서울시 The Cosmetic Republic of Korea

While Hong-Kong was very much a food-lover’s paradise, Seoul is a shopping obsessive’s dream (or nightmare if you don’t want to spend the money). There were many shopping streets and almost every other shop was centred around skincare or make-up. People in South Korea are arguably more concerned with their appearance than other countries; South Korea has by far the highest rate of plastic surgery in the world (source). This is reflected in the volume of skin-care related products on the shelves – in  South Korea a dewy, perfect complexion is highly valued, so skincare is of great importance to achieve this beauty standard.

P1040589 P1040597P1040657P1040660P1040645P1040650P1040648

Anyone that wants good moisturiser, toner, emulsifier or any skin product imaginable, should go to South Korea with a bag you can check into the hold; 100ml allowances will severely limit your skin-care extravaganza. As I was travelling carry-on only I was limited to a few samples and masks (probably a good thing for my wallet really). The sales people are also fairly aggressive – you get samples with most purchases which is nice, but they will also physically drag you into the shop (with promises of a free mask) to look at their products (Nature Republic were particularly guilty of this).

P1040605 P1040607 P1040643P1040661 P1040665 P1040666

Before visiting Seoul I thought that you only really got face masks, but it turns out you can get a mask for pretty much every body part. There were foot masks, thigh masks and breast masks, all with a huge range of options in terms of what magical product you were sticking to your body. I even found a rather odd selection of Shrek-themed products. The Shrek mask was pretty tempting but I resisted.

P1040982Shrek is love P1040981

Perhaps another side-effect (or cause) of the image-centric culture was this rather amusing stall at the market, which was selling images of all the idols. To be fair idol culture is also huge in Japan, but I have never seen them commercialised to the extent that market stalls that sell only celebrity pictures exist.


If you really want to give your skin a treat and buying masks just isn’t cutting it, you can visit a Korean bath-house. On a day that we felt we deserved a break from touristing we went to Dragon Hill spa. This spa has pretty much everything you could need to spend the day; public baths, saunas, restaurants, a swimming pool, arcade, massages and even beds if you want to stay the night. It cost around £8 to get in, and the baths and beds were no extra charge, so the spa is a great alternative to booking a hostel or hotel if you don’t have much luggage. You are given pyjama-like clothes to wear and a wristband with a chip in it. You pay for everything (such as food) with your wristband and settle up when you leave.


Thus I became Inmate 298 for the day; it felt a little like a prison with the uniform and wristbands but of course it was amazingly relaxing. There were around 15 different types of baths, and as long as you can get over everyone being naked (single gender only, don’t worry), you will have a fantastic time. I felt so relaxed and heavy afterwards from the cycle of hot, cold, outside, medicinal and jacuzzi-style baths. Of course, my skin felt fantastic afterwards which was very welcome as it was cold and dry outside in the city. Obviously being a bath-house and full of naked people I couldn’t take any pictures, but there were a few amusing statues outside. I would highly recommend taking the chance to do this while visiting Seoul, especially if you live in a country that doesn’t have public baths.

P1040994 P1040995P1040992

Seoul was a built-up city, reminiscent more of Tokyo than Kyoto (which doesn’t have sky scrapers). The subway was a little challenging for someone that doesn’t speak Korean as all the Roman script for the stations is written really really small. The only real reminder that Seoul sits only 35 miles from North Korea, a hostile country with the capability of doing some serious damage to Seoul should its volatile leaders choose, could be found in the subway. The subway had ‘shelter’ signs outside and inside were what initially appeared to be vending machines, but were actually emergency gas masks and food supplies. As they are deep underground, subway stations do make good bomb shelters, but it is a daily reminder that all is not as safe and peaceful as it appears.


In addition to this disconcerting reminder, the apparent peacefulness of a commercialised city was slightly broken by the presence of protesters near the shopping district. Though protests are of course normal in a country that allows them (and South Korea has made great leaps in that regard as it was essentially a police state less than 50 years ago under the current president’s grandfather), I looked up the protest and it was concerning LG U Plus labour conditions. These conditions involve unfair quotas that ultimately led to the suicide of one of its workers last year (you can read an article about that here). The lack of concrete labour rights and exploitation of workers are a reminder that South Korea is a young democracy that is still in development, not yet a perfect high-tech utopia.


Though I have painted Seoul as a cosmetic place (as that was really striking), the food was also fantastic! I have written about everything I ate here. I noticed several tent-restaurants while we were walking around Seoul, which really were just tents with a grill and counter in them, with enough space for around 6 people to sit and eat. I wish I had gone inside one, though I feel like I might need to learn Korean first!

P1040959 P1040960 P1040962 P1040972

All-in-all, Seoul was a great city to visit. It reminded me a lot of Japan in many ways but it had its own character. I would definitely go back there again when it’s a bit warmer and maybe with a check-in bag so I can get hold of some of the amazing skincare products! I had a fantastic trip in both South Korea and Hong Kong, normal Japan blogging will recommence shortly!

