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December 7, 2016

The Definitive Guide to Hongdae

Perhaps no other neighborhood in all of Seoul embodies Korea’s youth culture as well as Hongdae.

Here, the streets are alive with a youthful spirit that fosters a creativity evident in the sounds of busking musicians, in the colorful graffiti on the walls and in the unique fashion and hair styles sported by the young inhabitants of the neighborhood.



Under the influence of Hongik University, a prestigious art school from which the area takes its name, Hongdae has become the home of an emerging underground music and art scene since the 1990s. Since then it has blossomed into a nightlife district of tiny music bars and multi-story dance clubs.

Despite its rather raucous reputation, there’s plenty to see and do here that will suit just about everyone’s taste. So, throw on your coolest clothes and get ready to immerse yourself in the quirky side of Seoul. (Be sure to check out the map at the bottom of the post to make your walk even more convenient.)

Cultural Institutions

From the subway station, walk through the pedestrian-friendly Sculpture Park popular with street performers and cluttered with samgyeopsal restaurants to Obok-gil. This quaint street, whose name means “five blessings” is the perfect place for a morning stroll, thanks to its endless supply of independent cafes, chocolatiers and boutiques.



Unlike most of the run-of-the-mill shops in Seoul that sell ready-made clothing items, a handful of the clothing stores in this area are owned and operated by fresh-faced designers who sell unique, one-of-a-kind pieces. Additionally, the brick-and-mortar branch stores of popular online shopping malls offer a wide range of shopping opportunities.

At the end of the street, head west toward the university. Along the way, pick up tickets to see an afternoon performance of Kung Festival, an action-packed but lighthearted musical show held at the B-Boy Theater, the country’s first dedicated exclusively to the dance style. Kung Festival features the well-known and widely-loved SJay Crew, who effortlessly demonstrate just why Korea’s b-boys have the reputation of being some of the most talented in the world.

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In addition to b-boys, Hongdae is also famous for design, and as such, has plenty of small shops dedicated to design-related publications. Ongodang Books is one of them and offers a great selection of publications on lifestyle, weddings, fashion, illustrations and interior design. Even if you’re not in the market to go book shopping, this is a great place to browse.

The Quirky Side of Hongdae 

If Korea is the land of themed cafes, then Hongdae is the capital. Yet no other is quite as unique as Thanks Nature Cafe, located just down the hill from the university. Beautifully decorated, the cafe exudes a zen-like atmosphere with lots of greenery and a simple, clean design. There are also artistic portraits of various animals that hang neatly on the walls, but one stands out in the motif: sheep.

In addition to figurines and stuffed versions, there are two live well-groomed sheep that reside at Thanks Nature. Unlike pet cafes, the sheep are kept on the outside patio in a small pen, baaaaahing every now and then. There is no noticeable smell in the cafe's interior, so visitors can enjoy their coffee in a clean setting. Thanks Nature Cafe's menu features a nice selection of beverages, all of which are made with natural sweeteners. Try their waffles, which are also phenomenal.



As you make your way along Parking Street, the gateway to Hongdae’s nightlife, you will no doubt spot some vibrant murals and interesting exhibits. Yet nowhere in the neighborhood can you physically interact with art more than at the Trick Eye Museum. Located in the Santorini Seoul multicultural complex, the unique works incorporate trompe l'oeil, a technique used to make them appear as if they are three dimensional.

Recreations of famous works like Edvard Munch's “The Scream” and Da Vinci's “Mona Lisa”, along with interactive backdrops such as bamboo forests and spaceships, incorporate props or features added to make them more comical, thus creating a slew of incredible photo ops. The Love Museum, located in the basement of the same building, has the same premise, but is immensely exotic (in the most entertaining way possible) and, not surprisingly, is only open to adults.


Oodles of Noodles & Street Snacks 

After cheesing out with your buddies and landing some excellent photos which will no doubt provide for some great profile pics, get ready to slurp down some of the best noodles in all of Seoul.

But first stop by the Music Show Wedding Theatre where you can opt to purchase tickets for the cheesy but endearing “Music Show Wedding,” a show that follows the comedic events leading up to a young couple’s wedding that combines live music, acting and performances. The non-verbal show features 23 musical instruments and an eye-catching stage lit with 30,000 LED lights.


Menya Sandaime is a Japanese-style ramen shop that carries on the three-generation tradition of making the famed dish with a secret recipe of broth that is steamed for over 24 hours and noodles that are aged for a day. The restaurant is cramped and chaotic, with an open kitchen that allows diners to watch the ramen magic unfold before their eyes. And, like any good restaurant that serves dishes that are high in demand, Menya Sandaime shuts down when it runs out of fresh ingredients. And it almost always does.


As tempted as you may be to order more, stick to one serving, and head back to the Street Food Alley next to the Trick Eye Museum to sample the latest street food trends, which change as often as K-pop and Korean fashion styles. There are plenty of tiny stalls that offer everything from boongeo bbang (a traditional sweet pastry) stuffed with ice cream to churros.

Unlike Hongdae’s street vendors that come and go, one neighborhood institution has been around for quite sometime, packing in customers with its twist on tteokbokki. Less spicy than its competitors’, Mimine’s version, which is made from miltteok (wheat rice cakes) and thinly sliced eomuk (fish cake), is almost like a soup.

This comfort food pairs well with the snack shop’s famous (and patented) saeu twigim (deep-fried shrimp) which are covered in an addictingly crispy batter and served with three kinds of dipping salts. Go to the second floor if you want to order shrimp.

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Seeing Stars 

Wondering what’s in store for your future? (Besides a heart attack after all that food?) Then check out one of Parking Street’s many fortune tellers.

