More than a week ago, I was just another traveler dreaming of roaming the bustling streets of Seoul, one of the major mega cities in Asia.
I have been enchanted by the Korean culture thanks to the countless dramas being shown on Philippine TV today. These dramas show the very best of South Korea: the culture, the fashion and its people and they certainly have their own charm.
I just decided to come up with an itinerary when I land.
No thanks to the complicated but very efficient subway system, I was able to explore Seoul from almost end to end without getting lost, and instead discovering interesting places along the way.
|Changing of the guards ceremony|
This is one of the major palaces and architectural wonders in Seoul. But the complex is too large for one to roam around in just one day so I decided to just check out the biggest and most popular gate. As it turned out, the main gate is located near Gwanghwamun.
Just outside the subway station, you will marvel at the statue of King Sejong, one of the most important leaders in South Korean history. Just walk past a garden surrounded by Ionic columns, cross the main street and you will be facing the facade of the main gate.
This is a great place to visit since it offers free entertainment in the form of the hourly changing of the guards. I was lucky enough to catch it and it’s really something.
The coffee shops and Western restaurants along the major roads parallel to the stream are also a big draw for local and foreign visitors alike.
Locals weary from their daily grind seek refuge along the banks of this multi-million architectural wonder. While during the night, thanks to the mostly cool weather in Seoul, the banks of the Cheonggyecheon stream become a haven for lovers walking hand in hand or for families taking a stroll.
To get there, take the subway line number 5 and get off at Gwanghwamun station. Take the exit number 5 for a direct exit to the stream.
If you’re after some pasalubong or souvenirs, then, Insadong is definitely the place to be.
Here, you can find antique items, as well as traditional Korean masks and clothes. There are also several western cosmetic shops catering to the foreign crowd.
You can reach Insadong by taking the 1, 3, or 5 lines of the subway and get off at Jongro station.
The entire stretch of Insadong is lined up with antique stores, restaurants, food stalls and stores selling all kinds of mementos from Seoul. I found it interesting as well that even locals, probably the provinces frequent this area to buy souvenirs for their loved ones.
This place is commonly regarded by locals as a dump for foreigners, primarily aging servicemen from the nearby American base. But Itaewon definitely has it own charms. The street is filled with Western restaurants ranging from KFC to Burger King. Stores selling bigger-sized shirts are aplenty as well.
One of the main reasons why foreigners frequent Itaewon is the availability of Western Bars in the area.
One place I was able to visit was Dillingers and seven pm on a Monday, it was packed by tourists coming from virtually all continents of the world.
Interestingly, it is also considered as the sex and gay spots in Seoul. There is a place called Hooker Hill in Itaewon, as well as a Homo Hill.
I’m not exactly sure how these names came about but trust me when I say that you don’t wanna get caught hanging around in those areas especially as South Korea is very conservative when it comes to sexuality.
|A vendor preparing fish sticks|
If you have a relatively small budget and you’re after your money’s worth, then Namdaemun Market is for you. The place is virtually a pirate haven as every stall sells counterfeit items ranging from your fake Prada bags to your fake Nike shoes.
But what’s interesting in this market is the abundance of winter clothes (fur ones included) at amazingly cheap rates.
The food stalls selling octopus, fish sticks, Korean barbecue and jeongul are also a must try.
|a view from the N Seoul Tower|
To get to Namdaemun market, take the subway line 4 and get off at Hoehyeon.
N Seoul Tower
Whoever your are, no matter where you come from, chances are you are likely to visit the N Seoul Tower.
This structure, the tallest in all of Seoul, gives you a bird’s eye view of the entire city.
This place is also popular because of the cable car at the top of the tower. Roaming around the tower is free but getting inside and using the cable car are not.
It is also interesting to visit the surrounding Namsan (south mountain) Park. Most people go directly to the tower but I found hiking into the mountain quite relaxing.
If you’re lucky, you will be able to watch free martial arts or musical exhibition right at the base of the tower. This is one of the free sights you can enjoy in Seoul.
To get to the N Seoul Tower, tale the subway line 3 or 4, and get off at Chungmuro area. From the exit, you can take a Namsan tour bus (bus number 2).