Anyoung haseyo! We are going back to Korea for the 2nd post about my Korean strolls. After talking in the 1st post about the colorful, kawai and fun side of Korea, I’ll talk to you now about the technological, cultural and culinary side and don’t miss the video at the end.
Architecturally speaking the cities of Seould and Daegu are not very pretty. Seoul and its 10 millions of inhabitants is the 3rd megalopolis the most populous in the world after Tokyo and Mexico. The biggest Korean companies like Samsung, LG or Hyundai have their headquarters there. The standard of living is very high and its GDP is the 4th more important in the world for an urban area after Tokyo, NYC and Los Angeles which makes it one of the main economic centers in the world. At first sight, an occidental might be disappointed by the view of the town: office towers and skyscrapers as far as your eyes can see, not very exotic…
However, as soon as you enter the heart of the city, the atmosphere is really different from the one we are used to it Europe : lighted signs everywhere, loud music outside almost every shops, a big variety of street food, the city is bustling. Shops are open till late and a lot of restaurants are open 24 hour/7. The city releases an amazing energy!
Thankfully there are still places where the modernity and technology don’t appear like this area of Seoul which has kept its original appearance and has succeeded to keep alive traditions. Bukchon Hanok Village is composed of several hanoks (Korean traditional houses) transformed for some of them in inns and shops while preserving their typical Korean layout.
Strolling there is such a unique cultural immersion!
First of all I have found Koreans very kind and helpful. Even if most of them don’t speak English very well, they are always willing to help you with a smile. Like the image I had of the Japaneses, they are very respectful. For example to greet someone they bow their heads and when they give you something it’s always with 2 hands so if they give you something you also have to receive it with 2 hands.
Technology speaking they are a step ahead of us because Korea is one of the world leading connected countries! When I think that we are all happy with our 4G when they are already working on the 5G… Do you know that in a lot of restaurants you have a button on your table that you can push to call a waiter and if you want to take away they give you a wireless button buzzing as soon as your order is ready. I would love to see the faces of the waiters if it existed in Paris!
What I also found super fun are the “Super Toilets”, one of the most advanced types of toilets worldwide! “Hum I think she’s crazy.” Do you know a lot of toilets which have these features: blow dryer, seat heating, massage options, water jet adjustments, automatic lid opening, automatic flushing, wireless control panel, room heating and air conditioning for the room? Go-go gadget toilets!
And when my brother told me that to enter his dormitory he had to scan his hand to detect the pattern of his blood vessel, I couldn’t believe it!
Their metro is a living dream compared to the one we have in Paris! It’s so modern and clean that the game “you prefer” (ex : you prefer… licking the metro bar or licking the outdoor window?” wouldn’t be as fun as in Paris. You would do it almost easily in Korea! It is even more surprising that it’s one of the networks the most used in the world with 10 million of passengers! We should take it as an example.
In addition of being clean, it’s also very secure, there are flat screens every 7m and toilets in every stations as clean as 4 star hotels (normal toilets, not super toilets though). In the metro like everywhere in Korea, you have access to super-fast wifi which explains why everyone no matter the age, has their eyes fixed on their phones or tablets. We almost didn’t see anyone reading a newspaper or a book.
In the metro there are seats reserved for seniors, disabled or pregnant women which is so respected that nobody else dare to sit on them.
Korean wait for the metro in line like civilized people but when the doors open, they don’t hesitate to push you. Finally, when you go out the metro you can eat or shop directly in the station because there are endless shopping galleries!
The sense of security is ever-present, even outside the metro. Seoul is regarded as one of the most secure cities in the world. Thefts are very rare so shops don’t hesitate to display their goods outside the shops. As a good French girl, I remembered that I freaked out and run on my brother suitcase when he left it in the middle of the station to go to the toilets.
However, the safety belt usage is not very respected in Korea, this is why so many people made fun of my brother when he was looking to fasten his seatbelt in the cab.
From the tourism aspect, don’t worry there is a lot to visit between temples, palaces and museums.
War Memorial :
We loved a lot this museum which covers the Korean war history in a very ludic and interactive way. It’s one of the biggest museums in Korea so plan to stay at least half a day.
The royal tombs of the Joseon dynasty are 42 tombs spread over 18 different locations in Seoul and Region and 2 of them are today in North Korea. We visited the ones of Seolleung and Jeongneung which are in Seonjeongneung site, located in a green space in the middle of Seoul. The contrast with the skyscrapers in the back is striking!
The tombs are protected by hills in accordance with geomantic traditions which makes them even more fascinating and mystical.
We loved so much strolling in this lush forest and its calm paths, inspiring mystery and serenity, in the company of our kind guide. If you’re looking for a good guide don’t hesitate to contact him, he’s great, very kind and is a volunteer so he’s not doing this for money but only by passion (and he can sing Frères Jacques in French). Here is his email address : email@example.com.
Bongensa temple :
It’s a buddhist temple in the middle of Gangnam district (the song “Gangnam style” takes its origins from this place), one of the richest areas of the city. Bongeunsa temple is composed of twenty buildings, the main one is the center of religious life.
The statue you can see above is Mireukdaebul, the biggest Bouddha statue in Korea (23 meters high).
Changdeokgung palace :
There are 13 buildings and 28 pavilions in the garden extending over a surface of 45 hectares.
N Seoul Tower :
To have a wonderful view over the whole city don’t miss N Seoul Tower, a 230 meters high telecommunications tower.
Korean food is healthy; it’s mainly composed of rice, vegetables and any types of broths and spices. Don’t ask a Korean if it’s spicy, we don’t have the same level of tolerance, trust me! Koreans also love fried chicken which is less healthy.
Jjimdak : made with chicken, various vegetables marinated in Korean soy sauce
Sundubu : spicy tofu soup
Bibimbap : white rice topped with sautéed, seasoned vegetables, chili pepper paste, soy sauce, a fried egg and sliced meat + mandu : Korean dumplings
Contrary to what we might think, Koreans drink more coffee than tea.
Aside from that, Korea is relatively strongly Americanized, you can find a lot of fast food chains, even the ones you can only find in the US and there is a big variety of street food. I don’t know how Koreans remain so skinny!
We ate very well for 10 days but I have to admit that we couldn’t wait to eat French food again, our stomaches were not used to eat spicy every day and we missed our desserts (I like to finish my meal on a sweet note). What’s funny is that it exists several Korean boulangeries with French names like « Tous les jours », « Paris Croissant » or « Paris Baguette » (there is even one in Paris now).
I loved strolling in Seomun market in Daegu. Walking in a market is a good way to have an accurate idea on the culture of a country and of what people really eat, plus you can taste food.
Eating on the market is also a good idea because you can have a nice meal for very cheap!
I know, I told you I didn’t want to make a proper guide and annoy you with too many details, that I only wanted to share my impressions and after all… I made both! I’m sure I lost almost all of you along the way so congratulations to those of you who read me till the end!
To sum up I would say that I found that Korea is a fascinating mixture of history and modernity. It makes me want to visit the rest of Asia even more, especially Japan and Vietnam. What about you, did you already go to Asia or where do you want to travel?
In any event, I hope you had a nice trip and I will leave you with a little video I made to make you travel with me. I hope you will like it (click on the star wheel to watch it in HD).
Annyonghi kasayo !