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January 15, 2017

Explore the Best of the ROK at the Korea Travel Expo 2017

The Korea Travel Expo—the only Korean travel fair featuring intrabound tourism—will take place at COEX from Thursday, February 16 to Sunday, February 19, 2017.

The Korea Travel Expo is a gathering of Korean regional tourism organizations, as well as travel aficionados from all over the world. It is held annually in order to help increase the national tourism volume, information exchanges, travel service quality and local economies.

The main theme of this year’s Korea Travel Expo is "New Discovery about My Country." As its name implies, the hidden gems of the country, from tasty restaurants to beautiful streets, will be introduced under the concept of “taste and beauty of ROK.”

Visitors to the expo will have the opportunity to get a firsthand experience of the country’s various regional cultures and get a look at some of the most spectacular scenery from around the peninsula.

Various tourist service businesses, ranging from hotels and travel agencies to resorts and theme parks, will be on hand to share with visitors valuable information and introduce travel packages, including educational trips.

But that’s not all. Several popular travel writers will also be available to provide travel counseling. Furthermore, visitors to the Korea Travel Expo 2017 can listen to a variety of stories about various tourist attractions and destinations from tour and culture guides at each booth. There will also be an experience zone that will showcase arts and culture that can be found while traveling across Korea.

Of course, no travel expo would be complete without the souvenirs! Visitors can purchase products from various regions that are not easily accessible in Seoul.

The Korea Travel Expo 2017 will be hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism under the supervision of the Korea Tourism Association.

With some 650 booths. this year’s expo is expected to be the largest tourism exposition yet. Participants will include more than 150 local governments and 400 organizations from around the country.

So, if you’re planning to do a bit of traveling around the ROK this year, don’t miss the chance to learn about the best destinations the country has to offer!

More Information

Date: February 16th (Thur) - February 19th (Sun),

Website: Click Here (Korean only)

Location: COEX Hall C and D1 (3rd Floor)

Directions and Map: Click Here

Contact: Korea Tourism Association, Tourism Industry Bureau (Tel: 02-2079-2423,26,27)

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January 10, 2017

Seoul Walks: The Complete Guide to Hyehwa

Although no longer the capital of Seoul's art and music scene, present-day Hyehwa is a neighborhood that still bursts with creativity and youthful energy. The area is situated in the northeastern part of the capital and is also known as Daehangno, a nickname derived from dehag, or "university," due to its close proximity to quite a few of Seoul’s learning institutes.

Over the past decade, Hongdae has risen to the top of the ranks to claim the spot as the city’s premiere youth culture district, lessening Hyehwa to a mere a notch in the history of Seoul’s culture boom.

Today, it remains off the radar to most tourists and is even often overlooked by locals. Nevertheless, it remains to thrive as Seoul's theater district—with over 80 independent theaters showing performances on a daily basis—and is brimming with inexpensive eateries, eye-catching cafes and green spaces to boot. The neighborhood, while seemingly typical on the surface, is one of surprises. It just takes a bit of digging to discover them.

Cafes, Old and New 

The first of these gems is Hakrim Dabang, one of Seoul’s oldest dabang, or coffee shops, and is located just outside the subway station. The cafe doesn’t look like much from the outside, but its interior is a treasure trove of antiquities.

Classical LPs, vintage speakers and black and white photographs of famous international musicians decorate the entirety of the place, and every detail of the cafe seems to possess the spirit of earlier times. Even the coffee—the cafe’s own blend—stirs up feelings of nostalgia.

Not much has changed since its opening in 1956, when it was a popular hangout for Korean students to discuss philosophy, literature and art during the country’s struggle for democracy. The one exception would be the cafe’s patronage.

Nowadays, it’s more popular than ever with Hallyu fans, as it was the filming location for K-dramas My Love from the Star and The Heirs. Get there at 10am, when the cafe opens, to claim the booth where actor Kim Soo-hyun was seated during the filming.

If you’re a more modern guy or gal, b2project might be a more appropriate option. Part cafe, part gallery, this cozy space is a haven for both coffee lovers and design aficionados. Enter the first floor, place your beverage order and take in the cafe's tasteful decor. Colorful paintings adorn the walls and quirky lighting fixtures hang from above, while miss-matched chairs and tables create a comfortable environment for chatting or reading a book.

Before you go, take a look at the gallery downstairs, which features an array of modern Scandinavian furniture. If you've got money to burn, you can purchase the wares on display, which start at a whopping one million won.

