North Seoul Tower (Namsan Tower to some) is one of Korea's most popular tourist destinations and with good reason. The views from the tower observatory are quite stunning; every direction you look shows you a different section of the Seoul metropolis, always contrasted by a mountainous backdrop.
When visiting, you can walk up Namsan Mountain, get a bus, or take a cable car. My recommendation is to get the cable car up and enjoy a leisurely stroll down the mountain on your return. A daytime trip will give you a better view of the surrounding mountains, but visit between 7pm and midnight to see the tower light up in glorious illumination. There are a handful of restaurants at the tower, including a burger bar and the expensive N Grill, which slowly revolves and offers romantic panoramic views of the city as you eat. Booking a table for the latter is a must.
Tickets for the tower itself range from 3,000 to 7000 won. The cable car itself costs 4,800 one-way or 6,000 for a return ticket.
Google map: bit.ly/w7V7aI
A 10-15 minute walk (or a cheap taxi), take Subway Line 4 to Myeongdong Station and leave via exit 3. Take the wide road next to the convenience store and walk straight to the left of the Pacific Hotel. Keep going and you will soon find yourself at the cable car platform. Purchase a ticket on the 3rd floor of the building.
For those unfamiliar with Korean cuisine, ddeokbokki is a popular Korean snack of cylindrical rice cakes cooked in a spicy sauce. Traditionally street food - wonderful for warming up on a bitter Seoul night - there is one place you can visit in Seoul to try a real restaurant quality version; Ddeokbokki Town.
Located in Sindang-dong, Ddeokbokki Town is a long street with numerous restaurants dedicated to ddeokbokki. While most will provide you with a delicious meal, one restaurant is particularly worthy of a visit; the wonderfully named "I Love Sindang-dong." Dining at this restaurant is an easier affair than is typical for the foreigner in Korea, providing a full English language menu along with pictures of the individual dishes. You can choose from a variety of different options, including cheese-stuffed rice balls and the intimidatingly named "Tear Jerker." All the ingredients are brought out in a large pan to cook in front of you - each table having its own gas hob - so be ready to stir the mouth watering mix of rice cake, ramen, glass noodles, mushrooms, dumplings, 'odeng' (fish cake), egg, onions and more while it cooks. Then simply pick and choose which parts you like best, and tuck in!
A huge restaurant (the floor space was used by seven different restaurants up until 2002) "I Love Sindang-dong" gives you a fantastic chance to try some traditional Korean food well away from the more tourism-heavy areas of Seoul. There is often a wait for a table at weekends, though rarely longer than 5-10 minutes, and this really is a must-do for all visitors to the city.
Simply leave Sindang station (lines 2 & 6) out of Exit 8, take the first left (just before the firestation), and walk straight for about 200 metres. There will be a large sign with Korean script marking the entrance right in front of you.
South Korea, Seoul, Jongno-gu, Jeokseon-dong, 29
Google map: bit.ly/zCsf8A
Ingwansan is a 338 metres tall mountain located in the heart of Seoul. A short walk away from the nearest subway station, a brief 15 minute hike will see you encountering Buddhist temples, citywide vistas and a shamanist shrine to boot.
Be sure to pick up some kimbap (김밥 in Korean script) from one of the many small restaurants nearby to devour as a snack upon reaching the summit. Made of white rice and various other ingredients, wrapped together in dried laver seaweed, a kimbap is the perfect reward after a short and sharp climb.
Oh, and don't be surprised if you're offered a soju pick-me-up by one of Korea's numerous elderly hikers!
From Dongnimmum Subway station (Line 3), leave through Exit 2 and take an immediate left. Follow the winding road and you will, after 2-3 minutes walking, come across some steps on the right handside. Climb the steps and you'll find yourself at Ingwansan.
Google map: bit.ly/ziF6hT
I have just returned from teaching English in Korea after two years and I needed to send back a number of boxes from all the stuff I had collected.
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Kim's combines all BBQ styles in one. Try Seashells or pork bacon or chicken on copper-wire mash placed over charcoal, or a heated metal-dome on which you place marinaded beef and more. The menu has nice pictures you can point at. The prices are average.
