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January 14, 2018

Wishing Trees and Rice Chests: Suwon's Hwaseong Haenggung

Once a resting shelter and vacation destination for kings, the grounds of Hwaseong Haenggung in Suwon, South Korea are now a site where locals and tourists can learn about Korean royal history and culture. Despite recent renovations, every inch of the palace has a story to tell. So much so, in fact, that when I visited, I could almost sense the spirits of Korea’s dynastic leaders luring me back in time for a glimpse into the country’s captivating past.

One of the first things I noticed about Hwaseong Haenggung was that it was quite small compared to other royal structures I have visited throughout Asia.  I soon learned, however, that what the palace lacks in size, it makes up for in grandeur.

Unlike the palaces of Seoul, each room of the complex is decorated in the style of the period in which it was first constructed.  Pots and pans hang on the walls of the kitchen and a desk topped with hanji, Korean paper, and writing supplies sit in the corner of a study.

There is even an appetizing spread of royal cuisine, commemorating the historical 60th birthday celebration King Jeongjo held for his mother. Had the food not been plastic, I may have been tempted to steal a few bites.

The props and furnishings, which include mannequins dressed in traditional garb, bring the palace to life and allow visitors to experience what the Joseon Dynasty was like in all its splendor in the early 1800s... even during its darker days.

Hwaseong Haenggung was built by King Jeongjo to restore the honor of his father, Crown Prince Sado. The Crown Prince, who suffered from extreme mental illness, was killed by his father who declared him unfit to be king. Sado met an unfortunate fate of being sealed alive in a wooden rice box until he died of starvation. This tragic but enthralling story is memorialized at the palace today in the form of replica rice chests that can be crawled into by undaunted tourists.

Inspired by Jeongjo’s filial piety, I passed on the rice boxes and headed over to the palace’s wishing tree in hopes of securing my own parents’ happiness for the future. Legend has it that the 600-year-old tree has protected the city of Suwon even before its fortress gate was constructed. Nowadays, people tie their written wishes on the tree in hopes that its magical powers grant their desires.

A group of giddy high school girls giggled as they scribbled down their wishes and I wondered what they might be. Good scores on their exams? A trip across the world? A date with a member of a Super Junior? I would never know, but I smiled, thinking that girls of the same age most likely had very similar wishes during the Joseon Dynasty; I suspect, however, cute noblemen were the heartthrobs of dynastic times.

After wandering the palace grounds, the midday heat became too much to handle. I found my way to the rear of the complex and walked uphill into a verdant wooded area. Seeking refuge from the sun, I continued on past lookout posts and through bushes of magenta azaleas in full bloom to a colorful gazebo that offered a striking view of Suwon.

Although the tiled roofs of Hwaseong Haenggung reflected the city’s royal history, the skyline of buildings and billboards brought me back to modern day. I left Hwaseong Haenggung believing that time travel is possible after all, if only for an afternoon.

More Information:  Hwaseong Haenggung 

Address: 825 Jeongjo-ro, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea 경기도 수원시 팔달구 정조로 825 (남창동)

Hours: 9:00am to 6:00pm from March to October and 9:00am to 5:00pm from November through February.

Admission: Adults 1,500 won / Youth 1,000 won / Children 700 won.

Website: Click Here 

Get There:  Take the Seoul subway to Suwon Station (Line 1, Exit 6).  Cross the road, turn right, and walk 100 meters to the Yeokjeon Market bus stop.  Take bus 7, 7-2, or 32-1 and get off at Hwaseong Haenggung.  OR... From Gangnam Station (Seoul subway line 2), take bus number 3000 and get off at Buksu-dong Station.  The first bus leaves at 6:00 am and runs every 20 minutes. 


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

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January 8, 2018

Music, Melodies, and Metal at Jazz Story

One of my favorite things about Seoul is that it is chock full of hidden gems, unsuspecting and obscure, that offer those that are lucky enough to discover them a real treat. Restaurants, cafes, galleries and bars are easy to find in Korea's capital city, but it's the ones tucked into back alleys and inconspicuous buildings that allure me the most, making me feel as if I've been let in on a secret when I find them.  

