The latter half of my trip to Seoul was spent in Myeongdong – with our team staying in a part of the city that was apparently ‘one of the most popular shopping and restaurant districts’. Often, you find that these kinds of places aren’t all they are cracked up to be – but in this case I was glad to discover that the opposite was true. Our hotel was within walking distance of a number of different, diverse areas – all of which were well worth exploring in of their own right.
Running through the centre of this area is Cheonggyecheon – a seven mile long stream which had been covered up for decades by a major (and congested) expressway. When it came time to undertake maintenence on the road, the Government decided to rip the thing out entirely, which was no small task. The site became a natural artery for the city, and since opening in 2005 has brought a raft of tangible benefits. It’s a pretty amazing story, and goes to show that even the most baked-in parts of urban infrastructure can be re-thought and improved if there’s the commitment to do so.
The blend of traditional and ultra modern – the shiny and organised juxtaposed with the chaotic is something that I really liked about Seoul.
Our hotel below had this odd character outside, which appeared to be giving the middle finger to the rest of the city. I respect that.
There are so many specialist shops and traders around, that it made me reflect again on just how rare finding these kind of places is now in the West. Everything has to be generalised in order to be commercially viable. Why is that? One of my favourite finds was Makercity Sewoon, that had a pile of tiny businesses inside, selling everything from old digital cameras to high-end tube amplifiers… and even a shop which just stocked knobs. How cool.
The indoor markets were as impressive as I’d been led to believe – a vibrant explosion of sights and smells. Amongst the various traders of spices, kimchi, and clothing, people perched on stools, eating all sorts of delicious (and sometimes frightening) things.
The outdoor street markets were cool as well, albeit in a bit of a different way. The main one in Myeongdong felt a bit more tourist oriented, with various foods on sticks.
Whilst Seoul is fun during the day, it really comes alive at night. My kind of place.
The main streets in Seoul are often fairly non-descript, with tall modern buildings and chains everywhere. The real magic is to be found in the back alleys, where you can find a warren of amazing places that aren’t visible from the surface. Hidden bars up dark stairwells and behind unmarked doors. It’s a place that rewards curiousity.