But the best dish is the wide, shallow, simmering pot filled with aged kimchi (pickled, spicy cabbage) with boiled bacon, mushrooms and tofu.
Mugunji-Sangyop-Jim is myy favourite Korean dish. (Won 18.000 for two). It's served with a huge array of side dishes for free. Rice (Bap) is Won 1000 extra.
Order a small bottle of Chang-Ha (a bit like Sake) only won 4000 perfect for washing the dish down.
It's near Jongno, the heart of Seoul. 10 min walk from Changyong Palace and the Science Museum.
Exit palace and turn left. Keep walking until the huge orange Dunkin Donut cafe. Cross the big road to the opposite side. You are at Family Mart. Take the tree lined street on the left of it. Kim's is the second building marked by many blue and red cube lanterns as well as a big seafood tank left of the entrance.
OR - Take subway line 4 (light-blue) to Hyehwa Station. Exit 4 opens to a busy shopping street. Walk to the end of that and take a sharp -hairpin- turn left. Can't miss it! Shouldn't miss it! :o)
(Ps. Golden Pond Guest House is 30 seconds away in a nearby small alley)
Korea is a nation of carnivores. The national dish is Galbi (marinaded beef or pork rib meat grilled on charcoal). Koreans are the world's largest importers/consumers of bacon -Samgyopsal (although the general Korean belief is that those are two different things.) We are basically talking about three-layered pork fat. The said thick slab of fat is grilled and cut into slices, dipped into salted sesame oil and wrapped into a lettuce leaf - great fun with chopsticks!
Vegans will have to make do on Bibimbap. It's steamed rice topped with boiled vegetables. Locals drench it in a thick, ketchup-like sweet, hot chili sauce. (Kochu-jang)
Fish eating vegetarians will have less problems. Plenty of Japanese Udon Noodles and California Rolls around for those on the budget. Plastic dishes are in the window.
But I'd recommend visiting a Raw Tuna House (Chamchi) for lunch and order a He-Dop-Bap which is a bowl of salad topped with a handful of raw tuna. You are supposed to add the small bowl of steamed rice and mix (and with the eternally present Kochu-jang as above) - I just put a bit of soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil in the mix.
The best He-Dop-Bap lunch set (including soup and side dishes for 6000 won is found at a restaurant chain called Dokdo Chamchi (all over Seoul.) Wash it down with a nice hot cup of sake for the full effect! (5000 won).
If you really love Sashimi. Order an "Eat All You Can" tuna meal for 19.000 Won - they'll keep it comin'...
Jongno 3-Ga take exit 13 and walk towards Changdok Palace (it's a straight road between Jongno and the Changdok Palace entrance. It's the 3rd or 4th door after the cinema on the left). Recognize it by the Tuna pictures all over it's front sign.
Or walk from Changdok Palace - cross the road and keep walking straight on the right. 10 min later you'll get to a junction with a big cinema on either side opposite each other - you went a bit too far.
Backtrack a bit and see as above.
***Ask anyone Dokdo Chamchi?***
Sunday is a hell in Seoul! The 24.5 million inhabitants all seem to be on the streets at once. If you want peace and quiet, visit Hwagye-sa.
It's an active Buddhist Temple and a home to the International Zen Centre, located at the base of Bukan mountain short 30 min. subway/bus trip from the heart of Seoul.
Go on Sunday and get a free vegan 'Monk Lunch' between 11.30-12.30 on the ground floor of the main building
After lunch there is an intro to beginners at 12.30 upstairs at the Zen Center. Worth the 30 minutes cross-legged sitting on a cushion :o)
Then to streach out a little, take an easy hike up to the mountain spring. Entrance just before the Temple's - follow the small path on the left, curving towards the right around the hill, (don't go straight on) It's a lovely walk.
I can't think of a more peaceful way to spend a Sunday in Seoul.
Subway line 4 (light Blue) to Suyu Station, exit 3,
take No.02 small green bus and get off at Hwagye-sa (Temple), cross the road and walk up the hill for 5 minutes or take taxi (under $3) from Suyu Station exit 3.
Huge concrete building packed with market stalls selling fish.
Fresh stuff gets snapped up early (4am) in the morning by chefs, but whatever time you get there you can choose your catch and have restaurants in the same building cook it up for you.