One such gem is Jazz Story, a music bar located in the theater district of Hyehwa in northern Seoul.  It's easy to miss this rustic establishment, as its exterior is nothing more than some patchwork of sheet metal and an unwelcoming wooden deck on a quiet street near Marronnier Park. Once inside, however, patrons become immediately hypnotized.

The interior of Jazz Story is a feast for the eyes.

The first thing one notices upon entry is the bar's eclectic decor. Shrouded in metal work, it seems as if an extraordinarily creative blacksmith went wild with the interior of Jazz Story. Metal molds of scissors and knives cover the walls. Wires stretch out the overhead loft and wind upward, as if they're dancing in mid-air. A metal chandelier hangs from the ceiling next to a hand-crafted airplane, threatening to fall at any moment. Yet, for as industrial as the metal intends the bar to be, velvet-covered chairs, shelves of vinyl records and clusters of candles create a cozy, romantic atmosphere.

Airplane seats on the second floor.

When the decor-induced trance wears off, visitors can enjoy the live music performed by Jazz Story's house band every night of the week beginning at 8:30 (or 8 on Sundays). Although one might expect jazz music in a jazz bar, the set list consists of everything from Abba to Marvin Gaye to Maroon 5. Despite the varied range of tunes, the band makes the lineup work, adding their own flair to each song. The vocalists are especially impressive with voices that are intoxicating as the liquor on the bar's menu, which is a good thing because drinks are quite pricey.

In addition to paying a 5,000 won cover, customers are required to order drinks at Jazz Story. Domestic beer begins at 7,000 won per bottle, cocktails at 9,000 and bottles of wine at 50,000. The prices are relatively higher than your average Hyehwa bar, but the atmosphere makes the extra few thousand won worth it.

A food menu is also available, featuring standard Korean fare such as Fried Kimchi Rice (15,000) and a fruit plate (25,000). (For a complete drink and food menu, click here.)

Jazz Story provides an English menu, which can be doddled and written in by patrons. 

Hyehwa itself is off the radar to most expats and visitors, as its days of being the nightlife hot-spot of Seoul have come and gone. But, for locals and those in the know, it is a neighborhood well worth exploring and Jazz Story is definitely a must-visit when in the area. 

More Information  

Hours: Open daily from 5PM until 2AM. 

Website: Click Here 

Address: DongSoong-dong 1-138, Jongro-Gu

Phone: +82-2-725-6537

Get There: Take the Seoul subway station to Hyehwa Station (Line 4).  From exit 2, walk about 70 feet and take a left onto the main walkway. Walk straight for 3-5 minutes, passing the GS25 convenience store. Take a right at Cafe Marion and walk straight for 100 feet.  Jazz Story will be on your right (map).

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized. 
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January 4, 2018

The Blood Type Hype in South Korea

Spend enough time in Korea and you will get asked the inevitable question: What's your blood type?

When I was first asked about my blood type, I wasn't able to answer. In fact, I've observed most of my North American and European friends are uncertain of their blood type. Is it important to know? Sure. But outside of medical-related situations, blood type is not really something that most people from western countries are concerned about.

In East Asian countries like Korea and Japan, however, one's blood type is discussed as often as one's zodiac sign or personality type.

That's because many believe there are a number of characteristics that are shared by each blood type that outline one's personality, romantic compatibility and even one's health status.

Type As are thought to be considerate beings and are often caring of others. They are also said to be sensible and patient. Despite these positive traits, they have many faults, too. These include being stubborn, fastidious and uptight. Even in the West, we might associate these traits with a type A personality, which is usually correlated with a higher risk for diseases like coronary heart disease.

Type O people are independent, ambitious, confident and natural born leaders. They are, on the downside, vain and jealous. As a type O, I consider myself to have a few of these traits. Famous Os include Elvis and John Lennon. I guess I'm in good company.

Type AB is said to be cool, controlled, and rational, often sociable and popular, but aloof and indecisive. Both Marilyn Monroe and JFK are famous ABs, or so says the interwebs.

