Adventure in Seoul|Samcheongdong 삼청동


VICTORIA HERE to bring you along with me on a girls' day out in Samcheongdong. Nestled between mountains and palaces, Samcheongdong quickly became one of my favorite spots in Seoul because of its beautiful and relaxing surroundings. Within walking distance of the neighborhood lies  great traditional sites such as Gyeongbokgung Palace and Insadong, and Samcheongdong itself contains a village full of charming (aka expensive) traditional homes. Though the neighborhood is rooted in a historical gold mine, Samcheongdong also is a very artsy locale full of museums, cool galleries, and many small independent cafes and shops that make this place ideal for a chill day out. 


Moon Ji Bang's Shinseon Play instillation at MMCA.
On a nice, humid Seoul summer day, I met up with friends to hang out in Samcheongdong. Our meeting point was Gyeongbokgung subway station from where we walked to the neighborhood (about a 10-15 min walk). On the way there, we were immediately drawn to these huge balloon-ish structures in front of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and decided to go explore. It turns out they were apart of an installation created by the winning team, Moon Ji Bang (Threshold), of an emerging architects competition. The installation, Shinseon Play, was "based on a traditional Korean fantasy." "Shinseons are imaginary Taoist hermits widely shared in East Asian mythology, originating from around 2,500 years ago. They live on top of high mountains or above clouds, transcending the hustle and bustle of the human world of joy, anger, sorrow, and pleasure. Roughly equivalent to the ancient Greek gods, they occasionally descend to the human world to intervene or work miracles" (archdaily). The installation made the fantasy a reality in a very fun way that was popular with children as well as adults. The stairs, shown in the photo below, led up to a platform amongst the reimagined clouds from where you could see the sun and mountains in the distance while being sprayed by a mist coming from spouts attached along the wooden structure (so refreshing!). I believe this installation was only for the duration of summer, but I'm sure something just as enjoyable has probably replaced it and the MMCA contains other great exhibits inside that are definitely worth checking out.


Cool mist sprayed to beat the day's humidity.
Once on the platform above the 'clouds,' you became a true Shinseon.


After checking out the installation, we continued walking until finally reaching Samcheongdong's main street. We spent a lot of time just viewing the unique storefronts while simultaneously searching for a place to have dinner. 

The window on this cosmetic store is adorable!
Main street of Samcheongdong.
Entrance to a vintage shop.

Check out the mountains in the distance!
A shoe store that I recognized from my favorite show, Style Log.
Came across the Little Prince.

Seafood pajeon and side dishes.
Many of the restaurants on the main street were full so we ended up being turned away from about two places before finally entering a traditional Korean restaurant that was relatively empty. My friends raved about the deliciousness of galbi tang (갈비탕 - short rib soup) and insisted we order it along with haemul pajeon (해물파전 - seafood pancake) which both turned out great! As this was a traditional Korean restaurant, we had to take our shoes off and sit on the floor with our legs crossed under the table. I will admit that I never got used to how uncomfortable it was to sit that way and I can't imagine how people taller than my short height of 5'2" bear it! I'll stick to chairs... After we were about 10 minutes into our meal, the restaurant suddenly became really crowded. We guessed that the others also couldn't find a place with space available besides this one--also I'm pretty sure there was an ahjumma outside forcing flyers for this place into passerby's hands (this is an extremely normal occurrence in Korea). 

After dinner, we headed out to search for Bukchon Hanok Village!

Heading up the stairs to find Bukchon Hanok Village.
Bukchon Hanok Village houses many traditional Korean homes that go as far back as the Joseon Dynasty. Many are still used as actual homes and others are used in variety of ways from cultural centers to guesthouses (a very trendy guesthouse was featured on Style Log). My friends and I got lost quite a few times trying to find the correct path up the steep stairs hidden in nooks and crannies between shops in Samcheongdong that led up to the hanok. As we walked up different paths of stairs we noticed a few quaint cafes located in secret spots within unlikely corners of the area that I wish I could have explored more. I'm sure there was probably an easier method to get up to the houses but, either way, it was an adventure getting there and the view once we finally got up the stairs was epic enough to make up for us being terrible with directions. 

View from the top of the stairs.
Beautiful mix of modernity and nature in the view over Samcheongdong.
With a close friend of mine from Cornell, Sooyeon!


It was difficult not to be captivated by the juxtaposition of the well-preserved traditional homes and the prominent city skyline on the horizon once we reached the village. It is amazing how, in the midst of its rapid modernization, South Korea has managed to keep its traditional components and physical history in such pristine shape. There are literally hundreds of these homes still intact in Bukchon and they continue to be as beautiful as ever. 

View of the city skyline from amongst the hanok.
Did I mention it's like a maze navigating through this neighborhood?
After heading back down the stairs to Samcheongdong's main street, we decided to treat ourselves and cool down a bit with green tea bingsoo (녹차 빙수 - sort of like green tea flavored shave ice if that existed). I can't even count how many bowls of bingsoo I shared with new friends while in Korea this summer. Bingsoo is the summer IT food in Korea and it is common to share a huge bowl with a few friends!


By the way, if you are as obsessed with green tea flavored treats as I am, Osulloc (오설록) is the perfect place for you. The entirety of this cafe's menu is dominated by the earthy flavor!

Talk to you again on Thursday,

V.