SEOUL

Part IV

(November 2017) 

Streets & Neighborhoods 

INSADONG-gil street

This street showcases traditional Korean culture with antique art, bookstores, teahouses, and craft shops.

It is Seoul's leading "gallery street" as it has been home to various galleries.

☞ Directions: Anguk Station (Subway Line 3), Exit 6, to enter from the north end of the street, or Jongno 3-ga Station (Line 5), Exit 5, for the south end of the street.

The south entrance of Insadong street.

The south entrance of Insadong street.

INSADONG-gil street map (red dots).  1)Ssamzigil multi-cultural space.  2)Insadog 8-gil Tea Rooms.  3) Osulloc Tea House.

INSADONG-gil street map (red dots).  1)Ssamzigil multi-cultural space.  2)Insadog 8-gil Tea Rooms.  3) Osulloc Tea House.

Here in Insadong street you can find lots of souvenirs, but the prices are higher than elsewhere.

Do not stick into the main street, but explore the small alleys where beautiful little tea houses and traditional restaurants can be found.

Street food vendors add to the unique atmosphere of the area. Various exhibitions and performances are available as well. 

Insadog was the center of Art from the early Joseon Dynasty.  In the 1930's, several bookstores and antique shops got together around Insadog street.  In the 1970's the first Korean commercial modern gallery opened here.  In the 2000's, Insadog was designated as Culture Center.

Visit Ssamzigil multi-cultural space, where visitors can shop for various traditional arts and crafts. 

On the ground floor, there is a lovely shop selling prints: not any kind of traditional Korean prints, but rather western prints.  The owner is a very gentle man speaking good English.  I bought two elephant prints (😀).

www.ssamzigil.co.kr

Ssamzigil

Ssamzigil

Two rednecks in Ssamzigil.

Two rednecks in Ssamzigil.

Insadog, has lots and nice tea rooms. 

At Insadog 8-gil, there is a tea room we visited at the end of a small alley.  

It is a very quiet place with a small courtyard to sit out when the weather is nice.  The rooms inside are very nicely decorated.  Green Tea costs 7-9,000 and the cake assortment 8,000 per person.

One of the many Tea rooms in Insadog street.

Bukchon Hanok Village & Samcheong-dong

The District north of Yulgok-ro street, between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces, is packed with over 900 hanoks, traditional Korean houses.  This area is called Bukchon Hanok Village. 


☞ Directions: Anguk Station (Subway Line 3), Exits 1, 2, 3

One of the many Tea rooms in Insadog street.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Bukchon Hanok Village & Samcheong-dong and Samcheong-ro Street (red dots).

Bukchon Hanok Village & Samcheong-dong and Samcheong-ro Street (red dots).

Bukchon Hanok Village.

Bukchon Hanok Village.

Members of the royal family and aristocrats lived here during the Joseon period. 

It retains the city's old appearance and has become a popular filming location for movies and TV dramas. 

Today lots of famous and rich people live in the area as well as members of international diplomatic missions in the country. 

Stroll in village's narrow streets and alleys and enjoy the spectacular views towards the mountains and downtown Seoul.

Bukchon Hanok Village

Bukchon Hanok Village

Contemporary restaurants, cafes and wine bars have been established in traditional houses along with galleries, designer shops, speciality shops and themed museums.

Walk the road as far as you can up to the north, and then come down on the bus No 11 (or any bus you see) which shall bring you downtown.

Samcheong-ro Street

Samcheong-ro Street

Samcheong-ro Street

Samcheong-ro Street

Samcheong-ro Street starts at the south-east corner of Gyeongbokgung Palace and continues north along the palace walls. 

The moment the street turns right (away from the walls) it is transformed into a beautiful road lined with tall ginkgo trees.  Traditional korean houses and modern buildings coexist side-by-side, creating unusual scenes.  

Samcheong-ro Street

Samcheong-ro Street

Samcheong-ro Street

Samcheong-ro Street

Garosu-gil Road

Me at Garasu-gil.

Garosu-gil is a two-lane road stretching from Sinsa-dong to Apgujeong-dong, lined with ginkgo trees.

Here you can find creative clothing and accessories made by talented young designers.

Large shops with foreign brands give shoppers the chance to take in international fashion trends.

The area is upscale and people are really dressed up.  The cars which move around are huge and expensive.  Certainly people here manage to impress you.   

There are lots of nice cafes and tearooms, and the roads around it is full of restaurants.

☞ Directions: Sinsa Station (Subway Line 3), Exits 6, 7, 8.

Me at Garasu-gil.

Garasul-gil Road and Deux Cremes tart shop (red arrow).

Garasul-gil Road and Deux Cremes tart shop (red arrow).

A sweet tip:


Just off Garosu-gil, at Dosan-daero 15-gil (there is also an entrance also on the Garosu-gil road itself), there is a three-storey dessert shop, named “Deux Cremes tart shop”.

Deux Cremes serves coffee and tea, but what makes it special is the huge variety of freshly made tarts: grape tart, fig tart, mango tart, strawberry tart, blackberry tart, mont blanc, banana tart, peach tart, just name it!  No surprise the place is always crowded.  Do not miss it.

Deux Cremes tart shop

Deux Cremes tart shop

Garosu-gil Road

Yongsan & Itaewon

Yongsan, situated on the Han (Hangang) River, was a key port city since ancient times owing to its advantageous geographic location, and thus a base for economic activity.

Yongsan Park is a huge park in the heart of the area, just south of Namsan mountain.  The area is also home to some of Seoul’s most renowned museums, reflecting the city’s deep history:  the National Museum of Korea, the National Hangeul Museum, The war Memorial of Korea and not far away from there the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art. 

Get off at Ichon Station to visit the first two, walk towards the north part of the park to visit War Museum and from there walk along Itaewon-ro road for a couple of kilometers to the Samsung Museum, or just outside the War Memorial take bus 110B to take you there.  On your way back to the city center take bus 405 from Itaewon-ro, which runs all the south peripheral road of Mount Namsan. From this road you have spectacular views of the city and the neighborhoods built on the steep cliffs of the area.   

Yongsan & Itaewon Area: 1=Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, 2=War Memorial of Korea, 3=National Museum of Korea, 4=National Hangeul Museum, 5=Itaewon Area.

Yongsan & Itaewon Area: 1=Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, 2=War Memorial of Korea, 3=National Museum of Korea, 4=National Hangeul Museum, 5=Itaewon Area.

The area east of Yongsan Park and south of Namsan Mount (Itaewon-ro Road runs through the center of the area) is where most of the diplomatic missions are.  This is Itaewon, a small world within Seoul.  The area is full of ethnic restaurants, small shops and is the place where you meet most foreigners living in Seoul.    

On of the two gates of Itaewon-ro road.

On of the two gates of Itaewon-ro road.

Green Tea half-size Kiseki castella.

Green Tea half-size Kiseki castella.

A sweet tip:

Just 3 minutes’ walk from exit 3 of Itaewon Station (on Itaewon-ro itself) there is a small branch of “Kiseki Castella” cake shop. The shop sells to take away delicious Castella cake since 1983.  They sell 3 types of Castella: original, green tea and choco for about 14,000 for a full-length cake.

Castella is a popular Japanese sponge cake made of sugar, flour, eggs, and starch syrup.  Now a specialty of Nagasaki, the cake was brought to Japan by Portuguese merchants in the 16th century.  The name is derived from Portuguese Pão de Castela, meaning "bread from Castile".

Castella cake is usually sold in long boxes, with the cake inside being approximately 27 cm long.

www.kiseki.co.kr

National Museum of Korea and the Namsan Seoul Tower in the background.

National Museum of Korea and the Namsan Seoul Tower in the background.

The National Museum of Korea is the country’s leading museum and represents the essence of Korean culture. 

The building itself is a modern spectacular structure.  Enjoy the view of Namsan Seoul Tower through a huge frame the building forms.  Admission to the museum is free of charge.

 ☞ Directions: Ichon Station (Subway Line 4), Exit 2.  

Ten-Story Pagoda from Gyeongcheonsa Temple site (left).  Mirror Pond (top right), The Stele for Buddhist Preceptor Wollang (middle right), the main building of the Museum (bottom right).

Ten-Story Pagoda from Gyeongcheonsa Temple site (left).  Mirror Pond (top right), The Stele for Buddhist Preceptor Wollang (middle right), the main building of the Museum (bottom right).

Hangeul writting.

Hangeul writting.

The Statue of Brothers.  An urban myth says that this statue depicts a real-life story of two brothers who fought in the Korean War on opposite sides and were accidentaly reunited on the battlefield, and symbolises the Koreans' wish for national peace, reconciliation and reunification.  South Korean propagada depicts the north brother weaker!

Open in 2014, the Hangeul Museum promotes and disseminates the linguistic and cultural value of Hangeul, the Korean alphabet. The Hangeul Museum is located just next to the National Museum of Korea.

Admission to the museum is free of charge.

: www.hangeul.go.kr 

☞ Directions: Ichon Station (Subway Line 4), Exit 2.

A bit of history:  King Sejong devised the Korean alphabet Hangeul in 1443, which he named Hunminjeongeum, "The correct sounds for instructing the people".  It was the fruition of King Sejong's love for the common people who had difficulties in communication because of the difference between the spoken language and writting system.

Hangeul  is the alphabet that perfectly delivers the Korean language.  Furthermore, it is highy esteemed by linguists all over the world for its creativeness and scientific value. 

War Memorial of Korea Museum

War Memorial of Korea Museum

The War Memorial of Korea is the only war museum in the country.  It exhibits the entire history of the Korean War, as well as Korean people's struggle and independence movement.  Admission to the museum is free of charge. 

☞ Directions: Samgakji Station (Subway Lines 4, 6), Exits 11, 2.

 www.warmemo.or.kr

These artwork was installed to commemorate 50 years of the armistice.

These artwork was installed to commemorate 50 years of the armistice.

Greece was one of the few nations which sent real army to fight in the Korea War.  Greece had just come out of a civil war, too.  This plate (middle left) commemorates the Greeks died in the battle.

Greece was one of the few nations which sent real army to fight in the Korea War.  Greece had just come out of a civil war, too.  This plate (middle left) commemorates the Greeks died in the battle.

The Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art was established with the art collection of Samsug Group’s founder. 

Permanent exhibits include old Korean artwork and works of renowned artists from Korea and abroad, including Andy Warhol and Nam June Paik.  This Mario Botta building is located just opposite the Grand Hyatt Seoul.

 leeum.samsungfoundation.org 

The Mario Botta building for the Samsung Museum of Art.

Ihwa Mural Village

The Mario Botta building for the Samsung Museum of Art.
Ihwa Mural Village

Ihwa Mural Village

Perched at the very top of Mt. Naksan, Ihwa Mural Village is an unlikely attraction in an unlikely setting.

Only a decade ago, the neighborhood was set for demolition to clear away what was considered an aging and unattractive slum to make way for new development. 

Ihwa Mural Village is located just above Dongdaemun Gate.

Ihwa Mural Village is located just above Dongdaemun Gate.

Ihwa Village murals.

Ihwa Village murals.

Today, it’s a lively and thriving neighborhood that welcomes artists and visitors while still preserving the charm and intimate bonds of its long-standing and tight-knit community. It’s a surprising success story, and not one without challenges, but the Mural Village illustrates the ability of art and human ties to bring new life to the city.

Ihwa Village street.

Ihwa Village street.

Ihwa murals.

Ihwa murals.

Ihwa murals.

Ihwa murals.

Ihwa Mural Village is located less than a 10-minute walk uphill from the buzzing Daehakno area. As you head up the slopes of Mt. Naksan, the noise and crowds give way to fresh air and gorgeous, expansive views of the city, but also to something unexpected: street art.

Metal sculptures stand guard over the laneways while brightly painted murals hide behind every corner. Steep staircases come alive with colorful paintings and mosaics. Ihwa-dong defies its origins as a slum to embrace life, color and art while still reflecting the needs of its long-term residents.

Multicolor Ihwa Village.

Multicolor Ihwa Village.

The narrow alleys showcase murals large and small, while sculptures dominate the road by Naksan Park.

Maps direct visitors to the largest and most famous, but new paintings are always springing up. 

Many small museums, art centers and cafés have also opened, adding to the bohemian feel. Naksan Park provides green space and yet more art, along with stunning views of Seoul and the ancient city walls. 

You will burn many colories climbing up and down Ihwa roads.

You will burn many colories climbing up and down Ihwa roads.
Ihwa surprises.

Ihwa surprises.

Ihwa stairs.

Ihwa stairs.

Residents of "moon villages," or daldongne – so called because their locations high in the hills gave the people there a better view of the night sky – were primarily working class and poor people who couldn’t afford housing in the more convenient, flat, or central parts of the city.

Ihwa-dong (Mural Village), in particular, was home to many workers in the nearby garment and textile industries in Changsin-dong and the Dongdaemun area. The neighborhood stayed much the same even as rapid economic development in the ‘80s and ‘90s brought prosperity and high-rise apartment towers to other parts of the city. Finally, the area was slated for demolition and redevelopment, which would bring an end to both the area’s mid-century buildings and to the community that lived there.

We are happy this did not happen so far.

Ihwa shops.

Ihwa shops.

The city walls at Naksan park.

The city walls at Naksan park.

 Directions: Get off at Hyehwa Station (Line 4), Exit 2. 

From there, head straight towards Marronnier Park. Turn left at the park, past the Arco Arts Center and continuing until Dongsung-gil. Make a right turn onto Dongsung-gil and then a left onto Guldari-gil. Following Guldari-gil will take you up to Naksan Park, and continues on through the heart of Ihwa-dong Mural Village before turning into Yulgok-ro 19-gil, making its famous P-turn and running back down to the southern end of Daehakno. Look for signs pointing to Naksan Park and the Mural Village.

Alternatively, visitors can start by heading up Naksanseonggwak-gil from Dongdaemun until they reach the crest of the hill, then turn west and walk down through the village.

Get lost in the streets and get some coffee in one of the numerous cafes of the area. 

There are numerous cafes and restaurants in the area, most of them with a view.

There are numerous cafes and restaurants in the area, most of them with a view.

The views from the Naksan Park.

The views from the Naksan Park.

Myeongdong and the beauty industry

Myeongdong or Myungdong ("bright cave" or "bright tunnel") is a neighborhood in central Seoul, between Toegye-ro, Eulji-ro, Samil-daero and Namdaemun-ro.  The area’s shape is almost a square which is divided into four sections by the two main roads which intersect in the middle of it.  These streets are Myeongdong-gil and Myeongdong 2-gil.  

Myeongdong (Myungdong) road plaque.

Myeongdong (Myungdong) road plaque.

Myeongdong area.  Myeongdong-gil and Myeongdong 2-gil are marked with red dots.

Myeongdong area.  Myeongdong-gil and Myeongdong 2-gil are marked with red dots.

It is mostly a commercial area, being one of Seoul's main shopping and tourism districts.  The area is known for its two historically significant sites, namely the oldest Catholic cathedral in Korea, Myeongdong Cathedral and the Myeongdong Nanta Theatre, but it is the shopping that attracts people here.  The huge building of the Chinese Embassy is in the center of the area since 1947.

 All known commercial brands are found here, both expensive and cheaper ones, but what really impresses visitors is the amount of the beauty/cosmetics shops in the area.  It is not an exaggeration to say that every two out of three shops here promise to make you younger and more beautiful. 

The beauty shops are literary one next to the other.

The beauty shops are literary one next to the other.

Korean people focus on skin care under the influence of TV programs, advertisements and tradition.

Koreans highly value even and radiant skin, and Korean women tend to vary their beauty care regimen with the season. They use different kinds of moisturizers such as cream for tightening pores (BB cream, blemish balm or beauty balm) and lotions for lightening the skin (CC cream, color correction or color control).

Outside beauty shops you see booths with lots of beauty face masks.

Outside beauty shops you see booths with lots of beauty face masks.

Myeongdong-gil road.

Myeongdong-gil road.

The beauty shops are literary one next to the other (both local brands and foreign ones) and cheerful girls and young men standing outside the shops try to persuade you that your skin looks tired, but you should not worry, as they have hundreds of miracle beauty creams to give you and hundreds of beauty masks which will make you look ten years younger.  Besides, we should not forget that beauty industry is one of the biggest industries in Korea and beauty products considered to be the best.

Korean people focus on skin care under the influence of TV programs, advertisements and tradition.

Korean people focus on skin care under the influence of TV programs, advertisements and tradition.

Koreans generally apply makeup every day because it offers sun protection, a major concern.  

A big focus of Korean skincare is skin lightening, which is why many Korean cosmetic products have brightening properties. Skin brightening is not the same as skin bleaching, also known as skin whitening, which is a reduction of melanin in the skin. Instead, skin lightening is focused on treating hyperpigmentation.

In general, when you wonder around in Seoul, the abundance of cosmetic shops makes you consider if Koreans are obsessed with cosmetics and beauty.  

South Korea is home to several large cosmetic brands, many of which export their products worldwide. They include: Laneige, Etude House, Innisfree, Sulwhasoo, Mamonde, Ĭsa Knox, The Face Shop, Nature Republic, Tonymoly, Dr Jart+, Holika Holika, Mizon, Skinfood, Missha, Banila Co., Lope, Clio, and much more!  Products include ingredients such as snail slime, morphing masks, bee venom, moisturizing starfish extract, and pig collagen.

Korean men are also interested in skincare.

Korean men are also interested in skincare.

In Korea it seems that having white hair shows at least negligence.  

People value dark hair and dyeing their hair is an everyday ritual.  There are hundreds of products to help you look young and restless!

Of course, it is not just women who dye their hair to be fashionable and to change their looks, but also men.  Very rarely you see older men who haven’t their hair dyed. 

South Korea is home to several large cosmetic brands.

South Korea is home to several large cosmetic brands.

Korean men are also interested in skincare. They also use BB or CC creams. Cosmetics manufactured specifically for men in South Korea focus not only on soothing the skin after daily shaving, but on every kind of cosmetics.

Most men dye their hair.  After they put the coloring product on their hair, they sit in the sun for better results.

Most men dye their hair.  After they put the coloring product on their hair, they sit in the sun for better results.

At my 52years I do not feel like doing anything about my gray hair and beard.  But, it was a big surprise when someone called me "Santa Claus"...or when a much older man than me offered me his seat in the metro!

Plastic surgery advertisement is everywhere in Seoul.

South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita in the world.  It has been estimated that 25% of women in Seoul have gone under the knife, and this percentage increases dramatically for women in their twenties.

Men make up 15-20% of the market, including a former President of the country, who underwent double-eyelid surgery while in office.  

If you want to feel bad about your looks, spend some time in Seoul. An eerily high number of women there—and men, too—look like anime princesses.  

Plastic surgery advertisement is everywhere in Seoul.

Landmarks 

Namsan Park & Seoul Tower

Namsan Park is home to many popular tourist attractions, including Namsan Seoul Tower, Palgakjeong Pavilion, Namsan Outdoor Botanical Gardens (at the southernmost part of the park) and the National Theater of Korea, not to mention the leafy park itself.

The Namsan Park

The Namsan Park
Namsan Park.  1=Seoul Tower, 2=Namsangol Hanok Village.

Namsan Park.  1=Seoul Tower, 2=Namsangol Hanok Village.

Automn colors

Automn colors

The park has many well-organised walking trails.

The Namsan park and Seoul in general, wear their most beautiful faces in October/November when the leaves on the trees turn into all shades of yellow, red, brown and orange.

Seoul Tower

Seoul Tower

View from Seoul Tower

View from Seoul Tower

If you do not feel like walking up the tower, the green bus lines 02, 03 & 05 (all circle lines) take you just 200m away from the tower entrance.

Alternatively, take the cable car that starts from the namsan 3-ho tunnel toll gate. 

☞ Directions: for the cable car get off at Hoehyeon Station (Lines 4) Exit 1.

Namsan Seoul Tower was the first tower-type tourism spot in Korea and today is the most frequently visited tourist attraction in the country.

The top of the tower is at almost 480m above sea level, including Namsan Mountain (243m) and the tower’s own height (236.7m), making it one of the tallest towers in the Orient. It is comprised of Seoul Tower Plaza, recently opened to public access after 40 years, and N Seoul Tower. The tower was first established as a broadcast tower to send out TV and radio signals in 1969.

The tower has lots of restaurants, cafés, snack-bars, souvenir shops and lots for the kids to be kept occupied. On the 5th floor of the Tower there is an observation deck with a 360o view of Seoul.


Tickets to the deck cost 10,000 (adults) and 7,500 (seniors).

The tower plaza

The tower plaza

Namsangol Hanok Village

While on the Seoul tower, it is a good opportunity to visit also Namsangol Hanok Village.  Green bus no2 will take you in some minutes from the tower to the village entrance.  Entrance to the village is free of charge.

Namsangol Hanok Village

Namsangol Hanok Village

City of Seoul moved and restored five hanok houses of folklore heritage that were scattered in the city and established Namsangol-Hanok village in 1998.

 ☞ Directions: get off at Chungmuro Station (Lines 3, 4) Exits 4, 3.

Namsangol Hanok Village

Namsangol Hanok Village

Hanok village in Pil-dong on the northern foot of Namsan was a famous summer vacation spot during Joseon Dynasty with its valley and Cheonugak Pavilion.  It was also called Cheonghak-dong, the place where the gods live, because of its beautiful scenery.

Namsangol Hanok Village beauty

Namsangol Hanok Village beauty

Namsangol Hanok Village

Namsangol Hanok Village

Namsangol Hanok Village beauties in traditional dresses.

Namsangol Hanok Village beauties in traditional dresses.

Jongmyo shrine

Jongmyo is the supreme state shrine where the spirit tablets of deceased kings and queens are enshrined, and sacrificial rites are performed for them based on Confucian principal.

The shrine hall originally had one shrine hall, Jeongjeon, but today it has another shrine hall called Yeongnyeongjeon.  None of Jongmyo’s facilities are lavishly adorned, underscoring solemnity at the state shrine.

Jongmyo

Jongmyo

Jongmyo shrine.

Jongmyo shrine.

Jeongjeon

Jeongjeon

Entrance to the shrine costs 1,000 for adults and it is free for seniors.

 ☞ Directions: get off at Jongno 3-ga Station (Lines 1,3,5) Exits 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.

Jeongjeon contains 49 spirit tablets of the kings and queens with distinguished achievements including Taejo, the founder of Joseon Dynasty. 

When the king or queen died, a three-year mourning period was observed at the palace, after which the spirit tablet of the deceased was brought to Jeongjeon and enshrined there. 

The scenery of the rough, expansive stone yard and imposing magnificent roof that seems to float over it has the ultimate beauty of sublimity found in classical architecture.

Chilsadang

Chilsadang

Yeongnyeongjeon was built to enshrine four generations of King Taejo’s ancestors.

Its name literaly means “long live both ancestors and descendants of the royal family peace”.

At present Yeongnyeongjeon contains 16 chambers housing 16 kings and 18 queens.

Only Korea has preserved its royal shrine and continues to perform royal ancestral rites known as Jongmyo Jerye and Jongmyo Jeryeak.

Jongmyo Jerye was the state's largest and most important ritual conducted by the king himself. 

Jeongjeon

Jeongjeon

Just west of the Jeonjeon and bellow the stone yard is Chilsadang.  

Chilsadang is where the spirit tablets to seven gods of heaven are enshrined.  It was a place pf prayer, where the gods were asked to ensure that all the affairs of the royal family and all the people would be carried out without difficulties. 

Yeongnyeongjeon

Yeongnyeongjeon

Cheonggyecheon

Cheonggyecheon is an 8 km creek flowing west to east through downtown Seoul, and then meeting Jungnangcheon, which connects to the Han River and empties into the Yellow Sea. In 1958, started  Cheonggyecheon to be covered with concrete to be used as road. In 1976, an elevated highway was built over it.   

Cheonggyecheon stream during the Seoul Lantern Festival.

Cheonggyecheon stream during the Seoul Lantern Festival.
Cheonggyecheon Stream.

Cheonggyecheon Stream.

In July 2003, initiated a project to remove the elevated highway and restore the stream.

It was a major undertaking since the highway had to be removed and years of neglect  had left the stream nearly dry. 

120,000 tons of water were to be pumped in daily from the Han River, its tributaries, and groundwater from subway stations.  Still, restoration of Cheonggyecheon was deemed important as it fit in with the movement to re-introduce nature to the city and to promote a more eco-friendly urban design.

Other goals of the project were to restore the history and culture of the region, which had been lost for 30 years, and to revitalize Seoul's economy. The stream was opened to the public in September 2005 and was lauded as a major success in urban renewal and beautification. 

Today, Cheonggyecheon is a real oasis in Seoul.  The stream is located considerably lower than the city itself, as the banks are very high.  Thus, when you are “inside” you feel isolated from the noise and the city blast. 

There are walking trails on both banks which run along the full length of the stream.  There are recreation areas for performances, vegetation and trees, passages over the water and big fish in the water.  Lots of stairs and ramps lead you from the street level down to the trails.    

Street Food

Seoul is the foodie’s paradise.  There are lots of restaurants in every street and the choices and varieties many.  But, what fascinates you more about Seoul’s food scene is the street food.

There are bulky, tented vendor carts everywhere, literary everywhere.  Unlikely street food in other Asian cities like Bangkok, street food in Seoul is on the snack side, not the full plate dinner type.  Of course, you also find that kind of food in the markets, where they cater for you all day long.  So, one can wonder around, doing his shopping and nibble one snack after the other.  One thing is true: you cannot stop and you want to try everything.  Some of the food is traditional, some is fashionable, some is the day’s special. 

Street food vendors are everywhere in Seoul.

Street food vendors are everywhere in Seoul.

Tteokbokki & Odeng street poster.

Tteokbokki & Odeng street poster.

Gimbap (김밥) - Gimbap is a Korean dish made from cooked rice and other ingredients that are rolled in gim (dried sheets of laver seaweed) and served in bite-sized slices.  It is called the “Korean sushi” by foreigners, but has no fish in it.  The dish is often part of a packed meal to be eaten at picnics and outdoor events, and can serve as a light lunch along with danmuji (yellow pickled radish) and kimchi.  In the street, it is ready made and usually wrapped with plastic to be kept fresh.

Tteokbokki (떡볶이 – spicy rice cakes). Tteok-bokki is a popular Korean food made from small-sized, long, white, cylinder-shaped rice cakes called tteokmyeon.  Tteok-bokki can be seasoned with spicy gochujang (chili paste) called Gochujang tteok-bokki.

 Odeng (오뎅 – fish cakes) – fish cakes are the cheapest street foods you’ll find. They’re skewered on a stick and left in a delicious broth, which happens to be free with any order (not just odeng) and can cures bad hang overs. Put on some soy sauce to enjoy.  To tell you the truth, I really do not understand why this is so popular:  it has a very fishy taste and an awful texture; but the broth is nice and unexpectedly not fishy at all!

Odeng, Tteokbokki & grilled sausages.

Odeng, Tteokbokki & grilled sausages.

Enjoying Odeng.

Enjoying Odeng.

Fried Snacks (튀김 – twigim) – These fried foods are dipped in a batter to allow for a flakey shell. Ingredients range from dumplings, eggs, peppers, sweet potatoes, and more.  This is the equivalent to Japanese tempura.

Mungbean Pancakes (빈대떡 – bindaetteok) – bindaetteok is made by grinding soaked mung beans, adding vegetables and meat and pan-frying them into a round, flat shape pan.  Certainly, the tastier of all street food for me!

Mungbean Pancakes.

Mungbean Pancakes.
Fried snacks can wait... I have a text message to send!

Fried snacks can wait... I have a text message to send!

Bundegi.

Bundegi.

Bundegi (번데기) – this bizarre food is basically boiled or steamed silkworm larvae.  I can not even stand the smell as you pass by large steamy pots with larvae inside.  It smells like dirt after rain, but not the nice smell, the shitty one (excuse my French)!

Grilled Squid (오징어구이 – ojingeo gui) & Grilled Octopus Legs (문어다리구이 – muneo dari gui).  One of my favorite snack.  Just yummy grilled squid or octopus. Octopus tends to be on the chewy hard side.  As I come from a country where grilled octopus/squid/calamari is a norm, this food does not seem exotic at all.

Grilled Squid & Grilled Octopus.

Grilled Squid & Grilled Octopus.

Egg bread (계란빵 - gyeran ppang) – Egg bread is a popular winter street food in Korea. It features a whole egg inside or on top of some kind of moist bread and usually a dusting of parsley.  It tastes nice.

Fish bread (붕어빵) – It has nothing to do with fish, but they are called so because they’re are shaped like little fish. It is a waffle which is filled usually with sweet red beans.  Why shaped like fish?  I have no clue.  Very popular with kids.

Egg bread.

Egg bread.

Fish bread.

Fish bread.

Grilled Cheese Lobster.

Grilled Cheese Lobster.

The list does not stop here, you can indulge yourself with:

Grilled Cheese Lobster (relatively expensive),

Hotteok (Sweet Korean Pancake), which are sweet pancakes with brown sugar syrup filling,

Hweori Gamja (Tornado Potato) that is spiral-cut fried potato.  Twist Potato with Sausage (the same as Tornado Potato but with a hot dog inside),

Dried Cuttlefish, freshly grilled on the spot,

 Fried Chicken (Yangnyeom Tongdak), which is double-deep fried chicken pieces further tossed in sticky sauces (from sweet and spicy ones to soy and garlic), 

Tornado Potato & Twist Potato with Sausage.

Tornado Potato & Twist Potato with Sausage.

Stuffed dumplings (Mandu), similar to the Chinese jiaozi or Japanese gyoza, or Pan-Fried Dumplings (Goon Mandu), which are meat and vegetables-filled dumplings pan-fried till crisp, juicy on the inside (sometimes served with kimchi in a box),

Pork Belly Vegetable Rolls, which are vegetables such as shredded carrots, bean sprouts and onions wrapped in a thinly sliced pork belly and pan-fried,

Stuffed dumplings & Pan-Fried Dumplings

Stuffed dumplings & Pan-Fried Dumplings

Bacon Wrapped Sausages,

Blood Sausage (Sundae),

Grilled Abalone in Butter,

Broiled Eels (Jang Uh Gui), 

Dumplings.

Dumplings.

Pancakes.

Pancakes.

Seafood Pancake (Haemul Pajeon), a harmony of seafood such as squid, prawns or mussels, leek, green onions in a savory pancake,

Kimchi Pancake (Kimchijeon), a spicy pancake version made with kimchi (whole or chopped) and meat (sometimes tuna) in an egg and flour batter, served with dipping sauce,

Korean Style Bulgogi Steak, which is cooked steak seasoned with sesame and scallion, which has been marinated in ‘bulgogi’ sauce for that characteristic sweetness,

Korean Spicy Chicken Skewers (Dakkkochi), a type of Korean chicken kebab served on a stick. The meat is cut into narrow slices, grilled, then brushed with spicy-sweet sauce, 

Steamed Corn,

Roasted Sweet Potatoes, one of my favorite,

Cotton Candy,

Eomukba (‘hotbar’), a skewer of fried fish cake with touches of carrot and perilla leaf (Korean shiso-like herb) wrapped around surimi,

Dumplings staffed with sweet red beans, sugar, cinnamon and other spices

French Fries Hot Dog, etc, etc

Roasted Sweet Potatoes.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes.

I could go on writing pages and pages full of different kind of street food.  You should go yourself and try as many as you can.  This is Korea, after all!

Corn (steamed and grilled).

Corn (steamed and grilled).

All kind of fried food (top left), Cotton Candy (right), and one of the thousands of street food vendors in Seoul (bottom left).

All kind of fried food (top left), Cotton Candy (right), and one of the thousands of street food vendors in Seoul (bottom left).

We love you, too!

We love you, too!

Beyond Seoul

Oido island

Oido island is a small peninsula on the west coast, just outside Seoul.

 

  • ☞ Directions: get off at Oido Station (the last station of Subway Line 4).  Then take Bus no 30-2 and get off at the last stop, which is in the center of the village.  Note: Use the bus stop on Yeokjeon-ro Street (that is the main road outside the Train Station), which is located immediately on your right as you exit the train station.  Do not cross the road to the oposite bus stop, because you will end far away, like we did! 
Me and the Oido lighthouse

Me and the Oido lighthouse

Oido used to be a small island till 2000.  Today it is attached to the mainland.  There is so much proclaimed land in the area that you do not know where the coast used to be. 

The town on the  island is a fishing village where the romantic souls go to watch the sunset.

Fish vendors also cook your seafood on the spot

Fish vendors also cook your seafood on the spot

The village seen from the Pier.

The village seen from the Pier.

In the center of the village, there is a small pier, where the fishing boats dock and bring out all kind of seafood.

On this pier the fishermen sell their procucts in small establishments, which also serve as small restaurants with 2-3 tables each.  There, you can have your fresh seafood cooked or grilled on the spot. Do not expect anything more than basic facilities, but what gets into your stomach was swimming just minutes ago.

The main landmark of the village is the red lighthouse. There is a watch deck on the top of it, which you can reach by stairs. Entrance is free and the views are great.

Oido island seafront...and the happy travelers

Oido island seafront...and the happy travelers

The fish vendors on the Oido pier.

The fish vendors on the Oido pier.

Food...more food!

Food...more food!

Incheon

Incheon is Seoul’s commercial and passenger port.  A big city itself (over 3 million), is located 36 km west of the capital and has rich history and culture, as it has been the first city in Korea to open its doors to the world in 1883.  Incheon is a cosmopolitan city with docks full of container ships and giant cranes

The international airport of Seoul is in Incheon (on an offshore island), as well as several islands off its coast.  The place is very popular for weekend escapes from noisy Seoul, as well as romantic nights out at a nice restaurant. 

A collage of old Incheon tiles located in the Japanese road.

A collage of old Incheon tiles located in the Japanese road.

Incheon port.  The area I covered during my visit is marked with red dots.

Incheon port.  The area I covered during my visit is marked with red dots.

No matter the size of the city, the places of interest for tourists are concentrated into rather small and easy to reach “pockets”.  Two of them are not to be missed: the Chinatown and the Cultural District of the Open Port.

The best way to arrive in Incheon is on Metro Line 1.  Get off at the end of the line, which is Incheon Station.  Enter Chinatown from the main Gate which is just opposite the train station.  Continue up the hill, wander around the Chinesa Town-ro street and head east to wonder around the Open Port area and then continue north thru modern commercial shops and finish your walk at Dongincheon Station (Metro line 1).

Do not forget to visit the Tourist Information Office located just outside the Incheon Station.

Since the opening of the Chinese port in 1883, Chinatown has been formed by the Chinese people so they have their own unique cultural and heritage town to remind them of home. 

Even today, one can travel virtually to China by walking along its streets where red color is omnipresent.  Visitors, can enjoy several attractions like the Seollinmul pai-loo (traditional gate), Euiseondang Shrine, and Samgukji and Chohanji Mural streets; but, it is Chinese food to be enjoyed more than anything else.

MacArthur Time magazine cover

MacArthur Time magazine cover

Incheon train Station

Incheon train Station

The main gate (pai-loo) of Chinatown.

The main gate (pai-loo) of Chinatown.

The city became known worldwide in 1950 when the American General Douglas MacArthur led UN forces in a daring landing here behind enemy lines, during the Korean War. 

Military experts doubted that such tactic could succeed, but it did and within a month the North Koreans were all but defeated.  The tide turned again in November of the same year, when large numbers of Chinese troops scored across the border.   

South Koreans honor MacArthur with a 5-meter statue standing at Jayu Park. In the same park stands also the Korea-USA Centennial Monument, built in 1982 to commemorate the treaty of peace, commerce and navigation between the two countries.

Chinatown

Chinatown

Chinatown

Chinatown

The place to visit in Chinatown is the Yuebing cake shop in Chinatown-ro street next to the steps leading to Seollinmun Pai-loo.

This is the best place to try fresh Gonggal bread and Moon cakes

Gonggal bread is a unique cake, which is actually a thin crispy ball which is empty inside and the interior wall of the skin is sweet. Moon cakes are traditional Chinese cookies filled with bean jam, dried fruits, nuts, etc and made into appealing shapes.  Just opposite the cake shop there is a two-storey wooden restaurant.  Excellent Chinese food at very affordable prices.

Yuebing cake shop.

