Seoul Memories THE first trip to Korea

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page". - Saint Augustine

For some, Seoul happened to be in the first few pages of their own travel diary.

1. Cultural Heritages

Seoul is most famous for her palaces. There are 5 main palaces from Joseon dynasty, and the most famous one is Gyeongbokgung (Palace greatly blessed by Heaven). It is said to be the largest, and arguably the most beautiful of all five palaces.

Gwanghwamun gate, the main entrance to Gyeongbokgung

The Changing-of-guard ceremony takes place here, and it often attracts many curious tourists.

Inside Gyeongbokgung is HUGE!!, and it takes 2~3 hours to cover the whole place. The palace consists of many quarters, each having its own building characterised to fit its purpose and residents' status.

This is the main hall, Geunjeongjeon, where all the kings' affairs, such as meeting, foreign envoys reception and other ceremonies are held. It appears to have 2 floors due to the double roofs, but inside sits just one lofty chamber and the throne.

Behind the main hall is the King's library.

His mattress and cushions are embroidered with gold and red.

The King also built a Gyeonghoeru Pavillion, where royal banquets are held. It has a wonderful view of the palace and Mt Inwangsan

The King also has his own farm within Gyeongbokgung

There are other buildings for the queen, crown prince and princesses as well as other members of the royal family and their servants. There is also a quarter dedicated to the royal kitchen, called the Sojubang.

The Sojubang offers Royal Tea Reception and traditional light snacks to tourists
I got a neak peek into the traditional kitchen

I was amazed by the Architecture and Aesthetics of Gyeongbokgung. All buildings in Gyeongbokgung - and other palaces in Korea is made of wood built on a stone foundation to support the heavy roof, which is laid with beautifully ornamented ceramic tiles.

Roofs and doors are painted with vibrant colours, which stems from Confucianism and Buddism principles. This also makes the palaces an ideal place for photography and cinematography.

The symmetry and details are amazing
Contrasting and balancing of colours

It was very cold walking around Gyeongbokgung in subzero temperature so I stopped at Hyangwonjeong Pavillion.

The pavilion bears a feminine and intimate ambience in a rather masculine palace.

After Gyeongbokgung, I went on to see Changdeokgung, which happens to lie in the same neighborhood. Still, it took some time to walk between the two palaces.

Changdeokgung

Changdeokgung is the royal villa built after Gyeongbokgung in 1405 and it is the most historically significant attraction that represents the beauty of Korea - according to the brochure.

I didn't have a plan for going through Changdeokgung, so it was more like aimlessly wandering around looking at palaces and trees (except for one part that has a guided tour, Huwon - more on that later). The palaces are more vibrant than those at Gyeongbokgung, which explains why many Korean dramas were filmed here.

The drama Daejanggeum Was filmed here

There are plenty of trees in Changdeokgung, and they blend with the building to create a very serene and peaceful feel about the palace.

At the far end of Changdeokgung lies Huwon, the Secret Garden.

Huwon

It used to be a resting place exclusive for the royal household, but now it is open to tourist (at a price).

The ticket counter is right in front of Huwon entrance

Huwon is well-known for its untarnished beauty, so many people went for the Huwon tour, Foreigners and Korean alike.

Koreans wear their traditional costume, the Hanbok, to get free entrance to the palaces

Huwon is as beautiful as people said, and it really explains why it was only for the king and his family. Trees come in all shades of colours, and they wrap softly around the palaces

Absolutely stunning view
This particular pond bears the shape of Korean peninsula

The pavillion looks simple, but its interior is carefully decorated for the king.

Right beside Huwon is the servant quarter. It is a simple cluster of Hanok divided into the male and female quarter.

The female quarter shows how Korean traditional houses used to be, and how the traditional heating/cooling system worked..

Changdeokgung is truly magnificient. I regretted not taking enough photos to capture its beauty.

Final look at Changdeokgung

My next destination was Bukchon Hanok Village, which conveniently sits between Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung.

Bukchon Hanok Village

Bukchon means Northen Village, while Hanok is the Korean traditional house. Today, Bukchon Hanok Village is still a residential area. Some residents open guesthouses, restaurants, and tea houses for tourists.

Hanok are simply beautiful

The view are absolutely stunning with the rows of Hanok leading to the Central District.

This is a famous spot for tourists to take photos as well

I went to the Bukchon Observatory, and the view there is also amazing.

Walking around Bukchon, I found many signs of the untarnished Korean tradition at each turns, things that are lost in Korean modern day household.

While strolling around the area, i happened to pass by Choong An Secondary High school. It is not the type of school that you would usually see in Korea.

Stunning

It is also the MV Site for 여자친구 "시간을 달려서"

The school has a classic feel as it is a cluster of colonial-style buildings converted to classrooms. All buildings are built from stone, either white or brick-red.

The garden within the school is amazing with its variety of trees
The brick-red house really stand out among the white buildings
The building feels more European than Korean

Many photography fanatics and tourists from coming here to admire the school's beauty.

Bukchon Hanok Village is rich with Korean artifacts and practices. For those who wish to take a deeper look into the age old tradition of Korea, it is definitely a place not to be missed.

Iconic Attractions

N Seoul Tower

The N Seoul Tower sits on Namsan Mountain. There is a cable car leading to the top of the mountain, where the tower is.

Cre: Korea Tourism Organization. Disclaimer: It was freezing cold up there so I was busy warming my fingers.

Even before going up the tower, the view was already amazing.

