KOSTAS and the yummy world

KOSTAS and the yummy world

Welcome to the Republic of SEOUL

(November 2017)

(*)  Koreans outside Seoul call it "The Republic of Seoul", as it is a world of its own, different than the rest of the country.

 

Prologue

Gingko tree, could be the symbol of the city.

The moment you set your foot in Seoul you fall in love with it.  It is a love at first sight, but I am sure a love to last for a lifetime.

High skyscrapers among low traditional buildings, modern department stores and huge traditional markets, wide avenues and small alleys lined up with gingko trees, gentle people, huge tranquil parks covered in red maple trees, royal palaces and shrines, canals and little lakes, old city walls and magnificent gates, well trailed hills in the center of the city and mountains surrounding the city covered with lavish multicolored vegetation, upscale restaurants and an abundance of street food, numerous cafes and teashops.  A city full of surprises but so familiar at the same time. 

Ladies and gentlemen welcome to Seoul.

Arrival in Seoul

Airport-bus stop in downtown Seoul

Five hours from Athens to Doha and then another nine hours from Doha to Seoul.  That is a long journey, but I did not even realize how easy time passed as I was thrilled to visit Seoul.  Seoul has been for long in my basket list, but for some reasons the trip has been cancelled in the past. 

Here I am:  on bus No 6001 from Incheon Airport to Acube Hotel in Dongdaemun area.  Bus No 6001 takes (mainly) tourists to the city as it stops to several hotels downtown.  The trip takes an hour or a bit more as there is always traffic.  The ticket costs 14,000 if you buy it before boarding (there are vending machines at the bus stop, which accept credit cards and cash), or 15,000 if you buy it from the bus driver.

Note: a taxi ride to the center of Seoul costs about 60,000 flat rate. 

notes

thumbsup All 60xx buses are airport buses. Check which one is the right bus to take you as close as possible to your hotel. Check also the stop from which you will take the bus back to the airport, when that sad moment arrives!  Check also the time of the last bus to the airport, as it is may be early (around 20:00 usually)

thumbsup The currency of South Korea is the won (₩). A single won is divided into 100 jeon.  

Moving around

T-Card (reusable transportation card)

Eventhough, Seoul, at first glance, seems chaotic and the traffic is heavy, it has a very efficient public transportation system. 

The Seoul Metropolitan Subway (metro) takes you literally everywhere in the city (it has 21 lines) and beyond. 

One can buy single tickets, but the most convenient way is to issue a multiple-trip card (called T-card), which costs 3,000.  To be able to use the card, one must load it with the appropriate amount to cover his transportation needs.  T-card can be used in all means of public transportation.   

T-cards are sold in every metro station from automatic vending machines (in English) with cash only.  Again, you need cash to load the card.  You can reload the card with more money at any time.

Note: Touch the card every time you enter and exit the gates of the metro, and the amount (starting from) of 1,250 will be deducted.

Ticket vending and Card reload Device (left) and T-Card vending machine and charger (right).

Metro electronic bars (Entrance-Exit).

Bus stop showing arrival times

The use of Metro is pretty straightforward, but taking the bus in countries where they use other characters (language) than the one you are familiar with or in a country where you do not speak the language in general, the best way is to use one of the many smartphone applications.

I use Moovit App for android (free) and I am very happy with it.  I managed to find my way in Seoul very easily on the bus.  The only drawback of the application is that you need to go online to have your information. 

If you do not want to use your expensive roaming data, use free Wi-Fi networks when available and plan your trip in advance.  There are plenty free Wi-Fi spots around Seoul.

Note: If you use a T-card, touch it (on the special machines on board) every time you enter and exit the bus.  The amount (starting from) of 1,200 will be deducted when you exit If you forget to touch the card at the exit, the double amount will be charged to your card next time you enter the bus. You can also use the special box at the front entrance of the bus to put in the exact amount of the fair, which in this case is 1,300.

Maps.me App.

Note: Electronic maps

You certainly need an electronic map App (GPS maps) for your tablet or mobile phone to be able to move around in Seoul in the most efficient way.

Google maps does not work properly (it is just a picture, with no live connections, etc) in South Korea and the maps are of low resolution, so it is not useful at all!  Besides you need to be online and use your mobile data.

Kakao maps is for Korea, what is Google maps for the rest of the world.  But everything is in Korean (!), and again you need to use your mobile data.

My experience of all these years I travel, has shown that the most useful of all mobile applications for maps is the "Maps.me".  It is free, reasonable good, and the maps work offline.  You just have to download the area maps (you are interested to) when there is a wi-fi available and then you can use them offline.

KOREA: a little bit of history

Map of KOREA.

Korea is located in East Asia, divided since 1945  into two distinct sovereign states: North Korea and South Korea.  Korea has land borders with China and Russia, and sea borders with Japan.

Korea emerged as a singular political entity in 676 AD after centuries of conflict among the Three Kingdoms of Korea, which were unified as Silla to the south and Balhae to the north. Silla divided into three separate states. Goryeo, defeated the two other states. Around the same time, Balhae collapsed and its last crown prince fled south to Goryeo.  Goryeo, whose name developed into the modern exonym "Korea", was a highly cultured state that created the world's first metal movable type in 1234.  However, multiple invasions by the Mongol Yuan Dynasty during the 13th century, resulted Goryeo to become a vassal state. Following the Yuan Dynasty's collapse,  Goryeo eventually fell to a coup led by General Yi Seong-gye, who established Joseon Dynasty in 1392, which lasted till 1910.

The first 200 years of Joseon were marked by relative peace. During this period, the Korean alphabet was created by Sejong the Great in the 15th century and there was increasing influence of Confucianism. During the latter part of the dynasty, Korea's isolationist policy earned it the Western nickname of the "Hermit Kingdom". By the late 19th century, the country became the object of imperial design by the Empire of Japan. After the First Sino-Japanese War Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910 and ruled by Imperial Japan until the end of World War II in August 1945.

In 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States agreed on the surrender of Japanese forces in Korea in the aftermath of World War II, leaving Korea partitioned along the 38th parallel. The North was under Soviet occupation and the South under US occupation. These circumstances soon became the basis for the division of Korea by the two superpowers, exacerbated by their incapability to agree on the terms of Korean independence. The Communist-inspired government in the North received backing from the Soviet Union in opposition to the pro-Western government in the South, leading to Korea's division into two political entities. Tensions between the two resulted in the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. With involvement by foreign troops, the war ended in a stalemate in 1953, but without a formalized peace treaty. This status contributes to the high tensions that continue to divide the peninsula. To date, the two countries refuse to recognize the other as legitimate.

SEOUL - Orientation

A map of Seoul and its Port Incheon.

Seoul is the capital and largest metropolis of South Korea.  Seoul is the world's 16th largest city, and forms the heart of the Seoul Capital Area, which includes the surrounding Incheon metropolis and Gyeonggi province. The Seoul Capital Area houses about half of the country's population of 52 million people.

Strategically situated on the Han River, Seoul's history stretches back more than two thousand years when it was founded in 18 BC by the people of Baekje, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. Later it became the capital of Korea under the Joseon Dynasty.  Seoul is surrounded by mountains.  Three of them are the most important ones:  Mt. Bukhan in the north, which is the tallest one and the world's most visited national park per square meter; Mt Gwanak in the south, also a forest park; and last but not least, the iconic Namsan in the very center of the city.   

The people in red.  Seoul tourism employees walk around the city in couples dressed in red and are always ready to help you with any question you may have.  Seoul values tourism a lot.

A modern metropolis with many contemporary landmarks, is also the birthplace of K-pop and the Korean Wave.  Seoul is the world's 9th most visited city and 4th largest earner in tourism. Interestingly, in 2017, the city was ranked 6th in terms of cost of living.  But this should not scare you away: as a tourist you can have a very comfort stay in Seoul with less money than in most European or American big cities.

I made early arrangements for accommodation (as I was planning to stay for nearly a month there) and early arrangements for air fare and I got really good prices: 80 USD (breakfast included) per night for a super nice, double-occupancy room in a very well located (ACUBE Hotel) 3star hotel.  The cost of living while you are there could be very low if you decide to move around on foot and/or public transportation and if you choose to eat in market food stalls, where, by the way, you find the best food!  

Today, Seoul is considered a leading and rising global city, resulting from an economic boom called the Miracle on the Han River, which transformed it to the world's 4th largest metropolitan economy after Tokyo, New York City and Los Angeles.  It is rated Asia's most livable city with the second highest quality of life globally, and it is a world leading technology hub, with companies like Samsung, LG and Hyundai-Kia having the leading role.  Seoul is the world's most wired city and ranked first in technology readiness. Seoul hosted the 1986 Asian Games, 1988 Summer Olympics, 2002 FIFA World Cup, the Miss Universe 1980 pageant, the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit and the 2018 Winter Olympics. A UNESCO City of Design, Seoul was named the 2010 World Design Capital.