Seoul’s Outdoor Art Museum 

Now that you're properly caffeinated, follow the signs up the hills to Naksan Park, one of the best places to get a bit of fresh air in the city. The park itself offers some incredible views of downtown Seoul from the city's old fortress wall, but the real highlight is the collection of sculptures and murals that embellish its paths which wind into the residential area of Ihwa-dong.

This district of urban art, collectively known as Ihwa Mural Village, was originally a beautification initiative of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and is unique in that rather than being a contrast to the dilapidated buildings that line the streets, it blends so that it appears as if the installations and paintings are at one with the spots they occupy.

The decrepit characteristics combined with the personalized art make this part of the area far more charming than the affluent but sterile neighborhoods south of the river. Fans of Running Man and SBS drama Rooftop Prince may recognize a few of the friendly murals, as they were featured on the shows.

Don’t worry about sticking to a set route here; to fully appreciate the village and find some of the hidden murals, it’s best to have a wander around. There’s plenty of English signage to assist you in locating the hot spots of Hyehwa.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the flower and fish staircases, the cute gang of superheroes and the scuba diver. Pop into one of the many small snack shops for a quick bite or sample the makgeolli-based dishes, including makgeolli baked goods and slushy makgeolli cocktails, at Gaemi Dabang, which is conveniently located in the center of the village.

Delicious Eats 

Wind your way back down to Hyehwa Station for lunch. Masizzim has drawn a lot of attention since its appearance on Tasty Road, a TV show that seeks out Korea’s best restaurants, but not just because of the publicity.

Here, it’s all about jjim, a stew of steamed or boiled meat or seafood, and is one of Korea’s most underrated dishes. Chose either pork or beef ribs, and your lunch will be delivered boiling hot (literally) and loaded with veggies, served alongside plenty of sides, including a chilled radish soup which balances the spice of the stew. The meat is of excellent quality and comes right off the bone. Be prepared to get addicted!

One street over is CoCo Curry, another addicting restaurant, that serves up Japanese-style curry dishes customizable to your preference of size, meat (try the pork cutlet) and spice level from zero to ten.

Street Style 

No trip to Hyehwa would be complete without shopping. The neighborhood is cluttered with affordable clothing shops, most of which carry the same trends sold in Dongdaemun, but are far more organized. The downfall is that many vendors won't allow you to try on their wares before you buy them, but it's worth asking, anyway.

10x10 is a must-visit multi-store that sells just about everything. The focus of the shop is on design and many of the lifestyle products for sale, which include clothes, bags, jewelry, candles, kitchenware and stationery, are designed by Korean artists. There's even a florist and gift-wrapping center in case you're shopping for someone other than yourself. But where's the fun in that, right? Don’t miss the second floor of the shop, which boasts an even bigger variety of clothes and footwear.

Weekend Markets 

On Sundays, make your way toward Hyehwa Rotary for a taste of Southeast Asia at the Daehangno Philippines Market. Many Filipino expats gather here, usually after mass at Hyehwa Catholic Church, to congregate, pick up hard-to-find snacks from the motherland and gorge on specialties such as pork adobo, lumpia (egg rolls) and pancit (Filipino noodles).

The Filipino Market is small and the seating for the food stalls is limited but sharing a table with strangers makes this market experience even more memorable. Don’t be surprised if a vendor offers to hand-feed you an empanada or fried plantain… it’s family here, and the gesture is a testament to the warmth and hospitality Filipinos are known for.

Theater to Remember 

As the sun begins to set, street performers abound and one of the best places to see them in action is outside exit 2 of Hyehwa Station at Marronnier Park, a small but charming square named after the large marronnier (chestnut tree) growing in its center, which produces beautiful blooms of red and white in the springtime. Recently renovated, the park is a nice open space that often hosts free performances and concerts. Weeknights are a bit calmer and the location is a peaceful place to relax after a long day of wandering.

In addition to street performers, the boundaries of the park are often overloaded with touts advertising the latest plays. Not many of them speak English, so it’s better to stop by the information center in the park to see what’s on, check out the showtimes (usually 1, 2 or 5pm), and if you so choose to do so, purchase tickets.

It should be noted that most of the performances are only in Korean, but a few theaters offer foreign language subtitles. Language aside, the real pleasure of attending a show in Hyehwa is in experiencing an intimacy and connection with the local community and culture.


