This is a shorter (still not very short though) ”review” of my trip to Korea, with stops in Seoul and Busan. If you’re interested in reading more in-depth about exactly what we did when we were there, check out my day-by-day travel tales.
Food and Being a Vegetarian
Korean food is great. Before going I had tried Korean food a couple of times, once in London and once in Stockholm, and I had tried to make different kinds of Korean food at home a few times as well, and always failed more or less miserably. And I’d liked it, but I hadn’t been head over heels for it. But having it in Korea is so very different. Kimchi is great, bibimbap is great, kimbap is great etc. I didn’t have any food there that I didn’t like. There were a couple of side dishes that I didn’t love, but I didn’t have any main meal that I was iffy about finishing.
But being a vegetarian… Not so easy, especially if your Korean skills aren’t amazing. I knew about certain dishes, I knew that some things are usually vegetarian, and could ask whether or not this specific restaurant prepared it with meat, and if they did I could ask them to remove it. And I knew a number of dishes that are always meat, which saved us from accidentally ordering things such as samgyeobsal, that I’m sure can be delicious, but we are just not about that life.
Korea loves its meat, and we definitely missed out on a lot of classic Korean dishes and flavors by not wanting to eat things like that. And we did end up repeating ourselves a lot, for example eating bibimbap I don’t even know how many times. But I didn’t really mind. Bibimbap is delicious, and having been home 1,5 week at the time I’m writing this I already miss it. And dear lord I miss proper kimchi. And kimbap. And kimchi kimbap. Dear lord it’s great.
I had done my research on traveling to Korea as a vegetarian, and I was quite worried that it’d be near impossible for us to live that way, but it was not (We did ignore the fact that a lot of Korean food is prepared with fish sauce though, if you aren’t prepared to do that then, yes, it might be impossible.). So vegetarians who wan’t to go to Korea: don’t despair. You can do this. I would recommend you stay in a place that has a kitchen though, that way you can cook dinner for yourself now and again, so that you can vary the food you eat that way.
The Seoul subway is unbelievable. There are so many lines, covering basically the entire city, and since each stop has so many exits, it feels like you can constantly see where the subway is, should you need it. What I love about cities like Seoul, and London as well, is that you can’t really get lost. Because even if you do, you will eventually see a subway exit and then you can get wherever you want to go.
The Busan subway worked in much the same way, and was also good, but it has way fewer lines. That didn’t bother us much, since we didn’t really go to many places within the city, but if you really want to explore Busan, you will have to get comfortable using the bus network.
Speaking of buses, while we did figure them out the two times we had to use them (to get to Namsan in Seoul and Taejongdae in Busan) it was not as simple and convenient as taking the subway. There is an excellent subway app (it’s called ’Subway Korea’) and that there is no equivalent (at least not that we could find) for buses made it less easily navigated by far. It’s possible, but it takes a bit more effort on your part, which is why the subway rules.
We took the train from Seoul to Busan, and back again, and that worked very smoothly (if only we’d been more on time). The KTX trains are very fast and as comfortable as Swedish trains, the booking website was easy to navigate and the train stations simple to understand as well. I have no complaints there.
We rented apartments through AirBnB, which is something I highly recommend. It has the potential of being cheaper than a lot of other options, it allows you to cook your own food, and it makes it possible for you to live just as if you were just living in the country indefinitely, which was important to me. I wanted to get a feel for how Korea would be as a potential country of residence, and I think staying in a normal apartment instead of in a hotel definitely helped with that.
When you book your apartment I do recommend really looking up what the area around it is like, because when I booked the apartment in Busan I assumed that, since it was close to the train station, it would be in kind of the main part of town. I was wrong. I’m not saying it was completely dead around there, but it’s not where the things are at. So if that kind of thing matters to you, and you don’t want to spend a lot of time on the subway, double-check the areas of the city you’re going too.
We didn’t really go to Korea to party, and only did it a couple of times, but the little we did was awesome. If you go to the right place (for example Hongdae) there are tons of clubs and bars to go to, the booze is definitely way cheaper than in Sweden (not entirely sure what that means for the rest of the world, but I think it’d be cheap for most Western travelers) and in the experience we had, Korean people are very friendly and open to partying with us clueless foreigners.
