Thursday, May 17, 2012

Once More to Seoul

A few weekends ago, I trekked back up to Seoul to catch up on some dancing and, more importantly, to meet up with and celebrate the early birthday of a dear Kiwi friend who was visiting on some academic diplomatic work. This gave me not only to opportunity to catch up and hang out, but to check out some new areas of Seoul. While I’d heard a great deal about Itaewon , or ‘the foreigner district’, I hadn’t yet had the chance to visit – and boy was it a shock when I did! Living in Gwangju, you don’t see that many ‘Waygook’s , or foreigners, around. I can sometimes go entire days (or even a week) without crossing paths with other foreigners (there are roughly 10 000 of us in a city of roughly 1.5million). In Itaewon, the population is so mixed that you may as well be in Toronto. While it is in many ways a wonderful feeling, it’s also very odd. Unsurprisingly, especially given the widespread perception of foreigners as party animals in Korea,  Itaewon is also one of the busiest night districts in Seoul (as well as one of the best places to by nearly authentic looking knock offs that will set you back almost as much as the real thing). It’s also a great place to chow down on some international food.  Sadly, so engrossed was I in meeting old friends, that I don’t have any pictures of the area. 

After catching our fill of the Itaewon area, it was time to check out the night life in Hongdae. Filled with time shops, eateries, winding streets, clubs and bars, this area of the city never seems to sleep – indeed, some of my friends recently watched the sunrise from a lovely roof-top bar, a not-exactly rare occurrence in the district. The area is great fun, but filled with a very university-age crowd.  While I greatly enjoyed myself, I’m told that at some point I’ll need to check out the more polished Gangnam area clubs.

After a lovely lie in, I decided to use the remainder of my Sunday morning to explore the central area of Seoul on foot while my friend attended meetings.  True to my usual techniques, I wound up walking all the way from Gyeonbuk palace, up Namsan Mountain and back. Here’s what I found along the way:

Changing of the Guard outside Deoksugung (Deoksu Palace).
 (1,000won entry, closed mondays, ceremony 11:00, 14:00 & 15:30 on open days)

A wonderful little find. Delicious homemade Filipino food served every Sunday by a husband and wife team to give the Filipino migrant workers a little taste of home. (5,000won for 2 dishes and rice, the tent is located just outside the NongHyup Bank across from Gate 8 into Namdaemun Market).

Namdaemoon (or South Gate) Market. Possibly one of my favourite places in the city, it's filled with delicious street food, crafts and clothing. Namdaemoon (or the Joseon (14th century) South Gate) itself is currently undergoing reconstruction.
Hiking up Namsan (South Montain) with a view of the Namsan Tower at the top. I, unfortunately, did not have time to make it all the way. Plan is to get up there and see the view at night one of these days.
A view into the City from the mountain.
Seoul's busiest intersection, with City Hall and Gyeongbuk to the North (ahead) and Deoksugung to the left.

Seoul Government Building, a perfect place to beat the heat.

And from the side.

Ganghwamun, or the Main Gate into Gyeongbukgung, with statue of King Sejong the Great, who designed Korea's 28-letter Hangeul alphabet back in the early 15th century.

Kids are adorable.

This just makes me happy. Statue is of Korean Hero Admiral Lee

Decorations for the Cheonggyecheon Festival and World Vision Fundraiser.

More decorations

Coin toss fundraiser.
Inside Deoksu Palace

More of the same.

Deoksu is special in that it contains a number of Western-style structures built in the 20th century.
This one houses an art museum.

The throne room.

And, finally, a view of the city from the Grand Hyatt, at which we attended the New Zealand Wine Festival.

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