Friday, March 26, 2010

Seoul City Transit Tour (Part II)

After Gyeongbokgung Palace, we all piled into our little tour bus and headed to Insadong. Insadong is a dong (neighborhood) located in the Jongno-gu district of Seoul. Originally, it was made up of two towns whose names ended in the syllables "In" and "Sa" which was divided by a stream that ran along Insadong's current main street. It used to be a residential area for government officials about 500 years ago. During the Japanese occupation, the wealthy Korean residents were forced to move out, sell their belongings and Insadong became an area well known for trading of antiques. After the end of the Korean war, many flock to the area as it became South Korea's hub for an artistic and cafe lifestyle. Today, it is a tourist destination, known as the largest market for antiques and artworks in Korea.
Our tour bus dropped us off at Insadong-gil, the main street in Insadong. Known as a 'traditional street', it is connected to a multitude of alleys that lead deeper into the district. Our tour guide told us that we had about 45 minutes to walk around and that we are to stick to the main road (I guess if we venture into the small alleys, we would definitely take more than 45 minutes to get out!). So off we went!
Insadong-gil is pretty unique, I would say. It has a balance of old traditional shops as well as ultra modern ones. You can get pretty much anything here, from antiques to modern art. Our tour guide told us that we could find souvenirs here but we actually had a tough time trying to locate any. I guess our definition of souvenirs is different from hers. She must be referring to nice Korean handicrafts and artwork (which cost a bomb) and we were thinking more of fridge magnets! We did however manage to buy something for my sister. She is a hugeeee K-Pop fan, so when she heard that we will be transiting in Korea, she told us to pick up some Super Junior and 2PM (for those of you who don't know, they are Korean boy bands) socks. So errrr, we got her that. I think it's about US$3-4 a pair. It was a little embarrassing for two 30 something year olds to go ask the shop keeper if they had boy band socks, but hey, we would do anything for Ashley :P
There were not many people out in Insadong that day. I am guessing it's because it was a weekday (we were there late Monday morning) and also due to the weather (cold and rainy). We were told that if we were to visit on a Sunday, it would be so packed, we can't even walk. It has been reported that Insadong gets approximately 100,000 visitors on a typical Sunday. Wow! That sure is a lot of people. Even Queen Elizabeth II paid Insadong a visit while she was visiting Korea a while back :P
Apart from antiques, traditional handicrafts and art stores (Korea's oldest tea house as well as oldest bookstore are also located here), there were many modern cafes and restaurants in Insadong too. Check out the Korean Starbucks! Yup, you can find a Starbucks no matter where you are in the world. I bet there would be one in the middle of the thick Amazon rainforest too! :P We didn't go inside but I wonder if the menu is a little different than what we are used to. I know that they have Kimchi donuts in Dunkin Donuts, so who knows what they have in Starbucks. Kimchi frappuccinos?

The rain began to come down hard the moment we got on our tour bus. Originally, our next stop would be Cheonggye Plaza, to see the man made stream. However, due to the heavy rain, everybody agreed to give it a miss when our tour guide asked us if we still wanted to go down and walk around. We just took some pictures of it from our bus. With that, we are off to our next stop. The traditional Korean lunch!

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