Although tarot cards have been used in divination since the 15th century in other parts of the world, they have only been popular in Korea for a couple decades. Many Koreans (including celebrities, as you’ll note on the posters) will visit fortune tellers when faced with a certain dilemma or need advice about an important upcoming event (or a potential boyfriend or girlfriend.)

Fortunately, a number of these tarot card readers speak English, though some do require an additional fee for doing so, and will answer just about any burning question you may have about life. There are alternative forms of fortune telling, many of which are more traditionally Korean, and include gwansang (fortune telling through facial characteristics) and saju (prediction of good or bad luck based on one's birth date). Whether you take fortune telling seriously or not, it’s a fun way to see what the stars might have in store for you.



Speaking of stars, why not let your inner rock star shine at Luxury Su Noraebang? Known to be one of the best karaoke rooms in all of Seoul, Su is the go-to spot for people looking to get their karaoke on after a few drinks. But, because of its unique interior, great reputation and all-you-can-eat ice cream, it can get pretty crowded at night.

Why not take advantage of the afternoon discounts earlier on in the day to experience this Korean cultural institution? In addition to having a huge selection of songs, some rooms boast floor-to-ceiling windows, which allow customers to belt out songs to all of Hongdae, and perhaps even get some applause from passersby.



Style & Design 

Located next door is the Sangsangmadang Building, one of the more recognizable buildings of the neighborhood, thanks to its futuristic architecture, and is an 11-story multicultural space that is a haven for both artists and art-lovers. Design Square is located on the first floor and is one of the best places in Korea to pick up unique gifts—think notepads that look like deli meats, or scuba diver tea infusers—which are created by local designers.

The second floor operates as a gallery and exhibits photographs and contemporary art by both Korean and international artists, while works by Korea’s young artists are available for sale on the third floor. The remaining floors boast everything from a movie theater to studios to a live performance hall. Daily schedules can be checked at the ticket box on the first floor.

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Get ready for a night out in Hongdae with a fresh new look courtesy of Soonsiki Hair Salon. Walk into this famed Hongdae beauty institution and you'll immediately be greeted by a staff of incredibly hip stylists, each of whom is donned in the latest street fashions and possesses an air of cool confidence.

The stylists are very well versed in the latest funky trends (I mean, this is Hongdae, after all) but have mastered all the classic styles, too. Soonsiki boasts a color bar with more options than a Crayola box and is the city’s top dying expert. This place is always packed on the weekends, so be sure to make a reservation beforehand.



Hongdae Nights (and Mornings) 

If you’re in Hongdae on a weekend, the Hongdae Playground is the place to soak up the true essence of the neighborhood. The Free Market (on Saturdays) and Hope Market (Sundays) are are the prime cultural hotspots where local designers sell their artwork, such as hand painted sneakers and jewelry made from found objects.

The playground, which is decorated in colorful graffiti, boasts a small stage where artists from a variety of genres play for audiences well into the evening. Once a month, the playground transforms into a silent disco, where attendees dance the night away to tracks played by a DJ who is only audible through the headphones distributed at the sign-in desk. It’s quite an experience, and a rather confusing sight to unsuspecting onlookers.



Next up: dinner. As owner and head chef of The Beastro, Matthew J Chung has created a simple yet elegant menu of American classics and comfort food with a modernized twist. From fried chicken with mashed potatoes and biscuits to a tender and succulent 24-hour hanger steak cooked in beef fat, there is simply no bad choice here.

Everything has been made from scratch in house where possible and the freshness and quality of the ingredients is evident with every bite. Grab a spot on the rooftop where you can get a bird’s eye view of the playground across the street.



After dinner, test your wits at The Vault, one of Seoul’s most unique entertainment facilities. Combining a spacious dining area, an eclectic cocktail menu and a number of “escape rooms,” the complex provides an experience unlike any other in Korea.

Here, groups of friends can attempt to make their way through a series of rooms, breaking codes and uncovering clues to complete tasks reminiscent of Mission Impossible, complete with lasers, alarms and secret passages in a certain amount of time.



The adrenaline brought on by the race against the clock will have you pumped up and ready to experience the musical side of the district. Indie fans will adore the folk and acoustic sets at Indie Talk, while those with an ear for something a bit louder should head to Club FF. Here, live hard rock and punk performances are held on the weekends, which are followed by a dance party.


If hip-hop is more your thing, grab a spot in line at YG-owned NB2, one of the hottest and most established clubs in Hongdae, and be prepared to dance until the sun comes up, that is, if you can handle being packed in like a sardine.

By now, the subway will have opened again, so head back to the station and get a good night’s (or morning’s) sleep. Consider seeking out haejangguk (hangover soup) for breakfast. You’ll probably need it.

More Information

To Get There: Take the Seoul subway to Hongik University Station (Line 2 & AREX Lines, Exit 9).

More Neighborhoods Like This: Sinchon; Edae; Gangnam Station

Nearby Neighborhoods: Hapjeong; Sangsu; Yeonnam-dong; Seodaemun

Map



Disclaimer: The above information was accurate at the time of publication. 

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching unless otherwise noted. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized. 


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December 4, 2016

How to Stretch Your Won and Save Money While Living in Seoul

A few years back, I quit my job as an English teacher and decided to study Korean full-time as a university student. At the time, I had forgotten what it was like to live without a steady income and it didn't take me long to realize that my habits of frivolous spending had to come to an end. For good.

You see, when you live in Seoul, especially if you're teaching English, it's easy to throw around money and not even realize you're spending it.  Between nights out bar hopping in Hongdae, dinners at upscale restaurants in Itaewon, daily morning coffee at Starbucks and shopping sprees on Garusu-gil, it's not difficult to blow half of one's salary in just a few weeks.

