Beautifully lit trees lined the entire area, their gently casted glow shimmering over the deep velvety water, the bustling crowds around us occasionally disturbing the reflections. Much of what I’ve seen of South Korea my first day here is positively beautiful, inspired design that is only comparable to the greatest cities back home in the US.
Hyun made sure to point me out to my fellow tour guides – apparently I had traveled the furthest to get here, hailing all the way from sunny Phoenix, Arizona. I took a little bow as friendly faces softly clapped around me before Hyun delved back into the history of the area. Millions of dollars in renovations gave the area a much needed facelift, a facelift residents were initially hesitant to pay for until they saw the final product.
Hyun’s English speaking abilities were exceptional, giving me the impression he’d actually spent some time living there. I might have asked him if he wasn’t so busy regaling the audience so the best I could do was conjecture. Completely immersed by my strange and tranquil surroundings, I allowed my mind to wander.
Earlier in the day I worked up the courage to sample some of the most popular Korean food, Kimchi fermented cabbage. Hailed as the national dish, I learned from a dining patron the delicacy actually dates back thousands of years. As a ravage consumer of all things spicy, I actually developed a craving for Kimchi by my short time in Korea was over.
Quickly inspired by the local cuisine, I took it upon myself to visit one of the many open air markets in Dongdaemun. Less known for attracting tourists, it was easy for me to stick out here with my tennis shoes and baseball cap. I learned very quickly that shopping in these areas requires a certain level of confidence as the language barrier can be downright overwhelming at times.
If you’d asked me years earlier, I’d never believe I’d scrounge up the remaining funds from my college graduation gift to set off for Korea. It was sometime during that following spring when the travel bug finally bit me and refused to let go – something I’m told it has a tendency to do.
My friend Nick was a constant vagabond, always on the move, and incidentally the one who convinced me to spend a few years on the road. When I finally had the chance to catch up with him in one of our favorite dives, he pulled out his laptop and showed me a plethora of photos from all over the world – many of which I’d never even seen outside of a Wikipedia page.
One picture in particular stood out to me toward the tail end of his impromptu presentation. “Where’s this?” I asked, pointing to a thumbnail with radiant golden lights.
“This is Cheonggyecheon,” he said, “easily the most beautiful place in Seoul.” Those words found a way to resonate with me over time until I added the location to my own bucket list. I had to see it for myself.
Back to my present tour, I looked back down to where the mother was with her children, the young boy now safely across the canal. This was it – the most beautiful place in Seoul.
(Photo by Kim Jin Ho via Flickr)