Solo In South Korea: Embracing Local Traditions

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Hey lovelies! Okay, sooooooo after popular demand, the long awaited post about my trip to Seoul, South Korea, is finally here! But in my defence I did travel here a few years before I started my blog, so I think that lets me off the hook. But rest assure it’s here now (finally!) and I hope you enjoy the read.

Booking My Flight… travelling with a purpose

In 2014 when I booked my ticket to Seoul, I had one thing on my mind – to get creative and really immerse myself in the culture. I wanted to try different things and leave having learnt something new about myself. I feel like sometimes when we travel, it’s easy to get stuck in the routine of visiting only the main attractions of a place and we forget to experience the little things. Like what truly makes a place unique? What are the local customs and traditions? So I spent a total of six days immersing myself in the culture as much as I could.

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Day One… making hanbok

I spent some time in a dress shop, learning the art of making Hanbok. Hanbok is a formal dress for the upper class and bridal wear for the ordinary woman. After touring the facility, I learnt about the different materials, the meaning and history behind each item and I even got to try one on! It was such an honour.

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Day Two… cooking Korean food

I spent a few nights with a Korean family who taught me how to cook some of their favourite dishes. They taught me Ddukbokkie (a dish made up of rice cakes, fish cakes, vegetables and sweet red chilli sauce) and Bibimbap (a bowl of mixed ingredients, mainly consisting of rice and vegetables). I’m not a huge fan of spicy food, so Bibimbap was definitely my dish of choice and it’s my go to order every time I visit a Korean restart no matter what country I’m in. I never got a chance to make any dessert, but I definitely ate it. A popular dish in South Korea is called Patbingsu, which is a shaved iced dessert with sweet toppings. Mango was my favourite.

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Day Three, Four & Five… buddhist temple stay

One part of my trip that really stood out was my buddhist temple stay at Myogaksa Temple. Nestled in the east side of Naksan Mountain, I spent three days learning the art of wellness, meditation and relaxation – something that is valued highly amongst the people of South Korea.

During my three days, I dressed, ate and slept as the other Buddhist monks did. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but strangely, I somehow still felt at peace. I met five fellow travellers who had signed up for the temple stay (two guys from America, a mother and daughter from Taiwan and a gentleman from Poland), all seeking something different from the experience. 

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My room was simple. A large empty space with a shelf. My bedding, a thin mat, blanket and pillow. At first I thought I was going to have a rough two nights sleep going from a thick mattress back home to practically sleeping on the ground, but it was surprisingly warm and comfortable. Waking up at 4.30 in the morning to participate in the bell striking ceremony however, was definitely a struggle. The ceremony is performed daily, an important ritual within the buddhist lifestyle, signifying peace and calmness within oneself.

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Seated on a cushion in lotus position ready for my first meditation class, I hear the teacher say, “we all have Buddhist minds, but there are layers that stop us from reaching that point.” With my interest piqued I listened on.   

“Greed,” she says. “Are you greedy?” Everyone remained silent.

“You don’t want to be rich?” Nobody answers.

“What about sleep? In the morning when your alarm goes off, you all moan and want ten more minutes of sleep right?” We all start to nod our heads and a few chuckles escape our lips. “Me too” she says, “but we should all be wakeful in this life.”

“Girls, how do you feel when your boyfriend looks at another beautiful girl? Angry? Try not to be. They look at you for your beauty, no? In this life you shouldn’t try to change others minds. It’s not possible. Concentrate on your own mind.” As she explained varying situations and how one normally reacts, and how we should act, I could see understanding amongst my fellow group members, including myself.

“Do not be greedy for money, food, love, sleep or success. This leads to anger and it stops you from having a Buddhist mind.”

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The temple stay taught me how to clear and open up my mind, allowing me to recharge my body, easing away everyday stresses and to push any kind of negative energy and thoughts away. It was an experience that I’ll never forget and one that has truly put my mindset into a positive one.

The hardest part of my stay was completing the 108 bows. The Buddhist monks do this on a daily basis, to show they are humble. Serious dedication right there! Pressing your palms together you take a deep bow and then sink to your knees. Lowering your forehead to the ground you lift your palms up slowly and thread a single bead onto a piece of string. You then slowly stand up and repeat the process 108 times. It’s incredibly difficult the first time you do it, and it’s a major workout for your thighs. 

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Day Six… departure

Having spent ten days in Japan prior to arriving in South Korea, I was ready to go home and spend some quality time with my family. But embracing the local culture during this trip opened my eyes, and gave me an entirely new perspective on travel. And South Korea for that matter. I loved every minute of it, and it’s an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

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18 thoughts on “Solo In South Korea: Embracing Local Traditions

  1. nicolelabargecm says:

    I love that you were able to dress up in a Hanbok. So cool. Its great embracing the local culture and South Korea fascinates me.

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  2. Viola says:

    My favorite experience was getting dressed in a hanbok and roaming the palaces. Love South Korea. Wow a temple stay sounds so interesting. What an unique experience you got to have. I would love to try it as well the next time I visit.

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  3. Aimee Horgan says:

    South Korea is definitely high on my list of must-visit places. I love how you’ve really immersed yourself in the culture there and your photos are fantastic.

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  4. Michelle Maraj says:

    I love the dresses and the food! It looks like you got some phenomenal cultural experiences out of your trip, it looks so much fun.

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  5. Eva says:

    Visiting Seoul is one of my biggest dreams. 10 years ago I had two flatmates from Korea who made me love their culture and country. Sadly I did not manage to visit them while they both lived in Korea, as they both emigrated to other countries. A reunion in their hometown would be a dream, I wonder if that will ever happen.
    Fantastic read about the monastic experience. Might be quite mind challenging, but so worth it.

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    • Nerissa Templin says:

      Oh wow, you should definitely try and have a reunion with them in Korea, that’d be so fun for you all! Part of why I went was because I met a few people from Seoul at one of my previous work places and they had me so intrigued with their country.

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  6. Natasha Lèquepeys says:

    Wow, what a cool experience. I would love to try something like this one day. Really get another perspective. I loved some of the teachings you learned. Best one was about the jealousy 😉

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  7. Katherine Rose Anne says:

    This is so beyond cool! Did you have sewing skills before learning to make a Hanbok? And do you still make any of the food you learned to cook?

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