Lima Does South Korea || Seoul

Brace yourselves people, this one's gonna be a long read. Putting together these posts is always a semi-traumatic experience. I ten...

Neon Signs Seoul_effected

Brace yourselves people, this one's gonna be a long read.

Putting together these posts is always a semi-traumatic experience. I tend to travel around our destination as much as possible, without rest from early morning to late, late evening, which means that I have a shit-ton of photos to sift through. So, two months after I actually left for Korea, I’ve finally gotten around to picking out the ones I like the most!

On the other hand, the photos serve as a great reminder, not only of what I did, where I went, who I met, but also of my own privilege in being able to travel to such incredible places on such a regular basis. In that sense, I am truly blessed. 

But what of Korea? Korea is almost a little bit like Britain in some ways, but just that little bit extra in every department. The winters are colder, the summers are hotter, the cities are bigger and their natural beauty spots are more epic. Where it is not like Britain, is that everything seems a bit more advanced – the underground has free 5G wifi, the trains have free 5G wifi and most of the bigger streets also have free 5G wifi, the skylines are that much more futuristic, the style seems a bit more advanced and everything just seems to… work. 

Seoul is an incredible city, with so much to see and do, split into various different areas that almost feel like cities within a city. When time is limited, that really hits home when you find out that Gangnam is 50 minutes away from the Airbnb, and it hits home even more when you head up to N Seoul tower, built on top of an actual mountain in the actual middle of the city! 

One of the biggest shopping areas of Seoul is Myeongdong, and about 15 minutes away from the main street there, you can find yourself walking up a steep slaloming street in search of the cablecar that takes you to the top of Namsan Mountain. Unless of course you’re visiting during the only week of the year it’s closed for maintenance, and the shuttle bus they’re running is completely full, in which case you’ll have to get on a bus instead. Turns out that was a blessing, as we got to look out over the city as day turned to night, and revel in the sheer scale of this vast urban, mountainous city that stretched from left to right and beyond the horizon no matter which direction you looked out upon it. 

Despite the incredible view, it didn’t help me recover from the illness I’d gotten the day we landed. Early morning arrival, straight out to breathe in our new, temporary surroundings. Between the 13 hour flight and the poor air quality that week in Seoul, something just didn’t agree with my body. But, I was determined not to let that, or the cold temperatures, affect my time here. Back to arrival though, and at the airport, as the OH tried to figure out how to get us access to portable wifi, I was exposed to the genius of Korea in the shape of two adorable autonomous robots, gliding around the arrivals lounge offering advice on how to get from the airport to the city via huge touch screens on their bellies. 

I was also exposed to the wonders of Olive Young. Perhaps in our post-thirteen-hour-sleep-deprived state, from a distance it looked for all the world to be the Korean equivalent of WH Smith, but as I drew ever nearer, I soon realised that the shelves were stacked with K Beauty not books. It’s more like Space NK in terms of quality of products, but with the accessibility and price of Boots or Superdrug. Within that first 30 minutes, I just knew I was gonna love Korea.

LANGUAGE

  Pretty Gowns Seoul South Korea_effected

The first thing to mention with the Korean language, is of course the alphabet. Similar to Japanese, there are pretty much zero similarities between the written Korean language, and the written English language. Unless you do a bit (or a lot) of studying beforehand, the chances of you being able to read, never mind understand, anything written will be slim.

I found that English was much more widely spoken throughout Korea than Japan, which did make things a little bit easier. All of the signs, whether it be public transport or shops, are in Korean, but many are accompanied by English translations or just transliterations, so you can at least read it.

Attempting to speak any Korean is very challenging, and definitely requires a lit bit of research in advance. Whilst in English, and may other Western languages, we place emphasis on syllables within a word, in Korean this is not the case, and leads to confusion. On top of that, the pronunciation of words is not necessarily how you may expect - for example, Gongdeok (where I stayed initially) looks like gong-dee-ok, but is actually more like gong-duck. And is you pronounce it like Gong-dee-ok, mass confusion ensues!

