48 Hours in Seoul

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iol travel july 3 seoul AP A model shows off a modernized royal wedding dress during a fashion show in Seoul.

From busy lanes along the feet of skyscrapers and a throng of commuters armed with cutting edge technology, to shamanistic shrines and grand palaces, Seoul - a city of 10 million - is an amalgamation of a modern high-tech metropolis retaining the legacy of age old traditions.

Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a short stay in Seoul.

Friday

6pm - Start your trip by looking out on the entire city from the top of Naksan Park, at the summit of a mountain called Naksan. On the outer side of the park are stone walls with battlements more than 10 metres tall, part of a much larger structure connecting major and minor gates that once served as the perimeter of Seoul.

Enjoy the panorama of a brightly lit modern city with the remaining castle wall in front of it, an amazing contrast of old and new Seoul.

10pm - Walk to Deahangno, Seoul's colourful theatre district, which is full of young people. Have drinks at Jazz Story (www.jazzstory.co.kr), which hosts house bands playing laid-back music every night. The live music venue looks like a junkyard complete with smashed bicycles and recycled treasures.

To truly appreciate the quirkiness, you have to go there at night when the vintage mood and soft music create an unconventional end to another strenuous working week for Koreans, who work the longest hours in the OECD.

Saturday

9am - Start the day at the Changdeokgung Palace, which served as a royal villa in Joseon Dynasty and reflects ancient Korea's mindset that nature is beautiful in itself. Only one acre out of 74 acres of gardens at Changdeok consists of man-made buildings and ponds. Take a stroll and take in not only walls and pavilions, but also the sky and clouds mirrored on the water, the murmuring of a stream along the valleys, and the breeze that touches leaves and flowers, tranquil joys of nature once experienced by kings and queens.

12pm - Have lunch at Sanneri (www.sanneri.com) near Changdeokgung Palace, which offers meals centred on Bulgogi, a national dish made with marinated, thinly sliced beef.

2pm - Head for the Leeum Gallery near the Hyatt hotel in Itaewon, an art gallery owned by the Lee family that owns the Samsung conglomerate, Korea's richest. Made up of radically different architectural styles, it has an extensive collection of traditional ceramics and Buddhist art as well as contemporary Korean paintings and sculptures. The gallery offers English language service for exhibitions on weekends.

5pm - Browse the artsy alleyway named Comme des Garçons Street, an emerging new hot district that features a flagship store of the luxury brand. High-end shops, trendy bakeries and contemporary bars have opened recently, becoming a fresh destination for high-brow culture.

6pm - You will need to book well in advance for chef Seo Sung-ho's eponymous restaurant near the Leum, two months to be precise. The chef has a one-table concept and serves just 25 people a day in the French restaurant, at an average cost of 250,000 Korean won (about R1 700) per person.

8pm - Dive into Itaewon, Seoul's truly expat-friendly district and a magnet for shoppers looking for good bargains. The food here is as multicultural as the people on the streets. You can try a multitude of restaurants including French, Italian, Thai and Japanese. Itaewon also houses trendy clubs including Club Rococo (02-790-2260), which hosts DJs from all over the world and lures an international crowd.

Sunday

10am - Ignore the side effects of Saturday night, and join locals heading to Inwangsan Mountain. The mountain is a popular destination for hiking, a national pasttime. Some hikers, covered from head to toe, resemble something out of a Monty Python vision of the Middle Ages.

But the most intriguing part is at the end, at Seon-bawi, sacred rocks in a shamanist site, which are said to resemble a robed monk. Expectant mothers crowd in front of them, praying for the birth of a son. The scent of wax and incense mingles with the aroma of sacrificial alcohol, while dishes of raw pork and fish are set outside temples for the spirits.

With a bit of luck, you may see “mudang”, Korean shamans, perform ceremonies while beating a steel drum, chanting, dancing, and waving different coloured flags to attract and evoke communication with the spirits.

1pm - On your way back to earth, find your way to Sanulim (02-379-7084) at the foot of the mountain, where fellow hikers gorge on traditional pancakes and tofu with kimchi, washed down with dongdong-ju, a fermented milky rice wine that goes straight to your head.

3pm - Take a stroll through Bukchon Hanok Village, a traditional village where aristocrats once resided. The picturesque alleys of brick walls and beautiful curves of the roof tiles help you catch a glimpse into the history of Seoul. Here are a few Hanok-style gatehouses for those seeking a quiet, traditional setting in which to rest and relax.

4pm - Wind down in Samcheong-dong, a quaint neighbourhood immediately to the east of the presidential Blue House. Browse the shops or have a cup of coffee in one of the many chic cafes, a perfect place to watch stylish couples sauntering along. - Reuters

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