Seoul was not an ‘original plan’ destination for this trip but half way through, I was losing a bit of motivation and felt the need to be more spontaneous. It was actually Japan I thought of first. Japan has long been somewhere I was excited about going but after some thought and research there was just too much I wanted to do there for the time and money I had left. Still feeling determined to go somewhere different, I checked out some flights and found that Seoul would be a realistic option, even if just for a few days. So off I went!
It turns out, Seoul is no ‘poor mans’ Tokyo, (who even said that?) I can’t say I can draw upon a comparison yet but what I do know now is that a lot of South Koreans, unlike people from other Asian countries I’ve met, do not admire Japanese culture or aspire to be more like them. Some actually resent the comparison. The truth is there are similarities but South Koreans are actually very patriotic and have their own unique culture, style and traditions.
As only in Seoul for a few days, I tried to visit as many places as I could. I combined some of the popular hotspots with my obsession for hunting down bargain vintage clothes (especially now Korean or Japanese stuff was up for grabs!) and I couldn’t resist some k-beauty madness.
Hongdae is where one of the main universities is and the part of town where the Korean youth partying goes down. Although I didn’t fancy clubbing, (and apparently I’m too old in Seoul with rumours of maximum age limits of 30 in some clubs!) I stayed around this area, close to Hapjeong station. It’s a tiny bit quieter, more restaurants than clubs but music still plays throughout the night. Earplug life. And the party really does go on all night for some young Korean’s – I tried to get a coffee at 9am one morning and found nothing open but plenty of people just finishing up from the night before!
The expat zone. It’s a lot more multicultural here with little India and middle eastern areas plus all the Americans. I didn’t care much for the Main Street here but I loved Usadan Road. A narrow but long street full of boutique shops, vintage, restaurants and intimate rooftop terraces. The best spot I found was the rooftop of Mmm Records which is a record shop/ coffee shop/ bar for an alternative view of the city and its encompassing mountains.
Whaaa this place is mental. Pretty much door to door Korean beauty stores blaring out music to ‘intice’ you in. The shop assistants hand you a basket before you have even committed to walking through the door and tell you about all the offers and discounts they have on. It’s quite impossible to go home empty handed. Well, I certainly wasn’t strong enough to resist trying out the supposed power of snail secretion gel on my face or avoid picking up a few dozen face packs that can not only brighten but tighten, smooth and perfect your skin. I have to admit I was tempted by the foot peels but also scared my entire foot might dissolve.
Extreme beauty treatments are very popular in Seoul. In fact Seoul is the plastic surgery capital of the world. It’s not unusual to see young girls walk along the street with facial bandages on straight from one of the many clinics. It’s quite common for young girls to have eyelid surgery to make they eyes look bigger or to get a quick nose job. I decided to stick to the snail slime.
Such a lovely walk on a sunny day! It’s a modern stream and recreational feature of the city, down below the busy streets. I felt like I was the only person in the city down here. The best way to describe it is that it’s a really long park. Underneath each bridge on one side there are huge steps that lead down to the stream to create a lovely spot to sit in the shade. It was boiling that day, probably why I was I on my own but the bridges provide a perfect spot to cool down and enjoy the beauty of the inner city sanctuary.
This indoor market just off the stream is best known for its food but they have a secret. The entire ground floor is full of Korean favourites such as cold noodles and dumplings but if you make your way upstairs to the 2nd floor there is a huge vintage clothes market!
I mean I was in heaven. There are probably over 50 sellers here, each with their own personalised stall. Most of the sellers were uber cool Korean guys, looking the part but there were also some Korean granny’s selling the contents of their old closet. Men’s and women’s clothes, vintage trainers, coats, Skajan jackets, trousers, dresses from the west, Korea and Japan.
I probably spent about 3 hours here trying everything on. The best thing is, the majority of the stuff is actual vintage, not just vintage look and it’s not expensive. I managed to limit myself to just one bag of clothes but I vowed to myself to go back one day, it was just so good. Cold noodles on the way out, not for me. Should have had dumplings.
Bukchon Hanok Village and Gyeongbokgung Palace
Completely different vibe at Anguk metro station. After a little walk down the high street passing bakeries and cute cafes I arrived at Bukchon Hanok village. It’s a heritage site of traditional Korean architecture with a history of over 600 years. There are a fair few visitors here so plenty of shops and restaurants make it pretty busy but it was still really cool to see. Young people also visit here to dress up in traditional Korean clothing called Hanbok. You see loads of them walking around going selfie mad but the outfits are beautiful!
Right next to the village is Gyeongbokgung Palace. The second palace I visited in Seoul but the grounds of this one made it my favourite. There are actually 5 palaces to visit in Seoul. The history of this one dates back to 1395, it was burnt down during the Imjin War but restored again around 1852.
A perfect photo location for those dressed up in Hanbok.
I managed to squeeze in a few other things like a visit to Namdaemun Marmet, Seoul’s biggest market and a sneak peak of Gangnam where VIP partying goes down but there are so many more things to do I didn’t get time for. There are actually mountain walks you can do directly outside the city which sound amazing. The food in Seoul was a lot spicier than I expected but so delicious and Korean BBQ… yes. I loved the people, they have a keen desire for fun without any inhibitions. Young couples are sweet, loving and wear matching outfits and older people I met had great sense of humour.
Despite my love of Seoul, my number one city still remains, good old London. No matter where I go, I think it will always feel like home to me. I’m looking forward to being in London again soon and getting even more out of it. The horrific tragedies the city has suffered recently upset me a lot but I certainly will not be turning my back. I want to be there supporting with everyone else! People in London want to make good stuff happen and it’s inspiring. I love the culture, the diversity, the constant evolvement and I love being around like-minded people, who love the city just like I do.
So thanks Seoul but London, I’m coming back!
Peace and love ✌🏼️💄