Last year in February, I finally went on a trip to South Korea. As a modest-sized nation between two larger powers (China and Japan) but punching way above its weight economically, technologically and culturally, South Korea deserves a lot of admiration. I only visited Seoul for a few days which I squeezed out of a week off going back to Taiwan from Beijing. It was short but enough to appreciate how modern and attractive the city was.
I visited the history and military museums, the DMZ (the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea), Gyeonbokgung palace, the contemporary art museum, and Myeong-dong, the well-known shopping area. The city had a good mix of ultra-modern sights and historic buildings like the royal palaces, but the main indicator of how nice a city is its regular buildings, and I found Seoul’s to be rather attractive, especially compared to Taipei.
To be honest, I found Seoul to be more modern than I’d expected and almost as interesting as Tokyo. Many Taiwanese consider South Korea to be a rival in economic and sporting terms (while South Korea considers Japan its rival), but looking at Seoul, I think Taiwan is in danger of falling so far behind that there is no competition.
The only drawback to Seoul was that the air was hazy while I was there, very likely courtesy of China. I also wrote about Seoul for the Chinese paper I worked for in this travel feature story.
I stayed in Dongdaemun, a well-known shopping and fashion district filled with department stores. It also has the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a $451-million-marvel designed by Zaha Hadid that looks like a giant grey spaceship. I can’t say I think any one building is worth that much money to build, but it was definitely a very unique building. It wasn’t open yet when I was there – it opened one month later in March.
Dongdaemun means “Great East Gate,” because it features one of the two remaining gates of the old city walls that encircled the capital in the past. The more famous Namdaemun (Great South Gate) was severely damaged by fire in 2008 but restored by 2013.
Not yet ready for the public
The actual “Dongdaemun”
Church in Dongdaemun that looks like a giant clump of clay
Myeong-dong, a shopping mecca, especially for Chinese tourists.
Myeong-dong does have non-shopping attractions like this Catholic cathedral, built in 1898. The country is heavily Christian, unique for Asia.