Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Insider's Guide to Seoul

One of my favorite cities in Asia is Seoul. Being the capital of world’s 11th largest economy, Seoul is also one of the of the most modern cities in Asia, where one can find a wonderful mixture of old-heritage sites and contemporary life.

Areas of Interest:
A favorite among tourists, Insadong (인사동, 仁寺洞) in the center of city embodies a great mixture of old and new Korea. Its picturesque winding streets and alley ways are filled with a unique collection of shops, restaurants, teahouses, and wonderful little art galleries. I especially love the sweet and slightly corky Andy Warhol Gallery located on the main street leading up to the Gyeongbokkung Palace (경복궁, 景福宮). The restaurant on the top floor of the gallery serves up some of the tastiest assortment of Korean food I had in Seoul, and Café Soop (which translates to “the woods” in English), next to the restaurant is a charming place for an afternoon coffee break.

At the northern edge of Insadong lie streets leading up to the Blue House (청와대), S. Korea’s presidential residence, and there are also charming little cafes and restaurants along the way to the east of Gyeongbokkung Palace.

In the fall, the area around City Hall, especially the street next to Deoksugung (덕수궁, 德壽宮), is absolutely breathtaking with fall foliage, and Seoul Museum of Art located behind the palace houses a great collection of contemporary art, most of which are of Korean artists. Also, the café at the museum has one the most spectacular view of the city.

One of the most enjoyable aspect of traveling in Korea is the food, and Seoul has a wonderful variety of it. There are plenty of great restaurants, but some of the tastiest meals I've had were in tented food carts called pojang macha (포장마차), Korean version of food truck. You can get everything from gimbap (Korean rolls), teokboki (spicy rice cakes) to variety of noodle soups and fried vegetables, and in certain areas and neighborhoods in Seoul, it’s like walking through a delightful food festival every day of the year.

The best entertainment venues, restaurants and café are usually located around two of S. Korea’s renowned universities, Ewa and Hongik University. The Ewa (Shinchon) area has a wide variety of restaurants and great movie theaters, and Hongdae is full of unique one-of-a-kind shops, cafes and the karaoke bars.

Palaces & Point of Interest:
Changdeokgung (창덕궁, 昌德宮) – one of the most beautiful palace and outdoor areas in the city

Gyeongbokkung Palace (경복궁, 景福宮).  – the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty, and the changing of the guards at 11:00am is not to be missed
Sam Chung Gak (삼청각) – a beautiful palace on the outskirts of tourist attractions that offers wonderful walking paths

Cheonggaechun (청계천) – 6km long, modern public recreation space in downtown

Namsangol Hanok Village (남산골한옥마을) – a lot of fun for children (and adults alike), as it consists of Korean traditional houses which have been restored to preserve the original atmosphere of the area, and frequently, they have Korean folk performance that’s sure to entertain children of all ages.

Hotel Recommendation: Hotel Doulos (Insadong), Best Western (Gangnam), M. Chereville & Coatel (Gangnam), Sheraton D Cube (Shindorim), Courtyard Marriott (Yeungdongpo)


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