It’s been another hectic week, and I’ve definitely gotten the travel bug here in Asia. I spent last weekend in Seoul on a few days vacation. Last time I was in South Korea must have been some 15 years ago, and boy have things changed there – what I remember as a typical crowded, hot, and dirty sprawl is now a clean, green, and absolutely beautiful metropolis that rivals Tokyo in shopping, entertainment, and efficient public transportation. The country has completely transformed itself into an economic and cultural powerhouse – witness the popularity of Korean fashion, arts, TV shows, and food everywhere! Not to mention the electronics and cars we all use. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the nations capital.
Despite the economic boom it’s nice to see that many of the old cultural areas are still well preserved (and some restored) side-by-side with new commercial developments. There are still distinct neighbourhoods that have their own character, and they make for great exploration. And if you ever find yourself in the city and want to look around, the official Seoul tourist guide is great – there’s really no need to go out and buy another.
With camera in hand (and the X100s is really brilliant for travel and street photography) I snapped away… here is the first part of a two-part post on some of Seoul’s most interesting neighbourhoods. With only a few days available you can hardly scratch the surface of what this city has to offer – all the more reason to plan for a return trip!
Click on the pictures for a better view.
Dongdaemun (literally East Great Gate) is a main commercial shopping district. The Cheonggyecheon runs through this area; this is a stream that used to be covered by an asphalt overpass and used as a road, but has since been reclaimed, cleaned up and made into a tree-lined pedestrian walkway below street level. This is an example for other cities on how to revitalize old polluted waterways into eco-friendly attractions – it’s absolutely genius.
Along the stream are wholesale apparel malls, and the big commercial shopping centers offer everything in trend-setting Korean fashions. Close by is the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (just recently opened this spring), a new landmark that is home to fashion exhibitions and a design museum. The aluminum skin looks other-worldly.
The Gwangjang Market is an old fashion and fabric wholesale market that also contains the Mokjagolmok (Eatery Alley), a street food bonanza that is packed with diners every evening. Here you’ll find huge, cheap portions of traditional Korean street food like tteokbokki (rice cakes in spicy sauce), kimbap (rice rolls), and mandu (dumplings).
Yeouido is a large island on the Han river that runs through Seoul, and is the city’s main business and investment banking district. It is also home to Yeouido Park where you can rent bicycles for a leisurely ride, and Yeouido Hangang Park along the river which is lined with cherry blossoms in the spring. The trees were in full bloom and during the lunch period it can get very crowded as office workers come out and enjoy the blossoms and great weather. On the eastern end of the island, the impressive 63 Building (a multi-venue leisure complex) stands as one of the tallest buildings in the country.
The riverside promenade was the location of many scenes shot in the hit Korean movie, The Host.
Noryangjin Fish Market
Close to Yeouido is Noryangjin, home to the Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market. This is decidedly a less touristy part of town but very much worth a visit (not on the same scale as the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, but then again, nothing is). Here you’ll find all kinds of weird and wonderful ocean creatures. Haggle with the vendors for a good deal and take your lively catch to one of the restaurants in the market where they will prepare and cook it to your liking. It doesn’t get fresher than that!