48 hours in Seoul
From busy lanes along the feet of skyscrapers and a throng of commuters armed with cutting edge technology, to shamanistic shrines and grand palaces, Seoultravel Updated: Sep 03, 2012 10:29 IST
From busy lanes along the feet of skyscrapers and a throng of commuters armed with cutting edge technology, to shamanistic shrines and grand palaces, Seoul - a city of ten million - is an amalgamation of a modern high-tech metropolis retaining the legacy of age old traditions.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a short stay in Seoul.
Start your trip by looking out on the entire city from the top of Naksan Park, at the summit of a mountain called Naksan. On the outer side of the park are stone walls with battlements over ten meters tall, part of a much larger structure connecting major and minor gates that once served as the perimeter of Seoul.
Enjoy the panorama of a brightly lit-up modern city with the remaining castle wall in front of it, an amazing contrast of old and new Seoul.
Walk to Deahangno, Seoul's colorful theatre district, which is full of young people. Try dinner at Sao Paolo (02-764-6079), a Brazilian restaurant that serves savoury Picanha, a cut of meat sliced from a skewer.
Have drinks at Jazz Story (www.jazzstory.co.kr), which hosts house bands playing laid-back music every night. The live music venue looks like a junkyard complete with smashed bicycles and recycled treasures. To truly appreciate it, you have to go there at night when the vintage mood and soft music creates its own unconventional end to another strenuous working week for Koreans, who work the longest hours in the OECD.
Start the day at the Changdeokgung Palace, which served as a royal villa in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and reflects ancient Korea's mindset that nature is beautiful in itself. Only one acre out of 74 acres of gardens at Changdeok consist of man-made buildings and ponds. Take a stroll and take in not only walls and pavilions, but also the sky and clouds mirrored on the water, the murmuring of a stream along the valleys, and the breeze that touches leaves and flowers, tranquil joys of nature once experienced by kings and queens.
Have a lunch at Sanneri (www.sanneri.com) near Changdeokgung Palace, which offers meals centred on Bulgogi, a national dish made with marinated, thinly sliced beef.
Head for the Leeum Gallery near the Hyatt hotel in Itaewon, an art gallery owned by the Lee family that owns the Samsung conglomerate, Korea's richest family. Made up of radically different architectural styles, it has an extensive collection of traditional ceramics and Buddhist art as well as contemporary Korean paintings and sculptures. The gallery offers English language service for exhibitions on weekends.
Browse the artsy alleyway named Comme des GarÃ§ons Street, an emerging new hot district which features a flagship store of the luxury brand. High-end shops, trendy bakeries and contemporary bars have opened recently, becoming a fresh destination for high-brow culture.
Dine at fusion restaurant The Spice (02-749-2596) operated by Edward Kwon, the former senior executive chef at the seven-star Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai. The restaurant offers full course meals with each plate providing a combination of spices and textures in a unique European style.
Dive into Itaewon, Seoul's truly expat-friendly district and a magnet for shoppers looking for good bargains. You can try a multitude of restaurants including French, Italian, Thai and Japanese. Try Club Rococo (02-790-2260), which hosts DJs from all over the world.
Ignore the side effects of Saturday night, and join locals heading to Inwangsan Mountain. The mountain is a popular destination for hiking, a national pasttime. Some hikers, covered from head to toe, resemble something out of a Monty Python vision of the Middle Ages.
But the most intriguing part is at the end, at Seon-bawi, sacred rocks in a shamanist site, which are said to resemble a robed monk. Expectant mothers crowd in front of them, praying for the birth of a son. The scent of wax and incense mingles with the aroma of sacrificial alcohol, while dishes of raw pork and fish are set outside temples for the spirits.
With a bit of luck, you may see "mudang", Korean shaman, perform ceremonies while beating a steel drum, chanting, dancing, and waving different colored flags to attract and evoke communication with the spirits.
On your way back to earth, find your way to Sanulim (02-379-7084 ) at the foot of the mountain, where fellow hikers gorge on traditional pancakes and tofu with kimchi, washed down with dongdong-ju, a fermented milky rice wine that goes straight to your head.
Take a stroll through Bukchon Hanok Village, a traditional village where aristocrats once resided. The picturesque alleys of brick walls and beautiful curves of the roof tiles help you catch a glimpse into the history of Seoul. Here are a few Hanok-style gatehouses for those seeking a quiet, traditional setting in which to rest and relax.
Wind down in Samcheong-dong, a quaint neighborhood immediately to the east of the presidential Blue House. Browse the shops or have a cup of coffee in one of the many chic cafes, a perfect place to watch stylish couples sauntering along.