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What Not To Do In Seoul: The Top Five Tourist Mistakes

Where: Seoul, Korea
July 2, 2013 at 1:35 PM | by | ()

Let's play a game of what's hot and what's not. What's HOT is flying to the other side of the world to land at Incheon International Airport, visiting Seoul, South Korea, and eating and shopping yourself silly in the city. What's NOT is...well, not doing these things, since Seoul is absolutely one of the global capitals on the cusp of everything cool right now. So while we definitely recommend making your stay longer than five days to even begin to scratch the surface, at least these do-not-dos will help no matter the trip length.

So without further ado, here is the Jaunted guide of What Not To Do In Seoul: The Top 5 Tourist Mistakes.

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 in Seoul is very high, so high that it's annoying in Spice Girls-style. In fact, on our recent visit, we didn't hear "Gangnam Style" played at all but did catch his newer 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 Rome—we'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.

First-time visitors who aren't sure what, if anything, they'll like should head out on a guided food tour, while the more experienced may dive right in to our list of the 31 must-try foods in town.

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]

Archived Comments:

Shopping in Seoul?

Seoul is hardly my idea of a shopping destination. There are better deals to be had elsewhere in Asia.

Another Don't

I recently spent 10 day in S. Korea and fell in love with this beautiful country. My Don't? is to have a very loose schedule and be O.K. with the fact you won't see everything you planned. I planned and researched my trip and had an itinerary of each day, which I promptly discarded. I did keep a list of things I hoped to see while there, and managed to see quite a few. The best days I had in Seoul were the ones where I never reached my planned destination, rather opting to walk through neighborhood after neighborhood each offering a unique experience. So my advice, get a good pair of walking shoes and get lost, get out of the cabs or subway and take the long route to your next destination.