Forget Tokyo. Design aficionados are now heading to Seoul. They have been drawn by the Korean capital’s glammed-up cafes and restaurants, immaculate art galleries and monumental fashion palaces like the sprawling outpost of Milan’s 10 Corso Como and the widely noted Ann Demeulemeester store - an avant-garde Chia Pet covered in vegetation. And now Seoul, under its design-obsessed mayor, Oh Se-hoon, is the 2010 World Design Capital. The title, bestowed by a prominent council of industrial designers, means a year’s worth of design parties, exhibitions, conferences and other revelries. Most are still being planned (go to wdc2010.seoul.go.kr for updates). A highlight will no doubt be the third annual Seoul Design Fair (Sept. 17 to Oct. 7), the city’s answer to the design weeks in Milan and New York, which last year drew 2.5 million people and featured a cavalcade of events under two enormous inflatable structures set up at the city’s Olympic stadium.
I've gone to Seoul quite a bit this year and it gets nicer and nicer every time I go. There's tons to see, do and eat and Seoul is such a fun city to roam around in and public transportation makes it so easy. I'll share with you some of the areas my cousins and I visited this time around.
It used to be an elevated freeway in the middle of the city, but five years ago they did a massive restoration project to create an urban, recreational space and to reestablish the running stream that had since dried out. My mom claims it was a major eyesore when the freeway was there, but now, it's a beautiful place to rest and relax in the middle of downtown Seoul. During the summer, it's packed with people cooling off, enjoying the cool breeze from the running stream. Even in the dead of winter, it was quite lovely.
Gyeongbokgung is an old royal palace situated right in the middle of modern Seoul. It was first built in 1394 during the Joseon Dynasty, later destroyed by the Japanese in the early 20th century and is still being restored to its original form. It's very historic and is a lovely oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city right outside its walls.
Kimchi Field Museum (Coex Mall)
The Kimchi Field Museum is a really small museum that explains the history of kimchi and shows plastic displays of different types of kimchi. Kind of cute, but it would be really cool if they had Korean grandmas making kimchi there. Wishful thinking, huh? It would be very informative to someone who is new to Korean cuisine though.
The area around Gangnam subway station has a lot of restaurants, bars and cafes and is known for its nightlife. It's also now known as the "U-street" not for its shape, but because it allows "ubiquitous" access to the Internet and media. What's up with Koreans using American words or terms to refer to certain areas in Seoul? (Why, oh why, would you want to have a "Rodeo" Street in Apgujeong? Sorry for the digression.) Do you see the tall white LCD display thing next to Baskin Robbins? That's one of 22 media poles showing various images and ads facing the road side. There are constant multimedia images being projected on it.
If you walk up to these poles, you will see that there are ads on the top and at eye level, they have these touch screen that allows people to search maps, read the news and check transportation information. No fret, you don't have to know Korean to use these media poles, you can read the information in English, Chinese and Japanese. You can even play video games (my cousin Allen will appreciate this feature) and can also send yourself an email postcard, yes, these media poles even take pictures of you. I didn't get to verify it, but apparently, these media poles also provide free wifi. They are working on teleportation features for next year. I kid, I kid.
Myeongdong is basically a shopping area, but there's tons of good eateries nearby. It's especially fun at night when street vendors come out in full force selling clothing, accessories and our favorite, street food. It's jammed pack at night and on the weekends.
Insadong is known for its antiques, artwork and Korean crafts. I love the pottery here. The district is known for its traditional Korean cuisine as well.
Hangang Park is a park right along the Han River where city dwellers can get some fresh air while walking, running or biking. They have basketball courts, soccer fields and several outdoor exercise equipment. For those that want to just enjoy the view, there are several restaurants and cafes set up along the river as well. During the summer, you'll even see some ferry boats and jet skiers. Here's a gorgeous sunset my mom and I saw one day while going on a walk.
I hope you enjoyed my recap of my Korea and Vietnam trip. I hope you guys get to visit Seoul for yourself soon along with the other 30 places to see in 2010.
Pete - guess which country is on the list?