Finding the colourful contrast in this cosmopolitan city.
Leave the tourist sights to experience a Seoul that will leave you intrigued. A city of contrasts, you’ll not only encounter century-old buildings shadowed by towering skyscrapers, but a lifestyle so full of tradition existing alongside a new generation bursting with energy.
Strangely enough, the best way to feel the city’s vibe firsthand is no other than the shopping areas. In places like Namdaemun Market, for example, you’ll be blown away by the seamless existence of the old and new. This round-the-clock market is essentially Seoul in a nutshell.
Narrow alleys create a labyrinth of retail wonder, where you’ll find vendors selling everything from seaweed to ginseng, medicinal herbs to mushrooms, including herbals teas and more. But, there’s also the other side of the market that sells anything from trendy clothes to hip accessories, displaying the youthful verve of Seoul’s new generation.
Seoul’s edgy new dynamics is also played out in the city’s green pockets. At Mount Namsan in the city centre, it’s becoming increasingly common to see locals hiking the trails on the weekends for a contemplative sojourn. Once a playground only for tourists who go up to the N Seoul Tower for a bird’s eye view of downtown, the peak — just 262 metres high — has become a delightful place to unwind. The foot trails that snake their way to the top of the mountain provide a stunning landscape of seasonal flowers.
Cherry blossoms and azaleas bloom in Spring, while the blazing and fiery colours of Autumn come alive in September. Both young and old take to the trails regardless of the weather, and you’ll also find office workers often detouring here on the way home, staying on for a picturesque twilight and the quiet calm that follows.
Perhaps the ultimate reflection of Seoul’s coming of age is in the folds of its gastronomy. Fusion Korean cuisine has become a staple, with creativity played out in such dishes bulgogi (marinated barbequed beef) with new age mashed potatoes or tweaking the dotorimuk (acorn jelly) with seasoned beef and salad. However, it is at Insa-dong that one can really appreciate the blend of east and west that helps Seoul embrace its future without compromising its heritage.
Here the alleyways are home to teahouses housed in a hanok, traditional Korean wooden houses. At Sin Yetchatjip (Sin Old Tea House), guests munch gangjeong (sweet rice crackers) and sip insam tea (ginseng tea) amid a luxurious garden. The Bird Flying Teashop is a quaint hideaway with birds flying around rooms dimly lit by paper lanterns filled with an eclectic mix of antiques and curios. The tea is amazing, ranging form medicinal to herbal, where each brew sees a colourful display of floating roots, flowers, herbs, leaves and seeds. Like the teas, it’s clear that Seoul’s success is not so much in it reinventing itself to impress, but re-telling its heritage through a story that will stand the test of time.