Seoul; the capital of South Korea, kimchee and K-pop. This city has lived up to its big name as a booming 24-7 city nestled beside the madness of its eccentric neighbour. Vibes of historical Chinese influence with waves of modern Japanese technology, this city stands out as a major Asian capital.
The city is as modern as it gets, influenced by the many hordes of different foreigners that find themselves there. Originally this was down to none other than the American GI’s, who needed their amenities met, which brought about a huge introduction of foreign franchises, eateries and 24-hour stores. Among the luxuries of modern life is nestled the history and culture of the city and the nation.
I admit my only shallow reason for visiting here was just to say I’d been there. There are only a few people who wont think of a particular song if they hear this districts name. However, as the song might suggest, Gangnam is Seoul’s money central, where luxury and the parties are found.
All the designer stores lined in stunning endless lines of skyscrapers dominate the entire street. Behind these giants you’ll find the steep hills lined with restaurants and bars and back-street stores pilled on top of each other. Worth the short subway ride just for the story.
Possibly a contender for one of the all-time must taken tour, being able to be a stone’s throw away and look into the heart of North Korea. An hour or so on a tour bus and you’ll find yourself at the DMZ; the fragile heavily guarded border to one of the most feared and potentially dangerous countries in the world, so worth a look. There are a few different tours on offer, which essentially offer the same opportunities (mine was taken on Cosmo.jin Tours).
On these tours you’ll be able to visit both the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) and the JSA (Joint Security Area), however the DMZ tour alone is unbelievable value for money at 46,000 won (£30). This tour included a visit to the freedom bridge, as well as being able to climb down into the third infiltration tunnel, built by the North Koreans into South Korean land in the 70s. You’ll also be able to visit the symbolically built Dorasan train station, which is linked to North’s capital. Here you’ll see the optimistically prepared platform labelled “to Pyeongyang” which one day might become a regularly used route.
The highlight of the tour without a doubt is visiting the Dora Observatory, which allows you to have a look into North Korea. There’s a generous amounts to study in the misty distance, including a propaganda fight to build the biggest flag tower, guard towers, fake villages, real villages and even North Korean soldiers.
Much the centrepiece of Seoul, Gyeongbokgung Palace stands as the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. Otherwise known as the Northern Palace, located between the other palaces of Changdeokgung (Eastern Palace) and Gyeonghuigung (Western Palace). This immense compound boasts the most beautiful and largest palace of all. The compound houses ancient Korean history in the form of spectacular pagodas and other buildings scattered throughout.
As with most ancient structures, most aspects are heavily restored. However certain aspects such as Gyeonghoeru Pavilion and Hyangwonjeong Pond are essentially untouched since the end of the dynasty. With the immense size of the area, seeing everything on offer will take an entire day.
The National Museums
The national folk museum not only boasts an incredibly stunning outer perimeter, but is conveniently located next to the perimeter of the Gyeongbokgung Palace. Within the museum there are examples of historical artifacts used by Koreans in daily lives both domestically and agriculturally.
Korea’s prime National Museum stands as the largest museum in Korea, situated before the stunning Mirror pond with an accompanying built commemorative pagoda, representing Koreans museums. You’re also able to see Seoul Tower through the enormous museum structure. Here the focus is more on Korean culture.
The National museum
Also around the perimeter of the museum you’ll find outdoor exhibitions staggered in-between nearby forests and the near-by Dragon Falls. Close-by you’ll also find Yongsan Park, which displays as a unofficial botanical garden with an extensive collection of tree species and about 50 million magpies. All museum in Korea (as should be worldwide) are free.
Any booming mega city should have an equally impressive and highly populated shoppers district, and Seoul is no different. Myeong-dong stands as one of the biggest shopping districts in Seoul. Amongst the pristine rows of skyscrapers you’ll find the packed streets of snack sellers and endless amounts of brand name and department stores and the like, particularly a lot of make-up stores. If you want to do some shopping and rows of snack sellers, this is the place to be.
Gwanghwamun Square without of the doubt provides one of the most picturesque views in Seoul. Here you’ll find the intimidating statues of Admiral Yi Sun Shin and King Sejong stood before the immense Gyeongbokgung Palace in the shadows of the Bukaksan Mountain.
Before King Sejong’s statue you’ll find the Korean alphabet which is shown on a fountain water screen. Placed in very close proximity to the Gyeongbokgung Palace, they’re hard to miss.
Coincidentally, the Winter Olympics had just begun as I arrived in Seoul. As a result, the country took it quite seriously with the success that they were having. Naturally being the host nation there was quite a lot of promotions all around the city. The biggest was located in Gwanghwamun Square. Here they had the mascots for the necessary photo-op, as well as having a opportunities for the public to experience “being an Olympic athlete” with various virtual reality systems for bob sleighing and the like.