I wouldn't let language put you off in any way though, it's really interesting to learn about a language that's so different to my own, and quite rewarding when you finally say something in Korean that a native actually understands!

GETTING AROUND

  Seoul busy subway yellow handles _effected

Getting to Seoul isn't too difficult, it's served by two airports - Incheon International, which is actually in a different city (Incheon), and Gimpo International, which is just on the edge of Seoul.  I arrived into Incheon, and it really does set the tone as to what you can expect for the rest of your trip - it's clean, it's modern and everything works so efficiently. It's not like Manchester Airport, where you have to queue to get in to the queue for anything - less than 30 minutes after landing, I was on my way to catch a train.

Pregnant women teddy plushie train seoul _effected

And that train isn't quite like the trains that greet you at Manchester Airport either. The last time I got a train from there, both carriages smelt like raw sewage, it was run-down and delayed. The Airport Express from Incheon takes you right in to the heart of Seoul, stopping at a few satellite towns on the way. It's clean, it's bright, it ran on time and it was cheap. Oh, and on every carriage, there are two seats dedicated to pregnant women, with a cuddly toy on it. Despite how full the train ended up getting, people were considerate and polite enough not to sit there. I can imagine that if we did something like that in the UK, the cuddly toy would be decapitated within a week, and you'd get all manner of rude bastards unapologetically taking up the seat even if there were pregnant women on board.

Waiting at subway station seoul pastel aesthetic_effected

In terms of getting around Seoul, the metro is pretty much exclusively underground, it's cheap, it's clean and people are generally pretty friendly and polite whilst on board. You can get pretty much anywhere in Seoul using the Metro, but because Seoul is so big, sometimes it can take a while to reach your destination. On top of that, I found that because there are less lines than somewhere like London, making a connecting journey isn't always that fast, but the bus network is pretty amazing in Seoul, and sometimes can be quicker. Oh, and all buses and trains in Korea seem to have 5G. So that's quicker speeds than your home broadband.

The biggest tip I can give is to forget Google Maps, it is practically useless in Korea. You need to be able to see the Korean script and Roman script in order to be able to communicate with people for help (because I guarantee you will need help!), but Google didn't seem to give the Korean. Also, it only gives directions for public transport, not for walking, so you can't really work out how far away things are! Instead, use the Naver app - it is far better than Google in Korea - it gives you everything you need and helps you work out the quickest way to get from A to B and more.

Seoul taxi at night photography_effected

And of course, as it's a major city, taxis are everywhere! There are a couple of things to bear in mind with Korean taxis - firstly, the orange taxis are more tourist friendly, the drivers speak English well and are the cheapest option. White taxis are drivers who are less likely to speak English, but are the same price as the tourist ones, and black taxis are deluxe taxis, almost double the price, with an English speaking driver and luxurious interiors. Again, pretty much all taxis have 5G and at this point you start to realise how embarrassingly behind we are in the UK.

When communicating with drivers, it's always good to have some kind of translation app to hand though, as even the English-speaking ones will have trouble understanding you. If you can get the Korean translation, and read it out, this will help a lot, and your driver will give you a huge beaming smile! If your Korean pronunciation skills are so awful the driver still can't understand, just show the driver the Naver app map with your destination, and you'll be fine!

SHOPPING

  Cute Pastel Clothing store Seoul South Korea_effected

Seoul is all about the shopping. There are so many places to go shopping, I'm 100% sure I didn't get to see them all. The main areas I went to were Myeongdong, Hongdae and Gangnam, but it felt to me like there were shops pretty much everywhere. Most of the large skincare brands and stores in Korea seem to have more outlets than the likes of Starbucks and Costa do in the UK - they're literally everywhere!

