Tran Hong Ngoc
From ancient palaces to a giant seafood market, Seoul has so much to offer
If you asked me which city I like best in Asia, I would not hesitate to choose Seoul. To me, Seoul is very dynamic and full of life. With a modern transportation system, four seasons, a picturesque spring and autumn, and hospitable people, Seoul is one of Asia’s top tourist destinations.
While most visitors to Seoul are familiar with Myeondong, Namsan Tower, Hanok Bukchon ancient village, Nami Island, and Changdeokgung Palace, Seoul conceals many more splendors waiting to be discovered.
Bukhansan National Park
Along with high-rise buildings and crowded shopping centers, Seoul also harbors majestic green spaces. If you want to take in the entirety of Seoul from above or go hiking and enjoy some beautiful nature, Bukhansan National Park is ideal. Located in the north of the capital, Bukhansan occupies a large area of forests and mountains, with towering limestone mountains and rich flora and fauna. You can reach the foot of the mountain by car, taxi, subway, or bus and start your day exploring the tallest peak in Seoul.
The scenery in Bukhansan changes with the seasons. It is most beautiful in the spring (April to May) as the foliage buds, and in the autumn (November) when the whole mountain turns brilliant shades of red and yellow. The walking trail is relatively easy and has a safety handrail. Despite many steep slopes, each challenging section rewards hikers with gorgeous views. Amid the majestic mountains and forests are glimpses of ancient temples and small gurgling streams that make this park even more poetic. The oldest monument in Bukhansan is Bukhansanseong Fortress. First built to resist foreign invasion in the second century under the Baekje Dynasty, it has suffered major damage and been restored to its present form.
Upon visiting Bukhansan will you understand why this place attracts up to five million visitors every year.
Deoksugung is the smallest of the five famous palaces of Seoul, with the other four being Gyeongbok, Changdeok, Gyeonghee, and Changgyeong. As the last palace of the Joseon Dynasty, it was built in the 15th century and used as the royal residence until the end of the 19th century. Although only a third of the palace structures remain today, buildings of significance, as well as small gardens and ponds, remain intact.
This place has witnessed many ups and downs during Korea’s history: Queen Inmu’s imprisonment, King Injo’s coronation, and King Gojong’s ascension to the throne after more than 200 years of vacancy. Of the five palaces, Deoksugung is the most unique thanks to its mix of traditional and Western architecture. Surrounding the palace are tall buildings. Among the ancient palaces, you will spot the Seokjojeon building with modern architecture, fountains, flower gardens, and the National Art Museum of Korea. Deoksugung’s beauty peaks in the autumn when rows of ginkgo and maple trees form a spectacular tableau of yellow dotted with red, purple, and green hues, transforming the whole palace into a colorful painting. As autumn approaches, nearby Jeongdong-gil Road becomes one of the most romantic and poetic spots in Korea.
Every day except Monday there is an exciting royal guard-changing ceremony in Deoksugung. You will see many people in traditional Korean dress performing solemn rituals at the front gate.
Noryangjin Fish Market
If you have enjoyed grilled meat, mixed rice, rice rolls, and kimchi in Seoul but want a change, Noryangjin Fish Market is Korea’s seafood paradise. Noryangjin is the first and largest wholesale fish market in Seoul, with hundreds of shops that attract 30,000 visitors a day. All the seafood found across Korea is gathered here, including sea cucumbers, abalone, sea urchins, oysters, snails, Alaskan crabs, king crabs, octopus, and fish and shrimp of all kinds. The market is open 24/7 and has a solid roof, so it is no trouble if you want to try sannakji (raw octopus) with soju at 2 am on a rainy night. Speaking Korean is not required as you can choose and complete your orders by computer. After that, the shop’s owner will process your order on the spot if you wish to eat the food raw. If you prefer it cooked, you just need to bring your seafood to the restaurants on the second floor. Seating and processing costs are charged separately per kilogram of seafood. Here, you simply cannot miss sannakji with mustard, spider crab, abalone, king crab, and rice mixed with crab-roe. Don’t forget to order some soju with your food as well. You can also mix soju with beer to create a cocktail called somaek, which will stimulate your taste buds and make the seafood dishes even more delicious.