Thursday, 3 April 2014

My Guide for Seoul (Part I)

This March I was in South Korea for the second time - Two weeks of culinary pleasures, shopping, hiking and cultural adventures. South Korea really has a lot offer and I think that many people underestimate it compared to other Asian countries.
To my mind Seoul can be just as exciting and eclectic as Tokyo, which is why I tried to put together a collection of my favourite places and activities in this very city. This is the first part, which covers up a few of the main tourist spots. The second part will be a bit more specific.
  1. The Base Station: Hongdae

Public transport in Korea is not very expensive. However you still want to stay at a place which is close to the most important spots in town. For me and my friends Hongdae is our favourite district. In general it can be described as young, quirky, loud and colourful. It is home to a lot of wonderful small shops, restaurants and cafés and it also has an amazing nightlife. 
When it comes to shopping I prefer Hongdae over Myeongdong, which is also very popular among young Koreans. While Hongdae is very laid back and fun, Myeongdong tends to be even more crowded and hectic. Shopping becomes a chore instead of being fun. That was at least my impression.  
Impressions of Hongdae's streets (all taken in 2012)

If you decide to stay in Hongdae, you also have the advantage that many main attractions of the city can be reached by metro in a fairly short time without many transfers. So, a hostel in the area around the metro station “Hongik University” is the perfect starting point for a lot of trips around town.
Concerning nightlife Hongdae is considered to be more laid back than Gangnam for example. Most of the very popular clubs are oriented towards a younger audience and if you don’t like hip hop music, they main clubs like M2 or Harlem might not be for you, but we had a very pleasant surprise at a club called “Club FF”.
For an entry fee of 15000 Won you get live bands, a few free drinks and good music provided by a DJ. The music was mainly a mixture of rock, alternative and your good old disco classics with a few new songs in between.
Inside the "Coffee Prince" café, which is also located in Hongdae (2012)

A note on Korean nightlife for the ladies:
No matter which club you go to as a female, you will notice that Korean men are quite persistent when it comes to pursuing their “prey”. Most of them are not very direct or outgoing, so you will eventually notice a few guys (sometimes in little groups) approaching you and trying to get close to you without a single word. Creepy, right?
If it annoys you, just tell them and maybe say that you have a boyfriend. For most of these guys it just enhances their prestige when they can say, that they made out with a foreign girl. If they have no luck with you, they will search for another "victim".
So, just a heads up: A relaxed girls night out will most likely be interrupted by desperate tries to flirt with you.Be prepared!

If you want to meet other foreigners, you should definetely go to "Thursday Party", rather a pub or a bar than a club. You do get to meet Koreans there as well, but it is mainly frequented by foreigners. No matter if they are in Korea because of work, uni or just for fun - it is a big get together for people from all over the world. The atmosphere there is always very relaxed and it is easy to start interesting conversations... or just play a round of beer pong.
  1. Changdeokgung

Seoul has a lot of palaces which attract visitors from inside and outside of the country. Most guides will tell you to go to Gyeongbokgung, which is the biggest palace of them. It is indeed very beautiful, especially in the Summer, but because of its’ immense size at some point everything will look the same.The stunning impression you have at the beginning, when you enter the court will slowly fade away. 
Gyeongbokgung's main hall in Summer 2012

A walk through the garden of Gyeongbokgung (2012)
So, my recommendation for you is to go to Changdeokgung. The palace is a lot smaller, but I feel like the architecture is more diverse. Even though it is not as big as Gyeongbokgung,  you have the feeling, that there is a lot more to see. Particularly the mixture of Korean architecture and the imperial interior design in some rooms is very beautiful. 
You should go to both of the palaces, but I honestly enjoyed my time at Changdeokgung more. 

Changdeokgung's main gate

by far my favourite picture aof this palace

Remember that part about korean architecture and imperial interieur design?

Entry fee: 3000 Won

  1. Namsan

Namsan is one of the classic tourist spots you have to see. It is probably one of the most used motives for postcards even if it just decorates a tiny corner of Seoul’s skyline. Once you reach the top of this hill in the middle of the city, you are rewarded with a great view (if the weather is good). To get up can either take the stairs, which is a nice little walk, or use the cable way (8000 Won one way). At night The N Tower is lit up in colourful lights.
Namsan is a great location to get an overview of the city and to take photos day and night. 

Slowly making our way to the top...

and taking pictures. Curse you, smog!
We went to Namsan after visiting the Namdaemun market. It is a bit tricky to get there, because some streets tend to be a bit misleading. Still, it was a nice walk and a nice way to spend a sunny day.

  1. Dongdaemun market

Dongdaemun is one of the old city gates and just like Namdaemun it is accompanied by a big market nearby. However both markets are quite different from each other. While the Namdaemun market focuses mainly on clothes and fake designer items, you will find a lot more food at Dongdaemun and for a very good price. For many 4000 - 5000 Won you will get a full meal and you will be able to get some snacks at one of the bakery stands. Just on a sidenote: I had my cheapest lunch in Dongdaemun. 

Namdaemun Gate

Other than that the market is divided into different streets. One is centered around fishes and aquariums and another one is dedicated to school supplies and toys (which was my favourite). 
The Han-River in summer 2012. You can easily get there from Dongdaemun

   5.   Insadong
    Another major spot for tourists is Insadong. In this area are a lot of these little shopping malls where pushy sales-women try to sell you the most unnessecary things to give away to your loved ones. Because the items in these shops are often overpriced and you are constantly being interrupted by the sales women, I would not recommend to go there.
    However Insadong ihas got a lot of nice food stalls where you can get delicious snacks for little money. They also have a lot of pottery and tea shops (again be careful because of the price). They also have a wonderful shopping mall which covers many different floors full of sweet, little shops.
    To me Insadong might not be the perfect place to go shopping, but it is definetely a must-see in Seoul and a good way to spend some time before lunch just browsing around and doing some window-shopping. 
    A peek from the inside of the "shopping mall"
         The best way to get to Insadong is by taking the metro. The nearest station is called „Anguk“, but you   can also combine Insadong with a visit at the royal palace Gyeongbokgung, because thedistance between the two can be managed in maybe 20 minutes

A small park close to Insadong and apparently a meeting point for older Korean men
These were the first five places you should visit, when you are in Seoul. They are nothing new and you can find them in every ordinary guide, but it is always good to hear/read a second opinion. Don't you think? 
The next part will be a bit more specific. We will get to know something about hiking, where to get the best ice-cream in town and why you should visit a Korean spa
See you later, alligator!

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