Well?  I am sure you are already packing your suitcases!  Seoul is waiting for you.  But first, read the rest of this travelogue and be ready and well prepared! 

Important Note: It is impossible to visit every little corner of Seoul: it is a huge city.  I stayed there for 3 weeks and I had the opportunity to visit all major places, but I believe I needed at least another three weeks to cover the places I planned to visit.  People usually visit the city for 3-5 days and get their city experience by organized tours.  My advice to visitors is to choose and visit only some of the major attractions that I describe here (for example: one Palace, a couple of markets, the Seoul Tower, etc) and the rest of their time just relax and walk around the city, mix with locals and absorb the smells and colors of Seoul.  Do not rush around!

PyeongChang 2018

Me with Soohorang (left), the mascot of the 2018 Winter Olympics, and Bandabi (right), the mascot of the 2018 Winter Paralympics

The 2018 Winter Olympics, commonly known as PyeongChang 2018 took place from 9 to 25 February 2018 in Pyeongchang County, South Korea. 

The 2018 Olympics was the second Olympic Games held in South Korea, after the 1988 Summer Olympics held in Seoul.

Some days before my trip to Seoul, back in Greece, I witnessed the 2018 Winter Olympics torch relay Actually, the torch arrived in Korea, just one day before my arrival in Seoul.

Winter Olympics mascots at 2017 Seoul Lantern Festival

Kimchi (the taste of Korea)

The necessary photo in traditional dress, just before kimjang.

Kimchi, a staple in Korean cuisine, is a traditional side dish made from salted and fermented vegetables, most commonly napa cabbage and Korean radishes, with a variety of seasonings including chili powder, scallions, garlic, ginger, and jeotgal (salted seafood).  

The origin of kimchi dates back at least to the early period of the Three Kingdoms (37 BC‒7 AD). There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi made with different vegetables as the main ingredients. In traditional preparations, kimchi was stored underground in jars to keep cool, and unfrozen during the winter months. With the rise of technology, kimchi refrigerators are more commonly used to make kimchi.

Just watch TV commercials and you will understand how important kimchi refrigerators are for Koreans!

Kimchi at Lotte Department Store.

4th Seoul Kimchi Festival.

The art of Kimchi is considered very important in Korean culture, so those who master the art of kimjang (kimchi-making) are well respected persons. 

Kimchi has its own museum, the Museum Kimchikan in Insa-dong, Seoul.

: www.kimchikan.com

In the past, "kimjang day" was a day for sharing love, a day for festivals and feasting.  With the first Seoul Kimchi Festival in 2014, the much-forgotten Korean sharing spirit came alive and kimjang was created into a cultural festival. 

This year’s 4th Seoul Kimchi Festival took place between the 3rd and the 5th of November and thousand of people participated in several activities.

The Seoul Kimchi Festival takes place every year in November at Seoul Plaza, just in front of the City Hall.

  • ☞ Address: Seoul Plaza (City Hall)
  • ☞ Directions: CiyHall Station (Subway Line 1), Exit 5 & 6.

People at 4th Seoul Kimchi Festival.

Kimchi celebrations.

Kimchi Me!

Pictorial Note:  The perfect souvenir. 

Buy small kimchi cans from the supermarket to give as Korea souvenirs.  I am sure your friends will love it. 

Kimchi is something you have to taste, it cannot be described with words.

Matcha (garucha)

Me eating matcha cake with a spoon!

Matcha is finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves. It is special in two aspects of farming and processing: the green tea plants for matcha are shade-grown for about three weeks before harvest and the stems and veins are removed in processing. During shaded growth, the plant “Camellia sinensis” produces more theanine and caffeine. This combination of chemicals is considered to account for the calm energy people might feel from drinking matcha. The powdered form of matcha is consumed differently from tea leaves or tea bags, and is dissolved in a liquid, typically water or milk.

Matcha is more associated with Japan, but people in all Far East countries love it.  And I love it, too. 

In China they call it “mo-cha” and in Korea “malcha” or “garucha”.

Products with matcha in Korea.

Macha is used in castella cake, manjū, and monaka; as a topping for shaved ice (kakigori); mixed with milk and sugar as a drink; and mixed with salt and used to flavor tempura in a mixture known as matcha-jio.

It is also used as flavoring in many Western-style chocolates, candy, and desserts, such as cakes and pastries (including Swiss rolls and cheesecake), cookies, pudding, mousse, and green tea ice cream. The Japanese snack Pocky has a matcha-flavoured version as well as KitKat.

This year's festive Sturbacks cake: matcha & cherries.

The use of matcha in modern and fashionable drinks has also spread to all Asian, American and European cafés, such as Starbucks, which introduced "Green Tea Lattes" and other matcha-flavoured drinks after matcha became successful in their Japanese store locations.  As in Japan, it has become integrated into lattes, iced drinks, milkshakes, and smoothies.  Several cafes have introduced lattes and iced drinks using matcha powder. It has also been incorporated into alcoholic beverages such as liqueurs and even matcha green tea beers.

Matcha is everywhere in Korea and we love it!!!!

Matcha roll with black beans (left) and Matcha milk spread (right).  It was my first time I tasted the spread and I brought some with me back home!

Matcha latte.... green is THE color!

Seoul Lantern Festival (서울빛초롱축제)

Lanterns in Cheonggyecheon Stream.

Since its inception in 2009, the annual Seoul Lantern Festival, one of the representative festivals in Seoul, is held throughout the period from the first Friday of November to the third Sunday of November.

Every year millions of visitors come to enjoy lanterns along the 1.2km Cheonggyecheon Stream with various things to see stretching all the way from Cheonggye Plaza and Supyogyo Bridge.

In 2017 (when I was there)  the festival took place between the 3rd and the 19th of November and it emphasizes on the  PyeongChang 2018 winter Olympic games.

2017 Seoul Lantern Festival lantern figures.

2017 Seoul Lantern Festival lantern figures.

2017 Seoul Lantern Festival lantern figures.

2017 Seoul Lantern Festival lantern figures.

Bandabi, the mascot of the 2018 Winter Paralympics, plays curling.

The Festival Angel.

Tips & Hints 

The elevator buttons in our hotel in Seoul.  "F" replaces number "4".

sad Tetraphobiais the practice of avoiding instances of the number 4.  It is a superstition most common in East Asian nations. The reason is that the word 4 sounds similar or identical to "death".  In South Korea, tetraphobia is less extreme than other countries in the area, the number 4 sounds like "decease" and "died", but the floor number 4 or room number 4 is almost always skipped in hospitals, funeral halls, and similar public buildings.  In other buildings, like hotels, the fourth floor is sometimes labelled "F" (Four) instead of "4" in elevators. Apartment numbers containing multiple occurrences of the number 4 (such as 404) are likely to be avoided to an extent that the value of the property is adversely affected. Some of these combinations are considered more unlucky than the individual 4, for example 14 sounds like "Time to be deceased" and 44 sounds like "Died and Deceased".

mad Trash Bins:  there are almost no trash bins in the streets or any public areas in Seoul.  You may walk for miles to spot one.  You better keep your trash with you and throw it away when you are back at your hotel or in a café/restaurant. The reason? It all started in 1994 when Seoul instituted pay-as-you-throw tax system. All trash is legally required to be thrown away in special taxed trash bags. When tax was imposed on trash bags, trash disposal at public trash cans almost doubled as people started to "illegally" dispose of trash at public trash cans. This naturally increased the collection cost and required municipals to install more public trash cans.  To avoid this and the extra cost, municipals started removing some of the public trash cans where people were dumping trash illegally.  This, resulted in people not being able to throw trash in public trash cans anymore and taking trash home and dispose it "legally".  Seoul broadly adopted this system and actively trimmed the number of trash cans over time everywhere - especially the ones near residential areas - to prevent cheating and change the public behavior in how they dispose trash. The city wants to bring back the trash cans now that the system is well established, but nothing happened yet.

All zebra crossings come into pairs.

blush Zebra crossings: in general, drivers respect pedestrians when crossing zebras, but you better be alert, especially on "right turn" at traffic lights.  The red traffic lights last long when it comes for pedestrians to cross the street, that is reasonabe as vehicle traffic needs longer times to be accommodated by the system.  Zebra crossings come in two: that means there is always a set of two crossings side by side.  The reason is the efficient accommodation of two ways of pedestrian crossings.  There are little arrows indicating which one of the two crossings to use.

 cool Conservatism: Koreans are the most “westernized” (or should I say Americanized?) nation in the Far East, at least in the cities.  I suppose this happens because of the constant American presence in the area.  Maybe this is one of the reasons people are very conservative both in appearance and behavior.  The other factor, that may have led to conservatism, is Christianity, which has influenced this country in a unique way.  Dressing code for the youth is very conservative compared to the flashy Japanese youth culture or the all-brand Chinese one.  My comparison measure is called "Uniqlo-meter".  Uniqlo is a Japanese clothes brand name with stores all over the world.  When you get into a Uniqlo Store in Japan or China it is full of color!  Here in Korea all clothes are black and blue only and maybe some earth colors like brown and khaki. 

