From Filipino Heroes to Free Tours: 48 Hours in Seoul
Today, Seoul has captured the attention of the world with its tech innovations, dreamy Koreanovelas and catchy K-Pop Music. But there's more to the South's capital than the entertainment it brings to the world. The city has a rich history—both ancient and modern—that deserves to be discovered all on its own. Here's what to do if you’re a history buff, a military geek, or just a curious George and only have 48 hours in Seoul.
10:00 a.m. Changing of the Guards
Begin your trip with a visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace, Korea's former seat of power. In this place, you'll get to understand what wealth and power must have meant and looked like in the old days. Originally built in 1300s, the current palace isn't entirely historically authentic—having had to be rebuilt over the years—but it is faithful to Korea's traditonal architecture. Take in the immensity of the grounds and witness the Korean version of the Changing of the Guards. The show starts on the hour from 10:00 a.m. You can also join a free English tour that lasts for about an hour and a half.
12:00 p.m. Presidential Lunch
While still in the subject of power, why not have a traditional Jorean meal at a place frequented by one of the country's past presidents? Have your mid-day meal of Samgyetang or Ginseng Chicken Soup at Tosokchon Samgyetang which is about a 10 minute walk from the Palace. If President Roh Moo-hyun has given this place his own stamp of approval, then it must be good! If you get there earlier, you might get ahead of the long lunch queues but if not, don't fret. It moves rather quickly, mainly because of the restaurant's 420 seats.
1:30 p.m. Hanok Houses
Walk back in time through Seoul's Bukchon Hanok Village. This neighborhood set in the hills features traditional Korean houses, called "hanok," and offers a peek into traditional Korean culture. Historically, the upper crust of Korean society lived here—not surprising as it is near Gyeongbokgung Palace—and some parts are about 600 years old. People still do live in this part of town, so keep the noise level down while strolling along its streets. Grab a free map from the central tourism office where the best vantage points are marked. If you're up to it, walk for about fifteen minutes from the palace to get to the village. If not, take the Subway Line 3 and alight at Anguk Station. It's still a few hundred meters away, but the walk is worth it.
3:00 p.m. Filipino Heroes
To understand a bit of South Korea's troubled history—and get a background for your day tour the next day—a visit to the War Memorial of Korea is a must. More than a memorial, it has a museum that depicts Korea's military history. During its most famous conflict, The Korean War, a lot of countries got involved including the Philippines. Pay your respects to the Filipinos who fought for Korea. The names of the fallen are engraved in plaques alongside the ones from other foreign countries. Some South Koreans—most of which are the old ones—still do show their great appreciation for our participation in the war. Perhaps, you should, too. Take Subway Line 4 and alight at Samgakji Station.
7:00 p.m. Korean Barbecue
Carrying on with the military mood, head to Itaewon for dinner and after-dinner drinks. Close to the US Army Base, the area is full of international restaurants, clubs, and bars. But if you still want some Korean grub, choose Maple Tree House for arguably the best Korean BBQ in the area. It's a bit on the pricey side but its superb ingredients makes it totally worth every Korean won you spend.
8:00 a.m. South of the Border
Start the day early as you head to the 38th Parallel North, or the border between North and South Korea. When you arrive, don't be fooled by the tranquil surroundings. This 8-kilometer area between the two Koreas has been purported to be the deadliest border in the world today. After all, they are still technically at war with each other. There are two types of tours around the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)—the Morning DMZ Tour and the DMZ-JSA Tour. Better to book the latter. The Morning DMZ Tour itinerary usually includes the third infiltration tunnel—said to have been dug by the North to get to the South, Dorasan Observatory, and Imjingak Park which features the Peace Ribbons. After which, you then you head back to the City. The DMZ-JSA Tour includes the previous places as well as lunch, Joint Security Area, Freedom House, and the famous Military Armistice Comission Building. You'll need to book ahead due to security reasons.
7:00 p.m. College Life
Your head must be hurting a bit right now with the information overload or due to the enormous tension. So why not head to Hongdae to be with university students and soak in their youthful energy? More popularly known as the Hongik University area, it is rather popular for its indie music scene, unique cafes, and wide variety of shops. This is also the place to try Korean street food as they are more reasonably priced than the more popular shopping districts in the city. Take Subway Line 2 and alight at Hongik University Station.
6:00 a.m. Morning Hike
Before breakfast, head out of the door to the top of Maebongsan Park in Jung-gu for a glorious sunrise and panoramic view of the city of Seoul. From this vantage point, take in the urban jungle which Seoul has become and get an idea on which direction this city is heading. To get there, take the Subway Line 6 to Beotigogae Station and walk out Exit 3. It's about a 12-minute walk to the Maebongsan Park entrance so give yourself enough time for the walk and then the climb.