What comes to mind when someone says “South Korea”? Whether its fashion, skin care, K-Pop, or K-Drama, there's no doubt the land of kimchi has an incredible influence on pop culture worldwide, creating a cult following that can rival those from the land of the rising sun. And yet there is more! Travellers who may not indulge in the Korean Wave will find that the country’s four seasons and natural landscape have a unique experience to offer. With Mayflower’s Amazing Seoul Travel Packages and winter soon approaching, here are some real good reasons to consider South Korea for your next winter holiday!
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During winter, designated gardens and parks across the country are lit with spectacular light installations that sparkle against the winter white snow. It has become something the locals look forward to each year. One of the best winter illuminations in the country is the Lighting Festival at The Garden of Morning Calm in Gapyeong. Rated as Excellent by a majority of Tripadvisor visitors, the 300,000 m² garden is fantastic a wonderland to explore. Almost 5,000 species of plants make up its gorgeous landscape which was the brainchild of a horticulture professor who wanted to depict what beauty could look like in the Korean context. He certainly nailed it as it looks beautiful no matter what season of the year its dressed in. But if you’d like to know what it might feel like to be part of a larger-than-life snow globe, come in winter and pray that it snows! The festival begins every December till the following March, with lights coming alive by sunset up till 9pm (11pm on Saturdays). More information at the official website here.
Other winter light events are the Boseong Green Tea Plantation Light Festival, E-World Starlight Festival at Daegu and the Animal & Heart Village Light Festival at Ansan Starlight Photo Land in Ansan.
Source: Visit Korea
Sure, you could have a snowball fight in any country that snows but the Taebaeksan Mountain Snow Festival puts on a winter party like no other. It’s packed with activities such as snow sliding (where you get to build your own sled) and a hiking competition to make sure your snowy experience is a truly immersive one. Not keen on getting wet in the sludge? Enjoy a cup of hot chocolate at the igloo cafe and take a stroll around the festival to snap a few photos with the festival’s grandiose ice sculptures - for the gram! The festival typically begins in mid-January till mid-February.
Image by Hani.co.kr
If you’ve flown to Seoul and don’t plan to travel beyond the city, head to the annual Seoul Plaza Ice Skating Rink for some holiday fun. It’s a massive grassy ellipsis that was built to create a public open space, often used for all kinds of yearly events including the Korea Queer Culture Festival. During winter, the space is converted into two outdoor skating rinks - one for beginners and one for advanced skaters so better safety is ensured no matter which category you identify with. It’s open every day although hours differ (10am to 9:30pm weekdays, 10am to 11pm on weekends and holidays) and skating equipment is available for rent at only 1,000 Won (RM3.40) per hour which also includes the entrance fee. There are also entertaining Virtual Reality experience zones around the area to try out. Next to the plaza is the impressive glass-covered Seoul City Hall that is juxtaposed by the Seoul Metropolitan Library’s 1926 building structure and facade. Both are perfect for escaping the cold when you need to - although skating itself will keep you warm.
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Speaking of keeping warm, a must-do while you’re in South Korea is taking part in a tradition that has been part of Korean culture since the 15th century - soaking in a jimjilbang hot tub! A jimjilbang is a public bath house that can be found all over Korea. It features heated floors, hot tubs, showers, saunas and some of them even have massage parlours. Because of this, going to a jimjilbang is a common activity of choice among locals, for regular hygiene and a place to de-stress and relax. You’ll find that one of the best ways to keep your body temperature balanced during a cold winter, is to have a good hot shower or hot tub soak!
At a jimjilbang, this is typically done completely undressed which can feel like a total invasion of privacy at first but be rest assured that the spaces are gender-segregated and no one really bothers to look at you because they’re undressed too and it’s the norm to them. Here’s another secret: most jimjilbangs are open through the night so that means if you ever find yourself without accommodation or would like to really travel on a budget, you know where to go! If you’re the kind of traveller who can fall asleep easily even with noise and sleep anywhere, just pick a quiet spot within the spacious room of heated flooring and lie down to rest for the night. Do note that because it’s a public space, people will be walking around and talking as they please so you really need to be a rough-it-out kind of traveller to take advantage of this budget option! Some recommended jimjilbangs in Seoul are Itaewon Land, Siloam Sauna, and Dragon Hill Spa.
Image by VisitKorea
The capital of South Korea is home to museums and galleries that cater to a wide genre of art. Notable ones are the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art which hold 36 pieces of national treasure, the Kukje Gallery which often hosts many international contemporary art exhibitions, and Dongdaemun Design Plaza which was designed by one of the world’s leading female architects, the late Zaha Hadid. Visiting an art gallery may not sound like a winter-specific activity, but it is certainly a good option to pass time in warmth indoors before your next outdoor activity. The temperature in Seoul can sometimes drop to -15 ℃! Learn something new while you appreciate someone’s else's life work and creative medium in conveying a message.
Image from Living Nomads
Finally, we’ve mentioned sipping on hot chocolate in an igloo at Taebaeksan, but let’s remember how Instagrammable and cosy South Korea’s cafes can feel like - especially in winter! Choose from your favourite K-Drama filming locations: Cafe & Guesthouse Bomnal, which has a gorgeous view of the sea as its located at the northwest coast of Jeju Island. It was the place where ‘Thank You (SBS)’ was filmed, starring G-Dragon from K-pop band Big Bang. There’s Coffeesmith in HongDae, Seoul where a scene from ‘It’s Okay, That’s Love’ was filmed. Hong Dae is also a favourite hangout spot for the creative community and university students so there are plenty of other designer cafes and independent clothing shops in the area to explore.
In addition to all the above, the very fact that winter means plenty of snow-covered rooftops, roads, mountains and just about anything in sight, makes it a great opportunity to take photos that you’ll never be able to get in a tropical country like Malaysia. South Korea isn’t too far away and travel is affordable if you’d like a white winter experience. It’s a clean and tourist-friendly, transportation is easy to figure out, and the food is real good. What’s not to love! Choose your Amazing Seoul package with Mayflower today and look forward to an awesome winter holiday ahead!