This week's blog post is by Laura Tanner, our Wandering Wordsmith. Join her as she spends a weekend exploring Seoul, South Korea.
When you think of major Asian cities to visit, Seoul may not come immediately to mind. But as a thriving metropolis of over 20 million, with unique culture, fashion, sightseeing and food, Seoul has much to offer! From the traditional to the quirky, exploring Seoul is a feast for the senses.
Start with the traditional
You can start at the Gyeongbokgung Palace, with its colourful guard ceremony, multiple buildings, and museums. Here, you will families visiting, and perhaps even see children flying kites. For more tradition, visit the Bongeunsa temple, built in the year 794, which is particularly elegant when it starts to snow.
Eat your way around
Make a fun to stop at the Kimchi field museum to learn about the country’s national dish. Alternatively, if you’re in Seoul in November, you may have the privilege to visit the Kimchi Making and Sharing festival. This event, free for foreigners, offers a change to understand kimchi firsthand through making your own! Appropriate clothing is provided, and you get to keep the finished product.
Of course, you can also buy all types of kimchi at the Lotte department store’s basement food section, where the selection is astounding.
After all that walking, it’s time to enjoy some warming and often spicy Korean food, served with many side dishes called banchan. Seoul is full of fantastic eating options, so you will be spoilt for choice . You can order soju, which comes in different fruit flavours, or the milder rice-based makgeolli to accompany your meal.
Even teddy bears love Korean food! These little guys are from the Teddy Bear Museum. Located at the Namsam tower, on the Namsam mountain which is located in the center of the city. The view is spectacular, as are the teddy bears, as they teach you about Korea’s history and culture.
Last but not least, make time for Korea’s extensive markets, which seem to cover the city centre. These markets offers Korean street snacks which you’re unlikely to have tried before in other countries. Dongdaemun market has miles of socks, hats, clothes and hiking gear, while Namdaemun market is great for children’s clothes and much more.
Make a run for the border
If you’ve got an extra day in Seoul, then you can take an educational and poignant tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the heavily guarded border with North Korea. Here, you can visit the Joint Security Area, and even walk into the North Korean side of the conference room buildings spanning the border.
Below, you can see the border, demarcated by a cement ridge, and the North Korean guard in the background.
The DMZ tour also includes a glimpse into the nearby North Korean town of Kijong-dong, with its towering flagpole (zoom lens required), as well as a stop at the border’s non-operational train station, and a trip into a border tunnel built by the North Koreans for a planned attack.
Indulge in the unusual
Now, no trip to Seoul is complete without seeing some of its quirky side. At the Gangnam Tourist Information Centre you can learn about local plastic surgery options, as well as get your picture taken as part of a K-pop band.
For another unusual attraction, how about the TrickEye museum, part of a series of these attractions opening across Asia? Here, you can achieve your dreams of becoming a ballerina, a panda, or perhaps a shark surfer. It’s best to go when it’s not too busy, to avoid having to wait to take your trickery photos.
Ready to pack your bags for Seoul? I've got a sudden craving for kimchi!