The first thing that hits you when you arrive in the city is the sheer size of the place. Seoul is a city of over 25 million people – and you can tell. In many city centres tourists don’t need public transport to get around. Here, walking between stations often feels like a trek.
Although highly developed, with the required infrastructure to match, Seoul lacks the shiny glass and steel facade of cities such as Hong Kong or Singapore. Instead many of the buildings look like they were constructed about 15 years ago. This is perhaps unsurprising when it is considered that the two major events Seoul has hosted, the 2002 World Cup and the 1988 Olympics, occurred 10 and 24 years ago. Some might harshly describe the appearance of some areas as staid. However, the absence of all-encompassing chrome could be regarded as fitting – it demonstrates Seoul as a city of real substance with a grittier edge than its Asian counterparts.
In a possible admission that their city was falling behind in the glamour stakes, the authorities in Seoul have embarked on a couple of major development projects. Indeed, the city gained recognition for its ambitions when it was awarded the World Design Capital in 2010.
As you would expect of a city of Seoul’s size, the city incorporates a buzzing nightlife, such as the area surrounding Hongik University, along with historic palaces and parks.
During my three-day visit, I feel I have barely scratched the surface of this enormous city. When I told people I was travelling to Seoul, some met the news with indifference. I have no doubt that this ambivalence is purely a result of ignorance. As the final touches are applied to ambitious construction plans across the city, Seoul will soon become a major destination for travellers in east Asia.