Here’s what the Lonely Planet experts have to say:
Planet’s Best in Asia 2016
powder snow put it on the international map, but it has also blinded visitors
to the year-round charms of Japan’s northernmost island. Hokkaidō has
become a lot more accessible this year thanks to the new bullet train linking
its southern port city, Hakodate, to Tokyo.”
for the centre of the universe right now? It’s surely Shànghǎi.
This year’s a big one, with the first Disney resort in mainland China opening
here, as well as the completion of the long-awaited Shànghǎi Tower,
the world’s second tallest building.”
radar as the country’s top foodie destination, Jeonju has
finally started to make mouths water further afield. The birthplace of Korea’s
most famous dish, bibimbap, now lures a younger crowd thanks to its
fast-emerging street food scene.”
Asia’s hottest emerging destinations. With improved flight connections
from Ho Chi Minh City, there is no better place right now to feast on
fresh seafood, explore in search of a perfect beach and revel in a castaway
focusing on its natural heritage – specifically, the
UNESCO-designated geopark, a 50-sq km region to the northeast. A shuttle
bus between the geopark’s Sai Kung town and its ancient rock
formations debuted this May, hard on the heels of a ferry service to Lai
Chi Wo Village.”
capital has new flair thanks to a crop of boutique cafes that have sprung up in
its historic quarter. At the heart of Ipoh’s renaissance is otherworldly
concept hotel Sekeping Kong Heng.”
near Menjangan … don’t wait until everybody arrives; catch the
buzz now from this alluring mix of art-filled resorts, inventive new
restaurants and the mellowest vibe around.”
the same knockout punch as their more famous Andaman Coast neighbours; all they
lack are the crowds. Go, now – while these sleepy islands bask in untouched
climbing, caving and rafting abound. After decades off the tourist map, people
are starting to notice this backwater. Meghalaya won’t stay
this quiet for long; go before thrill seekers storm the Khāsi Hills.”
secret wild card. This cradle of indigenous culture is the place to party after
harvest with music festivals and sweet millet wine. Or take advantage of this
rural county’s superb whale watching, stargazing and cycling.” Please
note: Typhoon Nepartak has caused recent devastation; however Best
in Asia is a collection of great places for the next 12 months and
Taiwan has already begun the rebuilding efforts and will be welcoming
travellers again soon.
also enter a competition for the chance to win a trip for two to Lonely
Planet’s number-one Best in Asia 2016 destination, Hokkaidō,
Japan, valued at AUD $10,000.”
Hit the road on foot or by bike
throughout Victoria with a new website that shows 15 great walking,
cycling and mountain-bike routes, ranging from the iconic (Great Ocean
Road or Wilson’s Promontory) to the obscure (Gippsland Plains Rail Trail
or the Goldfields Track). The new website provides GPS data,
interactive mapping, beauty spots, trail descriptions and degrees of
difficulty. You can also click for accommodation, gear hire and, of
course, great restaurants, because trail mix doesn’t always cut it. See greattrailsvictoria.com.au.
FOOD: Best grub for pub lovers
Fight back against the demise of the
great English public house by settling in for lunch at Britain’s oldest
pub, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, in the Hertfordshire city of St Albans.
The pub’s kitchen is now headed up by chef Ian Baulsh, a St Albans local
recently returned from two years in Australia working with Melbourne
celeb chef Ian Curley.
Founded in the eighth century, the
pub’s signature dishes are freerange, house-made pork sausages and beef
burgers sourced by a master butcher, and a British cheeseboard, all
using local produce. Baulsh has added a summery touch,
with chicken liver pate, pan-roasted
monkfish and chargrilled tuna nicoise. St Alban was Britain’s first
Christian martyr, Oliver Cromwell sank pints in the pub, and it’s been
called home by Stanley Kubrick and Stephen Hawking.
The city is 25 minutes by train from London’s St Pancras station on the Thameslink line. See
AIRLINE: Planes, gains and automobiles
Passengers flying Qantas can now
earn as well as redeem points on car hire with Budget and Avis in
Australia and New Zealand. And in a move that will have points
collectors smiling, travellers also will earn frequent flyer points even
when they are paying with points. ‘‘Members will still continue to earn
points for that booking at the same rate as they would if they were
paying with cash,’’ says the airline. Its rival, Virgin Australia, lets
you earn points with Hertz, Europcar and Thrifty car rentals through its
Velocity Frequent Flyer program, but allows you to use points to book a
car only with Europcar; see
. In other news, Qantas is ramping up flights to Hamilton Island,
including a new, twice-weekly Melbourne-Hamilton Island service from
June 27. See
SAFARI: Ready, set, shoot
Photographers of all abilities will
know the frustration of snapping a safari through sticky windows or
around a badly placed safety pole.
