For the past couple of weeks I have been accosting every person I know who has travelled widely in Asia with one simple question “why did you not tell me about Seoul?“. Having recently spent a meagre two days there I cannot understand why it is not at the forefront of everybody’s Asian travel experiences and, bluntly, why I don’t live there.
For some reason, I have never really had Seoul on any itinerary or travel wish list and I only ended up going there because Cathay Pacific had a sale on.
Then I arrived and thought, I’m here; “New Tokyo“. Just like the best of Japan it had that beautiful muddle of past and present where heritage has been preserved but also culturally strip mined to create a better present.
The result of this is that when you wander around the districts of Seoul you see something that is often absent in Asian cities – a raw buzz of aesthetics being peacocked through art, food, materials and architecture. Somehow Seoul seems to have avoided or ameliorated the mistakes cities like Hong Kong have made where history is to be bulldozed to build a higher skyscraper. Where finance rules the roost and one should celebrate because the Ritz Carlton has opened the world’s highest bar but forgotten that there should be some content to it rather than just a superlative.
We didn’t have time to see too much in two days so we just drifted around Insadung (cultural handicrafts area), Hongdae (University “cool” area), Gyeongbokgung Palace (biggest traditional Korean palace), Hanuk villages (old wooden roofed villages) and some bars and restaurants. I felt at home again. That feeling of being adrift in a world city like London, New York or Tokyo. And the food…. wow (next post).
There is, however, one problem. You will never find anything you actually want to find. The street names and address system is worse than the worst stories you can believe. Our first night we got off their metro 100m from our hotel. In our hands (like good travellers) we had the hotel’s address, a map printed from it’s webpage, a google map and instructions from tripadviser. We spent 1 1/2 hours wandering in circles till I finally emailed @SeoulEats who came and walked us to the hotel and saved the night.
So if you haven’t been, get excited and book a trip. The next couple of posts are about the food but if you want to get bit more of an idea about the experience and food I can’t do more than recommend Seoul in the City and Seoul Eat’s blogs here and here.