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5 reasons you don't need to leave Seoul on your trip to Korea.

Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.: 5 reasons you don't need to leave Seoul on your trip to Korea.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

5 reasons you don't need to leave Seoul on your trip to Korea.

In a previous post, I gave you 5 reasons you should get out of Seoul when you visit Korea. What I didn't tell you in that post is that it would be quite easy to get a good taste of Korea and spend your entire visit to the country well within the Seoul metro area. Seoul is a frenetic, fast paced, ultra-modern city sprinkled with ancient cultural sights as well as all of the modern advances that contributed to Korea's rise as one of the four Asian tigers.

Seoul really lights up at night

1. Seoul is a massive city. According to the most infallible source of information ever, Wikipedia, Seoul is the third most populous city in the world. If you visit Seoul, you'll believe it, and maybe even question why it's not number two. To be fair, I've never been to Tokyo-proper, but I imagine it's pretty obvious that it's the most populous city on Earth to those who visit. If you like big, modern cities, Seoul is a great place for you. The city glows with flashes of light that can be blinding, and the traffic, parties, and bright lights stay on all night. If you'd rather have a trip filled with frenetic, blood pumping energy than a pastoral holiday in the middle of a rice paddy, you can't go wrong by picking Seoul.

Currently my favorite building in the world

2. The architecture! Seoul has a ton of really cool building designs, both massive and small. For that matter the architecture of some of the restored historical sites contrasts in a stark and dramatic way against the backdrop of slick, ultramodern buildings. If you love to take pictures of buildings, or studied architecture, or just want to feel like you've somehow warped into a future place where people should ride hoverboards and have space cars you'll love Seoul's skyline. 

Cheongyecheon River in Seoul

3. Urban oases are cool, right? Seoul has a massive urban oasis right next to it's grandest plaza. The Cheongyecheon River is literally an oasis in a jungle of concrete, glass, and steel. On a hot day, the temperature along this little ribbon of water is a little bit more palatable, and the public displays of art (and at night, public displays of affection) are actually pretty cool. Set about 3 meters (10 feet) below the noise and commotion of foot traffic, taxis, busses, and diplomatic vehicles this is a fast and easy escape from Seoul's urban intensity. If you're lucky enough to be here during the Buddha's Birthday Lantern Festival it's extra cool, as it's lit up with all manner of lanterns after dusk.

Gyeongbokgung Palace Gate - Changing of the Guard
4. The palaces, man. The palaces! Seoul has two very old palaces from the old dynastic days. Of course  these palaces have been damaged, destroyed, burnt to the ground, or otherwise by the Japanese during World War II, the North Koreans during the Korean war (probably the Americans too on the drive to retake the country), the Chinese, and I imagine the Mongolians were here once too, but I don't know that for a fact off the top of my head. Facts aren't important. The thing that's important here is that you can visit two really cool palaces in Seoul. Gyeongbokgung is the bigger of the two palaces, and if you spend a day roaming around here you'll find yourself lost in all sorts of imperial coolness. Cheongyeonggung is a bit smaller, but it's got a great garden. Interestingly, during the Japanese occupation Cheongyeonggung was used as a zoo, and it kinda still looks like one. Might I make the odd suggestion of visiting these palaces on a rainy day? You can usually stay under an eve, and you'll get great photos with far less people in them. You could easily spend half a day at either of these palaces, more if you like to take your time framing your pictures.

Insadong - Seoul's Culture Street
5. Insadong is a great place for traditional goods and experiences. So you like the urban vibe, but you want your friends and family to think that you didn't just hang out in the city the whole time you were visiting. Want to know where to buy kimchi pots, traditional placemats, handmade wooden flutes, and papercraft hanbok bookmarks? Go to Insadong. It's about 3 stops on the bus from Cheongyecheon or Gyeongbokgung, but feels like it's a world away. Actually, it feels a little bit more like a whole bunch of international visitors trying to buy traditional Korean products to take home to their families. It's also a good place to try Korea's more foreigner-friendly street foods for people with more squeamish stomachs. Try to go on a Saturday or Sunday because the street is cut off to vehicle traffic on those days. Be ready for crowds. Take a deep breath and enjoy yourself though, you never know just what kind of cool things you'll find on a visit to Insadong.

There you have it. The anti-travel guide to Korea, why leave Seoul at all? Here's five great reasons to not leave Seoul on your visit to Korea. Perhaps these are five great reasons to take a long layover at the Incheon International or Gimpo International airports, too. What cities do you think are big enough to deserve an entire trip? New York? Tokyo? Phnom Phen?

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