Ascott’s Country General Manager in South Korea, Jean Keijdener, reveals the soul of Seoul through an eco-tour of the city
Issue: Mar 2012
Gyeongbokgung Palace is the main and most important royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty and near one of its old gates is an open area for the city’s activities
If you are a traveller on a quest for some of Asia’s best eco destinations, South Korea is one country you should not miss. I am a native of the Netherlands. Having lived and worked in Seoul for four years, I would say that this country has embraced the Green cause in many aspects.
With South Korea’s public transportation system adopting electronic card payments, also known as
‘T-Money’ and running on compressed natural gas (CNG) instead of gasoline or diesel, it is no wonder that the city enjoys high quality air. As banks and many other services are largely automated here, cheques no longer exist. The government has also increased the number of designated green zones in the city with the addition of public parks and urban renewal projects, hoping to reach a target of 3.3 square metres of green space per person by 2020. Even the South Korean homes separate their trash into paper, plastic and food for garbage collection.
When you come to Seoul, come visit me at the Somerset Palace Seoul where any eco traveller would feel right at home. We are a green property and have in place some of our own green practices as well. We have an “I am Switched Off” campaign in which residents are encouraged to switch off their air-conditioning. Every first Friday of the month, we have our own Ascott Earth Day during which non-essential lights in the property are switched off for two hours. Recently, we started also the “Give up the CUP” campaign to eliminate the use of paper cups in the Breakfast lounge and promote a switch to re-usable mugs. By the middle of the year, we would have installed LED lights in all public areas of the property. On top of these, we have also converted to the use of FSC Paper (Forest Stewardship Council Paper), which comes from a green source. Where possible, our housekeeping team uses eco-friendly products to clean the premises. And, of course, we sort our trash into dry paper, plastic ad food to make recycling easier.
If reducing your carbon footprint is top on your travel agenda, Somerset Palace Seoul is an ideal place to begin your exploration of the city on foot. Located in downtown Seoul, Gangbuk district, it is within walking distance of several of the city’s attractions.
The path through Bukchon Hanok Village leads you uphill. Continue on the mountain route and you will end up in Samcheong Park, what I consider to be one of Seoul’s hidden treasures. The first officially-designated park in South Korea, it is surrounded by cherry blossom trees and offers several hiking trails that will lead you to natural attractions such as mineral spring spots as well as a scenic spot which overlooks the entire city.
My daughter, Jana, and I at Samcheong Park amidst lovely cherry blossom trees
Beyond this is Cheonggyecheon, one of the city’s major and most successful urban renewal projects. Cheonggyecheon is actually a 5.8 kilometre creek that flows through downtown Seoul from west to east and eventually into the Yellow Sea. Over time, roads and then a highway were built over it and the area became noisy, dusty and garbage ridden. In 2003, work began to restore the place to its former beauty. Today, Cheonggyecheon is a bustling commercial district with huge markets, arcades and commercial facilities. The original fresh mountain water stream is flowing once more, a fine example of the city’s greening efforts. Cheonggyecheon is right in my neighbourhood and I am a frequent visitor of this area.
If you happen to find the square empty, go to the nearby Experience Green Growth (EGG) Hall where you can walk through exhibits that will tell you of South Korea’s efforts to develop a green city. It is an educational way to while away an hour or so and will give you a deeper appreciation for and understanding of being Green.
And you may find it hard to believe that after all that you have covered, you have only ventured no more than 15 minutes from Somerset Palace Seoul!
Green Farm Stays and Trails
Seoul Forest comprises five parks providing diverse experiences with Nature
Seoul also has plenty of nature reserves where you can get in touch with Nature. Namsan Mountain (South Mountain) is one place I would recommend. You can get to the 262-metre mountain in the Jung-Gu district of south central Seoul via an Evo-bus tour or by cable car. Just a half hour trip from Somerset Palace Seoul by public transport, Namsan Mountain is surrounded by a park and has hiking trails that take you up to spots with panoramic views of Seoul. Seoul’s public transport system is phenomenal and I love to take advantage of it to get around. It is both convenient and energy and fuel efficient.
Another of Nature’s haven is Seoul Forest, also about half an hour from Somerset Palace Seoul by public transport. It is a favourite with local families who enjoy going there for bike rides, hikes and picnics. Seoul Forest is really made up of five parks spread over approximately 1.16 million square metres. The eco-friendly zone has the Cultural Art Park, Ecological Forest, Natural experiencing Study Field, Wetlands Ecological Field and Han River Waterside Park. Together, they provide visitors with a host of facilities and attractions that range from a forest playground, water play area, restaurants, to natural wildlife habitats, insect botanical garden, flower gardens, and bird observatory.
This city truly has much to offer the eco traveller in search of eco-friendly activities and attractions that will not hurt the Earth. So come to Seoul for a soul-restoring experience. You will not be disappointed.
Come stay with us at …
Somerset Palace Seoul
No 85 Susong-Dong, Jongno-Gu,
Tel: (82-2) 6730 8888
Fax: (82-2) 6730 8080