A weekend in Seoul
The first railways in Korea were financed and built by American investors towards the end of the 19th century. This American influence is the main reason why the Korean system uses “standard” gauge (4 feet 8.5 inches) track rather than the narrower (3ft 6 inches) track found in Japan and many other Asian countries.
The first railway station in Seoul opened in 1905.
In 1910, shortly after the first trains began operating into Seoul, Korea became part of the Japanese Empire and it remained so until 1945. During the Japanese period Seoul itself was referred to as “Keijo” (Gyeongseong) and Seoul Station was Keijo station.
A new station building was designed by the Japanese and completed in 1925. The building was built of red brick, featured a central dome and a symmetrical layout. The building was well furnished and included restaurants and VIP rooms.
In 2004, to coincide with the opening of the new KTX high speed train, a brand new modern terminal was built to the south of the old building. The 1925 station, by then a listed building, became a museum and an arts centre.
We flew to Seoul in 2017 (my fourth trip to the city) and spent a couple of days there on a stopover on the way from Japan to Helsinki and London on Finnair. We used the AREX airport express train to get into the city. It completes the 63km journey from the airport in about 40 minutes.
Whilst we were in the city we visited Seoul station and had a good look around the interior. We ignored one or two of the “do not enter” signs they had on the doors and had a cheeky look in at some of the beautiful rooms.
After our visit to the station we used the new skyline walkway that connects it with nearby Nandaemun Market (Central Market).
We wandered around the market looking mainly at the food stalls.
For lunch we joined the long queue at the legendary Myeongdong Kyoja. After a bit of a wait we got a table inside and were able to sample some of their wonderful dumplings.
As I was anxious to know a little more about the development of railways in Korea, I got a train out of Seoul to Uiwang (1 hour) and then spent the afternoon at the Korean Railway Museum. The museum tells the whole story of railways in Korea from the opening of the first line right up to the introduction of the modern KTX trains.
Among the many exhibits was a replica of the VIP room at Seoul Station.
In the evening we wandered around a few pubs in the bustling Myeong Dong district.
Then we went in search of the perfect bibimbap in the restaurant where it was reputedly created.
Bibimbap = A bowl of warm white rice topped with vegetables and/or meat with hot chili paste and served in a hot stone bowl – Heaven!