Delighted to have the time during my sister’s 3month Sabbatical in Manila, we decided to embark on a bonding trip – just Mom and us siblings. Such a rare treat for the family to get together these years – our last being 2014 Christmas in Japan. Although the “Lara Croft” in my eldest sister really wanted to visit Myanmar or Vietnam, the unpredictable weather in August was a big risk to an enjoyable trip. Seoul was always a pleasure for Mom, M Sidoy and I so we suggested the redirection. My sisters went with the flow as I planned our itinerary. I worked on mom’s shopping convenience, my personal must-see’s and do’s to share with my equally “game” sisters (some I’ve actually mentioned in a previous feature https://whereintheworldispennyk.com/2016/11/10/weekends-of-seoul-searching/), and new discoveries we’ve read up along the way. Without Order, here’s our list of New and Sure Seoul Ventures. I hope you get to enjoy the experiences as much as we fondly did.
L7 Myeongdong is the younger brother of the well loved Lotte Hotel. Designed as a lifestyle hotel, it caters to chic, care-free travellers with its trendy sentiments and cozy atmosphere. It is close to some of the major shopping destinations, including Lotte Duty-free Shops, Lotte Department Store, and tourist attractions, including Gyeongbokgung Palace and Namsan Mountain.
The guest rooms with simple interior spaces and Korean decorations offer spaces for customers who lead the latest trends. Mom personally liked Lotte Hotel for its classic ambiance, but we liked the current vibe of this place.
Loved the details of our trendy hotel located in the center of Myeongdong’s action. We had our “mug shots” taken by the elevator’s Kate Spade back drop while Manong preferred the yellow utilitarian wall. Manang and I couldn’t resist posing by the lounge – they had great coffee table books to peruse through btw 👀📕📗 and the views from their roof top bar, “Floating” and foot spa were gorgeous! The hip music tuned the ambiance up further 🎧 Highly recommended for those who want a funky experience 👍👍👍
Secret Garden in Chandeokgung Palace
Changdeokgung Palace was the second royal villa built following the construction of Gyeongbukgung Palace in 1405. It was the principal palace for many kings of the Joseon Dynasty, and is the most well-preserved of the five remaining royal Joseon palaces. The palace grounds are comprised of a public palace area, a royal family residence building, and the rear garden. Known as a place of rest for the kings, the rear garden boasts a gigantic tree that is over 300 years old, a small pond and a pavilion.
This beautiful garden located behind the Changdeokgung palace was originally constructed for the benefit of the royal family and women of the palace. It’s a magical place to wander around – with a lotus pond, several outstanding pavilions, and landscaped lawns, trees, and flowers.
Just like English gardens, the Korean gardens used to be kept as natural as possible and so the streams, rocks and hillsides became integral parts of the garden. Some of the trees behind the palace are now over 300 years old.
I was sold the first time I saw this place on a cold November day. Although picturesque throughout the year, It is best to see the garden during autumn, when the yellow and red foliage is at its peak and the leaves start to fall.
Bukchon Hanok Village and Samcheong-Dong
From Changdeokgung Palace, we caught the 272 Bus to Bukchon Hanok Village. Referred to as “Northern Village”, it comprises of hundred of traditional Korean Hanoks surrounded by Seoul’s notable Palaces, Cheonggyecheon Stream, Insadong District etc.
Although mostly residential, some hanoks have been converted to guesthouses, restaurants, tea houses, or places where guests can further immerse themselves in Korean traditions and culture.
We came across Samcheong-Dong and got carried away — lost track of time. The neighbourhood was a treasure trove of cute boutiques selling all sorts of knick knacks from souvenirs, hip clothing to intricate accessories. Window displays were meticulously designed such that by-passers like us couldn’t resist checking most of the merchandise – Thank God it was just us Sisters!!
We ended up having late lunch in Insadong. As soon as we reached the busy alley of traditional Korean restaurants, our stomachs grumbled in excitement.
Once the country’s largest market for trading antiques and artwork, Insadong has over the years developed into a bustling yet quaint destination that is now recognized as one of Seoul’s most iconic neighborhoods.
