The Real Gangnam Style
See & Do Tours
This walk begins in Samseong-dong, an affluent district dominated by the World Trade Center Seoul, better known as COEX. Panoramic views of the neighborhood can be had from the top-floor lobby of the Park Hyatt Seoul---there's a restaurant/cafe up there---but for a truly impressive experience, put on a swimming suit and take in the views from the hotel's infinity pool, also located on the top floor.
Built in the 1980s as Korea was really coming into its own as an economic powerhouse, COEX is a sprawling complex centered on the COEX Convention & Exhibition Center. The exhibit center has held several major global gatherings recently, most notably the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit. The architecturally striking 54-story Trade Tower, meanwhile, is one of Korea's tallest buildings.
For visitors, however, the main draw of the COEX is the COEX Mall (currently undergoing renovation through December 2014), one of Asia's largest underground shopping malls. The highlights here are the Megabox move theater, one of the country's best; the Bandi & Luni’s bookstore; the Kimchi Museum; and last but not least the COEX Aquarium, Korea's largest and finest home for displaced fish.
Also in the COEX complex is the Seven Luck Casino, Korea's best-equipped casino. Admission is limited to foreigners only. Fans of post-modern architecture, meanwhile, will want to note the distinctive facade of the Hyundai Development Headquarters, just across the street from COEX. Dominated by a 62-meter ring with a vector plunging into the ground, the facade is the work of renowned American architect Daniel Libeskind.
Located just next to COEX is Bongeunsa Temple, one of Seoul's best known Buddhist monasteries. Founded in 794, the temple is an island of traditional Korea in the heart of modern Seoul. One of the most inspiring views in Seoul can be had from just behind the temple's 23-meter-high statue of the Maitreya Buddha---the Buddha and the temple, surrounded by the souring skyscrapers of Gangnam, is one of the defining images of today's Korea. If you'd like to learn more about Korea's 1,700-year-old Buddhist heritage, the monastery hosts a popular Templestay program as well.
More properly known as Seonjeongneung, the Joseon Dynasty royal tomb complex of Seolleung is comprised of two tombs: Seolleung, the tomb of the 15th century monarch King Seongjong and his queen, and Jeongneung, the tomb of Seongjong's son and later ruler himself King Jungjong. Unlike other royal tombs from the Joseon Dynasty, which are located in remote mountain areas in the suburbs surrounding Seoul, these tombs are located in the heart of the city itself, and hence have become a popular urban park. Like Bongeunsa, the tombs are an exercise in the contrast between old and new. Seolleung, along with all the other Joseon Dynasty tombs, were registered to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2009.
One of Gangnam's main thoroughfares, Teheran-ro---literally, Tehran Boulevard---got its name following a 1976 visit to Seoul by the late Gholamreza Nikpey, then mayor of the Iranian capital of Tehran. Stretching from Samseong-dong to Gangnam Station, the road is flanked on both sides by skyscrapers, forming something of an artificial canyon. Speaking of geological formations, the road is also commonly referred to as Teheran Valley thanks to the many IT-related firms that have offices here.
Off Teheran-ro is the Kukkiwon, the World Taekwondo Headquarters and home of the World Taekwondo Academy. A pilgrimage site for countless taekwondo practitioners from around the world, the academy is a training center for athletes and coaches.
International visitors who want to experience a bit of Korea's best-known martial art can take part in the Kukkiwon's hands-on taekwondo experience program, where they can learn the basic stances, self-defense techniques and even the art of breaking wood boards. Be aware, however, that many of these programs are held at Gyeonghuigung Palace (located north of the Hangang River).
This walk concludes in the area around Gangnam Station, one of Seoul's busiest transportation hubs. A 2012 study by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs found that 110,129 people board subways and 114,338 people get off subways here every day. It's worth coming here just to watch the sea of humanity come and go.
As you might expect given the floating population, the area around the station and its associated intersection has turned into a vibrant shopping and entertainment district. And, for local businesses, and expensive one at that, with some of the highest rent in the world. The area just north of the station is a very popular nightlife district that's chock-full of restaurants, bars and clubs.
Gangnamdae-ro, one of the major roads that passes through Gangnam Intersection, is lined by so-called Media Poles, 12-meter tall digital facilities that serve as street lamps, traffic signals, digital media displays, information booths, photo mail service stations and more. Mostly, however, they serve as reminders that you're walking in the heart of Korea's Silicon Valley.
A number of Korea's biggest corporations also have their headquarters near Gangnam Station. The most spectacular of these headquarters is Samsung Town, the combined headquarters of Samsung Electronics, Samsung C&T and Samsung Life Insurance. The glass skyscrapers, designed by American architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, make for one of Gangnam's most dramatic sites. Most of the complex is off-limits to non-employees, but visitors can drop by the Samsung d’light, an exhibit space where you can check out the electronics giant's latest toys.