Making the Most of a Rainy Day
We’ll make the most of our rainy day by starting underground. Two new exhibits on Korea’s greatest heroes located underneath Gwanghwamun Square were recently opened to the public.
From there we’ll go to the National Palace Museum of Korea to learn about the Joseon Dynasty’s royal family before a quick look around at the Seoul Metro Art Center, a gallery space that’s connected to Gyeongbokgung Station. Afterwards, we’ll take the subway to Seoul’s oldest public market to enjoy two rainy day favorite foods in Korea – crispy fried bindaetteok and makgeolli rice wine before we visit one of Asia’s finest museums, the National Museum of Korea. From there, we’ll head to Bitplex, the massive new shopping, theater and water park complex attached to Wangsimni Station. After buying a new outfit or catching a movie, how about spending a few hours relaxing in a traditional-style Korean spa? Who knows, maybe you’ll like it so much you’ll spend the night?
So, there you go, a tour specifically designed for a rainy day! Are you ready? Then…
Let’s Get Started!
1. From Gwanghwamun Station, access the
Story of Sejong exhibition hall that’s located
behind the statue of the seated king via
subway station exit #2.
Or, access it from either the Sejong Center
parking lot or from the KT Building.
Ever since Gwanghwamun Square was reintroduced to the public in 2009 after a complete renovation, it’s become one of the most popular spots among locals and tourists alike. The combination of its central location and the beautiful natural surroundings – Bugaksan (Mt.) and the Cheonggyecheon (Stream) – make it a huge draw. But it’s not just the above ground facilities that make the Square a wonderful destination. On this tour, we’re going below ground.
|Underneath the Square, and accessible via the nearby KT building and the Sejong Center for the Arts, are new exhibits that celebrate two of Korea’s greatest heroes – the naval hero Admiral Yi Sun-shin and King Sejong the Great. The extensive and informative galleries offer a wealth of information about these remarkable men. Through interactive video, rotating galleries and family-friendly exhibits, you can learn about the many scientific inventions made during the enlightened reign of King Sejong, as well as what’s perhaps his greatest achievement, hangeul, the Korean alphabet. The adjacent exhibition space chronicles the tactical genius of Admiral Yi, who time and time again defeated Japanese invaders in the late 16th century. As part of the exhibit, climb aboard one of his famous ironclad turtle ships!|
When you’re done, I hope you brought your umbrella, because we are going to take a brief (but scenic) walk outside to our next destination. The central plaza, with Gyeongbokgung (Palace), the stately Gwanghwamun Gate and Bugaksan (Mt.) in front of you, looks impressive in any weather!
Note: The exhibition halls are free and open from 10:30 to 22:30 everyday except Mondays. An English audio guide system is available.
The rainy or monsoon season in Korea is called
“jangma.” Typically, it occurs in late June and early
July and lasts for three to six weeks. Although the
heavy showers (100 or 200 mm of rain in a single
day isn’t uncommon) can be inconvenient for some,
it’s a very important time of year for the nation’s
farmers, since it’s when the peninsula can expect to
receive more than half of its annual precipitation.
For travelers, it’s important to have a sturdy
umbrella on hand, since morning sunshine can
quickly become afternoon showers!
1. Exit the exhibit via the doors located behind the King Sejong statue.
Before becoming a republic, Korea was a kingdom. The Joseon Dynasty began in 1394 and its 27 kings reigned for over 500 years, until the Japanese colonial occupation of Korea ended it in 1910. As you might imagine, many artifacts from the nation’s royal era remain, and thousands of them are on display at the National Palace Museum of Korea.
Seoul’s extensive subway system is much more
|Located within the walls of Gyeongbokgung (Palace), the museum is conveniently accessed via the subway. Better yet, its three floors of exhibitions showcasing some 40,000 pieces are free to the public. Walking among the spacious, low-light exhibits, it’s easy to be impressed by the beautiful artifacts from this period in Korea’s long history. While viewing the extensive art, traditional costume and many volumes dedicated to recording the royal family’s protocols, you may find yourself wishing to see Korea at the height of its royal era!|
In addition to gorgeous iron clubs with goblin faces in silver inlay and the ceremonial robes of prior princes, two of the museum’s most popular items are relatively modern cars. The Joseon Dynasty’s 26th king, Gojong, possessed two handsome, wine-colored vehicles. They are examples of his wish to modernize Korea in the tumultuous years before Japan forcibly annexed the nation, which ended Korea’s royal era.
