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  Seoul (Republic of Korea)

  A pavilion in the grounds of the Kyongbuk-kung Palace, Seoul, South Korea. The palace remained the royal residence for around 200 years. Following destruction by invasions and wars only 10 of the original 500 buildings survive today.

  Seoul is mega-modern and appealingly ancient city. Flattened in the Korean War, most of the city has been rebuilt since the 1950s. Peeking out from among the 12-lane freeways, overshadowed by high-rises(高楼大厦), Seoul has a hidden history of centuries-old temples, palaces, pagodas and pleasure gardens. It also has cheap accommodation (住宿), excellent public transport and cultural experiences aplenty. The Han-gang River bisects(一分为二) the city, with Chung-gu the central district, Chongno-gu (with most of the budget hotels and sights) to the north, and It'aewon-dong (packed full of shopping, bars and nightlife) just south of the city centre.

  Seoul is justifiably famous for its palaces. Kyongbokkung Palace is the best known. Built at the beginning of the Yi Dynasty, most of the 500 buildings in the palace grounds were destroyed when the Japanese invaded. Reconstructed in the late 19th century, destroyed again in the Korean war, the palace and its grounds have now been entirely restored once more. The palace is actually several buildings, including one of the most exquisite(精致的)pagodas in the country and an enormous two-storey throne room. The National Folk Museum in the grounds of the palace is dedicated to showing how ordinary Koreans have lived through the ages. Another palace highlight is Ch'anggyonggung Palace, built in 1104. Once the rulers' summer palace, the Japanese downgraded Ch'anggyonggung to a park. Cross a footbridge from the palace and you're at the Chongmyo Shrine.

  “Chongmyo Shrine” was added to Unesco's World Heritage List in 1995. Chongmyo is the oldest and most authentic of the Confucian royal shrines that have been preserved.

  If a bit of a chat with the locals is what you're after, head south-west of Ch'anggyonggung to T'apkol Park, where crowds of friendly elderly folk sit around talking about the weather. This is where the Declaration of Independence was first read in 1919, and murals(壁画)around the park are dedicated to the independence movement. The park is named after the marble pagoda (t'apkol) in its grounds. The city's other great park is Namsan, south of the city centre. The third tallest tower in the world, the Seoul Tower is within the park, and it's packed full of tourist fun - an aquarium, games room and the Fancy World.

  National Treasure No 1 is the Namdaemun Gate, once Seoul's chief city gate. The gate, built in the 14th century, is near the Seoul train station. Its solidity and calm elegance make it an island in a sea of traffic. South of the river, Lotte World has its own ice skating rink(溜冰场), hotel, swimming pool and the Disney-clone Lotte World Adventure - hours of family entertainment.


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