My 2020 Trip to South Korea

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SeoulBefore the pandemic broke out, I booked a two-week trip to South Korea for April of 2020. Unfortunately, that trip was canceled, and I was left with flight credit to use at a later date. In August the airline informed me that my flight credit would expire on December 31, 2020. With only a few months before the expiration, I planned a trip to South Korea for the month of October. A 14-day quarantine in a government facility was required upon arrival, and including the two-week quarantine I was in South Korea for five weeks.

After the quarantine, I was finally allowed outside and in the heart of Seoul, South Korea. My boyfriend picked me up and we started the journey.

First, we went to Gyeongbokgung Palace, located in the northern sector of Seoul. It was built in 1395, is the largest of five palaces built by the Joseon dynasty, and served as a home for kings and their families. The palace was also the center for government facilities. During the palace tour, there was an opportunity to rent traditional Korean wear, called hanbok. Many young people wore the outfits and took pictures in the palace. The tour runs through the different living quarters of the different social classes, and explains the long history of the palace.

Our next stop in Seoul was Myeongdong, a popular area for department store shopping and street food. In this area you can find stores that specialize in Korean skin care and beauty products. For those looking for less expensive options, the underground subway in this area is also known for boutiques that offer products for half price.

After spending some time in Seoul, we went to my boyfriend’s hometown in Busan, South Korea’s second most populous city. Busan is on the southeastern coast and is known for its seafood, ocean views, and the world’s largest department store.

I have seen several beaches in Florida and California, but the beaches we saw in Busan are the most beautiful I have ever seen. My favorite is Haeundae Beach, which is where the Busan Aquarium is located. One thing I noticed about Haeundae was the cleanliness of the beach. The water was too cold to dip our feet in, but we could still enjoy the sound of the ocean and the beautiful scenery.

SeoulAlong the sandy beaches, there is also rocky terrain with a stair path that takes you into the mountains. In the mountains you can find Haedong Yonggungsa, one of the oldest temples in Busan. I thought it was beautiful to see ancient architecture, art and sculpture right next to the ocean. Haeundae is a wonderful place to visit for those who like sight-seeing and history.

One the main things I wanted to do in South Korea was eat barbecue and visit as many cafes as I could. I have always enjoyed the wide range of Korean cuisine. I envy the amount of locally-owned cafes sprinkled everywhere in Korea. Each cafe I visited has its own personality, which made my visit more memorable. I noticed the owners pay attention to detail, from the theme of the cafe to the type of coffee and desserts served. While cafe-hopping one day, we came across a coffee shop called Café Kokomo. I thought it was hilarious and decided we had to go inside. They had the best homemade bread I have ever eaten, and the lattes and iced Americanos were delicious.   

My favorite thing about Korean cuisine is the barbecue. When we had barbecue it was do-it-yourself style, in front of a charcoal grill at a table. Typically you can grill several cuts of beef and pork, including thinly sliced beef sirloin, marinated beef short ribs, and pork belly. Barbecue typically comes with many small side dishes that complement the flavor of the meat. I noticed that beer and soju are common beverages accompanying barbecue. Before eating, groups typically say cheers, take sips of soju, then immediately take a bite of the meat.

Along with barbecue, I also tried some famous local seafood. We had several different kinds of stir fry, with shrimp, crabs and octopus. Surprisingly, the seafood we had was always spicy, but it was delicious. The most memorable food I tried was sanakji, which is live octopus cut into small pieces. Once you start eating it, it is not alive but the nerve endings in the pieces react when touched. When I placed it in my mouth, it suctioned to my teeth. I was shocked at the sensation, but it was quite hilarious. It was drizzled in sesame oil and then dipped into a spicy bean paste. By the end of my meal, it was my favorite dish of the night.

Due to the current state of the world and travel restrictions, it was not an ideal time to travel, but I am glad to have had the experience. I know how much more fun South Korea can be, because I took a trip there through Indiana University Kokomo back in 2017. Since it was a school trip, there were some restrictions then as well. I would love to go back when there are no restrictions at all, but I am grateful for both trips. This trip was an amazing experience, and I came back knowing more about myself and South Korea. I strongly suggest taking an international trip – it is an opportunity for some enlightenment, and you might learn a thing or two!

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