Of course, since most English teachers do not pay rent or car insurance or any other "grown up" bills that they would otherwise pay in their home countries, saving money isn't much of a challenge.

Still, for those looking to stretch their dollar- err, won- in one of the world's most expensive cities, there are some surprisingly easy ways to live more frugally. It's just a matter of knowing where to go and how to shop. Below, I've listed some of the ways that I've learned how to save money on food, clothing and entertainment while living in Seoul.


FOOD

It's common knowledge that Korean food is significantly cheaper than Western food in Seoul.  But what many don't know is how cheap Korean food can actually be.

While the average Korean restaurant will set you back about ₩5,000 ($4 USD) for a main dish and a few sides, university cafeterias offer very basic lunches that include rice, soup and veggies for as little as ₩1,800 ($1.50 USD). At Sogang University, you can "upgrade" to the professor's lunch that includes a buffet meal and dessert for just ₩2,000 more. The best part is that you don't have to be a student to take advantage of these cheap meals.  Just locate your nearest university and grab a spot in line to fill your belly for mere pennies.

When cafeteria food won't cut it, consider trying out your own cooking skills at home. Prepare a weekly menu ahead of time and stick to buying only the ingredients that you need. When you do go grocery shopping, consider buying seasonal produce from traditional markets instead of supermarkets or department stores. The prices are usually a fraction of the cost when you buy locally, and vendors will often give you freebies if you're a loyal customer. The fact that you're helping to preserve the country's market culture is an added bonus.

Photo: DiscoveringKorea.com
There is one exception, however.  Just before closing time (around 9-10 pm), supermarkets and bakeries will often have last-minute sales on perishable items that need to be sold before they spoil.  Keep in mind that these foods can be frozen or eaten as a late-night dinner or snack.

Also, the folks on the Expat Grocery Gurus group on Facebook are constantly posting great grocery deals they spot around the city, so keep an eye on that page, as well!

Health foods and vitamins are ridiculously overpriced in Seoul which can make eating healthy seem like an extra expense. iHerb is a godsend for those of us hoping to eat a bit cleaner. The America-based online shop features everything from chia seeds to snacks to vitamins and ships absolutely FREE to Korea when you make a purchase of $40.00 USD or more. One great (yet rather hidden) part of the site I recently discovered is the short-dated sale items, soon-to-be-expired products that sell for up to 70% off the original price!

CAFFEINE 

Although many people (including myself) require a daily intake of coffee, it can be ridiculously expensive to make visiting cafes part of your everyday routine. Coffee shops in Korea are far more expensive than those in most Western countries. Instant coffee, on the other hand, is dirt cheap and can be found just about anywhere in convenient little packets to throw in your bag or keep in your desk at work. Or, if you have a more refined palate, consider grinding your own beans. There will be an initial investment, of course, to buy the tools, but you'll save in the long run.

If going to a cafe is necessary, avoid bigger franchises and stick to take-out only or local cafes (that is, if you don't live in Gangnam). Almost all cafes offer some sort of stamp card system so be sure to pick up one of their cards and get it punched on each visit to earn free coffee. Many restaurants in Seoul offer similar programs to ensure repeat visits, so be sure to ask for one on your first visit. You won't be the only one; many Koreans have separate wallets for their stamp cards. 

CLOTHING

It's not easy resisting those shopping urges, especially when the seasons change and you want to stick to the trendy looks. Instead of dropping big bucks to get a new wardrobe, why not consider trading things you don't wear anymore with your friends? From time to time, there are bigger clothing swaps (like District Gal's) so keep your eye out on expat Facebook groups for events like these.

Sometimes, though, occasions arise that demand a new outfit or pair of shoes.  In these cases, I often head to the university neighborhoods, where cheap clothing stores can be found on just about every corner. Ehwa Women's University and Hongdae are two of the most popular areas for shopping for affordable, trendy wear. Shirts start at ₩5,000 ($4 USD) and shoes at ₩10,000 ($8 USD).


Dongdaemun Market is a bit pricier, but caters to a wider variety of ages and styles, rather than just focusing on trends for twenty-somethings. Here, shoppers can browse the multi-story buildings and haggle for bags, shoes and outfits for every occasion.

Another option for clothing shopping is the underground markets attached to subway stations. In addition to offering clothes at prices comparable to those in the university neighborhoods, these markets are very convenient and can even be explored en route to your destination. Don't miss the underground markets at Jonggak, Express Bus Terminal, and Gangnam stations.

A new way to keep your eyes out for sales is by finding your favorite brands like Uniqlo, H&M and Mixxo on "Plus Friend" on the Kakao Talk smart phone messenger. They will alert you to special promotions (think 50% off items or seasonal sales) and will sometimes even shoot you a valuable coupon.

PERSONAL ITEMS

For toiletries, the franchises Olive Young, LOHB's and Watson's are excellent places to find good deals. It's uncommon to not find some sort of sale on any given trip to these beauty and health shops. Although normal prices might be somewhat steep, 1+1 sales are the time to rack up on vitamins, shampoo, soap and deodorant.  It's smart to check these chain stores frequently for sales on your favorite products. These brands are also on Kakao's "Plus Friend" service.

The competition between Korean cosmetic shops is extremely competitive which is great for the consumer looking for a steal, as there are almost always promotional sales going on. Look for the shop girls shouting or for the numerous posters in the windows to find out what the daily deals are.  In addition, you can get free samples when you make purchases from these shops (or agree to take a look around).

For other random products like toilet paper, shampoo or laundry detergent, remember that bulk is better. GMarket Global is an English site that will deliver these items directly to your door, at a fraction of the price you'll find them at your local market.


