“ A nine-square-km leisure complex in Gwacheon City, a southern suburb of Seoul, encompassing an amusement park, the National Museum of Contemporary Art and Korea's largest zoo. „
First opened in 1984, Seoul Grand Park is spread across nine square kilometres of Gwacheon City. Encircled by tree-covered mountains and centred upon a man-made lake, the sprawling leisure complex, which attracts more than three million visitors annually, contains Korea’s largest zoo, a lakeside rose garden, Seoul Land Theme Park and the National Museum of Contemporary Art. GETTING THERE Take underground line 4 to Seoul Grand Park station. The journey from Seoul city centre takes approximately fifty minutes and costs 700 Won (thirty pence). Exit 2, directly opposite the Shilla Myunggua Bakery, leads out to the main entrance, from which it’s a five-minute walk to the lake. Alternatively, a shuttle bus departs from exit 4 at fifteen-minute intervals for the National Museum of Contemporary Art. You need to buy a ticket for the museum from the vending machine in the station to board the bus. At the top of the wide path leading from the station, a glass and concrete building marks the entrance to the park proper. Turn left here for Seoul Land and right for the museum and zoo. Elephant Trains run from in front of the building to the entrances of the zoo and museum for a small fare of 500 Won. A Chair Lift runs from a terminal located to the right of this building over the lake to the zoo entrance, from where another lift continues on to the upper section of the zoo. At 4000 Won for one trip and 7000 Won for two, this is something of an expensive extravagance considering you’re only saving yourself a ten-minute walk to the zoo entrance, although you do get a good bird’s eye view of the lake on your way across. THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY CENTRE Turning right at the building in front of the lake, a two-minute walk in the direction of the zoo brings you to this three-storey, high-tech golf ball. Inside the building, which is open from 10am-9pm (closing one hour earlier in winter), are a number of inter active displays, a high-speed internet café and several virtual reality games. More information is available on www.jungbonara.or.kr. THE ZOO Continuing past the Superhighway Centre, you’ll first arrive at the smaller Children’s Zoo (open 9-6pm). Featuring 567 tame animals such as llamas, rabbits and mandarin ducks, the zoo welcomes more than 30000 primary school students every year. Just past the Children’s Zoo, and on the left hand side of the road, is the entrance to the main zoo. Relocated from the grounds of Seoul’s Changgyeong-gung Palace in 1984, where it had been in claustrophobic operation since the Japanese colonial government moved it there at the start of the twentieth century, this is by far the country’s largest zoo with almost eighty buildings and 3,226 animals from 358 different species. As you approach the entrance, purchase your tickets from the windows on the left and then hand them over at the central booths. Admission costs 1500 Won for adults (roughly 75p) and 700 Won for children. English language maps are given out as you enter. Veering slightly right from the ticket booths, the first animals you will see are the giraffes. The Australian Section is directly opposite, just across the stream on the right. However, while the path through the woods leading to the buildings is nice, the interior itself is profoundly depressing, as the animals-Wallabies, Red Kangaroos, Emus and Wallaroos-are enclosed in small, entirely glassed-in areas with only a scattering of straw half-covering the concrete floors. There are a few outdoor enclosures in the vicinity, but they were all empty at the time of my visit. About the only thing of real interest in this section is the Insectarium, Korea’s only insect house, which is situated just to the right of the empty enclosures. Back to the main path, and continuing straight on past the giraffes, you’ll pass buffaloe s and the White Rhino on your right, as well as passing two hippo enclosures, some Barbary Sheep, and sitatunga on your left. The outdoor areas are quite roomy with abundant vegetation for the animals and good viewing areas for visitors. Boards in front of each section detail dietary, habitat and life span information in both English and Korean, although the more detailed descriptions are given in Korean only. Just past the sitatunga, the African and Asiatic elephants dominate the right hand side of the path. On the left, a number of camel graze lazily behind wooden fences. A giant net rises up behind the elephants, under which four species of cranes, pelicans, storks and geese move around a bird enclosure