Last time I wrote about my experiences with the dark side of Seoul. This time I will pick up where I left off to share some my more inspirational experiences in South Korea’s capital, especially within the scenic Bukchon Hanok Village 북촌한옥마을 (Hanja: 北村韓屋마을).
Today the weather changed. Rain has given way to light snow, strong winds, and subarctic temperatures. Gusts of up to 60 km/h have rattled windows and knocked over street furniture. After drying my shoes from the previous night’s misadventures I left my hostel for Insadong, intent on grabbing a hearty breakfast, but as the minutes began to drag I only allowed myself time to grab one of those delicious mung bean pancakes and a coffee. I didn’t know it at the time but I was bound for one of the darker parts of Seoul.
Gyeongbokgung 경복궁 (Hanja: 景福宮) is a historic site in downtown Seoul, the site of an opulent palace built by the Joseon Dynasty. Few, if any, of the structures in the photographs below are original; the palace was more or less razed by the Japanese occupiers in the colonial period or during the Korean War. Nowadays it is a major tourist attraction and a curiously contrived window into traditional Korea.
These images were captured in the Jongno-gu of Seoul, mainly in Insadong, an upscale, artsy neighbourhood, and along Cheonggyecheon Stream.
Seodaemun Prison (Hangul: 서대문형무소) is not a happy place but my visit there was a tremendously educational experience. It housed thousands of political prisoners over the course of most of the 20th century—many of whom lost their lives here, either through neglect, overwork (it was also a forced labour camp), or by way of the “body removal tunnel”. A memorial to many of Seodaemun’s victims can be seen in the photos below.
Monday, my third day in Seoul, was a series of accidental misadventures and surprise insights. Despite the intensive scheduling of the previous day, much of what transpired was entirely unplanned. I woke up late and went to cash a bunch of traveller’s cheques that I had originally purchased for emergency use in India. It seemed like a simple enough task but it was anything but. I visited nearby Woori Bank where I was told to wait for a teller in the business section. I languished in a chair for a half hour with only a single person in front of me, a woman. The customers already being served by the tellers were taking their sweet time for no reason that I could discern. I waited patiently, not knowing what to make of it.
My time in Seoul has been far more hospitable thanks to the assistance of a family friend, Ellen, who teaches English here. I am extremely grateful that we met in this distant land. It is one thing to have a local guide to show you around and another thing entirely to have someone from your own culture who really understands your motivations for travel. It isn’t simply that we communicate well, though we do—she also gets my travelling style in a way that most people wouldn’t, not without a great deal of explanation.
Here is a collection of various photos I shot in and around Seoul. Most of these images were captured in the Seoul underground or Jongno-gu alleyways.
Seoul is a fantastic change of scenery after the many challenges of Thailand. My experience here in South Korea has been fantastic from the very moment I stepped off the plane. The airport is extremely well-organized and connected to downtown Seoul by rail. I spent all of $3 to get downtown and transferred to the appropriate subway line to reach my hostel without mishap.