The new safari jeep at South
Africa’s Sabi Sabi private reserve has been customised for photography
tours, with tiered seating and swivel chairs, fixed camera mounts for
additional stability and cut-out side panels. The tours are guided by professional photographers and include tuition on shutter speeds and action shots, held over sundowners
back at the lodge. Would-be lion
paparazzi can also hire additional equipment including the big guns –
such as a 200-400-millimetre lens – to pap the Big Five as they roam the
fence-free range on the edge of the Kruger National Park.
Photography safaris at Sabi Sabi run on
demand, all year round and cost from
$1800, two days, includes photographer and vehicle for up to four
people. Stays at Sabi Sabi’s Bush lodge cost from $1030 a person,
sharing. See sabisabi.com.
AIRPORTS: Flying, beautifully
Life spent in airports is quite
possibly life wasted. Instead, use that time when your flight’s delayed
to become beautiful (within reason) at AMUSE Beauty Studio, which has
opened recently at Sydney Airport. The new store stocks some of the most
desirable names in the industry, including Tom Ford, Jo Malone and
Amouage. It also offers
free beauty quickies for brows and nails, and an express make-up service for that emergency smoky eye.
As well, it’s home to Australia’s first Hermes concept shop-within-a-store, stocking its homewares range, which has
never been available outside its
branded stores. The beauty store, run by the parents of the Newslink
chain, is now open in Sydney Airport’s domestic terminals, T2 and T3,
and comes to Melbourne in August.
So North Korea’s on your bucket
list? Get a taste for its altered reality with Anna Broinowski’s witty
book, The Director is the Commander. The filmmaker wanted to make a
movie that would stop the creation of a coalseam gas mine near her home,
in Sydney Park, so she
turned to the master of propaganda,
Kim Jong-il, the former leader of North Korea and author of the
manifesto The Cinema and Directing.
The only Western filmmaker in the
world to gain total access to North Korea’s film industry, Broinowski
worked with local directors, actors and crews to create Aim High in
Creation! The Director is the Commander, $32.99,
penguin.com.au. NSW-based Guidepost Tours books
tours of North Korea with British-based Koryo Tours. A five-day tour
(including visa processing) costs from $2000 a person, departing from
to ride, click on to this serious collection of bike tours from around the
world. At last count, the website listed 7000 tours in 123 countries for all
levels of fitness, for road bikes, mountain bikes and even electronic bikes. Website
founder and keen cyclist Bruce Robertson is currently infatuated with Korea,
where he’s going with friends for a 350km ride from Seoul to Andong. “Korea’s
cycle paths and infrastructure are incredible,” he says. “The paths follow the
rivers, not the roads.” The site also loves a best-of list, including the best
off-road tours and city tours, packing tips and a guide to choosing the best bicycle
tour. To lycra or not to lycra? That’s your call. See cycletoursglobal.com.
Greek islands, Santorini, are the latest destinations in Tempo Holidays’ 2015 Apartments
& Catering Worldwide brochure. Stay in an Italian condo on Lake Como, a maison
in the Cote des Maures in France or
a villa on the Portuguese Algarve. All properties are researched by Tempo
Holidays, which is owned by the world’s longest established
travel company, Cox & Kings. Many apartments and villas include
hotel facilities such as daily or weekly servicing, but with the freedom of
your own space and 24-hour help. Great for larger families or groups, they are
priced per night, but with discounts for extended stays. Phone 1300 558 987, see tempoholidays.com.
of the country with TV chef and self-described ‘gastronaut’ Geoff Jansz. The
journey starts in gritty Casablanca and travels through the ancient, regal
cities of Fes, Meknes and Rabat, finishing up in Marrakesh. You’ll taste and
learn about Morocco’s culinary traditions with local experts, shop for spices
in magnificent souks (markets), drink Berber tea in the Atlas Mountains and eat
in restaurants selected by Jansz. There’s also a visit to Roman ruins of
Volubilis, Andalusian gardens and the craziness of Marrakesh’s central square,
Djamma el Fna. The tour will accommodate 24 guests, from November 1-10, 2015.