Located around Marronnier Park are loads of street food vendors, so if you haven’t sampled tteokbokki, sundae or giant waffles stuffed with ice cream, this is the place to do it. There are a number of affordable eateries, BBQ joints and cafes around the park as well, all of which are of similar quality.

There's no shortage of nightlife venues in Hyehwa and one of the area’s best kept secrets is Jazz Story, an obscure music bar. Shrouded in metal work, it seems as if a very talented and creative blacksmith went to town with the interior of the place. Yet, for as industrial as the metal intends the bar to be, velvet-covered chairs, shelves of vinyl records, and clusters of candles create an intimate, romantic atmosphere.

Drinks aren't anything to write home about, and there's a 5,000 won cover charge per person added to the bill, but the live music performed by Jazz Story's house band every night of the week beginning at 8:30 (or 8 on Sundays) is more than worth it.

A newer favorite is Mix & Malt. This homey bar uses fresh ingredients—many of which come straight from the bar’s garden—to concoct some of the best cocktails in the city. In addition to the classics, Mix & Malt also has some signature and seasonal specialties on the menu, like its Elderflower Mojito. Presentation is also superb. Because so much effort is put into each drink, they take a bit longer than usual to make it to your table, so be prepared to wait.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to entertain yourself, from board games to a shuffleboard table. On the second floor, there is a fireplace... a feature that is particularly nice in the colder months.

 After a few rounds at Mix & Malt, you can easily catch the last train at nearby Hyehwa Station, or hail a taxi, as there's always one passing by. Don’t be surprised if you decide to go back; Hyehwa has that effect, and with the increasing trendiness of areas like Hongdae and Itaewon (and as such, increasing crowds), Hyehwa is a quieter, alternative hang-out.

To Get There: Take the Seoul subway to Hyehwa Station (Line 4, Exit 2).

More Walks Like This: Bukchon; Buamdong

Nearby Walks: Bukchon; Dongdaemun


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

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January 3, 2017

South Korea's Top 3 Temples

I love sharing my experiences in Korea with you guys, but let's face it... my eyes can only see so much. So, to give you a bit of a wider perspective, I am now accepting guest posts on Seoul Searching. I'm excited to announce that the first contributor is Dale Quarrington, Korean temple aficionado and author of Korean Temples: From Korea’s Southeast Corner, with his top three temples in Korea. Check out his post below.

I am often asked what my favourite Korean temple might be. And being a bit of a Korean Buddhist temple aficionado, this question is a lot harder than it may seem with thousands of temples and various Orders located throughout the Korean peninsula. I have visited every single province in Korea, including a temple in North Korea, which certainly doesn’t make the decision any easier.

If I think really hard about it, I can narrow the list down to a top twenty or twenty-five. But when I attempt to narrow the list any further, the list becomes highly subjective. With this in mind, my top three Korean Buddhist temples would be, in no particular order: Tongdosa Temple, Bulguksa Temple and Haeinsa Temple.

So what makes them so special?

Tongdosa Temple is located in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do, and it’s one of the Three Jewel Temples of Korea. The temple represents the Buddha aspect of the Three Jewels of Buddhism (the dharma, the Buddha and the Buddhist community).

Tongdosa Temple, which means “Transmission of the Way Temple,” in English, dates all the way back to 643 C.E., when it was first established by the famed monk Jajang-yulsa.

Tongdosa Temple is beautifully situated on the slopes of Mt. Chiseosan. But what truly makes Tongdosa Temple stand out, besides its numerous and colourful temple halls, is that it houses the partial remains of the Buddha.

In fact, it was the first temple in Korea to house the partial earthly remains of Seokgamoni-bul. These remains include the Buddha’s sari (crystallized remains), a portion of his jaw, his begging bowl, and his abbot. It also just so happens to be the first place I dated my wife way back in 2003.

Another on the list is the famed Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. Bulguksa Temple, which means “Buddhist Country Temple,” was first established in 751 C.E. (even though a smaller temple on the very same grounds dated back to 528 C.E.).

Bulguksa Temple is located at the base of Mt. Tohamsan. And the temple is the culmination and zenith of Buddhist artistry in Korea. In total, the temple houses six Korean national treasures, the most at any one temple throughout the peninsula. It was also designated, alongside neighbouring Seokguram Hermitage, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of this awe-inspiring temple is the front façade of the temple. With its outstretched stairways known as Cheongungyo (Blue Cloud Bridge) and Baekungyo (White Cloud Bridge) to the right and Yeonhwagyo (Lotus Flower Bridge) and Chilbogyo (Seven Treasures Bridge) to the left, they probably make Bulguksa Temple the most recognizable temple in all of Korea.

These bridges act as a symbolic gateway from the worldly to the spiritual. But perhaps the most recognizable aspect of the temple are the twin pagodas, Dabotap and Seokgatap; their intricate artistry truly make Bulguksa Temple a must-see. But then again, there is so much about this amazing temple that makes it a must-see.

The final temple, in my top three, is Haeinsa Temple located in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do. Like Tongdosa Temple, Haeinsa Temple is one of the Three Jewel Temples in Korea; but unlike Tongdosa Temple, Haeinsa Temple represents the dharma aspect of the Three Jewels in Buddhism. Haeinsa Temple, which means “Ocean Mudra Temple,” was first established in 802 C.E. by the monks Suneung and Ijeong, after their return from China.

Haeinsa Temple’s true claim to fame is the housing of Tripitaka Koreana’s 81,258 wooden blocks of Buddhist scriptures. It’s the oldest intact version of the text, which dates back to 1251, when they were completed.

They are housed inside the Janggyeong-panjeon library, which dates back to 1398, when the blocks first arrived at the temple. The temple, like Bulguksa Temple, is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Having visited over 400 Buddhist temples throughout Korean throughout the years, there certainly is no lack of beauty at these amazing houses of worship. And while I could name another twenty or thirty of them, I’ll confidently stick to these three. These temples claim the top three spots for both similar and different reasons; but there you have it, my favorites.

For more information on Korea's temples, check out Dale's newly released book – Korean Temples: From Korea’s Southeast Corner. And for even more regularly updated insight and photos, have a look at his website, Dale's Korean Temple Adventures.

Want to share YOUR Korea on Seoul Searching? Submit a guest post!

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December 29, 2016

Top 5 Things to Do in Jeonju

Hankering for a weekend getaway from Seoul? Then consider heading to Jeonju, the capital of North Jeolla Province. A short three hour bus ride (or an even shorter one and a half hour KTX ride) will take you to this charming city that features a historical setting, an artistic vibe and a gastronomic reputation.

Earlier this month, I joined several other bloggers on a media trip with the Jeollabuk-do government to see the very best the city had to offer. We only spent about 24 hours in Korea's culinary capital, but managed to enjoy many of the sites, the bites and the culture this popular destination has to offer.

If you find yourself in Jeonju, here are the top five things you should do, in no particular order.

1. Eat Everything

"Eat once in Jeonju and you'll be spoiled for life," is a belief commonly shared by most Koreans. And it doesn't take long to see why.

First and foremost, Jeonju is the birth place of bibimbap (rice bowl with veggies), a dish that is at once recognizable, even for the most novice of Korean food fans. Residents are especially proud of this fact, and host an annual Bibimbap Festival to prove it. There are also some incredibly creative twists on the dish you can find throughout the city, including a roll-up waffle bibimbap concoction that is actually quite good.

But Jeonju cuisine is so much more than bibimbap. It's also famous for its kongnamulguk (bean sprout soup), makgeolli (rice wine) and growing street food scene. For this, the city was named a Unesco City of Gastronomy in 2012.

On the media trip, we had the opportunity to visit Goong, a well known Jeonju establishment that serves rich, flavorful dishes using quality ingredients and natural seasoning from the Honam region. We were treated to course after course of delicious bites developed from the recipes of the late Hwang Hae-seong, who was the master of Korean royal cuisine. Served in quality brassware made by Lee Bong-ju (an important Intangible Cultural Property holder), the meal allowed us to sample the true flavors of Jeonju and was a very memorable experience.

If sweets are more of your thing, be sure to pick up a chocopie (try the green tea version!) at PNB Bakery just around the corner. They are the stuff dreams are made of!

Another fun place to explore the city's changing street food culture is Nambu Market. Established in 1905 as a public market, the complex currently consists of some 800 stores with 1,200 workers selling vegetables, fruits, food, dried fish, furniture and general goods. The market really comes alive on Friday and Saturday nights when vendors set up food stalls that offer everything from bacon rolls to octopus skewars to Vietnamese pho. A trot singer planted at the center of the market keeps the mood lively (and the ajusshis dancing)!

