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Shopping in Seoul
Wednesday, 22 January 2014, 03:03 ✈

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**********

Hello again!

So the rest of this post follows where we left off last time - Day 2 of Seoul. So much to do, so much to see, so little time! The rest of Day 2 was spent chilling, and having a stroll through more cultural streets. We did some shopping, but we go through less "commercial" shopping districts and instead explore more quirky and artsy spots.



SAMCHEONG-DONG

Samcheon-dong is less than 10 minutes away on foot from Gyeongbokgung, and it was a good place to rest our tired feet and quench our thirst with a nice warm cup of coffee.

I love this place. If I was a student and lived somewhere in the vicinity, this would be my hangout spot everyday. I love cafes - they're a great place for me to sit and be inspired, by the beautiful surroundings and the people around me. And Samcheong-dong has just that - plenty of cosy little cafes, and in many ways this neighbourhood reminds me of Hongdae. They're all not too crowded, but at the same time, buzzing with life and quiet chatter. It's a great place to sit, chill, and people watch.

We ended up at this quaint little place named Azabu Cafe. And what intrigued me about this place was its old Japan-style decor, with its low wooden beams and mahogany furniture. There's little lighting here - the cafe takes advantage of the plentiful sunlight that streams through its open doors and windows, and the skylight above the order counter and kitchen area.

Azabu is just one of the many cafes down this cosy little street.



Azabu is famous for its rendition of the Japanese taiyaki, or fish-shaped cake, which has a sweet red bean filling. I did try one, and it tastes pretty good! Not too sweet, and you can really taste the flavor of the red beans. I don't usually like azuki or red bean very much, but this was okay. It makes for a good snack, and good even for breakfast on the go.

Apparently they also serve Patbingsu, a Korean dessert compromising of ice shavings topped with red bean. It's sort of like the ice kachang of South Korea. Here at Azabu, it's also served with a little twist - you get a little fishy on top of your dessert!

Photo credit: Seoulistic

I didn't try it personally, because I was freezing! But if I'm ever in Korea during summer, I'd definitely do as the Koreans do, and cool down with plenty of icy treats to tackle the heat.

There is a chain of Azabu cafes scattered across Seoul - you can check out the different outlets on their official website here.


Azabu Cafe (Samcheong-dong branch)
종로구 소격동 121번지(북촌로 5길 58) 
Jongro-gu, Songgyeokdong, 121 (Bukchon 5-gil 58)


Further down the street, you should see this little alley way. You can't miss it - it's teeming with people. Along this alleyway you'll find plenty of restaurants, snack stands and quirky little stores.


From Samcheong-dong to Insadong - little alleyways full of life and color. 

Chris with the giant snow cone!

This is pretty random, but I really liked this engraving on this stone seat.

Very pretty flower shop! (Guys, if you're along this alleyway in Samcheong-dong, surprise your girl with a bouquet!)

Almost there. Beautiful greens all around.

It's about a 20 minute stroll from Samcheong-dong to Insadong, but it's well worth it. Plenty of sights and sounds along the way to rouse your interests (and possibly your wallets!)



INSADONG


Oh of course, here's the famous Starbucks in Insadong - the first one in the world to have its logo printed in a native language and not English.

Apart from Starbucks though, there are plenty of unique stores and restaurants on Insadong, the art and culture street. Here are three places I went a little crazy at.


1.  O'SULLOC TEA HOUSE




I'd never heard of O'sulloc before I stepped into that store. But boy, did it impress me. You can smell it from the outside - the refreshing scent of green tea just rolls over over you in waves. And the moment I stepped in, there was a little crowd near the doorway. Apparently there were staff dishing out O'sulloc tea samples, so I tried some - and took some more. Lol. It's really good!

OSULLOC is a branded tea company that prides itself on natural green tea, grown and harvested on Jeju Island. They even have a whole museum dedicated to green tea over at Jeju!

