How to enjoy Korea on Business Travel - AKA how to eat your way through Seoul.
Work trip to Seoul coming up? That can be exciting in many ways and somewhat daunting in others.
Traveling for business is tricky. You’re there for work, not pleasure.The trick is finding that balance between work and play. Let this itinerary walk you through a work week in Seoul and how to take advantage of your evening and plan a full day of exploring.
First and foremost – you must figure out the best route to get to Seoul. I recommend traveling so that you have AT LEAST one FULL day to enjoy yourself and adjust to the change of time. There are flight options that will land you in Seoul at 5-6 in the morning. That’s one way to do it or try to get in the evening before to rest and see the city.
For some background info about Korea – read the following; itinerary to follow below:
What is the electricity voltage and frequency in Seoul?:
- Voltage: 220 volts
- Frequency: 60 Hz
What is the air quality like in Seoul?
- For the one week I was there, we received multiple amber alerts about poor air quality. It's a combination of dust, dirt, and pollution coming from China. You will see people walking around the streets with protective masks. Not a bad idea to bring one or purchase one while you're there.
Can you drink the tap water in Seoul?:
Tap water is safe to drink in Seoul
What is the disease risk in Seoul?:
There is low risk for infectious diseases, Malaria, and Rabies in Seoul
What is the crime rate in Seoul?:
There is a low crime rate in Seoul, Korea. The city feels safe and nonthreatening. I felt fine walking around as a solo-female traveler into the evenings.
Is Uber available in Seoul?:
Uber is not available in Korea. You will need to use taxis and public transportation to get around if you are not planning on driving. The cost of taxi's are slightly less than American standards. Most drivers can not speak English, you will need your hotel concierge to translate where you are going for you. They do this by writing on a hotel business card the name/address of where you are going. Keep these cards because this will also allow you to return to your hotel.
What are some cultural considerations one should be aware of when traveling to Seoul on business?:
Koreans nod/bow when greeting. Please bring business cards as they are commonly exchanged on first encounter (in business environment)
What are the emergency numbers in Seoul?:
- Police - 112
- Ambulance - 119
- Fire - 119
What are the dialing codes for Seoul?:
- Country Code: 82
- IDD Prefix (International Direct Dialing): 001, 002
- NDD Prefix (National Direct Dialing): 0, 082
What is the recommended length of stay in the city of Seoul?:
- 3 days
Without further ado, here is the itinerary for one week in Seoul, Korea:
Day 0 – Travel to Seoul, Korea (from LAX)
There are a several direct flights to Seoul from LAX, SFO, and ATL airports. Loyal to Delta, I chose the Delta flight from LAX which ended up being operated by Korean Airlines on the outbound. Let me just share that for the most part...if you have an option to travel a foreign aircraft over an American aircraft for an international flight, go for it.
Pro Tip: when upgrading on Delta/Korean Air* - I booked an economy seat on the outbound and at check in at LAX, they offered me an upgrade to business class for about $2k more. I was informed that if I call Delta directly, they may be able to offer me a better rate for the upgrade. Delta in fact was able to upgrade me for $1580, $400 less than what Korean Airlines quoted me. The upgrade was heavenly
You will have KAL (Korean Air Lines) lounge access at LAX. Check out the photos here -
Experience with Korean Airlines:
The flight from LAX to SFO I was on ended up being an Airbus 380. Which is a SWEET double-decker jet with premium seating on the top floor and economy on the bottom. Check out this grand entrance and photos upon entering the aircraft:
Flying business with KoreanAir is not comparable to flying economy with them. The food, service, overall flight experience is unique with the upgrade. Highly recommend the upgrade if feasible!
The food on the airline with the business class experience was mind blowing! The most delicious ramen bowls, to bibimpap, herbed goat cheese stuffed peppers, etc. etc. Slide on this Instagram post below to see the culinary experience firsthand.
Con with flying Korean Airlines: No wifi! If you travel regularly, you’re probably spoiled with having wifi on most aircrafts to the point it’s an expectation. I, for one, did not think twice about there not being wifi. Surprise to me, I had to find other ways to entertain myself. "Sup neighbor?"
7:00pm: Arrive at Intercontiental COEX
Well first off, getting off the plane was one bougie AF experience. Koreans are walking off the plane like its NY fashion week. Balenciaga, Prada, Gucci belts, you name it. Talk about #stuntlife.
If you end up staying at the Intercontinental in Seoul, note that there are two Intercontinental properties within half a mile from each other. If you’re trying to stay at one of the best properties in Seoul, go to the Intercontinental Grand Seoul Parnas. Although I was staying at the Interncontinetal COEX, it's common for drivers to get them mixed and you end up at the other one. Basically pulled up right behind a Lamborghini lago with it’s butterfly doors pulled up. NBD.
The COEX location is fantastic. There is a giant underground mall attached to it with endless shopping and restaurants. You could probably never see the outdoors at this hotel and still enjoy your trip.