2. Get Artsy

Shops and stalls on the second floor of Nambu Market, a space known as Cheongnyeon Mall (literally “youth mall”), have a different, more youthful style. Boasting a younger clientele and a more energetic atmosphere, around 35 tiny shops attract passersby with handmade accessories, as well as delicious and affordable dishes that range from tacos to deep-fried ice cream.

Previously, the complex functioned as a storage space, but was recently renovated as a start-up ground for young entrepreneurs to stimulate low employment rates. Each small business has its own special atmopshere that make it difficult to not explore each shop. The colorful murals and quirky knick-knacks that decorate the place only add to the creative vibe.

3. Sleep in a Hanok

Slate-tile roofs that reach up to the heavens. Whitewashed mud walls. Secret courtyards. These are the attributes that make up hanok, the traditional homes of the Korean upper class of the Joseon Dynasty.

Jeonju has one of Korea’s biggest collections of them. Hundreds of these gorgeous structures are concentrated in an area known as Jeonju Hanok Village, which sits in the center of the city. While some are still used as actual homes, many of them now house workshops, museums, teahouses and boutiques.

Hakindang House is one of the few that has stood the test of time. Constructed in 1908, the home was originally commissioned by Baek Nak-jung, a high ranking official during the reign of King Gojong. Since then, it has been renovated and has decreased in size, but it still reflects the traditional architecture of the Joseon Dynasty, the era in which it was built.

The home has remained in the family since and has been preserved beautifully thanks to the efforts of the Seos over the years. They now run it as a guesthouse and cultural facility to share their story with visitors.

Our group stayed the night in the cozy rooms, which are each outfitted with antique Korean furniture and are kept cozy with ondol floor heating. The grounds are just stunning, and proved to be a wonderful place to stay during our time in Jeonju.

We were also treated to a delicious traditional breakfast, tea ceremony and were invited to check out the home's attic, which houses beautiful heirlooms that have been kept in the family for centuries.

4. Explore the Sites

While the Hanok Village is no doubt the highlight of Jeonju (in my opinion), the city also boasts some impressive sites that are all worth a visit. (And are within walking distance to the village.)

At the heart of the village is Gyeonggijeon, a shrine originally built in 1410 (and last rebuilt in 1614) to hold a portrait of Yi Seong-gye, the founder of Korea's Joseon dynasty, whose family hailed from Jeonju. Nearby, the Jeondong Catholic Church is a gorgeous 100-year-old red-brick church, built on the spot where Korean Catholics were executed a century earlier.

There are plenty of hidden museums and quaint tea houses that are waiting to be explored. But the best way to experience the sites is to get lost in the maze of winding alleys.

5. Embrace Tradition

One of my favorite things about Jeonju is how well it preserves its traditions. Its people truly value the city's history, as well as its traditional Korean dances, craft skills and music.

Collectively, these types of art are known as intangible cultural heritage and require human performance as a medium. Examples include pansori (a traditional Korean style of narrative song) and talchum (a mask dance).

Many of Jeonju's guesthouses offer their own culture programs for a minimal fee so tourists can experience this heritage for themselves. There is also no shortage of museums and workshops such as the Jeonju Wood-block Print Experience Museum that offer demonstrations to showcase these beautiful art forms to curious visitors.

The National Intangible Heritage Center is a one-stop shop to experience Jeonju's traditional culture up close. The museum offers a number of exhibitions and showcases various performances throughout the year.

For more information on how to get to Jeonju, check out this blog post

Disclaimer: The trip described above was provided free of charge by the Jeonju Ministry of Culture and Tourism in exchange for a review. 

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized. 
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Tong-in Market Dosirak Cafe: The Ultimate Korean Lunch Box

When I was in elementary school, I refused to anything that the school cafeteria spit out. I was an extremely picky eater and because of this, my mom had no choice but to prepare a lunch box for me everyday. I would get so excited to see what she had packed at lunch time: a crust-less turkey sandwich, string cheese, a bunch of grapes, pasta salad.

On a really good day, I'd find a Lunchable waiting for me, along with a note wishing me luck on whatever test I'd be taking that day. My lunchbox meals were not just food... they were special moments in my day, provided courtesy of my thoughtful mother.

Lunchboxes, or dosirak (도시락) are just as celebrated in Korean culture. In the old days, children were sent off to school with hot meals of rice, protein, and kimchi packed into a metal tin box. The boxes were kept on stove top heaters so they would stay warm until lunch time.

