When my friends asked me how many days they should spend in Korea, I replied by saying you could literally spend a fortnight in Seoul and still not get sick of the city. And when they stared at me with disbelief, I just grinned and nodded again. Wait and see, guys, wait and see.
Seoul’s like no other city. No, I take that back. Seoul is like a dozen cities merged into one. There’s no single word to describe this place. More than twelve million people living in the city gives it one of the greatest population densities in the world. With the Han River running through, and with tens of mountains surrounding the region, it is like a natural fortress. The perfect place to found the capital of a country. For this reason, it has been the centre of wars from the 4th century onwards, and became the capital of Korea from 1392. By Oxford standards, this might not be very early. But considering the fact that America only became an independent nation in 1776, Seoul has a history of being a capital about twice as long as that of the US.
The northern part of Seoul, or ‘Gang-buk’, used to be its hub from 1392 until the Korean War. There are a few old palaces left over like Gyeongbok or Changdeok. You can roam around the gardens and the buildings for about one quid, which is a brilliant deal if you ask me. Sometimes they open the palaces up late at night, and it turns into a really popular destination for couples.
There are also traditional Korean villages like Bukchon Hanock village, where you can take loads of pictures, pretending you’re back in 19th century Korea. Isna-dong is also around that region, and you can try making traditional Korean fans or pottery, get your name written in Korean or even try on our traditional costume, Hanbok.
If you have an extra day or two, you can try going hiking on Bukhan Mountain. This was ‘the thing’ that all my friends from the UK were most psyched about. “You’ve got about five mountains around 800m in your capital? Can we climb them?” A casual 4-hour hike right in the middle of the city. I don’t think a lot of capitals have that now do they?
But it’s not just the geography that makes Seoul special. It’s the trendy culture that we have, emanating from Gangnam, as immortalised in PSY’s phenomenal ‘Gangnam Style’. The area has taken off since the 70s. A lot of youngsters like to come here. This is where all the trends begin, from fashion to food to music.
In Seoul, we love our food. And yes, I’m generalising the entire population of twelve million people. And yes, it’s true. There are more than 20 popular TV shows that either introduce good restaurants in Seoul, teach cooking, or show cooks cooking. If a restaurant has a particularly good reputation, we go through the pain of waiting 2 hours, just to have a 20-minute meal with a Makgeolli (a type of fermented rice drink) to satisfy our stomachs and put a pic on Instagram with the ever popular tag #Foodstagrams.
We love drinking as well – when it’s raining, we go have Makgeolli and Korean pancakes. We drink when it’s the end of exams, when people break up, when they go to the army, when it’s their birthday. There are so many reasons why Koreans go drinking. And not only do we drink in pubs, we also drink on the lawns of universities, and play drinking games that are a lot louder and a lot more fun than sconcing.
The hustle and the bustle of the city never stops. All the shops are open until midnight, and most pubs or convenience stores are open all night. You can even get chicken delivered to your house at 1am. The 24/7 liveliness has more than a few upsides. You can get a bank account opened within twenty minutes, get the card activated in the next five minutes, and you can get your TV fixed within the day. We like to speed up our things, and we do not like waiting. But this desire for speech without infringing on quality is what makes the place such a successful and vibrant city. Even if it is an insomniac