| NYL |
IT’S chilly and mist is falling as a fisherman sits on the edge of a wooden boat that has been winched far up onto the shore. Tangled nets lie to the side on the pebbles, and the morning catch is already at the market just a hundred or so yards up the beach.
Worlds away from the seashore, in the forested hills inland, a group of young male ligers (offsprings of a male lion and a female tiger) lie sprawled beneath a wooden viewing platform, lazily eyeing a group of onlookers at the Wild Safari World in Everland.
Scenic landscapes and wildlife are not exactly the first things that come to mind when one thinks of South Korea. For years, it was dubbed the Hermit Country and has been the introverted stepchild of the Asian world. The government did little to attract English-speaking tourists. Signs were rarely translated into English and traffic jams, overcrowded buses and subways made travel difficult.
But when its capital, Seoul hosted the 2002 World Cup soccer finals, the government went to great lengths to make the city tourist-friendly.
One shining example has been the restoration of the ancient waterway Cheonggyecheon in the heart of the downtown area. Until recently, the channel was buried beneath a multi-lane motorway. Now, it is an oasis comprising a crystal-clear stream, waterfalls and tree-lined walkways along the banks.
Walking along a boardwalk in an endless sea of green willowy reeds and breathing in fresh air, I realised that South Korea has so much more to offer besides mobile phones, K-pop, kimchi, plastic surgery and make-up.
Today, Seoul has natural treasures that qualify it as an eco-tourist destination. Travellers can explore forest trails, watch wildlife or visit a traditional village and experience the peaceful lifestyle of its residents.
Before the 1960s, the Hangang River marked the south edge of town. Since then the rice fields south of the river have given way to five-star hotels and the new wealthier areas of Gangnam. The river has become a major attraction for water sports and families often come for biking, boating and picnicking.
Seoul itself is also a place of hidden calm. So even after returning from the surrounding environs, it is possible to retain a sense of enchantment and the therapeutic joy that comes from soaking your feet in the river, as children splash around in knee-deep waters.
As at sunrise, in the late afternoon Namsan Park is filled with the city’s residents – joggers, musicians, students perusing their notes and old couples who have settled themselves on a bench to watch all this. Thickly wooded hills lead up to panoramic views of the skyline. Stylishly capping the mountain is the N Seoul Tower, a structure reminiscent of Seattle’s Space Needle, which at 236 metres in height, houses a revolving restaurant on top.
Futurists with some extra time on their hands should check out Songdo, Korea’s “city of the future”.
Built over the last decade on reclaimed lands, Songdo Central which opened in 2009 on the outskirts of Seoul is perhaps, the best example of a “smart city” that brings together the world’s best technologies, building designs and eco-friendly practices to create the ultimate green lifestyle and work experience.
With 600 acres of open space and parks and environmental attributes like wind turbine power and rainwater collection, it also markets itself as an “aerotropolis”, built near Incheon International Airport, with a potential to benefit from international access.