The colourful Gyeongbokgung Palace, in Seoul, is a paradise for tourists. For a relatively small land, South Korea has so much to offer, says Hasan al Lawati.
Whether you’re alone or with friends and family, South Korea would be your perfect one-week holiday getaway.
And being an Omani, I do not need a visa to fly to Seoul; a privilege that I made sure to luxuriate in when I planned my annual leave.
The moment I arrived at its massive airport, I surrendered to the city’s charm.
South Korea is one of the most advanced countries in the world and is home to tech giants, Samsung and car manufacturing giants Kia and Hyundai.
But despite its ever-expanding businesses and innovations, tourists can enjoy an authentic taste of life around every street corner.
Beautifully-made handicrafts, adorable calligraphy shops and theme cafes, bustling old-school arcades and lots of street-food stalls can be seen in every district.
For a relatively small land (one third the size of Oman), South Korea has so much to offer. Adventurers can enjoy endless options of activities during summer, spring and autumn (winter may be too cold to handle).
Famous for its pop culture and modern fashion, South Korea is a wonderland for shopaholics.
Myeongdong is the biggest shopping hotspot in Seoul and one of its most touristic attractions.
I remember stopping for a cup of coffee at a cat cafe (Yes, it was full of cats) and then enjoying a cheap barbecued chicken at a food stall in Myeongdong, before my female friends decided to “explore” at least 20 cosmetic shops there.
But for the more culture-savvy visitors, South Korea has a lot of history that is visible all across the land.
I took an early morning trip to the DMZ, a border land where I learnt about South Korea’s dark political history with its northern neighbour.
I walked inside a very low-ceiling tunnel which was built by the North Koreans under the most heavily militarised borders in the world to attack Seoul.
I remember banging my helmet against the tunnel’s rocky ceiling more than ten times while my shorter friends gracefully weaved their way through the tunnel.
The guide told me later that the average North Korean’s height is too low compared to the international average.
But the highlight of the trip was my stay. Given the wide array of accommodation options in South Korea, I decided to book for the first time through Airbnb, an online marketplace and hospitality service.
I booked a small, barely furnished room inside a traditional Korean house where I could immerse myself in the rich, local culture.
The people were very welcoming but communication was hard and funny because most of them couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t even say ‘hi’ in Korean.
When it comes to transportation, South Korea sets an example to the world.
Seoul is known to be the most connected city in the world and that is essentially owed to its brilliant metro system.
It is affordable, safe, and culturally rich. For sure, it was one of my most unforgettable trips!
My favourite place- Very hard to choose but I will go with the DMZ.
Highlights- NANTA Kitchen Show, it is a weirdly funny musical cooking show. A must-attend if you are in Seoul.
Lowlights- People do not speak English.
Souvenirs- Cute wooden handicrafts from Insadong.
Getting there- There are no direct flights between Muscat and Seoul but Oman Air and Korean Air fly indirectly from Muscat to Seoul. Oman Air stops in Abu Dhabi and its whole trip takes around 22 hours while Korea Air’s total trip is around 15 hours and stops first in Mumbai.
Where to stay- Bukchon Hanok village is the quietest, most historical place to stay in. Highly recommended.
Top 5 Things to do
1. Book a temple stay to enjoy a spiritual experience.
2- Buy some cute anime figures at Myeongdong and some high-tech souvenirs.
3- Eat from the popular food stalls and themed cafes
4- Visit the massive museums in Seoul to learn about the country’s war history.
5- Take long trips using South Korea’s renowned metro system.