Seoul: Land of Morning Calm
안녕하세요! 어디서 오셨어요? 한국말 하실 줄 아세요? (Hello! Where are you from? Do you speak Korean?)
Seoul may have 2,000 years of history, but it really just starting to pop up on travel radars. As the most homogenous nation in the world, don’t be surprised if the locals take notice of you. Generally curious and friendly, half of the population lives here. Seoul is a rich and beautiful blend of new and old; temples are situated next to high rises while old cultural practices are cohabitating with modern technology. Having successfully risen into an economic center after the Korean War, you’ll witness first hand a city in the making.
Eat the Food
Sitting down to a table is a communal experience, so germaphobes beware; you will be sharing dishes and bowls. You should also practice your chopsticks skills, as forks are hard to come by! Korean foods have started to go international with chains like Bibigo! taking off in other countries. But the food eaten most frequently, and the one Koreans are most proud of is kimchi.
A type of spicy fermented cabbage, it’s said to give you great health and make you live long. It’s often served as a side dish, but can be a main ingredient in a lot of meals as well. Kimchi jjigae, a type of stew, or kimchi mandu, delicious steamed dumplings are great ways to try it out.
Barbeque is also a staple. If you’re a beef lover, be prepared to shell out a pretty penny for a fine cut of Korean beef. Pork is the staple in this country, and samgyeopsal (삼겹살) is one of the more popular dishes. It looks like bacon, but don’t get these two confused. Samgyeopsal is much thicker and richer, and goes great with a bottle of soju and the many bancheon (unlimited side dishes) that comes with your meal.
Don’t be afraid to try the street food as well. While some, like beondaege (steamed silkworm larvae) may seem strange to foreigners, there’s something for anyone on the go. Hoetteok and barbecue chicken skewers are delicious, and will definitely give you the confidence to try more.
See the Palaces and Temples
Korea claims to have a history spanning back five millennia, and it is fascinating. While Seoul hasn’t been around for quite that long, it has the amazing ability to show what life was like in the past. Pristine palaces and Buddhist temples, some destroyed and rebuilt again, are scattered throughout the city. It’s astounding to see the flow of traffic pass by a centuries old building. One of the most noticeable is Gyeongbokgung Palace, also known as the Northern Palace. Originally built in 1395, it is considered to be the grandest of all the palaces in Seoul. Some of the edifices are still the ones that were created by the famous Joseon Dynasty.
Another magnificent remnant of the past is Changdeokgung Palace. This was the favored palace of ruling princes, including the creator of the Korean language, King Sajeon. Changdeokgung has one particularly unique facet. Beyond the beautiful buildings lies the Secret Garden. To gain access, you must take a guided tour, and the grounds are absolutely splendid. 78-acres sprawl out, very much the way they were originally designed, with even some of the trees there coming in at 300 years old.
Enjoy the Greenery
Seoul is arguably one of the world’s greenest modern cities. Parks and mountains are scattered throughout town, and you can easily get to Bukhansan, the highest peak in the area, by just hopping on the subway. The Han River splits Seoul into north and south, and there are plenty of activities along its banks. Renting a bicycle is easy and cheap, and is a fantastic way to take in the sites. Outdoor concerts and festivals are also frequent, and the river provides an amazing view of the city sky line at night.
There are also almost 40 parks across Seoul, providing many a green oasis amongst the concrete and neon lights. Olympic Park, built when Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Games is especially impressive, and where it is not uncommon to see couples picnicking under the Peace Gate.
Take in the Views
A go-to spot, and often considered a symbol of Seoul, is the North Seoul Tower. Perched on the top of Namsan Mountain, this communication tower is in the heart of the city, and provides panoramic views of Seoul that are unparallelled. Taking a cable car up to the top (though you can make the trek if you’d like), you’ll be almost 1,600 feet above sea level. There is also an adorable teddy bear museum, which showcases the toys in scenes of past, present and future South Korea.
Though there is a lot to see, and much to eat (there’s even a revolving restaurant!), many couples come to place a lock near the tower. Thousands of them surround the building. The hanging padlocks are meant to be a symbolic gesture of everlasting love. So whether you’re with a group of friends or your one and only, make sure to pick one up before you get here!