Seoul of Korea

While historically significant, Seoul as a city was only prominent from the 11th century. It only became capital during the Joseon era in the 1400s. Today it is the dynamic capital of Korea, one which has seen it catapulted into the league of the world’s greatest cities. In fact, recent developments suggests many foreigners flocking to the city and you can clearly read that in blogosphere.

So what’s there to do in Seoul?

Vintage Culture & photos…

Changdeokgung9You could be mistaken to believe some of the photos in the following paragraphs to be from China. For the longest time, China has been the greatest source of cultural influence on Korea. And how will that not be? Adjacent to the large neighbor both on land and across the yellow sea, the exchange of people in both directions continued un-interrupted for the last few millennial.

Prior to be one nation, the country was split into three and no one capital. But since the 14th century, Seoul has been the capital of nation.

Seoul has its fair share (or indeed lion’s share) of historical palaces, all of whom had been re-constructed to their original design according to historical records. You will need to know that for a most part, these structures were destroyed or severely damaged in the conflicts of the early 20th century.

Above : Changdeok palace is a UNESCO heritage site, was originally built between 1405-1412 and at its greatest extent – was nearly 500,000m². It costs W3000 to visit the site and if you want to get into the ‘secret garden’, just pay an additional W5000. One feature that we noted is that some of the walls along the walkways are low, barely above eye-level. Perhaps this is only within the inner sanctuary of the palace and within the designated sections for royal use. The tranquility of the location of this Palace must have been a key factor for the princes of the Choseon dynasty.

Gyeongbok Palace32Gyeongbok palace on the other hand was built in 1395. It suffered from being burnt twice, and by the same invaders! Again this palace has been restored, since 1990. Gyeongbok Palace74It is recommended you come here on the hour to see the ceremonial changeover of the guards. This ceremony is performed by a large entourage dressed in traditional uniform. Again entry to this palace costs only W3000 per person. Built 3 years into the newly established Joseon dynasty, it served as the main palace of the country for nearly 500 years. Rebuilt in 1867 only to be destroyed again, the palace has architecture that is a mix of Chinese influence and local tradition.

It is surrounded by 5m high walls that extends in a rectangle for about 2.4km. As in China, there are many symbols (such as the Zodiac animals) carved on rock or marble all over the palace. It was an interesting observation we made – that the palace buildings are built over raised pillars and pillions. There are apparently passages in which the servants used to from one part of the palace to another.

If palaces aren’t your thing, then head out to the Hanok areas of Seoul to see how the old traditional house look like. Read more here. Now if culture and history does not evoke enthusiasm, you will be pleased to know that there are many options for,

Shopping!!!

Namdaemun1From personal care and beauty care products to fashion, from glitzy shopping malls to night markets, Seoul have them all. In order to do sufficient justice to the shopping, you need to set aside 2-3 full days for this activity. Sorry guys, just have to go with the flow.

Namdaemun4Now Namdaemun is well known as one of the open markets filled with vendors hawking clothing, accessories, replicas and cosmetics. It is a very lively place with lots of tourists coming to view the affordable goods on sale. There are also many food stalls, some of which serve exotic looking seafood (see next section on cuisine). We came around 5pm when most of the stallholders were only beginning to set up. The market comes alive in an hour or so and appears to be active till very late in the night.

Namdaemun5Likewise, Myeong-dong is a busy shopping street, like its counterpart we just described above. It’s also a place to buy skin care products and other knick knacks. Suan found a great selection of hair bends and clips for just W500 per piece. What a steal!Namdaemun7

If shopping in night markets is not your style, head to Dongdaemun’s malls where wholesale purchase of fashion goods can be made : Good Morning City, Les More, Hello aPM and Migliore are a few of the malls in the vicinity of each other. We found out that the higher floors of some of these malls are where some of the garment “factories” are located.

There, they churn out the fashion accessories or apparel on retail at the lower floors. We have overheard overseas “buyers” – ie small shop-owners (from Singapore, Taiwan etc) haggling with the stall owners to buy bulk and resell back home.

Of course if you are looking for upscale shopping, the Shinsege and Lotte malls will definitely cater to you. However, you may not find much in the way of bargains when shopping for local produce in the malls. What we did find out is that buying kimchi from the malls can be better. There are probably wider choice and fresher, for example we found great selection at Lotte mall. And if you are looking for Korean instant noodles, look for them in the supermarkets of the large department stores. Definitely wider range of choice.

In our most recent trip, Suan explored Ewha women’s university shopping area, yet another cluster discovered for spending pleasure. We are sure this place will tickle some to loosen their purse strings!