Finally, the most famous of the blood types in Korea is type B: the passionate, unpredictable individualist. These types are charismatic but are careless and overly selfish. It's no surprise that the type B guy is feared by women, as he's often labeled a playboy. (Would you believe Paul McCartney, Leonardo DiCaprio AND Jack Nicholson are ALL Bs!?) There was even a movie made based on this theory named "B형 남자친구" ("My Boyfriend is Type B") about a type A introverted girl interested in a type B bad boy.


Blood types have become more ingrained in Asian pop culture, as evidenced by t-shirts, key chains, mugs and other nick-knacks sold in various stationary shops and novelty stores. From blood type diets to workplace order in Japan, the fascination with blood type can be seen in just about every realm of daily life.

Therefore, inquiring about one's blood type is not rude, but rather just the equivalent of the Western "What's your sign?"

The type hype, however, is not limited to stationary shops and diets in Korea. K-pop, too, has been infiltrated by the culture. Boyband B1A4, for example, was named by tabulating each member's respective type. Moreover, celebrities' biographies are not complete until their blood type has been made known to the public.

Image: Fangirls went crazy when idol group Boyfriend's blood types were released to the public by their entertainment company.
I can't be certain, but I wouldn't be surprised if blood type is also mentioned in personal ads, too, as there are even guidelines stating which blood types are most compatible. Good news for type AB: you are compatible with everyone! For the rest of us, well, I guess we'll have to find out via trial and error, all the while keeping a keen eye out for those unpredictable Bs.

Image: Dom & Hyo

What's your type? Do you believe the traits mentioned above match your type?

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

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January 3, 2018

Dae-oh Book Store 33 Cafe: A Place of History, Culture and Family

When I first moved to Korea, I spent every minute of my free time getting lost in the neighborhoods of Seoul. Wandering the unknown became a hobby and through it, I was able to learn a lot about my new home and discover many a hidden gem, whether it be a cafe, an interesting sculpture or a peaceful green space to sit and rest for a while.

As time went on and I grew accustomed to my new city, the neighborhoods lost a bit of their magic and I became slightly jaded. Over the past few weeks, however, I began to miss those afternoons spent in solitude and discovery and decided to get back to exploring the streets of the city. The historic district of Seochon was first on my list. I had no expectations, which is probably why I was so delighted to have stumbled upon Dae-oh Book Store 33 Cafe.

Although Dae-oh is certainly no secret, it's obscure location keeps it off the radar of tourists and residents alike. Opened in 1951, it is the oldest second-hand bookstore in the entire city and its worn signboard and rickety yet charming facade validate this fact. After the owner passed away, his wife, Kwon Oh-nam, decided to keep the bookstore open for business against the wishes of her family, as it was all she had left of her dear husband.

The years passed and as customers began shopping at larger book franchises and on the Internet, the business suffered financially. There were times when Mrs. Kwon could only make a few sales a month. Still, dedicated to her husband and intent on maintaining Dae-oh Book Store for the sake of history and culture, she was able to keep it running. In 2013, she and her family decided to transform the store into a cafe. One member of her family that has been particularly active in keeping the business' legacy alive is Jang Jai-hun, her twenty-year-old grandson.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jai-hun on my visit to the shop and he was eager to tell me more about the bookstore, the cafe and the hundred-year-old hanok (traditional Korean house) in which the two are housed. Jai-hun told me that at times, there were up to nine family members residing in the small home at once. Despite the years that have passed, the house has remained relatively the same, and the furniture, decor and knick-knacks used in the cafe are the family's actual belongings.

I ordered a watermelon juice - the cafe's signature beverage - and it was served on a wooden tray with a map and the story of the home, along with a dalgona lollipop, old-fashioned Korean candy made from burned sugar. I took a seat at a small desk overlooking the home's courtyard.

Looking around, I felt like I had traveled back in time to the years of the Korean War. Hanji (Korean paper) dolls, an antique wardrobe, wooden sticks once used for ironing and black and white photos all contributed to the homey and nostalgic atmosphere.

