So, this was my first time travelling since I was 8!! And the first time travelling with friends. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was. I brought my luggage to work and couldn’t wait for the day to count down. Our flight out was later that evening, 25 April ’13, and it would be an 8 hour long flight with an hour’s transfer at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
We got to Incheon Airport pretty early the next day, around 5am. The journey to our hostel would take some time, so the night flight meant that we could make the most of our day.. and we had a tight schedule to follow and a million places to visit!
We put up at Backpacker’s Korea at Sinseol-Dong. Unfortunately it didn’t occur to me to take any pictures of the hostel. But you can check out pictures of the place on their website here! We took the 8-bed room, and it was only roughly 20,000KRW a night! That’s about 23 SGD / 18 USD per day! SUPER CHEAP.
And while I was skeptical at first, it being my first time in a hostel, I was really surprised at how clean and safe it was! Honestly I just left my luggage open most times, didn’t even use the locker lol (in true Singaporean fashion.) I’d totally go back again.
I felt like it was an authentic “local” place to stay at. Mainly because it didn’t feel very touristy, and in a way it felt very homely. There are lots of convenience stores and roadside stalls which are open till late, plus it’s just a 15 minute walk to Dongdaemun! But more on that later!
First stop – Hongdae!
HONGGIK UNIVERSITY / HONGDAE
Just look at those blue skies 😀 I like my tropical climate but I could get used to this. The morning weather is probably the best ever – warm sun on your skin, but not too hot, just right.. with gentle cool breezes every now and then to remind you that it’s spring and you should be frolicking in a field somewhere. We were starving, and there was one place we were looking for – Haha’s restaurant, Paljamakchang.
We found Haha’s restaurant! But it was closed 🙁 Apparently it’s only open from evening till late. Definitely on my go-to list the next time I’m in Seoul. Haha supposedly lives around the area too!
If you want to check it out, here’s the address:
마포고 서교동 (Mapo-gu, Seogyodong) 395-17, Level 1
And this is a random building we saw while exploring the area. At first glance I thought it was a church (maybe it used to be) but it’s actually a club of some sort. Again, definitely something I’ll check out the next time I’m there.
I just love this place. Big, bright, and beautiful. When you’re walking down these streets, you’ll be in a great mood because it’s lovely weather, plus there’s good food and fancy sights all around. What’s not to love? Even the sidewalk shrubberies are perfectly manicured. And the sidewalks themselves… if it wasn’t too weird to lay down and take a selfie with the stone pavement, I would have done it. Maybe I should have, heh.
We were still starving, and we came across this..
The building on the right is the Sang Sang Madang building – it’s a good location marker if you’re finding your way around the area. The building houses a couple of galleries, a theatre, performance halls (if you’re into the arts) and of course shops and cafes. To the left of this building, you’ll see a small yellow signboard – that’s where we made our next stop.
This is 새마을식당, which roughly translates to New Community Restaurant. I was looking forward to authentic korean beef and pork which I’ve seen and heard so much about, so I was very excited. And I wasn’t disappointed!
And I think those smoke vents are just awesome. I was expecting to smell like a barbecue pit by the time lunch was over, but we didn’t smell too bad at all in my opinion. They should definitely bring those into the BBQ places in Singapore.
And on to the pork!! I once watched a Running Man episode where they played a game involving barbecued meat – the RM members had to sit and watch beautiful marbled beef being barbecued, and if they swallowed saliva, they lost (mouth-watering foods induce excess saliva and you swallow more yada yada yada.) And while watching, I thought, it can’t be that hard… Then I remembered this meal. Lolol.
This meal happened so many months ago, and I can still remember how good it tastes. It’s that good. And I’m sure there are so many other restaurants in Korea that have just as good or even better meat! That was really a mouth-watering meal.
새마을식당 (Se-ma-ul Korean BBQ)
마포고 서교동 (Mapo-gu, Seogyodong) 331-18
We then made our way to Dongdaemun. It’s really convenient to get to – just hop onto the subway and make your way to Dongdaemun station. And once you head up to street level, there’s this tiny thing that lets you know you’re in the right place:
Okay, not so tiny after all. This is the Dongdaemun gate, otherwise known as 흥인지문 (Heung-in-ji-mun), which means “Gate of Rising Benevolence.” It is one of the Eight Gates of the historical Seoul fortress. I think it’s just amazing to stand before something that’s been around for six centuries. Imagine it in the 1400s, with locals from that era bustling around, soldiers standing guard.. just astounding.
It looks amazing during the day.. but looks even more spectacular at night. More on that later!
Got so excited at the little things (again) and here’s me Instagramming a shot with a random manhole cover.
Anyway, the Dongdaemun district is famous for its night markets and street food, but during the day it’s a bustling shopping hub. There’s budget shopping, high-end boutiques, and even a building dedicated to all things arts and crafts. Plenty of fabrics, accessories, and materials for all DIY enthusiasts or blogshop owners!
There are even plenty of shops underground – there are several underground ‘markets’. Check out this neat hanbok shop! I was so tempted to get one.
And plenty of little market-style shops above ground too. A lot of them have nice stuff for souvenirs, so if you’re in the area, check it out.
The Cheonggyecheon river, which is actually a stream that’s connected to the Han River. And I’ve actually seen this river and bridge in a couple of movies, and I always make a point to go “HEY I’ve been here!” There’s a tiny sense of accomplishment I get in saying that lol!
We went shopping at one of the malls, and then took a rest stop at Tom N Toms Coffee.
There’s Tom N Toms literally everywhere. And not just Tom N Toms, because there’s literally a coffee shop pretty much everywhere you turn in Seoul. I guess Koreans are really big on coffee. Plus the coffees are really cheap, about 4,000 KRW on average. That’s less than 5 SGD for a Starbucks quality cuppa. And that’s another reason why I love Korea – coffee, coffee everywhere!
This is me all snuggled up and happy with my tea break and caffeine boost. It was getting really windy and chilly outside, so it was a good idea to stay indoors while I could, and rest up.. before we headed to dinner!
We took the subway and got off at Korea University station. It’s right in front of the KU main entrance, so it’s really easy to find. One of our travel mates Chris had studied here on exchange before, and showed us around. Now this is such a gorgeous campus, I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful it is. I’m just gonna plonk in some photos and let them do the describing for me.
On hindset, I’m not too sure if these were cherry blossoms, but they’re so pretty anyways.
And as we got further in, here’s the main yard in front of the school.
DONGDAEMUN NIGHT MARKET
Most of the shops along the way were already closed at that time (it was almost midnight) but there were still some restaurants and roadside stalls that were still operating. And there were some interesting finds..
It was a 20 minute walk to Dongdaemun, just down the road from my hostel. And at Dongdaemun, the night market comes alive on Fridays. And street food aplenty! My phone was running out of battery by then so I didn’t snap much pictures of the food and markets, but I do remember getting a jumbo sausage. And the shopping malls were still open!
But the most magical thing I got out of the night adventure was this.
Look how it comes alive at night. Such beauty.. I just stood there for some time, feeling really happy that I’d finally decided to travel. And from there I caught the wanderlust bug.