Customers can sign up for free membership accounts at these cosmetic shops to accrue points with each purchase and to be notified via text message of membership days, when products are sold at up to 50% off their normal price. Shop employees in tourist areas like Itaewon and Myeongdong often speak some English and can assist you when applying for these free programs.

ENTERTAINMENT

Saving money doesn't have to mean sacrificing fun. In fact, it's important to get out, let your hair down, and meet new people from time to time.

If you're a film fanatic and a morning person, you can take advantage of matinée discounts, which are usually around ₩5,000 for the first-screening of the day, which is usually before 11 a.m. Some theaters offer additional promotions on certain days of the week.  CGV Cinecity in Cheongdam-dong hosts a "Lady's Time" from Monday to Friday in which women can purchase tickets for movies shown before 4pm for half of their original cost.

All can take advantage of the 50% discount at this venue on the company's brand day, which falls on the 11th of every month. Again, don't forget to rack up on those points. Also, if you have a mobile phone, your phone operator may offer you a membership card which will also get your discounts an entertainment facilities.


For those looking to watch live performances like Nanta, Miso, and Jump, Rush Ticket offers last minute discounts of up to 70% on performance tickets. The tickets can be purchased only on the day of the show. The tickets are available at KTO’s Tourist Information Center, where visitors can also get tourism-related information and additional discount coupons for products and services offered throughout the city.

Travelers will be happy to know that some provincial governments, such as Gangwon-do's, have shuttle programs that allow foreigners to travel around the country for as low as ₩5,000 ($4USD).

If you'd rather hit the nightlife districts, be sure to study up on (and memorize, if possible) Seoul's happy hour offers, mostly available in Itaewon. At all other times of the day, it's best to head back to those university neighborhoods. Sinchon and Hongdae are both great spots for a cheap night out, but Konkuk University (Geondae) is a lesser-known area packed with cheap pubs and bars and is definitely worth a visit. If you look around, you're likely to find bars selling draft beer for ₩3,000 ($2USD) and cocktails that start at ₩5,000.


Taking taxis can quickly turn a cheap night out into an expensive one, so consider taking the newly implemented late-night buses that include Hongdae, Jongro, Shinchon, and Dongdaemun on their routes.

Finally, there are plenty of things to do in Seoul that are absolutely free. Explore the hiking trails of nearby Dobongsan or Bukhansan. Wander the art galleries of Samcheongdong. Visit the city's free museums. Take a walk or shoot some hoops on the Han River. Find something that you like doing that won't drain your funds so that you can actually enjoy your time living in Seoul.

After all, saving money shouldn't feel like a chore. It should feel like a choice, and a rewarding one at that. Happy saving!


Do you agree with the suggestions above? How do you save money in Seoul?  Add your own advice in the comments section below.

Words by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.
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November 30, 2016

Seoul Bike: A New, Affordable Way to Get Around the City

Recently, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) launched a public bicycle-sharing system to promote bicycles as a practical means of daily transportation.

Named after the sound that a bike bell makes (따르릉 따르릉), the Ttareungi bicycle-sharing service has already proved to be a high-efficiency, low-cost success.

Seoul Bike rental stations are located throughout the city, making it easy and convenient for people to access and use the bikes, and there are many biking courses in and around Seoul to choose from and enjoy.

If you want to see historical and cultural heritage sites around Seoul, rent a bike from one of the rental stations near Changgyeonggung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Gyeongbokgung Palace, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Gwanghwamun (Sejong Center for the Performing Arts), or City Hall Station (Deoksugung Palace and Seoul Museum of Art).



Or if you would like to get a glimpse of the more vibrant and active neighborhoods of Seoul and enjoy some great food and shopping, grab a bike at stations near Myeongdong Cathedral or Euljiro 1-ga Station (Myeongdong), Sinchon Station or Yonsei-ro Myeongmul-gil (Sinchon), Hongik University Station, Sangsu Station, or Hapjeong Station (Hongdae).

For those looking to enjoy the wide open spaces of Seoul, such as the Hangang Parks, it would be a good idea to pick up a bike from the docking stations near Yeouinaru Station, Ttukseom Resort, Seoul Forest, World Cup Park or Yeouido Park.

Seoul Bikes can be rented by non-Korean tourists and residents alike.

The Seoul Bike website and terminals on the bikes provide instructions and information in English, Chinese and Japanese.



To rent a Seoul Bike, non-Koreans can register their mass transportation season pass (M-pass) or T-Money transportation card as a Seoul Bike membership card.

In addition, non-Koreans who are registered residents of Seoul can rent Seoul Bikes in the same way Seoul citizens do. Tourists, however, cannot complete the identity authentication step necessary to rent a bike in this way, requiring them to purchase a pass with a KRW 50,000 deposit in the form of a credit card hold. Once the bike is returned and the pass is expired, the credit card hold will be cancelled.

For more information about biking in Seoul, Seoul Cycle is a great resource. Check it out and happy cycling!

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November 29, 2016

Cheongdam-dong's Most Luxurious Cocktail Bars

Nicky Kim is a Korean-Brit freelance writer based in Seoul. In addition to having been featured in various publications and tbs eFM, Nicky shares her own observations about Korean culture on her blog Neon But More. Ranging from issues such tiger parenting to youth culture to diet trends, her posts are as diverse as the country itself. 

She’s also a fan of exploring the city she now calls home and after a recent girls’ night out, she is sharing some of her new favorite cocktail spots with Seoul Searching readers. Check out her guest post below.

Each district of Seoul has its own characteristic nightlife. Hongdae is young, creative, and lively; Itaewon is free and fun; and Gangnam is all about high-end class and style.