Nowadays, lunchboxes are more modern and often contain separate containers for different foods.  Some very dedicated mothers (with nothing better to do) have turned the dosirak into an artform, making kimbap resemble flowers and turning rice balls into adorable animals. As cute as some of their creations are, lunchbox art is definitely more of a hobby than the norm.

Old-school Korean lunchboxes were kept on top of classroom heaters to keep them warm.

Modern dosirak art.

Over the past few decades, many women have entered the workforce.  Schools have begun to prepare cheap lunches for students. Workers head out to fast food joints during their lunch breaks. Because of this, the dosirak, as many Koreans know it, seems to be disappearing. Although traditional style lunchboxes aren't as common as they once were, there are still a few places that serve up dosirak for those nostalgic folks wanting a taste of their childhood.

One of these places is Tong-in Market, a traditional market that not too long ago was on the brink of extinction. Although the market, like many of its kind in Korea, had continuously been losing business due to the influx of supermarkets, it was recently revived by the establishment of Doshirak Cafe.

Intrigued by the concept of a lunchbox restaurant, I headed out to Tong-in Market located just next to Gyeongbokgung Palace. The cafe, to my surprise, was quite spacious but packed with hungry Koreans.

After paying 5,000 won ($5USD), I was given a string of coins that were to be used at the vendors in the market marked with the Doshirak sign. I received a tray and headed downstairs to get my grub on.

Everything looked fantastic and it was difficult to figure out what to order first. I wandered up and down the main strip of the market to see what was for sale. Older women and men worked over grills, flipping, roasting, tossing, and stirring. The aromas lured me from stall to stall, which offered up everything from grilled fish and beef to spicy looking vegetables to fried things I couldn't easily identify.

Although the foods were all priced differently, nothing cost more than three coins (1,500won) and most items were one coin (500won). I loaded up my tray with some of my favorite dishes as well as some I had never tried before and headed back to the cafe, where I ordered soup and rice for two coins each.

Tong-in Market, once close to being shut down, is now thriving again.


Participating vendors are marked with these red signs.

The cafe's indoor seating is limited, but there's a nice patio with lots of picnic tables. It was covered at the time I visited, providing enough warmth to eat there in cold weather, but I imagine it's especially nice in warmer months. It was obvious that everyone was enjoying their meals, caught up in their own childhood lunchbox memories.

Mandu, pajeon, tteokbokki, tofu, peppers, kimchi, and fried goodies made for a delicious dosirak.

Everything that I had ordered was fantastic and although I tried hard to eat it all, I was completely stuffed and simply couldn't. There aren't many places where you can eat well and get full for less than five bucks, which makes Dosirak Cafe an excellent find for those on a budget.

In addition, visiting Tong-in Market is a truly unique dining experience and is a wonderful way to sample some of Korea's best market foods. 

Note: The above information was accurate as of December 2016.

More Information: Tongin Market

Hours:  Open Monday- Saturday 11a.m. to 5p.m (coin exchange until 4p.m.); Closed on Sundays.

Address:  서울 종로구 자하문로 15길 18 (통인동) 18, Jahamun-ro 15-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul

Website: Click Here

To Get There:  Take the Seoul subway to Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3). From Exit 2, walk straight for about 10 minutes. You will see a covered entrance to Tong-in Market on the left. After going through the entrance, walk straight for a few minutes through the market. You will see an exit on your right. Take the stairs up to the second floor to find the cafe.

Tour Map: Click Here


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

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December 26, 2016

5 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 hats (and coats), 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 2014 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 2014’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 outing. This unique experience brings the concept of dinner and a movie to an entire 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 New Year, 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.

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 2017.

SO LONG, 2016!!

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

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December 18, 2016

5 Day Trips from Seoul

Korea is a rather small country. In fact, it's possible to travel from Seoul in the north to Busan on the southern coast in a matter of a few hours by KTX, the nation's high speed train. So technically, any city could possibly be classified a day trip.

However, there are a few destinations located particularly close to the capital and are all accessible by Seoul's efficient and affordable subway, making them the perfect day trips to get a feel for life outside the big city. Check them out below.


Home of the world’s best airport,” Incheon is the port of arrival in Korea for international visitors. But its much more than an airport; it was a city of great importance in the American/UN victory in the Korean War, it was home to the majority of Chinese immigrants not so long ago and its port is responsible for ushering in the modernization of Korea as a center of industrialization.

