Gyeongbokgung Palace, Photos by Ben Jordan
Gyeongbokgung Palace, Photos by Ben Jordan

My Paradise: Travel is good for the Seoul

by Ben Jordan
Stripes Korea

Want to get out and see the big city?

You might not notice it if you’re just passing through, but Seoul is constantly on the move. If it had a middle name, it’d be “change.”

It’s as old as the early Roman Empire, yet as modern as Silicon Valley. This is what you get when you’ve been constantly reinventing the wheel over the past 2,000 years as a result of creativity and conflict from forces home-grown and external.

Yet no one could have predicted postwar Seoul’s shift into a powerhouse of global pop culture, trendy new foods the folks are talking about back home, and very likely the inner workings of your cell phone. A trip to Seoul, therefore, is kind of like coming home as well as going somewhere completely new – and completely worth doing.


View of skyline from Bongeunsa

Figuring out where to start comes down to individual taste, but many travelers begin with a pilgrimage to Seoul’s ancient royal palaces – Gyeongbokgung is the oldest and largest, dating back to 1394, while Changdeokgung has the most UNESCO cred (don’t leave without checking out the Secret Garden). Close by, Insa-dong’s old-world art streets offer crafts and coffee houses, while a trip to Bukchon Hanok Village puts you up close with traditional Korean housing still in use by local residents.

If you don’t feel like strolling outdoors too long in the sweaty summer sun, a large chunk of Lotte World theme park is indoors, with rides like the Pharoah’s Fury, Comet Express, and Jungle Adventure. It’s a fun way to beat the heat. Coex Starfield Mall is another option, with an aquarium featuring a mermaid show every hour, Hogwarts-style library, and a bunch of food options ranging from On The Border Tex-Mex to Kervan Turkish. You could also just spend a day exploring Pierrot, a huge multi-floor Japanese store within Coex that sells just about everything you could imagine.

The big, old traditional Korean market at Namdaemun is full of fun sights and smells – in fact, Namdaemun is Korea’s oldest still-running commercial market. There’s also Yongsan Electronics Market for all kinds of everyday digital stuff (though do be sure to shop around), and Dongdaemun Fashion Town for clothing.


Gwangjang Market

Dongdaemun Market is also famously always open, but you’ll find Seoulites are big on nightlife (as in seriously, no-kidding, massively big), so staying out late and expecting things to be open is in no way unrealistic. You can go for a cosmopolitan food and bar scene in Itaewon, or hang out in Hongdae for a more Korean-style pub and club experience. Or, you can head completely up-market and dig deep for Gangnam’s luxury cocktail bars and celebrity haunts to find out what Gangnam style is all about!

 

Great place to stay

There are plenty of places to stay in Seoul, but if you’re looking for accommodation with familiar surroundings, there is the Dragon Hill Lodge at USAG Yongsan. As it is an Armed Forces Recreation Center, it offers classic American hospitality and resort facilities.

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