I recently returned from my trip to South Korea and was surprised to find out that we were there during Korean Thanksgiving, or Chuseok (pronounced choo-sock). Chuseok lasts a week and people usually leave the city an return to their villages surrounding Seoul. Chuseok is a time to honour ancestors and deceased relatives. The holiday also serves the purpose of keeping the family together in a time when work and other obligations may separate people, much like our American Thanksgiving.
Traditionally, Chuseok is also when South Koreans celebrate the Autumn harvest after a season of hard work. Chuseok is held on the 15th day of the 8th month on the lunar calendar and coincides with the fall equinox. This year’s Chuseok fell no October 2-6, 2017. Click here for future Chuseok dates to help with your planning.
During Chuseok, Seoul was very quiet. There were still businesses operating in the touristy areas. We also took a quick weekend getaway to Busan where there is plenty do before the weekend before Chuseok.
How to Get to Seoul
I flew via Air Canada into Incheon International Airport (ICN) on a flight deal out of Seattle, Wash. My plane tickets were purchased through Orbitz for only $595. There are several ways to get from the airport to Seoul, South Korea. When we arrived, we rented a portable wifi device (~$4 USD per day) and took an Airport Limousine (16,000 KRW) that took us by charter bus to Seoul’s City Center. On the way back to the ICN we took the train which cost 4,250 KRW and included one transfer from Myeongdong into Seoul Station. I would definitely recommend taking the train in and out of the city. It takes approximately the same amount of time as the Airport Limousine and is much cheaper.
What to do During Chuseok
Here is my list of recommendations of what to do while you’re in South Korea during Chuseok. The official Chuseok day falls right in the middle (usually a Wednesday) of the week. I’ve also listed the recommendations in order of preference.
#1 Visit Hwaseong Fortress
Hwaseong Fortress was named a UNESCO Heritage site in 1997. The fortress was built from 1794 to 1796 by King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty to house and honour the remains of his father Prince Sado, who had been executed by being locked alive inside a rice chest by his own father King Yeongjo after failing to obey the command to commit suicide. Located 30 kilometres (19 mi) south of Seoul and enclosing much of central Suwon, the Fortress includes King Jeongjo’s palace Haenggung.
Other sights to see in this area are the Golden Buddha, Suwon Eco Mobility Village for arts and crafts and Suwoncheon, the main stream that flows through the center of the fortress. It’s lined with beautiful hanging trees and flowers.
Duration of Visit: 3-5 hours (easy day trip)
How to Get to Hwaseong Fortress from Seoul:
From Seoul, the best way to get there is by a combination of bus and train. If you’re a foreign traveler, I advise using Google Maps to find a route that will take you to the fortress. It’s about a 40 minute ride from center city.
From Myeong Dong, we left around 10AM and took the Euljiro 1(Il) ga (transfer station) to Jamsil (see Seoul subway map). From Jamsil, you’ll have to stay underground and walk to the Bus Transfer Center and take the 1007 bus straight to Suwon. It will take you through the fortress gates and towards the plaza where you’ll see kites flying and the palace in the background. From there you can hike up to the top where you can take in an amazing view of Suwon.
Note: The routes change throughout the day, which means that my directions may not align with the time you want to visit Suwon. I recommend using Google maps to get directions heading there and then again when heading back to Seoul.
#2 Myeongdong Marketplace
Myeongdong Marketplace seemed to be open 24/7 while I was there. The streets are filled with food vendors after 9PM and clothing/accessory vendors all day long. Dine on spiral potato sticks, egg bread (gyeran pang) and spicy rice cake (ddeok bokki). The dishes range from $2-5 USD and are easily sharable. My favorite vendors were the socks for 1,500 wan (or $1.20 USD).
I walked around the shopping center and ended up getting 8 free face masks! You will see women offering a free face mask if you enter their store. There is no obligation to buy. Face masks usually run $2-3 USD a pop. They have great deals on beauty products, and the more you buy, the better deals you’ll get.
