A WEALTH OF TREASURES
Visitors to the summer Games in Seoul should take the time to explore this bustling and historic Asian city. There is lots to take in, so here are some suggestions about what to see and do in Seoul. Historic sights: Seoul is the ancient capital of the Yi Dynasty, which lasted for some five centuries. The center of the old city contains some fine examples of Yi Dynasty palaces and gardens. Well worth visiting are the Kyongduk Palace, a large complex in the center of Seoul, and the Changduk Palace, to the east. Changduk contains within its grounds Piwon, or the Secret Gardens, a lovely example of Oriental gardens.Skip to next paragraph
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Museums: In the southern end of the Kyongduk Palace grounds is the National Museum, originally built as the headquarters of the Japanese colonial regime. The museum was recently redone, is extremely well organized, and offers tours in English. It provides a fine introduction to cultural and artistic history and includes a stunning collection of Korea's traditional ceramics.
At the other end of the palace grounds is the Folk Museum, which uses ethnographic displays of the homes and working places of Koreans over the centuries to give one a wonderful view of Korea's folk customs and culture.
During the period of the Olympics there will be extensive exhibits of Korean art and cultural treasures at a wide variety of museums and other sites. All will be worth a stop, time permitting.
Outside Seoul: Within a day's trip of Seoul there are plenty of worthwhile places to visit. But two are on the top of my list. One is the Korean Folk Village, about an hour's drive south of Seoul, with frequent bus tours available. The village is a reconstructed example of ordinary Korean life during the late Yi Dynasty, showing work, homes, and cultural life. It is somewhat touristy, but fun.
The second trip is to Panmunjom, the truce village in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. The armistice ending the Korean war was signed there in 1953. The bus tour offers not only a glimpse of modern history but is the best way to quickly appreciate the stark realities of life on the Korean Peninsula.
Shopping: Seoul is a shopper's paradise, offering everything from elegant boutiques and modern department stores to the bustling street markets full of wholesale bargains and stall-to-stall crowds. On the upscale side, try Seoul's Lotte Department Store, with its brand-new wing offering a Korean version of Tokyo's famous one-stop shopping emporiums.
For more fun and better bargains, try the two massive markets, Namdaemun and Tongdaemun, where you can find fantastic bargains in clothing, luggage, shoes, handicrafts, mountain climbing gear, and Korean traditional foods.
The Itaewon shopping area, near the US Army base in the center of the old city, caters to foreigners, with many English-speaking shopkeepers. It offers discount clothing and footware, but be warned that many of the brand-name goods are counterfeit (though extraordi-narily cheap).
Antiques: For those whose shopping list includes artworks and antiques, Insadong, or Mary's Alley, as some call it, is an essential stop. Shops offer traditional Korean furniture, porcelain, stoneware, paintings, and caligraphy. Reproductions, new work, and antiques are all available. The Tong-In, a store in the center of the area, is used to dealing with foreigners and has a wide variety of items.
More adventurous antiquers should try the Chonanpyun Market in the eastern part of Seoul. The market has been moved into modern buildings, but it contains some of Seoul's oldest antiques dealers, on the ground floor of several buildings in tiny shops. Furniture, ceramics, and paintings abound, many of good quality and at good prices.