Seoul, the capital of South Korea or sparkling Korea as it is called, is well-connected to most big cities of the world. Also referred to as the 'Land of the Morning Calm', Korea is the seventh largest economy of the world.
The city is a unique blend of the traditional and the modern-- what with being home to temples, palaces, pagodas and ancient gardens on the one hand and a large number of skyscrapers, shopping malls and multi-storeyed apartment blocks on the other.
Seoul is about three and a half hours flight from Hong Kong and we flew from New Delhi to Hong Kong and then further to Seoul. On landing at the Incheon International airport, the first thing that strikes one is the enormous size of the airport; well-designed and kept sparkling clean and pretty.
The airport was a window to the way Koreans are with visitors. The people are ever ready to help and extend a lot of warmth and love to the visitors. Language is a still a barrier although nowadays most of the people within the city speak minimal English and the signage and subways display instructions in English. Still it is only good enough to survive!
Barring language, Seoul has a number of touristy things to offer such as palaces, museums, art galleries, theatre, as also ski resorts, river cruise, amusement parks and the like.
One of the palaces we visited was the Changdeokgung palace which is almost 700 years old and was registered with UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1997. It was meant to be used as a secondary palace but after the Japanese invasion became the main palace for 270 years. It was quite an experience going through the palace and even better was the narration of history by the tour guide who shared humourous anecdotes about the royal lifestyle.
The city is a fun place for seafood lovers and there are a dime a dozen joints available roadside. They offer food which is not only cheap but unbelievably clean and hygienic that one feels tempted to try them out. Interestingly, Indian restaurants have made inroads here and the ones we tried were Ganga and Indian Gate. Besides there are many Korean restaurants and tofu specialty eateries served in addition to the presence of multinational chains. The good thing is that even a vegetarian can find options to eat here.
The Seoul Tower is another exciting place to be if you want to get an aerial view of the whole city. It is situated on a 262m high peak in Namsam park and is 370m high. An experience not to be missed.
For commuting, the subway/metro is a good means of transportation. Besides being cheap, fast and reliable, it also provides tourists with a glimpse of the lifestyle of the local inhabitants. It takes one to most parts of Seoul and its suburbs, and all signage and instructions are well marked in English.
For shopping, Seoul offers the most modern of shopping malls as well as traditional Korean ware, which can be bought from the souvenir shops in palaces etc. They seem to be much like the Feng Shui products which are a rage back home too.
Seoul has something or the other to offer people of all ages and interests. The best time to visit would be summer and autumn because winters are really harsh and does not allow too much outdoor activity.