Friday, October 28, 2011

Korea 2011: Insadong

Why visit: Korean traditional and culture hub
Recommended time to spend: 3-4 hours
Nearest train station: Anguk Station {Line 3}

If you are looking for the heart of Korean culture in Seoul, Insadong is the place to visit. It features a large street and small alleys of folk art galleries, antique shops, souvenir stalls, and cultural icons like Tongmungwan {oldest Seoul bookstore} & Kyung-in Art Gallery {oldest Seoul tea-house}.

To preserve this street traditionally Korean, my friend told me that all shop signboards have to be in Hangul, the official language of Korea. English words can only be put below the Hangul characters, in smaller size. This regulation reminds me a lot of Kyoto {where I used to live} whereby one of the "rules" there is that all Mcdonald signboards have a brown background, instead of red, to harmonise with the historical city and look more refined. Yellow on red looks kinda gaudy and red has religious connotations in Japan.

Walking along Insadong, when you are tired, you can take a rest at the many book cafes or tea houses that dot the area. Sip a cup of tea and soak in the atmosphere of traditional Korean culture. If you are lucky, you might even be able to catch a lovely Korean performance of the Gayageum {Korean zither}. Actually there's a lot of yatai food stalls along the road too, so you can just buy Korean street food like deokbokki {cylindrical rice cakes in chilli sauce}, soondae {stuffed pig's intestines}, potato tornadoes {deep-fried spiral potatoes, yum!} or hotteok {pancakes with sweet caramelized fillings, my fave!}. Perfect food for cold autumn/winter days!

I recommend going to Ssamzie-gil, the latest attraction to open in Insadong. It's an interesting 4-storey building with a spiral path from the bottom to the roof. Great for parents like us with a kid & stroller! At the first floor there's workshops where you can see artisans at work and buy their original products. There's also a few restaurants around a central courtyard where different exhibitions are held throughout the year.

Lining the spiral path as you go up are other designer art shops, traditional handicraft stores, shops selling clothes & accessories etc. One of the stores {Pattern Craftstore} sell hand-painted musical boxes which are so sweet! At the rooftop there's a lovely Sky Garden to relax in. We spent some time there just sitting and enjoying the sights while the little pumpkin ran around :)

There are helpful volunteer guides around Insadong that speak major languages like English, Mandarin and Japanese. They have maps in the various languages too so not to worry about getting lost! On weekends, the main road is closed to vehicular traffic, but it is also very packed then!

More posts on my Korean travels here.

What traditional cultural areas do you have in your city?


kirri said...

I've been to Insadong many times. It's definitely one of the best spots in Seoul...I taught english there and actually met my husband there who is Canadian and was also teaching.

We used to frequent the tea-houses there a lot on the weekends to relax.. Thanks for taking me back down memory lane :)

Ai Sakura said...

no worries Kirri. Being in Korea reminded me of Japan so much too. A lot of similarities in culture. Loved it!

Grace said...

Looks like a really beautiful part of Seoul ! But yes, I would have to agree. Reminds me a lot of Japan too !

shae said...

Sounds great there!

No one said...

Ooh, looks and sounds amazing! I've never been to Korea but one day, when the kids are all grown, I have big plans for doing a bit of a world tour and you may just have put Seoul on my roadmap!

Sonya Marie said...

new here from the blog hop and just LOVING IT! Insadong, my very best friend, who's from Korea has mentioned this place before. Which is crazy because I never really remember the names or cities...but having read your thing I was like holy cow...apparently this place must be amazing in order for my friend to have talked about it so much that I remembered the name hahaha :D

Silverfaerie said...

It sounds & looks like a wonderful place to visit. I don't get the opportunity to travel out of my state, let alone the country, but hope to in the future. I'll keep Insadong in mind when I do. Thanks :)

Unknown said...

This looks like a place I'd really love to check out! Definitely adding it to my bucket list!

Chelsea said...

Love your pictures and descriptions of is a favorite! Funny that you mention the signs being written in Hangul. The only Starbucks I've seen with the sign in Hangul was in Insadong!