The old city.
World Cup comes to Seoul.
Ben visits the new and the old of the world's fifth-largest city, with its modern boulevards side-by-side with centuries-old palaces and temples.
Seoul, the world's fifth-largest city, was flattened during the Korean War which broke out in 1950. Fifty years later it is a modern metropolis of 11 million people, high-rise buildings and 12-lane boulevards, side-by-side with centuries-old palaces, temples, pagodas and magnificent stone gateways in enormous, elegant gardens.
Amazingly, with six million people using the subway each day, and millions of others using the roads, Seoul is a city of order. Drivers, riders and pedestrians obey laws and, considering its size, the city runs relatively smoothly.
There are enormous shopping malls, such as Myeong-Dong, where it is easy to think the entire population has come to shop at the one time.
Speaking of shopping, Insadong is a traditional shopping alley and the premier place for buying antiques, arts and crafts. Namdaemun market has a history of 600 years. It has around 1300 shops covering four hectares and the merchants deal in fruit, vegetables, flowers, clothes, crafts, ginseng, kitchen utensils, agricultural and marine products and countless other commodities.
Taegwondo is the traditional Korean form of self-defence and was developed more that 20 centuries ago. Almost all South Korean males are inducted into the army and taegwondo is part of their training. It became an Olympic sport in 2000, and there are schools all over the country.
The country is soccer crazy, and the first FIFA World Cup tournament to be held in Asia begins on May 31, 2002. Co-hosted with Japan, the 2002 World Cup will attract billions of viewers worldwide, via every conceivable means of communication.
The stadium is Asia's largest with a seating capacity of around 64,000 and parking for 2648. Its roof design is based on the shape of a Korean kite, another very popular pastime of locals. Free tours of the stadium are available.
Namsan Park, which was once the southern-most point of old Royal Seoul, is the city's main peak. The wooded grounds have the remains of the old city walls. At its top is Seoul Tower, rising 483 metres above sea level. The views are 360º and wonderful. It has a revolving restaurant, viewing deck, folk museum and game room.
Seoul is proud of its palaces, and the most famous is Gyeongbokgung, built in 1395 by the Yi dynasty's King Taejo. The grounds had around 500 buildings, and it was the royal residence and hub of power for 200 years before being invaded by Japan in the 1500s. Most buildings were destroyed and the palace neglected until King Gojong commenced reconstruction in the late 1800s. Another Japanese occupation and the Korean War resulted in more destruction and only 10 now buildings remain.
Barbecue houses are everywhere and they offer tasty food and are fun to visit. Tables have inbuilt, gas heated barbecue plates and you cook your meat and vegetables to your liking. Side dishes consisting of pickled vegetables are served and Sojo, an alcoholic spirit made from rice, is the usual liquid accompaniment. If restaurants have sitting platforms you must remove your shoes. If they have chairs, there is no need.
A yeogwan is a traditional Korean Inn, one of the country's cheapest forms of accommodation. They have a futon-like quilted mattress on a heated floor, and you must remove your shoes before entering your room.