But even Gangnam’s neighborhoods were not created equal. Cheongdam-dong—the most expensive and extravagant of them all—is home to the hottest bars where celebrities, socialites and heirs to corporate titans come out to play. After all, its nickname is Asia’s Champ-Elysees.

Recently, my friend and I boozed at three of Cheongdam’s swankiest and most lustrous locations to see if it was all worth the hype.

Kuanxi (콴시): “Modern, Trendy, Chill” 

Right in the center of Cheongdam, Kuanxi sky lounge bar is a gorgeous hang out for Gangnam locals.

As it’s on the tenth floor, it was quite difficult to find. In fact, there are no signs at all, apart from a small valet parking tent near the entrance of the building marked "Kuanxi." It was cold and we had nearly lost hope, but eventually found our way thanks to our GPS and a helpful passerby.


Atmosphere 

As soon as you step in, this place screams luxury. The high ceiling and tall windows allow you to admire the Gangnam skyline, and the decor is very modern. The long bar in the center glows, while the comfy sofas and low tables around the windows are quite dimly lit. As I walked around, I realized that it’s surprisingly large with two floors.

Music 

Chill pop and electropop music played at a medium volume so you could talk easily, but it still had a fun energy. It seemed like a great place for parties.

Service 

All the staff were men dressed sharply in suits. They all seemed deliberately friendly and flirty, and would often come over to chat. They checked up on us often and seemed nice.

Drinks 

The Apple Mojito (Apple Bacardi, apple syrup, lime juice, mint; ₩20,000) seemed to be the most Instagrammed, so we gave it a shot and weren’t disappointed! It was delicious with a distinct sweet apple flavor, and perfect if you don’t like the bitter aftertaste of alcohol.

I’ve never tasted rose in alcoholic form, so I was surprised to try the Rosequartz (₩20,000)—rose vodka liqueur, rose syrup, grapefruit syrup, lime juice and peach liqueur, decorated with real pink rose petals! It was so delicious and genuinely tasted like the scent of a rose. It was served in an adorable mini martini glass and I recommend it to people who like sweet drinks. The ultimate girly and beautiful drink!

Twelve (트웰브): “Classic, Cosy, Romantic” 

Our second destination was also very difficult to find. Not only did we have to walk up a hill, but Twelve ended up being located on an empty street. Finally we found a door with a small golden ‘XII.’ I learned Roman numerals at school, but my friend had never seen them in her life, as they don’t teach Latin in Korea. I can imagine a lot of people would have a hard time finding this place.

The door leads to a flight of stairs and upon descending them, we found nothing. It was only when I approached the brown wall did it suddenly slide open. This place was so hard to find. We think it was done deliberately to keep it exclusive, but, boy oh boy, the trek is worth it!



Atmosphere 

The aesthetic at this bar is breathtaking! The wall slid open to reveal a cozy lounge bar with a wooden and golden interior, leather sofas and a crackling fireplace. It was like stepping into a speakeasy movie set. Every single piece of furniture and cutlery had been carefully picked to create a wonderful, classic theme.

Music 

The music ranged from vintage French to acoustic. Overall it was slow, relaxing and brooding. The music was also played at a very low volume, making Twelve a great place to chat without having to shout. Because it’s so laid back and quiet, Twelve would be a great location for a first date.

Service 

The staff wore smart black clothes and every party seemed to have their own bartender. They were very elegant and spoke in gently hushed tones. We chatted with a bilingual bartender who explained that the bar is called Twelve because there are twelve seats at the bar. When the seat is occupied, the Roman numeral above the seat lights up! She also told us that Twelve is a franchise with mini versions in Haebangchon and Gyeongridan.

Drinks

Before we tasted the Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur, absinthe soaked lime, rosemary, cinnamon; ₩21,000), we took a few minutes to admire its look and smell. It was served in an exotic metal pineapple with crushed ice and real cinnamon sticks.

The bartender lit the absinthe on the lime so for a split second the glass lit up with a blue flame. The initial flavor is very sweet and earthy. We thought we tasted chocolate, but learned it was actually the cinnamon and hazelnut. The aftertaste has a sour lime zing, so it was actually quite refreshing.

Here’s something that you need to know about me. My favorite spirit is gin, and I am a stereotypical tea-loving Brit with an Earl Grey tea obsession. When I had my first sip of the Earl Grey Sour (homemade 8 hour Earl Grey tea infused gin, whipped egg white, lemon juice, syrup; ₩22,000), I went nuts.

It had such a deep and authentic herby Earl Grey scent and flavor, while the egg white made it creamy and smooth. I learned that the owner studied the recipe in Hong Kong and brewed the gin himself. Both our drinks seemed to be perfect for the autumn season, and put me in a lovely, Christmassy mood.

Y1975: “Dramatic, Edgy, Glamourous” 

I saved the best for last! I heard that Y1975 is the biggest and most well-known lounge bar in Cheongdam, and I now understand why. As we left the quiet side of Cheongdam, we could hear the booming bass and revving of cars as we approached Y1975. This bar is by far the largest of the three, and has a glamorous exterior with white walls and neon lights.



Atmosphere 

As soon as the doors open, we were greeted by a massive blue tank with three baby sharks swimming around. Yes, real sharks! I had never seen baby sharks so close up, and it definitely made a good first impression.

There was so much for my eyes to take in. Above the bar, confetti whizzed around in glass boxes and there was a huge melted candle chandelier. Despite the extravagant decor, everyone seemed to be wearing casual clothes, so the atmosphere still felt quite laid back.

Music 

The music alone made Y1975 seem more like a club than a bar. Everything from pop and dance to house music was played at an ear-splitting volume. This place seemed to be a great spot to get our drink on and dance, but forget trying to make yourself heard. By the time we left, the floor was slightly vibrating because of the music. I have no idea how the sharks can bear this every day.

