Day 9 was our “Meet Friends and Buy Souvenirs” kind of day. After a long Day 8, we were scheduled to go Bukchon Hanok Village in the morning, so we headed to Starbucks for breakfast. On the way back it started raining so we stopped at a grocery store, picked up nice clear umbrellas..oh and Z’s red one…and continued on our way. (PS. I absolutely loved that umbrella! It was so unlike the flimsy umbrella that got turned inside out in NZ ^^) Armed with umbrellas, we took a short taxi ride to Bukchon where we ended up enjoying the cool rain more than the beautiful architecture.
Bukchon is not just about walking through a neighbourhood of traditional houses to feel like you’ve stepped back in time, there are also lots of “museums” where you can get hand-on and do some actual traditional handicrafts. If you live in Seoul, you can also take classes on a regular basis here which is just plain lucky! We had opted for the Donglim Knot Museum where you can opt to make bracelets or necklaces, which make for great souvenirs. Photography is not allowed inside, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you it’s a great place to go to learn how to make knots and a really good place to take away souvenirs even if you’re not the craft-making type yourself. My brother decided to sit it out and enjoy the weather outside, while my mum and I ventured inside. There were already two Japanese ladies who were busy learning how to make bracelets, so we look around inside first, before it was our turn. I ended up having a nice conversation in Korean with our teacher who’s mum is a real master. He told me that often it was easier for him to teach foreigners than locals because foreigners, not knowing the language well, would focus on his hands and how to make the knots as opposed to the locals who would just listen and not watch and learn. I ended up asking my mum to make most of my bracelet because I felt I had somehow unwittingly fallen into the second category of learners. ㅋㅋㅋ
We left the museum with our pretty bracelets, my poor memory and our umbrellas to wander down the streets in the rain. There were lots of young Koreans who had come down all dressed up in their hanboks and sneakers conveniently hidden to take pictures. Looking at deeply ingrained couple culture, I think it must be hard being single in Korea. ㅎㅎㅎ
I was supposed to meet my friend for lunch in Insadong, so we took a cab there for some souvenir shopping before lunch. Our first stop was a shop selling name stamps, also known as dojang 도장. We all decided to have our stamps made on the spot, which took longer than we expected. 역시 we had the hardest time picking out which name to put on the stamp for my brother whose names are just not Hangul-friendly. ^^
From the stamp store we headed straight to Ssamziegil for 5 floors of sheer awesome. I loved how the floors are sloped, one leading to the next so there’s no need to use stairs. The shops are designed to make you go bankrupt thanks to the cuteness overload, much like Loft in Japan. My favourite stores were 마음화분/Emotipot and 오르골 뮤직박스/Moony Orgel where you can get mini plants and music boxes (coincidentally both are on the second floor, right opposite each other). These are some really unique souvenirs to take back and you could tell by the rush that it wasn’t just tourists who were in love with these two stores. Moony Orgel was so packed that we had to make our design, pick out our tune and leave the details at the store so we could come back and collect it after half an hour.
We made our way all the way to the top, where you’ll find the famous, Poop Cafe. Yes, you read right. Everything on the menu is the shape of poo because it’s somehow really cute. The cafe was packed so we didn’t stay long and decided to do another round of window shopping on the way down.
There’s also a place here for couples to leave notes, much like the love lock area at Namsan Tower…sorry single people… ㅎㅎㅎ It would be find to leave a note here and come back to look for it ^^
Once we were done with our adventure on a slope (read, once we escaped going bankrupt) we met up with my friend for lunch at 오세계향 (Osegyehyang) – a great place for vegetarians and Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist tourists since they serve traditional Korean vegetarian food only! This was probably one of my favourite restaurants on the entire trip, after Ankara Palace. The food was really good (I mean seriously…how can vegetarian food taste that good) and I had a heavy lunch after a long time, consequences be… put off till later :P I think the awesome company made the food taste even better, as we spent the whole lunch catching up and making plans. Mum and Z wanted to visit Gangnam which I had left off the itinerary thinking we’d be too exhausted, but my friend gave us details on how we could get there by subway from our next hotel so we were set to meet her again in Gangnam on our last day ^^
From Insadong, we caught a cab and headed straight back to our hotel so we could walk to Deoksu Palace where I’d be meeting my pen-pal and her daughter. By this time it had gotten pretty chilly and we were glad to have both our warm jackets and umbrellas on hand. We met up at the entrance (we meet at laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaast! ) and strolled through the palace grounds. My pen-pal had only come once before with her daughter when she was younger, so it was as much a tour for them as it was for me.
The grounds were beautiful, filled with blossoming trees and buildings in red, green and blue. I can’t imagine how lovely the place would look in autumn and even summer… this is definitely a place to visit any time of the year. While the grounds are much smaller than Gyeongbok Palace or Cheongdeok Palace, it’s still worth a visit especially if you’re short on time.
There are even guided tours in English where they explain the historical significance of each building, but we skipped the tour, instead choosing to focus on the architectural beauty and to appreciate the landscaping. ^^
We left the palace, and by this time we were officially freezing. The temperature had dropped suddenly and it was as if we were back in Jeju. We thought of going for a cup of coffee first, but then decided we’d first take a walk along the palace wall, which apparently is a great dating spot (You see what I mean… everything in Korea is a couple activity).
Unfortunately, being a Sunday, my friend had to say goodbye after our palace tour thanks to work and school :( so we said goodbye near the hotel, exchanged gifts (Korean snacks FTW!) and headed off. We set off to the nearest Holly’s to warm up our freezing hands first and after a nice long rest for our weary legs we decided to go skip Seoul City Hall and headed to Donghwa Duty Free to see if we could find a suitcase since our luggage had just happened to fill itself :P The duty free is great for anyone looking for branded cosmetics, watches and the like, but there was only one store with suitcases which turned out to be wayyyy too expensive. My friend had advised me to try E-Mart, Lotte Mart or Homeplus if the Duty Free idea didn’t work out so we decided we’d skip Lotte Mart near Seoul Station because we were too tired and go to the E-Mart near our next hotel instead. This was going to prove to be a clear case of “Don’t put off what you can do today…”
By the time we reached the hotel, the sun was setting, the skies streaked with pink and tummies rumbling with hunger. We decided to try something new for dinner so we picked Kervan, a halal Turkish restaurant, in Insadong and ordered online from Ynot Takeout. The food wasn’t bad but it was no Ankara Palace… we ate up, packed up and got ready to check-out the next morning when we’d be headed to Yeouido on Day 10.