As promised in last Friday’s Armchair Travels post, I’m sharing with you another city I totally fell in love with during our travels in Asia: Seoul.
I truly believe K-style will knock Scandi-cool off its long held throne. The architecture, the mix of modern and traditional, the very particular aesthetic… all these are slowly percolating their way across the oceans.
Music, food, even TV dramas. Ask any Korea-phile and I’m sure they’ll have their favourite K-drama. Mine is My Love from Another Star, with actor Kim Soo-hyun as a 400-year-old alien Do Min-joon (second from left below in the snazzy black and white suit). The show was a run-away hit both in at home in Korea and pretty much all over SE Asia: Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, all have been hit with Do Min-joon fever.
I certainly got my fill of mega-star Kim Soo-hyun while in Seoul. He endorses everything from cars, to sports wear, hiking gear to yoghurt, vitamins to beauty products. You can’t miss the guy.
Yoghurt, at N Seoul Tower.
He is also the face for Beyond. Kim Soo-hyun facemasks anyone?
Something called Lemona, which apparently is a vitamin C drink.
Seoul has some cool modern architecture. Zaha Hadid’s Dongdaemon Plaza is a futuristic, sprawling building reminiscent of a spaceship/metal blob.
But for me, I found the most charming places the ones that oozed history. You can go back in time by strolling through Bukchon Hanok village, a well preserved neighbourhood of traditional one story wooden homes, many of which are still residential.
Seoul is a beautiful city with a city landscape that encourages walking. Walking and shopping. Walking and eating. Eating and shopping. And staying up all night.
For shopping and strolling, Insadong has it all. Starting with lots of touristy shopping, it extends north into a pedestrianized lane lined with towering green trees and peppered with musicians and little stalls selling homemade crafts. At the other end are galleries, and more shopping and more food.
Eating however is really the heart of Seoul. And it is amazing. Grilled squid on a stick? Oh yeah. Mexican churros? They rivalled the best I’ve had in So-Cal. Fried chicken? Seriously to die for. The standard of food is uniformly high. I think the entire city is made up of foodies.
I love the whole roll-your-meat-in-lettuce and eat-it-in-one-go K-BBQ philosophy. A lettuce leaf, or sesame leaf, a little rice, some meat, some chilli sauce, a few pickles and roll it all up, then pop the whole thing in your mouth.
They take their food seriously, and much like the Japanese have specialists in food. This little tea shop in Insadong specialised in matcha. Everything was made with it.
This guy was selling the most spectacular cotton candy I’ve ever seen. No anaemic cones here.
Gwangjang market, one of the older markets in Seoul, is open early in the morning to late at night. Loads of food, clothing, and souvenirs. But again, it’s the food that’s the star attraction.
It’s an excellent stop for Bindaetteok–fried pancakes made of ground up mung beans and veggies. A bit like rosti. (click on smaller photos to make bigger).
For the more adventurous, there are trotters, pigs head and blood sausage.
I skipped those, and instead tucked into poached fish squares and gimbap (not dissimilar to Japanese maki sushi but filled with veggies and ham). Another staple of the market is ddeokbokki, a kind of fat penne shaped rice cake with a spicy sweet sauce. This is all washed down with makgeolli, a delicious alcoholic drink reminiscent of Yakult and soda served in little metal bowls. Very refreshing–my new favourite alcoholic spritzer.
There’s something about the city that just oozes energy. You can go out at 3am and join a throng of others eating and drinking with friends. This was a street full of restaurants in Myeung Dong where you can eat your fill of korean fried chicken. Just be careful not to order firecracker sauce. It will burn off all the tastebuds on your tongue. Ask me how I know.
After you’ve eaten your fill, there are plentiful opportunities for night-time meanderings, Doota! a popular shopping mall, is open until 5 am six days a week. On Sunday it closes at midnight.
Seoul scores high on all the things I love. Great food, beautiful surroundings, great coffee, walkability, and casual, community orientated, relaxing and soul-recharging places to stroll.
My favourite place for walking was Chonggyecheon, an old river recently redeveloped into a serene pathway through downtown Seoul. During the day it offers respite from the busy roads, and the water cools the summer heat a little too. There are shaded portions and more heavily wooded parts, making for a pleasant and relaxing stroll.
At night Chonggyecheon transforms into something almost magical. Warm lights, families and friends strolling, sitting, chatting. Possibly with some makgeolli and friend chicken on the medium hot side. What more could a girl ask for?