Seoul South Korea – the 2nd Most Expensive City
Being the world’s 2nd most expensive city, and the capital city of South Korea, Seoul has transformed itself into a major city from the 17th century Hermit Kingdom. River Hans passes through the city; the major port city of Incheon (toward the west) and some satellite cities are included in the Greater Seoul area. Eight mountains, with Namsan Mt. in the middle, surround the city.
One of the world’s most populated cities, Seoul still maintains a hidden history—palaces, pagodas, gardens, temples—though it is presently dominated by multi-lane highways and skyscrapers. It is a friendly, safe, and prosperous city with low crime rate; people are friendly, socializing, and hardworking.
About 600 years ago, Seoul was known as “Hanyang”. It has different districts with the central area called “Downtown Kangna” or “Gangnam”.
The international section is “Itaewon” with a very vibrant nightlife; it is designated as the Special Tourist Zone. Pubs, night clubs, Hooker Hill, and juice bars are of western style. These places remain open till dawn.
One of the city’s busiest marketplaces (open-air) is “Namdaemun”; another busy market is “Dongdaemun”. The younger generation loves the attraction of “Jamsil” and “Lotte World” (huge ice rink).
“Yeouido” (like New York’s Wall Street) is Seoul’s financial district.
It is quite difficult to find addresses in Seoul. There are literally to street signs and the numbers on the buildings are random; hence, public transportation is the only option. It is virtually useless to remember an address. So, instead of looking for a particular address and wasting time, best would be to ask a local to write the address in Korean language—Hangul. This is of tremendous help to the tourists, especially the ones visiting Seoul for the first time.
Presently, people from many foreign countries—India, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, and the Philippines—are residing in Seoul and earning an excellent living.
Though evidenced that people were living in this area (mostly around River Hans) from the Paleolithic Age, the “Amsa Prehistoric Site” in Amsa-dong, Gangdong-gu, dates back 3000 to 7000 years. Those days, the settlements had started moving towards inland from River Hans’ area.
Seoul’s history can be traced back to 18 BCE. Wiryseong was the capital city of the kingdom of Baekje, which developed from Mahan confederacy into one of Korea’s three kingdoms. From the remains of an earthen wall “Pungnap Toseong”, archaeologists believe that it was the main Wiryseong site. Evidence has also been found that “Mongchon Toseong”, another earthen wall, dates back to Baekjes.
The three Korean kingdoms competed against each other to take over the important region of the Korean Peninsula. In 392 ACE, the control passed to Goguryeo (from Baekje), and in 551 ACE, the control passed to Silla-Baekje (from Goguryeo). Then, Seoul was known as “Hanyang”.
After Silla-Baekje, came the Goryeo period; in 1104, “Southern Capital” (Namgyeong), a palace, was built by King Sukjong of this dynasty.
In 1394, came the Joseon Dynasty; the capital was first moved to Hanyang (now Seoul), and then to “Hanseong” (fortress city on River Hans). The gates of this city were Sungnyemun, Heunginjimun, Sukjeongmun, Changuimun, and Hyehwamun (still seen near the downtown district of Seoul).The 19th century Seoul opened the doors to non-Koreans, and modernization started in full swing—trolley cars, water, telegraph, telephone, electricity—because of trade links with the US and France.
Between 1910 and 1945, under Japan’s colonial rule, Seoul was called “Keijo”.
The city started being called “Seoul” after the liberation of Korea and after the Second World War. When the Korean War broke in 1950, Seoul changed hand four times between the North and the South Korean forces; as a result, by the time the war came to an end, Seoul was totally ruined.
Then began the reconstruction and modernization program for Seoul; industrialization of the 60s and 70s had tremendous impact on the city. Rapid economic growth and raised living standards followed, and with it came pollution, and high population.
Seoul has Subtropical and Continental types of climate. Hot and humid summers, and dry and cold winters rule the city. The average temperature in August is 85 °F, and that in January is 21 °F.
Seoul has four seasons of which the most comfortable are autumn and spring. Rains are experienced between June and September.
Places to Visit
Due to its historic importance, there are many interesting places to visit in Seoul:
- Lotte World: Already in the Guinness Book of World Records for its largest indoor theme park, and opened on July 12, 1989, it consists of “Magic Island”—an amusement park, an artificial island (inside a lake), shopping malls, luxury hotel, sports facilities, movie theaters, and monorail. One can visit Lotte World any time of the year. “Gyro Drop”, “Gyro Swing”, and “Flume Ride” are the famous amusement rides.
- Itaewon: Located near the main US Army base, and a neighborhood that is totally expat-friendly, it is the first “Special Tourist District” for the foreign nationals to enjoy shopping, entertainment, and culture diversity. Itaewon can be called “choc-a-block”—clubs, bars, restaurants, furniture, well-tailored dresses, pottery, and jewelry; everything is available here.
- Hongdae: Shops, clubs, clothing stalls, and vintage shops are the center of attraction for people who want to enjoy a youthful nightlife here. The famous prestigious school of leading arts and design programs, the Hongik University, is in its vicinity.
- Cheong Wa Dae: Meaning “pavilion of blue tiles”, it is the President of Republic of Korea’s official residence and executive office. Most famous in the President’s residence are the blue tiles and smooth roof blending magnificently with Bugaksan Mt. in the backdrop. Cheong Wa Dae has seven palaces, a main office, a guest house (Yeongbingwan), and spring and autumn pavilion (Chunchugwan), gree grass (Nokjiwon), and Rose of Sharon (Mugunghwa valley).
- Bukchon Hanok Village: With Changdeokgung to the east and Gyeongbokgung to the west, one can see the largest cluster of “hanoks” (traditional wooden homes), which are privately owned. The layouts, spatial aesthetics, and structural arrangements (also known as Hanok architecture) of the hanoks leave any tourist spellbound!
- Myeongdong: The most famous and primary fashion district, it also has variety dining options (mainly Western, Japanese, and Korean), restaurants, and fast food chains. Even famous Korean cosmetic brands—Laneige, Missha, Etude House, the Face Shop, Skin Food—are sold here.
- Insadong: The main area for Korean traditional culture and crafts—traditional clothings (hanboks), traditional teas, traditional papers, folk crafts, pottery—it is a place flocked by tourists. About hundred galleries, that houses painting and sculptures, adorn the area. Traditional performances take place every Sunday.
- Jongmyo Shrine: The oldest and authentic of the Confucian royal shrines preserved, this is where memorial services are performed for deceased kings. It is there in the present form since the 16th century though it was dedicated to the forefathers of 1392-1910 Joseon Dynasty. Even ritual ceremonies still take place. (It had started from the 14th century)
- Gyeongbokgung: Translating to “Palace of Shining Happiness”, it is also called “Northern Palace”. It is the grandest of five palaces; the other two are Eastern Palace (Changdeokgung) and Western Palace (Gyeongheegung). Between 1592 and 1598, when fire had destroyed the premises with its 7,700 rooms, all were restored by King Gojong under Heungseondaewongun’s leadership. Both the National Folk Museum and national Palace Museum are located here.
The other places of tourist interest are Dongdaemun, Changdeokgung, Everland, Namiseom Island, and N Seoul Tower.
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