Oftentimes it seems as though we get stuck in a routine, and forget that we live in a dynamic city. It seems as though we become assimilated to Korea, and forget that we are, in fact, tourists here in this great city. My wife and I decided to become tourists again in our own city, and headed out to spend the night in Gwanghwamun. I noticed the Koreana Hotel on my walk from Seoul Station to Gwanghwamun, and decided because of its central location, this would be a great place to stay. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.
How to get there: This is probably one of the easiest hotels to find in Seoul. If you are coming via subway head to City Hall Station (Lines 1 & 2) and depart from exit 3. Walk about 200 meters and the hotel is on your left. It’s a massive hotel, and cannot be missed.
If you are coming from the airport, take the limousine bus from Incheon International Airport (15000KRW) and this will take you to the hotel. At the airport, when you exit from arrivals, head to gate 4B or 11A. Normally there are some people around there who can help you find the right gate. This is especially useful after a 14-hour flight from the east coast. The travel time is about 80 mins, enough time to get in a quick snooze.
Cleanliness: The first thing I noticed was that the room was immaculate. There wasn’t a spot of dust, or grime anywhere. The bathrooms were fully stocked and the sheets must have come right out of the dryer because they were warm when I laid down. There was not a hint of cigarette smoke, something that is common here in Korea, especially in the “love motels”. In general, first impressions passed the eyeball test.
Beds: We originally specified a room with a double bed. However we ended up getting a single bed plus a double. It was okay because momma and the baby had a little more room to stretch out. The single bed was fine.The beds were spacious and the mattress was firm. This is perfect for my wife, as she prefers a firm mattress for her back. I prefer softer beds, but this was perfectly comfortable and I had a great night’s sleep.
Bathroom: There is nothing more relaxing then having a hot bath after a long day of sightseeing. The bathtub in the room was huge and could easily fit our large, Western bottoms. The toilet was one of those crazy Asian, futuristic toilets that have a million functions, but I struggle to find the flush button. I took a number two the second I got in, and it passed the flush test. The bathroom was fully stocked, with soap, shampoo, rinse and four towels. No complaints whatsoever.
Television: Nothing too inspiring to write about the television. It was a basic service, with the usual suspects (KBS, SBS, CNN, and CGV). There were about three or four English channels, including Arirang, which is a English program about life in Korea, including K-pop, food, and Korean culture in general. This is a pretty useful channel, and I would suggest if visiting Korea for the first time, to watch some of Arirang TV, just to get a basic idea of the culture.
The View: I’ll let the view speak for itself. It was breathtaking, and inspiring. Loved the view.
Location: If you are coming to Seoul, and you want to do a lot of sightseeing, the Koreana is an excellent option. The Koreana is located in the heart of downtown Seoul, near historic palaces (Gyungbokgung – 2 minutes away, Doeksugung – 5 minutes away, and finally Changdeokgung – 10 minutes away). There are other attractions such as Cheongyecheon (located right across the street) and Bukchon Hanok Village (which is located between Gyungbokgung and Changdeokgung). Also, Insadong is nearby, which has a variety of teahouses, shops and dining options. The hotel is in such a central location, with so much to do, that it would be difficult to run out of options.
Room Service: We arrived at 2pm, and we were starving. It took about an hour to get to the hotel by subway, and we skipped lunch. The room service menu is basically The Sunrise restaurant which is located in the hotel. Like most room service, it is going to cost a pretty penny. However, unlike most room service, it was very quick. I called to order a club sandwich, a Coke and a ice cream sundae for the wife and kidlet. I asked how long it was going to be. They said 20 minutes, and low and behold, they were not joking around. At EXACTLY 20 minutes from when I hung up the phone at 2:25, the meal arrived at my room at 2:45pm.
The food was good. I’m not going to write home about room service, but the club sandwich had plenty of meat and was constructed with care. The fries were a little soggy, but warm, and that was all that I was asking for. My wife’s sundae looked great! A nice drizzling of chocolate sauce, two Korean peppero cookies sticking out and of course, the signature whipped cream with a cherry on top. The cost was approximately 34000KRW, which included two Cokes from the mini bar.
