Family bonds locked in time at Seoul tower

Namsan Tower 2 by Denton Morris

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Tribune
June 9, 2016

SEOUL — After my family immigrated to Chicago, some of the things my parents missed most about South Korea were the hills and mountains.

They recalled the majesty of Namsan Mountain, whose peak is home to the popular tourist attraction N Seoul Tower. Better known as Namsan Tower, it includes an observatory offering panoramic views of the capital city and beyond.

The main characters in K-dramas often demonstrate their love by attaching personalized padlocks on a fence on the tower’s observation deck. Tens of thousands of “love locks” can be found here (

Namsan Tower 1 by Denton MorrisIt’s a trend well established in cities such as Paris and Prague, but the tradition has taken on an added dimension in Seoul. While couples still attach locks to declare their love for one another, the fence has become a popular spot for adoptees and their adoptive parents to leave padlocks honoring the day they became a family.

“We decided to put a lock at Namsan Tower to commemorate our first trip back to Seoul since adopting our daughter in 2008,” said Kelly Hegarty of Castle Rock, Colo. On their lock, they wrote their last name, the date they visited and the Korean word for “family.”

Padlocks can be purchased on site at a gift shop, but we preferred to bring our own. (Besides being less expensive, ours was distinctive from the ubiquitous heart-shaped ones sold in the boutique.)

A word to the wise: Bring your own Sharpies. Since these locks are big business, the employees will not lend you their permanent markers, even if you make other purchases. (I tried!) They will politely, but firmly, direct you to the gift shop downstairs.

Our son, Kyle, had just started first grade and hadn’t been back to Korea since we adopted him as a baby. He proudly printed his message on the tiny lock and made us take numerous photos of it. He said he wanted to be able to find it the next time we returned.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it most likely wouldn’t be there. A friend had already warned us that her family’s lock had been removed to make room for new locks — and new families.

If you go


Korean Air and Asiana Airlines offer non-stop service to Incheon Airport. Restricted round-trip fares from $1,100, including taxes and fees. From the airport, take a taxi (approximately $35-$40) to Seoul. To get to N Seoul Tower from Myeongdong Station, take Seoul Subway Line 4 and get off at Exit 3.

N Seoul Tower is open 365 days. Admission fees for the observatory range from $6 to $8, but access to the “love locks” fence is free. There’s a cable car to the Tower (about $7 round-trip), but we trekked up by foot with the senior citizens taking their daily walks there. I’ll admit that I was huffing and puffing at several points of the climb, but my husband and son had no difficulty with it.


To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 82 (the country code for South Korea) and the local number.


Artnouveau City III Seocho Hotel, 1680-1, Seocho-Dong, Seoul; 02-560-7100. About a 10-minute cab ride to the trendy Gangnam neighborhood. Suites have small kitchens, including stoves, microwaves and refrigerators. Some suites come with washing machines. Free parking for guests, but be warned that the spaces are extremely tight. Doubles from about $90 per night.


n.GRILL at N Seoul Tower (2-3455-9297). Michelin Star Chef Duncan Robertson helms this French restaurant. Lunch starts at about $40.

Bukchon Son Mandu Restaurant, is a popular chain where you may get three large meat-and-vegetable-filled mandu (steamed or fried dumplings) for under $3. 42-5 Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul (2-732-1238).


For more information on visiting South Korea, go to the Korea Tourism Organization. The 1330 Korea Travel Hotline is 2-1330, and callers may ask for help in English, Korean, Chinese or Japanese.

© 2016 JAE-HA KIM

Comments (28)

  1. gyoungranusa says:

    My next Korea trip bucket list!!! 🙂 🙂

  2. amandapuck says:

    This is great! I will be reading it!

  3. barryface13 says:

    I’ve been there! Great views, cool locks.

  4. stephenmcgrath16 says:

    Beautifully written. I just really love your storytelling. As a writer who lived in Korea for a decade (and worse, as one who taught writing when it couldn’t be avoided) I have a complicated relationship with stories about Korea. Your lens is one I’ve learned to trust without hesitation. Keep up the wonder.

  5. makelovelocks says:

    Cool Shot!

  6. jennymariacarolina says:

    Its so cool the way u explained it. Would visit when Im in Korean.

  7. j_brd_16 says:

    Do you have a personal story in regards to the adoption experience? As I am an adoptee and have grown curious about where I’ve come from its constantly in the back of my mind of how to begin this journey.

  8. jen_she says:

    Love this!

  9. ironchefmom says:

    As an adoptee myself, my heart always swells and I get emotional every time I hear about how adoptees and their parents want to honor that special day. ?

  10. Jessica Walker Daniel says:

    I didn’t realize adoptive families were doing this tradition. 🙂

    We are approaching a year since out big trip to Seoul. Oh, how I miss the city. We loved looking at all the locks at Namsan Tower. And, even enjoyed the hike through the neighborhood in the heat….Oh, all the memories.

  11. Gina Oh says:

    We adopted a boy and did this!

  12. Heather Fowler says:

    We did this too as an adoptive family- we have a son and daughter from Korea!

  13. Becky Roblyer Merry says:

    Our family left a lock there when we picked up our son ?.

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