So close, in fact, that the first hints of autumn colors can be seen streaking the mostly verdant leaves that canopy the green spaces of Seoul. The aroma of roasting chestnuts permeates the busy streets downtown. Sweaters take over the storefronts of Myeongdong, Dongdaemun and Sinsa, the shopping havens of the city.
Yes, I can feel it. And I'm giddy.
You see, there's something about autumn that makes my heart beat a little faster. There always has been. When I lived in America, it was tailgating and trick-or-treating that did it for me. But here in Korea, there are a number of things that instil a sense of infatuation that keep me eagerly waiting for this beautiful season all year long.
These are a few reasons why.
1. Mountain Hikes
For one, the country is painted with a palette of autumn hues: burning crimsons, vibrant oranges, and rich browns. It's the perfect time of year to enjoy the outdoors of Korea, whether it's taking a walk at the park or hiking one of the nation's famous mountains. One of the most well known places to see the foliage is Seoraksan National Park in the city of Sokcho, situated on the east coast of the peninsula. Inwangsan and Dobongsan Mountains in Seoul are two other beautiful and even more convenient spots.
The palaces of Seoul are also great destinations to witness the colorful transformation of Korea during its most aesthetic season. The images of traditional buildings and reflecting ponds draped in the colors of fall lure photographers, artists and romantics from all around the country.
When visiting the palaces, one can almost make out the kings and queens of past dynasties reflectively sipping tea under the vivid maple trees, enjoying the crisp chill in the air.
3. Seasonal Cuisine
Fall is also a time of harvest in Korea and the new crops are rich and delicious. Grains are used for making alcohol and special rice cakes called songpyeon are prepared for Chuseok, but my favorite fall food is the persimmon.
Persimmons, which are a symbol of autumn in Korea, add even more color to the foliage and offer a welcomed sweetness to the otherwise savory spread of seasonal cuisine. They are particularly tasty when hardened, resembling crispy apples. Persimmons are dried to make sujeonggwa, a punch-like drink. The dried persimmon is mixed with ginger and cinnamon to create the perfect fall beverage. Although it is traditionally served cold, I think it's best hot, just like apple cider.
4. Pojangmacha & Street Food
Street food vendors serve up seasonal favorites like chestnuts and hodduck, a sweet brown sugar-filled pancake. The smells that emanate from the food stalls are enticing to say the least, as are the bright orange colors of the pojangmacha, Korean street food tents.
Although these tents are open for business throughout the year, they are best enjoyed in the fall, when temperatures are ideal to load up on street snacks and swig shots of soju in the open-air atmosphere offered by the tents.
5. Happy Seoulites
Finally, people are just happier during the fall. I'm not sure what it is. The end of the sweltering temperatures, the time spent with family, the simple beauty that can only be created by Mother Nature. Whatever the reason, smiles are contagious and folks are generous.
Autumn is one of the few seasons that is capable of provoking all the senses, particularly in Korea. It's a short season, lasting only about a month and a half, but is a wonderful time to experience the splendour of the country before the cold winter sets in.
Fall Foliage Forecast
Kweather has forecasted that the first appearance of 2016 fall foliage will be on September 29 in the northeast, at Seoraksan National Park. This will be followed by the central region around October 21, while Jirisan National Park in the south central region will see the colors around October 12 to 24. Usually, the fall foliage reaches its peak when the yellow and red colors of the trees cover 80% of the mountain--about two weeks after the first fall foliage is observed.
Let the countdown to fall begin!
Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.