SIDE BY SIDE

From the her­itage-laden north side of the Han River to the more modern south, the two halves of Seoul of­fer a med­ley of at­trac­tions for event del­e­gates with free time, writes Craig Bright

Business Traveller (India) - - TIME OUT IN SEOUL -

Seoul’s list of tourist ac­tiv­i­ties and at­trac­tions is long and var­ied, rep­re­sent­ing a deep well of op­por­tu­nity for those in­tent on ex­plor­ing be­yond the con­fer­ence hall. With ex­hi­bi­tion venues and MICE-fo­cused ho­tels spread through­out the city, Seoul’s ex­ten­sive sub­way net­work en­sures del­e­gates can eas­ily tra­verse the sprawl­ing me­trop­o­lis to delve into its di­verse of­fer­ings, from food, her­itage and re­tail to pop cul­ture or natural land­scapes.

Di­vided by the in­ter­sect­ing Han River, Seoul has ex­panded in modern times from its old north-side cityscape to now in­clude a modern area south of the river. A plethora of com­mer­cial, fi­nan­cial, re­tail and en­ter­tain­ment de­vel­op­ments can now be found here, while the bulk of the city’s his­tory and her­itage is lo­cated to the north.

“Many of our com­peti­tors are lo­cated in Seoul’s south­ern area, but lo­ca­tion-wise it’s not the same,” says Bruce Lee, gen­eral man­ager and president of the Grand Am­bas­sador Seoul ho­tel in Jangchung-dong on the north side of the river.“We ben­e­fit a lot from our lo­ca­tion, near to Nam­san Park, Myeong­dong, Dong­dae­mun and Itae­won. These are all ar­eas many for­eign­ers are keen to see.”

Whether you’re stay­ing in the north or south of Seoul, how­ever, vis­it­ing its many at­trac­tions is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly easy. For starters, Seoul’s main in­ter­na­tional air­port at In­cheon is un­der­go­ing a ma­jor ex­pan­sion with the open­ing of its new Ter­mi­nal 2 build­ing at the end of this year, along with up­grades to its leisure op­tions in the near fu­ture. These in­clude a new en­ter­tain­ment and re­tail“air­port city”, in­te­grated re­sorts and a sec­ond golf course all lo­cated nearby.

Mean­while in July last year, the Seoul Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion (STO) to­gether with the Seoul Met­ro­pol­i­tan Gov­ern­ment launched the Dis­cover Seoul Pass, a 24-hour pass pro­vid­ing ac­cess to 16 of the city’s most pop­u­lar sites. While many del­e­gates may be the re­cip­i­ent of an­other of STO’s MICE ini­tia­tives – the Seoul MICE card, which func­tions as a par­tially pre-paid travel card for par­tic­i­pants of qual­i­fy­ing events the Dis­cover Seoul Pass specif­i­cally of­fers a more leisure and down­time-fo­cused func­tion. Cost­ing 39,900 won/`2,277 and con­nected to a down­load­able app with site in­for­ma­tion and a count­down timer, it acts both as a travel card and en­try ticket for tourist sites. (A brand-new 48-hour ver­sion was launched at the start of May, cost­ing 55,000 won/`8,858 and giv­ing ac­cess to more than 20 at­trac­tions, plus dis­counts and coupons for 13 shops and venues.)

“Both MICE and leisure tourists ben­e­fit from the Dis­cover Seoul Pass and One More Trip, an on­line plat­form al­low­ing lo­cals to sell unique ex­pe­ri­ences and tours while of­fer­ing par­tic­i­pants a mem­o­rable and dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence,”says Park Jin-Hyeok, di­rec­tor of the Seoul Con­ven­tion Bureau (SCB). “These in­clude Korean brew­ery tours, tra­di­tional seal mak­ing and Korean bar­be­cue tours, among oth­ers.”

The most no­table at­trac­tions in­cluded in the pass are Seoul’s four ma­jor palaces, all lo­cated on the north side of the river. While Gyeong­bok­gung Palace – the largest – is per­haps the most pop­u­lar, Changdeok­gung and the di­rectly con­nected Chang­gyeong­gung Palace in Jongno dis­trict are also a joy to explore.

Built in 1405, Changdeok­gung was named a Unesco World Her­itage Site in 1997. The palace build­ings vary sig­nif­i­cantly in scale and style, with or­nately de­signed in­te­ri­ors and large court­yards con­nected by wind­ing, tree-lined paths. Be­yond the palace build­ings is the Hu­won Se­cret Gar­den, which har­bours bu­colic ponds and streams (cdg.go.kr). Chang­gyeong­gung is a smaller palace built in 1483 as a res­i­dence for wives and con­cu­bines. Here you can also wan­der freely through the smaller-scale build­ings, court­yards and gar­dens with wa­ter­ways and bridges (english.vis­it­seoul.net).

To the south­west is an­other pop­u­lar his­toric at­trac­tion: Dong­dae­mun Gate. One of the eight gates of the old Seoul City Wall (parts of which still re­main and can be hiked along), Dong­dae­mun now sits some­what in­con­gru­ously in the midst of one of the city’s top shop­ping and en­ter­tain­ment dis­tricts. The re­vi­talised Cheong­gyecheon Stream that bi­sects the old city cen­tre passes close by; mar­kets and 24-hour malls sell all man­ner of goods; and the Dong­dae­mun De­sign Plaza show­cases ex­hi­bi­tions, fo­rums and fash­ion shows.

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