The platform offer Lock of Love for people to hang around the place.

Nonetheless, the panoramic view from the tower's observatory is truly breathtaking. The tower offers a full 360-view of the city. To add on, the shop up there gave surprisingly reasonable price for souvernirs.

Alive museum

It's quite funny doing quirky trick-eye stuff here. I saw a few scene where Singapore trick-eye museum borrows ideas from. Some scenes are really funny but some take the meaning of hilarious too far. Some trick-eye scene are really creative and amazing as well. It was worth a visit.

MBC

MBC is one of the largest broadcasting corporation in Korea, with branches in many countries around the world. Their MBC World Tour (theme park) offers a wide array of hallyu experience, especially the immersive VR and Hologram experience. I was too engrossed with the tour so I forgot to take a lot of photos...

They have very interesting statues at the centre of the compound

A sneak peek into their recording room:

3. Corners of Seoul

A quarter of Bukchon Hanok village
KTX

KTX stands for Korea Train Express, the metro system of the country. I was very amazed by the subway, as their compartments have wifi, heated seats and monitors showing the estimated time to next station. Apart from the long waiting time, it is an impressive subway system.

Station can get very crowded at times

Some stations are the intersections of 3 lines, so it was troublesome to navigate around those. Nonetheless, KTX is apparently than NYC metro

Architecture

Seoul is the world 4th largest metropolis, and it is packed with modern high-rises

An intersection at Noryangjin

Most high rise has glass exterior, with some even have mega-large LCD screen outside to show advertisement. Some building has elegant curves at the front despite their rigid glass exterior, and it adds more flavor to the usual high-rise landscape.

Gwanghwamun Square - the center of Seoul
Digital Media City Station - concentration of broadcasting Corps.

There are neighborhoods in Seoul that still stick to the age-old low, densely-packed buildings

A neighborhood at Bukchon Hanok
A quarter of Hongdae, where both low and high rise mix together
Market place

As the modern capital of Korea, Seoul is full of supermarkets. Yet, it still retains one of the traditional fish markets at Noryangjin.

Strolling around the Noryangjin Old fisheries was a wet and slick experience. It was not as dirty and messy as the old Noryangjin quarter, but the atmosphere - all the noise in different languages to bargain for lower prices, the fishy smell of the sea and the chopping, slicing of fish on chopping board - is still pretty much there. Perhaps the fishmonger make Noryangjin what it is, not much of a location.

Getting some fresh baby octopus
Fresh from the sea
Bargaining for a king crab

After getting the fish, I got them prepared in one of the second floor restaurant, with reasonable price. And quite surprising I talked and ordered in Chinese rather than Korean.

Korean meal is not Korean without alcohols - so all restaurants offer soju and maekju for diners
Street food

Seoul is also famous for her tasty street food too. Usually the stall-holder would only open when the night falls. The food came at very cheap price except for the meat skewers. And they are very delicious, much better than Korean snacks sold overseas.

tteokbokki (rice cake), o-deng (fish cake), hot dog, sundae (blood sausage), meat skewer (upper right) - you name them
Cafes

One of Seoul well-known aspect is her boutique cafes. There are numerous cafes in Seoul, each has their own unique and quirky themes. I opted for a mainstream Dog Cafe in Hongdae, yet the experience was amazing.

WoOf WOof

The place is called BauHouse, and they have a big family of doggies, coming with various sizes and all with an extreme liking for treats. The dogs will rush to you for treats and won't care if they drop tons of saliva on your laps or not.

Some know dog tricks as well

It was very fun playing with the dogs there, and I definitely would visit again.

They don't actually care about manner

A look into Seoulite's life

Much like any other metropolitan cities, Seoul is a bustling capital filled with high-rise buildings and heavy traffic. Still, the Seoul's vibrancy is like no others; attractive in its own way.

Seoulite has an outstanding ability to withstand the cold ( the temperature is actually withstandable, but it is the Siberian winds blowing down from Russia that make me freezing). Most Seoullite does not usually wear caps or gloves, and they do not even wear fur boots - what I saw, was sport shoes on snow. The Korean grandma at the guesthouse I stayed in told me that growing up in such harsh condition has made people feel ok with such temperature, but to tourist it might be too cold.

sometimes people wear scarf

I seldom saw Korean wearing scarf, but when I did most of the time it is the little kids who does.

Elderly in Korea has unparalleled respect from underlings. They are the one who deserve the seats on subway, got soju served when at a table, and never ever got talked back to or interrupted when THEY are talking (and they despises having their photos taken - a word of cautions for photographers). Filial piety has become, perhaps, an inherent part of Korean life and culture, and in many other Asian countries as well.

It was a particularly cold day so some people put on their warmer clothes

The elderly in Korea does not stay at home and enjoy their remaining years. Rather they work, and work hard at many different jobs.

Another thing I observed is that Seoul, despite her hustle and bustle, is a very orderly city. I visited Seoul in a rather politically sensitive period, where people were protesting against the President. There was a protest held on the Christmas Eve, but absolutely no violent movement. Partly because of the police force of Seoul.

There was an incredible amount of police deployed on the street on Christmas Eve.

This is only for one lane

They were equipped with riot shields as well.

And there is no joke about what they can do.

They are absolutely serious

Still, most citizens are unfazed. Life goes on as normal.

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"Traveling - it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller" - Ibn Battuta

Created By
Hoang Viet
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Otherwise stated all photos are taken by me

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