Long coat fashion for all.

biggrin Winter fashion: When we arrived in Seoul, early November, the weather was very good: sunny and crispy with temperatures from 12°C to 20°C.  So, we only needed a light autumn jacket and maybe a hat during the night.  Nevertheless, looking people around us, we thought that there must be something in the Korean genes and they cannot tolerate “low” temperatures.  Otherwise, how could one explain the fact that all young (and the not so young ones) people wore long, heavy, duck down coats, like the ones we wear in the snow/ski resorts, but longer?  All shop windows advertised these kind of coats: the longer and the heavier the better!  Most of them with hoods to make you feel warm in these extreme temperatures!!!  Even though, it seemed crazy to us, this is the fashion this winter in Seoul … I do not know if that was the case also last year or will be next year, too… but it was very weird! 

Lotte World Tower & Lotte World Mall.

shocked Lotte: The moment you land in Seoul you believe thee is something magical called “Lotte”.  It seams that everything is called “Lotte-something”.  Lotte was established in 1948 in Tokyo, by Korean businessman Shin Kyuk-ho. Shin expanded Lotte to his home country, South Korea with the establishment of Lotte Confectionery in Seoul in 1967. Lotte eventually grew to become South Korea's eighth largest business conglomerate, but certainly you feel like it is the No 1. Lotte is engaged in such diverse industries as candy manufacturing, beverages, hotels, fast food, retail, financial services, heavy chemicals, electronics, IT, construction, publishing, rent a car, housing, real estate and entertainment like cinemas and amusement parks.  The source of the company's name is neither Korean nor Japanese, but German.  The founder of the company was impressed with Goethe's “The Sorrows of Young Werther” (1774) and named his newly founded company Lotte after the character Charlotte in the novel ("Charlotte" is also the name of a new brand of deluxe movie theatres run by Lotte).

blink Street names: The Street names used to be a real mess in Korea.  Since 2011 the system changed to a comprehensive naming system.  Korean streets have names, typically ending in -daero (Boulevard), -ro (Street) or -gil (Road) and they are distinguished by width; -daero (over 8 lanes), -ro(2-7 lanes), -gil (others, usually narrow roads or alleys).

Some of streets, mainly -daero and -ro, may be named after a feature in the area such as Daehak-ro (University Street) near a university, or after the neighborhood (-dong) in which they lie such as Hyehwa-ro (Hyehwa Street) which lies in Hyehwa-dong. Street names may be unique, or, in a convention which may seem confusing to foreigners, the same name can be re-used for several streets in the same area, with each street having a unique number.

Other streets, mainly -gil, may be named after the street name it diverging from with a systematic number. There are three different types of numbering rules: basic numbering, serial numbering and other numbering. The purpose of numbering streets is to make street names easier to predict position of it so address users find their destination streets or buildings easily on the maps or the streets.

First, by basic numbering, which is used in most of Gyeonggi Province, a number is assigned to -gil diverging from -daero or -ro based on the basic number of the position diverging from -daero or -ro. Since the basic number increases by 2 every 20 meters, the basic number multiplied by 10 meters comes to the distance from the start point of the street to the current position. For example, Nongol-ro 10beon-gil indicates that the street diverges from Nongol-ro and the diverging position is about 100 meters away from the start point of Nongol-ro. Since 10 is even number, the street towards right side of Nongol-ro. Note that basic numbered street names have beon-gil after their numbers, which indicates basic number.

Second, by serial numbering, which is used in Seoul, a serial number is assigned to -gil diverging from -daero or -ro, based on -daero or -ro number order. For example, if a street is the first one among streets diverging from Daehak-ro, it becomes Daehak-ro 1-gil. If a street is 4th among streets diverging from Daehak-ro, it becomes Daehak-ro 4-gil. Since 4 is even number, the street towards right side of Daehak-ro. Note that basic numbered street names do not have -beon after their numbers, which indicates serial number.

Third, by other numbering, a serial number is assigned to -ro or -gil reflecting local characteristics. Streets diverging from -gil are named after -gil with the diverging -gil with the additional number in Korean alphabet: -ga, -na, -da, -ra, -ma ... For example, the third diverging street of Daehak-ro 4-gil would be Daehak-ro 4da-gil. This secondary diverging numbering is applied to all of the numbering rules.

FOOD ingredients 

(garlic, chili, anchovy and more)

Garlic (다진 마늘)

Garlic cloves are sold in markets in huge quantities

Garlic!  Who does not love garlic?  What is an acceptable quantity of garlic in food?  In which country fresh garlic, as well as fermented garlic, is sold by kilos? 

The answer to the last question is not Russia, it is Korea!

The moment you enter Seoul you are sure that people here don’t only they love garlic, but they use it in big quantities.  Sometimes, the smell of garlic is so intense in buses and metro carriages, that you’d rather walk to your destination.  

It is not unusual to get into a Starbucks café and instead of the delicate coffee aroma you smell only garlic.

Garlic is one the most important ingredients in Korean cuisine. Most Korean recipes call for minced garlic as part of the seasoning. Whole garlic cloves are often used to make Korean broth, soups or stews. Koreans also enjoy pickled garlic as a side dish and grilled garlic with Korean BBQ and table cooking.

gochu (고추, chili)

Gochu

Chili peppers (gochu) introduced in Korea in the early 16th century. Chili peppers originated in the Americas, introduced to East Asia by Portuguese traders. The first mention of chili pepper in Korea is found in Jibong yuseol, an encyclopedia published in 1614. 

Red chili peppers are an essential ingredient in Korean cuisine.  The variety used in Korea, is Capsicum annuum, the oldest of the domesticated species, with evidence of its cultivation in Mesoamerica dating to at least 5,000 years ago.

Gochugaru

Gochugaru (or kochukaru, or gochutgaru), also known as Korean chili (gochu) powder (garu), is fine chili powder or a coarsely ground chili with a texture between flakes and powder.

Traditionally, gochugaru is made from sun-dried chili peppers, and versions that are prepared in this manner are still considered the best tasting. The flavor is hot, sweet, and slightly smoky. Substitutes like crushed red pepper or cayenne just don't compare. 

Gochujang

Gochujang (고추장, red chili paste) is a savory, sweet, and spicy fermented condiment made from gochugaru, glutinous rice, mejutgaru (fermented soybean powder), yeotgireum (barley malt powder), and salt. The sweetness comes from the starch of cooked glutinous rice, cultured with saccharifying enzymes during the fermentation process. Traditionally, it has been naturally fermented over years in jangdok (earthenware) on an elevated stone platform, called jangdokdae, in the backyard. The making of gochujang at home began tapering off when commercial production came into the mass market in the early 1970s. Now, most Koreans purchase gochujang at grocery stores or markets. It is used extensively in Korean cooking to flavor stews.

Chili broth.

Anchove (멸치)

Dry anchovies

Anchovy is one of the most frequently used ingredients in Korean cooking, especially for stews and soups.

Koreans usually use dried anchovy to make broth (stock) or side dishes, but they also use fresh (raw) ones to make pickled (fermented) fish. Since it is mainly composed of calcium, anchovy is also known as "King of Calcium" in Korea.

The ways of cooking anchovy vary depending on its size. Big ones (Dasi-myulchi) are usually used for broth and small ones (Bokkeum-myulchi) for side dishes. Dried anchovy can be also served without cooking as a snack.

Dried shrimp (건새우)

Dried and marinated shrimp.

Dried shrimp are shrimp that have been sun-dried and shrunk to a small size.

Dried shrimp in Korean cuisine are soaked briefly to reconstitute them, and are then stir-fried with seasonings—typically garlic, ginger, scallions, soy sauce, sugar, and hot peppers—and served as a side dish. It is called "mareunsaeu bokkeum". They are also used in some Korean braised dishes (jorim) and used for making broth. 

Dried shrimp are used frequently in asian cuisines for their sweet and unique flavor that is very different from fresh shrimp. They have the coveted umami flavor, or savory taste, which is one of the five basic tastes (together with sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness).

fish Roe (날치알)

Fish roe sold in markets.

