Over the weekend, I finally made the long trip to Seoul*. In between the crowded sidewalks and towering buildings, I felt totally at home. The most fulfilling part of the weekend was the fact that I did it all– from the five-hour bus ride from Pohang to finding my hostel and navigating the Seoul subway– solo. Maybe that solo backpacking trip is a possibility after all.
I couldn’t miss the opportunity to check out the legendary Gyeongbokgung Palace*. The Palace ( which translates to ‘Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven’ ) was built in 1395 and was the center of the ancient city. It was destroyed twice by the Japanese before complete restoration started in 1990. Even walking around the immense grounds in 2013 completely surrounded by smartphones and fancy professional cameras, the majesty of the Palace was still very much alive. If you find the right secluded area to explore, it’s easy to pretend that you’ve stepped back in time.
The highlight of my time at the Palace was seeing the traditional marching of the guards.
Another site I got to see was Ipark Mall*. It’s one of the premier shopping destinations in Seoul and has enormous wings dedicated to everything from home decor to clothing to electronics. One piece of advice: Be prepared to buy or walk quickly. A chorus of “May I help you?” will follow you through the aisles. Ipark is also home to a arcade, a plethora of restaurants, an outdoor theme park for the kiddies, and a CVG movie theater complete with 4D.
The hostel I stayed in was in the center of Seoul’s Hongdae* . The area is packed with clubs, karaoke bars, and Western stores and thus, is one of the main hangouts for foreigners and young locals. I’m not much of a clubber but did wander the streets to get a feel of the place. I could sum it up as such: Visit during the day to browse the kooky souvenirs and try out the cheap street food. Visit during the night to check out the many impromptu performances , observe the drunken crowds, or join the drunken crowds.
The last day in Seoul , I went to Itaewon*. I’ve heard it referred to as the foreigner’s paradise and it definitely deserves the title. There were almost as many foreigners as Koreans and I’ve haven’t heard that much English since leaving Philadelphia International.
My main reason for visiting the area was to track down the famous What the Book store. It’s Korea’s largest English book store and carriers magazines as well as new and used bestsellers. I expected it to be more of a chill out spot – a la Barnes and Nobles- and was a bit disappointed to find no comfy arm chairs. Even so , I was in heaven and had to force myself to leave before spending all of my money.
Itaewon is also a shopping destination. It’s narrow streets and twisting alleyways are full of shops and restaurants.
Whether you’re looking to experience Korean history, party the night away , or indulge in some Western comforts, you can find a way to do it in Seoul.
* To get from Pohang to Seoul by taking a bus from the Shiwae Bus Station next to the large HomePlus.
* To get to Gyeongbokgung Palace take the Seoul Subway line # 3 to Gyeongbokgung Station &exit at exit 5.
Admission : ₩ 3.
Free tours in English depart at 11am, 1:30 pm, and 3: 30 pm.
* To get to Itaewon take Seoul Subway line # 6 to Itaewon Station.
* To get to Ipark Mall take Seoul Subway line # 1 or #4 and exit at Yongsan Station.
* To get to Hongdae take Seoul Subway line # 2 to Hongik University Station.