The courtyard was just as quaint, with its old water pump, kimchi pots and chili pepper plants. Visitors can also peek into the kitchen and spot old appliances and vintage records. Attached to the courtyard are the remains of the bookstore, a small room which contains hundreds of fading comic books, text books, story books and magazines.

I noticed that there were a number of posters hung throughout the hanok indicating that Dae-oh Bookstore was a filming location for the Korean drama Shark as well as the backdrop for fashion shoots featuring modern hanbok (traditional dress). The photographs are a testament to Dae-oh's importance to the community, even today, as a landmark of the historic Seochon Village.

Jai-hun also told me that he hopes Dae-oh Book Store 33 Cafe can be a space where culture and art thrive, like many of the galleries that surround it. From time to time, there are concerts held in the courtyard and photographs and paintings by local artists hung on the walls.

Whatever the future of Dae-oh Book Store 33 Cafe may be, one thing is for certain: it will always be cherished as a landmark of history, tradition and family.

More Information

Address: 33 Nuha-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul

Phone: 010-9219-1349

Hours of Operation: Tues.- Sun. 11am-10pm

Website: Click here to visit the cafe's Facebook page.

To Get There: From Gyeongbokgung Station (Seoul Subway, Line 3, Exit 2), walk straight for about 400 meters. Turn left onto Jahamun-ro 9-gil after reaching Broccoli Accessory. (If you reach Tongin Market, you've gone too far.) Walk 100 meters and take the second right onto Jahamun-ro 7-gil. Dae-oh will be on your left. For a map, click here.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article was accurate at the time of publishing (August 2014.)

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

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December 28, 2017

Spin Kicks, Spirituality, and a Sunrise: Templestay at Golgusa Temple

It's never a bad idea to start out a new year with a few extra good karma points... you never know when you'll need them. So, instead of spending New Year's Eve drinking too much in a crowded bar and waking up to feelings of pain and regret, I decided to ring it in at Golgulsa, a Buddhist temple located just outside Gyeongju, South Korea.

Templestays have been gaining popularity among tourists and usually involve a short-term stay in one of the 900 traditional Buddhist temples in Korea.  Participants follow a rather strict schedule to experience a day (or two or three) in the life of the monks that reside there.  A templestay was something that had been on my bucket list for a while, so when I found a special New Year's program on the official Templestay website, I knew I had to sign up.

It was about a five hour trek from Seoul to Golgulsa Temple that required two bus trips, a bit of waiting around, and a short walk to the temple grounds from the final bus stop. 

Once I had arrived, I was given a brief introduction to the program, a map of the complex, and special clothes that I was to wear during my stay. I was then directed to my room where I would be spending the night with about fifteen other women.

The room was a rather large common area with pillows and blankets spread out on the floor for sleeping. There was a bathroom with a toilet, a few open showers, and sinks that were to be shared.  I've become use to this arrangement after living in Korea for a few years but wondered how other Westerners not used to copious amounts of nakedness would handle the situation.

After dinner, my fellow templestayers (there were about 40 of us altogether) as well as some youth camps gathered in the Sunmudo Discipline Center for orientation. We were taught how to breathe, how to concentrate, and how to sit properly when meditating. The great thing about Golgulsa is that the majority of the employees and monks are able to communicate in English, which made things a lot easier for us foreigners unfamiliar with the ways of Buddhism. After a brief introduction, we began evening chanting.

Monks led us in chants, which required a lot of systematic bowing (watch here). We had been given books beforehand with the words of the chants as well as their English translations but I eventually gave up and just enjoyed the rhythmic and hypnotizing sound of the monks' voices, which eventually readied me for Seon (Zen) meditation, which was next on the itinerary.

Preparing for Sunmudo training.

Before arriving, I had wondered how I would fare while meditating. I've never been good at clearing my mind and sitting still. I had done an afternoon program at Bongeunsa Temple in Gangnam before and found myself moving around every few minutes, peeking through semi-closed eyes to see what everyone else was doing. So, I was quite surprised when a half hour or so had passed and I was relaxed and still in the same position I had started in.

I'm not sure if it was the spiritual setting or my commitment to starting the new year off with a clear, positive mind, but I have to admit that I was proud of myself for maintaining my concentration. 

