Hello again! Shameless plug but I uploaded the first part of my vlog on my trip to Seoul on Youtube (hehe)! Wanna check it out? Click here! Also, if you haven’t read the first part of my trip, it’s not too far down the blog if you scroll enough. Or, you could just click this link if you can’t be bothered to do that. Anyway, let’s continue with the latter half of my trip. Day 4, here we go!
On this day, we headed out to Hongdae! This was just a pretty chill day in general. After finding and hanging out at a cafe in the area for a little while (with some iced Dutch coffee), we walked around to look at all the little shops around. Eventually, we ended up in a fried chicken restaurant called OUTDARK for late lunch (more like really early dinner). Isabelle and I ordered a serving of two different kinds of fried chicken, fries, and fried tteok (which is rice cake). Korean fried chicken also isn’t complete without beer! That’s what they call 치맥 (or ‘chimaek’), which is a combination of the word chicken (‘chikin’ in Korean) and beer (which is ‘maekju’ in Korean). Chi(kin) + maek(ju) = chimaek! As you may see from the photo below, what we had served was a humongous mountain of fried goodness. You best believe it was another amazing meal!
By the time we finished eating and hanging out at the restaurant, it was getting dark as it was winter. We walked around the area a bit more, looked at the little shops even more, and we ended up at a three-story arcade place. It was crazy how loud and busy it was in there! Isabelle wanted to have a go at the dance arcade game because it’s her favourite, so we headed there. There was a self-imposed queue for the game, so we waited for our turn. There were a few people there that were practising for competitions! We watched a guy not only completed a song with the best grade possible, but he also had it on the highest difficulty where he had to utilise two of the dance pads together. That was a sight to see! When it came to our turn, I was obviously a trainwreck compared to that guy.
After the arcade, we strolled down the ‘busking street’ of Hongdae. You could see crowds of people gathered at the different buskers around. There were several dancers and singers, but our eyes got caught on a particular band that was just about finished setting up when we passed by. They were called Band JUO, according to the banner that they had. After their introduction (which was roughly translated to me by Isabelle), they started off with an amazing cover of Bad Guy by Billie Eilish. They then knocked the socks off our feet with a cover of Dalla Dalla by ITZY, which is a K-pop girl group. We were so captivated with their performances that we kept watching them till they were done for the day.
There was a slight disturbance, however. There was a particular man in the audience who was inebriated, and while he was not being too distracting during Band JUO’s performances, there were many eyes on him. He was particularly showy of his love for the band; he kept doing ‘heart’ signs and he even used tissue from a tissue box as confetti. That was alright, but the real deal was when another band replaced Band JUO once they were done. The lead singer of the next band wasn’t particularly happy about the man causing a scene, so he confronted him. This didn’t make the man too happy and he started causing a scene until another audience member had to escort him away.
Other than that, the music was great! We really enjoyed just watching the performances in the winter cold. Okay, maybe not the winter cold part. Still worth it though. After spending hours there, we each bought a churro from a nearby store and ate it before returning to the dorm for an early day the day after.
Oh boy, this is going to be a long one. This was the one day we woke up the earliest because we planned to do quite a few things today. And by ‘the earliest’, I don’t really mean it was that early. We all need our sleep after all. We head to Gwangjang Shijang or Gwangjang Market, which is one of the oldest and largest traditional street markets in Seoul. Of course, the highlight is the authentic Korean street food that is available there. I went to Seoul to eat after all. Don’t tell Isabelle that.
The first thing we did when we got there was really just walking around and take in all the different stalls and shops set up in the market. In fact, if you are familiar with the Netflix show “Street Food”, you may see all the different stalls that were featured in it because the “South Korea, Seoul” episode was shot in Gwangjang Market! In particular, there was a stall that was featured which sold kalguksu or knife-cut noodles. There were even screenshots of the show which were printed and put up around the stall. The stall was exactly as shown in the show but ten times more crowded. Naturally, we had to eat at that stall. While we waited for our order of the well-known kalguksu, we watched as the lady, who was the stall owner, skillfully knead and cut the noodles by hand right in front of us. It was nerve-wracking when she continued to cut it while she had her attention on something else, but all was well. There was also a mountain of mandu (or dumplings) sitting next to us and tempting us with its beautifully steamed exterior. So, of course, we also ordered a mix of meat and kimchi dumplings. Oh man, that was such a soul-warming meal. It was the perfect meal to start us off the day.
After that delectable meal, we walked around a little bit more and decided to get some bindae-tteok or mung bean pancakes. Now, the thought of a mung bean pancake may seem weird at first but it’s honestly such a great snack. They are primarily made up of ground mung beans as the batter, with some extra vegetables and meat, which is then typically fried in a round and flat shape like a pancake. The only problem we had with that was choosing where to get it from since there were so many stalls selling the same thing! We eventually settled for a stall that Isabelle had visited before and had available seating (lucky us!). We sat down and, in front of us, we had the automatic mung bean grinder that was really good at its job. It was really satisfying to watch it grind the beans. We could also see the stall owner deep-frying the mung bean batter in a ton of oil on a flat griddle. The mung bean pancake we had served was so crispy and hot – it was amazing!
We were pretty full (well, I was) after the mung bean pancakes, which were surprisingly filling. We walked around a little bit more, and before we headed off to our next destination, we got ourselves hotteok, which is a kind of sweet pancake which is usually filled with honey. What I found interesting is the fact that they serve it in a disposable cup! It’s actually ingenious because it makes it so easy to hold yet also catches anything that drips from the pancake.