Fish roe (fish eggs) is a common ingredient used in Korean cooking.  It is used to make stews, soups, rice.  Some popular dishes with fish roe are:  Al-bap is a popular rice dish that consists of delicate fish roe (or caviar) along with various vegetables, and steam white rice in a steaming hot ceramic called ddukbaegi or in a stone pot called dolsot; Al-chigae is a fish egg casserole dish which contains tofu and assortment of vegetables in a refreshing, spicy broth; Al-tang, which is hot spice egg roe soup; Korean "sushi", etc.

Soybean paste (된장)

Supermarket doenjang (bottom) and market doenjang (top)

Soybean paste (doenjang) is a classic fermented Korean seasoning used in countless dishes, dips, soups and stews in Korean cuisine. It’s deep and rich, nutty and full of umami. Soup or stew made with doenjang are the most iconic and delicious of all Korean dishes.

It’s made by grinding soybeans into a thick paste and forming it into blocks that are dried and fermented for months before being soaked in brine for a few more months. The liquid becomes Korean soup soy sauce and the solids become doenjang.

Of course, like all ingredients, today everything can be bought at the supermarket.

PALACES 

The 5 palaces described bellow are circled in this central Seoul map.

Deoksugung Palace

Deoksugung Palace

Deoksugung Palace is located just opposite the City Hall and can be reached by metro lines 1 and 2. 

Admission is 1,000 for adults (children and seniors enter free of charge).  If you wear a traditional korean dress then you also enter free of charge!

: www.deoksugung.go.kr

Deoksugung Palace in automn colors

Deoksugung Palace served as the king’s residence twice during Joseon Dynasty. 

The site was originally the home of Prince Wolsan, and King Sronjo lived here temporary after returning to the capital (then called Hanyang) following the withdrawal of Japanese forces in 1593. 

His successor, Prince Gwanghae renamed it Gyeongungung Palace after making the newly built Changdeokgung Palace his main residence.

Deoksugung Palace

The palace used as a royal residence again when Gojong moved here in 1897.  The palace halls were rebuilt and the compound expanded to some three times its present size. 

However, Gojong was forced to hand the throne over to his son who became Emperor Sunjong in 1907.  Emperor Sunjong moved into Changdeokgung Palace and his father remained here until his death in 1919.  The compound came to be called Deoksugung Palace.

Sumunjang ceremony

At the entrance of the palace watch the ceremony of the changing of the royal guards (called sumunjang), which takes place three times a day.  It is a multi-person multicolor noisy performance. 

  • ☞ Address: Seoul Plaza.
  • ☞ Directions: CityHall Station (Subway Line 1), Exit 2 & 3 or (Subway Line 2), Exit 12. 

Deoksugung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace

At the Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace was the first royal palace built in the Joseon Dynasty and is where the Joseon Dynasty's 500-year history began.

☞ Directions: Gyeongbokgung (Government Complex-Seoul) Station (Subway Line 3), Exit 5.

Admission for Adults is 3,000 (free for seniors).  You can also wear your traditional costume and get into the palace for free!

: www.royalpalace.go.kr/

At least twice a day, you can watch the Opening and Closing of the Royal Palace Gates and Royal Guard Changing Ceremony.  Nothing much of a tradition here: Koreans have invented all these ceremonies in the 90s.

The National Falk Museum Pagoda

I do not really want to spoil your amazement, but, there is nothing old about anything in Seoul.  The Japanese brutal occupation and the wars that followed (WW II, Civil War) have left Seoul with virtually none of its old architecture.  Nevertheless, Koreans, meticulously and with the highest possible respect to their history, rebuilt everything.  This is the reason why all palaces look dazzling new: they are all new.

The scenery of the Palace with the mountains as the background of the buildings is stunning.  

Geunjeongjeon

The largest of the five grand palaces remaining in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung Palace provides a glimse into Joseon's royal culture, palace life and architecture through the Geunjeongjeon (built on a small lake), Gyeonghoeru Pavillion, and other Stractures.  You can learn more about the royal culture at the National Palace Museum (located just at the metro exit 5/Line 3) and about the historical living conditions of Koreans at the National Folk Museum of Korea.

Around the Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Faces of Korea.

Ladies of Korea

Gentlemen of Korea

Like a fairy tale.

Gwanghwamun Square

Gwanghwamun Square.  This 555 m-long, 34 m-wide square is in front of Gwanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace.  Statues of Admiral Yi Sunshin and King Sejong, two of the most respected historical figures in Korea, are situated in Gwanghwamun square.

Stand at the very bottom of the Square (at Sejong-daero junction) and admire the scenery towards the Palace and the mountains.

Nature and urban landscapes around Gwanghwamun Square.

Unhyeongung Royal Residence

Unhyeongung Royal Residence.

Unhyeongung Palace is the smallest of all palaces in the center of Seoul. It is located near the Jongno Police station and the Japanese Cultural Center.  This is the house where Emperor Gojong, the 26th king of Joseon, lived before he acceded to the throne.  Under order of Queen Mother Jo, Unhyeongung was renovated into a grand, palace-like house with four gates.

It was owned by Regent Heungseon Yi Ha-Eung, the father of Gojong.  While staying at this house, Regent Heungseon ruled over the country for about 10 years, after taking control of state affairs in place of his son. 

: www.unhyeongung.or.kr

Unhyeongung Royal Residence

Damaged during the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War, the Unhyeongung Royal Residence seen today is a much smaller version of the majestic structure that it used to be.

Admission is free of charge.

☞ Directions: Anguk Station (Subway Line 3), Exit 4. 

Changdeokgunng Palace

The entrance in the courtyard of the Throne Hall (Injeongmun)

Changdeokgung (literally, "Prospering Virtue Palace"), is set within a large park in Jongno-gu.

It is one of the "Five Grand Palaces" built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897).  As it is located east of Gyeongbok Palace, Changdeokgung—along with Changgyeonggung—is also referred to as the "East Palace".

Injeongjeon: Throne Hall.

Changdeokgung was the most favored palace of many Joseon princes and retained many elements dating from the Three Kingdoms of Korea period that were not incorporated in the more contemporary Gyeongbokgung. One such element is the fact that the buildings of Changdeokgung blend with the natural topography of the site instead of imposing themselves upon it. 

Huijeongdang: King's Residence.

It, like the other Five Grand Palaces in Seoul, was heavily damaged during the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910–1945).

Currently, only about 30% of the pre-Japanese structures of the East Palace Complex (Changdeokgung together with Changgyeonggung) survive.

Admission is 3,000 (free of charge for seniors).

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

: eng.cdg.go.kr/

Seongjeonggak:  Crown Prince's Study.

Changgyeonggung palace

Main Palace gate, Honghwamun Gate.

The palace was built in the mid-15th century by King Sejong for his father, Taejong. It was originally named "Suganggung," but it was renovated and enlarged in 1483 by King Seongjong, at which time it received its current name. 

: http://jikimi.cha.go.kr/

Admission is ₩1,000 (free of charge for seniors).

☞ Directions: Anguk Station (Subway Line 3), Exits 2,3 if you want to enter the palace through Changdeokgung Palace.  Othertwise, Hyehwa Station (Subway Line 4), Exits 3,4. 

Many structures were destroyed during Japan's multiple late 16th century attempts to conquer Korea and invade China. It was rebuilt by successive Joseon Kings but was once again largely destroyed by the Japanese in the early 20th century, but this time torn down methodically to make room for a modern park, a showplace for the empire, akin to Tokyo's Ueno Park.

Hwangyeong-jeon Hall.

During the Japanese colonial period, the Japanese built a zoo, botanical gardens, and museum on the site. After independence in 1945 and the turmoil and destruction of the 1950-53 Korean War, the zoo was restocked through donations of wealthy Korean and gifts from foreign zoos. In 1983 the zoo and botanical garden were relocated to what is known today as Seoul Land

 

The king's throne, in Myeongjeong-jeon Hall.

Enter the Changgyeonggung Palace from its main gate the Honghwamun Gate, and you will find Okcheongyo Bridge.

All palaces of the Joseon Dynasty have ponds with an arch bridge over them, just like Okcheongyo Bridge.

Cross Okcheongyo Bridge, pass the Myeongjeong Gate, and you will find Myeonjeongjeon. This is the office of the King, and Myeongjeongjeon is the oldest of the Joseon Dynasty palaces.

If you look at Myeongjeongjeon and Munjeongjeon, the combination of the high and low roofs offers a beautiful view.

The houses face southwards, but Myeongjeongjeon faces the east. Because the ancestral shrine of the royal family is located in the South, the gate couldn't face the south as the Confucian custom.

There are stones with the status of the officials carved on the yard. Behind Myeongjeongjeon on the upper left side is Sungmundang. This building utilizes the slope of the mountain.

 

Tongmyeongjeon.

