14-month update: Summertime in Seoul

There was a time in life when summer was hands-down the best season. (Could that be due to my prior life as a student or teacher?) However, while living in Seoul as a mother of a toddler, summer has become simultaneously the worst and the best season.

Reasons it’s the worst (as mentioned in prior blog posts but now amplified in my current state of affairs):

  • Sticky heat/humidity –

Especially terrible when in crowded areas of the city like when waiting for the subway or bus and while walking popular main streets in neighborhoods like Gangnam. Even worse this summer for me because I’m oftentimes working up a sweat any way while pushing Sophia in her stroller. (If I let her walk on her own all the time, she would either wander off into the road or end up stealing food for sale by the street vendors.) Not to mention, I’m seven months pregnant, which means I have a mini-heater attached to me. Forget about that “beautiful pregnant glow.”

  • Sporadic torrential downpours of rain –

Being caught without an umbrella isn’t too bad at times as I’m usually covered in sweat any way and the rain feels refreshing. It’s just not fun when walking along a road/area without sidewalk and a car splashes over me with dirty water. (Grateful Sophia was covered in her stroller shade when this recently happened!)

Reasons it’s the best:

  • Opportunities for splashing/swimming –

I love being in the water. Even though Seoul is no where near any type of large body of water like my home state of Michigan (so jealous of those #lakelife Instagrams right now), we’ve found fun replacements. One weekend, Sophia tried out swim lessons at a community pool near Ewha Women’s University with other expat friends.

Scared stiff: Sophia spent most of her first swim lesson in her father’s arms as wide, deep pools usually frighten her.  At least, she looks like a pro swimmer in her new sporty suit.

Another weekend, we traveled less than two hours away north of Seoul to a resort on the Hantan River where we experienced scenic hiking along the rushing water after a storm and then played in the kid-friendly pools that overlooked breathtaking views of the river gorge.

Pool party: Sophia finally got over her fear of water with these shallow and smaller pools.

Still on our To-Do list: Other friends with kids have done staycations to take advantage of the pools and spas in the major hotels the city has to offer. I’ve also heard of and seen fun splash areas in parks around the city and outdoor pools near the Han River of Seoul.

  •  Bingsu, soft serve and ice cream on the menu –

Bingsu is a traditional Korean, cool sweet treat only served during the summer in Seoul that I’d say is analogous to the ice cream sundae in America. The base is usually shaved ice – sometimes made of milk – and topped with sweet sauces, fruits, pastries, etc. A traditional topping is sweet red bean (AKA patbingsu). We recently had a fancy one at the Grand Hyatt in Seoul that was chocolate and coffee flavored.

Babies and bingsu: Played in nearby Children’s Forest of Namsan Park before chilling out in the Grand Hyatt’s lobby restaurant with our giant bingsu. The portion size is shareable for four!

Soft serve also makes an appearance on restaurant and cafe menus during the summer. Almost every where we go in town from legendary Left Coast Burgers in Itaewon to any random coffee shop we find starts to offer soft serve as a dessert option when it gets hot out.

As a stereotypical pregnant woman with cravings, I had recently been wanting what I deemed as “real ice cream” from the States. Think: thick, rich, indulgent and full of crunchy bits like chocolate chips and nuts, or pieces of summer fruit like peaches and strawberries. Emack and Bolio’s, an American East Coast chain strikingly similar to the more renown Ben & Jerry’s, recently opened up its first Korean location in our nearby Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul so that had helped to satisfy the cravings.

Eating for two: Thankfully, Michal and Sophia share my cravings. Pictured above are some of my fav ice cream cones/cups in Seoul: Passion 5, Sticky Ricky’s and Bistopping. (Middle pic is us getting our energy out during a post-ice cream sugar rush in a neighborhood playground.)
  • Kids cafes (AKA oasis for both parents and children) –

Always a highlight of living in Seoul, but a definite Godsend during summer months when it’s either way too hot/humid to play outside, or the storms make it too dangerous and wet. Sophia is also insanely active nowadays – She climbs on top of all our furniture and into all small spaces like our closets and even into our dishwasher. The cafes are a great place for her to let out all that pent-up energy and to satiate her curiosity – while in an air-conditioned, clean, baby-proofed area.

We’ve visited a few new ones around Seoul/outside of our usual Hannam-dong/Itaewon neighborhoods for the sake of adventure this summer. We found one through the Facebook group “Kiddin’ Around Soko” that was perfect for us because it was only a five-minute walk from our obstetrician’s clinic/birthing center.

After our epic 4D sonogram of baby #2 during my thrilling third trimester check-up (that Sophia completely  slept through), we let her loose at the Cheongdam location of Wonder Balls. I really liked this cafe as it was impeccably clean, had some play areas close to the eating areas so we could multitask/watch her run around safely, and had some different types of entertainment I hadn’t seen yet like a varied trampoline section (although be careful on these – we only use them when no one else is around) and an area dedicated to building but with pieces that were baby friendly (ie. HUGE lego blocks instead of the usual tiny choking hazards).

Running from room to room: Each area was distinctly separated. Top – grocery store/kitchen. Bottom (left to right) – Scooter ramp near dining area, building bench, trampoline, ball pit.

Sophia even somehow got over her fear of ball pits that she developed when she was at a Lilliput cafe when she was younger. (I think it relates to her fear of large bodies of water where she can’t see/touch the bottom. I actually have a similar fear!) There was a part of the ball pit area that was more shallow/near a slide that she was OK playing in (ie. not crying at the top of her lungs and was even able to explore a little).

On another rainy day, we tried out the kids cafe “Nimble” near the neighborhood directly south of us in Sinsa-dong. As it just opened a couple months ago, it also was sparkling clean. Adding to the upscale atmosphere, it’s a bit swankier of a neighborhood so both children and adults in the cafe were impressively dressed and accessorized. (e.g. a two-year-old had a designer lace dress with hair that was curled with a curling iron).

Highlights of this cafe were another smaller/shallower ball pit and trampoline area. The cafe is small enough that I could sit at a table and safely watch Sophia playing on her own or with other kids.

Nimble on her feet (left to right/top to bottom): Sweet Sophia scampered up padded steps, waded through the ball pit, bounced on a trampoline and built towers with daddy.

Pro tip for any kids cafe in Seoul: Get there early! We always go right after Sophia’s morning nap so we arrive right when it opens – usually 10:30 or 11 a.m. As we’re usually the first people in the cafe, we get the best located table, we can order and get our food/drinks quickly and there aren’t massive crowds or too many older kids that can trample over our little one. We usually try to leave right before her afternoon nap around 1:30 p.m., which is when it gets way too crowded for our little one.

How do you beat the heat during those long summer days with your active toddler? Would love any advice you have for in the city of Seoul, or even at home.