Before traveling to South Korea, I didn’t really have many expectations. I knew that Seoul is the high-tech capital of the country and that Koreans like their food very spicy. I knew that just like its neighbors, South Korea is a country rich in history and traditions (although this is probably true for any existing country on earth). But beyond these kinds of superficial facts, I didn’t really know much.
The good thing about traveling without any expectations, however, is that you don’t waste time comparing what you see with what you have in your mind. You just enjoy the moment and appreciate everything you come across with more deeply. Everything looks simple and new. Everything looks great. Every little thing will surprise and amaze you.
This is how I felt throughout my entire trip to South Korea. Here are some of the best moments of my trip. Not the moments that went beyond my expectations (since I really didn’t have any), but the unexpected moments, foods and places that made me truly appreciate this amazing country.
What I enjoyed the most in South Korea
Gyeongbokgung Palace – Seoul
The main and largest of the Korean capital’s palaces, Gyeongbokgung is a very popular sightseeing spot. The huge complex is made up of several halls and pavilions that will charm you with their elegance and their bright colors.
I was very lucky. My visit coincided with a national holiday weekend. As a result, the palace was livened up with theatrical performances, narrating the history of the building and of the Korean imperial dynasties. Despite this causing the palace to be more crowded than usual, it also made my visit much more interesting, and unforgettable.
Bibimbap – local food
I am not a fan of spicy food. I honestly don’t like the feeling of having my mouth on fire. To me, too much spice just kills the real taste. Having heard of how spicy Korean food can be, I was already worried I wouldn’t be able to enjoy any local dish. But that’s when I found out about Bibimbap.
Bibimbap is a bowl of white rice topped with vegetables and Korean chili pepper paste (and at times raw eggs and beef). Wary as I am, I ordered one without chili pepper paste. I don’t know what it was, but there was still something spicy in it. Not too much, just the right amount. It’s actually this spice that made it perfect for my taste!
As you can imagine, if I’m talking about my Bibimbap experience here is because I loved it. Despite having my mouth a bit on fire, I was surprised I could still taste all the amazing flavors of this traditional dish. I liked it so much that I kept craving it for the rest of my trip.
Kkul-TaRae – Korean Traditional cake
You might be wondering what TaRae is, I was too!
While walking through the streets of Seoul, we came across a very interesting shop. The staff there was kneading, twisting, and stretching a sort of hard mixture, which to me really looked like a piece of stone. Surprisingly, by undergoing this process, that hard mixture turned into about 16,000 strands. At first sight, I honestly thought they were silk threads, rather than food.
Instead, I was wrong! What to me looked like a stone is actually a dough of honey and malt sugar. The threads that are made with it are then wrapped around any kind of fillings such as candied nuts and chocolate. The result? This delicious traditional Korean sweet.
Not only is this dessert very different from anything I’ve ever tried, but the preparation process is also very interesting and fun to watch. The cake has a long history since it was once presented to the king and his guests. Because of the symbolism associated with the 16,000 strands, TaRae has also become an emblem of good health, longevity, and fortune to those who eat it.
As many of you know, I love sweets and couldn’t help but have one. Despite being a bit sticky, it was very delicious and tasty! You should definitely try it too if you happen to visit South Korea.
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
A stunning temple situated on the coast of Busan and directly overlooking the ocean. More than the temple itself, I loved the calming sound of the waves crashing on the rocks. Like a sort of lullaby, this sound accompanied me throughout my entire visit.
No wonder they picked this location! The view of the ocean, the soft melody of the waves, and so on! Everything there makes you feel so at ease that you could easily spend hours meditating, immersed in your own thoughts.
This was the only Buddhist temple I got to visit in South Korea, and I’m really glad I changed my original plan and spent two days in Busan to hit this must-see place.
Gamcheon Culture Village
Here comes my favorite location of the entire trip, Gamcheon Culture Village. This colorful neighborhood is situated on a steep hill in Busan. The brightly painted houses and the maze of artistic and picturesque alleys make this village one of the most instagrammable spots in the whole country. You can find more detailed information about Gamcheon Culture Village and my lovely experience there in my previous article!
If you’re going to South Korea soon, I hope you enjoy your trip just as much as I did. And if you have already been there, feel free to share your favorite food and places by leaving a comment on this post!