It all started with watching BTS jam with James Corden in a carpool karaoke, just getting to know the members. But I never thought I would fall this deep down the BTS rabbit hole. Their catchy songs and agile dance moves are definitely one thing, but their tracks’ lyricism is another. Most of it is in Korean but I am the type who often looks up the translations of lyrics to deduce their core message. Spring Day, 00:00, Mic Drop, and Answer: Love Myself are personal favorites.
Given the abundance of time during the lockdown, this interest evolved further to watching their music videos at random (multiple) times of the day and getting drawn more into their shows such as Run BTS, Bon Voyage, and In the Soop. Their location shoots, especially for concept photos, seem to be subdued ways of enticing me as a baby ARMY (name of the BTS fandom) to visit the actual sites once the travel borders open. Being cooped up at home and seeing all the places they have been has made me yearn to go there someday.
When the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) Manila Office sent an invitation for a familiarization tour for their Korea Premium Selection Product highlighting pertinent areas in Seoul, Gyeonggi, and Gangneung, my fangirl heart skipped a beat when I saw the itinerary covering a number of locations where BTS was. Additionally, I was very happy to learn that South Korea started welcoming foreign tourists again last June 1, so fellow Filipino ARMYs (and K-drama fans such as myself) can now visit the country. One thing that I realized after this trip is that there is definitely more that South Korea can offer in terms of attractions and experiences beyond Seoul, regardless of your fandom (or even if you do not have any at all).
123 Lounge – Lotte World Tower
Address: 300, Olympic-ro, Songpa-gu, Seoul
On Nov. 30, 2020, BTS performed Santa Claus is Coming to Town on ABC’s The Disney Holiday Singalong. Six members sang this special performance without Suga, who was recovering from shoulder surgery during that time.
The exact venue where this was held was 123 Lounge located at the Lotte World Tower, the sixth tallest building in the world. The outlet offers a panoramic view of Seoul, which allows people to see the city’s urban landscape, pinpoint relevant landmarks, and appreciate the expanse of the Han River — all while having afternoon tea or sipping champagne.
In Lotte World Tower, one can also immerse in a unique adventure, crossing a bridge at a height of 541 meters through the Skybridge Tour (note: advance reservation is required). This is where Suga and RM received their penalty in Run BTS episode 153. Not only did they both walk through the bridge together, they also performed Permission to Dance. I have now included this on my bucket list for when I return (to be clear, it’s just crossing the Skybridge that I want to do and not the dancing part).
Jumunjin Hyangho Beach Bus Stop
Address: 8-54 Hyangho-ri, Jumunjin-eup, Gangneung-si, Gangwon-do
Before leaving Gangneung, I had already etched an itinerary in my head to come again during summer, spend more time by the beach, go cycling and explore its cafes.
In 2017, BTS released their “You Never Walk Alone” album with Spring Day as its lead single. In reference to BigHit Entertainment’s description, it features “a message of comfort and hope to the youth of this generation.”
Its album jacket featured a bus stop in Jumunjin Hyangho Beach, located in Gangwon’s Gangneung City, which is the easternmost part of South Korea. It is one of the Instagram-worthy sites in Gangneung that people generally visit for its perfect backdrop. This is more significant for me now as an ARMY member, and I admit that Spring Day was playing in my mind while strolling the beach. If you happen to swing by at 6 p.m., the spot plays songs from the album, which is an added bonus experience. Note that this is not a real bus stop, so you won’t really catch any buses in this area.
Gangneung is popular for its beaches and surfing, so it’s the ideal place to visit during summer. During the trip, KTO also arranged for us to try Gangneung’s specialty (soft tofu) and dishes such as sundubu jjigae (soft tofu stew) and gelato as dessert. It is probably the best-tasting tofu I have ever tried. I absolutely love its clean and fresh taste, unlike any other. Before leaving Gangneung, I had already etched an itinerary in my head to come again during summer, spend more time by the beach, go cycling and explore its cafes (they have lots of those), and of course, indulge in more tofu.
Sky 1340 Gondola - High 1 Ski Resort
Address: 265-1 High1-gil, Jeongseon-gun, Gangwon-do, South Korea
I have always been curious about Gangwon, as this is one of the popular go-to holiday destinations for my Korean friends, specifically its mountain resorts. Coincidentally, KTO also made arrangements for us to stay at High 1 Ski Resort in Gangwon. Though it was not skiing season during the time of our visit, we were able to explore its grounds, which I can say are perfect for families and friends because of the variety of recreational activities on the premises (e.g., themed park, tea ceremony, hiking trails). Everyone will surely appreciate the breathtaking views of Gangwon’s mountain slopes and greenery — I can already picture how the place looks during winter.
One part of the High 1 Ski Resort is the location of the BTS 2021 Winter Package photoshoot. Due to some construction, we were not able to ride the gondola to the mountaintop but I was beguiled to know that this is where they did it. Now I have another reason to go back to Gangwon during winter — aside from taking a shot at learning to ski.
BTS Benches - Seoul Forest
Address: 273, Ttukseom-ro, Seongdong-gu, Seoul
Perhaps my favorite era of BTS’s career is their Love Yourself series, which spoke volumes about how accepting and loving ourselves is the starting point of true love. It is a theme that I embraced more during the pandemic. The tracks of this album were on loop for most of my fleeting days in 2020.
Luckily, KTO capped off our tour by bringing us to Seoul Forest where Suga did a photoshoot for Love Yourself. Seoul Forest is a premium city park likened to Central Park in New York or Hyde Park in London. It is surrounded by residential towers and office buildings, and just a few minutes away from SM Entertainment and Under Stand Avenue is an outdoor shopping/cultural space comprised of cargo shipping containers.
Our tour guide, Yale Kim, took us to the actual tunnel where Suga had this shoot for his Love Yourself poster. I couldn’t help asking that a photo be taken, because he had been there.
In Seoul Forest’s Gingko Lane, fans of RM (a forest-lover himself) have “adopted” benches bearing his name and some lines of his songs in celebration of his mixtape’s anniversary. The place is the perfect venue to catch a breather, read a book, and be one with nature to heal.
Other BTS members also have their benches in another area of the park. On my next trip with friends, I will probably spend two to three hours in Seoul Forest, not just to be on a quest for more BTS benches, but also to immerse myself in this park’s calming, soul-soothing vibes — the very reason why I am on a holiday, after all.