the modern vs. the traditional
intricate ceiling drawings
It was a fun shopping experience strolling through Insadong(인사동). From the schoolgirls shopping hand-in-hand in traditional costumes to the foreigner running a popular ice-cream stand, everyone seemed to blend in on this hip yet traditional street. The big shopping complex in Insadong, Ssamzie-gil Mall (쌈지길), houses over 70 shops including handcraft stores, souvenir shops, art galleries, and more. On the rooftop of Ssamziegil is a cozy open-air cafe where you can relax and enjoy a bird’s-eye-view of Insadong. Next to the cafe there is Wall of Love where lovebirds can confess their undying love through a message tag (cost 5,000 won, ~$5) and hang it on the walls of a little alley.
Tea culture is big in Korea so a teahouse visit is a must. There are two popular tea places in Insadong: Yetchatjip (옛찻집) and O'sulloc Tea House (오설록). We visited both and liked Yetchatjip more because it seemed more traditional than O'Sulloc (which reminded us of a Korean version of Starbucks). It was quite challenging to find Yetchatjip as Google Map and Tripadvisor pointed us to two different locations which were both wrong. It was only after we searched for its Korean name - 옛찻집 - that we managed to find its sign on the 2nd floor of a building. We ordered the green plum tea which was very good but a little too much on the sweet side. So if you order that, don't order any snacks that are too sweet. We made that mistake and felt an immediate sugar high after finishing this very sweet combination of plum tea with traditional rice-ball dessert.
Korean dumpling soup
tucked away on the 2nd floor of a building
green plum tea with traditional Korean dessert
The Westin Chosun is among the nicer Westin hotels we have stayed at. We loved its central location with almost walking distance to most of the sites we visited in Seoul. ("Almost" because we consider anything less than 25 minutes a walking distance - we fitbit wearers always love some extra steps!) The rooms are modern and decently sized. There is a sleek gym with a an indoor pool.
The hotel also has a cute dessert shop called 'The Menagerie' on the first floor run by a famous award-winning pastry chef. Definitely check it out if you have a sweet tooth!
We both love Korean barbecue so we had to try it in Seoul. The hotel concierge recommended us Maple Tree House, a modern chain specialized in barbeque. We picked its Itaewon branch so that we could also check out the happening nightlife area after dinner. The restaurant has a cool decor but the food itself was the highlight of the night. Beef grading system in South Korea has 6 levels from the highest "1++" to below grade. We tried their 1++ Premium Aged Striploin on the menu which was excellent. We also tried their pork and lower-quality beef plates. The 1++ beef was undoubtedly worth the premium price.
Itaewon is called the "foreigner district" of Seoul. It’s popular among expats for its international restaurants, souvenir shopping, and incredible nightlife. Today Itaewon is the most up-and-coming place to go out in Seoul not only for foreigners, but for locals as well. The nightlife in this district is fantastic, with many bars, lounges, pubs and night clubs that stay open all night long. Most of the bars and clubs are located on the main pedestrian street directly behind Hamilton Hotel. We grabbed a couple of western cocktails at a chic lounge called Globe Lounge Itaewon. The lounge is tucked away on the second floor of a side alley so it was not as crowded as the street-front places. The Rose & Crown Ale House looked like an interesting place too, especially if you can grab those window seats that look out to the main street.
There are five royal palaces in Seoul and Gyeongbokgung Palace is the main one to see. The palace was grand and masculine, and the soft spring blossoms throughout the grounds created an interesting contrast. We spent about 3 hours there, even after skipping a few sections and walking at a hasty pace. If you want to stroll leisurely and appreciate all the details, you can easily spend a whole day at this palace. Visitors can also watch the royal guard changing ceremony (lasts ~30 mins) every hour from 10am to 3pm in front of the main gate. We missed it unfortunately and only got a quick glimpse later when we passed by in a taxi.
a cool photo studio
traditional house courtyard
awesome view from the rooftop of a eyewear shop
Cheonggyecheon Stream is an 11km-long stream that runs through downtown Seoul with pedestrian resting areas along both sides. It feels like a mini version of the Seine in Paris. Created as part of a massive urban restoration project, Cheonggyecheon Stream has become a popular chill-out area for the locals. We initially thought it was a dead-water stream until we saw a bird catching live fish in the stream. When the bird dove down from the sky to fish in the stream, we initially thought the poor bird just got confused. We couldn't believe our eyes when we saw it catching one fish after another in front of the crowd.
Samgyetang (Ginseng Chicken Soup) is a popular local dish so we wanted to try it at Tosokchon. When we got to the restaurant around 1pm after a visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace, there was a crazy line. We gave up after waiting for 15 minutes and seeing the line barely move. We walked around the area trying to find another restaurant to eat but stumbled upon a row of cute traditional Korean houses called Hanok 24 Guesthouse. We agreed that we should try staying there instead of a western hotel like Westin next time in Seoul. We eventually found an interesting local restaurant, Dongmakgol (동막골), and tried their lunch sets.
We decided to try again that night so got a recommendation from the hotel to go to the nearby Baegje Samgyetang, which is another restaurant specializing in Ginseng Chicken Soup. The soup was just so-so and the place felt like a tourist trap/rip-off. We made up for the disappointing dinner by going around the food stands at Myeongdong Night Market which were fun and delicious.
cheese potato balls
Our favorite part of the Westin stay was the daily breakfast buffet at Aria Restaurant! It is among the best quality breakfast buffets we have had at hotels. There is not a big selection but they use the freshest ingredients in everything they serve (seafood salads and fruits were especially great). We mixed our own breakfast bimbimbop every morning which was declicious.