Expat in Korea · Treasures

First 24 hours in Seoul – palaces, handicrafts, hanok, and tea

I started my two-night getaway by using the convenient Korean train system to get to Seoul Station. I so love traveling by train. There is a bit of romance about it, and it’s nice to see the Korean countryside in all its lush, green summer aspect, while whizzing by in temperature-controlled comfort.

VIDEO: I took two trains to get to Seoul. This is the slower one that I started with – called the Mugunghwa (무궁화 – hibiscus), Korea’s national flower. The faster train is called the KTX. Trains are so convenient in Korea.

After arriving in Seoul, I took the subway to my digs, a beautiful, traditional house called a “hanok.” I have the whole house to myself, and it’s clean, simple, and spacious, with an inner courtyard which is typical of this type of house. The area I’m staying in has plenty of hanok guest houses and dwellings, and I’m just a couple of subways stops away from the Bukcheon hanok village, which has some of the most beautiful preserved hanok in Korea. In two weeks, I will visit another hanok village in a different city, Andong, and I’ll invite you there, too.

I find that some of the greatest charm of Korea is in its countryside, traditional houses, foods, and handicrafts. I’m so lucky to be able to access all these things easily from where I live in Korea.

Yesterday afternoon, after putting down my bag in my place, I cut through the magnificent Gyeongbokgung Palace, admiring and taking photos, to reach the Insadong area. Two things I had in mind were to find a paper pendant lamp made of hanji (한지 – traditional mulberry paper), and to have tea at Shin’s Old Tea House. I wasn’t successful at the first, but I’ll try again before I leave. I did get to the tea house, though, and it was wonderful. I’d never seen it so quiet. I was able to take a few photos of the interior that I’d never done before.

I had my absolute favorite summer drink in Korea, omija tea (오미자차). It’s made from dried magnolia berries, and combines the five primary tastes, which are sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness, and pungency. It can be served hot or cold. I prefer it iced in the summer. The taste is so unique and refreshing.

Another errand I had planned was to visit the massive shopping and cultural area around Dongdaemun (East Gate), also called Heunginjimun Gate. This landmark is one of four large gates that once comprised a fortress surrounding Seoul. In modern times, this area is home to arguably the largest shopping complex in Korea, and perhaps in Asia.

A significant part of Dongdaemun is devoted to clothing/fashion, fabrics, and crafts in general. It is impossible to see everything in a day – or even a week, so I just took it easy today, and kept my eyes open for interesting things. I bought a couple of yards of nice cotton fabric that I’ll show you in a future post. Prices have gone up over the years, but there are still some bargains to be had, and it’s fun to haggle a bit.

Tomorrow is my last day in Seoul, and I may try one more place to find a pendant lamp before I head home. If I don’t find one, it’s ok – I will try my luck back in Gyeongsan. I’ve already bought some traditional clothing and souvenirs that I love. I might also pick up a new t-shirt for my boy Bodhi, who is staying close to home with boarders who love having him, and he’s getting a fresh groom while I’m away.

Thanks for stopping by! I’ll leave you for now with a photo of the Korean rose – mugunghwa. I’ll check in with the end of my trip, soon.

8 thoughts on “First 24 hours in Seoul – palaces, handicrafts, hanok, and tea

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