By the time we made it to South Korea we were wiped.
For eight days in Japan we never stopped and ran on little to no sleep. It was all totally worth it; Japan rocked our world. But what goes up must come down and that’s exactly what happened when we arrived in Seoul. We were exhausted. We took the whole first day and did a whole lot of nothing as we wanted to re-charge our batteries for our friends, Peter and Debbie, who were also in Seoul, visiting from Seattle.
We stayed at Hotel Ibis which is located in the trendy Myeong-dong shopping district. The area is full of department stores, cafes, bars, restaurants, and more beauty shops in a condensed square footage than I have ever seen.
I thought Japan was the rage in skin care…nope. South Korea is the winner. In fact it is the overall winner in beauty obsession beating out the US in terms of plastic surgeries per thousand people. Somewhere between 1/3 and 1/5 of all women have had some sort of plastic surgery with blepharoplasty being the most popular. Blepharoplasty is double eye surgery which is done to make the eye look more Western. It wasn’t uncommon to see women walking around in the open with bandages and bruises.
The majority of all cosmetic lines carry whitening products. This is common in most Asian countries. The whiter the skin, the better. White skin epitomizes the ideal of beauty and wealth. Burnt, dark skin meant that you were a farmer working under the sun. The lighter your skin the more access you will have to opportunity, men, jobs, and better treatment in general. While traveling throughout Asia there were a handful of times when an Asian woman would rub my arm and say, “very beautiful” about my skin. When I would reply, “you’re skin is beautiful,” I would always get a response back that included an aggressive head-shake in avid disagreement. That would lead me to arguing back by saying, “yes, beautiful” and then we would end up both laughing at each other over our disagreement.
I spent some time researching the best Korean products and discovered they even have their own beauty awards called Soko Glam. I also learned they have a ten step skin care routine that is done in the morning and evening. I wasn’t ready for that kind of skin commitment, but I did pick up a number of products with my favorite being facial sheet masks. The country has just about anything you could imagine in a facial sheet: avocado, tomato, greet tea, collagen, snake mucus, snake venom, bee pollen, placenta, etc. There are entire stores dedicated to just facial sheets.
There are also entire streets with beauty stores lined up one after another.
There were products I had never seen, but felt compelled to indulge in.
After a day of rest and cosmetic tomfoolery in the hotel we met up with Peter and Debbie.
My Peter and Peter White were room-mates in college together at University of Washington. Debbie and Peter were married a year before Peter and I—in Maui as well. Debbie and I had hit it off years ago when we attended another mutual friends wedding (Sam and Lisa) and Peter and Peter were groomsmen. This left us to get acquainted over the open bar. It went swimmingly—as open bars tend to do.
Peter and Debbie had their vacation booked around the time we were planing on also being in South Korea so we were all thrilled when we realized we could make it work and be there together. Sharing experiences like this with friends adds a drizzle of specialness to trips abroad.
The other great thing (amongst many) about having Peter and Debbie is that that they had both formerly lived in Seoul teaching English. Debbie is fluent in Korean making them the ultimate friends to be tagging along with in South Korea. This was especially nice for my Peter who is usually expending his energy trying to communicate and navigate around the new places we travel.
We were all really happy and full of giddy energy when we ran into Peter and Debbie at our meeting spot at the top of a subway staircase in Seoul. The plan was to walk over to Insadong and catch-up.
Insadong is the art and antique district of Seoul that exudes charm combined with an inviting vibe. Its a throw-back area that has tried to preserve the architecture and stylistic forms of traditional South Korea. As such, traditional tea houses dot the neighborhood so we stopped into one for snacks, tea and welcomed air-conditioning.
We came up with a game plan for the next few days that would include a lot of hanging out.
After some tea we did a walking tour and continued to catch up. We hadn’t seen them since our wedding over a year ago. We made pit stops along the way to try some of the best street food including savory dumplings
And a block of french fries. My favorite.
That night we indulged in what I was excited most for—Korean BBQ!
We headed out to the neighborhood of Sinchon and grabbed a table at a recommended and frequented spot of Debbie and Peter. Sinchon was the neighborhood that my Peter visited Peter White over 5 years back when he was teaching English in Seoul so the memories started to flood back as they typically in these sorts of situations. Peter and Debbie took care of us by doing all the ordering and cooking. Not only was it delicious, but it made for a fun and interactive dining experience.
The other thing that made it fun—Soju.