They have a myriad of so many amazing flavors, and if you're a tea lover like me, you might will go a little mad here. Check out the picture below - that just shows a small portion of the tea flavors they have there. It's not very cheap, but it really is of extremely good quality - just try the samples at the door if you're not convinced. They even have a whole wall of stationery and paper for sale, which are either green-tea infused or made from green tea by-products.

I bought a few sets of the three-flavour packs, a couple boxes of Green Tea Latte (this is delicious and a must buy!!), a box of Wedding Green Tea (heavenly), Water+, some green tea cookies, and some notebooks made from green tea leaves. Yup, this was a big purchase right here.

I bought so much of this, it's crazy. This was the one place where I shopped the most!



That's me savouring my Wedding green tea while at work the week after the trip! Right there on the box it says this brew is made up of "starlit marigolds, lovely pink roses, and lucky cornflowers." How could you not buy something that's described so beautifully!? Plus it really smells wonderful too.

Pretty packaging always wins me over. Sadly.

Sorry for the slightly blurred image, but if you look upstairs, there's actually a cafe too! It was pretty crowded, so we didn't manage to get a seat. The cakes however, are very affordable, and are priced at about 5,000 KRW on average (about 6 SGD / 4.50 USD.)


O'Sulloc Tea House (Insadong Branch)
170 Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-guSeoul

O'Sulloc Tea House (Myeongdong Branch)

47-1 Myeongdong 1-ga, Jung-guSeoul


*Note: There are also branches in Apgujeong and Daehangno, but I've yet to visit these districts. For more info on how to get to those outlets, please visit O'sulloc's page on Visit Korea


2.  SSAMZIE-GIL MALL

So this landmark is pretty interesting. If you're into arts & crafts and artisan finds, this is the place you need to visit. And the building in itself is a work of art, really.


There are no escalators in this building, and I don't recall seeing an elevator either. The walkways on each floor slope upwards, leading you higher and higher up the building, until you ultimately reach the roof. There are stairwells at the corners of the building, but most people prefer to walk up or down the ramps. And why wouldn't you? There's so much to see!

You'll see plenty of art installations around the facility.


Along the way you will find tiny little shop spaces, and while the shops are all more or less uniform in terms of size and structure (glass windows, dim lighting) - each one has its own unique flair and character. The products you will find range from handmade bags, vintage clothes, to leather products, and more. For those looking for a special gift for a friend or loved one, this is the place you need to look into.

Just be warned though that things here get a little pricier than what you'd find elsewhere. Most of the stuff you see here are handmade or of really good quality, so they're really quite worth the price. I made off with a couple of quirky stationery items and a 32 SGD 'designer' canvas bag.

As you get to the higher floors, you will see more artwork decorating the corridors.



There are also photobooth stores where you can take neoprints with friends!

Once on the roof, you'll see this interesting space - 사랑 담장, which means "Love Fence." This is a spot where couples leave love notes and love locks, kind of like the Paris's Pont de l'Archeveche bridge.





Past the Love Fence, you will find some more shops and restaurants. And a rather quirky snack stall...


Yup, he's selling bread cakes in the shape (and color) of dung. Lol! It actually smelled pretty good.

So there's actually plenty of things you can look out for while you're at Ssamzie-gil! Here's a quick video about this unique space, by Discovering Korea.



쌈지길 Ssamzie-gil Shopping Complex
38 Gwanhun-dong, Insadong, Seoul


3.  GOGUNG


Photo credit: Visit Korea

This one isn't really a separate landmark on Insadong. Gogung is actually a traditional Korean restaurant located in the basement of Ssamzie-gil mall. It looks really unassuming, like just another restaurant in a little corner... but the South Korean Metropolitan government has declared this small diner the Best Korean Restaurant in Seoul!

Even if you don't trust the government, we have backup - online reviewers actually claim it to be one of the best bibimbap spots in town. Just google it!

And yes, it was delicious.

Never-ending side dishes

Along with our side dishes comes this as well! You are probably wondering why I would even bother to post a picture of beansprout soup. Well firstly, because it was very refreshing... and secondly because this is what you always see in korean dramas. Those ahjummas cooking beansprout soup for her kids. You always see it in korean dramas. And this was my first time trying it, and it was good! It's light and you can really taste the sweetness of the sprouts.



