Tour Guide to Korea
If you’re adopting from Eastern Child Welfare, they have good accommodations for adoptive parents. If not, look for a hotel near the 2, which will give you easy access to all of Korea.
The best guides for Korea in general are: Lonely planet and the Moon Guide to Korea. Both you can get through amazon.
I’d also recommend visiting GOA’L which has accommodations for getting translation and also materials to help you understand adoptees–some parents might find it overwhelming, but the information, including maps of Seoul are useful. (Most hotels have maps as well, but they have a K-drama map. You can insert undignified girly squeal here) Even if you don’t find the maps or the paraphernalia useful, I think the material, newsletter etc helps, plus there is always an adoptee on hand who may be able to help you feel a bit more connected to what you’re about to do (they won’t support or congratulate you, but I think talking to people online kind of disconnects you from the idea that Adoptees grow up)
I think the top things to do in winter are: – Ride the orange (3?) and the green (2) lines. It’s only 3,000 for one trip. And you get a really good view of the river. It’s fun day or night with different views of Seoul you wouldn’t get on the standard tour. Plus it’s a great way to chill out.
- Drink Hot Chocolate in Myeong dong. If you take the exit from the two, then go straight past the convenience store on your left and keep going until the end of the block, you’ll spot on your right a shop with coffee (it’s on an incline, up a hill past an electronics store). The name reads something like Leodinas? (somethings like that). They have the best hot chocolate and nice little confections.
- Street food near a College campus. Myeong Dong, I learned, is for wimps. What you need to do is take the orange line to the university area– let yourself wander around the shops and in the college campus area and you’ll find real street food–the stuff they hide from the public.
Here is a guide:
If you go at night, you get something more authentic and also you can get something called “Odeng” which is better later in the day anyway and will warm you up. You might stare at it and think Odeng is fish cake, but it is so much more.
Foods in Korea on the street are more seasonal than they are in the US. You might get a hot dog in NYC any time, but it’s likely that sweet potato on the hot coals is not going to be there in the spring.
- If you need help with food options and trying new things out in that department, a safe one to get for winter is Bibimbap, which helps you get a sense of the variety of the dishes. It’s also a good option for the vegetarian, though you’ll have to say “No meat” “kogi anjuseyo.”
If you plan to go out of Seoul, I highly recommend the train system which is cheap and will get you across country quickly. I highly suggest the Teddy bear Museum on Cheju and to try the “Sushi” in Pusan.
If you want to go to Jeolla for whatever reason they specialize in mussels and in “hot pots”, but rarely do people visit there.
If you taste real kimchi from all three locations, you get a different view of the cultural landscape, from the shrimp flavor of the north with the course hot pepper to the Jeolla tradition of clams and mussels. And then you can taste the oysters in Kyeongsang… and see so many that you don’t think it was possible.
(Still have to try the last region… Kang Nam. =P)
If food motivation isn’t your big thing and trying out a culture of food and you want to take it easy, I highly recommend going to the market. You might think that a Korean market is like any other, but if you go to a few, you’ll see the organization,the thought, the presentation of the products matter. Plus, it gives you a really good sense of the people and how they survive on a day to day basis, which you can’t really get from another source.
Markets also tend to specialize in various fairs, such as fish, or in vegetables, or in cloth. Plus on a cold day, the koosoo noodle soup, makes one feel all warm inside. (If you’re allergic to seafood, going in winter is the worst time of the year for that.)
If you have time, push the palace into it. Personally, I found a lot more value to the palaces after watching a few Joseon dramas, because I could peer inside and imagine the lights all aglow, with the king on the throne, in his gold-embroidered robes and see the ministers at his feet, crying out edicts and apologies and saying “Jeonha” in unison. Drama brainwashing can do that to you. =P But it’s almost like seeing a ghost that way, so that it doesn’t seem so dry from the plackards (though Korea does its best in this area).
Last thing to say is that Koreans are very helpful, very stubborn, very passionate and tend to go out of their way to help people. So don’t be afraid to ask for help. Some people will spend time making sure you get in the right direction. I met an Ajussi that carried my suitcase 2 blocks just because and then triple checked I was going to the right place. Some of them will physically go with you if they have time. Don’t count on it–and I wouldn’t automatically trust everyone (say with a purse), but don’t refuse help or be timid either.
Also be careful of taxis–the bus is not that scary and public transportation is cheap–ask hotels for directions and if you *must* take a taxi it shouldn’t cost more than 30,000 to get around Seoul. Ask hotel staff ahead of time what it should cost. Taxis are not regulated by laws like in the US. They will swindle you.
It does snow in winter, though.
I think the more you try, though and the more you explore off the beaten path, the more you find that the country is a lot of fun in different ways from the one you’re used to. Korea has that too. Though the back streets are icy, you can see people picking at it early in the morning with pride, greeting each other heartily to friends. And if you’re lucky you can catch them doing things like Go-Stop.
But yeah, top picks, Street food, Myeong dong, GOA’L and catching a glimpse of Seoul on the 2 line/3 line. If you were to do nothing else, touristy, do that.