My Korean Ability
I have studied Korean for almost four years now, but I’m still basically a toddler. I haven’t spent nearly enough time on it, and keeping up consistent studies is really hard when you’re studying on your own with no outside pressure, and you have an entire life to attend to at the same time.
But just knowing the amount of Korean that I do did make a big effort. Being able to politely greet people in Korean felt nice, I could order in Korean, which took the panicked look out of many a waitress’ eye, and I felt like the reception I got almost always got a bit warmer as soon as I addressed someone in Korean. Some people really lit up and started babbling in way too advanced Korean for me, which was both confusing and very nice. As soon as you show that you’re willing to make a fool of yourself in their language, many people also feel more comfortable trying to speak to you in English. You’re both messing up, which means it’s all okay.
Being able to read hangul was also helpful, since it meant I could read on subway maps and whatnot that didn’t always have the romanized versions as well.
In Seoul you really have to check out Hongdae, which as an area of the city would have to be my favorite place. Climbing Namsan Mountain is also a must, as is going to the Cheonggyecheon. I definitely also recommend checking out at least one palace (I wish we’d gone to one more, actually) and maybe even the Jongmyo shrine, if you’re interested in older Korean culture and history.
We didn’t do as much in Busan, but I would recommend you do try to find a bus and go and check out Taejongdae, especially if you’re at all an outdoorsy person. Haeundae beach was also great. We’d heard that it’s usually super busy in the summer, but as we went there in mid-late June, which I think is a bit before the peak season, we had no trouble with that whatsoever.
Traveling with My Boyfriend
When we booked this trip we’d been a couple for about six months, which I know some people would say is too soon to book a three week long international trip for just the two of us. I mean, what if we’d broken up before the trip? What then? Well thankfully we didn’t. We left for Korea almost exactly one year after we met (and immediately started dating) and had at that point been an official, honest-to-god couple for about 10,5 months. But we had never spent more than two (if I remember everything correctly) consecutive nights together. Even if we loved each other at the start of the trip, what if the trip made us grow horribly sick of each other?
It didn’t. Taking this trip to a country that I’ve dreamed about going to for a long time with the man I love was an amazing experience, definitely one of the best in my life. We’ve gotten to know each other on a deeper level, and any lingering inhibitions that I had around him are now basically completely gone. I love him so much, and this trip confirmed everything I know about him, and how I feel about him. Sorry, getting sappy. I’m just saying that taking this trip together was in NO way a mistake. At all. It was awesome. Now hopefully he feels the same way, otherwise this will be a little awkward.
Seoul vs Busan
It feels a bit unfair to compare the two, since we were in Seoul for twice as long and made more of an effort to get out and do different things while we were there. I’d have to say I preferred Seoul, both because I got to go to all the places I’ve read and heard about for so long, but also because somehow the feeling of the city suited me better. Seoul is a huge city, and it had an intenseness about it that I really like. Not in the crazy, stressful way that Bangkok has, but just in this ever-present pulse. Busan has that too, but not at all in the same way. And in my opinion, if a city’s gonna have that it better have it properly, otherwise there’s no real point to it.
That’s not to say that Busan isn’t great too, and if you’re more into the idea of hanging on the beach and maybe chilling in some natur-y areas, I’d say Busan is the better choice.
Final Statement and Regrets
This was a great trip, and out of the ones I’ve taken in my short life it’s the best one. I got to travel with someone I love, and that didn’t irritate me even once, and see all kinds of amazing things. I have a couple of regrets though like the fact that I didn’t get to try on a hanbok, that we didn’t go to a jjimjilbang and that I didn’t eat a more classic bingsu, with the beans and tteok. But these are not very major regrets, and pretty much all of the things that I really wanted to do, I got to do. But do I feel done with this country and never wanna go back? Hell no. I’d love to go back, especially if I’d at that point learned a bit more Korean so that I could carry on real conversations with Koreans, I think that’d open up a whole new world. So hopefully I will return to Korea and experience the magic once more, but for now there’s a whole world waiting for me.