A few of my friends have asked me why I’m heading back to South Korea for the second year in a row, when I’m known for always going somewhere new and different. I’ve come up with a few different answers for them, but they all boil down to the fact that it is an amazing place that I didn’t see, taste, feel, and experience enough. There have been other places where I would have liked to have stayed longer, or to revisit at a future date, but none of them have tugged at my heart like Seoul. It is as if I am homesick for a place I’ve never really lived.
My daughter and I spent 12 days in Seoul in the Spring of 2015, with our main objective being the Spring Cherry Blossom Festival. We planned multiple things to see and do every one of those days, leaving our apartment before nine in the morning and rarely getting back before 10pm and often later and still we didn’t see everything. The spring flowers were amazing starting with the Forsythia, then the Cherry trees, followed by the Azaleas. The flowers reach their peak blooms at different times in different parts of the country and there are updates available so you can track when and where to see them.
Seoul is a large densely packed city, in fact the Seoul metropolitan area is the 2nd largest in the developed world and it has twice the population density of NYC. It does, however, have multiple green spaces, parks, and even tree covered mountains, both in and surrounding the city, in which to walk. There are numerous parks lining the Han river and a 40 kilometre bike path that follows the river too.
The 157 kilometre walking trail that circles the city passes through both urban and mountainous areas. So there is no shortage of places to escape to when the need arises. We went to the zoo in Seoul Grand Park for a lovely relaxing day away from the hustle and bustle of the city streets.
Seoul has so much history, with there having been a city on the site for about the past 2,000 years. We visited palaces, temples,and burial sites, all of which were very beautiful. On a side note, many historic places in Seoul were damaged or destroyed during some of S.Korea’s turbulent past, but they have been restored by expert craftsmen using the old techniques and authentic materials.
Seoul is a very forward looking and modern city and we were often amazed by some of the modern architecture and public art that dotted the city. In some places the old buildings were left and the modern ones seem to grow and mold around them, for example in the second photo the new government building behind the old seems like a wave about to crash down on the old.
There were so many choices when it came to eating and shopping that it was hard to decide where to go, although the hotteok at Insadong has to one of my favorite street foods ever. We tried all sorts of street food and went to restaurants, chicken and beer places, traditional style eateries, cafes, and tried as many differents foods as we could. Snacks even came with your beer at E-Mart for when you needed a late night boost.
We shopped at open air street markets, underground markets, fancy modern shopping malls, local convenience stores and traditional craft stores, spending a fair amount of time amazed at the selections of things to buy. (Makeup, stationery, kpop stuff, traditional games, and handmade garden tools, among other things, all came home with us.)
There were world class museums to explore, and fun trick art places to joke around in.
We interacted with street performers in Hongdae, and tried wearing Hanbok.
In fact there were so many different things to do and see I haven’t even scratched the surface on what there was to do. I ended up being so busy and wanting to so immerse myself totally in the experience that after a while I took fewer and fewer photographs. So no photos of the cat, dog, or Hello Kitty cafes, or even of me learning to make kimchi. Only one or two kpop photos, partially because the recording of M Countdown allowed no photos.
How could I forget the locks of love at Namsan Tower, or the Rainbow Bridge.
I also haven’t mentioned the day trip to the DMZ or the clubbing we did at the weekends or many other things we saw and did, but I’ll end this by saying that if you ever have the chance to go to South Korea I highly recommend it. I’ve been to about 36 countries, I say ‘about’ because some place aren’t countries now but were when I visited them, so I don’t know if I count them or not, but the bottom line is I’m going back this summer so has to be good, right? Although this time we’ll be only staying a few days in Seoul before heading down to Busan and then to Jeju Island. I’m so looking forward to it.
If you need a place in Seoul to stay I highly recommend The Seoul House which was wonderful, and amazingly convenient to local markets, restaurants etc and 3 different subway lines. Ken, the host, was very friendly and knowledgeable. It was not in a tourist area which we prefer as we were able to make Korean friends who we still keep in touch with.
If you’ve been to South Korea, what was your favorite thing to eat, or favorite place to visit? Let me know in the comments below.
Have a great day everyone.