Before heading to Tokyo this past February, we stopped in Seoul, Korea for a few days. Prior to this trip, the only time I had spent in Korea was duty free shopping during layovers at Incheon International Airport. Seoul is the epitome of modernization. Every way you look, you see rows of shiny, new skyscrapers along with dozens of cranes signaling even more to come. Taehyon and Katie, our awesome local experts and guides for the day, informed us that basically everything in Seoul is owned by Samsung. That building? Samsung. The new restaurant on the corner? Samsung. That luxury department store? Samsung. In retrospect, I guess this shouldn't have been surprising. Given how ubiquitous the brand is elsewhere in the world, it only makes sense for it to be literally EVERYWHERE in Seoul.
Yet right in the middle of all this urban development is Gyeongbokgung - a beautifully restored and perfectly maintained royal palace that showcases Korean history at its grandest. The palace grounds sit in stark contrast to its ubermodern surroundings. When you initially walk in, it feels as if time slows down. The palace isn't flooded with tourists, making it a peaceful respite from the city. As you look beyond the gates of the palace, you can see the aforementioned skyscrapers shrouded in smog. Taehyon and Katie also informed us that the Chinese are to blame for the dense pollution that blows in from the mainland. Sorry!
After 2 days in Seoul, I feel like we only scraped the tip of the iceberg. There's so much to do (and eat!) in this sprawling metropolis. Despite it's rapid growth, it's also reassuring to see that the city hasn't completely lost sight of its past.
Admission to Gyeongbokgung is ₩3000 (roughly $3 USD). The palace is open year round but closed every Tuesday. Find out more here.