Seoul: The Big City

What started as just a plan to write three entries about Korea just dragged on too long. But here it is, the last one!

Is anyone surprised that the last one is Seoul? Of course it is.

To be honest, I don’t really like Seoul that much as a city. It doesn’t have a lot of super awesome sightseeing spots and for the most part it’s not that visually impressive either. As the biggest city in Korea it really does embody the spirit of Korean cities by being super big and grey.

The best thing about Korean palaces is that they’re colourful.

The main sightsee and touristy areas are colourful enough. The palaces are one of the go-to places for all tourists, and they’re nice to check out. Seoul has a bunch of palace buildings and I’ve been to most, if not all, of them, and for sure the best one is Gyeongbokgung, the palace pictured above.

It’s the biggest palace and as a result it’s the most grand. The one next to it, Changdeokgung is ok too. The palace garden they have in there is really awesome so I can really recommend that. Other than these two though, the other palacey or cultural things are not that.. exciting.

One of the issues I have with Korea, and which completely applies to Seoul as well, is that everything was destroyed so many times throughout history. Especially since the last time it was destroyed was only a lifetime ago so all the old things are just reconstructions and all the new things were built very fast.

For some reason this new overpass park has a Jacuzzi or something.

As a result, I honest feel Seoul is pretty boring from a pure sightseeing perspective. You hit up the palaces, maybe the tower and Dongdaemun as well. And then what?

There’s not too much more other that. Some random hikes, parks and other attractions sure, but nothing that really appeals to me.

On the other hand, since Seoul is the capital of Korea, and as a result literally everything revolves around Seoul. The entire country has a population of like 50 million people and a fifth of those people live in the Seoul area. As a result so many things just, happen in Seoul.

So much confetti.

99% of all of the events I ever care about in Korea happen in Seoul. Band I listen to coming to Korea? Performing in Seoul. StarCraft tournament happening? They’re playing in Seoul. Any other festival or whatever that people care about? Seoul.

This is great if you live in Seoul, but as a dude that doesn’t live in Seoul, it kinda sucks. I’ve made so many trips up to Seoul for a day or two just to check out some event or something that I don’t even want to think about how much money that has been.

But still, they’ve always been worth it.

Seoul is a fairly grey city.

Seoul isn’t a good place for sightseeing. But it’s a great place to have fun and just hang out with friends. Areas like Hongdae is always fun to just chill, grab some food, some drinks, and maybe even sing some karaoke.

Of course, all of Korea is like this in some way or another, but since Seoul is the biggest city, there’s always just, more stuff that can me done, more places to go, and more things to try.

The city is so big that there’s always something going on if you can find it. Of course that also means you have to get there too. Since the city is so big it always takes forever to get anywhere, even with the convenient public transit, but that’s the price you pay I guess.

The War Memorial of Korea is by far the best museum in the country.

So overall, Seoul is not an exciting country for the average tourist. However, if you are interested in shopping, eating, drinking, and just exploring the life of people in this country, then Seoul is a great place to visit.

I don’t live in Seoul now and that is probably my biggest sadness of my stint in Korea. If only KAIST was in Seoul. But who knows, I still might have a chance to live there. And then finally I’ll be where everything happens.

Busan: The Coastal City

Remember how I said I had a lull in my work so I was going to post more? Well, that didn’t turn out how I expected haha. But this time, for real, there is a lull. I promise. I will be doing more regular updates for the next few months.

Last time I talked about Jeju, an island off the southern coast of the Korean peninsula. In this post I’ll be talking about Busan, the coastal city on the south-eastern coast of Korea.

Seagulls are kinda scary when they fly so close.

Busan might actually be my favourite city in Korea. It’s the second largest city and it’s filled with a ton of natural, historical, and cultural spots. It has pretty much everything you need for a good and peaceful life. That said, a lot of life in Korea revolves around Seoul, meaning that a lot of events and things are centered around Seoul, which is not necessarily close to Busan.

