was pure magic.
6. The English-speaking taxi driver
While not a single taxi driver in Seoul can speak more than four words of English (“here”, “right”, “left”, and “no”), or so I have experienced thus far, we found one in the backwaters of Sokcho who was not only fluent but also ecstatic to show off his love for the English language and, more importantly, its music. We were regaled with covers of English songs and, in such high spirits, we all sang along fervently. Best taxi ride of my life.
7. Early mornings at Yangyang Beach
Eager to get back to the sea, Jess and I made the impromptu decision to visit Yangyang. While Lisa and Jessica slept in, we crept out at about 7am (after a restless night of sharing a single bed in heavy heat) and hopped on a bus to the town next door (kind of a town and also kind of next door).
A little pissy about the humidity, the walk, and the lack of food, we grumbled our way towards the smell of the ocean. But, on seeing the beautiful emptiness that was Yangyang Beach at 8am, our negativity fell away. Also, it was so early that we didn’t have to feel embarrassed about our Incredibly Revealing bikinis (most beach-goers in Korea don t-shirts and shorts to swim in. And they only arrive at about 11am).
8. An extra five hours in Sokcho
WE WERE SO ORGANISED! We are almost never this organised when it comes to travelling, but this time we were. But, apparently we also weren’t. At 10am on the dot, we packed up our things off the beach in preparation for our 10.40am bus back to Seoul. We searched for a taxi. We continued to search for a taxi. We ordered a taxi off the app. We cancelled it because the taxi driver would take too long to get to us. We carried on searching for a taxi. There were no taxis. Obviously.
After literally throwing our toys (bags) in frustration and storming furiously up and down the street, whining about our misfortune, we accepted that we would miss our bus. Luckily, we were so tired that we had reached the IDGAF-about-anything stage (which is actually a constant mood when the two of us are travelling together). So, there was a lot of manic laughing, jokes made in poor taste, and general messy foreigner nonsense.
We hopped on a bus back to Sokcho, embarrassed ourselves thoroughly in front of an English-speaking member of the military and a bunch of Sokcho locals, ate burgers, sat on the pavement (not something you do in Korea), and eventually got on another bus back to Seoul five hours later.
All in all, it was a trip that had a bit of everything: stress, relaxation, familiarity, peace, happiness, a funny story, and a happy ending. 10/10 would recommend. Watch it pictorially here.