Myeongdong is like an endless labyrinth of streets and side streets selling anything and everything, and often multiple stores and restaurants and cafes sharing the same building across multiple floors. Out on the streets though, from late afternoon onwards, the stalls come out to play, selling clothes, coats, accessories, food, food and more food. With the temperatures still being quite low, and the nights setting in early, these create a real buzz and atmosphere about the place. It's so, so easy to get lost around here, particularly at night, and because so many of the retailers have multiple stores, it becomes difficult to work out if you've already been here, or if you're just walking past another outlet.

Hongdae was introduced to me by the QT that is Fii, who's been living out in Seoul for a number of years now, and this even more of a labyrinth than Myeongdong, with a lot more stalls, independents and side streets to lose yourself in.

Kawaii Dolls Pretty Gown Seoul South Korea Aesthetic_effected

I have to say that the shopping experience in Seoul was really energising. I mean, maybe people who live there will feel differently, maybe it was just the novelty of shopping in a different country and culture that did it, but I've found shopping in the UK to be increasingly difficult - the trends and the tastes here are evolving to be quite generic and boring - I never find anything that I wholly like. If I eventually do find some pastelly clothing, it always seems to be ruined by the cut being meh or even worse, having frills.

In Seoul, I didn't really have to look for very long in order to find something pastelly, and shock horror, in general they weren't ruining the pastelly goodness with a boring cut or weirdly placed frills.  In that sense, it was quite similar to Japan, because everywhere you look there's something interesting that you just want to try on and buy. The style in Seoul seemed so refreshing to me, the cut of the clothing, the way it was all put together was so different, like straight cut necklines, and it very much felt like it all belonged in the future. In fact, it felt to me like so much of the clothes, if they did exist in the UK, would be classed as 'designer' and as such would be prohibitively expensive.

Which brings me on to something else about Seoul. Whilst of course there are the large, multinational chains on show, there's far more individuality going around in the form of local Korean chains, and the never-ending stream of independent shops. The presence of these independent stores means that there's genuinely something for everyone, and you can find some pretty amazing bargains, like cute dresses and tops for 10,000 Won (about £7).

For these reasons, I packed light on the way out to Seoul, as I had figured the style in Korea would be much more to my tastes, and I'd be able to pick up all sorts of interesting, unique items at prices that wouldn't make my bank account cry. As it happened, I was not disappointed with this choice. Within the first couple of days, I spotted the most incredible, long, pastel blue coat at a stall in Myeongdong and purchased it immediately, for around £30 - me being me though, craved it in pink, and wouldn't rest until I found one. Fortunately, Fi recommended Hongdae, saying I'm guaranteed to find one there.

She was not wrong. In fact, I bought two, both for around £30. The quality of the material, the cut and the style though make these coats feel luxurious and far more expensive than they actually are. I could imagine the likes of Topshop selling these way north of £150 easily.

The last thing I'll mention about shopping in Korea, is that perhaps one of the reasons everything is so unique and futuristic is because it seems as though almost everything they sell is actually made in Korea, particularly in the stalls and independents. Perhaps the fact they have easier access to manufacturers means that they have much more say in the creative and manufacturing process, and lets them launch new ideas a lot quicker.

ESTHER BUNNY 

Estherlovesyou Teddy Bear Plushie Esther Bunny_effected

Would you believe it, I almost went through an entire post about Seoul without mentioning Esther! "Who is Esther?" I hear you say? Well, I first came across Esther in Tokyo in a shop on the world famous Takeshita Street in Harajuku. I'd been walking around for a little while and couldn't help but notice that Japan loves bunny rabbits, but it was only when I went into a shop called W❤C that I fully understood what was going on here and instantly became obsessed. The bunny rabbits I'd seen everywhere were no ordinary bunny rabbits.

It was Esther Bunny, and she is the creation of a Korean-American artist called Esther Kim, who spent much of her teenage years in Tokyo. As her own website says "Esther Bunny is at once cute but also knowing and girlishly sophisticated". Esther finds her cute bunny face all over pretty much every accessory known to mankind, and she really is supercute! I purchased a pretty jacket from W❤C, but aside from a one-off collab with Lazy Oaf, I'd gone three whole years without seeing any Esther merch - and then I found out from her instagram that she had a pop-up stand at a department store in Seoul whilst I was out there, I just had to find it! 

