I SPY: South Korea

Nov 30, 2017

If you've ever traveled from New York to Singapore you know that it takes more then 24 hours door to door?  Kills me!  Partially why when I went home to visit my family this past summer, I decided to stop over in Seoul, Korea for three days to break up my trip.  The other advantage is ticket prices were cheaper, and I got to go Seoul searching.

It was a win win situation, however Seoul was not how I envisioned it to be.  Not to be a travel snob, but I left feeling like it was a cheaper version of Japan!  In all fairness, much of South Korea was wiped out during the Korean War in the 1950's.  Thus construction is new, and can't be compared to the rich beauty of Japan.  However, to see a city who has boomed in the last fifty years, in becoming one of the world's top ten most economically powerful cities, is impressive.

When there, I found out Gangnam isn't just a silly song, but was an actual neighborhood.  The K - Pop culture was real!   Fashion was innovative.  The girls were pretty and the boys too!  Yes, many have had plastic surgery.  Every other block you saw a sign or ad for cosmetic surgery.  They are a vain culture, and not only do they undergo the knife, but they are also fanatics over their skin.  Hence why they are leaders in skincare products.  Hence why I took advantage of their non invasive facial spa treatments and left with a suitcase filled with skin products!


Their walls are lined with head shots of the Korean movie stars they have served.  Hollywood service?You would think it's a fancy place, but it's not!  Beds are lined up in a room, so you don't have privacy.  BUT, have trust.  You lie down, they look at your skin and they get to work.  Very little English is spoken in Seoul, so the aesthetician doesn't even bother to explain what they'll be doing.  Nothing invasive, or even probing.  Just slapping on a bunch of their own Shangpree brand serums, masks, and massage that proves amazing results when you wake up 2 hours later. Buy their masks to take home before you leave.  This brand is on to something!

Obviously anything at the Four Seasons has to be fancy and live up to Western standards.  But it went over my expectations.  My treatment room was the size of my hotel room!  With views of the city, and a full size bathroom with bath and shower, and tea and snacks served in your room after your treatment it was hard not to spend the whole day there!  Although they didn't use Korean skincare products, I really enjoyed the glass balls they massaged my face with.  It felt like ice because they were kept in the freezer, and really helped to de-puff and soothe my skin after my long flight.

Like you can call in an in room massage, you can get an in room facial in Seoul.  Not someone from the hotel spa necessarily, but a freelance aesthetician.  Ask your concierge service at your hotel if they can recommend someone.  I'm sure they can, because this is common practice for Korean's to have the aestheticians come to their home. The lady who came to my room, was recommended by a friends, friend.  She walked in, with waterproof sheets to line your hotel bed, her equipment, and not only did she give you a facial, she also scrubbed and massaged your whole body.  She worked on me for 3 hours.  I felt like kobe beef after!!!


A Buddhist temple located in the heart of the city.  Can't be compared to a Shinto shrine as you would find in Japan, such as the famous Meiji Shrine in Tokyo.  Bongeunsa just isn't as luxe, nor has the history behind it.  However for those who have never visited a temple, it is worth a stop.  The courtyard filled with lanterns are pretty, the big Buddha in the back has an impact, and the dancheong traditional pattern painted on the ceilings was of most interest to me.

For a taste of old Korea walk around this neighborhood.  I felt like I was walking through Kyoto, Japan. Love the architecture.

A street, walking distance from Bukchon Hanok village.  Filled with arts and craft stores, eateries, and their version of locks of love, but instead love messages.  You can find it in the alleyway at the top of Ssamziegil.

A modern museum, filled with contemporary art, with a resident Korean artifacts exhibit. and  Olafur Elliason, whom I became obsessed with after my trip to Iceland ,had an installation while I was there.  'Gravity Stairs' plays with the different perspectives and the trickery of the eye.


While my eating schedule was totally thrown off by jet lag, I ended up eating a lot of street food, Korean barbecue at random places whose names I couldn't read, and shopping center food courts.  It's Asia, their food courts are wayyyyy better then USA standards.  Needless to say, Seoul is a foodie city, with a big coffee shop culture, and you will never find yourself hungry with no place to stuff your face.  So it's safe to say you will survive with no restaurant recommendations.  But if you must, here are a few places of interest.

Even if your not daring to eat some mystery food, it is worthy to just walk through.  I never realized till then how many different versions of kimchi exist!  Beware if you try, their spice level is deadly.  Well for me at least!  But it was super tasty, along with the scallion pancakes.

Famous for their matcha green tea that is served from hot, to cold, and in shaved ice form.  Shaved ice is a popular treat in Korea.  Dig in, it's refreshing, and was not overly sweet which I appreciated.


This is the Sephora of Korea!  If you want to stock up on beauty products, facial products and cosmetics, this is your one stop shop.  Shop till you drop!

A wholesale shopping mall, but many stores allow you to buy individual pieces.  It's the place you go shopping when you have jet lag! Many of the stores stay open till 6am. It was nice to have somewhere to walk around in the wee hours of the morning, and it wasn't ghost town either. Surprisingly quite a lot of people were out at that time!

Korean fashion is big. This department store I think had the best selection. I was intrigued by it, and all the details. But I walked away without buying anything. It was a little too crazy and fussy for me.  Maybe if I was 20 years younger! But don't let me ruin your experience. Check it out!


I wanted to stay in the Dongdaemun District, because I knew I was going to have horrible jet lag.  That I did! But I wasn't left to twiddle my thumbs in the dark in the middle of the night. Instead I was able to escape my room and go shopping at 2am, since my hotel was surrounded by 24 hour shopping malls.  Location of this hotel was perfect just for that!  However, it is a business hotel, so not super luxe, or special. Other then my after midnight escapades, I found myself mostly in the Gangnam area during the day, so I think I would prefer to stay in that area next time.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square
279 Cheonggyecheon-ro
Jongno-gu, Seoul
South Korea


Beware that English is not readily spoken.  It's not so easy to get around! I have not given you any addresses, because from my own experience the taxi drivers did not understand anything I said when I read addresses to them in English! So your best bet is you get your hotel concierge to write out in Korean every address you wish to visit, including your hotel address, and you show the taxi drivers that to direct them correctly.

I left Seoul glowing, plump, and skin tight.  The R&R was the highlight of my trip!  This is the main reason why I will be returning to South Korea!  Next time solely for a spa-cation, and maybe a day trip across the boarder to check out North Korea?  OK...I feel a lot of eyebrows raising at me right now!  HA.

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