Tongmyeongjeon was built for the queen. It is the biggest building in Changgyeonggung Palace, and you can recognize the delicate details of its structure in various parts of the building. 

If you head north, there is a large pond called Chundangji. Half of the pond was originally a rice field that the King took care of. But during the Japanese Occupation the rice field was changed to a pond with little ships floating on it. And the botanic garden built above the pond remains today.

Gyeongchun-jeon Hall.

Cafés,Tea Houses & more

Coffee Hanyakbang

The entrance of Coffee Hanyakbang on the left and the cake shop on the right.

Coffee Hanyakbang is located in an alley in Euljiro that is so narrow that you would have to close your umbrella to enter on a rainy day.

  • ☞ Address: 16-6, Samil-daero 12-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
  • ☞ Directions: Euljiro 3(sam)-ga Station (Subway Line 2, 3), Exit 1.

Ignore the dreary vibes given off by the alleyway and the old wooden door; they only serve to protect the wonderful world that hides within Coffee Hanyakbang. 

Coffee Hanyakbang location.

The interior of the cafe

The interior of this café is decorated with mother-of-pearl and lacquer ware items and antique roasting tools.

Music is continuously played from LP records to complete the vintage aura.  The first time I went there they were playing the soundtrack of the film "The last Emperor" (music composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto) and another time Barbra's "Memories".

The alley is so narrow that you cannot stretch yourself.

Coffee Hanyakbang roasts their coffee beans daily through the direct contact method, something that is not seen often in other cafés. Through the direct contact roasting, the beans take on a smoky flavor that translates into the coffee grounds. Because of the strong flavor and smell, filter coffee is a must-try when visiting Coffee Hanyakbang! However, if you do not enjoy drinking coffee, the café also has raspberry, grapefruit-lemon, and grapefruit teas made in-house, as well as house-made raspberry yoghurt.

The owners of Coffee Hanyakbang also operate Hyemindang, the dessert shop just across the alleyway. 

Both the coffee shop and the dessert shop get very crowded, even though there are four rooms all together (ground floor and 1st floor for the café and ground floor and 1st floor for the cake shop).  You can take your coffee and tea from one shop and go to the other shop for a cake and vice versa. 

Filter coffee is about ₩ 4-5,000 and cakes around 8,000.  I had a green tea cake and fig tart... just wonderful!

The Hyemindang pastry shop.  The entrance (down left), me having cake and coffee at the downstairs room (right), and the 1st floor room (top left).

Osulloc Tea

Posters outside a tearoom

The story of Osulloc started in 1979, when a neglected rocky field on Jeju island turned into a prototype tea plantation.   It was barren land with only stones and wind. Three remotest areas abandoned even by residents were cultivated for years under full understanding of the natural environment in Jeju as well as with perseverance to make it green.

As a result, Jeju was reborn as a world’s best tea field where premium green tea is growing with passion and devotion, and now wins world’s prestigious tea contests every year. It is a place where you can find the beautiful devotion of OSULLOC trying to spread the Korean tea culture.

Green tea latte and green tea cake.

In 2004, Osulloc, opened its first Tea House in Myeong-dong, Seoul - a little Jeju in the city. 

There are several Tea Houses today and they serve the best of green tea and tea products like: cakes, ice cream, lattes, green tea milk spread, etc.

The Osulloc Tea House in Insadong-gil.  It can be reached by metro  (Anguk metro station - exit 6).

Osulloc cakes and green tea chocolates.

The three Osulloc tea plantations on Jeju Island (middle).

Yupdduk restaurant

Yupdduk restaurant in Dongdaemun.

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.  This can be very spicy.  I mean very spipcy!  It can be served on its own, or coupled with  eggs, dumplings, vegitables,sausages, fish cakes and topped with mozarella cheese.   Gochujang tteok-bokki as street food can be found everywhere!

Yupdduk restaurant location.

Yupdduk restaurant in Dongdaemun. 1st Floor.

There is a chain of Korean restaurants specialized in Gochujang tteok-bokki. It's called Yupdduk and it’s slogan is “Ttangcho Hot Food”.  

There is one in Dongdaemun area, very close to our hotel,  housed in a standard 2-storey Korean shophouse.  Don't bother coming here unless you have sky-high tolerance for spicy food.

: http://www.yupdduk.com/

 ☞ Directions: Dongdadeum History & Culture Park Station (Subway Line 2, 4), Exit 11, 12. Walk 100 meters on Euljiro street.

Our order in Yupdduk.

Do not forget that dishes are very big and are made to be shared by two persons.  Gochujang tteok-bokki is divine (it is called Yupgi Topokki).  There is a spiciness scale from 1 to 4.  Choose 2, it is hot enough.  A good idea is to order also  the peach juice, which is very good to relief your mouth after all that Gochujang!  

Chicken stew (it is called Yupgi Takdori) is also very tasty (if you mange to taste anything else but spiciness!), but do not expect any meat on the bones… just bones slowly cooked.

Dongdaemun District  

A map of Dongdaemun district and the sites (by red number) I describe bellow.

Key to the Dongdaemun district map above.  The red numbers correspond to the sites I describe bellow. 

1- Gwangjang Market (Dongdaemun Market). 

2- Jongbu Market. 

3- Heunginjimun Gate (Dongdaemun). 

4- DDP. 

5- Gwanghuimun Gate. 

6- Seoul city wall, Flood Gate & Hadogam. 

7- Bangsan market. 

8- Pyounghwa (clothing) Market. 

9- Chun Tae-il bridge. 

10- (missing). 

11- Seoul Central Market. 

12- Pungmul Flea Market.

Dongdaemun Shopping Malls.

Dongdaemun is a district in central Seoul located around the Dongdaemun Design Plaza a landmark of the 21st century. 

The area is one of the oldest in Seoul and the center of commerce for over 100 years.  It took its name from Dongdaemun Gate, literally meaning “East Gate” which is one of the four main gates of Seoul (officially named “Heunginjimun Gate”).

It was in Dongdaemun where new products of western civilization such as movies and street trams were first introduced in Korea.  It was also the birthplace of important sporting traditions in Korea. 

Over the past 100 years, Seoul’s citizens have been able to obtain much of what they need for living from Dongdaemun.  Dongdaemun even today has most of the markets in the city.  Dongdaemun is the real heart of Seoul.

Heunginjimun Gate (Dongdaemun)

Heunginjimun seen from Naksan park.

Heunginjimun, literally "Gate of Rising Benevolence" or more commonly known as Dongdaemun, is one of The Eight Gates of Seoul in the Fortress Wall of Seoul, the last remaining gate of the Four Gates, and a prominent landmark in Hanyang (old Seoul).  The name "Dongdaemun" means "Great East Gate," and it was so named because it was the major eastern gate in the wall that surrounded Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty. 

  • ☞ Directions: Dongdaemun Station (Subway Line 1), Exit 6 and (Subway Line 4), Exit 7.

Old picture of Heunginjimun Gate.

Men donned with satgats (traditional hats made of bamboo) riding donkeys on their way to market alongside ox carts carrying firewood, kings’ followings visiting the royal tomb, the greatest performance troops of the Joseon Dynasty, and street trams which came to service earlier than Tokyo all passed through Heunginjimun Gate.  The imposing Gate overwhelmed people with its height and size alone.  Those who walked several days to visit Seoul, passing the gate would take a pious attitude and straighten their clothes and posture.  Today the gate looks quite small as it is dwarfed by the huge modern buildings of the area, but its importance is reminded to all of us by beng Korea’s National Treasure No 1.

Heunginjimun in the night.

The gate is located at Jongno 6-ga in Jongno-gu. The structure was first built by King Taejo during his fifth year of reign (1398). It was renovated in 1453, and the current structure is the one rebuilt in 1869.  Heunginjimun shows architectural style of the late Joseon period.

The most unusual characteristic is its built outer wall, Ongseong.  Ongseong was constructed to compensate the weakness of the target from multiple invaders. It protects the gate and is a beautiful addition.

Jongbu Market

Jungbu Market

An anchovy auction held not by the sea but in the center of Seoul, at Dongdaemun district.

Each shop in Jungbu Market has its own speciality, be it anchovies, pollack, or young pollack.  In Jongbu Market, the only dry fish market in the country, the auction for anchovies is held every day at dawn.  Around 1000 shops are in operation today.

Junngu Market is next door to my Hotel (Acube Hotel), so every morning i used to run around the market, as it was the only lit place in the area at 6 o'clock in the morning.

☞ Directions: Euljiro 4-ga Station (Subway Line 2, 5), Exit 7,8.

Gwangjang Market (Dongdaemun Market)

One of the entrances of Gwangjang Market.

