Even if you’ve travelled extensively and think you know a place well there’s always those hidden spots that are harder to find than others. In the modern internet driven world it is easy to click and search for the ‘best’ places to visit. But the internet is also the home of the new and popular. So if you’re not prepared to do some serious searching beyond the first page or two you can often miss out. That’s when a good travel book can come to your rescue.
This recently published travel guide to Seoul caught my eye and I decided to see if it could introduce me to some new and unique places for my next visit. ( Those who follow me know I’ve visited Seoul 3 times and so have seen most of the obvious and popular places.)
Being ‘curated’ means that it isn’t just a ‘top ten’ type of guide, but more the personal opinions of the author’s favorite places. They have also chosen places that are popular with the locals, and places where you might be one of the few tourists around. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no ‘top’ visitors attractions included. Some places in Seoul are so iconic and necessary to an understanding of Korea and her people no guide book could exclude them.
The book has ten themed chapters such as Nature, Arts & Culture, Neighborhoods, as well as two essays and 4 interviews. The neighborhood chapter is nice because it gives you a quick idea of different areas you might want to explore to get a feel of the city away from the huge crowds that can congregate around the main Palaces. (Although you can’t really expect to get away from crowds completely as Seoul has a population of over 10 million. Over 25 million if you count the suburbs.)
They also give recommendations for places you might want to eat including restaurants, cafes, teashops and a couple of markets. Food places can have a high turnover, so always check before you go.
I found the chapter on Arts & Culture particularly useful as it contained some smaller galleries and museums I have yet to visit. It of course also included some such as Dongdaemun Design Plaza and the Seoul Museum of Art which are more popular tourist sites. I was pleased to see the Oil Tank Culture Park included as I really enjoyed my visit there in 2017.
One of the things most people are surprised about when they visit Seoul for the first time is how many green spaces can still be found within the city. No matter what measure you use Seoul is a megacity, 5th largest by some accounts, while New York City is in 8th place, so people often assume it is a ‘concrete jungle’. The Nature Chapter is one of my favorites and includes quite a few of my favorite Seoul Parks.
Seoul is actually full of wonderful places to find a spot to relax and to get back to nature. There are still mountains in the middle and along the edges of the city that have been left to nature and these are popular hiking destinations. (You’ll often see people riding the subway dressed in their hiking gear as it is a very popular pastime.) While others have been landscaped to provide natural beauty each season of the year.
There are also a large number of public parks, some very large ones, as well as linear trails and parks along much of the Han River. A visit to at least one of the Hangang Parks is a must. Seonyudo Park is set on an island in the Han River and was once a water purification station. Now it is a really interesting and beautiful park with amazing views of the river and city skyline. It is very popular spot to watch the sunset and the city lights come on.
This guide book gives a nice concise description of the parks along with the address and website if there is one. A few photos of each help to define what kind of park it is.
The interviews and essays are quite interesting as they give a local perspective and insight into topics that you may not have thought about much, such as the real Bukchon story, or Korean Indie music. These give an added depth to the book.
However the accommodation chapter only lists a very small number of choices of what could perhaps be called boutique hotels. The addresses, phone numbers, websites and prices are listed as well as a description of what makes their choices unique. And I’m not saying they don’t look lovely, but Seoul has thousands of choices of accommodations from hostels, AirBnBs, home stays, hotels, and even Temple Stay programs so the internet may very well be your better option for that.
I’m always looking for more insight into Seoul, one of my favorite world class cities, and this guide did include some places that I will definitely add to my list for my next visit. Unfortunately I was a bit disappointed that they only chose neighborhoods, and most attractions, that are north of the Han River. I usually stay in Yeongdeungpo south of the river where there are fewer foreign tourists yet lots of places Seoulites visit, such as a 24 hour food street, local markets, an underground shopping center and times Square Mall. Plus they don’t cover Kpop related attractions many of which are south of the river, and are a growing reason for young people to travel to Seoul. Overall though I would definitely recommend this book for those who want to move a little beyond something like Trip Advisors ‘top’ lists.
Have a great day everyone.
The reviewed book is A Curated Guide to Seoul, by Robert Koehler and Hahna Yoon, published 2018 by Seoul Selection USA, Inc. ISBN 978-1-62412-120-3 52800. I bought it on Amazon.
All photo credits to original owners. Photos 1,2,4, and 10 were from pages of the book. The featured photo and photos 3,5,6,7,8 and the grouping of photos at 9 are credited to Elizabeth and Debora Marzec.