Things to Do on a Fall-Winter Trip to Korea: Cheonggyecheon Plaza and Stream, Lantern Festival, Insadong

Thanks to a slew of dramas, pop songs, awesome skincare and cosmetics, servings of kimbap, and several Super Shows, Seoul has been in my travel bucket list for years now. So I’m sure you can imagine my mounting giddy excitement as the months fell away into weeks, then days and hours, until finally our plane touched down in Incheon International Airport. We reached Seoul on November 19, a couple of days after the proclaimed official first day of winter, and were welcomed by clear skies, a high feeble sun, and frigid Siberian winds. The adventure begins.

  1. Getting to Seoul. The 4-hour flight via AirAsia was prompt and uneventful (thank God), and we touched down at Incheon at about 12pm. There are several means to get to Seoul, but as we didn’t want to take a cab (cabs are for wusses) nor a bus, we took the train instead. You have a choice between the All-Stop Train which would get you to Seoul Station in 56 minutes, or the Express Train which takes 43 minutes. Because time is money (and we were dead hungry), we took the Express Train for KRY6000, got off at Seoul Station, bought and loaded a T-Money card (KRW2500 cost of card + 10000 initial load), and took the subway to Myeongdong Station. Seoul Station is huge and quite daunting for a first timer’s eyes, but quite convenient to navigate as long as you mind the signs. Friendly advise though: don’t take the train if you have 2 trolleys with you. The many stairs and the long walk might kill you. Or better yet, don’t bring along 2 trolleys. Goodness.

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  2. Check in, B My Guesthouse. B My Guesthouse was heartily recommended by a fellow traveler, for very good reasons. From Myeongdong Station, it is just a 10-minute walk and a steep climb away. The building is painted a bright cheery red, and is new and clean and well maintained, all the way to our double bed roomroom that, albeit of course, was admittedly tiny. Good man Jin, the hostel’s owner was there to welcome us warmly when we arrived. The hostel serves free breakfast of sweet potato sandwiches (intriguingly delicious, yes) and coffee, usually served with helpful tips and recommendations from Jin or one of his staff (happy wave to Young!). Right across the street from Myeongdong Station is Cosme Road (where credit cards go and die). Nandaemun Market and Namsan Tower are also within walking distance. Bonus: if you stay at least 4 nights, you get a free caricature. So cute.

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  3. Seoul Lantern Festival. After a quick hearty meal near the guesthouse, we went to catch the Lantern Festival which was installed along the 10-km Cheonggyecheon Stream. We took the subway to City Hall Station, Exit 4, and followed the crowds to the head of the parade at Cheonggyecheon Plaza. We stopped a bit for some street food. Cheap yumminess. I’ve been to several local lantern parades, but I’ve never seen such intricately shaped lights sitting on the calm waters. You can view them from street-level or climb down the short steps and walk along the stream, carefully if you please, for a closer view. You can reach the end without noticing how far you’ve walked (though you will not fail to notice the winds are getting more frigid, a good reminder of the lateness of the hour), but although the view was beautiful, we had another destination for the night.

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  4. Insadong. A 10-minute walk from where we cropped up from the Stream (during which we tasted all manner of street food we laid our eyes upon), Insadong promised traditional tea houses and wares. We arrived there around 9pm however, so some of the shops were closed. We managed to get the distinctive flat Korean chopsticks and long spoons however, and a trinket or too. We could have scoured the deeper streets of the area but it was getting really cold (the winds are from Siberia), our tropical bodies have not yet acclimated. So heeding the advice of the very helpful Tourist Information booth, we got a map and took the 15 walk back to our hostel, pausing only at Paris Baguette for some coffee and warmth.

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