Gwangjang Market (previously Dongdaemun Market) is a traditional street market in Jongno-gu. The market is one of the oldest and largest traditional markets in South Korea, with more than 5000 shops and 20,000 employees in an area of 42,000 square meters.  Approximately 65,000 people visit the market each day.

  • ☞ Directions: Dongdaemun Station (Subway Line 1,4), Exit 8,9.

The Gabo Reforms, which were introduced during the Joseon dynasty, eliminated the merchant monopolies that existed at the time by allowing anyone to engage in commercial activities.  The licensed merchants and shop owners in Seoul lost much of their business to competition as a result of these reforms, so King Gojong created a warehouse market called Changnaejang, which eventually developed into Namdaemun Market.  After the signing of the Eulsa Treaty in 1905, when Korea was under Japanese rule, the Japanese took control of Namdaemun Market.  In reaction to the seizure of Namdaemun Market, a group of private Korean investors, including wealthy merchants, decided to create a new market that was not under the control of the Japanese. They combined funds to create the Gwangjang Corporation on 5 July 1905, and purchased the land for the market with 100,000 Won.  They used the pre-existing Bae O Gae Market, a morning market in the area, as the foundation for their new market, which they named Dongdaemun Market.  At the time, most markets were temporary and open only occasionally, so Dongdaemun Market became the first permanent market to be open every day of the week.  The market was renamed Gwangjang Market in 1960.  

In the early years the market only sold agricultural and seafood products, but as it became one of the largest markets in Korea, it began to sell many other products. Today the market has approximately 1500–2000 vendors selling fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, bread, clothing, textiles, handicrafts, kitchenware, souvenirs, and Korean traditional medicinal items.   

Food stalls in Gwangjang Market.

Besides the product vendors, there are also many restaurants and food stalls selling traditional Korean cuisine, but the market is most famous for its bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes, which are made by grinding soaked mung beans, adding vegetables and meat and pan-frying them into a round, flat shape pan) and mayak gimbap. 

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.  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.

Bindaetteok food stall.

Gwanghuimun Gate

Gwanghuimun Gate

In Dongdaemun, there is not only Heunginjimun Gate, but also Gwanghuimun Gate, which is one of the Four Small Gates of Seoul.  Gwanghuimun Gate was called “Sigumun Gate” (the Gate for letting out corpses), as it was where dead body would pass on the way out of the town.  It was also called “Sugumun Gate” (water channel gate) as there was nearby a gate letting water out of the fortress town.  Although it was overshadowed by the Four Great Gates of Seoul, and often looked down upon due to its name, “Sigumun Gate”, it was the only fortress gate in Seoul which was physically connected to the fortress during Joseon Dynasty.  If one walks along the fortress wall and climbs up the fortress, one can see down and enjoy a full view of the Dongdaemun area.

 

  • ☞ Directions: Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station (Subway Line 2), Exit 3.

Chun Tae-il bridge

Chun Tae-il statue on the bridge named after him.

The 22-year old Chun Tae-il became a symbol of the labor movement in Korea.  A tailor working in a factory himself, he tried to improve poor working conditions for laborers.  He was a here who committed suicide by burning himself to death in November 1970, claiming that workers were not machines. 

He described his young fellow female workers at the Pyounghwa Market as “the hometown in my heart”.  He left a note saying that he would return to the innocence of childhood in the Pyounghwa Market.  He agonized over humanitarian concerns that all people should address.  His heart was full of affection foe people, and he proudly stood against a massive repressive system.

 

People on Chun Tae-il bridge.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)

DDP in the night.

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP- “Dream, Design, Play”) is a major urban development landmark designed by Zaha Hadid, with a distinctively neofuturistic design characterized by the "powerful, curving forms of elongated structures" (the largest 3D amorphous structure in the world). 

The DDR metal panels shine under the day light and during the night their translucent edifice transports you into the blithe OutSpace. 

DDP

The landmark, inaugurated in 2014, is the centerpiece of South Korea's fashion hub featuring a walkable park on its roofs, large global exhibition spaces, futuristic retail stores and restored parts of the Seoul fortress. 

It houses a fashion design information center with seminar rooms and a lecture hall.  It acts as a test-bed platform for various corporate design products as well as a place for international cultural exchange and cooperation. 

DDP

The DDP was built on the site of old baseball and soccer stadiums and their adjoining flea markets and street vendors.  An underground commercial “street” with athletics clothes “commemorates” that era.

:www.ddp.or.kr

 ☞ Directions: Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station (Subway Lines 2,4,5), Exit 1.

Zaha Hadid (1950-2016)

Note: Zaha Hadid (1950-2016) has achieved global recognition for her organic designs, and is known as an innovative architect who constantly pushes the limits of architecture and the concepts of city and design. In 2004, she became the first woman to win the Prizker Architecture Prize, known as the “Nobel Prize” of architecture. Some of her projects include the Architecture Foundation in London, the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Summer Olympics, the Sheikh Zayed Bridge and the Guggenheim Performing Arts Center in Abu Dhabi, the Business Bay Towers in Dubai, and Pierres Vives in Montpellier, France.

:http://www.zaha-hadid.com

Seoul city wall, Flood Gate & Hadogam

During the Joseon Dynasty, Seoul was a fortress city surrounded by an 18km-long castle wall.  Still, very few people consider Seoul a historic city.  Despite the phrase “fortress city”, traces of Seoul’s fortress have in fact barely found within the city. 

The Seoul City Wall was continuously damaged throughout the period of Japanese colonial rure, era of liberation, Korean War, and the poverty-stricken 1960’s and 1970’s.  People had become completely oblivious to its existence.

Heunginjimun Gate and recontrsucted part of the Seoul Wall.

Igansumun Flood Gate.

With the sound of an explosion, Dongdadeum Stadium vanished in 2008.  Right there at the site, some parts of the wall and Igansumun Flood Gate of the Wall, which once thought to be completely destroyed, were found.  The remnants of the city wall were 265 meters long while the two-compartment Igansumun Flood Gate was almost totally intact.  Igansumun Flood Gate was a water gate used for guiding the water flowing from Namsan mountain to Cheonggyecheon Stream running outside the fortress wall.  It was a trace of Joseon which was remained buried underground for over 80 years.

It was not only Seoul Wall that was unearthed from the grounds of Dongdaemun Stadium.  The site of Hadogam which belongs to Hullyeondogam (military training command), a military unit during the Joseon dynasty, was found as well.  The 390-compartment Hadogan was assumed to have had facilities such as a firelock warehouse and a gunpowder warehouse, among which some building sites, wells, a drainage system, and various artifacts.  During the period of Japanese colonial rule, Japanese removed roof tiles and mixed them with stone to make roads, next to which they laid convex and concave roofing tiles to make a ditch.  Today, these roads and ditches have been restored.

Note: Hadogam Leesaengjeon is an original play with a traditional martial arts performance which contains stories about Hadogam during the Joseon Dynasty.  In the past, soldiers of Hadogam received payment from the State with the highest quality linen or cotton cloth, which their family would process and sell to the market to make a living.  In the video following we learn how a soldier named Leesang managed to join Hadogam. 

Bangsan Market

Bangsan Market.

Bangsan Market is a market for printing and packaging.  People make labels for clothes or shopping bags for thanksgiving gift sets and sell papers used in bakeries to be placed beneath bread.  In short, the market handles all types of presswork and sells all kinds of packaging and wrapping material (paper, wood, plastic, cloth, glass).  All short of things, that an ordinary person would not bother to know where they have come from, are all made and sold here.  Just stroll in the little roads and enjoy the huge variety of the products that you had no idea existed. 

Bangsan Market.

Pyounghwa (clothing) Market

Pyounghwa Market.

Refugees who fled to the South from the North during the Korean War built and lived in a shanty town in Cheonggyecheon 5 and 6-ga.  They earned a living by making clothes with sewing machines and selling them, also dyeing and selling military uniforms from the US army.  This is how the Pyounghwa Market began.  The aspirations of all those who lost their homes in the North and came to live in the South yearning for a peaceful unification are well reflected in the name of Pyounghwa Market (“Peace Market”).  As Pyounghwa, which began with just sewing machines, grew, other markets named Shin Pyung Hwa Fashion Town, Dongpyeonghwa Market, Nampyeongwa Market and Chungpyunghwa Market began to spring up nearby.

 Wandering around the little streets and shops of the Market, even when you are not interested in clothing material, there is no way you do not feel overwhelming by the quantities and the variety of things you could not even imagine exist!

Pungmul Flea Market

Seoul Central market (Sindang-dong Jungang Market).

Get off the metro at Sindang Station (exits 1,2) and you enter Seoul Central market (Sindang-dong Jungang Market). 

It is a huge market, but there’s nothing special about it, unless you are interested into by-products of chicken and pigs!  You just consider it as your starting point towards Seoul Pungmul Market. 

