Paradoxically, while Seoul is the hub of East Asian trade, few business travelers, not to mention expat Koreans, have yet to explore South Korea. Don’t wait any longer! For over 70 years, the citizens of the “Land of Morning Calm” have been working hard to spotlight cultural and national pride.
Practically a Whole New Country
With the help of the United Nations and the United States in particular, South Korea earned the nickname “The Miracle on the Han”, a term referring to both the name of the river that runs through Seoul and the country’s rapid Westernization. South Korea was vaulted upon the world stage by hosting the summer Olympics (1988) and a FIFA World Cup (2002). With bilingual (English/Korean) signage almost everywhere, an impressive rail transportation system, and a first class tourism industry, South Korea is ready for you!
With four hours to spare, just staying at the Seoul International Airport (ICN) can be an excellent decision on a business break. A stunning facility consistently ranked as one of the best in the world, over 87 airlines fly in and out of ICN. In fact, the only place you can’t fly from here is North Korea. (A word about the People’s Democratic Republic and the DMZ is at the end.)
Enjoy a great meal, treat yourself at the spa, stroll the indoor gardens, spin around the ice skating forest, play a round on the nearby 72-hole golf course or try your luck at the foreigners-only hotel-based casino. Beyond Duty Free shopping, the Korean Cultural Street boasts a museum, traditional dining, and hands-on activities.
Wired for Access
Seoul City Tourism Office and the Korean National Tourism Organization have created successful apps and websites that marry tech and tourism to the visitor’s distinct advantage, including discount coupons for events and amenities, such as an airport cell phone rental. If you’re staying a bit longer, visit Seoul Selection, the independent English language friendly bookshop and pick up copies of English language Seoul Magazine and Seoul Weekly.
Four Hours Fit for a King
Invest your four hours in a quick subway ride from Seoul Station to Chongno 3rd near the Royal Palaces where a single Integrated Ticket can be purchased for admission to the four complexes and the 700-year-old Jongmyo Shrine, main site for NeoConfucian ancestor worship for Korea’s kings. The shrine’s hour long monthly memorial service, considered the oldest complete ceremony extant in the world, and the building are both registered as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. The National Folk Museum is also in the vicinity.
Lively Traditional and Contemporary Cultures
The winding alleys of Andong, Bukchon, Gahoe, and Samcheon districts uniquely are filled with hanok, Korean traditional architecture, and wonderful for leisurely strolling. Once the homes of courtiers, government administrators and foreign legations, they are now gentrified private estates and guest houses, trendy boutiques, wine cafes, tiny tearooms and restaurants. One can even walk toward the Blue House, the official residence of the President and farther up a mountain path to Inwang-sa, the “Benevolent King Mountain” shamanic center and a panoramic view of the capital.
Herbs and Clicks
Four hours well spent might also be in one of Seoul’s specialized districts. Get your Gangnam Style on (popularized by K-Pop star PSY) or follow your nose through the heavily aromatic traditional herbal medicine district. In the rainy season, stay dry inside the stunningly beautiful National Museum or to Samsung’s Leeum Museum near Itaewon.
DMZ + Art = Life
If you have a bit more time to spend, a visit to the south side of the DMZ Joint Security Area, commonly called Panmunjeom, is very easily arranged from the airport or Seoul with commercial tour operators. Tense, austere and surreal, it is nonetheless as safe as anywhere else on the peninsula, but a full tour will take at minimum six hours.
For a more hopeful experience, to the south is Heyri Art Valley, a new post-modern “village” of nearly 100 studios and homes to over 350 fine and performing artists who are bringing exciting new creative and environmentally sustainable life to the region. Check the festival and performing arts schedule for wonderful events.
Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs