At this point in the trip, Kathy & I had explored a lot of the retail and culinary side of Seoul, but not a lot of the cultural side, so we decided to dedicate a day to Deoksugung Palace and Bukchon Hanok Village. We started at Deoksugung Palace, which was built in the mid 16th century. It was the residence of Korean royalty up until the Japanese annexation in the early 1900s, where it was then mostly used for government affairs. Today, it is a landmark and home to the National Museum of Art.
This is the entrance gate (Daehanmun) to Deoksugung Palace. We happened to come on the last Wednesday of the month, which was “Cultural Day” aka free entry. Yay!
We also happened to arrive right on time to witness the changing of the guards.
New guards getting ready to do their thing.
We also happened to be there when the fire department was running drills. It’s like everything was happening on the one day we were visiting.
They’re currently hosing down Junghwajeon Hall, the throne room and audience hall.
Seokjojeon, the modern quarters built in the 1900s. Deoksugung is a really interesting mix of Asian and European architecture. Seokjojeon is placed in the middle of the palace grounds, surrounded by classic Asian buildings, as if it got lost.
So many colors.
Now on our way to Bukchon Hanok Village. These little straw toppers are placed on top of planters to keep the plants warm during the winter months. Seriously!
More wide streets.
Memorial for all the students who died in the terrible Sewol ferry disaster in April 2014.
Statue of Sejong the Great, the king of Korea who created Hangul, the modern Korean alphabet.
Walking around Samcheong-dong on our way to Bukchon.
A K-Drama filming outside a cafe.
We stumbled upon a really adorable bakery and cafe called Heedonga Ummada (translates to “Heedonga, It’s Mom”).
Their specialty is tteok, super soft rice cakes filled with a sweet syrupy center. Absolutely delicious. This was their pumpkin tteok.
Finally, we made it to Bukchon Hanok Village. It’s a traditional Korean village (Hanok), dating back to the 1400s. The houses are preserved, but many still serve as residences, outfitted with modern interiors. Some even allow for visitors at certain hours. The area in and surrounding Bukchon is one of the most expensive areas to live in Seoul.
The peak of Bukchon Hanok Village, atop which sits a cultural center. It’s a bit of a hike to get up here.
Now that’s a dope hostel.
Japanese tourists dressed in hanbok, the traditional Korean dress.
Large modern houses in the neighborhood of Gahoe-dong.
A more suburban feel in this area of Seoul to end our day. This also happened to be the area that Kathy grew up in, so she really felt nostalgic walking around these streets. It’s always special to see someone’s hometown from their own perspective.
When people think of South Korea, one thing that primarily comes to mind is technology. Korea is one of the leading countries in new technology (hello, Samsung!) and the way that it permeates the culture is unlike any other country I’ve been to. In the US, I always found the sight of everyone staring at their phones all the time a little sad. In Korea, it’s not only accepted, it’s embraced. Friends on their phones together at dinner, special apps that are only for couples, watching k-dramas on the metro… technology is just another part of their lives, their phones another appendage. It’s truly a selfie culture.
So on our way to Myeong-Dong, Kathy and I stopped by the Yongsan Electronics Market. It’s a giant sprawling space of indoor and outdoor malls with stall after stall of any type of technology you could dream of.
This floor was just cameras and tablets, aka my favorite floor.
Post-browsing meal of kimchi udon and chicken tonkatsu.
Myeong-dong is similar to Times Square in NYC in that it’s super bright, filled with shops, food stalls, and tourists. It’s one of the main tourism centers in Seoul.
A shop dedicated to colored contacts.
Yessss street food. My favorite part.
Mmm, soondae: a Korean blood sausage. It’s pork intestine, filled with noodles, barley, herbs, and pork blood. Absolutely tasty and delicious.
Koreans love their socks. These all cost less than $1. I think I picked up about 10 pairs over the duration of my trip.
Who knew cotton candy could become an art form?