Costs $6895 a person, twin share. Phone 1300 590 317, see abercrombiekent.com.au.
Airways’ new signature dish for business-class passengers. The airline offers a
charred beef fillet with masala chai tea rub, herb buttered prawns and Fijian
organic vegetables, or seared wild fish with coriander and pineapple rice pilaf
red papaya curry sauce. The dishes are designed by Fiji Airways’
Culinary Ambassador chef Lance Seeto, who says the menu is influenced not just
the native iTaukei cuisine but Indian, Chinese and colonial British as well.
Seeto, who is based on Fiji’s Castaway Island resort, says it’s part of a
culinary renaissance taking place across the country. Other business-class menu
additions include a Fijian rum cocktail and mocktail, and the Yadra Vinaka
(good morning) sleeper service. Phone 1800 230
150, see fijiairways.com.
good food and wine? The new La Dolce Vita Wine & Food Festival welcomes
kids with all of its Italian heart. Held at eight wineries in Victoria’s King
Valley, there will be jumping castles and giant sandpits, playgrounds and
circus training, and every winery will offer a kids’ menu. Meanwhile, parents
(and non-parents) can test-drive Prosecco cocktails, turn their hand at gnocchi
making, cruise the market stalls or join a Long Lunch. The festival takes place
on November 15-16. Phone 1800 801 065, see
little far-fetched, log the tracking number on the back of this antibacterial
hand sanitiser and you may find you’ve just helped provide clean water for a
village in Myanmar. These body care products are from Thankyou, a social enterprise
that channels its profits directly into health and hygiene training in
developing nations. The hand sanitiser is a trusty travel companion that comes
in a tasty grapefruit or eucalyptus mint fragrance, and at 50ml, it’s well
under the airlines’ carry-on liquids limit. Other products include hand cream
and soap, all Australian made, all without harsh chemicals and all are
ethically sourced. Available at major supermarkets. See thankyou.co.
|Characters of Egypt. Photo: Belinda Jackson.|
If you’ve been living under a rock (or possibly not in Australia), you may have missed the launch of the fabulous new Traveller website, from Fairfax Media. To kick off, a handful of us were asked for 10 travel experiences that changed our lives. I nominated hanging off a glacier on Russia’s Mt Elbrus and watching the cultural puzzle click in India, but also experiencing the absolute inability to communicate (in South Korea) and travelling in the Middle East (oh, there are SO many ways this has changed my life).
Here are my two published experiences below, and you can click here to read the full story, which includes seeing Rome’s Colosseum, going on safari on the Masai Mara and visiting the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz.
There are holidays that help you relax and unwind, then there are
travel experiences that change your entire outlook on life. Here, some
of Traveller’s most well-travelled writers name the experiences that
changed their lives – and could change yours, too.
Where: South Korea and beyond
The experience: Finding yourself in a truly foreign culture
How it will change your life:
of the great joys of travel is connecting with a local without a tour
guide babying you through the conversation.There are those little
milestones – the first time you buy water, order a meal, score a date in
a foreign language.
I thought I was pretty slick: I could fumble
French, shout Spanish, read Russian. My mime skills were excellent, the
vocabulary list in my travel guides well-studied. But my global
communication skills foundered, profoundly, in South Korea.
sitting in an empty café in Seoul. According to the photos around us, it
sells noodles. I would like noodles. Every time I suggest a noodle
dish, the waitress shakes her head. So I point. She shakes. Point.
Shake. Point. Shake. I give up, I find a vending machine. (Later, I
learn I was sitting in a closed restaurant.)
Having the complete inability to communicate is a humbling experience. It is a reminder that the world is a far bigger place than just you and your orbit. – Belinda Jackson
Where: The Middle East
The experience: See life beyond the newsreels
How it will change your life:
They do things big in the Middle East: the Great Pyramid of Gizas,
Iran’s Persepolis, the Sahara desert and the Empty Quarter, to name a
few. Steer clear if you like orderly queues, traffic lights and 10pm
The standard backdrop for the Middle East in news
bulletins is of tanks, screaming masses and men in epaulettes. The
reality on the ground – save a few war zones – is about traffic jams,
happily shouting friends and men in epaulettes (what’s not to love about
a good uniform?).
Men and women live in different spheres, pork
and booze are largely off the menu and if you’re foreign, you’re rich.