Regardless, I really enjoy going to Busan. I’ve been there a bunch of times, typically going a few times a year. Busan is most well-known for their nature. They have the country’s largest beaches and like any other part of Korea, also has a ton of hikeable mountains.

A big city with greenery and the ocean, wonderful.

Gwangalli is by far my favourite beach in Busan. Everyone always talks about Haeundae, but Haeundae is boring. Gwangalli is where it’s at. It’s closer to the city center, has an awesome bridge, and is just, better. Pretty much every time I go to Busan I end up going to Gwangalli even if just for a short time.

It’s really relaxing to just be by the beach and eat and drink. At night time the bridge lights up as well and people start shooting small fireworks around and it makes for a pretty great atmosphere.

And speaking of fireworks, Busan also has an insanely big fireworks festival. Every year in the fall they have the Busan Fireworks Festival by Gwangalli Beach where literally a million people show up to watch the show. I’ve been twice and it truly is a spectacle.

Fireworks, lasers, and lights.

The fireworks are big, and it’s all choreographed to music. It’s a really great show. Lots of people, but great show.

Moving away from Gwangalli, Busan also has a lot of great cultural and historical stuff too. During the Korean War a lot of Korea was destroyed but Busan actually stayed relatively intact. As a result it’s actually an “older” city in the sense that not as much of it was rebuilt. Plus, a lot of refugees came to Busan from all over Korea and so it ended up becoming a city that looks visually different from most of the other cities.

Like you have the Gamcheon Culture Village which is pretty unique looking. Korea normally has pretty grey buildings, but that village decided to not be grey and so it’s just pastel coloured. It’s also kind of a hub for some art stuff too, so it’s a neat walk around.

Buildings in the Gamcheon Culture Village are pastel coloured.

Busan just feels more like a city that evolved naturally rather than some other big Korean cities which feel very artificial. The entire place has a sense of (modern) history, which to me is really nice.

Speaking of modern history, Busan also has a war cemetery which commemorates the fallen of the Korean War. It’s kind of an interesting place to go to as well if you are interested in modern history, but it’s a cemetery so it’s not really a super big sightseeing place.

Aside from this kind of stuff, Busan also has a lot of traditional spots as well. One of the most famous is Yonggungsa, which is Korea’s only temple that is by the water. The temple itself is not that special, but it’s cool that it’s by the water. But what’s even more especially cool is when it’s Buddha’s Birthday because then the temples get decorated with a bunch of lanterns.

Colourful lanterns in a temple by the water,

Many temples get lanterns during that time, but of course it’s cool when its by the water because the ocean is great.

There’s a lot of other neat things to say about Busan. One of my favourite is G-Star, a large Korean gaming convention they have every year. I’ve been twice, and it has always been cool to check out some more gaming stuff. I wanted to go again last year, but because of school I couldn’t make it.

Gaming is big in Korea and so I really enjoyed going to a gaming convention. They frequently host esports events and showcase a lot of games and cool technology. In fact, the first time I went was because they had a Brood War tournament with some pros I liked.

Lots of people, lots of interesting games.

There’s a lot I can say about Busan. It’s a cool place and I really like it. I highly recommend others to go visit it. Most people just end up going to Seoul because it’s by the airport, but it’s always worth the trip down to Busan. It even has it’s own (small) airport, which could make it a good stop on the way to Japan or Jeju.

Jeju: The Volcanic Island

So it’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been pretty busy with my thesis and stuff lately so I’ve neglected posting anything new here. But I’ve hit a bit of a lull in my work so it seems like a good time to add some content!

I’ve been living in South Korea for almost three years now. It’s pretty crazy when I think back to my time here. It really doesn’t feel like three years, but numbers don’t lie. In my time here I’ve visited a bunch of places, and aside from the south-eastern corner of the peninsula I’ve been all over this country. So, I’ve decided to write a few posts about three of my favourite places to visit, starting with Jeju Island, the largest island in Korea.

As an island south of the mainland, it’s a lot more tropical.