All the culture, history and shopping is bound to make you hungry. You probably have Korean restaurants in your home country. What about,

Korean Cuisine in Korea

Where do you want to eat today? That was the question that pops into our head every mealtime. Why? Because there are simply so many choices to make. And wherever you want to eat, make sure you give sufficient time to get there. The crowds could mean you might have to wait.

At Namdaemun in Seoul, stallholders set up for business as the sun sets. The smells of the grill of seafood fills the air. The interesting thing is that some stalls have plastic sheets draped all along the side while you sit within. Lunch delights2The smell of the grill can be over powering, and we can imagine that being the reason the vendor has “isolated” the eating area from the surrounding vendors selling handbags and clothing. Now in winter, this serves also as a means to keep clients well warm when having the meal. So, it ‘s dual purpose!Myeondong market2

Walking just a little down to Myeong-dong, it is also filled with traditional hawkers offering skewered potato and grilled squid, the place is vibrant and crowded as the night progresses. We bought some curly fried potatoes to munch as we browsed the street stalls.

If you are into oysters, then get to the small restaurants around Changdeokkung palace. To Oyster Lunch5For W6,000, the meal consisted of a pot of stew with about 10 small to medium sized fresh oysters. It comes with rice, refilled side dishes and tea. Oyster Lunch1Not bad for approximately S$7, we can’t get that value here in Singapore! Beware of the lunch time crowd, it can be fast and furious as Suan witnessed the fast turnover of the restaurant she dined at.

How can you not have a meal made with ginseng while in Korea? And Ginseng chicken? That’s a must try. There are two versions – the roasted chicken or the braised one. If you chose the braised chicken, it came in a steaming broth stuffed with sticky rice. The result is a kind of congee with herbal taste in the soup.Ginseng Chicken congee2Ginseng Chicken congee3 On the other hand, the roasted chicken came on its own. It was large a ½ chicken on its own! The underside of the chicken has a thick paste, mixed invariably with ginseng and other herbs. One of each will be sufficient. Otherwise a lot will be left to waste as we observed the other tourists.

Definitely an experience to have your meal at a formal sit-down restaurant too. Better ambience and service but much pricier. From fresh grilled mushrooms to acorn pancakes, we tried all manner of preparations that is quite unique to this country. Bimbimbap is a must try. Korean Pancake (sort of Okonomiyaki) with a lot of seafood stuffing in them. Yummy!

But of all the food experiences you can have in Seoul, it’s got to be the authentic markets where locals actually go right? Well, wait no further and head on down to Gwang Jang (coming soon) or Noryanjin – two of Seoul’s more activity visited “bazaars”. You will not be disappointed, at least for the tourist wow factor!

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If there is more to add on culinary aspects of visiting Korea, read more about some of the unique experiences we had here while in Busan.

After filling your stomachs, it’s time to work it off by walking the,

City sights

dondaemun-design-plaza14At Dongdaemun, if you tire of shopping, It’s incredible to just walk around the streets. The neons light up the skies. And looking at DPP it appears as if an alien has landed in Seoul!

Not all of Seoul is about shopping and eating. We also went to do some sightseeing at Namsan. From Myeong Dong station, take exit 4. Coming out, walk towards the skyscraper called “State Tower” and make a left. In the distant upslope you should be able to see the structure shaped like a needle. Namsan view8We recommend you ascend up to the cable car station using the lift.

Otherwise it will be a long hard climb up. Once on top, it costs you W8,000pp for a return trip to the top of Namsan. To go up Seoul tower, it costs another W9,000pp. Before you ascend Seoul tower, spend some time to explore the views. You’d be surprised to know that the remnants of a old signal tower still stands here!

The view from the top of Seoul station on such a fine day is great as we can see all of Seoul. View our photos of the city on the Southside and across the Han river. You can see that the structures in the center of the city are mainly low buildings. Clusters of skyscrapers can be seen further away – probably the commercial hub of Gangnam, the “Orchard road” of Seoul. This is a nice excursion for an afternoon.

cheongyecheon-river10The city of Seoul has been in the process of attempting to ‘greenify’ the city. One of the initiatives was ‘reviving’ the Cheongyecheon river. Originally a stream that runs through the northern part of the city to the Hangang (한강), urbanization led to its demise. Today parts of the original stream have been restored and it is lighted up at night. We did not stay that long though, but the walk was pleasant enough. This is nearby Gwangjang market.

 

This has been a long read. Because we try to put so much into one story. Seoul on its own deserves far more than these pages have provided. Watch out for even more articles in the sub-menu!

April 1996 / October 2011 / March 2012 / February 2016 / November 2016

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