Yes, there are camels and shisha (tobacco water pipes) and you will see
belly dancers. Yet there are also chic beach resorts, the sneaky
late-night bars and saucy cabarets, the deep and abiding love of
football (that’s soccer). And while headscarves can polarise a nation,
from Iran to Oman, the passion for fashion is alive and kicking, with
the same obsession for black.
Let go: travelling in the Middle
East requires sinking deep into a rich, cultural morass. Deep down,
you’ll realise, we all just want the good life. – Belinda Jackson.
|The Plaza, NY, USA|
trucks to cats, hotel rooms appeal to the senses of youngsters by ditching the
boring beige and daring to dream.
by pirates and knights or wading in a sea of frothy pink: waking up in the
stomach of a Nintendo game may be your idea of hell … or heaven.
not be holding the purse strings, but canny hotels know that thinking small can
make a big difference.
find alcoves stacked with bunks and stuffed with toys and books that remodel
the room from red-eye traveller to pint-sized revellers.
night’s stay at the Fire Station Inn, Adelaide’s first fire station built in
1866, now a boutique hotel in swish North Adelaide. There’s a fully restored
1942 fire truck at the end of the queen-size bed, a fireman’s pole, lights and
costumes for dress-ups. The room has a king bed and a double sofa bed. Costs
from $275 a double plus $45 for children over two years. adelaideheritage.com.
adventurer, or perhaps a knight at the new 250-room Legoland hotel in Carlsbad,
California. The hotel is made up of millions of Lego bricks and guests get
early entry to Legoland’s rides and attractions. The best thing is you don’t
have to pick up all the Lego pieces. Rooms comprise a queen bed and a separate
sleeping area for up to three kids. Kids stay and play free when booked by
September 30 for stays until November 21. From $179. legoland.com.
gills: Hello Kitty hits new highs in the five-star Lotte Hotel on Jeju Island.
Off South Korea’s southern coastline, Jeju is the country’s party island thanks
to its beaches and warm summers. Being Korean, the activities include sauna,
karaoke and hunting, but if your focus is a white kitty cat with a pink flower
in her hair, who appears on the duvets, the carpets and the walls, maybe that’s
not quite your game. Suites from $726. lottehoteljeju.com.
madness of a different kind at Wanderlust, a super-cool Design Hotel whose two
fabulous space rooms feature a red space rocket and a few friendly aliens. The
kitchenette and bathroom are downstairs, then climb up to the loft bed and
watch the stars as you orbit into sleep. Costs from $298 a double, includes
breakfast and Wi-Fi. Extra beds from $85. wanderlusthotel.com.
the Eloise suite at the Plaza Hotel, dreamed up by fashion designer Betsey
Johnson. As they say: “Think pink and lots of it”. Saucy Eloise, the
heroine by Kay Thompson, who lived at the hotel, was modelled on Thompson’s
goddaughter, Liza Minnelli. The two-bedroom suite is a swirl of zebra print,
sparkly pink and neon lights. The Eloise ambassador will escort guests to the
suite, get their autograph and take a portrait, before presenting you with a
monogrammed Eloise bathrobe and a $100 gift card to the Eloise shop. From $1395
plus taxes. theplazany.com.
Hotel. Its Kids Cubby connects with the East Apartment for a chic, two-bedroom
option. The cubby has bunks, kids’ furniture, a little dining table and an Xbox
360 as well as other games. Book their Questacon package and get admission for
two adults and two kids into Questacon (the National Science and Technology
Centre), as well as a free in-room movie and popcorn, parking and a half bottle
of wine. From $380 (room only), $410 (Questacon pack). easthotel.com.au.
Set by Kamala beach and a favourite with families,
the hotel can redesign the kids’ room, with age-relevant toys, food and games
for kids two to 17 years. From $154, two-bedroom suite, until November 1. swissotel.com.
room. There’s a queen bed in the back, a futon in the cab and fire-engine
toddler bunks. The igloo room has an icy-cool fitout. From $368. fantasylandhotel.com.
two-bathroom suite has a kids’ room with craft tables, games, a Wii and bunk
beds. From $299. sheraton.com/macao.
Barbie Suite is a very grown-up affair that sleeps six, and parties for 40.