Service 

The bar staff were very busy. Service was fast and slightly impersonal. It’s definitely not a place to chat with the bartender. We tried to ask one of them what was in the drinks, but none of them seemed to have a moment to talk.

Drinks 

Can you go wrong with Sangria (₩20,000)?This fruity red wine is refreshing and stronger than it looks. It was the simplest drink we tried during the night, and not very spectacular.

The frozen Strawberry Pina Colada (₩20,000) was fresh and delicious, and tasted more like a smoothie than a cocktail. A huge, pink wisp of grape-flavoured cotton candy rested on the top of the globe glass. It was a fantastic novelty drink that grabbed everyone’s attention.


Whatever you’re looking to have a quiet evening with a date or a wild night out with the girls, Cheongdam has something for everyone. Just be ready to empty our your wallet.

Words and photos by Nicky Kim of Neon But More for Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.


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November 22, 2016

12 Things South Korea Does Faster

One of the first Korean words I learned after my arrival to the peninsula was bbali (빨리). Meaning "fast," it's a term used frequently and, in my opinion, perfectly summarizes the entire country in two syllables.

After all, the nation rose from the ashes of the Korean War in a mere six decades to become one of the world's greatest economies. In general, Koreans do a lot of things fast. Here's 10 of them, in no particular order.

Transportation

There are few places in the world that do public transportation as well as South Korea. Sure, the country may be geographically smaller than other nations but its efficiency in moving its 50 million inhabitants around every day is unsurpassed.

Seoul's subway system is particularly impressive, with hundreds of pristine stations connecting the entire metropolis. Even better, on most lines, passengers rarely have to wait more than a few minutes for trains. The KTX, or Korea Train Express, is even faster with a top speed of 305 km/hour (190 mph) and can take passengers from one side of the country to the other in a mere couple hours. With a system so great, it makes me wonder why anyone would ever want to drive on the consistently jammed streets of the nation.



Technological Advancement 

Seoul is ranked as the world’s “the city of the future” and the “tech capital of the world”—and for good reason. Over the past decade, the country has become a global leader in electronics, digital displays and mobile phones and is home to tech giants like Samsung and LG.

Korea’s remarkable—and super fast—technological advancement is immediately evident when visiting Seoul. Back when I first moved here in 2009 (before the smartphone era was in full swing) I was blown away by the sheer number of people who were using flip phones to video chat or watch TV. To this day, I’m just as impressed with how integrated technology is in everyday life—from IoT-enabled trash cans to virtual reality cafes to signboards that allow people to order groceries by snapping QR codes at bus stops on their phones.

Image: ReadWrite

Relationships

In a country where one's self-worth is heavily influenced by the presence of a significant other, being single is not something to be proud of. As such, blind dates, matchmaking and even specified bars where singles gather to seek out a significant other play an integral role in the dating scene. When two potential love birds meet, it doesn't take long to figure out where they stand with one another.

Soon after the successful first date, things really start to pick up. After 100 days, couples celebrate their long-term relationship success by visiting Seoul Tower, publishing a lot of selfies on social media and purchasing matching couple rings, shirts and underwear sets. Territory is marked and leashes are continuously shortened as each subsequent month passes.



Marriage

Marriage is another important institution in Korea and those that remain single well into their thirties are considered to be lost causes. Therefore, when one begins to approach his or her mid-thirties (though men can usually get away with being single longer), anxiety begins to settle in and numerous efforts are made to rope in the most eligible potential spouse.

So long as he or she makes a decent living, has a reputable-ish family and no criminal record (one of violent crimes, anyway), the wedding date is set. It is not uncommon for couples in their late thirties to be wed a few months after first meeting. Baby-making requires a bit of time, after all.

Weddings

Speaking of weddings, Korean matrimonial ceremonies, despite their importance, are wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am occasions. Families tend to put a lot of dough into over-the-top weddings, if only to show off their financial stability (or to fake it) to the hundreds of acquaintances, business partners and family members that show up for the short ceremony.

The process for the wedding guest is simple. Show up. Pay the customary cash as a gift to the newlyweds. When the ceremony starts, chat with the other guests around you and take your phone calls as needed. Eat the provided meal (which is sometimes served during the ceremony). Leave. Go to the next wedding. All within an hour or less.



Delivery

Korea's delivery system is a-maz-ing. There's no other word to describe it. Want McDonald's at 4 in the morning? Done, via motorcycle. Low on groceries? Order them on G-Market and have them packed neatly in boxes at your door the next day. Forgot to send your girlfriend her 100 day anniversary gift? Get it hand delivered in minutes. Delivery here is fast, efficient and something I just don't know if I'll ever be able to survive without. Seriously.... I'm lovin' it!



Wait Times

If you find yourself in a bank, government office or even a medical facility in Korea, you will note that there’s no such thing as dilly-dallying.


Customer service here is so incredibly systematic that you don’t have to wait or stand in a line for a long time. And, on top of that, people in these facilities are actually very polite, friendly and accommodating! Who woulda thought?!

Construction

Perhaps this started when the country needed to rebuild quickly after the war, but even today, buildings in Korea are constructed at record-breaking speeds. It's not strange to visit a neighborhood and see two or three new stand-alone shops or restaurants whose foundations did not even exist a week before. Unfortunately, the lack of safety precautions and use of cheap materials is most likely one of the reasons construction is so fast. Sadly, problems usually arise in new buildings as quickly as it takes to construct them.



