Monday, December 21, 2015

Korea // Seoul Highlights

Third time in Seoul. So much felt so familiar yet not. This was the first time I stayed outside of Sinchon, so that was a different experience too.  Since I've already done most of the tourist things, it was challenging to find new stuff to do. Below are some of the highlights from my time in Seoul.

Bukchon Walk

This time in Bukchon we did the full walking course (we got a map in one of the buildings), taking us from Bukchon to Samcheongdong and the President's House. A great exercise because it's a pretty steep walk but you get a lovely view of Mont Baekak and the city.

Jogyesa Temple

My hostel was in Insadong and I passed this on my way to Gwanghwamun. I peeked inside because of all the beautiful flowers they decorated the temple in. They even had flower sculptures! Was refreshing to see so many bright colors in the cold weather.

Noryangjin Fish Market 

This was a big traditional seafood market. It's far away but really worth the visit and very cheap! You can buy your fresh seafood from any of the vendors and they will lead you to a restaurant where they will cook it for you in the way you specify. My friend bought us shrimp and live octopus to try.

It moves around the plate, but after you get over it and try it, it's surprisingly really tasty! Chewy and no seafood-y taste at all. Just gotta make sure you chew really fast as it will cling to your teeth. The shrimp I had there was also some of the best shrimp I've had in my life.

Changdeok Palace 

The palaces are usually closed by 5pm but in the fall they do a special limited time and capacity event where you can visit certain palace grounds at night. You'll need to show your foreign passport when purchasing a ticket. When we visited they had a traditional Korean music performance and you could walk around parts of the palace grounds. Honestly not very exciting, but certainly novel and maybe worth it if you're a photographer.

Seoul Fortress Wall Hike // Ihwa Mural Village

When I visited Seoul for the first time my kind Airbnb hosts took me on this exact walk. At that time the fortress wall hadn't undergone renovations yet, so I really wanted to experience it again after the renovations. We started at Dongdaemun, went through Ihwa Mural Village, passed Naksan Park, and ended up in Hoehyun, the theater district.

The murals changed since the last time I went, and I assume they're constantly changing since most were dated pretty recently. What I love most about this area is actually the neighborhood, not the art. It feels like you get a glimpse into the neighborhood of an average Korean. Every time I come I'm reminded of the neighborhoods that I see in kdramas.

Cafe Comma in Hongdae

This has been on my Seoul bucket list ever since I saw it in the kdrama "King of Dramas" featuring Kim Kyung Min and Jung Ryeo Won. I've wanted to visit it because of that amazing book wall. At first I had trouble finding it as there are several similarly named cafes on the same street. Right when I was about to give up I found it. For reference it's right behind you when you walk out of exit 3 of Hongdae station. Thankfully the cafe lived up to my expectations. It's a very quiet cafe. Some music plays in the background but no one chats very loudly and most are busy studying or reading. And to my delight, when I was in the cafe I saw that the book wall opens into another study room!

Even though the currency exchange is still very favorable against the dollar, I definitely felt like Seoul has been hit with strong price inflation. When I last visited in 2013 I could easily find Korean food for around 5,000 won. Now it's all 7,000 won and up. Clothes shopping was also a disappointment because of higher prices (though it may also be because they were selling winter clothes). The novelty of the city has worn off but not the charm. I would still love to live in Seoul if I had the opportunity to and experience it as a local.

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