centred on a small pool. The water theme is expanded opposite with sea lions, polar bears and seals. Then, of course, you have the dolphins. Dolphin shows take place three times a day at 11.30am, 1.30pm and 3pm (weekdays and Saturday). On Bank Holidays there is an extra show at 4.30pm, from December to February there is no morning show. Again, buy your tickets, which cost 500 Won, from the window to the left of the entrance and then hand them in as you enter. The show itself lasts for twenty minutes but is only mildly interesting. For the cost I suppose it’s worth seeing as long as the queues aren’t too bad, but on Bank Holidays and weekends I wouldn’t recommend the long wait. Beyond the building housing the dolphins the path continues past reindeer and elk. Viewing positions here are spoilt somewhat by the garish blue fences and the fact that the animals are located up a small hill. As we’ve now reached the top of the park, the only thing left in front of us is the South American enclosure, which I skipped in memory of its Antipodean equivalent but am told contains 127 animals from 22 different species. Turning to the left, the path bends sharply past Red Deer and the imposing American Bison to a second bird e nclosure, this time full of smaller varieties such as the starling and the jay. There are also a few bears, unfortunately housed in rather small cages, here, the most interesting of which are the Moon Bears, who are seldom found in the wild anymore despite their revered status in Korea. On the right, and set back from the path, a number of big cats prowl around their cages. The leopards and jaguars are caged in, but the prize Siberian Tigers are allowed a section with some foliage and a few pools. One of the tigers, named Nang Rim after the place in North Korea where he was captured, was previously housed at Pyongyang Central Zoo. The path continues past the Small Carnivora House to the upper Chair Lift terminus, from where the path drops down to a lime green building housing monkeys in Spartan concrete cages with only a small piece of scaffolding, smaller than a child’s climbing frame, for company. The centre of this building is home to a couple of indolent crocodiles, as well as several zealous photographers, while there is also a small section devoted to snakes. Exit, turn left, and continue past some more leopards in the direction of the Botanical Garden, resisting the temptation to take the downhill path on the left in the direction of the African Compound, which I won’t even begin to describe. THE BOTANICAL GARDENS The second largest in Asia in terms of size, the gardens are free to enter and feature 46000 plants from 1300 species in four halls devoted to Tropical Plants, Subtropical Foliage, Cacti and Oriental Orchids. Very impressive. Now we’re nearly at the end of our circuit, there’s nothing else to do but continue on down the hill past the lions, the African Primate House, the African Ostriches, and finally the Zebras. The exit is straight ahead. THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART Sitting on a hill between the zoo and Seoul Land, the museum has seven gallerie s, an outdoor sculpture park and several corridor exhibits showcasing Korean and International Modern Art. Open from 9am until 6pm (7pm on weekends and Bank Holidays, 5pm in winter), admission is a very reasonable 700 Won for over 25s, 300 Won if you’re between 19 and 24 and free for under 18s and over 65s. Last ticket sales are one hour before closing, and the museum itself is closed on Mondays and January 1st. There are a number of special exhibitions, including New Acquisitions, Young Korean Artists Exhibition and Artist of the Year 2002 this year, which may require an extra admission fee. There is an annex of the museum located at Deoksugung Palace in central Seoul. This largely features the museum’s collection of modern paintings. Special events at the museum include the Summer Music Festival in July and the Month of Culture in October. The latter boasts a number of open-air concerts and modern dance performances. GROUND FLOOR After buying your tickets at the door you enter the main lobby. The museum library is on the left, the gift shop is to the right, and the cafeteria is straight ahead beyond the circular information booth dispensing floor plans in five languages. The circular gallery displays paintings, sculptures, installations and video works by acclaimed artists while galleries 1,2 and 7 house the special exhibitions. FIRST FLOOR Galleries 3 and 4 showcase the history of Korean Art since the 1950s. There are also individual spaces for renowned artists such as Kim Ki-chang and Yoo Young-guk. The Children’s Gallery is housed in a circular corridor, featuring