Note: The National Palace Museum of Korea is open from 09:00-18:00 Tuesday-Friday and from 09:00-19:00 on weekends and holidays. Free, one-hour English tours are offered at 15:00.
1. Exit the museum’s front doors and turn
right into Gyeongbokgung Station.
2. Before taking the train, visit the two large
halls named the Seoul Metro Art Center.
They are located underground between
the street and subway platform levels.
In terms of number of rides taken, Seoul’s subway system is the third most heavily used in the world! It’s a remarkable feat to move millions of people every day. Since the daily commute eats up a large part of many of our days, why not make subway stations more interesting for the commuter? This is why Seoul Metro installed “Art Centers” in the midst of Gyeongbokgung Station.
The gallery’s large floor area and towering domed ceiling must be one of Seoul’s largest spaces for public art. Open to the public at no charge, the halls host rotating exhibits of paintings, photography and sculpture. Recent exhibits showcased photographs of the windswept Dokdo islets and historical maps that document them as part of Korea for centuries. No matter the exhibit, the Seoul Metro Art Center is a great place to catch some art as you take the subway from point A to B, especially if you’re trying to escape the rain!
1. From the Art Center level, descend to the subway platform and take a train going in the direction of
Seoul’s Oldest Market
Some say that the best way to see a slice of traditional Korea is to visit one of its traditional markets. Unlike the glitzy modern malls and supermarkets, Seoul’s traditional markets retain a special charm and should be included on every short-list of places to see. Thankfully, the city realized that the markets are not only an important part of the local fabric, but also a popular tourist attraction, which is why millions of dollars have been pumped into improving them for vendors and customers, alike.
Among the city’s many public markets, KwangJang Market is probably the favorite. It’s said to be the nation’s first, and it’s remarkable to see how it thrives today. Well known for its scores of stalls selling bright silks for traditional Korean clothing called hanbok, KwangJang is also appreciated for its delicious snacks. Come in the early evening hours to see men and women in business attire sitting alongside groups of grandmothers enjoying everything from red bean porridge (patjuk) and pig feet (jokbal) to fish cakes (eomuk) and blood sausage (sundae).
These traditional snacks are sure to tempt (and test!) many foreigners’ stomachs, but if you really want to behave like a local on a rainy day, then sit down and enjoy one of the delicious crispy bindaetteok pancakes being prepared by dozens of vendors!
Bindaetteok is typically a mung bean pancake that’s fried to a crisp. The ground beans are usually mixed with chopped pork or beef, onions and/or kimchi before they’re poured onto the grill. Served with a spicy soy sauce and onion dipping sauce, it’s the perfect compliment to the traditional rice wine, called makgeolli! The bindaetteok sold in KwangJang is especially thick and crispy, and when paired with a couple of other snacks, it makes for a very filling lunch!
1. Return to Jongno 5(o)-ga Station and take the subway
going in the direction of Soyosan just one stop to
2. Transfer to line 4 going in the direction of Seoul Station
One of Asia’s Great Museums
The National Museum of Korea is so huge that we could spend the entire day there browsing the 11,000 items that are displayed on seven floors! It’s frequently said that a moderately paced viewing of the collection would take over 11 hours. I don’t know about you, but that’s more museum than I can take in one day. Instead, if you want to budget just a couple of hours, why not take a look at the museum’s six major galleries – Prehistory and Ancient History, Medieval and Early Modern History, Calligraphy and Paining, Sculpture and Crafts and the Asia and Donations – and prioritize which two or three you want to conquer on this visit. The good news is that the museum’s permanent exhibitions are free for future browsing.
|As you explore the galleries, it’s easy to see that the impressive collection would please virtually anyone. It’s remarkable that one place contains art from the Paleolithic Age and Korea’s earliest kingdoms, to the refined beauty of the Joseon Dynasty’s world-famous ceramics.|
As you walk around, here are a couple of fun facts to keep in mind. To conserve energy, the museum was designed to utilize sunlight instead of artificial light. To protect the priceless items inside, the display cases are fitted with shock-absorbent platforms. In fact, the main building was constructed to withstand a magnitude 6.0 earthquake… all the more impressive since Korea rarely experiences tremblers. Nevertheless, it’s good to know that the museum’s remarkable collection should be safe for generations.
and audio guides can be rented by anyone age 14 or
over who can provide a personal ID. The equipment
features book marking and search capabilities.