Our favorite part of Myeong-dong, the Goyangi Darakbang (literally “Attic Cat”) cat cafe! We’re both unabashed cat ladies, so this spot was a must see on our list. It has an entry fee of ₩8000 (about $8) but that includes a drink and you can stay as long as you like. There are about 20 cats of varying ages and breeds in the small cafe, and unlike many house cats, these won’t run away if you try to pet them. Located at: 51-14 Myeongdong 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul.
The yellow bandana means “not friendly for children” but this dude was chillin with us the entire time.
The workers of the cafe are able to handle cats unlike anyone I’ve ever seen. This cat is not amused, but if I tried to do this with my cat at home, he would probably claw my hands and never come near me again.
Myeong-dong at night.
Awesome sweatshirt, spelling Seoul with a hangul “S”.
Cornbread egg treat. Mmmmm.
Above this cosmetics store was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen….
…a delicious, authentic, Korean BBQ spot. Wangbijib (왕비집 명동본점), one of the most popular spots in Seoul, was worth the wait. The bbq is cooked by one of the servers over a coal pit in the middle of the table. We chose to go with the traditional beef cut along with a pork belly dish. The entire meal cost us about $40, and it was worth every penny. Located at: 2F 63-6 Chungmuro-2ga, Jung-gu, Seoul.
Egg yolk on a cucumber/noodle salad, a traditional k-bbq side dish.
Just a delicious pile of meat being cooked to perfection right in front of us.
The standard way to eat Korean BBQ: take a lettuce leaf, place a piece of meat, kimchi, and other sides, wrap it up and eat it in one bite. My personal favorite touch was adding some grilled garlic on top.
Succulent amazing pork belly. Food coma for days after this meal.
However, we still had enough room for dessert: a plain cookie-cracker baked into a ball shape and covered in chocolate. You smash it with a hammer when you buy it, so you can eat the pieces. Perfect way to end the day.
Kathy and I spent a day walking around Hongdae, a neighborhood known for its vibrant culture. It’s one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Seoul, filled with eccentric food stalls and clothing shops, the streets packed with students, neon signs, Karaoke bars and fried chicken restaurants as far as the eye can see.
Lunch at a traditional bokkeumbap spot.
CHILSENG CIDER. Seriously, where in London can I find this? I’ve been craving it ever since I left Korea. It’s a less sweet, extra carbonated version of Sprite. It’s delicious and I want it now.
Bokkeumbap: Soft rice cakes, kimchi, spring onions, and other veggies, stir friend with white rice and placed on top of a large pile of cheese.
I need to be transported back to this moment. The most perfect cheesy goodness.
Stores literally on top of other stores.
No other country has a sock game as strong as Korea’s.
Hotteok: a sweet pancake that’s fried and filled with a syrupy chestnut mixture and topped with crushed mixed nuts. I think Kathy and I had at least one of these a day.
Sweet corn bread baked with an egg.
Everything in Seoul is almost cartoonishly cute– case and point: these popsicles.
So many tiny shops and stalls pack the narrow side streets.
The street food here is something out of my wildest dreams. Just look at this waffle cone filled with fries and sausage.
A giant waffle on a stick topped with fresh whipped cream.
Pizza waffles?! Why the hell hasn’t this food found its way to the USA?
The first of three animal themed cafes that Kathy and I visited over my trip in SK. This is the Thanks Nature Cafe. It features two sheep that literally just chill outside the cafe. There are benches for you to sit where the sheep can come up to you while you enjoy a latte.
More street food: caramelized sugar molded into disks and other easy to eat shapes, usually made by an 80 year old woman over a tiny burner on the sidewalk.
A very nondescript commercial area that held mainly business buildings and also the BEST cafe in all of Seoul…
Puppy cafe!!!!!! Literally dozens of dogs all ages, breeds, and sizes just running around a large cafe.
This chick had 3 chihuahuas sleeping on her lap.
Kathy making some friends.
My new buddy.
So sleepy from a day of attention.
Look at that derpy face.
The tiniest Pomeranian. He probably weighed like 2 pounds. It took all of my self control to not just stick him in my purse and bring him to London.
It was a long and exciting day for all of us.