Prices are marked so you won't get ripped off (although there's always a little room for haggling) and it's all very photogenic.
Subway Line 1- Noryangjin station (follow the map in the subway station when you arrive).
The DMZ is the line of demarcation between North and South Korea on the 49th parallel. It is patrolled and managed by the South Korean and American forces on the South, with the North Koreans guarding the Northern side.
Tours are available with a number of travel companies, but I recommend arranging a trip with the US army travel corps at Yongsan. They run regular tours and their tours visit a number of sites not available to all operators. Prices include travel to and from the zone, lunch and all travel around the site, (which includes travel amongst an armed convoy at the DMZ).
The atmosphere at the DMZ is one of tension and palatable eeriness. Arriving as part of a convoy of buses, with armoured cars leading and tailing, you are taken to the central observation tower and to various sites of importance. A US Army spokesman explains their side of the story, which for me gave a personal insight into the propaganda of war, bearing in mind that the North will have its own version of events.
The highlight for me was the DMZ meeting hall, a UN-blue building which straddles the 49th parallel and has been the location for inter-Korean dialogue since the end of hostilities. North Korean guards, in tired looking uniforms, stare from their side of the line, with their South Korean counterparts assuming a more aggressive stance, (taken from the martial art of Tae Kwon Do), complete with US Army-issue Raybans.
A great full-day trip, and an essential one in my opinion. The reality of the situation, considering the two countries are technically still at war and the real and desperate poverty in the North, is worth reflecting on, as you arrive back in the modern metropolis of bustling Seoul.
It's a "secret" garden (biwon can be translated literally as secret garden) attached to Changdeog-gung palace in central Seoul. The garden used to be strictly off limits for the non-royals, but now it is open to the public to enjoy. The scenery is breathtaking all the year round, but in the autumn, the leaves turn to spectacular colours to the delight of visitors. The place is not too crowded if you time your visit well and can be a great place for quiet thoughts and reflections in the middle of one of the most hectic cities in the world.
www.lifeinkorea.com/Travel2/76; Underground (Subway) line 3, Anguk Station, exit 3, 5 minutes walking
Though this area near to the US army base has been called a special tourist zone and is praised for it's international shops, it's really the place where sellers try and hawk tacky Korean gifts and American clothes to the (mostly) American tourists. There are many other markets which are more representative of Seoul and are pretty much only frequented by locals.
South Korea is one of the world's most wired countries, and Seoul is the most wired city in Korea. In order to stay in touch with folks at home or anywhere in the world for that matter, or to do whatever you want on the web, find a PC Room (or PC Bahng) in almost any neighbourhood in Seoul. It's cheap (75p an hour or less), reliable and extremely fast, catering to those ever busy Seoulites. If you find yourself spending a long time there playing web based games or whatever, you can even order lunch or dinner (or beer) and have the food delivered to your terminal
It is a newly "restored" stream slap bang in the middle of this huge city. The stream was a lifeline for many Seoulites from the 14th-century but was covered over with tarmac during the 50s to provide land to build shops, high-rise buildings and a flyover during the frenetic days of the double-digit economic development that engulfed the nation up to the 90s.
As the paradigm for economic development has shifted from brute expansion to a more human-oriented, environmentally responsible growth over the last few years, the city is developing more places where weary Seoulites can find peace, tranquility and nature in the forms of parks, forests (yes forests), walkways, squares and now a stream!
The tarmac over Cheong-gye-cheon is gone now and the stream is open for all to see. The "opening" day attracted a million people, which doesn't quite jive with tranquility, peace and nature, but it shows how interested Seoulites are of their latest addition to the city attractions. There have been sightings of fish, birds and other creatures missing from central Seoul for decades and an urban legend is being created amid reports that cranes were seen a few days ago.
Many bridges (some modelled on those that used to exist centuries ago) span the stream and a newly created path accommodates joggers, amblers and courting couples and in the week or so that it's been open, it has become a must-see and be-seen destination for any self-respecting Seoulite. There is a museum showing the long history associated with the stream and many people expect the surrounding district to attract new businesses catering to Seoulites from all walks of life. It is the place to see and be seen in this trend-conscious city.
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