Let South Korea’s cosmopolitan capital take you on a thrilling ride
Korean film Parasite’s recent Oscar win at the Academy Awards 2020 is just another example of the Korean Wave that has been impossible to ignore since the turn of the millennium. From the moment H.O.T, My Sassy Girl and Winter Sonata captured the hearts of millions of Asians in the early 2000s, Korean trends have now become a phenomenon around the world. This surge in popularity of all things Korean, from fashion and film to music and cuisine, sparked by K-pop and K-dramas, has led to Seoul, the capital of South Korea becoming a dream destination for millions of visitors every year to experience the Hanryu charm first-hand.
The best urban experience is on foot, and Seoul is great for that. Outside of summer, Seoul is cosy, with temperatures of around 16 degrees Celcius – perfect for walking and some fresh air. Having a great subway system makes that even easier. The Seoul Metropolitan Subway (Metro) is efficient, cheap, and is perfect for experiencing the city (especially with the KakaoMetro app).
You can start your Seoul searching experience by going on Subway Line 2 (Green). The true attraction of this line is its youthfulness as it connects to a number of university and college neighbourhoods, with one to visit being Hongdae. Deemed one of the world’s coolest neighbourhoods in 2016 by a prominent American business magazine, it is known for its indie and urban arts scene. Like Tokyo’s Harajuku, but arguably cooler, its streets are filled with an eclectic range of art and music venues, vintage and independent clothing shops, cafes and restaurants. One thing that you cannot miss is the Hongdae NANTA Theatre - Seoul’s answer to the famous Blue Man Group. The performance relies entirely on the dramatic expressions and movements of their actors that make you laugh so hard until you cry.
Feel the Hongdae buzz at Hongik University Street as you shop for souvenirs or by checking out beautiful local art at Picasso Street. At night, chill out at Hongdae Dance Street to catch live busking performances from singer-songwriters, bands and dancers. Many have gotten their big breaks by performing here, either by going viral or being spotted by talent agencies.
Meanwhile, good food is never in short supply at Hongdae. Try the delicious chicken tikka at Aangan (a popular Indian restaurant) or get a taste of supreme Korean fried chicken at Kyochon Chicken. Once dinner is done, wind down with some of the best indie music at Club FF, one of the city’s longest- running indie clubs.
The modern Metro can also take you back in time to explore Korea’s historical and cultural heritage. Just get onto Subway Line 3 (Orange) and get off at the Gyeongbokgung station to witness the majesty of Korea’s history, starting with the largest and grandest of Seoul’s Five Grand Palaces.
Gyeongbok Palace was the main royal palace of the Joseon period and was severely destroyed during the Japanese occupation. It has since been restored to its former splendour, housing the National Palace Museum and the National Folk Museum. Proceed along the Anguk and Jongno 3- ga stations to explore Korean traditional culture amidst centuries-old buildings and streets.
The Bukchon Hanok Village, a 600-year old village that has been well-preserved, is certainly a must- visit. Here, ladies can rent a hanbok (Korean traditional dress) to wear while shopping for antiques, artworks and crafts at Insa-dong.
After that, recharge your batteries with reasonably priced halal dishes at Halal Kitchen or go for cheap and tasty pizzas at The Pizza School before hopping back onto the Metro for your next discovery.
The Subway Line 6 (Brown) cuts through the city centre, and connects you to many urban hotspots for shopping, food, leisure and nightlife. The best way to experience all that at one place is by making your way to Itaewon. Known for its vibrant nightlife and international flair, the recent acclaimed K-drama series Itaewon Class has made the neighbourhood a global hit. Get some sightseeing in by hiking up the trail near Hangangjin station to witness a breathtaking view of the Namsan Tower standing tall over the city, before you go further to visit the Namsan Park, with the famous cherry blossoms in spring, and golden leaves in autumn. Finish the day by visiting Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art. Funded by the Samsung Foundation of Culture, this stunning museum is another great example of the old with the new - one section features traditional Korean crafts while another showcases contemporary art from all over the world.
Finding places to eat will never be a problem in Itaewon - it is filled with cuisine from all over the world. Just take your pick (we recommend anywhere around the Gyeongnidan-gil). Here is a trick for great food - take exit 9 at the Itaewon Station, turn left and walk straight past the traffic light until you reach a small alley. This is where all the cool cafes are!
Seoul was the capital of various Korean kingdoms in the past and is now a major site for modern architecture. It has five UNESCO World Heritage Sites and was the World Design Capital in 2010. Today, it is a centre of global contemporary culture as the birthplace of K-pop and the Korean Wave. This dynamic mix of historic, modern and contemporary that transcends time is the quintessential Seoul experience, and it is all just a Metro ride away in this ultra-modern, cosmopolitan city.
If you are planning to disembark at Incheon International Airport from KL International Airport (KLIA), you may travel with Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia X, Korean Air, or SriLankan Airlines. The choice is all yours!