From $3000. thepalms.com.
property in the Sierra Nevada. €35 ($51) a person, €25 children three to 16
|New to travel: cycling in South Korea.|
With winter just about out the window, you could be forgiven for thinking Tasmania’s raison d’être has also gone the way of the Australian tiger. That’s only because you haven’t been to Launceston, up on the north coast. Interestingly (well, ok, interesting to me), a Brit once said it should be pronounced Launston ( the ‘ces’ isn’t pronounced: think Worcestershire sauce). But I digress. Check out this week’s travel deals and kids’ gig, where smearing your nose along a window is encouraged – nay – obligatory.
markets and Tamar Valley wineries. Stay in a one-bed Superior suite at The
Sebel Launceston from $219, and they’ll deliver breakfast in bed and a wee
bottle of champagne. Until December 31. accorhotels.com.
|Singapore is about to roar: F1 racing comes to town.|
trails. Save 25 percent on the first, nine-day Korean Cycle trip from Seoul to
traditional Andong through unspoilt forests and villages. Departs October 26, from
$2590, 1800 107 060, adventuresouth.co.nz.
September 19-23. Packages include a three-day Grandstand race ticket, race preview
lunch, return international airfares and four nights’ accommodation. Save
over $500, costs $2595, 1300 888 858, sportsnetholidays.com.
|Gentle luxury at The
visits, check out the Parkroyal Melbourne Airport’s Kids Plane-Spotting package
and watch the big birds take off right outside your hotel room. Includes
accommodation for one adult and one child under 12 (Friday and Saturday nights
only), breakfast and an activity package, from $269 until 31 December. Extra
adults from $20. 1800 192 144, parkroyalhotels.com.
1. Hong Kong, 69/100
2. Kuala Lumpur 65/100
3. Shanghai 63/100
4. Beijing 61/100
5. Singapore 60/100
6. Sydney 58/100
7. Bangkok 57/100
9. Seoul 55/100
10. Delhi 53/100
river. Northside, think palaces, president’s house and traditional hanok houses: snap up classic ceramics or
perhaps a hanbok dress in Insa-dong
and drink 100-flower tea in Bukchon.
To the south of the river, Gangnam is all
about Euro-luxe labels. Would-be models strut the streets as they shop at the Garosu-Gil
fashion strip, Asia’s largest underground mall, COEX, or too-cool
Cheongdam-dong, with its Italian boutiques and wine bars.
At any tick of the
24-hour clock, you’ll find some of Seoul’s 10 million inhabitants in the pubs, karaoke
bars, restaurants, internet cafes and saunas. Iif anything closes, it’s always
late. In Seoul, the neon lights are never switched off.
society. The Beautiful Tea Museum is
a gorgeously serene space in the antiques hood of Insa-dong, selling and serving
130 beautiful teas and their accoutrements. It also exhibits perfect, simple
ceramics (Jongno-gu Insa-dong 193-1, www.tmuseum.co.kr ) Otherwise, go traditional at Cha Masineun Tteul, which lives up to its
name, ‘cosy garden where people drink tea’. Take a seat on hanok’s warm floor as tea ladies serve iced
strawberry summer punch or hot spiced dae
chu cha (Asian date tea), rice cakes and toasted sunflower seeds while you
look out on that cosy garden or out over the rooftops (Jongno-gu, Samcheong-dong 35-169).
wonderful place to see Seoul’s traditional architecture is Bukchon
Hanok Village, considered the most beautiful corner of Seoul. Its neighbourhood
of 900 hanoks makes a welcome change to the industrial-strength
apartment blocks that pierce the city skyline. The tourist information booth
opposite Gyeongbokgung Palace (Jogno-gu, 1 Sejong-ro, www.royalpalace.go.kr) offers excellent walking maps of the area, including
a trail with eight signposted photo spots that give the best
views down tiny, picturesque alleyways and over the rooftops to the palace.
a more transient nature are the comically named ‘tent restaurants’ that dominate the city’s streets: sun shelters
lined with clear plastic walls to keep out the fierce winter winds. Korea’s
food culture is wildly rich: walk any street and try fried silkworms, suck
down a live octopus, chomp on pig’s trotters or snack on a jeon (Korean
savoury pancake) washed down with makgeoli
(rice wine). At the massive Noryangjin
Fish Market, buy your seafood and have it thrown in the pot in seconds. No
matter how lean your purse or how limited your Korean, you’ll never starve in
three-kilometer-long cobbled street, between the president’s house and Gyeongbokgung Palace,
sniffs at mainstream labels. On this strip, it’s all about one-offs and their stylish
producers – shoemakers, milliners, bespoke
designers and art galleries, with a hundred latte-pumping cafés in between. Cool,
yes, but also resolutely Korean. You’ll still find locals queuing for the
classic sujaebi, which is soup with dumplings, green onions and kimchi. You can get your fill of this dish for about $6 at Samcheong-dong
Sujabei (Samcheong-dong 102).