The real fun started when our Sunmudo training began. Sunmudo is a type of Zen martial arts that was once common throughout dynastic Korea when monks often fought as soldiers against invading foreign powers. When Japan colonized Korea, Sunmudo was neglected but was later revived in the 70s. Still, it is not commonly practiced so being able to experience it at Golgulsa, the headquarters of it all, is really something special. 

One of the monks gives a Sunmudo demonstration.

We learned that the foundation of Sunmudo is the way in which one inhales and exhales so a lot of our training revolved around exercises to control our breathing. We did a lot of intense stretching and held our bodies in a variety of positions, not unlike those in yoga.

Eventually, we worked our way up to punching, kicking, then jump kicking. By the end of it all, my metaphorical butt had been kicked and I had stripped down to everything but my undershirt and temple clothes, but felt amazing. There is not a lot of exercise that I actually enjoy or get anything out of; this was one of the few "workouts" I've done that I loved.

Although monks usually end their evenings with a set of 108 bows, they would be doing 1,080 while we were there since it was New Year's Eve. I had every intention of participating. Before the training, that is. I decided to opt out of it and go to sleep, as we were required to wake up at 4am. I found out the next day that most of the monks peaced out after 108 bows so I felt a little bit better for not attempting the feat myself.

My efforts to get to bed early failed when the room full of teenage girls next to us stayed up laughing and screaming. Unfortunately, I ended up only getting about 30 minutes of sleep before arising at 4 to the sound of the monks' wood clanking around the temple grounds. Buddhist wake up call, I guess.

We started our day with another round of chanting then headed to the dining hall for a bowl of tteokguk (rice cake soup), the meal Koreans traditionally eat on New Year's Day. 

Tteokguk, or rice cake soup, is pretty much an obligatory meal on New Year's Day in Korea.

We then took a bus to Kampo Beach for another Korean tradition: watching the first sunrise of the new year. When we arrived, daylight had already made an appearance. Steam rose up from the ocean into the frigid coastal air as deep pinks and creamsicle oranges mixed together in the sky above.

Many families had already gathered around makeshift bonfires, sipping on canteens of coffee and tea. They invited us to join in, which we did while we waited for the sun to rise. Just before it did, we gathered together for some Sunmudo exercises as the monks chanted.

As we went through the fluid movements, the sun began to rise over the horizon in the form of a dripping red fireball. It took its place in the sky while we all stood in awe of the incredible scene in front of us. All of it was extremely cool (except for the weather, which was freezing). Very few times in my life have I been a part of such a beautiful spiritual experience than on this day.

Just before the sun rose, we did some Sunmudo moves while the monks led us in prayer.

After a nap back at the temple, I wandered around the complex with some folks I had met the night before and checked out some of the oldest Buddhist ruins in Korea as well as the only cave temple in the country located next to a giant Buddha carved into a mountain. 

We were treated to a very impressive demonstration of Sunmudo by monks who have been practicing the martial art for over a decade.  At one point, I forgot they were monks as some of the moves were contortionist-like.

Before departing, we ate a lunch of temple food (strictly vegetarian), not wasting a single bite of it, as required by all Buddhist temples. I was secretly grateful that the community service aspect of the templestay program was not required of us, thanks to it being New Year's Day.

At this point, my entire body was aching from the previous night's workout and I can say now that I'm quite confident that I am not cut out to be a monk. But, I'm okay with this, as a day in the life of one was enough.

My templestay at Golgulsa wasn't exactly the peaceful getaway I had expected, but it was a unique experience for the books. And I picked up at least 20 or so karma points to start off the new year in good graces.

Information: The templestay program at Golgulsa Temple is 60,000 won/night (cash only, payable at check-in) per adult and includes accommodation, three meals, and all activities.  To get there, follow the detailed directions listed on this page.

You can reserve a templestay for this temple and others throughout the country at the official Templestay website.

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

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December 26, 2017

6 Ways to Ring in the New Year, Korean Style

New Year’s Eve in Korea is action packed. Hotels host swanky soirées, restaurants lure in hungry diners with holiday specials, and the masses gather in the streets, unmoved by subzero temperatures, eager to share a final shot of soju with one another before the clock strikes midnight.

