Friday, January 08, 2010

RetroTravel: Seoul

One of the hippest cities I have visited is the city of Seoul! It is the capital of Korea (South) where popular things that Filipinos crazed for like Koreanovelas, Samsung, and Kimchi came from. It is also one of the most progressive countries in Asia with its emerging economies and high-rising businesses. I believe Korea has also become the center of technology lately because of hi-tech gadgets that they released but much credit is to the highly popular company - Samsung. Seoul has always been the center of location scene of most Korean television series that not only spread its popularity in the country but throughout Asia. This has somehow put Seoul in the limelight of world of travel. Also the cultures of Korea have been featured and it gains the interests of the public that I myself has been drawn to experience it. Seoul has been known as the center of Korea's life where places to visit, shops to buy and cultures to explore are offered endlessly.

What I like in touring around the Metro Seoul is that though language barrier is a problem communicating with Koreans (most of them are non-English speakers), their subway and bus transportation are helpful getting around Seoul. Their subways have English signage of instructions and station names plus numerous maps of the subway line are available that are helpful for foreigners like me. Buses have coded number to which city their routing will be. And taxi cabs are always available in getting around Seoul.

Seoul also got the best airport that I have been. Incheon International Airport is an award-winning airport (2009 Best Airport by Skytrax) and an amazing wonder of architecture built on an island joint together by landfill in the third biggest metropolis of South Korea - Incheon. The airport boasts many unique luxury features such as a golf course, spa, private sleeping rooms, a casino, and indoor gardens. Duty-free shops are endless, of course! For me, it is the best airport that I have been because facilities are great and functional plus architecture inside spacious, feels lights yet warm especially in the boading gates area where flooring is made of wood (in the tradition of Korean architecture). Outside architecture is modern and futuristic. I also do believe that the current of "glassy" airport design trends was all modeled after Incheon International Airport.

My visits to Korea lead to me to trace down first its war history in War Memorial of Korea. It is located Yongsan-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul where I had an education yet emotional experience about the many wars that Korea was involved. Exhibition areas and memorial halls have numerous war memorabilia like photos and military equipments that have been collected and are displayed in museum. The history of wars of Korea gave me a sample of the country’s history especially the men who contribute great sacrifices during the war. The surrounding areas outside let me relax under the shades of large trees while sitting on the bench and watch the still exhibit parks of war planes and tanks that you take photos with. Cloistered figures of men in war figures and rows of black marble monuments inscribed with the names of those who died during the war can be seen around the park but the most emotional figure was the “Statue of Brothers” landmark. It stands in the center of the plaza and depicts the elder a South Korean soldier and the younger a North Korean soldier, which symbolizes the situation of Korea's division. The statue itself calls for everyone who sees it to always strive for unity.

Caught in the act! Shopping in Itaewon.
Travel is not complete without shopping. And the best place to shop is the shopping districts of Itaewon! It is a city district, in Yongsan-gu where 22,000 people reside in the district. It is a popular area for residents of Seoul, tourists, and U.S. Army personnel. From local brands to well-known brands of varying commodities, clothes, and equipment, Itaewon has them all. I had a pair of Nike shoes from a Nike boutique because it is much cheaper to buy there. This is because most of them are Korea made but just branded so it is highly priced in other countries. Original Adidas and Rebook shoes are also cheaper there. From branded places I also had visited the underground flee markets of Itaewon where you can buy cheaper shoes, bags and others. Imitations of branded items are also available. Itaewon is also known for original types of traditional Korean souvenirs like souvenir plates and Korean dolls. But the “best buys” that we bought in Itaewon that I believe one should not be missed are these 5 things - Korean Ginseng Tea, Kimchi, Lotte Chocolates, Maxim Coffee and Sam-Taegeuk Fans.

Namsan Tower in the background.
Other nearby places to visit around Seoul is N Seoul Tower (or Namsan Tower). Located in Namsan Mountain, central Seoul, visitors may go up the tower for a fee. There are four observation decks (the 4th observation deck, which is the revolving restaurant, rotates at a rate of one revolution every 48 minutes), as well as gift shops and two restaurants. Most of the city of Seoul can be seen from the top. Visitors can also ride the Namsan cable car up the mountain and then walk to the tower. Don’t also miss COEX Mall in Gangnam-gu, the largest underground mall in Asia that houses attractions like COEX Aquarium and Kimchi Field Museum aside from food courts, cinema complex and hundreds of shops. Lastly, Seoul trip won’t be complete without seeing the historical Gyeongbokgung Palace. It is a royal palace built as part of the Five Grand Palaces by the Joseon Dynasty. It is the largest of the five palaces. The name of the palace, "Gyeongbokgung," translates in English as "Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven”. Ready your foot for a walk tour of its buildings, shrines, pavilions and landscapes complex.

I admit that during my visit it last 2006, I did Korean celebrity hunting thinking that I might see some of my favorite Korean actors in the street corners or someplace in the malls especially my favorite actress Kim Jung-eun! But anyway I’m contended that I saw her on a big billboard ad at that time and endorsing a coffee too. And then, I saw numerous Korean celebrities in television commercials in local tv and print ads in magazines. Honestly, this Korean drama craze somewhat made me feel that while in Seoul I had stepped for a time inside a Koreanovela series. ^_^

War Memorial of Korea last June 2006.
Itaewon is a shopping paradise for shoppers.
Korea is a wonderful country to explore. It is so rich in culture that will draw you to explore it. And the best way to start exploring it - is roaming through the metropolis of Seoul. I believe the soul of Korea starts in Seoul because it is not only the the center of the country’s economy and progress but the city itself is a perfect way to view the culture of Korea. Seoul is where you can see the contrast between the fast pace life in the city yet along with it the country’s traditions, still life drama and old beliefs continues to live along. Compare to be tourist in Tokyo, it is cheaper in to go in Seoul. But what is travel all about if money is not well spent. If given a chance again to visit it again, I would definitely visit it to explore again the soul of Korea in every of corner of its great places starting in Seoul.

RetroTravel: Seoul is a recollection of past trips to Seoul, Korea from March 15-16 1997, September 20-22, 1997, to June 12-14, 2006. This story is also part of my RetroTravel series in which I recall all of my past trips of pre-digital era of pictures where memories are still vivid and enjoyable to remember. I hope you'll like this post.


  1. hey ian, did u join a tour when u visited korea or did u explore seoul by urself... wondering if it's okay to go around without joining a tour with the language barrier..

  2. Thanks for visiting my blog... I did not visit Seoul on a tour but I had a company when we explore the places who resides in Seoul. Though, it is ideal to go around in a tour, I already had experienced going around Seoul without a company and I find it easy especially riding their subway (with English maps and name station in English words) but it is also difficult haggling in bargains because you need to converse a lot.

  3. i see.. thanks for the info.. i guess if i ever go there, i'd try to look for my friend who stays there ;) btw, thank you for you lovely comment on my site.


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