Seoul Subway, February 2015. I’ve never really done a Top 5 like this before. Maybe it’s because I normally associate subway journeys with claustrophobia, stress, inconvenience and smelly armpits. But in Seoul all my experiences were a total breeze, from the wide, spotless ultra-modern carriages to the pleasingly icy air con and abundance of available seats. Sure, things got more hectic during rush hour, but still a piece of cake compared to the hell-on-earth ordeals of Beijing and London.
Changdeokgung Palace, February 2015. The UNESCO World Heritage listed complex of Changdeokgung is one of five grand palaces in the city of Seoul. If you’ve only got time for one, this is where you should head! Originally built in 1405, a number of Joseon Dynasty kings lived here over the years, chiefly due to the stunning beauty of its palace gardens. Today the palace can only be visited as part of a guided tour. And it all starts here at the main gate (Donhwamun).
Hanok Maeul, February 2015. One of my favorite things about travelling is when you rock up in a wildcard location you don’t know much about. An unknown quantity if you will, a place that’s somehow remained under-the-radar with international travellers despite having so much to offer. The Korean city of Jeonju, completely unknown to me prior to my trip, definitely falls into this category. As the capital of Jeollabuk-do province, Jeonju is famous for being the home of Bibimbap (a tasty rice, meat, egg and vegetable concoction). But the city’s major draw is its historical folk village and the hundreds of hanoks (traditional wooden homes) that line the sleepy streets. Hanok Maeul is Jeonju’s charming historical quarter and Koreans come here from all over the country to unwind and experience a simpler way of life.
Dorasan Train Station, February 2015. A visit to the Korean demilitarised zone is a fascinating experience for anyone with even a passing interest in the region’s tumultuous history. Basically a U.S. occupied buffer zone between North and South Korea, I was able to get a behind-the-scenes look with an organized tour, arranged through the USO (United Service Organisation) at Camp Kim Military Base. Departing from Seoul by bus, we were ushered into the territory through a series of security checkpoints before being dropped off at a theater where a short film awaited. Signing a declaration that stated the USO would not be held responsible for any deaths during the tour (!), we were then whisked away to the DMZ’s key points of interest. This restored train station, which once connected the two countries, now carries tourists four times a day from Seoul. It lies 205km from Pyongyang.