5. DON'T get an early start
Sleep in! We realize this goes against the natural tourist survival instinct to be at the day's first temple/museum/landmark with the cock's crow, but Seoul's soul lies in the nighttime. 10am at spots like Gyeongbokgung or N-Seoul Tower means mixing with the tour bus set; the same spot at 3pm or, at 9pm at locations with later closing times, means a more relaxed pace, more locals and a wider variety of street vendors.
Spend enough time in Seoul and perhaps you'll even fall into nightlife Korean-style, which thrives with the concept that a good night out consists of three rounds. Dinner at a restaurant is the first round, the second round is often partying at a bar or karaoke ("noraebang") or both, and the third round is another food stop, though past midnight and often at a tent-and-tables street restaurant called a "pojangmacha."
4. DON'T go around singing 'Gangnam Style'
Psy may have been named "tourism ambassador" for South Korea on account of his incredibly successful hit song "Gangnam Style," but he's also become spokesman for what seems like every other product under the sun. The Psy saturation level is Seoul is very high, so high that it's annoying in Spice Girls-style. In fact, on our recent visit, we didn't hear it played at all but did catch his most recent single, "Gentleman," being blasted from the storefronts around Myeungdong.
3. DON'T let North Korea's threats freak you out
A few weeks ago, we addressed exactly how to handle an upcoming trip to South Korea if you're at all worried about North Korea. One tip was to register your travel with the US State Department, while another noted that the availability of the USO's tours to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) is an excellent barometer. If the tours are on hold because tensions are high, then perhaps it's time to think twice. Thankfully it almost never comes to this, and we've had several friends visit the DMZ as tourists in just the last two months.
Additionally, keep in mind that there are plenty other non-North Korean topics making the news in Seoul, and almost every day in the capital is normal as pie.
2. DON'T pack a full suitcase
Forget Paris and Romewe'd argue that Seoul is currently the best shopping city in the world. Typically we shy away from such superlative statements, but we're serious about this. You're going to buy some stuff, so we highly recommend packing light and returning heavy.
South Korea is serious about duty-free, so even if you don't swipe your card in one of the many shopping districts (like Myeungdong!), massive department stores (like Shinsegae!), after-hours markets (like Dongdaemun!) or even the super fun dollar stores (Daiso!), there's always the Lotte Duty-Free mall both in town and at the airport (where every day seems like Black Friday!).
1. DON'T be a picky eater
You will eat kimchi and that's only the beautiful beginning. Allergies, intolerances and medical diets are one thing; refusing to eat anything other than white-color food is another. Seoul food options run the gamut from sugary red bean donuts to tiny snack crabs that crunch in your mouth like Fritos (except they're crabs). Dining well is not expensive, and indeed entire meals can be had for 5000 KRW ($4.50) from street carts. Just stay away from Starbucks.
BONUS tip: DON'T cut your time short at Incheon International Airport. There's a Hello Kitty Cafe, for heaven's sake, and more shopping and cultural attractions than you can shake a stick at. There's a very good reason why it's often ranked number one airport in the world, and arriving late or even on-time for your flight is simply not enough time.
What are your Seoul DOs and DON'Ts? Have you done any of the above and loved or regretted it? Let us know in the comments!
[Photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]