The Samsung COEX Mall shouldn’t be anything new to those familiar with Seoul: the giant underground shopping complex is a futuristic plaza of shops, restaurants, a movie theater and much more—not to mention it connects directly with Hyundai Department Store next door. But have you visited the aquarium on its premises? It has a collection of 40,000 sea creatures comprising over 650 different species that are housed in an underground ocean of over 3,000 tons of water. Sharks, stingrays, turtles—even penguins: it pretty much has anything you’d expect from a major aquarium. In case you’re picturing the average penguin, these penguins are Humboldt penguins, normally found only in Chile and Peru. The entire facility is designed around the theme of “Water Journey,“ meaning every room and exhibition is part of a grander experience that takes you around the world. Upon entering, visitors witness the wonders of the Andean Mountains, venture through the Amazon and trek through a variety of rivers, swamps and seashores before finally being released into the uncharted depths of the world’s deep oceans.
The aquarium is divided into 90 tanks grouped into different themes, or “discovery zones.“ Every exhibit features tanks that allow visitors to view fish species that are indigenous to the respective theme’s location. There is also appropriate plant life and vegetation for each “area“ as well. The themed areas visitors will experience go in the following order: Incan Empire, Amazonian World, the Seven Seas, Ocean Kingdom, Marine Touch and Undersea Tunnel. The Undersea Tunnel is a moving walkway that moves through the heart of the aquarium, surrounding visitors on all sides with sharks and gigantic rays, lending a sense of immersion. There is also the Kid’s Aquarium, where children can touch various sea creatures, even gecko lizards, while learning fun facts about the sea. There are also programs that allow visitors to feed sharks, penguins and otters. For those that want something more unique, the aquarium’s Wonderland features fish living in the most unlikely of environments, including a toilet bowl and a shower-cubicle tank. Aren’t you curious to see what that looks like?
For visitors that want a quick clean-up after everything’s over, they can relax with the Doctor Fish experience, where fish nibble off your dead skin, perhaps one of the mostly tingly and strangest sensations you’ll ever experience.
For those seeking to throw a special event—be it a company gathering or a private party, even weddings—why not hold it in a place where you can watch 20,000 fish swimming together in perfect unison? COEX Aquarium’s event hall can make it happen.
FYI> T. 02-6002-6200, www.coexaqua.com (Korean); open from 10:00 to 20:00.
BUY> Souvenirs are plentiful. If that’s not enough, remember: you’re inside a gigantic underground mall.
SEE> Try the Doctor Fish experience, where tiny fish clean your feet by nibbling off your dead skin.
GO> Samseong Station 삼성역 (Line 2), Exit 5 of 6; COEX Mall connects directly to the station.
Soaked Summer: 2014 Sinchon Water Gun Festival 신촌물총페스티벌 July 26–27, 13:00–20:00
In case you missed the first ever Water Gun Festivalin Sinchon last year, fortune is rewarding you with a second chance in 2014. Be prepared to get shot at by every variety and size of water gun imaginable. Originally posted as a random idea on Facebook, the festival quickly flared into a real-life event. The entire Sinchon area will be closed off for the festival, so don’t venture beyond the festival lines unless you are geared up to participate. Festival operators offer sales on water guns and plastic storage bags for electronic devices and towels. Dressing rooms are provided so you can change into something dry when you’ve had enough. For added fun, the festival will feature performances from local artists. There will also be contests, such as the “best-dressed” competition. Need more? How about firemen shooting at you from their fire engine to make sure absolutely everybody gets wet? Official admission wristbands are necessary, so be sure to register beforehand.
EAT> Get some Indian food just outside the festival borders at Jyoti Restaurant (T. 02-703-3535). For some student fare, feast on unique tteokbokki dishes at Uncle’s (T. 02-323-8186).
BUY> Hyundai Uplex Mall (T. 02-3145-2233) is a popular shopping site among the local student population.
SEE> Be sure to check out the performances lined up for the festival. Also, keep an eye out for the firemen!