But, contrary to what many think, there is a number of alternative options for those looking to celebrate the holiday outside the country’s overcrowded restaurants and bars. So, don your party hat (and coat), and check out these alternative destinations for a truly memorable New Year celebration.

Ring My Bell

During the Joseon dynasty, the Bosingak Belfry near Jonggak Station was rung to notify Seoul citizens of the opening and closing of the city gates. These days, it often goes unnoticed by tourists and passersby throughout the year. Until December 31st, that is, when it is the focus of the capital’s New Year festivities.

Thousands gather in the city center to witness the annual tradition of the ringing of the bell. The Bosingak Belfry is rung a total of 33 times by the mayor at midnight and is followed by an entertaining fireworks display. Of course, you could always watch the televised ceremony at home, but it’s worth risking hypothermia to join in on such a celebrated tradition.

Karma Chameleon

If 2017 didn’t exactly meet your expectations, why not ensure a better year for yourself with a few extra karma points? Skip the bars and head to Golgulsa Temple in Gyeongju to participate in the temple’s annual New Year’s templestay program.

As the country’s headquarters of Sunmudo, a traditional Korean martial art, you’ll have the chance to learn some impressive spin kicks while picking up meditation techniques at the same time. At midnight, test your endurance with the resident monks by attempting the customary 1,080 bows for the New Year.

 Afterwards, be treated to a hot bowl of tteokguk (rice cake soup), the traditional Korean New Year breakfast, and a trip to nearby Kampo Beach for a final Sunmudo exercise. By the end of your stay, you’ll have a clear mind and will be ready to kick 2018’s metaphorical butt. Call 054-775-1689 for more information.

Dinner and a Movie

For those that prefer a quiet, intimate evening with a significant other, Ciné de Chef is the perfect New Year's Eve outing. This unique experience brings the concept of dinner and a movie to an entirely new level.

Diners have the option of ordering à la carte or choosing from the restaurant’s set menu that includes both Korean and Western gourmet dishes prepared by skilled chefs. After dinner, guests are led into the CGV Ciné de Chef theater that consists of high tech screens, an 11.1 surround sound system, and plush leather chairs, valued at 8 million won a piece. With locations in Seoul and Busan, this special experience is as convenient as it is indulgent. Click here for more information.

Hotel Party

Hitting the town with your friends on New Year’s Eve is fun but usually involves getting lost in crowds, waiting in long lines, and shouting over obnoxiously loud music. This holiday, avoid the headache by booking a motel suite and throwing your own party.

Seoul has a great selection of “boutique motels” with options that are both reasonable and impressive. Nox Hotel’s L’eau Claire suite boasts a pool, sauna and an elegant bar and goes for about one million won per night, a reasonable price for a night of luxury in the heart of Gangnam. Visit noxhotel.com to make a reservation.

Fireworks at New Heights

To mark the first day of 2018, South Korean conglomerate Lotte will hold a countdown and fireworks event at the 123-story Lotte World Tower, which just so happens to be the fifth tallest building in the world.

The fireworks will last for 555 seconds to represent the 555 meters that make up the skyscraper. The extravaganza is expected to attract approximately 100,000 viewers and will employ 1,500 guards and voluntary workers to maintain safety. The show will begin at 8:30 pm on December 31, but it's recommended that you arrive early for a good view.

Image: The Sun

Catch the Sunrise

For a quintessentially Korean experience, join throngs of families and couples on your favorite mountain, beach or island to watch the first sunrise of the New Year.

For a festive environment, check out the Samcheok Sunrise Festival on the east coast or head south to Busan for the city’s New Year Festival, both of which start at sunrise on New Year’s Day and promise spectators a trifecta of fireworks, good music and delicious regional cuisine.

If you don’t do well with crowds, head to the smaller beaches outside these coastal cities, where locals will be more than willing to share a cup of hot coffee and plenty of well wishes for 2018.

SO LONG, 2017!!

This article was written by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized. 