I scoured 9 floors of the place, only to find out at the end that it was in the basement all along! No matter though, because I got myself an adorably unique watch, a tote bag, a mini Esther bunny, a pink umbrella and of course, a selfie with a giant Esther, as well as a balloon that I gave to a taxi driver.

Estherlovesyou Pink Backback Estherloveschuu _effected

FOOD

  Blowtorch Cooking Lobster Streetfood Seoul Myeongdong

If you love seafood or meat, then Seoul is your food heaven. In pretty much every shopping district, you'll never find yourself more than 30 yards from a restaurant, either on the ground floor at street level, up above. Often, you'll come across 4 or 5 storey buildings with a different restaurant on each floor, and sometimes without an elevator too.

A few things about the food in Korea really stood out to me, firstly, there are an inordinate number of restaurants that from the outside look like really cheap aquariums. They have tanks of fish, crabs, oysters, octopus and stingrays(?) stacked on top of each other, ready to be picked out for eating. It's really not for me, and I found it quite sad to see, but who am I to criticise? Another thing I noticed is that whilst in the UK our restaurants increasingly offer more and more vegetarian or vegan options, this is much less likely to be the case generally in Korea.

Jonny Dumpling Itaewon Semi Fried Vegetarian Dumplings_effected

That being said, when you actually are able to find vegetarian, vegan or halal food, you're pretty much guaranteed to have an amazing meal. Throughout Seoul, you will find halal restaurants that are so good they're actually as highly rated as standard Korean places. One place that I think deserves a special mention is Jonny Dumpling in Itaewon - they do sell meat dishes, but they have the most incredible semi fried vegetarian dumplings, I could have literally eaten these every day!

If you are vegetarian, I'd highly recommend checking out HappyCow, as they will tell you about all of the places that will cater for you. If you're looking for Halal food though, I found that Korea as a country is much more welcoming to Muslims than Japan, and you'll have plenty of options. For a start, there's basically a Muslim quarter in Itaewon, which is kind of like a 'Little Arabia' without the baking desert sun or camels. But don't restrict yourself to that area though, there are plenty of Halal places dotted around the city. One such place is a Korean BBQ in Gangnam, where you purchase the raw meat and pretty much cook it yourself, whilst the waiters check over you to make sure you're doing it properly!

Halal Korean Bbq Gangnam Seoul _effected

Generally speaking, I was surprised at just how spicy Koreans like their food. Before going out there, I imagined it would be similar to Japan, where subtlety rules, but this was absolutely not the case! It seems that cramming in loads of chilli is pretty much the done thing, so if you're ordering something with the words 'chilli' or spicy' in the description, just be ready, because more often than not it will probably blow your head off. And yes, I'll have to confess, despite my love for chilli, there were a couple of occasions where I just couldn't hack it!

As with any major city, you will find food to meet pretty much any tastes, but just note that if you have any kind of special dietary requirements, you're gonna have to do your research before you get here, to figure out where you can go, and what to expect if you go to a typical restaurant and want them to cater to you. Something I noted in Korean restaurants is that they struggle to handle special requests or adaptations to their menu - so if you see something that looks good but has an ingredient in it that you don't like, it can be quite difficult to get it made without that. 

Freshly squeezed juices Myeong-dong_effected

And although it's not strictly food, I found that Seoul is like the Cafe capital of the world - they are pretty much everywhere! And yes, they have Starbucks (if you really insist), they have their own chains like Ediya Coffee, A Twosome Place, Tom N Toms, but there's also a seemingly infinite amount of independent coffee shops all over. You're also not restricted to menus consisting solely of coffee with a couple of bland 'refreshing' options like we are in the UK - in most places, coffee makes up a tiny section of their menu, because fruit juices and fruity teas are the thing, and very often, you'll have 30 or 40 options to choose from.

