x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Seoul’s Gangnam style is oriental Manhattan

Make like Psy on a visit to Seoul and check out Gangnam – a district where business mixes easily with leisure and top-notch hotels.

The Gangnam district of Seoul, which was popularised by South Korean artist Psy in his music video Gangnam Style. SeongJoon Cho / Bloomberg News
The Gangnam district of Seoul, which was popularised by South Korean artist Psy in his music video Gangnam Style. SeongJoon Cho / Bloomberg News

Seoul is the vibrant capital of South Korea, one of the world’s fastest growing economies over the past two decades.

The city’s 11 million inhabitants work hard and relax hard. They have made their city one of the top tourist attractions in the Far East. Busy and industrious by day, Seoul after office hours is a relaxing and welcoming urban playground, with something to appeal to sightseers and travellers of all tastes.

Places to stay: Gangnam district (which gave birth to Psy’s top-viewed music video Gangnam Style) is the part of the city where business mixes easily with leisure and the pricey hotels.

Imagine a kind of oriental Manhattan. It is also convenient for most business trips in the city, whether out to the HQ of Samsung Engineering (20 minutes by car) or the central business and financial district at Yeoui (10 minutes).

Gangnam also hosts Seoul’s exhibition and conference area, Coex. The InterContinental hotel is bang in the middle of all this, and offers five-star standards at top-end prices (around Dh1,500 per night). An early reservation is recommended if your visit coincides with one of the many international conferences Seoul hosts each year.

Places to eat: Forget all those stereotyped preconceptions about Korean cuisine. It is delicious, nutritious and often freshly prepared at your table in “Korean barbecue” style — a sunken frying/grilling facility in the middle of the table where talented chefs will skilfully prepare dishes.

Meat is spiced and beautifully presented, and of course, there is the ubiquitous kimchi — Korean pickled cabbage — that is served unrequested with everything, even just a drink. Koreans are great fans of garlic, slightly stronger here than its European equivalent.

Off hours: If you’ve had enough of Gangnam frivolity, hire a tour (brochures in all hotel lobbies) and take the one-hour drive to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), the border and 1953 armistice line with North Korea.

The Koreans call it “peace tourism” and it is certainly a lucrative business, with hundreds of coaches making the journey every day. If possible, take the underground trip along the clandestine tunnels the North dug in preparation for an invasion of the South in the 1970s.

Tourism apart, the DMZ is a moving and continuing reminder of the tragedy of war. Especially heartbreaking are the parties of young schoolchildren standing on an observatory platform shouting “hello friends” while waving northwards across barbed wire and minefields.

Getting there: Both Emirates Airline and Etihad make the eight-hour journey from the UAE to Incheon Airport, roughly an hour away by taxi from downtown Seoul, though rush-hour traffic can add 30 minutes to this.

fkane@thenational.ae