Seoul Central market (Sindang-dong Jungang Market).

The main arcade of Seoul Central market (Sindang-dong Jungang Market).

I do not have a personal experience, as I haven’t noticed it while there, but it is supposed that something fishy is going on in the underground of Central Market. 

Not long ago, it was a place where grocery-shopping housewives would hesitate to visit.  Suddenly, the large underground space, which once was an air-raid shelter, began to be swarming with young artists and craftsmen.  Today, sushi restaurants, bedding shops, and Hanbok shops are located on one side of the underground shopping center, while artists’ workshops are on the other.  It is indeed a strange underground world called Sindang Creative Arcade.

Hwanghak-dong Market (Majang-ro street).

Walk along the central alley (arcade) of the market towards the north and after you cross Majang-ro street you find yourself in Hwanghak-dong Market, a full of nostalgia market.  Here you find all kind of old machinery, home appliances, old fashioned earth ware and silverware, and in general here you rediscover the past.

Majangro-9gil street.

You follow majangro-9gil street all the way over the bridge, passing by street food stalls, useless for the tourist objects and small churches.

Just after you cross the bridge you find yourself in a huge flea market.  It is endless and you soon get tired wandering around second hand clothes, tacky decorative products, but also some real antiques.

Nangyero-27gil road.

When you reach Dongmyo Shrine, which was closed due to construction/renovation when I was there (I followed a bunch of old men entering a small alley by the shrine thinking maybe they know a by-entrance, but, I just found myself having a piss at a very popular public toilet) turn right on nangyero-27gil road and continue for several blocks till you reach Seoul Pungmul Market (Seoul Folk Flea Market). 

There are vendors and huge crowds all the way there.

The Seoul Folk Flea Market entrance logo.

The Seoul Folk Flea Market, also known as the Pungmul Flea Market (Pungmul means “regional specialties”), is one of the largest flea markets in Korea.

It was created by a group of merchants who could not keep their booth at the Hwanghak-dong Flea Market during the massive renewal process of Cheonggyecheon. Since then, the Pungmul Flea Market has become a famous tourist destination, particularly thanks to the proximity of the Cheonggyechon river, the tourist mecca of the capital, and the fact that it shows the everyday ordinary Korean life.

The Pungmul Flea Market.

The Pungmul Flea Market is one of the most important second hands markets in Seoul (885 shops spreading over 8,000 square meters).

It has managed to preserve the culture of Korean traditional markets, while attracting visitors thanks to its popular items and its unique charm representative of the Korean culture. The market showcases necessity products, souvenirs, unusual items and even a traditional gastronomy, allowing visitors to shop and eat at the same place. The Pungmul Flea Market mixes modernity with Korean traditions that reflects the lifestyle of Koreans past, offering the visitor a unique experience at a very reasonable price.

The Pungmul Flea Market.

What makes the Pungmul Flea Market so special is that, besides souvenirs and ordinary products, it is possible to find rare and authentic traditional objects, which are hard to find in other places.

It is important to keep in mind that merchants are grouped by alleys according to the type of products they sell (clothing, food, souvenirs, antiques).

Yes!  Working class men in Korea love to wear military outfits!

Streets & Neighborhoods 

INSADONG-gil street

The south entrance of Insadong street.

This is a street showcasing traditional Korean culture with antique art and book stores, traditional teahouses and craft shops.

It is Seoul's leading "gallery street" as it has long 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.

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 in automn.

Insadog

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.

Insa-dog

Ssamzigil

Visit Ssamzigil multi-cultural space, where visitors can shop from a wide variety of traditional arts and crafts. 

On the ground floor there is a nice 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 (biggrin).

: www.ssamzigil.co.kr

Ssamzigil

Two rednecks in Ssamzigil.

One of the many Tea rooms in Insadog street.

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.

Bukchon Hanok Village & Samcheong-dong

Bukchon Hanok Village

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

Deux Cremes tart shop

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.

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.

On of the two gates of Itaewon-ro road.

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.    

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.

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.  

: www.museum.go.kr 

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.

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

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

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!

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.

The Mario Botta building for the Samsung Museum of Art.

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 

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 Village murals.

Ihwa Village street.

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 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.

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

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. 

Ihwa surprises.

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.

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.

The views from the Naksan Park.

Myeongdong and the beauty industry

Myeongdong (Myungdong) road plaque.

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

Myeongdong-gil road.

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 (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 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.

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.

South Korea is home to several large cosmetic brands.

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. 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.

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. 

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.  

Landmarks 

Namsan Park & Seoul Tower

The Namsan Park

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.

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

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

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.

 : www.seoultower.co.kr

 

 

View from Seoul Tower

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

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.

Namsangol Hanok Village

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

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

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 beauties in traditional dresses.

Jongmyo shrine

Jongmyo

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 shrine.

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

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

Jeongjeon

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

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 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. 

Cheonggyecheon

Cheonggyecheon stream during the Seoul Lantern Festival.

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.

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.

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.

Enjoying Odeng.

Mungbean Pancakes.

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!

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

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.

Egg bread.

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.

Fish bread.

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.

Stuffed dumplings & Pan-Fried Dumplings

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,

Bacon Wrapped Sausages,

Blood Sausage (Sundae),

Grilled Abalone in Butter,

Broiled Eels (Jang Uh Gui), 

Dumplings.

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, 

Roasted Sweet Potatoes.

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

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).

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!

 

Beyond Seoul

Oido island

Me and the Oido lighthouse

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! 

Fish vendors also cook your seafood on the spot

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 village seen from the Pier.

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.

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

The fish vendors on the Oido pier.

Food...more food!

Incheon

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

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. 

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

MacArthur Time magazine cover

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.

Incheon train Station

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.

: itour.incheon.go.kr/

The main gate (pai-loo) of Chinatown.

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.

Chinatown

Chinatown

Yuebing cake shop.

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.co.kr

Yuebing cake shop

Mooncakes from Yuebing cake shop.

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).

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.

Dongbuk Gongsimdon Obserrvation Tower.

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.

At the city walls.

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.

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.

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

Hwahongmun 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.

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.

 

Trekking    

Mangwolsa Buddhist temple

An 18th-Century  pungsu-jiri  Map of Seoul. The large cluster of prominent peaks directly to the north of Seoul's downtown is "Bukhan-san".

The term "Bukhan-san" indicates the large cluster of prominent peaks directly to the north of Seoul's downtown. There is no single mountain with that name.

The Granite-peak-studded Bukhan-san declared a National Park in 1983, and it is one of the two big national parks of Seoul and one of the 12 most sacred mountains in South Korea.

Dobong-san

Dobong-san (Dao-Peak Mountain) forms most of the northern half of the Bukhan-san National Park, and it is one of the capital region's most loving place for hikers, rock-climbers and photographers, as well as for the pilgrims.

This is where Mangwolsa Buddist Temple (monastery)is.

Mangwolsa Trekking.

Mang-wol-sa Monastery

Mang-wol-sa (Watching Moon Temple) is the most important monastery of Dobong-san, and one of the most spectacularly-sited temples in Korea.

This temple was built by the Buddhist monk Hae-ho under the Silla-dynasty Queen Seondeok’s order in 639.  Situated high up on the slope of the rocky mountain, people prayed here for the royal family and the nation’s prosperity while gazing at the full moon, particularly the first full moon of the year.  The full moon means fulfillment, and is also a symbol of the Buddha’s complete enlightenment.

Literature note:  Chapter 7 (The hopeless years), Volume I, of Iltang’s (Kim Tae Shin) memoir “The Lost Mother” takes place in  Mangwolsa Temple.

Mang-wol-sa Temple.

Mang-wol-sa Temple.

A road indicator just in front Deokcheonsa Temple.

The trail to Mangwolsa Temple (Monastery) is about 5-6 Km (go and back) and is considered moderate according to international trekking standards. The average slop is 28%.

Start your trail from Mangwolsa Station (Subway  Line 1): leave the station from exit 3 and take Mangwol-ro road upwards and then turn right to Mangwol-ro 28 beon-gil Road.  Follow it till you find a road fork just before you pass underneath the motorway.  Here you should take the left road and go directly to the park entrance, where there is an information center.  I decided to take the right road because it passes through three temples. Anyway, the two roads meet again some 500m further. 

A map of Bukhan-san National Park (top left).  The "brown hut" Tourist Information Center (bottom left).  The trail indicator in front of the "brown hut" showing you the Mangwolsa Temple to the left (top right).  Along the trail you meet several distance indicators (bottom right).

The first temple we meet on your right is the Deokcheonsa Temple.  Walk 200m further up and you find Daewonsa Temple on your left.  The third monastery you meet is Ssang-yongsa Temple, which has a big marble-white statue of Buddha. 

