It’s been almost a decade since I last visited my birthplace and motherland, South Korea. While many things remained familiar, I couldn’t help but notice some of the changes since my last visit – just thought I’d share a few with all you avid travellers!

1. Incheon International Airport (ICN)

13 November 2014, 06:15 – We landed in ICN!
ICN is one of the largest and busiest airports in the world; it also offers crazy services such as a golf course, an ice rink, a theatre, a casino, a museum, and indoor gardens! Personally, I think the Airport Railroad Express (AREX) makes ICN most attractive – this connects ICN directly to Gimpo Airport (with mostly domestic and Asian flights) and Seoul Station, which by default connects travellers to all major trains, buses and the subway line. Fortunately for us, our apartment was located at Gongdeok Station (which is on the AREX line) so for the low cost of 8,000 won (i.e, about 8 USD), my fiancé and I took one train from ICN to our temporary home – the total commute was less than one hour!

2. A Korean Wedding

14 November 2014, 19:00 – My sister’s wedding was a three dress affair (and the main reason for our travel)!
While the first two dresses were worn during the westernized ceremony and reception, the last dress (Hanbok) was worn during the Paebaek (pictured below). Paebaek is a Korean tradition where the groom’s family formally accepts the bride into their home. Today, most Paebaeks have been modernized as it is less common for newlyweds to live with the groom’s family. A modernized Paebaek allows both sides of the family to their offer blessings to the new couple.

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3. Staying In-Shape

While much of the Korean culture revolves around eating and drinking, the easily accessible outdoor gyms and hiking trails throughout the city suggest that the people are still health-conscious! As shown in the picture below (left), we frequently took breaks in our tours by squeezing in a mini-workout, the elliptical was our favourite machine.

Our time in Korea allowed us to visit my grandparents in the city of Busan and take a shorten hike up Hwangnyeongsan Mountain. If we were to have walked the entire length of the hike (i.e., from the bottom of the mountain), the hike would have been a couple of hours. Give our tight schedule in Busan and limited hiking gear, my cousin drove us up part of the way and then we walked a trail for about 20 minutes. The view from the top (as shown in the picture on the right) is definitely worth the walk!

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4. New Glasses

I don’t know about other parts of the world but Seoul continues to impress me with their eye care services. My fiancé and I decided to buy new eye glasses so we headed out to the Namdamun shopping district. In a matter of one hour, we selected our frames, had our eyes examined free of charge, and after a bit of bartering and paying a total of 100,000 won (i.e., about 100 USD) we each had a new pair of glasses.

5. Medical Tourism

Did you know you can go on a cruise for 4-days to learn more about cosmetic surgery for less than 2000 USD? Did you know that patients can opt to have organ transplant surgery as part of their visit to South Korea?
Neither did we until we ended up in a Medical Tourism Office by complete accident! Inspired by my sister’s Paebaek ceremony, we hunted down one of the many tourism offices in the Myeongdong shopping district that hosted a free Hanbok picture-taking service. We didn’t realize it until we got inside that the tourism office was actually established to advocate medical tourism! While we did not partake in any of the assessments readily available (e.g., stress test, heart age test, blood pressure text, fat assessment test, etc.), I was intrigued and later discovered that Medical Tourism in South Korea is a growing industry! The Visit Medical Korea website actually promotes different medical tour packages (many of them cosmetic and reasonably priced!) and highlights some of the top medical cases.

Hope these tidbits of information inspire you to visit Seoul!