Photos: Nathan Lee
“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.”
— Sir Richard Burton
Of all the travel destinations we encountered this year, Seoul managed to surprise and inspire the most. A holiday to South Korea towards the end of December offered a healthy amount of culture shock which always keeps you on your toes and helps to invigorate the mind. Seoul is a bustling up-and-coming megacity that doesn't seem to sleep, a stop-over recommended for those in search of a unique experience. Here are some personal highlights for you to enjoy.
My favourite area in Seoul, this “tree-lined street” in Sinsa-dong is at the heart of many of the latest Korean fashions in food and clothing, with its unique bohemian atmosphere. They do it really well in Garosu-gil.
2. Myeongdong Shopping Street
This is a loud and energetic strip overflowing with a wild variety of little shops, market stalls, department stores, international flagships, cafes, street food vendors and restaurants, all practically stacked on top of each other.
3. Bukchon Hanok Village
A beautiful hill densely filled with hundreds of traditional Korean wooden houses (hanok) that date back to the Joseon Dynasty. It really feels like you are walking through this village during a bygone era.
4. DMZ and JSA Tour
When visiting the border via the ‘Demilitarised Zone’ and the ‘Joint Security Area’, it is very easy to feel the threat of danger during this rich experience, considering the peninsula is still officially at war with the North. You can technically cross the border whilst inside the United Nations Command Conference Room at the JSA.
5. Three letters: “BBQ”
Korea is obviously going to provide opportunities to enjoy some of the best barbecue experiences in the world. The recommended cuts were boneless short ribs and pork collar, along with the an ice cold bottle of Cass.
6. Leeum Samsung Museum of Art
Currently there are three standout exhibitions to see at the Leeum Museum. The first is Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson's ‘The Parliament of Possibilities’. In the outdoor area you can see Anish Kapoor's acclaimed work ‘Tall Tree and the Eye’ and ‘Sky Mirror’. In the Permanent Gallery you will find the most stunning Celadon display you will probably ever see. Make sure to take up the optional audio guide.
Short for “Millimeter Milligram,” MMMG is a local design shop where you can find the best books, magazines, stationery, collectables, homewares and furniture with limited quantities of clothing and accessories.
8. Vibrance of Hongdae
Right next to Hongik University, this is a popular hang-out for local youth and a fascinating place to walk around. Here you will find a lot of the great thrift stores, sneaker boutiques, unique cafes, cheap eateries, little galleries, accessory stores, live cafés and clubs. There is no better place to stock up on a few crazy phone covers.
9. Changdeokgung Palace
This palace was built at the foot of a mountain, in perfect harmony with the natural contours of the land. Its beauty and enormous sprawl paints a picture of the grandeur and opulence of the Joseon Dynasty.
10. National Museum of Korea
One of the largest museums in the world, it displays thousands of priceless artefacts that help one to appreciate Korea's rich and complex history, which surprisingly dates all the way back to the paleolithic and neolithic age.
11. Shinsegae Basement Food Hall
Think Harrod's to get an idea of what Shinsegae Department Store is like. Then imagine a scene from the animated film Spirited Away for its food stalls and all its steaming dumplings, colourful desserts and delicious snacks on sticks.
12. War Memorial of Korea
This is the best place to get an overview of Korea's troubled past and learn the full extend of the many times Korea has been invaded by its neighbours. The outdoor exhibition hall showcases large-sized weapons, planes, tanks and other vehicles in full scale.
A few other notable experiences include walking through the areas of Gangnam, Samcheong-dong and Edae, the grungy neighborhood of Itaewon, Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Worksout fashion store, Line Friends 3-storey shop in Itaewon, the endless variety of street food, and the Cat Café in Myeongdong.