The first Korean kingdom, Koguryo, established around the first century AD, was followed, two centuries later, by the Silla and Paekje kingdoms in the southern part of the peninsula. Those three kingdoms were at war with each other most of the time until 667 when Silla formed an alliance with the other two that lasted until the partition of the country after W.W.II.
The Koryo dynasty replaced the Silla in the 9th century. The Mongols ravaged the country for 25 years until they restored the Koryo dynasty as vassal of the Yuan Chinese dynasty. The country was again invaded by the Japanese in 1592 and then by the Manchus. The Japanese invaded again in 1905, annexed the country in 1910 and exploited it harshly until 1945 when it was occupied by the Russians in the North and by the US in the South. Then, the Korean War wrought havoc leaving the North and South broken and enemies.
Since then, South Korea has developed remarkably well with US assistance while North Korea remained backward and impoverished under a radical communist regime.
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View from the Seoul Tower in Nam San Park.
I must have spent all my bad humour in Taipei because I really enjoyed Seoul. It is also a big busy Asiatic city but I found the people more relaxed and friendly even though they certainly work as hard as the Taiwanese.
Perceptions are very subjective. Maybe it depends on the people you meet. Anyway, I got into Seoul in the evening, took a city bus to the Koreana Hotel and walked to the Daewon Inn where I got a "room" for 10 000 Won (12.50 $US).
This was my "room" in the traditional Korean Daewon Inn. It was literally a cupboard in the wall with just enough space for a mattress and cupboard doors that you can close and lock from the inside at night. It was a very novel and interesting arrangement for me.
There were a dozen such cubicles in the Daewon Inn. They were raised about 50 cm from the floor by flues through which the hot gasses from a central furnace were circulated to keep them warm in the winter. A most rational arrangement to save fuel.
My "room" was interesting but the major feature of the Daewon Inn was its friendly owner, sitting next to me in the red jacket, who made us all feel at home and the fine bunch of backpackers that were staying there. We had a ball...
Better still, I got in touch with Kelly whom I had met in Vietnam a month earlier and we had a great time together. Here, we are having Beef & Brew at a popular night spot with some of the others from the Daewon Inn. That's Kelly, pulling her tongue at me!
Seoul is big, modern and busy but it takes good care of its numerous historical sites and it has not lost its soul to the pursuit of the almighty dollar like Taipei.
This "South Gate" used to be part of the city's fortifications in the 19th century.
The Toksu Palace is just a short ways north of the South Gate on Taepyongro Road. The big building on the right looks like the Koreana Hotel near the Daewon Inn.
North of the Koreana hotel is the National Museum which is definitely worth a visit.
Kyongbok Palace seen from a second floor window of the Museum.
Kyongbok Palace entrance
I found the Handicrafts Museum next to the Kyongbok Palace a little disappointing.
Initially built in 1392, the Kyongbok Palace was burnt down during the Japanese invasion of 1592 and left in ruins until it was rebuilt in 1867 to become the residence of the 26th king.
Here is the Kyonghoeru Pavilion in the beautiful gardens of the Kyongbok Palace.
Here is the gate to the Changdok Palace originally built in 1405 and rebuilt in 1611.
South of Seoul is the very interesting Korean Folk Village Showing examples of various traditional architectural styles.
I visited the village with Gilles, a Frenchman also staying at the Daewon Inn.
Children are delightful everywhere.
The village had an open air restaurant that offered traditional foods. Here, she is cooking noodles.
Here is the impressive gate to the house of a village lord.
And this is the house of a local lord.
I enjoyed Seoul and hope to return someday. After a week, I moved on to Tokyo.