Large skyscrapers extend over solemn temples in Seoul, South Korea, a regal painting of the eastern culture mixed with fast-paced progress. As you walk through this flourishing hubbub to find your calm, here are the places to go and see.
Dynamic Seoul is aglow with sights and sounds 24-7. In the day, finely dressed people pervade the metropolis, each heading towards making their ambitions come true. Buses zoom. Cars honk. Billboards scream with colours. At night, the district shines with bright neon lights and the streets resound with funky, pop music the locals liked. Even the small alleys echo the barking of the community's pet dog, or the hollers of the lively ajumma trying to sell you their goods. The world loved it for its noise, but when you want to break away from the hustle, here are the places you should go.
In Ttukseom-ro, Seongdong-gu is the Seoul Forest, what the locals dub as their very own Hyde Park. During fall season, the place explodes with the bright colours of the earth: red, yellows and oranges, with leaves beautifully scattered on the ground, making it a picturesque sanctuary. It contains five distinctive parks where you can stroll according to your taste; the Ecological forest, for example, is where you can personally feed deer and discover other wildlife; the Nature Study Field is surrounded with flower gardens, and the Hangang River waterside park allows you to enjoy Seoul's noble landmark by biking. Take the route along Cheonho Bridge for a breather.
If you are an ardent naturalist, there's a bounty of scenic walking trails you can explore as you head to Mount Namsan. One spot you need to visit: Namsan Arboretum. With more than 10 botanical gardens giving you a lavish view of apricot trees, wildflowers and royal azaleas, you can enjoy South Korea's natural landscape in the offbeat roads.
For a piece of history, visit the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the largest of all fortresses built by the noble Joseon dynasty. Lodged in the north of Seoul, the palace houses the National Museum of Korea, as well as the folk museum which gives you a chance to try on the local clothing.
Set near the royal mausoleum, Bongeunsa Temple in Samsung-dong is a beautiful contrast against South Korea’s cityscape. From the lines of the architecture to the view of the monks guarding it, one can only rediscover the joy of stillness. If you are staying until the 9th of September, you can see Jeongdaebulsa, a Buddhist ceremony where monks carry scriptures on their heads and recite their rites. Join the festivities or relish in the chanting of the monks as you regain your calm.
Theme park lovers will enjoy Petite France, derived from the much-loved storybook Le Petit Prince. The village, found in Gyeonggi-Do – about an hour away from the capital – is a tribute to Saint Exupery. Near to it is the oldest private garden in Seoul, the Garden of Morning Calm, where a large variety of flowers bloom all year round. While you're here, drop by Paju Book City for the Forest of Wisdom, where bookshelves tower above 8 meters and cover about 3.1 kilometres. That's more than half-a-million books donated for you to read and enjoy.
As you rediscover Seoul in a new light, you can head back to your hotel with a clearer headspace, with more room for inspiration. While the city still dances to the energetic tunes of K-Pop, slip into your silky pyjamas, and sing to yourself a new lullaby as you lay down to sleep.