K BEAUTY

  Sheet Mask Beauty Aisle Seoul _effected

Ok, time for some honesty here. The main reason I wanted to go to Korea in the first place was my increasing obsession with K-Beauty. I'm absolutely not ashamed of this.

My interest in K Beauty first started not long after I got back from Japan. I had discovered a lot of Japanese beauty products whilst out there, some of which I didn't actually know what they were when I bought them, and was researching exactly what it was that I'd bought! Through doing this, I obviously went down an internet time vortex and started to realise many people were recommending Korean products that were better. So I delved deeper into the vortex and discovered a whole world of innovative ideas and interesting products, and of course the ten-step routine. Honestly, K Beauty is an absolute minefield at first, because there are so many products, so many brands and it's all so far away - much of which, don't even have western equivalents.

But after watching 675379545 youtube videos and reading 857454519 articles on K Beauty, I found myself understanding it more and more, as well as purchasing products at inflated prices from the likes of Amazon and eBay. Even then, before I went to Korea, the majority of my skincare products were actually Korean already, and this had massively changed by skin for the better. The products are very gentle in comparison to what we're used to over here, and yet they actually work. We've kind of been conditioned to believe that if you can't feel a product attacking your face, it's doing nothing, but K Beauty proves this is not the case at all.

I remember searching high and low in the UK for a gel moisturiser, as I felt that most of the facial creams I've tried don't actually sink into my skin and hydrate it at all. This concept is now just beginning to work its way towards the western market, but we're still taking baby steps at the moment. In Korea though, gel moisturisers can be found in pretty much every beauty store, and the choices are seemingly endless.

I also find that SPF over in the UK tends be quite thick and heavy, again the impression being that unless it's thick and heavy it's not really blocking those rays, but in Korea the SPF formulations are lightweight gels that actually feel pleasant to apply.

Sun Essence Sun Gel SPF Korean Beauty K Beauty_effected

Another thing that K Beauty disproves is that expensive skincare products are automatically better then cheaper ones. I find it amazing to write this, when we've even had the likes of Aldi outperforming La Mer in blind tests, but hey, we are where we are. My take on K Beauty, is that you get the Korean equivalent of Space NK level products at Boots prices. When you're out in Korea, particularly Seoul, you'll see that beauty shops are EVERYWHERE. I mean, imagine how often you see charity shops, or bookmakers in the UK, and you're somewhere close to how often you'll see an outlet of Innisfree, Tony Moly, Skin Food, Etude House or Olive Young, often clustered together. It's just amazing, and they're always the busiest shops too!

Olive Young in particular deserves a special mention, it's kind of like the Korean equivalent of Boots, except there's a fuck ton more of them, what feels like one per street, sometimes even three on the same street, and they're packed full of actual interesting products. The prices are similar to Boots too, but the products are of a much higher quality. You can find all manner of interesting products in there too, like finger masks (yep, masks for your fingers!), and pretty much every one I went in to had an ENTIRE aisle dedicated to face masks. Just imagine the choice. And of course, they're a bit cheaper than the UK, mostly costing less than £1.

Hello Gorgeous Neon Light Bathtub Flowers 3ce Glossier_effected

THE PEOPLE

  Glass skin in Seoul kbeauty _effected

Having spent just over a week in Seoul, I found that the people were very friendly, which for a city that always seems to be on the move, or going somewhere, this was quite different to what I'd expect at home in the UK. The locals here are always happy to try to help, whether that be in giving directions or helping you get the best deals in a shop. Whilst Seoul itself has the intense aura and atmosphere of a bustling capital city, the people here still make you feel like a welcome guest, as a opposed to an annoyance or distraction.

From speaking to people all over Korea, the perception of Seoul is that the people there are a bit rude, much more intense and wrapped up in their own little worlds. Whilst I found that people in Busan, Daegu and Jeju were a lot friendlier, I didn't find people in Seoul to be rude at all.

