We were the first Filipino tourist group to visit Seoul since the pandemic — and Korea welcomed us with an open and warm embrace.
As tourists begin to pour in due to the announcement that the country is now fully open to travelers, I had the privilege of visiting must-see sights, including a newly opened museum and theme park. After all, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s campaign is “Travel to Korea Begins Again!” And, yes, we will be going back, again and again. A big thank you to the Korean Tourism Organization Manila (KTO), for arranging this unforgettable trip.
As we arrived, we stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Josun, Seoul Myeongdong, which is a stone’s throw away from the famous tourist hub. I woke up with the perfect view of the Namsam Tower and it was undeniable: I was in Korea.
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Next week: The K-drama sites to visit in Korea and finding BTS
Lotte World Tower & Lotte World
Lotte World is a huge, amazing complex (more like a little city to me) with shopping malls, an indoor theme park, a luxury hotel, a Korean folk museum, office buildings, and the magnificent Lotte World Tower, which is the tallest structure in Korea. It is also the sixth highest edifice in the world.
The peaceful Seokchon Lake beside the property creates the perfect picture of the balance of nature and modernity. To reach the top floors of the building, we took the Sky Shuttle. It’s an elevator, but more than just an elevator. It holds the Guinness World Record of the longest- and fastest-traveling double-deck elevator. As you are brought to the highest floors, there is a colorful video of how Seoul and the Han River have changed over time via a four-walled screen.
On the 117th floor is the Sky Deck, which again, as per the Guinness World Records, is the highest glass floor observation deck. Aside from the breathtaking panorama of the cityscape, there is a transparent floor that makes you feel you are floating above Seoul. The Sky Terrace on the 120th floor offers the same awesome scenery but with fresh air. The top of the Lotte World Tower is on the 123rd floor with a restaurant called — what else — but 123 Lounge. We had afternoon tea complete with delectable finger pastries. Here, I felt as close to heaven as can be.
Han River cruise
The Han River, or Hangang, is a major river that converges in Seoul with 32 bridges that go through it. It has a significant role in Korea’s history, but nowadays, it is a popular place where people have picnics nearby, go biking, jog and exercise, or watch mesmerizing light shows. We cruised this famous waterway at day’s end, in a catamaran while sipping on drinks and seeing the city from another perspective. There are many yachts that can be rented for a group, a romantic date (perfect for a wedding proposal), or even going solo contemplating the beauty of this river alone. I saw some yachts arranged with dining tables, so I guess dining along the river is also an option. The star here is the Han River. And cruising along it makes for a memorable experience.
Legoland Korea Resort
Just opened on May 5, which is the Children’s Day holiday in the country, Legoland Korea Resort is the biggest one in Asia, and second in the world. The amusement park has themed clusters such as the Lego Castle, Pirate Shores, Lego City, Bricktopia, Brick Street, Ninjago World, and Miniland with replicas of famous Korean landmarks. There are also 40 rides and attractions. I went to the 4D Cinema and watched a cute and funny movie complete with rain and wind. Super-adorable Lego creations are found everywhere.
Check out the Lego “people,” police cars, limos with a chauffeur and Hollywood stars, giant dinosaurs, fountains, and even a train you can ride. There’s a huge dining area, and the Legoland Hotel for families who want to stay longer. A couple of shops are found in the complex as well, so you can indulge your kids (and yourself) with all kinds of Lego toys. It’s true: with Lego, everything is awesome!
Arte Museum Valley Gangneum
Arte Museum Valley Gangneum opened in December 2021. It is Korea’s largest immersive media art exhibition. This is the third Arte Museum to open and is located in Gangwon-do.
Behind the spectacular presentations is digital design company D’strict. The use of 4,600 square meters of space provides an entrancing experience with light and sound. Ten media art exhibits with the theme of Eternal Nature include: Waterfall Infinite, Wave Circle, Sun, Garden, Flower, Cave, Live Sketchbook, Thunder, Forest, Beach, and Star.
At the end of the experience, you proceed to the Teabar, where you are served Strawberry Moon Milk Tea with cherry blossoms projected on the table that respond to your movements. A lovely moon lends its image to the tea as well.
High 1 Ski Resort
It didn’t matter that it wasn’t skiing season when we visited High 1 Resort; there were lots to do and I saw a few families enjoying their holiday.
A three-hour drive from Seoul, High 1 is a massive complex of buildings housing a hotel, casino, convention center, condominium, and, of course, their famous ski resort. Breathtaking mountains surround the place. They offer many activities such as a Tea Ceremony, where we were taught to make tasik, or “tea food.” Right after, our instructor guided us with a short meditation.
SL Studio is a K-pop academy where programs for vocals, dance, recording, stage performance and more is offered to those who aspire to be a K-pop idol. Students from all over the world enroll here so that they can pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
The force behind this school is CTO Sol Lim Lee, a pioneer in the K-pop industry. She has discovered and trained many superstars, including Taeyeon from Girls Generation, Onew from Shinee, Kai from Exo, Kim Jin-hwan from Ikon, and Moonbyul from Mamamoo. I was lucky to meet her and watch a dance performance by trainees.
This Shilla Duty Free Shop branch is located at the iconic Shilla Seoul Hotel. It is not inside the hotel, but in a stand-alone building within the property.
Shilla Duty Free Shop
This Shilla Duty Free Shop branch is located at the iconic Shilla Seoul Hotel. It is not inside the hotel, but in a stand-alone building within the property. The store offers hundreds of brands, from cosmetics to fashion. Carve out a few hours of your day to shop here. There’s a café and services like valet parking — very efficient and practical, especially if you are staying at the hotel or nearby.
Korea National Folk Museum
Beside the Gyeongbokgung Palace (the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty), a retro-style street was created called A Walk Down Memory Lane. A scene in Squid Game inspired this street, where the old man Oh Il-nam played a fatal game of marbles with Seong Gi-hun in a replica of the neighborhood where he grew up. A cafe, car shop, clothes store, and other establishments are filled with nostalgic Sixties furniture and pieces to the last detail, and it makes you feel that you took a time machine back to those days.
Seoul Forest is to Seoul what Central Park is to New York and Hyde Park is to London. It is 115 hectares of tranquil park space in the heart of Seongsung-dong. Don’t be surprised to see some deer grazing. Pockets of the park have interesting themes, some with impressive sculptures. There are dedicated benches with plaques under the names of stars donated by fans. There are also luxury apartments within as well, like Galleria Foret and Trimage Complex, where famous celebrities live.
Hongdae Shopping Street
Hongdae is considered one of the trendiest and youthful neighborhoods in Seoul. It has its own underground culture and freedom of expression. Along Hongik University Street are rows and rows of stores and stalls offering clothes, accessories, cosmetics, pet clothing, among other interesting stuff. Unlike more “touristy” places, the hip locals shop here.