Five must sees in Seoul, South Korea beyond Psy's Gangnam

Asian rap star and Internet sensation Psy's “Gangnam Style” shows the world only one upscale footnote in a city of rich culture, history, and cuisine.  Photo: Matt Payne

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - December 18, 2012 - Not long ago, Asian rap star and Internet sensation Psy seared South Korea, for better or worse, into the collective consciousness of the entire planet. His hit “Gangnam Style” focuses on an upscale Seoul neighborhood commonly called the “Beverly Hills” of Seoul. While this posh district has recently enjoyed the global spotlight, the neighborhood is but an upscale footnote in a city of rich culture, history, and cuisine.  

Seoul is an immaculately clean, safe and friendly city. With historic monuments tastefully blending into a marvelously progressive urban center, Seoul honors its history while expressing itself through remarkable contemporary architecture and style. Here are five places visitors to this vibrantly-colored, culturally conscious city must check out.


Bukchon Hanok Village

Bukchon Hanok Village- The otherwise frenetic city of Seoul seems to wrap its arms around this preserved picturesque village located on the city’s north side. The Bukchon walk is a hilly one and offers incomparable views of the city as well as a glimpse into Seoul before it became the ultramodern metropolis it is today.

 To walk through Bukchon is to walk back in time. Hanok refers to the traditional Korean style architecture. While many of the Hanok homes here still serve as residences, many are now art galleries, studios, cafes, boutiques and teahouses. Traditional painting classes and knot tying classes are also offered throughout the village. Visitors could spend an hour or a day getting lost in Bukchon’s narrow alleys and meandering stone streets.

Nanta- Theater has recently become an explosive part of contemporary Korean culture and if you have one night to see a show while in Seoul, do not miss Nanta. While originating in Seoul, Nanta has been performed and is acclaimed all over the world. Nanta, which means “Cookin’” in English, is the story of three chefs who learn that they have one hour to prepare an elaborate meal for a wedding banquet and that they must do so with the help of the boss’s inept nephew at the cooking helm. The pot-and-pan banging, veggie-chopping percussive performance is most aptly described as Iron Chef meets Stomp. With no shortage of laughter and a high likelihood of getting a little messy, Nanta is an unrivaled, interactive live food and music extravaganza.


Changdeokgung Palace, secret garden

Changdeokgung Palace - Located in the heart of Seoul and a short walk from Bukchon Hanok Village, Changdeokgung Palace dates back to 1405. Strategically situated at the base of a mountain on a river’s edge, Changdeokgung is as majestic as it is imposing. Though currently uninhabited, the palace was home to many of Korea’s kings and ultimately became the nation’s primary palace. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, the palace receives thousands of visitors a day and offers guided tours in multiple languages. The palace’s secret garden was originally used solely by the most important people as a retreat and study. Its beautiful pagodas and ponds are set in perfect balance with the garden’s natural surroundings and can be viewed only with a guide for an extra fee.

Insa-Dong alleyway

Insa-Dong - For those looking to purchase reasonably and not so reasonably priced folk and gallery art, this thoroughfare is the place to do it. With more than 100 galleries and a good smattering of tea shops, cafes and restaurants, Insa-Dong offers an assortment of tea sets, beautiful tapestries, antiques, Buddhist art and even Gangnam Style socks featuring none other than Psy.  Though more metropolitan in feel than Bukchon, the main arteries of Insa-Dong sufficiently give visitors a sense of product and place. But it’s  in the alleys  where the locals gather and Insa-Dong really comes to life.



Kwangjang Market

Kwangjang Market –Nowhere in Seoul do you get a sense of the traditional pulse of the city more than in the Kwangjang Market. This massive indoor market features a food court unlike any in the world. Here you can belly up to one of scores of open air kitchens, indulge in a sojo (Korean rice wine), munch on kimchi (fermented vegetables and a staple of almost all Korean meals), rice cakes, or Bindaetteok, which are mung bean pancakes mixed with fish and vegetables. There is yukhoe, a beef tartare mixed with pear slices and egg yolk, and Kalmandu, a brothy hot noodle soup with dumplings cooked in anchovy stock. Maeuntang is a spicy fish stew created with an ambiguous recipe; it is usually made of assorted veggies and fish cooked with spices hot enough to make you sweat. The market is also home to fresh fish markets, clothing stores and butcher shops.

 While Gangnam Style may be how Seoul and the country of South Korea will be remembered in 2012, the city itself, with its rich history and often even richer food, is a city like no other that visitors will remember forever. 

To learn more about South Korea and the locations mentioned above, go to

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Matt Payne

Matt Payne has lived and worked as both a television writer and producer in Los Angeles for nearly ten years.  Matt grew up in Oklahoma City and began his career with a degree in Film and Video Studies from the University of Oklahoma.  Since then, he has worked as part of writing staffs for such hits as 24 andWithout A Trace. Most recently Matt wrote and produced episodes of CBS’s The Defenders starring Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell and Memphis Beat, starring Jason Lee, which is set to air on TNT in August of 2011.

In addition to a successful television-writing career, Matt has developed features with major production companies and continues to work as a freelance script analyst for Relativity Media, the production company behind such hits as The Fighter, Zombieland, and Catfish where he has provided script feed back on nearly a thousand features.

When he is not writing and producing television, Matt works as contributor to the Washington Times Communities Travel section, where he has writing skills have taken him from the top of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpar to the jungles of the Philippine Islands.  New York City’s finest restaurants to the earthquake ravaged Port au Prince Haiti. 

Matt was the winner of the 2004 Comedy writing award for Scriptapolooza, a finalist for the Warner Brothers Television Writer’s workshop, and is an active participant in Los Angeles’s Young Storytellers Program.  

Early in his career, Matt spent two years working as an assistant the Endeavor, which is now part of WME, the second largest talent agency in the world, working closely with such talent as Christian Bale and Michael Douglass.

Matt  is a member of  the Writer’s Guild of America and the Screen Actor’s Guild.

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