My adventures in Korea started with a tipsy 45km bicycle ride from the airport to my hostel. To be accurate, I caught a train to Geomam then followed the Han River Cycleway into Itaewon. I got tipsy because I thought I was buying a bottle of lemonade but actually I drank an icy cold bottle of rice wine. A sign of things to come with many nights spent in Seoul eating Korean BBQ and fried chicken while drinking beer with new friends staying at G Guesthouse.
Seoul was a fun city to explore. The mix of old and new Korea is evident here. Well, the old is really a recreation due to Seoul being flattened in the war with the north. But the traditional aesthetic still exists and sits quietly beside the new.
Located in the heart of Seoul, Namsan Park is impossible to miss. Just look for the big mountain with the mast at the top. I find an entry to the park about 2km from G Guesthouse. I join the many locals taking their morning exercise. They are wearing brightly coloured matching hiking outfits. Walking trails lead through the park to the summit of Namsan Mountain. Epic views of Seoul stretch to the horizon. The amount of green space takes me by surprise; there is a lot of it.
The Namaemum Markets are a tightly woven web of stalls and shops selling almost anything you can imagine. Live eel sales people mingle with gingsen shop owners, looms of fabric are laid on tables near rows of accessories for your smart phone, and racks of clothes somehow stay clean despite the vast quantities of foods for sale. I resist the urge to buy stuff but my stomach is rumbling. A tasty shrimp croquette starts me off, a donut cleanses the pallet and a random dough thing filled with honey rounds out my lunch.
War Memorial of Korea
All I knew about the Korean War was what I’d seen on M*A*S*H. Fortunately, the War Memorial of Korea is the single greatest museum I have ever visited. Tracing Korea’s military history back for centuries, the story telling is captivating and the emotional impact solid. Walking through the Tunnel of Stars I am almost moved to tears thinking about what this nation has experienced just half a century ago. And the saddness as separation from their northern brothers is palpable. It’s not all doom and gloom though: 4D and 3D cinemas simulate the experince of war and of flying a fighter jet, you can shoot a rifle and there are military vehicles to clamber over. If you see nothing else in Seoul, this museum is a must.
Nestled between Seoul’s glasswalled commercial highrises and ancient Bukaksan Mountain, Gyeonbokgung Palace contains detailed art and an exquisite jumble of rooflines. The changing of the guard ceremony is a cacophony of sight and sound as men in brightly coloured traditional uniforms march to the rhythm of loud drums and cymbals.
The shopping district is crowded, modern and glitsy. This is modern Korea and consumer culture at it’s best.
Gwanaksan Mountain hike
Located in southern Seoul, Gwanaksan Mountain sports big rocky outcrops that have been walked for centuries. The trail up the mountain is typical of the pali-pali (hurry hurry) culture of South Korea. There’s no messing around with making the climb easy. The views from the hike are spectaular. Seoul is a vast sprawling white concrete jungle that drifts around dark green mountains. Up here on the mountain leaves are just starting to take on their autumn redness and squirrels run along the branches. Ropes are bolted into the near vertical rock face on the final ascent to the summit. Unlike the locals who barely touch the rope, I find myself clinging tightly. The views from the 624m summit are worth the effort. As is time away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Accommodation: G Guesthouse, Itaewon
- Visit the War Museum to understand how the Korean War is still affecting South Korea today.
- Get a group of friends or hostel mates together and share a Korean barbecue dinner. The restaurant staff will show you what to do.
- Take a ride up the Seoul Tower for spectacular views of the city.