Published on January 5, 2008
The National Folk Museum displays the lifestyle of ancient Koreans.
For the city at the forefront of Asian pop culture, with its catchy tunes, slick TV shows and edgy fashion sense, Seoul certainly seemed simple and tranquil during my brief recent visit.
In mid-November the morning temperature lingered around 15 degrees thanks to the surrounding mountains, which is a treat for Thai tourists as the fog rolls off Seoul's central lake, like a scene from a fantasy novel.
Warming the day were the autumn leaves of the trees lining the roads, ablaze in orange, yellow and red.
Our first stop was the Blue House, the presidential residence. No indoor tours allowed, so we snapped pictures of the phoenix statue in the central courtyard and admired the precision changing of the military guard.
Minutes later we were at the National Folk Museum, whose garden is filled with jangseung - totem poles that ward off evil spirits. They don't seem too frightening, though, with their big hollow eyes and thick lips.
The museum displays traditional costumes, farming implements and dolls in various stages of making kimchi, along with curious facts about the populace - such as women who are able to knit being more highly valued than those who cook and clean house.
Namsan Hanok Village offers an array of Joseon Dynasty royal houses. The designs are quite simple, though the roofs have decidedly oriental eaves.
Amid the jumble of buildings was a gaggle of laughing kindergarten pupils who happily took photos with us. They all looked like they might grow up to be the next Rain, South Korea's pre-eminent pop star.
Seoul has done well preserving its traditions, though popular culture inevitably seeps in.
Everland is an amusement park filled with pastel-coloured fairytale shops and pretty exciting rides. Teenagers were buying hats with animal faces, gloves that looked like tiger paws and lollipops with swirls of candy fillings.
The park is traversed by a cable car that also gets the adrenaline going, and it has a zoo boasting a lion-tiger crossbreed that the Koreans call a "lytiger". Unfortunately for us, it was sick at the time and refused to make an appearance.
Pop is the main attraction at Seoul Tower, which glitters with mirrors. The second floor is bedecked with thousands of padlocks of all sizes, each representing someone's promise of love, as sketched out in attached messages.
We checked out the biggest locks and mused over the love stories behind them, and then moved downstairs to the souvenir shops crammed with cute pens, messages that come in pillboxes and mesmerising snow globes.
Almost every second we spent in Seoul was filled with cute little snapshots like this. Simplicity is the dominant feature of the sites and scenes, but behind it there's always something to cherish.
The writer travelled to South Korea as a guest of Toyota.