Annyeonghaseyo! Are you part of the Hallyu wave? K-fever has taken over the world – never have we been so inundated with Korean pop culture whether it be K-pop music or Korean dramas. If you are looking to get a sense of modern Korean culture or indulge your inner fangirl, Seoul has several attractions to sate any thirsty fan’s need to get up close with their favourite stars, and even get a glimpse into the backstage of the entertainment industry. Here’s my list of 3 top spots for the ultimate Hallyu experience in Seoul.
The Hallyu Newbie
A week in Seoul makes it practically impossible to stay ignorant of Hallyu whether you are a fan or not because they are plastered all over the city – kitschy idol souvenir keychains, shining faces smiling out from huge billboards, multiple variety show appearances.
I’ve never been much of a fan of Korean Pop or Korean Dramas. I have plenty of friends who are Hallyu fans, but all I ever had was passing knowledge of popular names – Running Man, Rain, Psy… and honestly most of these K-stars look the SAME to me. Whether it’s just sheer proliferation of boy and girl groups or the easy acceptance of plastic surgery, I just never got swept up in that Hallyu wave… until now.
One unforgettable souvenir from this trip is that I can 100% recognize these two particular Korean songs because they were playing EVERYWHERE and were absolutely STUCK IN MY HEAD throughout my trip.
Behold my earworms – Psy’s Daddy (such a kooky video and EVERY shop was playing this song) and BIGBANG’s Bang Bang Bang (whose music I’ve found makes me surprisingly productive. I’m listening to a BIGBANG playlist while writing this). These songs were the latest hits and were on repeat everywhere I went.
The Hallyu experience is most enjoyable if you actually know who the stars, so it won’t hurt to acquaint yourself with some of the more famous K-stars before your trip. I actually managed a star encounter with the folks from popular Korean variety show Infinite Challenge during this trip but had no idea who they were at that point – read on to find out who exactly I met.
Up close with your favourite K-stars at Grevin Seoul
For the star chaser who wants to take all the selfie souvenir pix with their favourite stars
While you might be more familiar with Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, Grevin is a French brand with a similar concept. The Seoul branch is the first outside of France with four storeys worth of wax figures, notable international names like Madonna, Brad Pitt and Queen Elizabeth are mixed in with a large entourage of Korean artistes and sports personalities like actors Kwon Sang Woo, Lee Min Ho and legendary ice skater Yuna Kim.
What I found interesting were the interactive elements, where you can scan your ticket to play mini-games or do other things like create your own wax model. It takes the experience beyond just a glorified place to take photos with famous people. You can even email yourself the results at the end for memories.
It costs 18,000 KRW (S$22) for a regular adult ticket, though there are group and family packages, so it definitely makes sense to go with your friends. Ridiculous selfies aren’t as fun on your own anyway! You save 2,000 KRW (16,000 KRW or S$19) if you get your tickets online before you go, so do a little planning. More information at the Grevin Website. You can also get your tix from Klook or Trazy [affiliate links] that sometimes offer even more discounts if they are running promos.
Address: 23 Euljiro, Jonggu, Seoul. The closest subway station is Euljiro 1-ga (green line 2), though City Hall (dark blue line) is not that far off either.
Watch a concert whenever you want at K Live
For those who can never score tix to their favourite stars actual concerts
I’ve only been to one live concert in my life (Muse!) and I imagine the K-pop experience would be even more mind-blowing with hordes of screaming fans. The K-Life experience showcases some of Korea’s current leading pop stars on stage through life-like holographic projections. It sounded pretty intriguing to me – how realistic would it be exactly?
They wouldn’t let us take pictures in the hall with our mobiles, so you’re going to have to make do with some descriptions and other people’s videos that I’ve found on youtube.
Our ‘concert’ showcase that afternoon covered three of K-pop’s current biggest stars of that time – Gangnam stylin’ Psy, girl group 2NE1 (say ‘twenty-one’) and of course boy band sensation BIGBANG.
The projections are very cool and life-like, and the whole concert itself takes about 1 hr. Psy performed his mega hits Gangnam Style and Gentleman, complete with back up dancers and psychedelic effects that you could never achieve in real life. 2NE1 performed just one song and BIGBANG rounded up the concert. Mix in some 4D effects like spurting water and bubbles, it makes for a pretty surreal experience.
Here’s a video I found on Youtube to give you a better sense of what the experience is like. While waiting outside you can take lots of of photo booth pix with your favourite stars.