The stores surrounding the vendors also seem to be open during Chuseok. The retails stores were a bit overwhelming as the employees will watch and cater to you like hawks. They employees probably earn a commission and need to be on their game. I stick to outdoor vendors as there is no pressure to buy and some are willing to negotiate/haggle with you.
Duration of Visit: 3-4
I could stay here all day. If you’re staying in the area like we did, you may even revisit the market several times during your stay. I stayed at the Aloft Hotel in Myeongdong and the market is located just behind it.
#3 Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeongbokgung Palace was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. The Palace was built in 1395, and is located in northern Seoul. Gyeongbokgung is the largest of the five palaces built by the Joseon dynasty and served as the home of the Kings of the Joseon dynasty and their staff and soldiers.
Gyeongbokgung was destroyed by fire during the Imjin War and abandoned for two centuries. In the 19th century, all of the palace’s 7,700 rooms were restored during the reign of King Gojong.
Today you can visit the Gyeongbokgung Palace for 6,000 KRW or (~$5 USD). If you rent a hanbok (traditional Korean clothing), your entry into the palace is free! It’s pretty fun to walk around the palace while looking like royalty and blending in with the architecture.
Towards the end of the palace tour, I highly recommend the National Palace Museum of Korea. I learned a lot about Korean History. It was an eye opener for me to see how Koreans lived centuries before how we see Korea as it is today in the US. It’s definitely worth a visit and is included in your entry fee into the palace.
Duration of Visit: 2-4 hours
#4 Namsan Tower
Namsan tower aka the N Seoul Tower is a communication and observation tower located on Namsan Mountain. At 236m (774 feet), it comes in as the second highest point in Seoul. It was built in 1971 and serves as a broadcasting station for Korean media outlets (such as KBS, MBC and SBS).
Today its a very popular tourist attracting. I attempted to go up the tower twice but was very discouraged by the long wait lines. The Tower is open 24/7, 365 days a week. The last observation deck viewing is at 11PM and last elevator ride is at midnight.
Cost to go up the tower is 10,000 KRW. I am from Seattle where the Space Needle is a tourist attraction and didn’t see the allure of heading up a tower in another country after having to wait in line for an hour and a half at 8PM only to get an hour to visit the tower. Next time I’ll visit during the daytime and stay longer.
Entry is also free if you dine at the upscale French n. Grill. Oui Oui!
Duration of Visit: 2-3 hours
#5 Thanks Nature Cafe
This little cafe in Hongdae offers an opportunity to hang out with not one, but TWO sheep while you sip on some coffee or enjoy a shaved ice dessert (bingsu). The sheep were very friendly to customers. You may pet and take photos with the sheep but they won’t necessarily pose for your perfect snap.
We went back here twice to charge our phones and obviously hang out with Honey and Sugar (the resident ewe and ram). Thanks Nature Cafe is definitely worth a visit while you’re in Seoul!
Duration of Visit: 1-2 hours
#6 Trick Eye Museum
The Trick Eye Museum is also located in Hongdae. I would definitely recommend visiting if you haven’t been to one of their locations yet. It’s a museum where you can be part of the installation. I personally think it is fun but also overpriced ($18 USD). The museum only lasts approximately an hour before you are deposited into an arcade room.
It’s located in the same building as the Love Museum and Ice Museum. Entry fee for the Trick Eye Museum also includes entry into the Ice Museum. Download the Trick Eye Museum app to see the effects of the art through the app lenses and receive their free WiFi. The app effects are pretty cool but also caused my phone to crash repeatedly. Make sure to delete it after you’ve exited the museum.
There is no re-entry into the museum, however they do update their installations to keep things interesting. Make sure to keep your ticket stub for 50% off future visits. They also have Trick Eye Museums in Hong Kong and Singapore if you can’t make it to the Seoul location.
Duration of Visit: 1-2 hours
This concludes my list of must see and do’s in Seoul for Chuseok. What have you done while in Seoul during Chuseok? I’d love to hear your recommendations!
I’ll definitely be going back in the near future. South Korea is such a fun country!
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