After Gwangjang Market, we headed off to our next destination which was Gyeongbukgong Palace. As we got nearer and nearer the palace, the more we saw people wearing Korean traditional clothes, otherwise known as hanbok. In fact, if you wore hanbok into the palace, your entry would be free! We didn’t do that though as I was too lazy to go to a hanbok rental and I was saving the rest of my budget for more food. The palace itself was a sight to behold. Even the main and largest gate to the palace, called Gwanghwamun, was grand on its own.
We stayed around Gwanghwamun so that we could catch the changing of the guard at the gate. There was a huge drum that rung throughout the compound (and also scared me when I was not expecting it) as well as a marching band. The whole thing is pretty hard to explain. You could look up videos on the changing of the guard if you are interested in the ceremony!
After the ceremony, we then walked around the palace and Isabelle gave me a personalised and guided tour with what she remembered from her previous trips as well as her readings. I won’t say much about it because it’s really much better if you were to see everything first hand (and I can’t remember everything all that well), so here are some of the pictures I took!
After walking around the whole of Gyeongbokgung, we exited and visited the National Palace Museum of Korea, which is free to enter! It was really enjoyable looking at all the different artifacts and reading the history behind each item.
Because it was getting dark, we then left and headed off to a teahouse in Insa-dong. In fact, Insa-dong is crammed with teahouses and eateries. Due to its close proximity to Gyeongbukgong, there are also tons of places which serve Korean Traditional Royal cuisine. According to some of my research, the Joseon Dynasty was the peak of royal culture in Korean history, and royal cuisine thus became the quintessence of traditional food culture in Korea. Royal cuisine has been passed down by word of mouth of court cooks and royal descendants for generations, as well as in written records of royal feasts. The meal typically consists of 12 dishes that are served alongside rice and soup. We would’ve tried it but it does, unfortunately, cost quite a bit more.
Anyway, we headed off to a teahouse called “The Moonbird Only Thinks of the Moon”. Interesting name, right? The interior, however, was nice and cozy. Fitting for a teahouse. There was a wide selection of teas – so much so that I had trouble picking one because I am the most indecisive person ever. In the end, Isabelle ordered Maehwa-cha (plum blossom tea) and I got Mogwa-cha (quince tea). It was delightfully refreshing and was served alongside some traditional tea snacks. It was so warm cozy that we sat there for ages before got back up again (mind you, they even provided blankets). We only got back up because we wanted to find a place to have dinner.
We walked around a little and had trouble deciding on where to eat (because I am super indecisive). We did, however, settle on a place which I can’t remember the name of. We were stood outside the place, looking at the menu, for ages before we decided on going in though. It was also pretty funny because some of the English translations on the menu items were hilarious. For example, “digested kimchi & pork & skafe & been curd four total“. Yes, I copied that verbatim. Just for your information, it’s supposed to be skate (which is a fish that is typically fermented and served in Korean cuisine) and bean curd (which is tofu). Who knows what they meant with “digested kimchi”? However, we had a wonderful meal with grilled fish, gyeran-jjim (steamed egg), and doenjang-jigae (soybean paste stew). I could say it was the perfect meal but every meal I had in Korea was perfect.
After that hearty meal, we walked around, made a pit stop at one of the convenience stores, and headed back to the dorm for the night. Phew! That was a lot in one day!
Nothing too much happened on this day because it was meant more as a ‘chill’ day where Isabelle gave me the choice on where to do go for the day. After a while of contemplating (my indecisiveness strikes again!), I decided to go back to Myeongdong.
Because we didn’t get to do it the other day when we went to Myeong-dong, we tried to go to Myeong-dong Kyoja which is the famous Michelin-awarded kalguksu restaurant in Seoul. Thankfully, it wasn’t as crowded as it was on Christmas day (well, duh!). We ordered one dish of kalguksu (knife-cut noodles) and a serving of mandu (dumplings) for us to share, just in case one serving each was too much for either of us. It was the right call because the mandu was very filling, though I probably could’ve finished two servings of the kalguksu on my own. It was SO GOOD!
After eating that wonderful meal, we didn’t hang around much because we didn’t want to overstay our welcome. The restaurant has a high turnover rate with so many people queuing up to eat.
After walking around a bit, we stopped at one of the places that Isabelle wanted to visit and we hung out for a while. Then, we ventured to an eyewear store that I wanted to visit, mainly because it was endorsed by my favourite K-pop group MAMAMOO and secondly because I wanted to get a new pair of spectacles. That took a long while because I wanted my next pair of glasses to suit me better than my previous. The optician that assisted me was very helpful and helped form the glasses to fit my small head as best as he could. It admittedly fits a lot better than my previous pair. When I mentioned that I liked MAMAMOO to him, he pulled out all the stops and gave me all the freebies that they had on hand. He even gave me a poster that I think was not meant to be a freebie but was supposed to be one of those you would hang in-store. Thank you, dear optician!
We wanted to visit a dog cafe but for some reason, we couldn’t find the place we looked up at all! So, we just walked around. For dinner, I requested that we have Korean BBQ, which is an absolute must! We ate at a restaurant which had an all-you-can-eat samgyeopsal (pork belly) BBQ. All I can say was that it was just the best pork belly I’ve ever had. Korean pork is just different from British pork, I can’t quite place a finger as to how that is.
And there we go, that’s basically the end of my trip to Korea! The next day, I took two trains to the airport and chilled there while I waited for my flight. The food at the airport was so good though! Korea’s back at it again with the amazing food. Can you just imagine, you could get chimaek (fried chicken and beer) as a set together at the airport? Not only that, they had different cuisines as well! You better know I had a lot of trouble trying to decide what to get.
Thank you for reading this giant block of words that is my blog post. I will hopefully be able to complete the rest of my travel vlog to Korea soon! See you next week!