Seoul: The City That May Surprise You
I'm standing at the viewpoint of Namsan Tower, the second highest vantage in the whole of Seoul. The trees are barren, the grass is orange, and it's chilly, but fresh and clear. Before me spreads a metropolis so large, I can't even see where it ends.
When people discuss travel in the Far East, and cities in particular, most of the time it's Tokyo that crops up as a must-see. Of course, I can vouch for that. Tokyo stands as possibly my favorite place on the planet, and certainly somewhere you should go for a truly memorable trip.
However, 1,000km back West, is another sprawling city that's filled to the brim with intriguing locales, fantastic food, and historical sites that still stand the test of time.
Dare I say, it may even be underrated.
For me, Seoul was an unexpected gem. When I first went to Japan, it was a lifelong dream realized, a moment in time that had been built up to and researched in detail for years. When it came to South Korea though, I went in with little knowledge of what I'd find, besides the obvious popular staples of K-pop and drama shows.
What I sought was to really see what it was like, in reality. Besides the polished glitz and glam of Hallyu, what was this country at heart? I wanted to immerse myself in the rich history of the Joseon Dynasty, to try foods I never would have thought of, to see sights that only locales really knew about.
Spending three years in this city has shown me just how special Seoul really is, and often in the most simple of ways. It's easy to get caught up in more popular tourism here, the grand palace gate at Gwanghwamun, the winding Bukchon Village roads with their countless Hanbok rental stores, the shopping sprees in Gangnam.
My fondest memories of Seoul though, are of those special little moments. Finding myself writing fiction at a small, independent coffee shop in the residential district of Bangwha, where the owner was wonderfully kind, and made the best croque monsieur I've ever had. Sitting by the Cheonggyecheon Stream in the glow of lanterns made for Buddha's Birthday, eating fried chicken at 3AM with my friends. Making a cherry blossom candle for spring at a traditional workshop, labeling it with the words: "반짝반짝 작은별" ("Twinkle Twinkle Little Star").
Seoul is massive. Even after spending so much time here, I'm still finding so many new things to discover. Yet for me, it's these tiny moments that stand out the most. The kindness of the local people I've met, that exciting feeling of finding something you never expected down one of the city's countless winding side roads.
It's a place worth coming to.
Seoul may surprise you.