Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Five Better Places to Visit than the Wonder Girls Suggest

Update: I have been one-upped by Adeel, who has FOURTEEN places worth visiting in Seoul.

So..., the official government website, has been telling us about the Wonder Girls' efforts to promote Korean culture, and it's been one head scratcher after another.

Zenkimchi will tell you about with their efforts to promote Korean foods -- a list of one "yeah, alright" and four "you chose THAT as a signature Korean food?"
(the five Korean foods I'd promote: 1. Korean pears 2. Korean barbeque 3. dalk galbi 4. jjim dalk 5. makgeolli, dongdongju, and muju - the rice alcohols)

Now, they've recommended five places in Korea to visit. But the five places they suggested people visit are just... so... ON the beaten track, and so dreadfully predictable. Plus one clearly sponsored by Samsung. Which is representative of Korean culture, I suppose, seeing as the Samsung lobby's about two years from suggesting we change the name of the country to "Samsung Presents: The Republic of Korea (South)" So... if it's your first week in Korea, yeah. Go visit these five places. Woo hoo..
(source: google image search for 'unenthusiastic')

The suggestions: and maybe as penance for recommending apples last time, each location is paired with a food. And the food suggestions are much better than last time around.

  • North Seoul Tower. (everybody already goes there) and stir fried chicken (now we're talking)
  • Gyeongbokgung Palace in the fall (8 out of 10 Koreans will suggest this as the place you should visit, if you ask them for sightseeing recommendations. The other 2 are split between Seoul Tower and Insadong), and kalguksu (knife cut noodles, which vary from stunning to awful, depending on the place. Roboseyo recommends: Gwangjang Market, at Jongno 5-ga station, for a good one)
  • A spa (as with kalguksu, which one determines the experience... but yeah. The jimjilbang experience in Korea rocks), and gopchang gui, or grilled risk materials.
  • Sinsa-dong and Garosu-gil (basically, the Gyeongbokgung [obvious but dull first choice] of trendy Seoul) samgyetang, or chicken soup. And...
  • Samsung d'light Bold (WTF?) and ddeokbokki dalkburky tteokbooky darkbirdy topoki topokki... decent choice.
I don't have time to get into it too much, but other than the blatant Samsung thumping by a GOVERNMENT AGENCY, we have one good choice (spa) two dull old choices (Seoul Tower and Gyeongbok Palace) one dull new choice (Garosu - which would have been Samchungdong three years ago, and will be Buam dong two years from now).

So if it's your first month in Korea, go to those places. If you've been here more than a month, then even if you don't recognize those place names (it was all a blur to me for my first three months) trust me.. one of your new Korean friends has taken you there.

And here are my five places for you to go instead, and I'll follow the same rules: One touristy, one old, one relaxing, one trendy, and one sold to the highest bidder:

1. Touristy: The Andong Mask Dance festival, in particular, the fireworks show, which are like nothing you've seen in your life. Or the Bamboo Forest in Damyang, which has also been the filming location for lots of movies and dramas.

2. Old: Gilsang Temple, a twenty minute walk from Hansung University Station, also looks nice in the fall. It's smaller and much less crowded than Gyeongbok Palace, which will give you sore feet and crowd-stress. (map)

3. Relaxing: If the weather's bad, the Wonder Girls' suggestion of a jimjilbang is good. I recommend HanBang Land. If the weather's nice, go for either Hongje Stream - Hongje Station, head north - which leads all the way to World Cup Stadium Park, and is less built up and crowded than Cheonggyecheon, and goes through older neighborhoods, or Seongbukcheon (Seongbuk Stream) which also goes through older neighborhoods, is nicely done up as a park space, and is also less crowded than the Cheonggyecheon -- though it meets up with the Cheonggyecheon east of Dongdaemun, near the Sinseol-dong second-hand market, which is also a cool area to wander around. Get your hands on a bicycle to enjoy either of these places to the max.

4. Stylish/trendy: I've never been a fan of garosu gil. A friend keeps bringing me to places there that have very pretty design, but VERY underwhelming food. Ever since Samchungdong got TOO trendy, and became too expensive for the shops that made it cool to stay open there (and then started to suck when Kraze Burker and Dunkin Donuts moved in), many of the vanished eateries have relocated to Hyoja-dong, the area in and around Tongin Market. It's filling up with nifty bakeries and cafes and some of the best hand-drip coffee to be found. Go out Gyeongbokgung station exit 2 or 3, and get lost in the side streets.

