For Oh Byung-kook, a 30-year-old office worker, the area around Gangnam subway station in southern Seoul is always the first consideration for a night out with his friends.
“The area is a traffic point with easy access from anywhere in Seoul. It has everything from movie theaters and shops to restaurants and karaoke,” Oh said.
“Among other things, I like most the lively, energetic atmosphere. It’s like Shibuya in Tokyo.”
Until the mid-1960s, now-prestigious Gangnam was largely neglected as agricultural hinterland. But the district became an icon of the nation’s dramatic economic growth over the next few decades.
Gangnam Boulevard, a 6.9-kilometer, 10-lane road built in 1972, heralded the beginning of Gangnam’s new era. The road took another big leap with the completion of Gangnam subway station there in 1984.
Since the 1990s, the area has been a hot spot for youngsters and office workers.
The underground shopping arcade, which is currently under renovation for a new opening in August, led fashion trends while offering cheaper items. Restaurants, cafes and shops thrived near the station’s eight entrances.
The “gangnamyeok” ― “yeok” means “station” in English ― now represents the most exciting and busiest downtown area in Seoul.
In a survey last year, the crossroads near Exit No. 6 was picked as the most crowded area in Seoul, with more than 110,000 Seoulites passing by every day.
ABC New York, a local bakery chain established in 1966, is one of the most famous meeting spots in the area. Located near the Exit No. 2, it is the first branch of the bakery, which now has more than 80 branches nationwide. The late President Park Chung-hee was known to have enjoyed the bakery’s bread.
Another landmark building in the area is Kyobo Tower, which is owned by Kyobo Book Center, one of the nation’s largest bookstores. The red-brick building was designed by Mario Botta, a Swiss architect who designed the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Its H shape was inspired by a famous Korean fairy tale about two lovers who reunited after thousands of magpies and crows created a bridge for a them.
The Gangnam branch of Kyobo Book Center is also situated on the 20,000 square-meter site of the building’s basement. It stocks more than 2 million books and also sells music and stationary productions.
There are a total of five movie theaters in the area. One of them is City Theater, which is favored by young couples. It was recently taken over by Lotte Cinema for reopening. Another movie theater CGV Gangnam shows one Korean movie with English subtitles every month.
The area used to be crowded with street vendors and ugly signboards. But as part of its project to create a passerby-friendly road in recent years, the district office started renovating the landscape in cooperation with city planners, residents and shop owners.
In an attempt to add a touch of culture and technology, the district also adopted an Internet-linked signage system which offers information and entertainment.
|“Media poles” at the Gangnam Boulevard in Gangnam-gu offer information and entertainment as well as functioning as street lights.(Gangnam-gu Office)|
Since 2009, the 22 square pillar-shaped media poles set up along the 760-meter-long “U-street” ― another new name of Gangnam Boulevard ― have been providing citizens with digital information such as traffic updates, maps and email.
Each of the 12-meter-high poles consists of an LED display board facing the traffic lanes, an LCD board facing the pedestrian walk, and a touch screen monitor.
The poles offer services in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese.
First-time visitors to Seoul may spend most of their time in Gangbuk, the city’s northern part, because the districts have well preserved their traditional look offering unique tourist attractions such as ancient palaces and temples.
However, recently, some frequent foreign travelers, especially young people, look around Gangnam where they can enjoy the modern aspect of Seoul along with fashionable and cultural attractions. And many of them visit the Gangnam subway station area to feel the real, daily life of Seoulites.
Chad Meyer, a robotics engineer from the United States, picked the area as his favorite spot in the Gangnam district.
“Both young and old people enjoy visiting the area. My wife and I like to go there for our fill of international food. And there’s no shortage of coffee shops for people watching either,” said Meyer, who settled in Seoul four years ago with his Korean wife.
Working also as the district’s publicity ambassador, he shares his experiences in Korea through his Twitter account named “EasyKorea.”
Here are some of the less-known places in the area he wanted to share with foreign travelers not familiar with the area:
“Rebis, right outside of Exit No. 7, is a giant basement level restaurant that serves an international menu of food over beer; Red Mango offers frozen yogurt and bingsoo (or traditional Korean dessert made of ice flakes, milk and red bean sauce); and Frisbee is a store specialized in Apple products that has some English-speaking staff.”
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org)