At the table
eating-out options – from traditional Korean barbeques to fusion fare – in every
neighbourhood, Seoul cements itself as one of Asia’s prime food capitals.
SUMMER FLAVOURS A visit to Tosokchon (Jahamun-ro 5-gil 5, Jongno-gu) means
tucking in to samgyetang, a summer broth of ginseng and chicken. Tosokchon enjoys
a cult following, with former president Roh Moo Hyun amongst its devotees.
currently wowing New York diners with his ‘New Korean’ cooking. His Seoul
dining room JungSik (649-7
Sinsa-dong, Gangnam, jungsik.kr) is a celebration of truly beautiful plates.
The kitchen uses using quintessentially Korean ingredients to serve up fresh
realise that Korea’s best chow isn’t necessarily found in the most expensive
restaurants. Order the Korean shabu shabu
– thin wafers of beef cooked in broth and served with dipping sauce.
to find out what the locals are really drinking? “We teach Korea’s drinking
culture – how to pour and what to drink,” says Korean-American guide Daniel Grey. His Korean Night Dining Tour steers you through the joys of
drinking soju (potent rice wine) and
snacking up a storm in the city’s alleyway barbeque cafés (ongofood.com).
|Korean Night Dining Tour|
After you’ve been fed
and watered, the place to be on the last Friday of the month is Hongdae
district for Club Day, where $12
gets you entry to a dozen or more clubs in the happening Hongik University area.
Don’t expect to get home early – it kicks off around 11pm and diehards call it
a night around 5am. The second Friday of the month is the smaller Sound Day,
with fewer clubs and a focus on live music, from 8pm-5am (02 333 3910).
a big night, recharge at a jjimjilbang (public bathhouse), which
is guaranteed to knock a dress size off you, thanks to a battalion of scrubbers and fiery steam
rooms: expect rampant public nudity (yes, they are segregated). Most hotels
have their own sauna, or try the foreigner-friendly, seven-story Yongsan Dragon
Hill Spa (dragonhillspa.co.kr)
The Westin Chosun (Jung-gu, 87
Sogong-dong, westin.com/seoul) is walking distance to Namdaemun market,
Myengdong fashion town, beautiful department stores and two palaces.
SPA BREAK On the side of Mount Nam sit the luxe San
5-5, Jang Chung-dong 2-Ga Jung-gu,
Each of the hotel’s huge 32 suites has a steamy indoor pool and sauna and its
spectacular outdoor pool is a favoured haunt of Seoul’s elite.
|Banyan Tree Seoul|
BUDGET Sophia’s Guest House (Jongno-gu, 157-1 Sogyeok-dong, sophiagh.com), a 150-year-old hanok with ondol
rooms (mattresses on heated floors) around a pretty courtyard, a short walk from
the arty enclave of Insa-dong.
BOUTIQUE In the expat district of Itaewon you’ll find IP Boutique Hotel (737-32
Hannam-dong, Yongsangu, ipboutiquehotel.com) It has has an Alice-in-Wonderland feel, with jungle swings in
the foyer and compact, mirrored all-white rooms.
LUXURY RakKoJae (98 Gye-dong,
Jongno-gu, rkj.co.kr) is a serene luxury hanok in Bukchon, with natural jade
floors in its ondol rooms and a yellow-mud sauna.
Gyeongbokgung Palace, the first home of the Joseon dynasty.
Dating from 1395, it also houses the excellent National Folk Museum with a
great, kitch-free gift shop. Closed Tuesdays (royalpalace.go.kr) For live
entertainment, you can’t beat non-verbal theatre,
which is massive in Seoul – great if your Korean is rusty.
Nanta is a
blood-pumping kitchen comedy set to traditional samulnori rhythm, and audience
members are regularly invited on stage to participate (nanta.co.kr).
spend a day at Namdaemun Market; stop for dumplings in alleys of food
stalls or buy jars of pickled ginseng or gorgeous kitchenwear from more than
1000 stalls. Nearby, you’ll find the 14th-century Sungnyemun Gate, officially Korea’s
Number 1 National Treasure.