For foodies, Incheon is a must-visit destination for fresh grilled seafood and jajjangmyeon, a dish of black bean noodles that originated in the city's Chinatown, a picturesque (though not so authentic) neighborhood of snack vendors, souvenir shops and art galleries. Red lanterns and Chinese murals decorate the streets, adding to the quaint atmosphere.

Just a short bus ride from Chinatown is Wolmido, a Coney Island-esque locale that boasts an amusement park as well as the entertaining games, performers and cotton candy stalls one would expect to find on a boardwalk. For those seeking a bit more quiet, hop a ferry to Muuido, a tranquil island of sandy beaches and hiking paths.

A friendly vendor serves up lamb skewers in Incheon's Chinatown.


Located east of Seoul, Chuncheon is a city for nature lovers and those eager to get a breath of fresh air. One of the perfect places to soak up the city's natural beauty is Nami Island, an idyllic stretch of land made up of tree-lined nature paths, water-side picnic spots and nature-inspired sculptures and artwork. Rent a bike or partake in one of the many water sports available on Nami.

Don't leave Chuncheon without sampling dalk galbi, the city's most famous (and my personal favorite) Korean dish, made of succulent stir-fried chicken, cheese and veggies in a spicy sauce. Chuncheon's Myeongdong neighborhood has a street dedicated to the dish, but don't fret about which restaurant is the best. They're all good. I assure you.

Families and couples enjoy a stroll down Nami Island's tree lined walking paths.


When I first visited Paju, I was surprised at how bright and colorful it was, considering its proximity to the North Korean border. In fact, Heyri Art Village is the definition of cheerfulness, with its quirky museums, beautifully landscaped parks and funky modern architecture. The village is also a popular filming location for a number of K-dramas, music videos and movies so Hallyu fans might recognize certain spaces and places.

If you manage to not spend all day in Heyri, go bargain hunting at the Paju Premium Outlets, which consist of over 200 shops including Polo Ralph Lauren, Lacoste and Tory Birch to name a few. The outlet mall is spacious and not nearly as crowded as the stores in Seoul. Or, if you're a bookworm, check out the Paju Book City.

Colorful and quirky cafes, museums and galleries abound in Paju's Heyri Art Village.


Many tourists usually make their way to Yongin, as the city boasts some of Korea's most famous attractions.

The Korean Folk Village is set in a natural environment and contains over 260 restored traditional Korean homes from all regions of the country. There is also a variety of workshops where traditional handicrafts are made. Additionally, visitors can watch reenactments of important cultural ceremonies and partake in fun activities around the village.

For thrill-seekers, Everland is an impressive theme park with attractions for the entire family. The T Express is one of the world's biggest wooden roller coasters and alone, makes the one hour trip from Seoul worthwhile. Attached to Everland is Carribean Bay, Korea's best water park complete with water slides, wave pools and plenty of areas to soak up the summer sun.

Although not technically in Yongin, but in the general vicinity, is Suwon's Hwaseong Haenggung, a former summer palace of Korean royalty. Unlike Seoul's palaces, each room of the complex is decorated in the style of the period in which it was first constructed, which makes it far more interactive and interesting in my opinion.

A woman dries chili peppers at the Korea Folk Village in Yongin. Photo


Like Paju, Pocheon is located rather close to the DMZ, but despite the obvious military presence, there is still a number of ways to enjoy what the city has to offer.

The Pocheon Art Valley, located in what used to be a granite quarry on Cheonjuho Lake, makes for a great family picnic spot. Interesting sculptures and art installations (including a makgeolli igloo) are also sure to be the center of all your selfies. However, if you'd like a more memorable meal, head over to Deulmusae, a family-run restaurant that serves up traditional Korean fare on ceramic plates in the shape of genitals. (See what I mean here.)

Finally, the city's Herb Island is in major need of some renovations and upkeep, but does have some pretty gardens and quaint restaurants and shops. The ideal time to visit is spring, when the flowers are in bloom. Otherwise, it's a bit on the creepy side.

Experience the grandeur of nature at Pocheon Art Valley. Photo

Other day trips worth mentioning include Ilsan Lake Park, Icheon Ceramic Village and the DMZ.

Which day trips are your favorites? Which did I leave out? Leave them in the comments box below.

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

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