I’ve only been to Jeju once, and that was actually pretty much this time two years ago. I really enjoyed my time there and always planned on going back, but alas I haven’t went back in the time since. Of all the places in Korea though, Jeju is definitely the one place where I actually want to go back to.

After living in Korea for so long, one thing that becomes pretty apparent is that every city is like the same. Seoul is obviously the big city and Busan has the ocean and the beaches, so they’re the most unique. But a lot of the cities just feel.. similar. All the buildings in the cities here are built relatively recently, and probably around the same time too, and they’re all just boring grey buildings. You can go to a completely different city and not even know it sometimes since so many parts of the cities in this country look alike.

This kinda extends to the nature aspects as well. When I first got here I was really amazed at the Korean scenery since it actually looks pretty nice. Lots of rolling mountains, the ocean, and a decent amount of forest cover. But again, the country is quite small so the entire country looks the same. There’s just no variety. Coming from Canada, which is obviously a big country, we have a lot of variety in our landscapes which is something I enjoy. Variety is pretty key, and I think that Jeju is the most visually distinct when it comes to Korea.

Mountains in Jeju are a bit spikier looking.

Being a volcanic island situated south of the mainland, Jeju actually looks and feels different. The air is a bit clearer, the mountains are a bit spikier, and the small villages and towns also have a bit of a different feel to them as well. Pretty neat atmosphere.

Of course, you have to leave the city. Jeju City was pretty boring to me to be honest, since it just reminded me of any other coastal city in Korea. But, the naturey sightseeing spots in Jeju are actually really nice and it’s by far the main reason why you would want to go to the island to begin with. Sure, they also have random stuff like the African Museum of Art, but I’m not really looking to check that stuff out if I visit a volcanic island in Korea though you know?

The main thing in Jeju is Hallasan, the tallest mountain in Korea. It also happens to be a volcano in the center of the island, so it’s hard to miss. There’s hiking trails that go up the mountain, and despite it not being a very difficult hike up, I’m still not sure if it was worth it.

The crater lake at the top of Hallasan.

It took us four and a half hours to go up, and then another three hours coming back down. I’ve done my fair share of Korean hikes but man, that was a long hike.

The actual crater lake at the top was.. disappointing. Plus there were a ton of flies when we went so it was really gross cause they kept flying around. But I do admit the mountain itself is quite scenic and the fact that you could turn around and look over the island at the top was pretty fantastic. On a nice day you can even see the edge of the island, which we were lucky enough to see. There’s something pretty awesome about seeing that far away and actually getting to see where the landmass ends.

Jeju pretty much positions itself as the volcanic alternative to the mainland. The lava tubes is one of the major attractions as well, and definitely pretty neat. It’s not mindblowing, but it was still pretty cool to walk through this cave and check out the lava formations and stuff.

Lava formations, kinda neat.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve been in a cave but it was the first time I’ve been to a volcanic cave though, which was cool.

When I went to Jeju I pretty much just hit up a lot of the main touristy areas since that was the easiest way to do it. But now that I’ve been there once I kinda wanna go back and just, explore a bit more. Either by renting a car or even biking around the island. Jeju has a lot of cool stuff that’s heavily featured in tourist resources, but I have a feeling that there’s a lot of random cool stuff to just discover on your own, which is something I want to check out if I ever go back.

Like we also went to Udo as well, which is a small island off the coast of Jeju. So like, the Jeju of Jeju. We ended up taking a bus around the island but you could also rent scooters or whatever, which in retrospect seems like a more fun option. Having the freedom to just explore is pretty nice.

Even the algae is different.

So in conclusion Jeju is nice. It honestly might be my favourite sightseeing area in Korea, so I do recommend it to anyone that enjoys traditional culture and nature. If possible, rent a car or some other form of transportation that gives you a bit more freedom though, I think that’s what I would do. When we were there we ended up covering maybe half of the island, but not fully of course. If I ever go back I’d definitely want to check out the western and southern sides of the island.