Hi, welcome back to South Korea. This time I’m going to show you the other face of Seoul. I’ve written about the modern side of Seoul. The one where you can find most of the bling of its entertainment industry, places that is dominated with K-Pop cultures and beauty masks. Check it first if you haven’t seen it.
As I’ve mentioned on my previous post, Seoul is a juxtaposition of old and new. If the K-Pop music industry shows all the bling of modern Korea, this older ancient look is more at home in the K-Drama.
One of the most famous site for this is the Nami Island, or Naminara Republic. Naminara Republic is not a real country, it is just how the Nami Island is presented to tourist. However, they are taking it seriously, the ticket booth is packaged like an immigration gate and you will get some kind of passport as its ticket. You can reach Nami Island via train from Yongsan station and the continue to with Bus to the gate and take a small ferry boat to the island itself.
Since I stayed near Seoul Station so my route was:
- Metro train from Seoul Station to Yongsan Station
- ITX train from Yongsan Station to Gapyeong Station. For amateur Korean tourist, make sure you board the right ITX train because it shares platform with Metro train and it has very close schedule so you might board the wrong train. ITX train is the real inter-city train that is similar with the one you can find in other countries with forward facing seats. So if you see the train that is coming is similar to Metro trains, don’t board it.
- Gapyeoung Tour Bus from Gapyeong Station to Nami Wharf. Just follow the crowd or you can also take a taxi which is available just outside of the station.
- Buy your ticket at the wharf and follow the crowd boarding the ferry.
Nami Island is famous for its role as the location of a famous Korean Drama titled Winter Sonata. This means you can find a lot of photo spots there which reenact the acts of the film. The whole island feels like a getaway park where you can relax and enjoy serenity. I think this park would look its best during Autumn due to its many large pine trees. One thing to remember is, this is a very touristy photo spot area. So if you are not into that kind of thing, you might consider to skip Nami due to the hassle to get here.
For those looking for a halal food and prayer room in Nami, you can find both in Dongmoon restaurant. We ordered both Octopus and Bulgogi Bibimbab and they taste good while still not too expensive considering they are inside a tourist spot.
Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁)
If you want to see the old side of Seoul but don’t want to travel all the way to Nami, Gyeongbokgung Palace is one of the most famous tourist destination. The old palace of Korean kings is very well maintained and beautiful. The main attraction that you can see there is the changing of guards ceremony which take place at certain time. Also inside this same complex you can find the National Folk Museum of Korea.
Just be wary though, since this is one of the most visited place in Seoul you will find a lot of tourists. And I really mean a lot and super crowded, even before the gate is opened. Tourists can rent the traditional Hanbok dress so they can go all out in their pictures. You can buy a single ticket or bundled tickets with other museums and palaces.
My favorite thing about this palace is you can join an open guided tour. Our guide was Mrs Kim who is very knowledgeable and nice. She told us about the history of the palace and its kings and queens.
The full tour and exploring of the palace might take between 1-2 hours and this is not including a visit to the museums or other nearby palaces. Once you had your fill of palaces for the day, you can take a break and have Samgyetang for lunch. We had a very delicious one in the famous Tosokchon Samgyetang nearby the palace.
We were very lucky when we arrived at around 1 PM there were no queue and we were seated immediately. However since this is a very famous place and based on other people experiences, usually there is a long line of queue so make sure you aren’t too hungry when visiting this place because you might need to wait for a while.
The Samgyetang itself is a ginger chicken soup with rice. However the taste of ginger is not too strong or spicy so it is very manageable and doesn’t taste like a herbal medicine. The picture is a portion of it which consist of one whole chicken and rice. The size of the chicken isn’t too big so I think I can eat the whole portion myself, however since we are visiting various places to eat and don’t want to get too full, we decided to share the portion for two.
If you visit Korea during the hotter season, you might need one to cool down a bit. One of the best way to do that is to get into a cafe and order Patbingsu which is the traditional shaved ice desert. You can get the modern version with various chopped fruit and ice cream or the original version with read bean and grated peanut.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Another famous place to visit to maximize your rented Hanbok potential is the Bukchon Hanok Village. A neighborhood of traditional homes dating back to a long time ago. Most of these homes are original family inherited with people still living in them. Therefore it is very important not to disturb them by being too loud.
Since we already had too much tourist noise during the day in Gyeongbokgung Palace, we decided to visit Bukchon in the evening. This way we can capture a much more peaceful ambient of the neighborhood. There are several cafes and bars filled with the locals enjoying their after work beer.
You can actually stay in one of these houses since some of them have rented rooms. You might one to check it if you want to experience sleeping in tatami. Just remember that it might cost you more than average hostel while not as comfortable. But just for experience, I would say go stay for one night.
Yoogane Dak Galbi
If you are looking a hearty comfort food to end you day, consider a dak galbi. Dak galbi is a spicy stir fried chicken and vegetable. We had a great cheese dak galbi in Yoogane which is one of the famous Korean restaurant chain for dak galbi.