Springtime in Seoul

SEOUL - Spring is a fabulous time to be out and about in Seoul, and to join in the merrymaking at the many cherry blossom festivals around.

In April, the city comes alive with white, yellow and pink blooms. It is a time when the locals celebrate the end of winter in parks.

From Hangang Park and Olympic Park to Yeouido Park, you can catch spring festivities and partake in traditional performances, street snacks and games.

At Namsan Park, we took a leisurely stroll up the hill amidst a corridor of cherry trees and visited the iconic Seoul Tower.

Namsan Park is within walking distance of the shopping hub of Myeongdong and you can see the best of both worlds easily.

Sinsadong Garusogil - famed for its avenue of trees and a great place to see quaint cafes, boutiques and chic folks - was another good spot to view the blossoms.

Eats: Markets and street food

In springtime, the weather is just right to sit at one of the food stalls in Kwangjang Market.

The retail section of the market is famed for its selection of fabrics and bed linen, and in between shopping, you can grab delicious bean pancakes, japchae (tossed yam vermicelli with vegetables) and pig's feet and plonk yourselves on a comfy bench heated on a chilly day.

For supper, head over to the Noryangjin Fish Market to select the freshest live seafood, which can be cooked on the spot for you, or prepared sashimi-style.

You will find quite a few offerings not seen back home and it is always fun to navigate through the rows of tanks and buckets.

As you wander the streets, you will invariably be drawn to the street food such as fish paste on skewers, kimbap (Korean rolled rice) and silkworm larvae. Better still, indulge in these while standing at the food cart with a cup of steaming broth, or snug under a plastic tent.

Visit: Local bathhouse

After a day of traipsing around, nothing is more relaxing and fun than a visit to a local bathhouse or jimjilbang.

Many of these are multi-storey complexes that come with soaking pools, saunas, massage rooms, arcades and sleeping booths.

These bathhouses are open all day and make for a cheap and unusual overnight stay, where everyone in the communal sleeping halls is decked out in the same T-shirt, shorts and rubber bracelet.

There are a few saunas, which are more popular with tourists, such as the Silloam Fire Pot Sauna behind Seoul Station and the Dragon Hill Spa near Yongsan Station.

Just be ready to leave your inhibitions at the door. Users of the gender-separated bath area are required to shed all clothing, and it is not uncommon to see groups of housewives chatting voraciously as they give each other back scrubs.

Stay: Traditional Korean house

Instead of the typical hotel or hostel, stay in a hanok and be transported to the world of a Korean period drama. These traditional tiled-roof houses are built with timber, soil and paper.

The floor is usually heated so there is no problem sleeping on the ground, and the central courtyard is a pretty sight during spring.

Many hanok can be booked online and some even offer the homestay experience, or organise cultural activities such as tea ceremonies and wearing the Korean traditional costume.

GETTING THERE

Numerous airlines fly direct to Seoul's Incheon Airport, including Singapore Airlines, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines.

TRAVELLER'S TIPS

- Some blossom watch spots can get crowded on the weekend, especially if there is a festival, but it is all part of the local experience.

- It can get slippery at Noryangjin Fish Market, so be sure to wear good walking shoes.

This article was published by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Division, SPH.


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