Internet

Many acclaim Korea's crazy fast internet speeds (the fastest in the world, to be exact) to its huge online gaming industry. At 24.6 megabits (mbps) per second (whatever that means), Koreans can do just about anything online in half the time it takes Americans. And from just about anywhere, too- from the tops of mountains to the depths of the deepest darkest subway tunnels. Perhaps this is why Korea is also the world's second biggest consumer of porn, despite its illegality.

Getting Drunk

But Korea doesn't just consume porn. They're also the world’s biggest consumers of hard liquor, at 11.2 shots a week on average.

Drinking plays an important role in corporate culture and though things are changing, it's still the norm to hit the soju with co-workers after a long day of work. Koreans also tend to drink more to get drunk rather than to enjoy their beverages (which is understandable, considering Korean alcohol is usually less than enjoyable) so even before midnight tolls, streets are overflowing with red-faced, staggering men in suits and are dotted with piles of... Well, I'll just say that Korea knows how to do nightlife, for sure.



Aging 

Koreans, in general, may age slower than the rest of us, perhaps thanks to their ridiculously developed skincare routines or high cosmetic surgery rate. But the country itself isn’t so lucky.

Koreans' average life expectancy is predicted to hit 83.5 years in 2050 thanks to better health and nutrition as a result of increased income. Meanwhile, more women are entering the workforce than ever before (and thus putting off marriage and are having less babies) while cultural and societal values are shifting to be less traditional. In 2050, people over 65 will make up 38.2 percent of South Korea’s population—the greatest proportion of elderly people in the world.

Trends

When a nation is used to getting things done quickly, it doesn't take much for them to get impatient. Such is the case with trends. Food, music, beauty and fashion trends go as quickly as they come. Such a constant change in people's preferences makes it hard to operate a business, be successful as a musician or even get a cosmetic operation in looks-obsessed Korea (in fact, some are saying reverse plastic surgery is the new thing.)

Strangely enough, some of the latest and most popular trends revolve around reviving the slow pace of the Korea of the past. Slow food. Slow cities. Trips to organic farms, urban beekeeping and weekends glamping in the countryside. All the craze right now. It makes one wonder if these trends will stick around for a while, bringing the younger generations to favor a slower Korea, or if the now-bbali nation will continue to be one of haste.

What else does Korea do fast? Leave your comments in the box below.



Words by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.
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November 17, 2016

Korea's Best Grocery Delivery Websites

Seoul is, without a doubt, one of the most convenient places to live in the world. It's a 24 hour city, with businesses remaining open until the wee hours of the morning. It boasts an incredibly efficient and affordable transportation system.  And you can get just about anything delivered to your house. Including groceries. Which is particularly handy when you live in the hilltops of Gyeongnidan like myself.

Below is a list of helpful websites to use when you don't feel like hauling around heavy bags of veggies or fighting ajumma in chaotic supermarkets.

iHerb.com

Although I live in Itaewon and have easy access to a number of international markets, I prefer shopping on iHerb.com for the price, selection of food and quick delivery. iHerb.com is based in America and prides itself on having the best overall value for natural products in the world.

You can find just about anything on iHerb, from user-reviewed breakfast foods and baking items to vitamins and toiletries. One of my favorite brands to order is Bob's Red Mill; I'm particularly fond of their gluten-free bread mixes, steel-cut oats, and soups. I'm obsessed with their hearty Vegi Soup Mix for $5.37 USD which sells at Itaewon High Street Market for the equivalent of $10.69. And I won't even get started on the mark-up of vitamins in Korea.

Surprisingly, the shipping is crazy cheap- a flat rate of $4.00 USD for up to 15 pounds. Shipping takes about a week and despite the more complicated customs process as of late, all you need to complete your order is an ARC number (either yours or a co-signer's).

First-time users can use the code STJ541 to save up to $10.00 USD on one's first purchase. Be warned, however, that once you start using iHerb.com, you WILL become addicted.



France Gourmet

France Gourmet specializes in the handmade production of traditional French delicatessen and butchery. Salami, fresh sausages, ham, rillettes and beef tenderloin roast are produced by French butchers in a workshop near Seoul.

Particular care is given to raw products—only fresh Korean meat and natural casing are used for producing the company’s specialities. The company's aim is to make high quality, authentic products, as close as possible to original recipes. France Gourmet delivers throughout Korea and also supplies prestigious hotels, restaurants and well-known wine and craft beer bars.

You can find all these meat and cheese delicacies at France Gourmet's online store.



Gachi CSA

Korean farms use 15 times more pesticides than those in the United States. Scary, I know. Fortunately, for the health-conscious, there's a farm-to-table initiative quickly gaining popularity in Seoul.

Gachi CSA is a food delivery system that provides residents in Korea with trustworthy, local, organic produce directly from local farms straight to your doorstep.

Gachi offers a base basket of local, seasonal fruit and vegetables in two portions: one for couples, the other for families. The Couples' Basket contains 8-10 different items and is priced at ₩27,000 per week, whereas the Family Basket contains 10-12 different items and is priced at ₩35,000. These two baskets both have a time-frame option of month share, half share and full share (1 month, 3 months and 6 months respectively). For an additional fee, add-on options such as snacks, juice, bread and meat can be added.

Gachi posts recipes using ingredients of their weekly boxes on their Facebook page and those interested can register for the service at their website.



High Street Market

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of High Street's prices are a rip-off, but for those items that can't be purchased on iHerb- i.e. perishables- their website comes in handy.

High Street has a great selection of meats, including harder to find options such as pastrami and chorizo. Additionally, High Street offers whole cooked turkeys and hams, which is particularly convenient if you're hosting a holiday party. (Just remember to order a couple weeks in advance.) They also have a good, albeit expensive, variety of cheese, which is nice for those living outside the city with a lack of access to the unprocessed stuff.