Again there was a whole interactive bit where your headshot is taken right before the show starts and superimposed onto hilarious graphics throughout the performance, so you become a part of the performance. There is even a mini-contest element where each group randomly selects a winner from the audience and ‘interacts’ with them on stage.
I thought the experience was great for those who can appreciate the technology, or anyone with a group of friends who knows the songs – part of the fun is in singing and dancing along to familiar tunes and you are encouraged to clap along, and even stand in the mini mosh-pit right in front if you and your friends are so inclined. It’s not the real thing but it’s good enough for a spot of fun.
15,000 KRW (S$18) for a normal ticket in the afternoon, 33,000 KRW (S$40) at night. It’s dark in there anyway so I suggest popping in the afternoon since it’s cheaper.
The theatre is very centrally located in Lotte Fitin in Dongdaemun, right opposite the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. Closest subway is Dongdaemun History Culture Station (Green line 2, Blue Line 4 or Purple Line 5)
Note: no photos or videos allowed inside the theatre
This isn’t the only Hologram concert option available – you can also check out SM Town Theatre via Klook (affiliate link)
Run into your favourite K-stars at MBC World
For those who love 3D museums and star chasing
Korean broadcaster Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation aka MBC, famous for Hallyu shows like Daejanggeum (Jewel in the Palace) and Jumong recently set up MBC World at their headquarters in Sangam-dong, an indoor theme park of sorts where you can indulge your love for Korean pop culture.
There are various areas with different activities – if you love 3D galleries, there is an entirely K-themed one here in Zone B where you can put yourself on the cover of your favourite MBC programmes or pose with your favourite K-drama stars.
In Zone C, there are a whole bunch of high-tech photo booths each based on a different show – you scan your ticket to take your photos, which you can then print out for a small fee if you are so inclined.
Here’s a video one of my fellow media folk took of me trying out the photo booths. The technology is honestly quite impressive, the 3D experience a little bizarre, but if you are a big fan you’ll probably get a kick out of being able to feel up your favourite stars virtually!
That’s me with G Dragon in the ‘We Got Married’ booth – he’s obviously one of their hottest stars to market Hallyu as he’s practically everywhere both as Big Bang and himself.
In Area M, we got to watch another holographic concert like K Live, but this time it was just for G-Dragon (yes him again!) but in a much smaller and more intimate hall, though with the same gimmicky photobooth projections. The fun part here was that one lucky audience member got to be projected onto the stage and serenaded by the man ‘himself’, which seems pretty darn surreal.
Besides the concert theatre, you can learn some K-pop dance moves from virtual stars, as well as pretend to be part of the MBC Newsdesk among other things.
All that aside, as this building is an actual broadcast studio space, you might get lucky like we did and run into some Hallyu stars while you are there! We were just about to leave Area C when my fellow tour mates gave a squeal and dashed off after a mini entourage – their sharp eyes had spotted Yoo Jae Suk, most well known as the host of the popular Korean gameshow Running Man on a coffee break! While he declined selfie photos, he was still nice enough to say Annyeong! to the small crowd of swooning fans as he picked up his coffee.
MBC World is definitely somewhere to go with your friends and not alone – there are lots of young people stationed around to help you take your photos, but nothing beats horsing around with like-minded friends and taking ridiculous pix with your favourite stars
The place itself is a little bit out of the way in the Northern part of Seoul – take the subway to Digital Media City Exit 9 (Brown Line 6, mint-green Gyeonggui-Jungang Line or Airport Rail AREX line)
Are you a big Hallyu fan travelling to Seoul? Share your prime spots for getting the full K-experience!
Thanks to Korea Tourism Organization who organized and sponsored this media trip and showed me a different side of Korea. I was all palace-d and temple-d out on my last Seoul Sojourn, so I did find this quite eye opening. I blame them for all the BIGBANG tunes currently in my head.
Thanks also to Tripzilla for roping me in to this trip and syndicating this post. You can read it at Tripzilla Magazine here, alongside posts from my travel mate Miranda for a different perspective of the trip. [This post was updated in 2018 so content has been tweaked from its original form]
p/s: Some of the videos and photos were taken with a GoPro Hero 4 borrowed for the trip from RentSomethingLeh which was such a godsend because my phone was going crazy from the winter cold – pretty useful if you don’t want to invest in buying a fancy camera because you use it only for your occasional travels (or dive trips)! It’s $6/day so definitely not too pricey for short trips, and you can rent accessories as needed as well. Drone fans will also be happy to hear that they now have some drones available too. Also… savings! Get 10% off your rental by namedropping that you heard about them from The Occasional Traveller. More in the Perks section.