As one of a very rare group of people who has been to the DPRK and not to South Korea, I sought to remedy that with a quick four day trip to Seoul over the October holiday.
Initially, despite having lived in Asia for 8 of the last 12 years, I never really had any overwhelming desire to go to Korea (North or South) – but since my recent trip, and also due to the cheap(ish) airfares on offer over the October holiday, I ended up in Seoul with a goal of wandering around the city and eating as much food as possible.
Asking around for tips from my friends who have either lived in Seoul or who are actually Korean, I received the same neighborhood recommendations from 4 different people, so I knew that they should be good recommendations.
Seoul has palaces. My friend Denny said “they’re great palaces, but probably aren’t that much different than what you can see in Big Red.”
This was true, the Gyeongbok Palace and Changdeokgang Palaces were nice and picturesque, but were palace starter kits compared to the Forbidden City or even the Summer Palace in Beijing. But the museums on the grounds of the Gyeonbok were really nice – the Korean Folk Museum and the National Museum of Korea.
Also, being on the South side of the 48th parallel, I decided to go up and see the DPRK/ROK
border demilitarized zone from the south side this time – additionally there was a bonus tour of looking at one of the North’s infiltration tunnels into the south!
Here at the border, you couldn’t take photos past this photo line – I thought it was fascinating.
The bridge into the DPRK (I’ve been there!)
It wasn’t all palaces and DPRK, though – I spent time wandering the shopping districts and eating the utterly fantastic food.
Kalgaksu at the utterly fantastic Myeondeong Kyoja
Shopping in Myeongdong
The awesome awesome Seoul subway system
In the end, Seoul was a nice place to spend the weekend. The shopping experience was great – the food was delicious and the public transportation was really well done.
However, I have an unpopular opinion about Seoul. I think that geographically Korea is between Japan and China . . . and culturally its the same and its not quite either of them. It’s not the easiest place to negotiate being an English speaker (except for actually getting around) but the transportation system was pretty awesome. Easy to use and navigate, even if you didn’t speak or read Korean.
I loved the retail areas of Myeondong and Dongdaemun.
But a transportation, food and retail do not a travel destination make (shhh, no one tell Singapore!). I had an enjoyable time in Seoul, but I’m not sure I’d highly recommend it to anyone over say, Beijing or Tokyo, Bangkok or Hong Kong.
Rest of my trip photos here.