The delivery fee for orders under ₩120,000 is ₩3,000- not a bad price, considering they ship all over Korea, including Jeju Island. Check out High Street's online store here.



Waeg Farm

Located in Gyeongju, Waeg Farm is home to seven goats and former university teacher Doug Huffer, who has made goat cheese available for purchase on the internet in an otherwise goat cheese-less country.  Each 200 gram container of goat cheese costs ₩10,000 and shipping is ₩4,000, or free if you order 4 or more containers. Additionally, Waeg Farm sells their own farm-grown veggies, so inquire as to which are available.

Visit the Waeg Farm website or Facebook page for more information and photos of their oh-so-adorable goats.


Gmarket

Another godsend is the global Gmarket website. This is one I use almost on a weekly basis for literally just about everything. 

It’s my go-to when ordering household items like toilet paper and laundry detergent in bulk, as I can get them for a fraction of the cost of what I would pay at my neighborhood markets and the delivery is usually free and super fast. 

They also have a huge selection of food items, from produce to Korean beef to rice, while some items are more affordable than others. 

Once you register an ID, the website is almost entirely in English and incredibly easy to navigate.




Alien's Day Out Bake Shop

Vegans with a sweet tooth will be happy to learn about Alien's Day Out Bake Shop. Opened by Mipa, food blogger and owner of PLANT Cafe in Itaewon, the online store offers tasty cookies, muffins and cakes at prices comparable to other bakeries around the city, but are made using organic, unrefined cane sugar and organic soy milk.

Some of Mipa's especially yummy goodies include pumpkin cranberry oatmeal cookies (₩7,000 for 6 cookies) and banana chocolate nut muffins (₩9,000 for 4 muffins). She also has a nice variety of cakes on sale that start at ₩30,000 and should be ordered a week in advance.

Alien's Day Out Bake Shop ships all around Korea for ₩4,000/order and delivery takes a few days. Visit the website to place your order or visit PLANT's Facebook page for more of Mipa's treats.



ExpatMart

For those looking for authentic Indian groceries, spices and sauces, ExpatMart is the place to shop. While the website offers a variety of curries, flours and varieties of rice, it also sells fresh items. Hard-to-find produce like cilantro and okra can also be purchased on ExpatMart, which is perfect for those hoping to whip up some Mexican or Southeast Asian cuisine. Additionally, halal meats are available, making this website a go-to for Muslim residents in Korea.

For orders over 70,000 won under 22kgs, shipping is free. A ₩4,000 shipping fee is charged for orders under ₩70,000. Browse the Expat Mart website here.



Happy shopping!

Words by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.


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November 16, 2016

Take A Walk Through 600 Years of Seoul’s History

The following post is a press release submitted by the Seoul Metropolitan Govenment and Herald Corp.

Seoul is emerging as a great city for tourists interested in taking walking tours. Seoul’s back alleys and forest trails, which had previously been neglected and shabby, have started to become tourism hotspots, attracting domestic and international visitors alike. As a result, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) is actively making efforts to turn Seoul into a more walkable city.



Jeong-dong, in particular, is home to numerous cultural heritage sites from Korea’s modern history, having been transformed into a diplomat district starting with the establishment of a U.S. legation there. Churches, along with educational and medical institutions were also built in the area. After the black asphalt of Jeongdong-gil, once a popular dating spot for young people in the 1970s, was covered, the street became increasingly popular as a pedestrian-friendly space.

Insa-dong, the most famous neighborhood of traditional culture in Korea, was designated as the country’s first “cultural district” and has been attracting large numbers of foreign tourists ever since.

Meanwhile, Seochon, full of streets and alleys that have been well preserved since the Joseon dynasty, was once home to artists and Jungin (middle class, consisting of government-employed technical specialists). Most buildings and spaces have been carefully maintained in Seochon, allowing you to see traces of the area’s 500 years of history throughout its streets and alleys.



Walking Tour Routes in Seoul

SMG has developed five walking tour routes, extending 25.4 kilometers in total, specifically to highlight the history and culture of Seoul.

Currently, the city offers various themed and historical walking tour routes, such as Seoul Dulle-gil (157 kilometers), which encircles Seoul, and Hanyang Doseong-gil (18.6 kilometers), which follows the old Seoul City Wall. Others are seasonal walking tour routes, such as Seoul Bomkkot-gil (Spring Flower Street) and Seoul Danpung-gil (Fall Foliage Street). Seoul plans to establish the five new walking tour routes as representative pedestrian-friendly streets under the city brand “Walking City, Seoul.”



These walking tour routes will be marked with the “Seoul Blue” color, making them more recognizable. By using this color, the city hopes to establish brand consistency while clearly distinguishing the pedestrian paths in the heart of the city, as Seoul Blue has not yet been used on the city's roads or sidewalks.

The paths will be marked with Seoul’s city brand logo at the starting and ending points, as well as at 100-meter intervals and the "Storytelling Sites," or feature attractions.

A Walking Tour for Everyone

SMG will provide information on the walking tour routes in English, Chinese, and Japanese (text and audio) via the official Seoul travel guide website and I Tour Seoul, a mobile application for international tourists.

In addition, major "Storytelling Sites" will be marked with QR codes, which when scanned will link users directly to the relevant websites or mobile apps.

So, if you plan to visit Seoul, be sure to schedule a walking tour into your itinerary. Walking step-by-step through the most important chapters of  Seoul's story will most certainly be an unforgettable experience.

Also, be sure to check out Seoul Searching's FREE "Seoul Walks" walking guides that take you through my own personal favorite spots of the city's best neighborhoods.

Words submitted by Herald Corp. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized. 

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