Facilities: The Koreana has executive business located on the 2nd floor for all your business needs. It has a health club on the 23rd floor and a 24-hour sauna located on the 8th floor. Now, I was going to check out the sauna because if there is nothing I love more than laying around and doing nothing, it’s laying around and doing nothing naked. However, much to my dismay, (and the Koreans relief) the sauna was closed for the Chuseok holiday. Finally, there is a barbershop and tailor located on the 9th floor and a souvenir shop located on the 2nd floor. I did get a chance to check out the souvenir shop. Nothing really special about it, and personally, I would avoid it. There are better options out there, specifically the Lotte Duty Free or The Hamilton Shopping Center in Itaewon.
Restaurants: The Koreana has four restaurants for your dining pleasure, each focusing on a different ethic speciality.
1) Danube (Western-style restaurant): We originally decided to go to Danube for lunch after a walk to Gyungbokgung. However, after looking at the menu, and the hostess impatiently staring at the top of my head, while I made a decision, we decided to seek other options. The main reason was the price. Lunch cost approximately 50000KRW – 750000KRW, which is out of our price range. However, that said, it looked like an excellent option for a fine dining experience.
2) Saka-E (Japanese cuisine): The restaurant looked elegant and classy from the outside. Another fine dining option, which included traditional Japanese food such as Shabu Shabu.
3) Daeshanghae (Chinese cuisine): Located on the 3rd floor was Daeshanghae. We did not get a chance to see it.
4) Sunrise Cafe: Finally, a place we dined at. The Sunrise Cafe specializes in Western food options and is a casual dining experience. It has an excellent view of Gwanghwamun Square and is reasonably priced. This is the same restaurant where room service was ordered. I wanted to compare the quality of the room service, with the quality of the restaurant food.
Food: I ordered the steak sandwich, and my wife ordered the oven-baked spaghetti. The spaghetti came first, and it was in a hot-stone plate, covered in cheese. The spaghetti had lots of peppers in the meat sauce, which my wife wasn’t the biggest fan of. However, she said the spaghetti was satisfactory. On the other hand, I ordered a steak sandwich with fries. Now, normally, when order a steak sandwich, it comes on bread or a bun which is thick enough to absorb the juices. However, my sandwich had regular bread, and the juices of the steak soaked through and fell apart. If this cook was an engineer, he would have collapsed the whole fucking building. There were way too many condiments in the sandwich, and had no balance. Now, that said, the steak was cooked perfectly (medium-rare) and the fries were crispier compared to room service.
Service: The server was barely adequate. She didn’t smile and didn’t ask us how our meal was. She only refilled our water once. She generally looked less than impressed about working on Chuseok (sorry).
Value: Overall, the bill came to an eye-watering 45000KRW. Damn, that’s a lot of money to pay for a sloppy sandwich, and a plate of spaghetti I could have cooked at home for half the price. The Coke was the killer, it was heart stopping 9000KRW. With so many dining options in the Gwanghwamun area, I would suggest leaving the hotel and looking for something else.
Final Thoughts on The Koreana Hotel:
In the end, we paid 185,948 KRW for one night, and we got a deal because it was Chuseok. People are out of town, and the hotels lower their prices to attract customers. Normally prices start at 270,000KRW, however, it appears that they are beginning to lower their prices. After just doing a search for the weekend (September 28th, 29th 2013), the price is about what we paid for a superior twin bed.
Who Should Stay at The Koreana: Business professionals staying in Seoul, and possibly looking to do a little sightseeing. Couples who are looking for a getaway in the city, and want to be in close proximity to historical attractions and excellent dining options.
Who Should Avoid The Koreana: Not much for the kids to do. There is no pool, and the sights are historical, which might not be entertaining for them. There are other family friendly options with pools available through the city. Also, backpackers who are trying to save a buck, might want to check out some of the guesthouses and hostels available in Insadong.