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.
Ingwansan Mountain, February 2015. One of the many highlights of my week in Seoul was an invigorating hike up Ingwangsan, a 338-meter mountain with a handful of impressive granite peaks. There are several routes one can take up to the top, but my hike followed The Mountain Road Route, a stone path that runs alongside a snaking section of the city’s old fortress walls.
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; 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 us on the region’s history. Signing a declaration that basically said the USO could not be held responsible for any deaths during the tour (seriously!), 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.
Cheonggyecheon, February 2015. I was approaching the end of my second stint in Beijing when another Chinese New Year vacation rolled around. Two glorious weeks off and I could go anywhere I wanted. I weighed up a trip to Japan, but the associated costs seemed exorbitant. Then my buddy Anthony pretty much insisted I went to Seoul, the beloved city he’d called home for six years. In fact, so enthusiastic was Anthony that he got in touch with a bunch of his old pals to make sure I got the most out of my experience. Their hospitality was astounding. I stayed with Irish Andy, who put me up in the spare room of his apartment. Then there was Jacob, Brandon and Connect, who spent a full day showing me around. This shot was taken at Cheonggyecheon, an eight and a half kilometre stream that runs through the heart of the city. A quirky, tranquil escape from the chaotic buzz of central Seoul, Cheonggyecheon opened in 2005 and cost a staggering 386 billion won ($281 million).