City Guide: Seoul, South Korea
South Korea is a global leader in Internet connectivity with approximately 92.4 percent of the nation categorized as avid Internet users. It’s an interesting dichotomy for a society so future-forward but still very much vested in honouring its past Here, why you need to visit the most “wired” city in the world right now.
Photos provided by Ryan Chung
Written by Helena Kim
Seoul is a booming metropolis characterized by contrast. With one foot firmly rooted in its storied past and the other looking towards the future, the South Korean capital offers the perfect getaway for the traveler looking for rich culture in a modern, forward-driven society. Here are a few places that you need to check out.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
Design enthusiasts, place this right at the top of your list. Nestled in the heart of the Dongdaemun district, the late Zaha Hadid’s sheer genius is on full display with this fluid, alien-like structure that houses a rotation of art and technology-related exhibitions. The 38,000-square-metre architectural masterpiece is also a favourite amongst the creative community, playing host to various cultural events like a night market festival and Seoul Fashion Week.
A time capsule at the heart of a very modern city, Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1395 and housed the royal family during the Joseon dynasty. To encourage visitors to engage and learn more about Korean history, patrons donning the traditional hanbok are waived of their admission fees, resulting in a beautifully colourful and culturally-rich experience.
A little touristy, yes. But if you’re looking for a truly unforgettable experience, this is the place to go. Before engaging in a little retail therapy, pick up a snack at one of the many (many) vendors lining the streets, selling an assortment of food from traditional Korean pastries to grilled lobster tails. In this neighborhood, you’ll see homegrown Korean brands and local peddlers, but discover that luxury retailers, like Bulgari and Louis Vuitton, have also set up shop.
A great way to really immerse oneself in local culture is to head to a marketplace to observe the interactions between people – how they bond, bicker, and break bread. The historic Gwangjang Market is Korea’s oldest remaining street market and has been going strong since 1905. Arrive with an open mind and an appetite, as the local merchants will happily help you eat like royalty by serving cherished cultural dishes and sharing a drink (or two). Up for something different? We hear the live octopus is a must.
Noryangjin Fish Market
Seafood lovers, rejoice! Noryangjin fish market is Korea’s largest and oldest seafood market. Dating back to 1927, the cultural hotbed plays host to the ocean’s rich bounty with over 700 vendors selling the catch of the day. Very much a ‘choose your own adventure’ kind of experience, visitors can take their pick of anything from giant crabs to sea urchin and take it home, or for a very fresh meal, upstairs to one of the many restaurants where they’ll cook it up right there for you to enjoy.
If you need to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city, take a two-day trip and hike up Seorak Mountain, part of an area that was given Biosphere Preservation District designation by UNESCO. The mountain serves as the destination for many locals and travelers, alike, who embark on a pilgrimage to visit this natural wonder. Challenging as it may be, the views at the top are nothing short of priceless.
Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
Fancy a day trip to North Korea? Venture on a day trip up to the North and South Korean border and get an education in world history and politics. The fact that it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country may seem a little ironic, considering the context and active tension between both sides that remains today. From seeing Propaganda Village (a fake town that was built to romanticize North Korea as a paradise) to learning about the flagpole race (a hilarious “competition” between both sides to see who could raise a higher flagpole), a lot of weirdly comical and fascinating stuff has happened in this area.