Fairly well preserved and organized to represent Korea’s culture of both the past and the present, Insadong is the premiere locale to sample unique dishes, spend an afternoon in a tea house and wander delightful shops that sell everything from traditional stationary to EXO posters and delicate ceramics to cosmetics.
Down the street, Ssmaziegil beckons visitors with its imaginative architecture, whimsical shops and rather bizarre cafes and dining establishments. It has become the beating heart of Insadong since it opened its doors in 2004 and is the perfect place to find one-of-a-kind quality gifts.
As we followed the spiraling walkway upward, we were treated to a fantastic window-shopping experience with over 70 shops, many of which incorporate Korean themes into their wares.
While many tourists, fancy walking around Seoul in traditional “hanboks” or pose for portraits at a formal studio, we came across a fun way to experience such novelty. It was a lot cheaper and took only a few minutes to accomplish. We all dressed up in hanboks and gathered around the Chalcak sticker photo booth studio, where you can use props and wigs, choose hilarious backgrounds and pose your wackiest to create colourful stickers that you can take home as a memory of your time in Ssamzigil. “When in Seoul — Girlalou!”
A walk along this 5.8-km stream is almost as good as a spa for clearing one’s mind or rethinking a deal. While it’s just off Sejongro, one of the busiest boulevards in Seoul, Cheonggyecheon is remarkably quiet because the stream is more than 15 ft. below street level and feels a little like a dugout. You can take an organized walking tour or stroll alone. It’s very serene with small waterfalls, and nearly two dozen overhead bridges.
Garden of Morning Calm
For those who love nature and are also fond of botanical gardens, consider a visit to the Garden of Morning Calm, one of the best and most beautiful gardens in Korea.
Inspired by Korea’s nickname, ‘The Land of the Morning Calm’, the garden focuses on the country’s natural beauty and showcases floral arrangements and landscaped gardens built in harmony with the surroundings. It is a serene, tranquil place one can easily meditate in.
Nami Island – a half moon-shaped isle near Seoul. If you have heard or seen the famous Korean drama “Winter Sonata”, you’ll be familiar with this romantic destination. Truly magical and unique, Nami Island even declared its cultural independence from the Republic of Korea and called itself the Naminara Republic.
You can either take the ferry to Nami Island or zip line across the lake.
Gangchon Rail Bike
Gangchon Rail Bike is a popular tourist attraction where visitors can pedal along old railroad tracks while taking in the lovely Bukhangang River scenery. Only light pedalling required.
Dongdaemon Design Plaza
Designed by world renowned architect, Zaha Hadid, DDP is the world’s largest atypical architecture. The DDP is comprised of five halls: Art Hall, Museum, Design Lab, Design Market, and Dongdaemun History and Culture Park. Conveniently, we had lunch at Market Hall – it had a good selection of food stalls and restaurants as well as retail shops.
Eats in Myeongdong
A must Eat in Myeongdong, Maple Tree House is always a great value for excellent Korean BBQ. Make sure you make reservations as the place gets packed.
Girls Night Out! Mom and Manong were shopped out while we were still eager, tired but pushing ourselves – to join the Saturday night vibe around Myeongdong! Discovered James Cheese Back Ribs! So yummeh! They can cook it with cheese, more cheese and A Lot of Cheese. And Spicy, spicier, Spiciest 😉 Their Nori Tuna Rice was good as well. Perfect with Plum Wine or with their buy one take one Stella Artois
Found a Din Tai Fung 👏 on the 2F of this Cinema Themed boutique hotel. Their Art Deco lobby reminded me of a scene from The Great Gatsby.
Sunday Mass at Myeongdong Cathedral – the first and most important Catholic Church in Korea. People started congregating at this location to express their faith starting in 1784. During the 1970s and 1980s, the church became an important location for human rights protests and also for the struggle for democracy in South Korea against the military government that came to power after the Korean War. A graveyard here is the final resting place of many Christian martyrs who lost their lives during purges in the 1860s.