If Tokyo were my second home, then Seoul would undeniably be my third. I will need more than my ten digits to really count the number of times I’ve visited this city, not that I can be absolutely sure anymore. And still, every single time I revisit, there are new sights to see, new things to experience.
A good friend’s travel philosophy came to mind as I drafted this – she never repeats her visits. She has visited Tokyo and Seoul once respectively, so they are no longer on her travel radar. I can never understand the rationale behind it, and likewise, she doesn’t understand how I can keep revisiting my favourite cities and never get sick of them. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. 😀
Like how I travel in Tokyo, I tend to plan how I explore Seoul according to zones since this city is really huge as well! Hongdae is invariably always a must-visit for the food, the shopping and the general vibe of the area.
I led my friends into a different street from which I usually walked to get to my favourite tteokbokki 떡볶이 place and ended up discovering a new place. For the potterheads out there like myself, Platform 9 3/4 must sound familiar. YES! A new theme cafe named King’s Cross Platform 9 3/4 just began business when we visited in Nov 2018. Most of the cafe wasn’t even operational yet, save for Levels 1 and 2, if I’m not wrong. And it was crowded! We browsed around and left shortly after.
The daytime shot I had was taken a few days later when I returned with the mister to show him the cafe. Can’t wait for the cafe to be completely operational to return!
After dinner, we did that singular activity that I’d always wanted to experience (but the mister doesn’t know any Korean so it’s pretty pointless to visit one with him) – visiting a Noraebang 노래방 aka Karaoke.
It was an awesome and fun experience going with two other persons who know Korean so we were actually singing Korean songs, mostly songs from Korean idol groups we know and like. But hey, we sang 야생화 (Wild Flower) by Park Hyo Shin too… and he isn’t a Korean idol per se (although I have to admit that I knew this song through Kyuhyun, who is considered one 😛 ).
Gwangjang Market is one of the largest and oldest traditional markets located in Seoul, dating back to 1905. I last visited back in 2013 during my Korean Immersion with a fellow classmate to try out Bindaetteok 빈대떡 (mung bean pancake) because apparently, this is the only place in Seoul that you can get freshly-made Bindaetteok.
I’ve been wanting to bring the mister to this market to immerse in the local lifestyle. We visited on a weekday, close to noon and yet it was bustling with activities! We didn’t come across that many tourists, mostly locals going about running their own errands or having a quick lunch before returning to work.
If you have found the street food found along Myeongdong’s shopping streets a little too ‘modern’ for your liking, then you should most certainly visit Gwangjang Market. The street food found here are more traditional in nature, not unlike those that Koreans themselves prepare at home. I was tempted to sit down several times when invited by the friendly Ahjummas but decided not to digress from my initial intention. Save tummy space for Bindaetteok!
So what exactly is mung bean that Bindaetteok is made of? In Singapore, we call it green bean. But why are the beans yellow in colour, not green, you may ask. Like our local hot dessert tau suan (which is also made of green beans), the yellow beans are actually green beans that have been hulled and split. Because green beans propagate very easily and quickly, they were widely used in Asia as food sources in the olden days, and still are.
Finally we walked to what I would call the ‘epicentre’ of the food alleys in the market because by standing right in the centre, the 4 food alleys radiated outwards. We were spoilt for choice, and stood there for some moments deciding which Bindaetteok stall to patronise while taking in the atmosphere.
I finally decided on a stall, and we stood there watching in fascination as the mung beans were being grounded into dough-like paste. The mister, in particular, was so taken with the process since it was his first time seeing it. We only took a seat when our pancake was served.
We ordered one pancake to be shared between the both of us, and it was more than enough. Bindaetteok is very filling (and very dry in taste) so we couldn’t eat much, even with the sauce provided. Would have tasted even better with Makgeolli, but I’m not a drinker and the mister can’t finish a bottle on his own so we passed. That said, the deep-fried Bindaetteok was delicious; I brought home fond memories of it to last a few years, till it is time to revisit. 😆
We continued walking round and round the market, enjoying the traditional vibes. And I ended up persuading the mister to invest in one of these copper pots to cook instant noodles at home. He agreed grudgingly after a while, seeing how it was inexpensive. Yay! Now we can eat instant noodles the way we see the Koreans eat their ramyeon in Korean dramas!
Later in the day, we made our way to Cheonggyecheon Stream for the annual lantern light-up event that was ongoing during that period of time. Well… not the prettiest lanterns we’ve seen, but interesting and I like it that they try to be all-inclusive and invited representatives from other countries to participate in the festival. I remember very vividly that the participants representing China and some other countries were still frantically getting their lanterns ready or making repairs as night fell.
Frankly I still liked the more traditional motifs over the modern ones. There are people who cannot understand the appeal of this stream, for example the hotel staff years ago when we asked for directions here. For some reason, I really like Cheonggyecheon Stream though, how an enclave meant for relaxing can be carved out of such a densely built up area. The juxtaposition is both weird and fascinating at the same time.
Of course, being a bibliophile, I have to post a picture of Starfield Library located within COEX Mall. It’s really more of a tourist attraction than a library but it’s so pretty! I find myself gravitating back to this place almost every single trip made to Seoul. It helps that there are other places I always have to visit at COEX Mall, thus justifying the long trip from where we like to stay, in Myeongdong.
And last but not the least, a parting shot to end this series of posts: me donning the Bunny Ears Hat that was all the rage in Autumn 2019. Such an adorable hat!