Travel Black Book with Vincent Ong

Best BBQ chicken in Seoul and other travel tips for the city

The people in the South Korean city are hospitable and have a positive outlook

Who: Mr Vincent Ong, 45, senior director of brand management at Marriott International. He is married with a 15-year-old son.

Favourite destination: Seoul, South Korea

Why: It is my favourite city because of the energy exuded by the people there.

There is a strong sense of urgency in everyday life - known in Korea as the "ppalli-ppalli" (Korean for hurry, hurry) culture - an impatient need for everything to be done quickly.

I like it as it makes things efficient.

Another aspect of the Korean charm is their positive outlook on life, as well as their openness and honesty.

If you have Korean friends who have warmed up to you, their hospitality and camaraderie is second to none.

I've been to Seoul more than a dozen times, but each visit offers a new experience because the different seasons bring to the city new fashion and lifestyle trends.

Best places to stay

A noteworthy hotel is Aloft Seoul Gangnam (736 Yeongdong-daero, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, 06075).

Designed for millennial travellers, its location in the upmarket Gangnam district means cafes and boutiques are a short distance away.

Favourite lunch spot

Bongchu Jjimdak (33-9, Myeong- dong 2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul) is one of the most popular jjimdak chains in Korea.

Jjimdak is a dish that is made with braised chicken, a variety of vegetables and sweet potato noodles marinated in a Korean soya sauce.

The sauce is tasty and goes well with rice. The restaurant serves only this dish and prices start at $26 for a small serving.

Best BBQ chicken

My favourite place to have this is at Oppadak (21 Myeongdong 7-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul).

It costs about $18.50 for a whole oven-roasted chicken.

Koreans love eating chicken with beer ("macju" in Korean) and Oppadak has a dish known as "ChiMac" to reflect that pairing.

Great snack spot

I would recommend Sunhee's Mung Bean Pancake in Gwangjang Market (138-9 Jongno 5-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul).

Known as "Bindaetteok" in Korean, the pancake is usually made of ground mung beans, green onions, kimchi and peppers cooked in a frying pan.

This stall has served Hollywood stars who visit it just for the pancake.

Each pancake costs 4,000 Korean won (S$5).

Favourite places to shop

Coex Mall (513 Yeongdong-daero, Gangnam-gu, Seoul) is a one-stop mall with a huge selection of local and international brands.

For traditional Korean items such as cups and paper fans, head to Namdaemun market - the oldest market in Korea - which offers these items at an affordable price.

Must-go-to landmarks

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (281 Eulji-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul) was designed by the late Iraqi-Briton architect Zaha Hadid.

This iconic structure houses design galleries, exhibitions and shops.

Bukchon Hanok Village (37, Gyedong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul), with its traditional homes, allows visitors to take a step back in time to see how Koreans used to live.

Walk to the top of the hill in the village to get a stunning view of Seoul.

Must-get souvenirs

Korea is the perfect place to buy metal spoon and chopstick sets.

A makgeolli (Korean rice wine) cup is simple but reminiscent of the Korean way of life, which makes for a meaningful gift.

Other items to get include food products such as ginseng and kimchi.

Best place to people-watch

Garosu-gil in Gangnam district used to be a quiet enclave for the artsy type, but it has now become a must-visit place on almost every tourist's list. The area is brimming with lifestyle stores and hipster- style cafes.

Coffee Smith (536-12, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul) in Garosu-gil has a good view, great atmosphere and even better coffee. I usually grab a coffee, which costs $5 to $7.

Best view

One location for a great view is Namsan Mountain in central Seoul.

Make sure you put on a good pair of walking shoes.

From the peak, one can enjoy the scenic view of the whole of Seoul.

On a good day, you can see the city of Incheon.

Most vibrant area

Ihwa Mural Village (Ihwa-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul) is a free attraction.

While trekking around this site, you can enjoy painted murals by more than 60 artists splashed across walls, stairways and houses.

Ihwa Mural Village was the filming location where Lee Gak (Park Yoo Chun) had a date with Park Ha (Han Ji Min) in the show, Rooftop Prince.

Best day trip

Heyri Art Valley (Heyrimaeul-gil, Tanhyun-myon, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do) is an art town in Paju less than an hour away from central Seoul.

Designed by and for artisans, visitors can check out art galleries, museums, cafes and bookstores there.

More than 400 artists, painters, photographers, potters, musicians and architects call it home.

While I am there, I'd usually have a latte ($7.20), Injeolmi Toast ($7.20) and black sesame bingsu ($15.60). I'm a big fan of Injeolmi Toast - a simple sandwich with Korean rice cake. It's delicious.

Traveller's advice

The best way to get around Seoul is via the metro. It is easy to transfer lines and you can get anywhere.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 02, 2016, with the headline 'Travel Black Book with Vincent Ong Seoul charming'. Print Edition | Subscribe