Yuebing cake shop.

Yuebing cake shop

Yuebing cake shop

Mooncakes from Yuebing cake shop.

Mooncakes from Yuebing cake shop.

District of the Open Port.

District of the Open Port.

The District of the Open Port has a140-year-old history and culture. 

This place, which had been a fishing village, rapidly changed to an international city, as trading companies from the West, Japan and Qing Dynasty China arrived.  Consulates from all countries of the world established here as soon as it was opened in 1883. 

Exotic and diverse cityscape began to be developed as settlements of foreigners appeared. Consequently , the place grew to become the gateway of the Joseon Dynasty Korea and the first trade port of the country.   

Today, the atmosphere of the area is unique in Korea, and it is a pleasant change for those arriving from Seoul, where unfortunately not much of the past has survived.  You see turmoil history of the last hundred years has destroyed everything in the country.

Visit the Incheon Open Port Museum, which is based in the 1883 building of the Japanese Jeil Bank, the Japanese street, the Dapdong Cathedral, the Naeri Methodist Church and the Former Japan mail and shipping Inc. 

Open Port district.  The gapanese Street (top left), The Naeri Methodist Church (bottom left) and Incheon Open Port Museum (bottom right).

Open Port district.  The gapanese Street (top left), The Naeri Methodist Church (bottom left) and Incheon Open Port Museum (bottom right).

The Postal system in Korea has been introduced in November 1884 by delivering the letters between Seoul and Incheon.  The monument shows the mailman and the letter box of that time.

The Postal system in Korea has been introduced in November 1884 by delivering the letters between Seoul and Incheon.  The monument shows the mailman and the letter box of that time.

Suwon

Suwon lies about 30 kilometres south of Seoul. It is traditionally known as "The City of Filial Piety" and has a population close to 1.2 million. 

Suwon has existed in various forms throughout Korea's history, growing from a small settlement to become a major industrial and cultural center. It is the only remaining completely walled city in South Korea.

Samsung Electronics R&D center and headquarters are in Suwon.

 ☞ Directions: get off at Suwon Station (Line 1 or  Bundang yellow Line) Exits 4-13.

Suwon.

Suwon.

On Exit 4 there is a Tourist Information Center where you get all the necessary information and maps. 

If you have just a day to spare in the city then take Bus No 11, 13, 36, or 39 from the stop just outside the Information Center and get off at Paldalmun Gate. 

There you can wonder around in the Fortress or start your walk following the city walls, which is 7,7 km long. The city walls are one of the more popular tourist destinations.

The fortress of Suwon is called Hwaseong.

Dongbuk Gongsimdon Obserrvation Tower.

Dongbuk Gongsimdon Obserrvation Tower.

Suwon was called the “second capital” during the Joseon Dynasty, and the fortress stands in the center of the modern city.  The fortress was built by King Jeongjo.

“Elegant and majestic, it is an architecture that stands out as exceptionally unique in the history of Korean fortress construction”.  This is what the tourist guides and brochures tell you. 

The reality is that the fortress is totally new.  I mean it is completely reconstructed and reminds more of a fairytale Disney fortress than the really old castles we are used in Europe.  Nevertheless, it is beautifully done, the surrounding area is well landscaped, the whole picture is pleasant and you certainly feel very joyful walking around.

At the city walls.

At the city walls.

Next to Yeonmudae Tourist Information Center there is a nice cafe with excellent view.  In front of the cafe you can enjoy a round of traditional Korean archery.

Next to Yeonmudae Tourist Information Center there is a nice cafe with excellent view.  In front of the cafe you can enjoy a round of traditional Korean archery.

Around Yeonmudae Command Post.

Around Yeonmudae Command Post.

Padalmun Gate

Padalmun Gate

There are many gates in the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress Zone, but four of them are the main Gates. 

Janganmun Gate’s name means “the wellbeing and comfort of people”, and Padalmun Gate “opening paths to all directions”.

Hwaseomun Gate is connected to Seobuk Gongsimdon and defended the western side of the fortress.  Changnyongmun means “entrusted with the protection of the eastern section of Hwaseong Fortress.

Janganmun Gate

Janganmun Gate

The Suwoncheon Stream, which passes throught the fortress,  was called Beodeunae during the Joseon Dynasty era. 

Water enters the fortress through Hwahongmun Gate.  The stirring spray of water, running from the seven arches, is in great harmony with the surrounding landscape.

Hwahongmun Gate

Hwahongmun Gate

the Entrance to the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace

the Entrance to the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace

Located within Hwaseong Fortress, the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace was a temporary residence when the king visited the city and a government office for the Hwaseong governor.  The palace has the same shape as the king’s main palace in Seoul. 

In 1796, this Palace was the country’s largest temporary palace with 576 sections.  Under Japanese colonial rule, all Hwaseong palace buildings, except Nangnamheon Hall, were destroyed.  In 2003, 482 sections of the palace were restored to their original state based on Royal Protocols.

A sweet tip:  Just opposite the train station, at exit 11, there is a small bakery shop (only take away).  They bake one size bread, but with different fillings:  chestnut, green tea, cherries, nuts, cheese, etc.

The bread is freshly baked and when you buy it either you eat it on the spot (it is very tempting anyway), or if you want to take it at home do not close the bag because it is hot.  Let it cool first.

There is a queue of customers most of the time, but the service is fast.