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December 20, 2017

Hanok Hideaways

The creak of old wooden floors.  The sliding of beautifully crafted doors.  The upward curves of tiled roofs and the enchanting calm of courtyards.  Hanok, or traditional Korean houses, are delightful dwellings where those who enter them can't help but be hypnotized by their charm. 

Constructed in accordance with nature and geographical location, hanoks were the preferred type of home by Koreans until last century.  Due to population growth and lack of space, Koreans in bigger cities have since been forced to build upward and live in unattractive cement structures. This is especially true in Seoul, where residents prefer more modern homes with larger living spaces.  Still, there are a few places in the Korean capital where visitors can bask in the beauty of the hanok.

Bukchon Hanok Village is a neighborhood where old meets new; visitors can enjoy spectacular city views as well as traditional Korean architecture.

Samcheongdong and Bukchon Hanok Village are adjacent neighborhoods in Jongro-gu, the central district of Seoul. The former is now a trendy area of boutiques, cafes, and restaurants, while the latter is a residential area popular with tourists. 

These areas are best known for the traditional architectural structures that delineate the alleys and streets that wind through them. Many of these buildings are homes but others have been renovated and turned into businesses. 

Although I've visited the areas on multiple occasions before, I decided it would be fun to have a bit of a "staycation" in the area during my winter break and blog about the hanok hideaways that I would happen upon.

Bukmakgol (북막골)

I arrived in Samcheongdong just around lunchtime and was eager to find delicious food, but let's face it, when am I not?  The neighborhood has a seemingly infinite number of eateries, and as tempted as I was to stop at many of them, I was determined to find a hanok. When I spotted one serving mandu just off the main drag, I knew I had to try it.

Bukmakgol was a bit fancier than I had expected. I realized this soon after entering the onggi (kimchi and soy earthenware jar)-lined courtyard. The place was fairly empty and because of this, I was seated in my own private room.  The interior was simple and Zen, decorated with only a few low tables, a couple ink paintings on the wall, and a single plant in the corner.

Unfortunately for those who can't read Korean, there is no English menu available but a few of the staff seem to be able to speak enough of it to help out. I ordered kalguksu (knife-cut noodle soup; 8,000 won) and a plate of gochu mandu (chili dumplings; 5,000 won).

Banchan (side dishes) was brought out first and I was excited to see all of my favorites placed in front of me: jeon (pancake), mul kimchi (cold kimchi soup), onions in a tasty sauce and cabbage kimchi which was heavily rubbed with red peppers, just the way I like it. I inhaled the dumplings, which were steamed to perfection and had just the right amount of spice. 

I also appreciated the privacy when my kalguksu (hand-cut noodles) was brought out, as I can be quite a slob when eating noodle soup with chopsticks. The soup was a bit bland at first, but tasted better when I added the accompanying chopped peppers. There was a nice chunk of fat that sat atop the noodles, which also gave the dish more flavor after a while.

Bukmakgol was a great find and I left with a full stomach, ready to take on other hanoks.

Visitors enter Bukmakgol through a nicely decorated courtyard.

Kalguksu, or noodle soup, is a specialty at Bukmakgol in Samcheongdong.

The gochu mandu (chili dumplings) were filling and delicious. 

Yeon Traveler's Hangout

After an hour of wandering up and down the hills of Samcheongdong's residential area, I was freezing and in desperate need of a hot drink. I entered Yeon Traveler's Hangout just before the frostbite set in and was pleased to have found such a pleasant establishment. 

The bright interior immediately caught my attention, as did the colorful nick-knacks and photos of far-off places arranged neatly throughout the main room. I then noticed a few other spots and rooms in the adjacent wings which seemed to be cozy crannies perfect for small groups.

I grabbed a spot on one of the floor mats and took a look at the menu.  I was intrigued by the interesting drinks served up at Yeon. Staying true to its travel concept, the cafe offers a variety of teas from around the world, as well as lassis, coffee beverages inspired by a number of countries, and even cocktails. 

