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By Margarita Maslova, a student of the Korean language who has been exploring this fast paced Asian city and its most luxurious neighbourhood, Gangnam, for 6 years.
Edited by Elodi Troskie
I’ve always dreamt of one day moving to Korea and living in Seoul, the capital of the South. Korea is quite popular among younger people, and at the age I moved here, this country was exactly what I was looking for. After graduating from the Moscow State University, majoring in Korean Languages, I packed my bags and moved to this dynamic, fast-growing city. At the moment I live close to Gangnam, the most luxurious part of Seoul. If you’re visiting Seoul for the first time, this guide to Gangnam will help you plan and prepare for your trip!
Gangnam is probably the most glamorous area in all of Seoul. As the business centre of Seoul, it has the feeling of an olden Asian metropolis with skyscrapers, symmetrical office buildings and high end hotels. During the day, Gangnam is really busy with people commuting to and from work, so you’ll see a lot of suits and ties. At night, the vibe changes completely. The Gangnam district is the poshest place to go clubbing and bar hopping in Seoul. Locals who can afford to party in Gangnam follow the routine of going out for dinner, often at one of the traditional Korean BBQ places in the area, and to have for drinks at a club or lounge bar afterwards.
Spending a day and evening in Gangnam really gives you a feel of how the locals in this area live. The bar is set pretty high here when it comes to luxury living, definitely higher than that of an average Korean resident, so Gangnam will give you a glimpse into the rich and luxurious side of the city. The rest of Seoul certainly doesn’t all look like Gangnam, so if you’ve been to other parts of the city, you’ll really be able to see the contrast in lifestyle between the different districts. Even though this is an expensive neighbourhood to live in, there are plenty of cool things to do in Gangnam that won’t all cost you an arm and a leg. This area is definitely worth exploring, especially since it’s so close to the beautiful Han River.
If you only have one day in Gangnam, I’d start the day slow with a walk around the park at the Han River. In Seoul, you can order food to any location at any time of the day or night, so it would be a cool idea to order some food for a breakfast picnic in the park before moving further to explore the urban parts of Gangnam. Shopping is one of the go-to things to do in Gangnam and opportunities for it are in abundance, so a shopping trip would definitely make it on the itinerary for the day (more on this later!). Moving around the city is pretty simple and convenient using the subway or getting a taxi, if necessary. This makes it easy to pay a visit to all the tourist attractions in the area and to explore a few hidden gems as well. Of course, a day in the Gangnam district wouldn’t be complete without a real Korean BBQ dinner and cocktails and karaoke at a bar afterwards, so that would be a fun way to end the day!
Koreans don’t play around when it comes to BBQ. You can get really good barbequed pork or beef served alongside kimchi and rice in any region of the city. One of my favourite places to eat in Seoul is at Seorae Galmaegi, located in the Gangnam district. The service is really good here and the prices are reasonable. Another recommendation is Saemaeul Sikdang Nonhyeon, a franchise restaurant that has a popular branch in the Gangnam area. Once again: affordable prices, great service and an all-around 10/10 Korean dining experience! You should also try shabu shabu, a hotspot dish that is actually from Japan, but has made its way across many Asian countries. This is a simple but very healthy meal – basically a medley of vegetables at meat to your liking. You’d be able to order shabu shabu from any restaurant in the city and it won’t cost too much! If you want to splurge on a fine dining experience or you’re looking for a Michelin star Seoul restaurant, Mingles is a good option. Mingles has been awarded one Michelin star and chef Mingoo Kang serves a wide variety of modern and traditional Korean dishes.
“Gangnam” translates to “south of the river” since its situated along the banks of the Han River, one of the largest rivers in Korea. A visit to the river is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are many beautiful walking paths in the park surrounding the river and relaxing here is one of my favourite things to do in Seoul. The park is a prime spot for a picnic! Bongeunsa is a beautiful Buddhist temple in the Samseong-dong district of Gangnam. The temple was founded in 794, making it a must-see historic site. Another stop to add on your cultural to-do list is the United Gallery located on the first floor of the United Culture Foundation building in Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam. United Gallery supports young artists, showcasing both modern and traditional art.
If you’re sucker for shopping, Gangnam might be a danger zone for you! There are plenty of really good shopping centres in Seoul if you’re on the hunt for clothing, accessories or shoes. Korean cosmetics are of high quality, so this is the ideal place to stock up on any makeup or beauty products. Whatever you want, COEX Mall will have it. COEX is the largest underground shopping mall in Asia and the one-stop shopping location in Gangnam, Seoul. Apart from fashion stores by the hundreds, you’ll also find a food court with any cuisine you can dream of, a massive cinema, aquarium, the Kimchi Museum and the enormous ASEM Plaza and Event Court regularly hosting concerts and other live performances. If you’re looking for a more authentic shopping experience, I recommend you check out the underground markets that pop up at subway stations all across the city. These markets sell anything from clothes to jewellery to food and you’re guaranteed to find a few unique pieces at bargain prices. Remember that the vendors at these markets usually accept only cash.
If you search a little further than the skyscrapers and glamorous lounge bars, you’ll find that Seoul has quite a few hidden treasures. Seorae Maeul, or better known as the French Village, is a neighbourhood in Banpo-dong that is popular among long-term expats with a particular large French community – hence the name. This area has a romantic, international feel to it. For an hour or two, as you’re snacking on a cheese platter and sipping on French wine, you might forget you’re actually in Asia. If the city rush overwhelms you, this is a pleasant spot to recharge.
Like I said, the public transport in Seoul makes it really easy to travel around the city. The subway will take you almost anywhere you want to go, and, should you need it, the taxis are fairly cheap here in comparison to Europe and America. Traveling short distances by taxi will cost you about $5-10 and only about $1,5 by subway. Just note that the subway only runs until 23:00 at night, so if you’re planning to be out and about late at night, make sure you have transport back home. Getting a taxi at night can sometimes be tricky and because there aren’t many drivers working at night, you might get exploited with unnecessary high prices. Money-wise, make sure you always have some cash on you for shopping at markets and small vendors since they usually don’t have card facilities.
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