Seoul is a great city for unexpected pockets and crannies that feel completely disconnected from the hustle and bustle of its downtown areas. Snug in a corner of Buam-dong, Baeksasil Valley is a scenic nook in the city that feels like the countryside. With a name that literally means “mountain valley surrounded by streams,” it’s sure to relax your tired city-slicker bones. Perhaps that’s why it served as a getaway for nobles during the Joseon Dynasty; many of them built gardens and second homes here. Yet there is a reason why it feels secluded from the city—because it is. Don’t expect a serene walk to get here; be prepared to hike. The hills you’re required to conquer are some of the steepest in the city, and you’ll find yourself looking at some of the parked cars while wondering how they manage to stay in place. But don’t be discouraged! The excruciating walk is not without its rewards. The neighborhood you’ll pass through is quiet and quaint, a secret little village, seemingly hidden from the outside world. If you have any trouble finding the entrance to the valley, just ask any of the locals and they’ll gladly point you in the right direction: up. Upon reaching the entrance, you’ll find a wooden staircase that gently guides your tired muscles into a peaceful stroll through an ancient Joseon garden. Aside from the mountain scenery, the area also offers a temple, a chance to view salamanders and a fantastic view of the city.
EAT> For some of the best dumplings in town, try Jaha Son Mandoo (T. 02-379-2648)
SEE> Keep an eye out for streams, and see how many you can spot.
GO> Take a bus from Exit 3 of Gyeongbokgung Station 경복궁역 (Line 3) and take a bus (7212, 1020, 7022) to Buam-dong Residents Center.
For the Sporty Types: Ichon Hangang Park 이촌 한강공원
The Hangang River has several parks lining its shores, with Yeouido being one of the most well-known. Ichon Hangang Park is conveniently located next to the National Museum of Korea and tends to be a little more relaxed than the busier parks. A favorite location for walking and jogging, it’s known for its plethora of gorgeous flowers that change delightfully with the seasons. Like any great Korean park, there’s truly something for everyone in the family: the X-Game center is a skateboarder’s paradise; the inline skating rink brings you back to your childhood’s playful days; and the adventurous can opt to go rafting along the Hangang River, available from April to October every other Sunday for a low fee of KRW 4,000. For the athletes, there is a type of space for virtually any sport involving a ball: a basketball court, tennis court, soccer field, and even a field for gateball, a game similar to croquet that was invented in Japan during the immediate post-war era. A truly unique feature is the nearby Nodeulseom, an artificial island with a beehive that’s run by a group of urban beekeepers.
EAT> Nodeul Evening Café (T. 02-790-0520) offers a nice cup and snack, along with a great view of river sunsets.
SEE> The area is near some of the city’s most historic bridges. The National Museum of Korea is also nearby.
FYI> T. 02-1330, 02-3780-0551, hangang.seoul.go.kr/park_yeechon
GO> Ichon Station (Line 1 or 4), Exit 4. Walk 500 meters to the park.
Take a Dip, Then a Drink: Banyan Tree Pools 반얀트리 수영장
The Banyan Tree Club and Spa Seoul offers the perfect getaway experience without having to leave the city. Snugly nestled into its own serene enclave in Mt. Namsan, the resort offers the quiet and relaxation you need while still granting you quick access to the lights, shopping and excitement of areas like Myeongdong and Dongdaemun. Since it’s summer and as hot as ever, try one of their three pools—that’s right, three. You can warm up in their main indoor pool—temperature-controlled and perfect for rigorous laps and loosening up those muscles that have stiffened over the office-toiling years. Once you’ve thoroughly exhausted yourself, perhaps feeling fit enough for the Olympics, waddle over to the separate adult relaxation pool, a quiet tub set aside for those desiring a calm dip without hoards of screaming children running around with miniature life tubes. Swimming lessons and aqua-aerobics are also available for interested parties. Worried about the kids? No problem, they have two mini pools designed specifically for children. Once you’re tired of being stuffed behind walls, head to their outdoor pool, also known as the The Oasis. Partnered with a poolside bar, The Oasis is often used for private parties and lavished with a sense of playful decadence, catering perfectly to your playful mood.
EAT> Like The Oasis Swimming Pool? Try The Oasis Restaurant!
BUY> A membership is worth considering if you plan on frequent return visits.
SEE> In a cultural mood? The National Theater of Korea is right next door.
FYI> T. 02-2250-8000, www.banyantreeclub.net
GO> Chungmuro Station 충무로역 (Line 3 or 4), Exit 2. Take bus #2.