Just outside this Temple the two roads I mentioned earlier, when I had to decide whether to go through the official Park entrance or follow the road with the three Temples, meet.

At this meeting point, facing the Ssang-yongsa Temple entrance, on your right you see a brown hut, which is a Tourist Information Center.  They provide you with a map of the park, which I did not find useful at all. 

Here the road splits: take the road on the left, the one that passes in front of the hut. 

Daewonsa Temple (top) and Ssang-yongsa Temple (bottom).

Now you are on the right path, no way to get lost from here onwards. 

The path at the beginning is easy and goes along a small creek with wooden little bridges, but it becomes steeper as you walk along. Take your time: it may seem easy, but it is not. 

I visited the place on a Saturday morning and the path was full of senior hikers.  They are usually into groups and they stop here and there to drink and eat.  You just have to say “hello” and you are offered drinks and fruit and chocolates. 

The track goes through huge granite formations and old oak trees. 

Along the first part of the track there are informative labels (in Korean only, but with self-explanatory pictures) informing you about fauna and flora of the mountain.  Here I learned that there are six types of oak trees.  Half the way up, the track becomes very steep, but nature is magnificent.  

Mangwolsa Temple.

When you eventually arrive at the temple, you are certainly tired, but the view is formidable. 

I sat in front of the main temple and soak the sun for an hour with a cup of extra sweet coffee in my hand, which I got just at the entrance of the temple. 

You are not more than 15-17 km away from city center, but you are on a spectacular mountain with temples among the granite rocks, just at the right place to rethink about rearranging priorities in your life!

Inside the Mangwolsa Temple.

Yeonjuam/Yeonjudae Hermitage

Gwanaksan Mountain granitic rocks

At 629 meters in height, Gwanaksan Mountain is the symbol and pride of Gwanak-gu district in Seoul. Most of the cultural heritages of the district originate from Gwanaksan Mountain. Since it was designated as a city natural park in 1968, it has continued to serve as a favorite place for relaxation and excursion for Seoul citizens. The various rocky peaks and the deep valleys give the mountain a rugged feel. The mountain's size and close proximity to Seoul make it easy for Seoul residents to visit in a single day.

 In the spring, cherry blossoms are in full bloom near the entrance to the mountain, and a Rhododendron Festival is held when the rhododendrons are in full bloom. At the mountain's summit are Wongaksa Temple and Yeonjuam Hermitage, which were built by Taejo Yi Seong-gye (the founder of the Joseon Dynasty) to ward off misfortune when he decided to move the capital to Seoul. There are also other temples and hermitages, and a ground radar observation post. Yeonjudae Hermitage, located atop a cliff, is where all the hiking trails of Mount Gwanaksan meet.

Yeonjuam/Yeonjudae Hermitage trekking.

Yeonjuam Hermitage courtyard

Yeonjuam Hermitage is located on the south side of Yeonjubong Peak of Gwanaksan Mountain. This temple is very well known to frequent visitors of Gwanaksan. Together with Yeonjudae, which is located on the top of a rugged cliff at 629m above sea level, it is a famous place of Gwanaksan.

According to the document Yeonjuam jungeongi (Record of the Construction of Yeonjuam), Buddhist Monk Uisang built Gwanaksa Temple in 677.  Gwanaksa was moved to its present location when Prince Yangnyeong and Prince Hyoryeong stayed here after they gave up their throne to their younger brother Prince Chungnyeong in the 11th year of King Taejong’s reign of Joseon (in the early 1400’s). Gwanaksa was then renamed as Yeonjuam. The three-story stone pagoda in front of the Daeungjeon Hall of the hermitage is of that time.

The truth is that this early-Joseon era complex was completely wiped out and buried by a landslide.  Eventually, it was relocated higher up the slopes, on safer grounds. Much of the temple, in its current configuration, was built in the 1970’s and onwards.

Yeonjudae hermitage.

Among the peaks of Gwanaksan Mountain, there is a rugged cliff resembling the shape of bamboo shoots.

A mountain hermitage, called Yeonjudae, is situated on the top of the cliff. Originally, it was called Uisangdae as it was built by the Buddhist Monk Uisang during the 17th year of King Munmu’s reign (677), but was changed to Yeonjudae (meaning “Missing the King") as retainers of Goryeo Dynasty came here after the collapse of the dynasty and opposed the founding of the Joseon Dynasty and missed their old prosperity.

The easiest way to reach the beggining of the trail, leading to the monastery, is to take the Metro Line 4 and get off at Gwacheon Station. 

Get out from Exit 7 and when you get out continue directly towards the mountain for about half a kilometer.  At the end of the road turn left and walk for another 300m till you see a bridge which you cross.  After the bridge, at the gate of a Temple, turn left and soon you will see the signs directing you to your destination.

At the beginning of the trail there are some tacky restaurants and shops.

The Distance to Yeonjuam is about 2,7 km and then another 1 km (or a bit less) if you want to continue to Yeonjudae.

The moment you see the entrance of this temple, just opposite a bridge, on your way from the train station, you know you are on good track (top right).  Peculiarities near the entrance of the trail (left & bottom right).

There are some places where the trail gets difficult, as the rocks may be slippery and rough.

The first half of the trail is easy and well paved.  The whole trail is not difficult, as there are wooden stairs and bridges built at many points, but there are some places where it gets difficult, as the rocks may be slippery and rough.  As usually, the last part of the trail is the most difficult, and the last stairs leading to the entrance of the monastery (hermitage) are very steep and massive.

There are two water springs along the trail and several places where you can sit and rest.  There are toilets along the way and one just before the steep stairs leading to the monastery. 

The moment you see this you start to worry; maybe this trail is not for you! (top left).  A trail spot (top right). Toilets located half way to the hermitage (middle left).  A bridge over the creek that goes along the trail (middle right).  The massive stairs leading to the entrance of the hermitage (bottom left).  Sculptures on the trail (bottom right).

There are four buildings around the courtyard of the hermitage and a medium-sized stone pagoda just in front of the main hall (the Temple).

On the left of the main hall, upon a terrace is the temple bell and further up the slope is the Sanshin shrine.  On the right of the main hall, there is a long yellow building that houses the temple office.

Just next to the massive and steep stairs leading to the courtyard there is another building, the Gwaneum-jeon, at the bottom floor of which, there is a dining hall.  Here they serve free meals to the visitors, at around 13:00 in the afternoon, when the service finishes at the main hall.

Yeonjuam Hermitage. The Gwaneum-jeon (Top left). The stone pagoda just in front of the main hall (top right). A new marble pagoda seen from the Gwaneum-jeon (bottom left).  The temple bell (bottom right).

The Gwaneum-jeon and the restaurant at its first floor.

View of the Yeonjudae and the ground radar observation post.

Just on the left of the two vending machines located at the courtyard (selling refreshments and coffee) there are some stairs and a trail that takes you just on the upper side of the bell.  At this point you have to turn left and take the long stairs which lead to the rocky path for the  Yeonjudae. 

Half the way to the Yeonjudae, you are at the top of a rock from where you have a great view of the mountain and Seoul far in the horizon.  The highlight is that from this rock you have a breathtaking view of the Yeonjudae. 

Take a picture, or better many pictures.  Everyone does the same.  This is the reason why all the pictures you happen to have seen of Yeonjudae are taken from this exact point.

All the way to this point you are followed by the monastery cats, which of course ask for some food and not for your affection only.

Most people stop here and do not continue to the Yeonjudae itself.  I did exactly the same, as the sky got gray and the first snow flakes started to fell.

Yeonjudae Hermitage, Me, the view and the cat.

Yeonjudae Hermitage, Me, the view and the cat.

EPILOGUE

AND NOW?  WHERE NEXT?

We left from our hotel for the airport rather early, as we had read that Incheon International Airport is one of the best airports in the world and one has to see it.  The real consumer’s paradise, ...they told us!

We arrived there around 9.00 in the evening.  All shops were closed and the place was dark and gloomy.  After passing security/passport control the place was like the Earth after the apocalypses...the zombie land. 

There was only a small Starbucks open (nowhere to sit and drink your coffee) and a small restaurant serving only 3 different dishes.  Both of them closed at 10:00 p.m.!  Oh yes, there was a small duty-free shop, which had only the spirit section open… maybe they believe alcohol is what travelers need to be able to forget this airport!

 Did we miss something?  Did the taxi driver took the wrong turn and we ended at a “parallel universe”?

 

 

Anyway, Seoul was a dream destination... but it is already past: 

AND NOW?

WHERE NEXT?

 

Bellow I publish some extra pictures from my trip in Seoul, which I did not use above.

You really feel secure in Seoul.  Police is there for you to help you!

Already planning our next adventure....

The Seoul Central Train station.  Today, it is used as an Exhibition center.