[personal profile] niori_1709
I love traditional Korean architecture. It is, hands down, one of my favourite things in Korea. I don't just mean the big, fancy designs, like you see on temples and palaces. I love the simple, common buildings as well, with their black and white tiles that look piled onto one another and that curve up into a wide arch, and their wooden chestnut brown base. They're almost elegant in their simplicity, and I love looking at them. That's why, of course, I was all over Bukchon Hanok Village.

Hanok village is an area of a community that is made up of traditional buildings. A While that's actually not all that uncommon, these are specifically named and cared for as such, just like the way Canada markets historic communities and areas of town. There are hundreds of hanok buildings here, and some of them date back to the Joseon dynasty. They're maintained and kept this way for tourists, but people do live here. It's a fully functioning area of the city, though a number of the buildings have been made into teahouses, guest houses, and places to create traditional Korean crafts. It depends on the day and the time (which meant that going on a Sunday when there's only ah hour and a half of daylight left, like I did, means you're not going to be able to do any of them), but there are plenty of experiences you can choose from. You can learn flower pocket making, how to naturally dye a handkerchief, make a paper jewellery box, make a paper doll, paint a folk scene on a fan, make a traditional frame for latticework, gilded bookmarks, a mother of pearl inlaid key chain, and bracelets. There's even a soju (the most famous alcohol in Korea) experience, though I'd urge a bit more caution on that one, just in case.

Another wonderful thing about Bukchon Hanok Village is the location. It slants up on a hill, so expect to get a workout while you explore. The streets twist and turn, and I know I got lost a number of times (to be sure to pick up a map from one of the tourist information centres). Wandering down narrow roads and alleys might be getting lost, but it's a good getting lost. There were wonderful buildings all around me, though you could only see the roof of most, because brick walls taller than me surrounded the houses themselves, giving the residents privacy. If you found yourself on the top of a high point however, you could look down and see those buildings laid out, one after one. The maze like pathways were not the only interesting thing about the location. Bukchon Hanok Village is located just north of the palace district, and since it's up so high, you're granted an amazing view of Gyeongbokgung Palace (more on that next month) on the west end of the village, and Changdeokgung Palace on the other. The views are stunning, where you can see the entire complex sprawled out behind the gate at the front. On the west side you can see the National Folk Museum of Korea, which is shaped differently than all the others I've seen in Korea. It goes up in stone layers, stairs leading up to three stone terraces, with a towering, colourful temple like pagoda at the top. They look as amazing from a distance as they do up close.
The Bukchon Hanok Village isn't the only place great for an afternoon/early evening stroll.
If you're more in the mood for a calming walk down a river or a lovely picnic, Hangang Park in the place for you. Hangang Park stretches down the bank of Seoul's famous Han River. It's a long park, if not a very big one. There are many things to offer at each part, most importantly the lovely walk, but I'm going to narrow it down to one section specifically. That section is where the Han meets Yeouido, which is generally accepted as the best. If you're wondering where you've heard the place name 'Yeouido' before, that would be because I visited Hangang Park just after seeing another Seoul landmark, Building 63. The park is less than a ten minute walk from the building, so I decided to take a stroll before heading home. To get down to the river itself, you have to pass through an open, grassy area. It's a place that's just perfect for a picnic. There were people everywhere, families and couples spread out on blankets, kids paying ball or flying kites, basically every park activity you could think of, happening right there. Once you pass through the picnic area, you find yourself down at the river banks. I'll admit that it's not the prettiest waterfront I've ever seen, at least in the day light. It's not ugly, by any means, but it doesn't seem to be anything special...until the sun sets. Then, the buildings on all sides of the Han turn on their lights, and the river lights up with the reflection of them. The water shimmers as mirrors the nightlights of the hundreds of tall buildings that tower over it. It's a beautiful sight, which is probably why so many dramas (Korean TV shows) are filmed here. If you need a romantic moment by the Han for your show, Hangang Park on Yeouido is the place to go.

Another great thing is that you don't need to stay landlocked. Ferry cruises leave from this area of Hangang Park, ones that take you up and down the Han. There's a ton of them to choose from- some are just a trip up the river, others provide dinner and a show. Depending on your price range, you can go simple or elegant. They also run throughout the day, and I've been told a night time cruise on the Han is a beautiful thing, even if I've never gotten to go on one myself. Given how pretty night on the Han is from the shore, I can just imagine how beautiful it would be from the middle.

It's Hangang Park that brings us to the last part of today's travel guide, because this is the location where it happens. Instead of a place this time, I'm going to talk about an event. That is the Seoul International Fireworks Festival. I've probably mentioned it before, but there seems to be a festival for everything here in Korea. I'm not even surprised to hear about festivals anymore, so of course I didn't even raise my eyebrows at the mention of one for fireworks (there's actually another one, down in the city of Busan in the fall). It happens annually in the summerish months, and it's a festival not to miss. Surprisingly enough, I didn't actually go to this my first year in Korea. I can't remember why, exactly, only that it didn't sound all the impressive. I mean, once you've seen one fireworks show, you've seen them all, right? Wrong.

The festival takes place over the Han, with boat in the middle where the fireworks go off from. Before the fireworks begin, there's performances and shows at the park. That said, I highly caution against trying to take in the show at Hangang Park itself. The crowds are insane, and I mean that in a you can't even move your arms you're packed in so tight, crowd. Being forewarned of this, I decided to watch the fireworks from a distance. There's quite a few bridges that cross over the Han, and I (along with many others) decided to watch the show from one of them. In the end, it's a choice I was very happy with. Not only was it less crowded, but fireworks look better from far away, where you don't have to crane your neck to watch them light up the sky. You can see them all go off in your field of vision, and don't have to take your eyes off them to catch it all. Also, I got treated to a beautiful sunset from the bridge. I slowly watched the sky go orange to black over Building 63, making it shine gold for a brief time, and watched the sides of the river light up. So take my advice- watch from one of the bridges, not the park where the festival technically takes place. Oh, and no matter where you go, get there early if you want to stand somewhere with a clear view.

I didn't expect the variety of fireworks that were sent up into the sky. There were the pretty basic ones, white, green, blue, and red light exploding into pretty balls, and then there were the more elaborate ones. There were fireworks that turned into smiley faces, and that looked like Saturn, a planet with rings around it. There were multi-coloured ones, and ones that were shaped like the infinity symbol. Some changed colour after exploding, and some that moved around like something out of Harry Potter. The end, where at least fifty fireworks went off one right after the other, lit up the sky like it was daytime. Some were types I'd seen before, but others were completely different and far more interesting than I'd ever seen. They would go for twenty minutes, stop for ten, and then repeat. It lasted for a little over an hour over all, another thing that surprised me. It was a pretty spectacular night. While the Seoul International Fireworks Festival might not necessarily best in the world (not that I've seen many to compare it to, quite frankly), but it is a great fireworks display, and I recommend it if you're in Seoul the night it's happening.

So there you have it- three more things that you can do in Seoul. One traditional, one relaxing, and one exciting. Three different experiences, something for everyone, and each a great time.
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