5. Corporate Sell-out: this recommendation space is open to the highest bidder. Make me an offer in the comments and I'll plug your company's products, space, or whatever. Until then, as a place-holder, I'll recommend these two spots: Jongno 3-5-ga: Jongmyo Park - the park in front of Jongmyo Shrine (once it's finished redeveloping) is the best people-watching location in Seoul. It's where all the old folks go, drink soju, play baduk, sing karaoke, and do whatever they damn well please, and some of them wear shiny jackets. From there, it's a short walk to Jongno 5-ga, and Kwangjang Market, a covered market with a food area that has some of the best versions of the foods Korea's older generation loves (bindaeddeok, kalguksu, sundae, juk) to be found anywhere.  Or if you don't like the old stuff, Star City shopping center, near Konguk University Station (line 2 and 7), which is the nicest-looking of the new mega-shopping-centers Seoul has been building all over the city.


chiam said...

I do not recommend "old people park" at all. Have you walked through there with your wife? I don't know about you, but half way through, I was about sick and tired of old grumpy Korean men muttering "slut" under their breath at my wife.

Whitey said...

mRespectful request from a regular reader: Stop using "So ..." to begin posts. I've counted six posts so far that begin that way.

The use of "So..." to introduce a topic is a pet peeve of mine.

Whitey said...

Respectful request from a regular reader: Stop using "So ..." to begin posts. I've counted six posts so far that begin that way.

The use of "So..." to introduce a topic is a pet peeve of mine.

adamgn said...

What's wrong with Gyeongbokgung?! I don't generally like to follow the masses, but sometimes they're on to something. I can't imagine a friend coming to Korea and not taking them there.

It is just too important. It's too beautiful. It's too old.

Then throw in the history of Joseon, its destruction under Japanese colonialism, and its reconstruction.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

So whitey doesn't want me to start posts with "so"... but didnt' you hear? So is the new "the"


Nothing wrong with Gyeongbokgung per se -- it's just the xylophone/X-ray of Korea travel destinations. (that is, EVERY SINGLE ABC book for children seems to have "X is for Xylophone/X-ray" and never anything else )

DSW said...

So.... I'm going to start by saying that I also start all my blog posts and e-mails with this totally awesome introduction. It connects the writer and reader as best buddies, building closeness, and sounding wonderfully conversational.

But yeah, I agree with your assessment. The Wonder Girls have provided too predictable (and therefore uninteresting) a guide to the country that I will from now on be referring to as Samsung Presents: ROK.

Believe it or not, I liked a lot of what I saw in Korea... but only once I strayed away from the tourist hordes. My favourite places were on the eastern coast. The little fishing villages. Also, the mountains south of Daegu, particularly the area around Cheong-do.

But then again, I might not have liked them so much if the Wonder Girls had convinced everyone to go there, and Samsung had purchased the area and called it, Samsung Presents: The Mountains, Featuring LG Lake, Lotte Valley, and POSCO Fishing Port. Oh, wait...

wetcasements said...

I always thought the river park/walkway/bikeways on both sides of the Han River were some of the best parts of Seoul. When the weather is nice, there are plenty of parks and bike-rental places and basketball courts and such. In the winter, it's still appealing. And even at night it's fun, with the bridges all lit up.

People are never going to confuse Seoul with Paris, but it has a decent skyline which you can appreciate best from the south side of the river.

Also, best place in Korea is Haeinsa, hands down. Pity it's not easy to get to. (If you couldn't speak or read any Korean you'd have a hell of a time getting there, which is pretty ridonkulous for a UN heritage site.)

gordsellar said...

I've never been anyplace in Korea where the food was as consistently good as Jeonju, and could probably recommend enough restaurants for a long weekend's stay that would have people wishing they could stay there for a month. To the point where I long for it even now, six years after leaving.

And yeah, Haeinsa is cool. Was just, the other day, recommending the temple to a friend who is about to leave and wants to know what to do before he goes...