Charming Korea: Part 1
This past week has been scorching in Germany, most of Europe really, with temperatures around 36-40 degrees celsius. Surviving temperature like this in Germany, where most places and apartments do not have air conditioning has been a challenge. This past week has had me reminiscing about cooler weather and my wonderful trip to Korea.
I visited Korea in late September, early October of 2018. I believe that the best times to visit Korea is in the spring and in the fall. This helps you avoid the heat and pollution in the summer and freezing temperatures in the winter. During my trip to Korea I was able to visit: The Chandeokgung Palace, Everland, Seoul Forest, the Suwon Fortress, The National Museum of Korea, and The Gyeongbokgung Palace. I was also able to shop and stroll around the Bukchon Hanok Village, Insa-dong, Dongdaemun Market, and the Myeongdong Market.
The Chandeokgung Palace
Korea is a land of palaces and the first one I visited was the Chandeokgung Palace. This place was built by the Joseon Dynasty, it is one of the five grand palaces they built. It was a beautiful sunny day when I visited this UNESCO World Heritage Site with a nice cool breeze. The site was bustling with visitors not only because it is a beautiful cultural site, but because I visited Korea during Chuseok. Chuseok is considered Korean Thanksgiving, many residents like to visit heritage sites and have lots of little festivals around these areas making them a little bit more packed. This also meant that there were a large number of the visitors that were dressed up in traditional hanbok. The hanboks were beautiful and it gave my experience a lovely perspective to see how people conserve their traditions in simple ways. We decided to join a tour group at the Chandeokgung palace because it is a large complex and in order to get more information. I recommend getting a guide, they are professional, full of knowledge and excited to interact with foreigners. If you decide to take a tour you should know that it may take up most of your day there and may not have time to do other planned activities unless you are looking to explore the nightlife of Korea.
Shop til you Drop
What would a trip to Korea be without shopping? There is a plethora of shops all around you in almost all of Korea. Whether it’s at the subway terminal, markets or shopping center. At every corner there is an abundance of products in cute packaging tempting you to purchase. I don’t believe it’s possible to visit Korea, especially the city of Seoul and not give into the temptation and end up with more than you need, wonderfully packaged items or souvenirs.
Myeongdong Market- is a labyrinth of premium and higher-end shops that line the streets. This gets pretty busy during the evenings and nights, when people are getting out work and meeting friends for dinner or want to go shopping before heading home. Like most markets, Myeongdong Market is filled with food stands in the middle of the street. These food stands are delicious and although the service is fast it should not be considered fast food. Get out of your comfort zone and tryout the wonderful food at these stands, you’ll be surprised by what you like. During our evening stroll of Myeongdong I got some sheet masks, browsed through so much korean skincare, ate a lot of street food, and had a nice latte at an Innisfree cafe.
Insa-dong- is known as the artistic shopping district. The streets are lined with shops selling paintings, artwork, pottery. This is a great place to find nice antiques at a good price or a unique souvenirs. This area also has complexes that look large apartment complexes, but are actually shopping centers, such as the Ssamziegil shopping complex. I will have to admit that I got a little lost traveling through here, but in my lost frenzy I was able to find a restaurant with some of the best calamari I have ever had and now sadly I cannot recall the name of this restaurant, but I know I would be able to find it again if I ever go back and make a note of the restaurant and take wonderful pictures of the food.
Dongdaemun Market and Namdaemun Market- these are two markets that intertwine and make one large marketplace. These markets are a great place if you are looking for a bargain or what wholesale/bulk items. This place like most market places in Korea are usually packed, so brace yourself for a sea of people. The markets diverse with food markets, household goods, fabric shops, discounted shoe shop. This is also a perfect place if you want to get a custom made hanboks at a reasonable price. In the sea of fabric and hanbok shops I found myself a wonderful hanbok for me. The process of finding the perfect hanbok was a challenge because you don’t want to buy something at the first shop you see, but unfortunately the downside to this sage advice is that it is easy to forget where your favorite shop was located. After a while all the shops begin to look the same. Another downside is that these shops are catered more for locals and there may be a language barrier, with that being said the people operating these shops are friendly and eager to help.
Bukchon Hanok Village- is a shopping district set in traditional villages with traditional architectural buildings. I think that the allure of this district is how picturesque it is and makes its background excellent for instagram pictures. The streets here are filled with many fashion shops that range from trendy, sophisticated, for children, and preppy and of course all cute. There are also a large number of hanbok rental shops and pricey hanbok attire for sale. People all around are dressed in hanbok in search of the perfect picture.
Is the largest of palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. The palace grounds are beautiful and it’s indeed massive and plan on spending most of your day here. The gates of the palace are pretty impressive and is another perfect place to dress up in a hanbok to take pictures. Within the grounds of the palace you can also visit the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum for a beautiful collection of Korean artifacts. Entering the palaces aren’t too pricey, ranging from 1 to 5 won. I enjoyed getting to learn about Korean history as I strolled through these palaces and was able to appreciate all the work that was put into their construction and restoration for some. Korea has many wonderful palaces, but for me the Gyeongbokgung Palace and Chandeokgung Palace are the top ones to visit.