Sadly though, it was time to leave Seoul, and start off on my adventures across Korea. But fear not, I would return a week later, with my appreciation of this wonderful city enhanced further.

Dongdaemun design plaza ddp futuristic building synth wave

This is *not* a scene from Guardians of the Galaxy

Cute Toy Drinks Seoul South Korea Halal

I don't know what they are, I don't know what they do, but I want them

Roasted chestnuts vegetarian Myeongdong_effected

Roasting Chestnuts in Myeongdong

Raccoon Myeong-dong Meerkat cafe Seoul_effected

Chilin' with my pal

Seoul Fashion Stores Myeongdong_effected

Big cats

Gyeongbokgung palace in Seoul South Korea_effected

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Backstreets of Seoul South Korea Synthwave_effected

Synthwave city

Fashionicide Fantasy Dreams Hair Dye Seoul Cute _effected

Fantasy Dreams...

Gangnam Style hand scuplture in Gangnam-gu_effected

Oppa Gangnam Style...

Starfield Library Seoul _effected

Not enough books...

Truck selling apples fruits Itaewon Seoul_effected

Selling fruit in Itaewon

Weird Korean Japanese Beauty Tools Slim Lip Clip_effected

Beauty tools..

Walking up to Seoul Tower Hills_effected

This hill didn't end.

Etude House Lipsticks Cute Pastel Aesthetic _effected

More K Beauty

Fashionicide and Princess Fii in Seoul_effected

Me and Fi!

Pastel Colors Aesthetic Candyfloss stall Seoul South Korea_effected

Don't forget to floss

Fashionicide - Lima Does Seoul South Korea_effected

The angry bag stole my limelight

Rose shaped Gelato Ice Cream Myeongdong Streetfood_effected

Fucking ICE CREAM! 

Cheonggyecheon-ro Stream Night_effected

Cheonggyecheon stream

Gyeongbokgung Palace Flag Changing Guard Ceremony 2019_effected

Changing of the guard

Animation Centre Seoul South Korea 2019

I so wanted to go in

Lilac and Powder Pink Dried Flowers Seoul South Korea_effected

Stroking a Meerkat Friends Seoul South Korea _effected

My other new pals

Hello Gorgeous 3CE Glossier Store Stylenanda _effected

Hotel themed shop

Seoul South Korea Dongdaemun Futuristic Building_effected

I promise, this shot was taken on earth.

Unimpressed cat in the streets of seoul_effected

"Get out of my 'hood..."

Seafood Restaurant Clam Shell Myeong-dong_effected

This clamshell actually moves

Gangnam Station Dome Seoul South Korea Travel Guide 2019_effected

Blade Runner

Korean sign in Gongdeok _effected

Replicant.

Gongdae at night sony a7riii camera_effected

Take me back

Bus Stop Cute Animated Toy Seoul South Korea

Bus shelter

ATM Seoul South Korea Itaewon

I mean...

Person dressed as a dog seoul south korea_effected

Dog cafe, anyone? Please? Anyone? No?

Hot Honey Lemon Drink Seoul Korea_effected

That's hot.

Hot Tea in a Can Asian Korea _effected

So's this.

Fashionicide rainbow hammock_effected

Private terrace at the Airbnb

Hongdae in the sun busy_effected

Hongdae!

Gangnam at Night Raining Synthwave

Synth wave city part II

Giant Esther Bunny Estherlovesyou pop up store_effected

Esther loves me

Myeongdong Shopping Beauty shopping sheet masks_effected

Bright lights

Meercat Cafe Friends Myeongdong_effected

Wild cat

Glazed Sugar Strawberries Streetfood Seoul South Korea_effected

Glazed strawberries

Starfield Library Gangnam-gu Seoul South Korea_effected

If all libraries were this epic...

Seoul from Seoul Tower Night_effected

Gotham

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