I spent a week in South Korea last month – 4 days in Seoul, 3 days in Busan. I crammed a bunch of activities in such a short time, especially while in Seoul. I decided to break up my summary of Seoul by each day. Here’s Day 1:
It was raining the first day I was in Seoul so I asked the hostel receptionist for some indoor recommendations. She suggested The War Memorial of Korea which she promised most tourists loved and a few other museums I felt I would either love or be completely bored out of my mind by. Then she claimed, “Oh my god! You should check out the DDP!”
The Dondaemun Design Plaza (DDP) is a relatively new, ultra-neofuturistic landmark in Seoul that serves as a hub for new innovation, trendy fashion and contemporary art/architecture. It’s kind of like the PMQ in Hong Kong.
The DDP is made up of a a bunch of galleries, lecture and event halls, exhibition spaces and design shops. It’s connected to the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park which has a stadium and museums featuring the history of this area (which dates back to the 16th century) as well as contemporary art exhibitions.
My favorite part was the Design Lab, an area with futuristic cafes and stands selling quirky gifts and art.
Even the Front Lobby looks like it came straight out of the Jetsens.
There’s this one 3D printing store where you can buy a creepy, custom-made figurine of your child’s face in a teletubbies jumpsuit.
I bought a few bags of mag-hugs, one of the greatest design inventions I have seen, especially for a traveling nomad like myself. It’s a magnet at it’s core, but it’s so much more than just an ordinary magnet. Crazy-good and crazy-weird things are sold at the DDP.
Cheonggyecheon Stream and Seoul City Wall
Next, we took a walk along Cheonggyecheon Stream and Cheonggye Plaza. 12 years ago this was just neglected, overpass-covered waterway. In 2005, this area got a facelift and was transformed into a functional and pleasant public space.
We hiked up Namsan along the Fortress Wall of Seoul or Seoul City Wall as we made our way to a neighborhood called Ihwa Maeul. The Seoul City Wall is a protected historical site originally constructed back in the 14th century to protect Seoul from invaders.
The wall built along the four inner mountains of Seoul: Baegaksan, Naksan, Namsan, and Inwangsan. Lonely Planet has a great truncated summary of the wall’s significance as well as a guide to how to hike the area and important stops along the way.
Ihwa Mural Village
Ihwa Mural Village is a neighborhood with a bunch of colorful murals perched atop Mt. Namsan. It’s a “moon village” or daldonge, a Korean term used to describe neighborhoods built high on hills and mountains offering a good view of the moon and night sky. This wasn’t an ritzy lifestyle though – it was far from ideal. Like other hillslide slums around the world, the poor and lower class people were pushed to higher-up areas due to their inability to afford housing in a more central and convenient location down below.
In fact, the Ihwa-dong slum neighborhood was slated to be torn down and demolished 10-15 years ago to make for new development projects. Instead, as a part of a city-wide art project, Seoul commissioned local artists to revitalize this poor, mountainside village by painting a bunch of murals and creating art pieces. The goal was to transform the area into one that would attract tourist and stimulate the local economy. There were some challenges throughout the process, but in the last few years, Ihwa-dong has finally transitioned into a thriving, artsy neighborhood drawing in crowds of domestic and international tourists.
What was once a poor, sleepy slum is now a lively neighborhood filled with people from all walks of life. Young children skip to their karate class.
The senior ladies sit in front of stores with their friends and chat all day.
Young couples take photoshoots with the artsy backdrops. How does this guy have such great skin?! I wonder if he can grow facial hair or if his face just naturally is as soft and smooth as a baby’s bum.
K-Pop murals galore.
There is this obsession among the locals, mostly groups of girls and young couples, to dress up in old Korean school uniforms and take pictures with the art. There is a flagship shop in the village where you can rent uniforms by the hour.
I spotted a pup dressed like a bee as I was leaving Ihwa Mural Village.
As well an art piece that I would personally name, “Walking the Plank & Searching for my Seoul.” I don’t know what it’s really called though.
We made our way through Daehangno to hop on a train at Hyehwa Station and head back for the day, but not before I was able to spot this gem of a flyer. Grandpa is a Rockstar – the musical?! How amazing does this look! Next time….
Typical Korean dinner with new friends to end Day 1. Soju and meat.