During a numbing day at work in the simmering heat of May …
(in a whisper) “Hey, during breakfast earlier on, we have decided to go Seoul in June! You wanna come along?”
And that’s how I ended up with Seoul on my ‘Next Up!’ list. Through the cartoon-ish Korean characters, the lush greenery of Nami Island, the neon billboards and buzzing crowds along Myeondong, the wonderland at Petite France, the art and culture at Gamcheon, the darkness at the Demilitarised Zone, and the world of face masks and beauty products, I found my Soul (pun intended).
Below are some of the highlights of the 6-day trip. Details of the itinerary and places will be published soon, hopefully. For ease, I’ve listed down the highlights based on the order that we visited.
Older fans who had jumped onto the Korean-wave wagon, should be familiar with Winter Sonata, the film shot at Nami Island. This was one of the earlier Korean films that was popularised in non-Korea lands. This was the era of soppy, brother-sister-ly love dramas. Entering the Naminara Republic, one leaves behind cosmopolitan Seoul and is left to relax and unwind amongst the tall pine trees, white birch trees, gingko trees and maple trees. Fans of Bae Yong-joon and Choi Ji-woo (the two leading actors in Winter Sonata) will be pleased to pose with the many statues of the pair, strategically placed at scenic spots which became famous due to the film.
One wonders why the fascination with Le Petite Prince in Korea? I still have no idea. But Antoine de Saint-Exupery is probably one of the most worshipped French authors in Korea (heck, probably in every part of the world). The French-themed culture village is definitely worth a visit if one is in the vicinity of Gapyeong, in Gyeonggi province (both Petite France and Nami Island should be planned on a same day trip. See itinerary for more details.) Once again, K-pop fans will be pleased to know that the Petite France was the filming location for K dramas such as “Beethoven Virus (베토벤 바이러스)” and “The Man from the Stars/My Love from the Stars (별에서 온 그대) aka 来自星星的男人”. The highlights of the village include the colourful French-styled architecture, the various statues of the Little Prince, performances at the outdoor theatre, and the presence of fresh and colourful flora abundant on the grounds of the village. There were also trick shows and plays, but all in the Korean language.
Trickeye Museum and the Hongdae Street
Fancy being photographed in 3D pictures depicting yourself beheaded by a wicked witch? Or an angelic selfie with Victoria Secret angel wings? The museum was packed with tourists and locals. To obtain a good picture, one must be patient to wait for his/her turn, and for the crowds to disperse. It was a good respite from the summer heat in Seoul though.
Hongdae Street and area that draws the younger crowd was brimming with clothing and shoe shops. Those wanting to grab some pieces of ‘Made in Korea’ garments will be happy to throng this area. The many pet cafes in the vicinity were good rest stops to grab some drinks and receive/give some tender loving care to some incredibly cute and fluffy pets.
Demilitarised Zone (DMZ)
The DMZ is a much raved tour. It essentially brings you to the border of South and North Korea. Along the way, one learns more about the history that had taken place (of course, from a South Korean’s perspective), visit the Dora Observatory, 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, and the Dorasan subway station (unused till this day), just to name a few.
Samcheongdong and Bukchon Hanok
Within the fast developing city of Seoul, 900 over traditional hanoks remain in their original shapes at the Bukchon Hanok Village. With niche craft shops lining the main street, it was obvious that the Village had been re-branded into a tourist attraction. But as one wanders deeper into the Village, where local residents continue to live in, one can expect to be drawn into the past days of the city.
Samcheongdong is an upmarket area with many restaurants and cafes. It is also a good place to obtain some local, interesting handmade crafts.
The cosmetics street in Seoul. Myeongdong is a must-visit for those with the quest to return home with year-long supplies of Korean cosmetics and beauty products. Love it that they are generous with their sample products, stashing extra bottles and travel size packets into your shopping bags each time. Most shops are tax refundable. Nice cafes and drink joints are also aplenty in this area.
This giant hyper mart allows one to grab those Korean snacks, teas, candies, noodles etc. that are highly sought after. With full trolleys, one can proceed on to the counter for a tax refund. The mart is also equipped with a packing station. Carton boxes of various sizes are available, together with tapes and cutters, to allow shoppers to pack their purchases into boxes for ease of carrying/checking in at the airport.
Busan – Taejongdae, Gamcheon Culture Village
3 h away from Seoul, via high-speed rail, is the second largest city in South Korea. A day trip really did not do justice for this busy port city. Exploring only the Southern tip of the city, Taejongdae is a park where one can get great views of the ocean and cliffs. Described as the Santorini of the East, Gamcheon Culture Village is a place to experience the Korean culture, art and community’s way of life. Navigating through the maze-like village paths, one gets to appreciate the residents’ unique sense of colour and get a glimpse of traces of the past. With various artworks scattered around the entire village, one can spend an entire day in the village to discover and appreciate them.