Available for 3,000 won (PDA) and 1,000 won
(audio guide), it’s recommended that reservations
be made at least one day prior to your visit.
Note: The museum is open from 09:00-18:00 on
Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 09:00-21:00 on
Wednesdays and Saturdays and until 19:00 on Sundays
and holidays (Closed Mondays). There is free admission
to the main exhibition hall and the Children’s Museum.
One-hour English guided tours are provided at 10:30
and 14:30 daily. http://museum.go.kr
1. Return to Ichon Station and take the Jungang subway line to Wangsimni Station.
So, what did you think about Korea’s artistic history? Well, now it’s time to jump into the present with a trip to the massive Bitplex Complex located above Wangsimni Station. Twenty floors of shopping, movies and even an indoor water park await you at one of the latest examples of a public-private joint investment that renovated one of Seoul’s busiest train stations. It’s estimated that over 100,000 people pass through the station daily, which made the busy juncture a natural spot for a commercial mega-plex!
Upon entering Bitplex from Wangsimni Station (once again avoiding the rain), you’ll enter the Enter-6 Fashion Square. The sprawling five floors of shopping were designed to make you feel like you’re strolling along a cobblestone street somewhere in Europe. There are street lanterns, fancy planters, wooden benches and even a three-story plaza area featuring a large water fountain. Above Fashion Square are two-levels of the discount chain E-mart and above them is a 10-screen movie theater featuring Korea’s largest IMAX screen. At a whopping 21.3 x 13.5 meters, it dwarfs every other screen in the nation! Unless you’re prone to motion sickness, why not check out an afternoon movie and then stop for a snack? The mall’s food court offers foods from all around the world at reasonable prices.
|Bitplex’s CGV IMAX screens frequently play English-language, Hollywood blockbusters with Korean subtitles, so it’s a great place to catch a movie. There are a number of other movie theaters around the city that frequently play major studio and independent films in English or with English subtitles. Also, there are several cinemas that play Korean films with English subtitles, such as CGV Gangnam, CGV Yongsan, CGV Myeong-dong and CGV Guro. In 2010, twenty Korean movies were also presented in English.|
1. From the ticketing area of the CGV IMAX
theater, take the side exit.
|End Your Day at the Spa|
After a busy day avoiding the rain, what better way to wrap it up than a few hours at the spa? Korea is famous for its unique jjimjilbang spa culture, and the best part, is that you don’t even have to leave the Bitplex to experience it for yourself. That’s because the Four Season spa is located inside the huge mall, and features Korea’s only indoor water park, as well as a pool, dance lessons and a big fitness center.
Four Season spa is great for families, the spa facilities offer several types of saunas, pools, water slides and other amenities at just 10,000 won per day (monthly discounts available). Dance lessons start at 70,000 won.
If, after an hour or two enjoying the spa, you may just want to spend the night!
experience, here are a few things to keep in mind.
First, be sure you don’t wear your shoes inside.
You’ll be given a key to a locker to store your shoes.
Once inside the gender-segregated areas of the spa,
customers are typically nude. Be sure to shower
prior to entering any of the pools or sauna facilities.
If you elect to have a full body scrub, note that the
scrubbing may be more rigorous than you are used
to, as the intent is to remove dead skin cells from
your body. If you can endure the mild discomfort,
you’ll emerge feeling fully rejuvenated!
So, there you have it, more than enough indoor activities to keep you busy when the weather keeps you inside. I hope you’ll agree that a rainy day is sometimes the best time to explore the city.
I hope you enjoyed the tour. Thanks for coming along and let’s do it again soon!