Jung-Man is Korea’s top commercial photographer and been named one of the
country’s Men of Culture in 2000.
photograph of Seoul? It lies somewhere between the historical past and
the advance of the modern structure: the juxtaposition between hanoks and palaces and its modern
architecture. It is best to find this in Gwangwhamun, near Gyeongbokgung Palace.
the only one in Seoul who enjoys red lights. I take photos while stopped in
heart of art? Hongdae and Insadong. Independent musicians play in the park
at night in Hongdae and there is a great grunge feeling to the street art
there. Hongdae has various flea markets where artists sell their wares while Insa-dong
is famous for its many art galleries and historic feeling.
Mountain, the center of the city. There is nature even in the heart of Seoul,
if you know where to look.
Samcheong-dong, Jongno-go, gallerykong.com)
Getting there: To book your flight to Seoul with our codeshare partner, Singapore Airlines, visit www.virginaustralia.com or simply call 13 67 89 (in Australia).
EXPATS call it Planet Korea: and after a week in Seoul I know I’m not
in Kansas any more, Toto. Even my arrival at Incheon airport is
memorable. After battling Seoul airport’s personal-space-invading taxi
drivers, the luxurious airport bus does not take off until a tuneful
little ditty is played over the loudspeakers and our driver bows deeply
to us, his guests.
The city streets are awash with flyers of K-pop teen boys
with their glossy, pouting J-Bieber lips and names such as After School
and Super Junior. Meanwhile, naughty little girls in nine-inch
stilettos and hot pants catch the eye of stern, grey-suited businessmen
and my delighted male companions, who vote Seoul girls as having the
best legs in Asia.
Each sector of Seoul has its own personality: South Seoul
for fashionistas, Bukchon, pictured, in the north for gorgeous,
traditional tea houses, the city for mainstream shopping. And then
there’s Itaewon, the Kings Cross of Korea, for better or for worse, the
location of my hard-working hotel and also a club where my
American-gone-native friend is drumming tonight.
Itaewon is Seoul’s beating foreign heart, thanks to the
US Army base set in its midst. At midnight, young men with buzz cuts run
through the traffic in the rain laughing at their freedom. When they’re
not banging on my taxi’s bonnet or brawling at street corners, they’re
chatting up garishly painted hot-pants girls. The patient Military
Police are negotiating peace while touts grab my ear the minute the taxi
door opens to advertise shops selling “big-sizes” sportswear and
Trolex. (“That means true Rolex, madam.”)
With the army base there, it
makes perfect sense that Itaewon is also Seoul’s best-known foreigner
red-light district. Well, it’s Seoul’s “whatever-your-taste” district.
Itaewon’s social scene is dominated by two hills – Homo Hill, where
elongated Korean trannies languish on chaise longues in their downtime,
and Hooker Hill, a mix of dingy rock pubs and red doors and nail-filing,
pumped-up working girls.
It’s the first time I’ve seen overt cleavage in Seoul and
I now have renewed respect for the prostitutes of this city, seeing
them trip up and down this 45-degree-angle hill in killer heels.
The band pub is like any other old-school band pub across
the world; a nameless door, a dark corridor, sticky brown carpet and
cigarette smoke so thick you could lose a small Pacific nation in the
pub’s dingy recesses. My friend puts me in a corner beside the thrumming
aircon and the pool table, then heads off to the stage.
I realise that there’s not one Korean in the joint – the accents are a mix of American, Canadian and northern English.
While my friend’s mate, a Canadian security contractor,
tells me of meeting Aussie English teachers because his government pad
has a washing machine and a spa bath, a Mancunian pool player ambles
across and leans over me, hand on the wall behind my head.
“Haven’t seen you here before,” he says in a beery fug, ignoring the roll of my eyes.
“Are you new in town?”
It may be Planet Korea, but the more things change, the more they stay the same.
They call it Planet Korea, and the bizarre north Asian capital, Seoul, is regularly written up in the world’s big newspapers of the day for its new design focus and old culture.
I would never have found my way through Seoul’s insane shopping scene without pro-shopper Joey, my Seoul sister Fee and a large dose of sheer luck.
It’s a game of hide and seek, and you shall find, in a labyrinth of old markets and modern malls.
You can shop for fashion till 4am, and grab breakfast in the markets while waiting for them to open all over again. With almost no English signs or language spoken, and street cred achieved only by doing the whole shopathon in 9-inch heels, this is not a scene for novices. We can but try…
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