서울시 Spicing it Up

During my short stay in Seoul (4 days), I ate various Korean dishes, many of which I had not tried before. Korea is best known for kimchi, spicy fermented cabbage which is either very good for you or gives you stomach cancer, depending on who you listen to. Either way, it is simultaneously refreshing and scorching to the mouth. I had always thought of myself as unable to handle strong spice, but I dealt with the heat better than several of our group.

This tolerance may be due to having the spiciest dish in the universe when I visited Hong Kong with my family several years ago. We (my dad) ordered soft shelled crab which happened to come on a bed of roasted chillies. We were informed that this was the second spiciest dish on the menu (I can only assume the spiciest was on fire) by a rather concerned looking waiter, but bravely we ordered it anyway. It was like a bomb going off in my mouth that could not be stopped or calmed with other foods. My lips hurt the next day. This may have set my spice tolerance bar a little higher than some people’s.

Without further ado here is pretty much all the food that I ate in Korea, in chronological order. A country rich in culinary variety and delights, though you might learn to fear the bright red sauce.

P1040573 P1040575P1040580 Dumplings & Kimchi

Our first meal in Seoul was in a tiny restaurant near where we were staying. It was strange being unable to order and having to point at the menu on the wall in order to get food; for the first time in my year abroad I felt I had gone full tourist (which I had). The food came with Kimchi (like almost every meal in Korea) and soup, both of which were delicious. The kimchi came as large fermented leaves and we were instructed (through sign language) to pick up the leaves with the provided tongs and cut off small sections for eating. I ate most of the kimchi as the others found it too hot. It was really hot but I kept forgetting how hot it was and eating more before remembering. If you chain-eat the kimchi you don’t get hit by the spice until you stop eating it. The Chinese style dumplings were filled with meat and vegetables. Really tasty and a great culinary start to the holiday.



Ice cream

Freezing out in the Arctic conditions of Seoul, what better way to escape than to head into a nice warm cafe and eat some ice cream. This stands out for me because the ice cream came with real fruit, something that Japan seems to avoid due to fruit being extortionately expensive. The weird blue lighting was interesting but they gave us free tea which was nice.


P1040618P1040629P1040620 P1040632 P1040635

Tteokbokki (and pizza)

This was the true spice challenge. Tteokbokki is usually street food made up of rice cake and chilli sauce, but this was a sit-down hot-pot version of the dish. The hot-pot contained instant noodles, see-through noodles, rice cakes, quails eggs, chicken, various vegetables and copious amounts of the angry red Korean sauce. This sauce permeated everything with its fiery spice that gradually heated our mouths to near unbearable spice levels. We did our best and conquered the dish, helped by the side dishes of salad and pizza. As you can see from the aftermath picture, there was a lot of red sauce. We had shaved milk to cool our mouths off afterwards. Despite the assault on our mouths, it was a fun dish to cook and eat.



Macaroon sandwich

A cherry macaroon sandwich. Not much to say about this other than I decided it would be a great idea to get this in sub zero temperatures outside. My hands slowly turned numb while I ate it so I ate very quickly. It was still delicious.


P1040889 P1040890 P1040891 P1040893

Oyster dumpling soup

We had this meal near the palace we visited. The soup itself was okay but not very filling, the sides were great though. I really like that in Korea you get around three sides and a free tea before you start paying for anything.


P1040957 Photo 13-02-2015 4 28 30 pm

Strawberry Snow

This was the best dessert I had all holiday. As I mentioned above, the scarcity of fruit in Japan made Korean desserts even more fantastic. This desert comprised of ‘snow’ (shaved frozen milk), covered in strawberries and strawberry sauce, with a sweet bean bun on top (actually very tasty) and sweet bean in the centre. Really delicious and something I am keen to seek out in Japan. You could also go for flavours such as green tea, black sesame and some kind of yellow powder, but strawberry is the best. I later had a mango snow which was also very nice but not quite as great as this. I think this was meant for two people but I vanquished it all the same.

Photo 12-02-2015 9 03 48 pm


Bibimbap is a classic Korean dish in which you mix all the given ingredients together with rice and red sauce. I ate this at a restaurant near Seoul N Tower, looking out over the city. I also experienced the weakness that is Korean beer (weak, not good like Japanese beer).


Photo 13-02-2015 10 11 02 pm

The Cookie Monster Cupcake

I picked this guy up at the station on the way back from our rainbow bridge failure. He was delicious, if a little dry.


  P1050020Photo 14-02-2015 7 36 44 pmP1050019

Deceptive Chips

This was by far the most disappointing meal of my trip. We went to a rather nice pub-style restaurant which was more international than Korean. I ordered what appeared to be a basket of prawns with chips on the side. This turned out to be a lie and a basket of chips with more chips on the side with two measly prawns and a bit of corn disguising the chips. The beer was okay, a little weak but interesting.


Korean food was great, we also had a delicious meat and lettuce dish but we were so hungry we just ate without taking pictures. The only struggle with Korean food was the flat chopsticks – these make picking things up rather difficult and altogether change the chopstick game. I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of Korean food and I’m keen to try more in the future.