10 Other Things You Can Do in South Korea: Streetwear, Soju, and A Squirming Octopus
South Korea is crazy fun. Trust me—I’m the addict who’s gone five times in five years, and I always come home wishing I had stayed an extra day to cram in more activities. At some point, I've stopped doing the touristy things and opted to go on some major adventures. If you're tired of the usual, here are 10 things other things you should consider doing the next time you book a trip to the Land of the Morning Calm.
Mountain climbing is South Korea’s national pastime, so much so that hiking politicians are their version of Barack Obama eating a burger. Seoul itself is bordered by mountains—you can get to Bukhansan National Park by subway for a day hike and be back home by sundown.
Advanced hikers will like the Jirisan National Park mountain range, which is found at the intersection of South Gyeongsang, South Jeolla, and North Jeolla provinces. The longest trail takes three days to conquer.
Stock up on Seoul’s streetwear
Minimalist game strong. IISE incorporates throwbacks to their heritage without sacrificing their modern aesthetic, using mu-myung fabric in their paneled jackets and traditional dying techniques and ingredients for their leather bags. The result is a style that’s fresh and uniquely Korean.
If you’re into sleek functional gear, check out Rawrow, which crafts sleek backpacks and messenger bags using waxed canvas and muted colors.
Take yourself out to a ball game
Score tickets to the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization), and you’re guaranteed a rowdy night out. Keep an eye out for hitters throwing their bats. It may be a sign of disrespect that could get players penalized in America, but it’s part of showmanship and entertainment in the Korean league. Star players even have signature throws!
Dance like the Internet’s watching
We get it, not everyone can dance. But if you can, why not sign up for a lesson at one of Youtube’s most popular studios? The aptly named 1Million Dance Studio commands millions of views per YouTube video, and their instructors have become celebrities in their own right. Classes are roughly $30 per session, and your final performance will be online for bragging rights.
If you just want to let loose without having to learn new moves, check out the club scenes in luxurious Gangnam and multi-cultural Itaewon, where most expats live and party.
Drink like a local
From rustic makgeolli (rice wine served in bowls) to smooth grapefruit soju to the wide array of local snacks to pair with your drink, there are endless ways to enjoy a drink. Try your hand at making a somaek bomb: quickly pour a shot of soju into a clear glass of beer (maekju), let it settle, then stab the bottom of your glass with a chopstick. If you do it right, you should see a mushroom cloud. If not…try and try until you succeed.
Basic Korean drinking etiquette: Don’t fill your own glass. Just keep refilling those of your drinking buddies, and they’ll do the same for you.
Go on a date
Traveling with your S/O? South Korea is unabashedly cheesy with its couple culture, from shops selling matching shirts to famous date spots. Try the always-photogenic Yeouido Park (cherry blossoms in spring, golden foliage in fall, snow-lined lines in winter), N Seoul Tower (where couples attach padlocks on a fence overlooking Seoul), and Nami Island (a forest island where couples of all ages go to ride bicycles and have picnics).
Peek at the northern side
The border between North and South Korea remains the most heavily militarized border in the world. Tensions are on a perpetual simmer, but you can book a tour to landmarks by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
The best tours are the ones that take you inside the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, part of a foiled plot by the north to invade South Korea after armistice was signed; and the Joint Security Area, where you can be feet away from a northern soldier standing guard on soil that is officially North Korea. Just don’t cross the line.
Stick it to mortality
Remember that impossibly baby-faced soldier from Descendants of the Sun that your girlfriend was raving about? He’s 31. In Korea, there’s no shame in men wanting smooth, wrinkle-free skin.
They’re the biggest consumer of men’s grooming and cosmetic products, and unlike most Western brands that simply offer a generic “For Men” line in addition to their women’s products, here you can find men’s skincare products targeting every type of skin, age, and need. If you’re lucky, you might even catch pop culture collaborations, like The Face Shop’s Star Wars-themed packaging.
Eat a live octopus
Look, all tourists go to grills. Why not make like a real local and have a hotpot with a whole live octopus in it? Samwon Haecheontang (?????) is a small mom-and-pop restaurant in Seoul’s Oksu district that isn’t in guide books, but is packed with locals every night.
Order the sannakji, a small chopped octopus that you can pick up, still squirming, with your chopsticks; then graduate to the famous haecheontang that translates to “seafood heaven stew.” The bubbling hotpot comes with live abalone, clams, mussels, and a writhing, full sized octopus that cooks in the brass pot. And just when you think it’s all over, there’s a small native chicken at the bottom.
Take a train to Busan
No, really. The southern seaside province is home to a laidback vibe and an abundance of seafood, plus the train will take you through colorful views of the Korean countryside. No zombies included.