the works of schoolchildren who have participated in the museum’s education programmes. SECOND FLOOR Gallery 5 contains contemporary ceramic, wood and metal craft works. Gallery 6 houses sketches, monochrome paintings and minimalist sculptures dating from 1970. I spent an hour and a half in the museum and found it to be truly fascinating. Rushed a little by the impending closing time, I would have liked another hour or so to take everything in properly. If you’re at all interested in modern art then this is a must-see. More information is available on www.moca.go.kr. SEOUL LAND I’ll be brief here as this opinion is in danger of turning into a guide book if I go on much longer. ADMISSION 8000 Won (half price for children) for general admission to the park itself. 24000 Won (15000 Won for children) for a day pass including admission and unlimited rides. OPENING HOURS Open 9.30 am all year round. Closing times range from 6pm from November to March to 10pm in July and August. The website, www.seoulland.co.kr, has full English-language information. WORLD PLAZA Immediately after you enter the park you’re faced with Amsterdam-style gabled houses on your left and pastel coloured Mediterranean villas on your right. Pick up a map of the Theme Park from the Information Centre and continue straight ahead to the giant golf ball, better known as the Fountain Stage. SAMCHULLI LAND The area to the left of the Fountain Stage features a Korean-style Haunted House, complete with a heart attack inducing active element, a Lotus Fountain, a large picnic area, an amphitheatre with 3000 seats, and the Top Spin ride, which has nine different rotation patterns, most of which involve you hanging out of your seat as gravity battles your safety harness-not for the fainthearted. TOMORROW LAND At the end of Samchulli Land the rides are even more stomach churning. The Flying Carpet ride thankfully keeps you upright as it rotates 360 degrees to a height that had my friend punching me for persuading him to accompany me. Straight ahead, the two roller coasters tower over the park. The first, the blue Double Loop, reaches speeds of 85 km/h as it goes through two long tunnels and the two loops from which the ride takes its name. The Black Hole 2000 and situated to the right en route to Fantasy Land, is the longest in Korea and reaches speeds of 100 km/h. To be honest, neither is anything special and both gave me terrible back and shoulder pains for days afterwards due to my height. Far better, but alas far shorter in duration, is the X-Drop, which bounces its seated passengers up and down to a height of 52 metres. Nearby, the Sky-X is touted as the best ride in the entire park, although you have to pay another 15000 Won to experience bungee jumping and simulated sky diving. I particularly liked the Sky Flyer ride in front of the second roller coaster, although my friend wasn’t too enamoured with the slower 360 degree loops that had his fingers clutched tightly around the overhead cage. The World Cup ride located a little to the right spins its passengers in varying directions while simultaneously tilting to 90 degrees from the ground. FANTASY LAND Child-oriented rides with a large playground keeping the kids happy while adults seek out, or desperately avoid, the spinning Rock & Roll cars, which spin you and a partner remorselessly back and forth in a motion similar to being strapped onto a turning hamster’s wheel. You’ll also find the dodgems here as well as the Para Tower, which replicates a falling parachute after meandering up to a height of thirty metres or so. ADVENTURE LAND Located to the right of World Plaza and the Fountain Stage, this small area features Korea’s biggest Pirate Ship and a decent Log Flume ride. EATING AND DRINKING There are several Korean and western restaurants as well as a Lotteria fast food franchise and two branches of Dunkin Donuts. Surprisingly, in terms of price and quality the food here is no different to that found in Seoul itself. SUMMARY THE ZOO The best in K orea but I wouldn’t particularly recommend it as there’s not much here that you couldn’t see at any decent zoo in the UK. That said, it’s extremely cheap and there are several good walks within. THE MUSEUM Highly recommended. If you have the time to spare and are in the Seoul area then this should definitely be on your itinerary. THE THEME PARK Not quite as good as the nearby Samsung-owned Everland but extremely good value nonetheless. I visited on a Saturday in May and the longest queue was a mere half an hour. The park gets busier after 3pm on Saturdays and I imagine it gets packed on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Go on a weekday and you’ll have the place almost to yourself.