Soju is considered South Korea’s most popular alcoholic drink. Taking shots of it is the etiquette way of drinking it, but it tastes pretty bad so it is also ordered with beer to wash it down. Also you are not to pour soju for yourself. It is customary for someone else to pour it for you. This becomes a fun game—whenever either Peters glass was empty they would of course be quick to filling each other back up. They were thrilled to see each other and the Soju made the night exciting. What I didn’t realize at the time is that soju doesn’t taste strong but has a sneaky tendency to creep up on you. It also causes the worst hangovers. Ever.
After dinner we walked around Sinchon which really becomes electric at night with people and activity. Walking around was entertainment enough. The area offers a variety of activities: batting cages, carnival themed booths, clubs, bars, elaborate photo booths. We found ourselves entertained and partaking in most of it.
After more soju and Korean beer we found ourselves at what else…a karaoke bar in Hondgae— the energetic, youth driven neighborhood of Seoul.
What makes karaoke in South Korean extra fun is that you have an entire room to yourselves. Which is genius if you think about it because most of us can’t sing. But if we are in the privacy of just our friends we will tend to be more fearless. We were joined by Debbie and Peter’s friend Jake who lives in Seoul and brought a delightful and fun energy to our group. I think this picture does a good job of demonstrating the direction the night was going.
The night of karaoke was absolutely uninhibited hilarity. We all thought we could sing like Christina Aguilera. None of us could. Well with the exception of Debbie, who came out of nowhere with quite a nice voice. Debbie, I’m still impressed by that. We were in that room for hours. Jake would periodically leave for a beer or ice-cream run. Like I said a delightful energy added to the group. As the evening became later and later we eventually called it a night somewhere after 3am.
Fun fact about Peter.
He on a rare occasion had been known to do a little sleep walking. This can also be brought out if there has been a little drinking involved. Soju had done a number on all of us that night. The story goes that Peter got up in the middle of the night and walked right out the door into the hallway. At some point he became aware of his situation and attempted to find his way back to our room. He stood outside the door knocking on it, only to have it answered by a Chinese man who had his entire family of five sleeping in one bed behind him. Peter turned on his heels in his underwear and by the grace of God found his way back to our room. Soju 1. Peter 0.
The next morning Peter and I vowed to not make the same mistake with soju ever again. I read up on this liquor and found so many warnings about the terrible hangovers it will cause. I didn’t find anything however on inducing sleep walking.
The next day Peter and Debbie were again our tour guides and took us around to delicious restaurants and fun neighborhoods. They introduced me to some of South Korea’s cuisine including Kimchi which is pickled cabbage – something that I truly enjoyed.
A highlight that night was when we headed over to Sinchon and the guys faced off in a series of ping-pong games and Debbie and I shopped for beauty products. Debbie was such an asset while shopping since she can speak Korean. Some bars or businesses offer ping-pong table for a small hourly fee. Just another way one can be entertained in Seoul. Of course the guys placed a bet on the winner with the victor being my Peter. Peter White is still asking for rematch.
Our last day in Seoul we decided to go a different route and visit Seoul’s theme park— Everland. The trip out there was a bit of an adventure as we opted to take the bus.
Stepping onto the grounds instilled a similar feel as visiting Disneyland does, with even a bit more of an added goffy-ness factor (pun intended). South Koreans seem to adopt a light-hearted approach to recreational life that spilled over and effected us as tourists. You can see below, Peter especially.
We spent the day getting our fill of rides.
Including some pretty serious roller coasters. Even one with recommended precautions that we took seriously.
Others things we enjoyed along the way.
I particularly liked the basketball game we played, where like Debbie with her singing surprised us, I got to show off my maintained shooting skills.
Unique to this theme park when compared to Disneyland were things like camel rides.
A safari ride that included lions, tigers, and a bear dunking a basketball??
And entertaining line staff (watch below)
Before we left Peter White paid up on his lost ping pong battle and posted the below picture on Facebook.
We headed back to the city where the group had one last meal together before we all said our good-byes. Obviously we selected Korean BBQ as our close out dinner. Our friends again took care of us by carefully picking out the best items which we all throughly enjoyed. We also had to close out with a little soju toast, but this time we were much more careful with the amount consumed.
Seoul was an absolute blast and wouldn’t have been nearly as fun without Peter, Debbie, and our new friend, Jake. Thanks so much for including us on your vacation. We are so grateful for friends like you.
Up next a long flight to Abu Dhabi via Etihad First Class.
As always much gratitude and love for following along. See you in the Middle East.