Make sure to book a reservation that includes the lounge access for breakfast, happy hour with o'dourves, and afternoon tea. The gym and sauna at the Interncontiental COEX are beyond anything you would expect from a hotel. Even if you are not a frequent gym go-er, please visit the gym and the sauna as that is an experience in itself.
8:00pm: Head to Dongdemun Market
- This market is mostly tailored towards females
- The market felt more like several malls slammed together than a market. It's overwhelming (in a good way if you like shopping) the amount of merchandise these buildings can hold. 10+ floors of clothing.
- Found tons of females in small groups with suitcases shopping around. Not sure what was going on here but everyone was on their phone taking videos of the different styles and items and streaming them on some application.
- Overall, this 'market' wasn’t anything special – go to Myeong-dong Market instead (more on this market later)
Day 1 – Tour of Seoul
Booked ‘ Full-Day Essential Seoul Tour’ on Viator for $95. This was a great tour to feel grounded in Seoul. You get a sense of the history and the way the city is laid out. You'll realize that Seoul has had a "rebirth" in the last ~50 or so years so there aren't as many historic sites to see. Some of the ones you will see on this tour, such as the Jogye Temple, have been rebuilt. Here is the list of all the sites that are visited during this tour:
- Jogye Temple
- They provide you traditional garb that you can put on on top of your clothes and walk to the temple in. Great way to make the trip memorable and understand the heritage
- If you're lucky, you'll get to see the changing of the guard ceremony ;)
- Drive by Blue House
- Gyeongbok Palace
- An ally full of shops and restaurants, this is where you take a lunch break, which is included in the tour.
- Bukchon Hanok Village
- Bugak Skyway
- Myeong-dong Market
The day tour ends in Meyong-dong Market which is a lively area for shopping, dining, and exploring. You can find some knock off designer items here - it's loaded with Supreme T's, socks, bags, etc. Once you get a bit of an appetite, I HIGHLY recommend eating at the pictured below restaurant: Myeongdong Kyoja in this market. It is HEAVENLY. It is one of those hole in the wall spots that the locals love. There are all of four things on the menu, you sit down, order and pay at your seat and your food is out before you know it. It's delicious, quick, and all about $7. #nofrills
After dining at Myeongdong Kyoja, wander over to the Cat Cafe near by...
Pet cafes are all the craze in Asia. You can find yourself drinking your coffee with raccoons, sheep, meercats, and other furry creatures. Check out this article for more information.
Continue to shop and eat on the streets. Also check out the underground train system, there is even more shopping there. Note: The selection of character socks in this market and Seoul in general are endless. You can't leave Seoul without getting yourself at least one pair. They're equivalent to $1 USD
Day 2 – Client site
Itaewon is known as being the "foreign" part of Seoul. Walking around there at night feels like walking around in New York City. You see people and hear dialects from all walks in life. Itaewon is a great place for night life as well.
Definitely check out Maple Tree House there for kbbq. Although a little pricey, it is hands down some of the best Korean BBQ I have ever had
Day 3 – Client Site
Dinner moves: Sariwon at Coex Mall
This mall is attached to the Intercontinental COEX property I mentioned earlier and is MASSIVE. There are plenty of restaurants you can choose from with cuisines from all parts of the world. We selected Sariwon as the locals suggested it for good Korean Bulgogi. Which I learned comes in different forms. Not sure what type of Bulgogi is pictured here as we pointed at a random dish someone else was eating and told them to bring us the same. If you haven't realized by Day 3, most menus are in Korean.
Day 4 – Client Site
Dinner moves: Return to Myeongdong market for street eats. We just couldn't get enough!
If you're concerned about eating street food in Korea and getting sick - you really don't have anything to worry about. The water is fine to drink here and the food is good to go as well.
Day 5 – Client site
Dinner at: Southside Parlor in Itaewon, Korea.
First non-korean dining experience. Great bar, awesome cocktails, and fun southern Texas vibe. Great place to start the night that's heading towards a pub crawl. You can't go wrong with Southside Parlor's Piggy Chips!
Sign up for the pub crawl at: Absolute: Seoul Pub Crawl & Party
I was hesitant to sign up for a pub crawl but soon realized that the bars in Korea are sophisticated with less of that stereotypical pub-crawl-sticky-hardwood-floor feel. I found the event to be an amazing way to meet people. The value was well worth the $25, I would have paid more for the experience I received. A lot of folks showed up by themselves so don’t feel intimidated if you’re traveling solo. Here are some photos of busy streets of Itaewon on a Friday night:
Day 6 – Explore Namdaemun Market, Seoul à Atlanta
Enjoyed one last morning at the amazing gym, sauna, and breakfast at the Intercontinental.
Spend the day seeing Namdaemun Market – would recommend this as a day visit. We went in the evening one day and it was shutting down. Odd because I read online that it also acts as a night market.
Safe travels home!
Please comment and leave your recommendations for Seoul!