The first week of April marks the return of cherry blossoms to Seoul. After weeks of grey skies, bad air, and bare trees; it was time to get high on pink. This year, I decided to join the herds of cherry blossom chasers across the city. I’d have to become a tourist for that and willingly accept the frenzy beneath the trees. It was a fair trade-off — for the views — I’d get to see in return.
“A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”
― Winston S. Churchill
The internet is flooded with top viewing spots and it’s pretty easy to get your perfect 10 — on 10 different sites. There’s no place that hasn’t been listed before, unless it’s a nondescript neighbourhood or small park (equally charming) that hasn’t been visited by a cherry blossom chaser before. I tried to beat the crowd by going early on a weekday. Weekends and peak times turn out to be pretty crazy. I got lucky with the sun for most of my visits. The peak lasts for a week and if you’re not quick enough — it’s gone!
Seoul National Cemetery
My friend and fellow blogger, Anjali (anjviola), suggested I visit Seoul National Cemetery. It’s famous for weeping cherry blossoms and is also one of the best places for cherry blossom viewing in Seoul.
I had heard of Seoul National Cemetery before, but I thought it was a civilian cemetery and that didn’t pique my interest. Besides, I’ve never been a fan of cemeteries. The word itself reminds me of cracked graves with haunting epitaphs and creeping vines. However, I was on a mission to discover new places in Seoul. So, I took a subway and went in search of this important memorial. I expected the guard to stop me when I entered the gate; he didn’t seem too interested though. I wandered around and saw this amazing lane lined with pink blossoms on either side.
The graves of Korean martyrs, soldiers, and police officers are neatly lined over patches of flat land. It is a recurring theme broken by landscaped gardens or monuments. The mountains were standing guard at the site and were dotted with pink blossoms. I felt at peace here. The silence, occasionally broken by noisy magpies, was truly rewarding.
Cherry blossoms are not the only flowers to bloom during the first week of April. Forsythia, magnolia, and peach/pear blossoms compete for attention across every patch of green.
I didn’t have a brochure for reference or a path to follow. I found a pretty pavilion dressed in blossom pink. I tried capturing pictures from every angle and to my amusement, my phone created this little animation.
As I explored around, I found a pathway lined with these glorious weeping cherry blossom trees. A service had just got over and people started coming out of a building. I waited for a while here and tried to soak in the beauty around me.
Memorial Tower has the tablets of around 104,000 soldiers who gave up their lives during the Korean War and weren’t found. It was deserted by the time I got here.
Monument to Patriotic Police Officers
I walked away from the Memorial Monument and spotted a pathway that lead straight to a vantage point. It was nearing noon and the sun was shining brightly. I had to make it to the top though.
The three statues symbolise: trust, justice, and strength. The tigers are believed to protect the spirits. Blossoms had bloomed all around this monument. On the other side, I could see a panoramic view of Seoul National Cemetery and the cityscape.
Chungseong Fountain Tower
Instead of climbing higher, I walked down towards the main entrance. It’s hard to miss Chungseong Fountain Tower. It looked pretty from every angle.
Seokchonhosu Lake Cherry Blossom Festival
My friend, Shelley (travel-stained), recommended Seokchon Lake to me. I cannot believe that I never visited this lake before. I boarded a bus from Seoul National Cemetery and reached Jamsil Station in about 30 minutes. It was nearing 2 pm and I was really hungry. I managed to grab a salad in Lotte Mall and tried to find the lake. I had some trouble finding the lake though. I had to board the same bus to the next stop and imagine my irritation when I saw the lake tucked beneath cherry blossoms.
It was magical, even though there were too many people walking and clicking selfies. The lake is divided into two parts and the Lotte World Theme Park side was more crowded. The other side was relatively quiet.
Lotte World Tower Seoul Sky
Lotte World Tower is hard to miss. It’s known for its stunning views of Seoul City, but that would have to wait for another day. I was happy catching a glimpse of it through the maze of cherry blossoms.
Kyung Hee University
Basil and I visited visited Kyung Hee University on a Saturday morning. We were pretty late and I expected visitors to flock the campus. We chose to climb a quiet path that took us to a secluded spot. There were few tourists here and some college kids ready with their camera.
Central Library and Museum
The architecture of the university’s buildings is heavily inspired by European styles. The Central Library and Museum resembled a hidden castle. For a moment, I forgot I was in Seoul.
Basil found another pathway that lead towards the backside of the campus. He was eager to explore, but I didn’t want to wander too far away from the main campus.
The Grand Auditorium is an iconic building in Kyung Hee University. At first, I thought it was a cathedral. There was a grand event being held inside and I thought it was a service. We took a peek and realised it was a giant hall.
The campus is nice for a stroll or to enjoy moments of silence. We spotted a lake and another pathway that lead to a dense cover of trees.
This building reminded me of the Pantheon. It seemed out of place here, but I didn’t care because I was enjoying every bit of our surreal experience.