We ordered quite a few things to share as a group. There was firstly, this rice vermicelli dish with mushrooms and vegetables - very yummy.


Seafood pancake - the shrimps were very fresh.

And here is Gogung's most famous dish - bibimbap. Seems simple to put together, but there is a ton of ingredients that go into making this one dish. Not to mention the effort that goes into dicing and arranging the vegetables. There are two versions to this dish.

There is the hot pot bibimbap, a.k.a. dolsot bibimbap...

And there is the traditional Jeonju-style bibimbap, served in a brass bowl.

When I'm in Singapore, I usually order the hot pot bibimbap (dolsot bibimbap) because to me the heat and charred bits are better able to bring out the flavor in the food. The regular bibimbap usually fails to satisfy my tastebuds.

Here at Gogung, however, both are really mouthwatering. But if I had to pick one bowl only (regular or dolsot), I'd go for the opposite - I much preferred the traditional brass bowl bibimbap here at Gogung.

Why?

Because of the sheer freshness of the ingredients. The heated clay bowls in the dolsot bibimbap have a flavor of their own and it does taste awesome. But the simplicity of the traditional bibimbap mix really celebrates the freshness of the vegetables and the traditional Jeonju rice here, and there is an explosion of flavor, a party in your mouth. There's really no other way to describe it - you have to try it. Fun fact: bibimbap is recorded to have been created in Jeonju. That explains why the age-old traditional recipe of Jeonju bibimbap has such a lovely marriage of flavors.


고궁 Gogung Traditional Korean Restaurant
Basement, Ssamzie-gil Shopping Complex
38 Gwanhun-dong, Insadong, Seoul



MYEONGDONG


Look, I love shopping - I love clothes, I love shoes, I love makeup, and I looove my bags. But I'm not thaaat much of a shopping person. My trips are 95% sightseeing, food and adventure, and 5% shopping (sorry - that means last minute souvenirs, guys.)

When you make an announcement that you're flying to Korea, the first response from most girls is "WAH SWEE buy me masks please!" And I did, for my friends, and very surprisingly also for myself.

Now I'm not a beauty products person - I've probably spent less than $100 bucks on any beauty related items (and this really needs to change. My skin is suffering.) I hardly use masks at home. Read: I'm lazy.

Shopping at Myeongdong is completely insane. It's sort of like Black Friday in a beauty store. Everything is on sale, pretty much. You get this impulsive urge to sweep all those masks off the shelf and into your basket. Even if you don't even know what it's made of or what it's for. Buy first, think later! And the reason why everyone says "please buy me some masks" is because they're frickin' cheap. Like seriously, 1000 KRW per mask. That's about 1 SGD. Per mask. Ohmahgawd.

I probably bought like 20 masks (and I think this would be considered a small quantity already by most girls), moisturizers, and a couple of other makeup products. I would have bought more, if not for the gaping hole in my wallet.

And okay, I did use my masks. ... Like maybe 2 of them.

Don't judge me! I will use them soon, alright?!



Directions


Just a recap on the route if you want to follow the same or a similar itinerary for the day.

  1. Get off at Gyeongbokgung subway station, and make your way to street level via Exit 2.
  2. From there, head straight until you can make a left turn. Tosokchon is just a few metres away.
  3. Post-meal, head back to the main road, and cross to Jonggui-dong - there, make a right turn - you should see the Hyoja-ro entrance to the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds.
  4. You should more or less make a round around the palace grounds, and once you see the museum, there's an entrance nearby that leads to Jongwade-ro. Turn left here, head north, and at the third alley you see, cross over to Samcheong-dong.
  5. Head south, and once you see Anguk station, turn into Insadong-gil.
  6. Once you're done exploring Insadong, the nearest subway station would be Jongno 3-ga station. Here, take the subway and head to Myeongdong!

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