This itinerary is a great way to spend five days in South Korea
While taking the opportunity to hoard your fave K-beauty products at super cheap prices is a given, there is just so much more to see and do when you visit South Korea! Sure, it looks every bit as modern and hip as K-dramas show - after all it's one of the world’s go-to inspirations for what is trendy in technology, entertainment, and beauty. After getting to experience it firsthand courtesy of the Korean Tourism Organization and Cebu Pacific though, I have to say that there are other elements that make the visit extra special!
Luckily, our tour group got to experience the vibrant colors of fall and the perfect sweater weather. It definitely added to the fangirl thrill of being in the birthplace of Hallyu and K-beauty! Being there, interacting with the locals (even just saying ‘Annyeonghaseyo’ or ‘Gamsahamnida’), and experiencing the energy of Seoul ultimately created a fondness for the country. I'm already looking forward to visiting again soon!
If you’re Incheon-bound, then you might find this 5-day guide handy in helping you finalize your itinerary.
Day 1, Destination 1: K-Style Hub
40 Cheonggyecheon-ro, Da-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul. Open 7 days a week from 9am - 8pm; separate operating hours for certain attractions/exhibits.
Start your adventure by making a stop at the K-Style Hub, the Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) Tourist Information Center. Sure, you can score the usual tourist attraction pamphlets and the odd coupon book here or there, but the building actually features several floors of activities that you can participate in for FREE.
One floor features a Cultural Product Hall where you can check out Korean-designed items and various styles of Hanbok (Korean traditional formal clothing) that you can even try on and take selfies in. I got to experience the crafting area where participants can create either a magnet or a keychain with mother of pearl design, materials and English instructions provided. Then there is a VR section to experience a 360-degree digital look at Korea.
Foodies, delight! There are two floors devoted to Korean cuisine, with one section having a fascinating exhibit of classic Korean dishes and an enormous array of local ingredients. Some of the displays are interactive, so you can turn cranks and pull drawers to get a better look at what makes the food so distinctive. Cooking classes are also available, but there are corresponding additional fees for those.
From a peek of the culinary feast, move on to a feast for the fangirl's (or fanboy’s) eyes! The Hallyu Experience Zone is your chance to snap away with cutouts and digital photobooth images of the hottest Korean stars. There is also a medical tourism section where you can get a quick tea recommendation and then learn more about the top clinics and hospitals in the country.
TBH, you can easily spend half a day at the K-Style Hub. You can even take lunch there from a small cafe in the middle of the information center. And while you won’t have to schedule in advance to be able to try many of the activities there, calling ahead will give you a chance to get an English-speaking tour guide who can offer additional information about some exhibits as well as answer any questions.
Day 1, Destination 2: Tongin Market
After looking at the delicious dishes on display, it’s time to sink your teeth into some actual Korean street food. Enter the exciting hustle and bustle of Tongin Market and the accompanying sights, smells, and sounds that will whet your appetite. The marketplace has the typical assortment of palengke goods like produce, meat, and dry goods, but there’s also no shortage of affordable street food. To give the experience a Joseon-period twist, you can purchase traditional coins (each worth 500₩) and use those to pay for goods inside the market. Prices are published in both modern-day currency and the old-time money. Disposable trays are sold to put your snacks in, and then you can head over to a covered dining area to sit and enjoy your meal.
Day 2, Destination: Everland
199 Everland-ro, Pogog-eup, Cheoin-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do. Open 10am - 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 10am - 9pm from Sundays to Thursdays.
Since Day 1 was a bit more chill, you’ve probably conserved enough energy to hit Everland for a whole day of fun. If you haven’t already heard, the star ride of this particular amusement park is the terrifying T-express. (Is that what the ‘T’ stands for?!) It is one of the steepest wooden coasters in the world, featuring nerve-wracking drops. And did I mention that I lost my voice from all the screaming?
Thrill-seekers will find Everland highly enjoyable for rides like the loop-heavy Rolling X-Train, the dizzying Double Rock Spin, and more. There is also an assortment of kid-friendly rides, a gorgeous rose garden, and themed attractions according to the season. And here’s something to look forward to: The park has been adding some VR-centric rides to their roster as we spotted some new attractions still undergoing testing during our visit. (There may or may not be an impressive VR ride with seats that actually go upside down...)
Day 3, Destination 1: Gyeongbokgung Palace
161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul. Open 9am - 5pm with longer operating hours depending on the season, closed on Tuesdays.
The massive grounds of the Gyeongbokgung Palace offers an insightful look at historic 14th century Korea. The architecture is something to marvel at, and the well-restored halls and pavilions paint a pretty clear image of what life must have been in the past. Catch the changing of the guards ceremony twice a day at 10am and at 2pm.
If you don’t plan to join a tour group, fear not! There are Android and Apple apps you can download into your phone in advance that will assist in your personal walking tour. And while you have to pay admission to enter, there is a way to skip the entrance fee: Visit one of the many hanbok rental places nearby and don the traditional garb to get in for free! (Changing of the guards photo is from thejhannanarepublic.wordpress.com)
Day 3, Destination 2: Hwaseong Fortress
Maehyang-dong, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do. Open daily from 9am - 6pm.
If you have more time to spare and your feet aren’t too tired from walking the historical grounds, then sneak in a visit to the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress (a UNESCO World Heritage site) to get an idea of how the city was protected during times of war. We heard a fascinating story about how several chimneys in a row would be lit depending on how close enemy troops were to the fortress.
There are also museums in the vicinity and additional activities like traditional Korean archery, that you might want to participate in for an extra fee. As with the Gyeongbokgung Palace, admission is free for those who come in their Hanbok.
*Admission fees to the palace and fortress for foreign adult visitors range from around PHP50 to PHP200, depending on the inclusions (additional attractions) you might want to avail.
Day 4, Destination: Lotte World Tower Seoul Sky
300 Olympic-ro, Sincheon-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul. Open from 9:30am - 11pm.
Talk about a bird’s eye view! With observation decks and designated areas with glass floors from 118-123F, you’ll get the best views of the city from multiple angles. As of writing, Seoul Sky has the fifth spot among the world’s highest buildings. Though it was already evening by the time we got there, I can imagine how beautiful the view looks at sunset, so that might be the best time to drop by. Prepare to allot about PHP1,350 for each ticket for adults. Lotte World Tower actually has a mall on the lower floors, so you can chill there and do a little bit of shopping before or after your Seoul Sky visit.
Day 5, Destination: Myeongdong
Is this the part you’ve been waiting for? Time to hit the streets for some hardcore shopping! Myeongdong is where you will find beauty stores galore and then another branch of the same brand just a little bit further down the road... Wait, what? You can easily find several stores of the same brand just meters from each other, so if one shop runs out of your wishlist item, you’ve still got several chances to score! Plus, the stores get so competitive that they all tend to display sale items outside and offer tax rebates to tourists. For this purpose, don’t forget to bring your passport with you to avail of the tax refund that can either be deducted from your total bill on the spot, or redeemed at the airport when you leave.
But it’s not just Kbeauty stuff you can shop for. You can also purchase accessories, footwear, street food, souvenirs, and the like, so:
If the idea of visiting Incheon and Seoul warms your soul, check out Cebu Pacific for affordable fares! Manila-Incheon and Cebu-Incheon flights are available daily, and remember to check their Facebook page frequently for seat sale announcements! Manila-Incheon flights are on the Airbus A330, so the plane is a bit more spacious.