A group of my friends and I will be visiting South Korea for a week to attend a wedding in Seoul. What should be on our to-do list, bearing in mind that it will be a short visit?
Shop, soak and sing when in Seoul
A group of my friends and I will be visiting South Korea for a week to attend a wedding in Seoul. This is my first time in the Far East, and although I've heard Japan is expensive I don't know much about Korea. Can you recommend a hostel close to the city centre? What should be on our to-do list, bearing in mind that it will be a short visit? Korea is less expensive than Japan and just as exciting to visit. A good place to stay on a budget is Hong Guesthouse (www.hostelseoulkorea.com; 00 82 10 6315 6696). The staff speak fluent English and the tours desk offers helpful information. Situated in the centre of Seoul in a university district, it is within walking distance of several restaurants, clubs and the subway. This hip neighbourhood is home to many young designers, and the art market held here every Saturday is well worth a visit.
To further explore Seoul's artistic side, head to Insa-dong. There are dozens of antique shops as well as numerous art galleries to be discovered in the cobbled alleyways. Insa Korea is the main shopping centre and specialises in souvenirs and traditional crafts. An interesting place to visit is the Knife Gallery (00 82 2 1330), which has more than 6,000 knives from all over the world. Dongdaemun Market, with 26 shopping malls that are open from 10.30am to 5am, is the country's largest wholesale and retail shopping district and has a huge selection of products, from silks to sporting goods, all available at affordable prices. The Dongdaemun Market information centre (00 82 22 2612 1924) offers information in English.
Korean bathhouses, or mokyotang, are a prominent part of Korean culture and are worth paying a visit as they offer much more than a regular spa. These public bathhouses are communal and open 24 hours a day. The ones that offer a variety of pools, heat rooms, massage and exercise rooms are known as jjimjilbang. Dragon Hill spa (www.dragonhillspa.co.kr; 00 82 2792 0001), right next to the Yongsan Station complex, has big-screen televisions, internet rooms and rooms to sleep in. Admission costs from 10,000 won (Dh31).
There are many 24-hour restaurants that do a wide variety of food, but for a more authentic experience try the pochangmachas - the food stalls that can be found on every street corner. These open early in the morning and close late at night, and sell everything from traditional Korean food - kimchi (pickled cabbage), bibimbap (rice with vegetables), jeongol (stew) and maeuntang (fish soup) - to egg and cheese sandwiches (prices start from 2,500 won [Dh8]). The meokjagolmok (food alley) in Nampo-dong has hundreds of stalls that sell inexpensive local fare in a lively setting. For a more sophisticated dining experience, visit Yongsusan (00 82 2771 5503) in the Seoul Finance Center or head to Tosokchon Samgyetang restaurant (00 82 2 1330), which is a five-minute walk from Gyeongbukgung station, and try the samgyetang - a soup made of a whole young chicken stuffed with rice, Korean ginseng and cooked with herbs (13,000 won [Dh40] a bowl).
Don't forget to try karaoke, a favourite national pastime. Karaoke bars (norebang or "singing room") are found all over Seoul. Some private rooms (rental starts at 12,000 won [Dh37] an hour) come with extensive Western song lists. For exhibitionists, there are rooms with windows that face out into the street. Do you have travel questions or queries? E-mail them to us at email@example.com