The chili hot chocolate (7,000 won) sounded too good to pass up so I ordered a cup while I browsed an old travel guide. I was a bit disappointed by my drink, as it tasted like it could have been made from a Swiss Miss mix and I couldn't detect any spice. Still, Yeon was a cool place to hang out and read for a couple hours. Next time I'll try the teas.

The atmosphere of Yeon Travelers Hangout is relaxed yet playful.

Customers pass through a traditional gate to get to the main room of Yeon's.

Cafe Yung

Still full from lunch, I opted for a light dinner and settled into Cafe Yung, a clean, comfortable cafe housed in a renovated hanok. The hobac juk (squash porridge; 8,000 won) was, in the words of Goldilocks, "just right" for the chilly weather.  It took a while to come out, making me think that it was prepared fresh with a variety of nuts and herbs. It was rather small, and under normal circumstances, would probably not be large enough to be a meal, but it was fine since I wasn't too hungry.

The cafe seems to be famous for recreating popular street foods with special twists. I was dying to try their hotteok (pancake stuffed with brown sugar and nuts) which, unlike the stuff on the street, is topped with blueberries. The persimmon frozen yogurt also looked divine. I regretted eating so much for lunch but decided I would be returning soon to get a taste of these treats.

Cafe Yeon is the perfect place for dessert and tea.

Junkyu House

After dinner, I headed off to the Gye-dong area of Bukchon to check into Junkyu House, the guesthouse I would be staying in for the evening. 

Some might call me crazy for booking a room so close to my apartment (a 10 minute taxi ride, to be exact) but I had really been wanting to experience staying in a hanok. When I found one on the BnBHero website for a mere $20/night, I had to book it.

I was greeted by Ji-hyun, and her adorable six-year-old son, Jun-kyu upon my arrival. She showed me my small but cozy room, which was actually a wing of the house. Everything about the room was perfect, from the carefully pasted mulberry hanji (handmade paper) on the walls to the hanok picture books displayed on the shelves. 

As I began settling in for the night, she quickly returned with a hot cup of yuja cha (citrus tea). We began chatting about our past travels and our lives in Korea. I asked why her family moved into a hanok when so many Koreans are intent on living in apartments. She told me that as architects, she and her husband were fond of traditional Korean architecture and the components that make up hanoks: the polished wood, a space to look up at the stars at night, and the environment that the home fosters to experience the changing seasons.

Ji-hyun, her family, and her hanok were recently on an SBS segment that featured younger people who have given up their comfortable apartments for a more traditional home and lifestyle. They are a part of a movement in which younger generations are returning to their cultural roots in a country that has tried hard to force modernity and abandon old ways for the past six or so decades. It's refreshing to see that so many younger Koreans are intent on preserving their culture and traditions.

My stay was a nice one and I found it hard to pull myself up off the hot spot on the ondol heated floors the next morning. But, I had to, as my weekend of hanok-hopping was just about up. 

I braved the cold and took a final walk around the neighborhood before hopping a bus back home.  One day, after I win the lottery, I plan on buying a hanok and spending my afternoons lazily sipping tea and reading books and contemplating life in its courtyard. Until then, I'll continuing visiting Samcheongdong and Bukchon to daydream about that life in the hanok hideaways these fantastic neighborhoods have to offer.


To get to Samcheongdong and Bukchon Hanok Village, take the Seoul subway to Anguk Station (Line 3, Exit 1).   Go straight 100m and take a right onto the alley next to Pungmun Girl's High School.
Continue straight along the road.  Don't forget to pick up a map of the neighborhood at the information kiosk on the main road at the next major intersection.

Bukmakgol  Address:  30-2 Beonji Samcheongdong Jongro-gu Seoul (서울 종로구 삼청동 30-2번지) Hours:  10:30-21:30  Website/ Map:  Click Here

Yeon Travelers Hangout  Tel:  734-3009 Map:  Click Here (Korean)

Yung Cafe  Address: 27-2 Palpandong Jongro-gu Seoul Tel: 02-736-7652 Map: Click Here

Junkyu House Address: Gye-dong gil 85-15 Jongro-gu Seoul Tel: 010-9122-6933

Note: This information was accurate at the time of publishing.

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