Dongdaemun, Namsan, Hongdae, and Southwestern Seoul, South Korea

Today, we did a bit of a whirl-wind tour of several neighborhoods recommended by the guidebook. We started the day with a trip to the Dongdaemun area, which is a part of the city with both ancient and modern Korean sites. The area is home to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Culture Park, which functions as a mall, art gallery, and design exhibition, and is also surrounded by a huge market complex. We hoped that it would be a fairly contemporary area based on the modern design structures, but the majority of the surrounding area actually seemed kind of like quiet market places frequented by merchants, tradespeople, and soldiers.


We walked through the culture park area and into the market area, looking around at the interesting design choices for a little while, grabbing coffee on the go. Then, we headed through the winding streets of the markets, looking over raw shoe soles, fabric bundles, knock-off products, and food stands.


The area is also home to some very cute sculptures and other art exhibitions to attract shoppers, as well as an (apparent) Russian speaking community of Mongolian and Uzbek traders. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find the “Russia Town” described in the guidebook, although we did see one long shop with Russian lettering.


After wandering through these two areas, we looked at two of Seoul’s distinctive features. First, we spotted the Dongdeamun gate, which was called Heunginjimun when it protected Seoul historically. We also were able to see part of the reconstruction of the city walls, which are being rebuilt along with a walking path from where they would have stretched from the gate. A few blocks away, we were able to overlook the Cheonggyecheon, a long stream and five-mile long walkway path recently constructed in Seoul. Apparently, citizens were very concerned with the cost of the project, which raised the streets and consequently the vast number of market shops up from the stream level. However, it is now a selling point and a nice walk, so it seems that those concerns were alleviated.


Despite having a plethora of shops and street vendors, we weren’t completely sold on buying lunch (especially the gruel) in the area, so we hopped back on the subway to a close but entirely different feeling part of Seoul.




The next area we wandered was the Namsan area, which is famous for the N Seoul Tower, which is visible pretty much from anywhere in the city, even across the river. Here, we visited the picturesque Namsangol Hanok Village, which is similar to the Hanok village we visited in the Palace Quarter, although it is a historical version which has been transported to the site from its nineteenth century location. While the ones we viewed previously are current, maintained residences, the Hanok Village we viewed today date back to the Joseon Dynasty (the N Seoul Tower is in the background of the pictures). DSCN0591DSCN0595

Unfortunately, there weren’t any lunch places in this area either, so again we hopped on the subway. We went to the nearby Western Seoul neighborhood of Hongdae, which is close to many of the universities and has an incredibly vibrant restaurant, bar, and shopping scene. Unlike Insadong, Hongdae isn’t quite as artsy or trendy- instead of boutiques, we saw many foreign branded stores (like New Balance, etc.), and instead of art galleries and tea houses, we saw Korean chain restaurants and bars. We stopped at a packed restaurant for lunch, getting Kongbul, which was essentially beef, bean sprouts, chili sauce, and udon noodles stir fried at our table (kind of like a mix between Mongolian barbecue and hibachi). We deduced that the flavor we keep eating that mildly puts us off is the buckwheat thickener in the widely deployed chili sauce, although we haven’t confirmed that’s the exact ingredient we’re disliking.


One especially interesting aspect of Western Seoul and the Hongdae area is the visible interest in Christianity, especially since these are more residential and university areas. South Korea is apparently a Christian majority country, but these neighborhoods in particular had many restaurants and stores with Christian inscriptions, usually from the Book of John or Philippians. Of course, there were some mild translation errors, which slightly complicated the message for English readers (for example, this sign on a coffee shop).


After lunch, we decided to head home early since we will likely be out to midnight for New Years. On the way back, we went to the Jeoldusan Martyr’s Shrine, the site of the martyrdom of 9 French missionaries in 1866, when Catholicism and Christianity were much less accepted in Korea. Now, the shrine has been visited by Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II, and several of the martyrs have been beatified. The walk to the shrine was through an interesting residential and industrial area of western Seoul along the Han River.


The shrine itself is situated atop a mountain, so the view was beautiful. They had an interesting museum, an art gallery of Catholic artists’ works, and what appeared to be a teaching center, as well as the shrine atop the mountain. I think the statues and the art work, as well as the small candle lighting area were the highlights, and very much enjoyed the aesthetic of the statues (they are quite different than traditional European representations of Christianity). Further, the shrine didn’t seem to shrink away from the violence of the situation, which I thought was a compelling design choice as well.


After the shrine, we walked back to the subway through a different part of Western Seoul. Of course, we stopped for some sweet treats from the vendors in the subway station, and Perry bought red bean mochi, which is kind of like a sticky, jelly-like substance.


So that’s it! Today we pretty much finished up with our last major neighborhood tours, so we’re thinking that we’ll plan some kind of day trip to a different city tomorrow and then spend more time here in Gangham, which we’ve both decided is actually our favorite neighborhood here (I guess we got lucky when we picked housing).

Happy New Years everyone!


One thought on “Dongdaemun, Namsan, Hongdae, and Southwestern Seoul, South Korea

  1. Happy New Year, Celina!!! Great photos and love your commentary. Love the “Only Jesus, only salmon” picture – too funny.

    Stay safe and love you lots.



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