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Source: Croatian Traveller
When you mention Korea to an average Croat, most of them will not only tell you they have heard of it, they will even claim they know it very well. But to be honest, is it really so? If you ask them to name a few towns, they will start with Seoul, and probably end there. The list of familiar things will probably include Hyundai, Daewoo, Kia and Samsung. Some will remember the Olympics and the Football World Cup. And that’s it. This is all just a proof that Korea is still unexplored among the Croats, very distant and rather mystical. Korea is, in a way, an unjustly neglected destination in the Far East, if we compare it to its nearest neighbors – pressured by the huge China on one hand and Japan on the other. This is a country of rich tradition, culture, natural beauties, delicious and healthy food, and Seoul is the crown jewel of this developed world economy, that can offers all travelers everything they desire, and much more.
They say that Seoul has a population of around 10 million. You should add another 10 million living in the greater city area, and that makes it the second metropolitan zone in the world, right behind Tokyo. Do you really need to ask whether a traveler from Croatia will feel bored in one such crowd? He might feel lost, but never bored. The situation is the same with other Asian destinations as well, but in Seoul the tourists will not use English language much. To prove your linguistic skills, Japanese is, apart from Korean, much more practical.
It is very likely that you will arrive to Seoul by air. You will arrive to the best airport in the world, the Incheon airport. It is very well connected to the city, and the trip lasts around 40 minutes. Subway is the best way to get around the city. However, payment can be rather confusing, so it is perhaps best to have a T-money card to which you deposit as much money you want, whenever you want. Apart from paying for subway with it, you can pay taxi, public phones, city buses and many other things. An additional benefit is that you won’t be baffled by the local banknotes with lots of zeros.
Just like many other states, Korea is also proud of its royal lines. You can see how the former independent rulers of this peninsula lived in five locations in the city. Gyeongbok-gung was the first palace of Joseon dynasty that ruled Korea in the 14th century. It hasn’t lost any of its popularity even today, because it is often used in numerous Korean historical dramas and movies. The complex also includes two museums worthy of visit. The second palace, Changdeok-gung, listed on UNESCO protected cultural monument list, is truly worth a visit to all those who want to know how to tell apart the Korean from all other architectures and arts of the Far East. The expert guide, without whom you cannot visit the complex (except on Thursdays) will also help you do that. Apart from self-education in the history of arts, a visit to this complex is also good for cardiovascular health, because you will have to walk some 3 kilometers.
Seoul also has sacral site that is a “must-see”. Since this is a country with a large number of Christians (who, by the way, make 55 percent of the total number of the faithful), there is a plenty of Christian places of worship, but it is much more desirable to see some of the important Buddhist locations. The Jongmyo Temple is dedicated to the royal line, and is one of the most popular in this megalopolis. In order to have a spiritual restoration it is also good to go to the Inwang hill, home to the famous Buddhist temple and a shaman shrine. The view of the city is worth all the effort and sweat spent climbing there.
It takes some time to visit the Namdaemun, the most valuable Korean national treasure. It’s the Great South Gate, the symbol of the city that is currently undergoing renovation, because a pyromaniac set it on fire a few years ago. Some people find it nice to pay a visit the Seodaemun jail, that was very much active during the Japanese occupation of Korea. The tower of N Seoul, that used to be the highest in Asia, offers the best view of the city. The Korean National Museum holds a very valuable collection of art, from the earliest history of this great culture.
The food in Seoul is cheap and delicious. Just like anywhere in Asia, it is based on rice, pasta and tofu. A traditional dish will be served with banchan, a bunch of various snacks that will accompany your order. To tell you the truth, these satellite dishes are enough for a satisfying meal. Famous kimchi, fermented vegetables in hot sauces, is an inevitable companion to all dishes. The Koreans like hot very much (this is a small warning who are not used to it). The Korean BBQ, where you grill delicious pieces of beef, pork or chicken at your table, is exceptional. It is very good to wash it down with soju, a local alcoholic beverage, or try a local beer like Hite or OB. With a little bit of bravery, or ignorance, you might even order Bositang. This exotic name hides some sort of stew that has a lot of meat and vegetables. The catch is that the meat is dog meat. Allegedly it is good for virility. Your author has no idea whether the phrase “horny like a dog” has anything to do with eating dog meat, but this was the only dish in a plethora of various bizarre dishes that I never wanted to try. Not because of the taste, but out of fear that I will never be able to look Moyra, my dog from the Noina Arka dog shelter, in the eyes ever again.
Shoppingholics will also be able to enjoy in their hedonism. Seoul has several districts where it is quite easy to spend money. Namadaemun is the biggest traditional street market and very popular among the tourists. The best time to visit it is the night. You go to Insa-dong to purchase artworks and more valuable souvenirs. Gadget geeks will definitely visit the Yongsan market, with around 5,000 stores. Those who like casual clothing will visit Myeongdong, but you need to visit Apguyeong for brand name fashion. Party goers will get their fill in Hongdae district. There are a lot of places where you can go out. Most of them won’t charge you for admission, but if they do, it is usually very cheap. Hip-hop, techno, trance, rock or jazz? No problem. Fun is guaranteed in all places.
The hotels in Seoul are far from cheap. They are one of the most expensive in all of Asia, but the offer is truly top notch. We recommend Sheraton Walker Hill, which also features a casino, something that is forbidden to the Koreans. A big selection of luxury hotels does not mean that there are no cheaper options. On the contrary, there are two zones intended for backpackers, as well as numerous hotels between these two extremes.
When you get tired of the city, why not go on a one-day excursion to one of the “most exotic” zones on this planet. That place is called Panmunjeom, and it features no grandiose fun, shopping till you drop or walking around Buddhist temples. It’s a place that the majority of population of this planet is the closest they will ever get to the People’s Republic of Korea. This was the location of the last battle in the Korean War, and this is where the peace treaty was signed, a tragic event that divided the country in two. Mine fields, barbed wire and military strictness are a normal occurrence here. There are organized tours to visit this place, but you have to announce it in advance, sometimes up to four days, and follow a strict protocol. What do you get in return? Mostly depression, but also a hope that some future generation will be speeding by the current demarcation signs in some future Korea, united and democratic.