What to do in Daehangno
For the last week I have been able to toss my sensible island boots in the cupboard by the door, and dust off a pair of glossy black pumps. Usually we count ourselves very lucky when we get the odd opportunity to take the boat to the mainland to Pohang …but last week, I got shipped straight to Seoul. This is culture shock to the highest degree. On top of all of that our accommodation was located in the heart of Seoul (I’d like to think so). As I’ve mentioned… The West End of Korea… Daehangno. How do you get there? Take line number four (dark blue) to Haehwa station, and use exit 1 or 2. You’ll suddenly find yourself a jump and a gasp away from Krispy Kreme and all the other unhealthy western options, that we don’t have on our island (or in South Africa). Daehangno hosts a mass of theatres, some hidden in little Western/European cafe’s and others, with giant posters cascading down modern white elephants. In between all these art centres, performance schools and university buildings, the area plays host to a smorgasbord of eateries ranging from foreign restaurants and wine houses (for lack of a better word) to tiny inviting coffee shops and chocolatiers. So here’s what you should do:
Sadly, I don’t remember the name of this restaurant, but it was a memorable experience none the less. The menu is rather lengthy, but if you read pictures, you’ll be just fine. You really only need one finger to order. Extend the index finger and point at the picture of what you would like to eat. Look at the waitress… wait for a nod, then lift the same finger parallel to your face to indicate “one”. That should do it. Of course, they also offer sets. These are a little harder to order as they often include options. The index finger method cannot be used in this case. The plate with all the veggies is a kind of wrapping dish. Heres what to do: Dip a sheet of rice paper in the bowl of hot water (provided) for a few seconds, then place the glutenous sheet on your plate (spread as openly as you can) and then place small amounts of the meat and veggies in the centre, fold into a bundle and eat.
I am not sure what Korea’s fascination with poop (dung) is…but I myself have owned stationery with cute smiling dung couples called poopoo. However, here it is…in mosaic on the sidewalk. From here you can turn around and buy theatre tickets from a vendour.
Do yourself a favour and visit “Taschen”. I absolutely love this concept! Taschen is a publishing company specialising in art and design books. This eatery, by the same name, specialises in sandwiches, wine, coffee and art books. It has three tables stacked with art books, some for sale and some simply for browsing. The ambience is wonderfully inviting and a wonderful escape to western culture. If you fancy sipping on a glass of pinotage from Stellenbosch while paging through “1000 pictures of dogs”…this is the escape for you. The staff are knowledgable of all the wine housed, though you may have to order milk extra with your Earl Grey or Rooibos. Wine is considered a delicacy, so prepare to pay anything between fifty and hundred thousand won per bottle. However, just a sandwich and a cup of coffee won’t set you back too much.
“Mo’ Better Blues” is a cozy little coffee shop especially for those who work better with jazz. You could enjoy the music from outside…but with a bookcase and reading lamps, this place will get a thumbs up from any lone star.
Daehangno also has a small chocolatier with beautifully packaged handmade chocolates. Beware though…four pralines will hit you hard in the gut. However, if you are willing to cough up 10,000won (R60) for these dainties you know where to go. If you find yourself in the predicament of having enquired and don’t want to be impolite, stroll over to the seating area and stay for a slice of cake.
On the other side of the road, you will find “Lush”. This is not a concept exclusive to Korea, but one that definitely calls for a visit from the enquiring mind. This cosmetic company manufactures soaps and bath products with a food concept. Once again…if you are not just window shopping, don’t bother coming here, before stopping at the bank. One large bar of “Honey I washed the kids” could set you back way over 10,000 won… They also have a charcoal face bar that will extract toxins from your skin. Whether you are in a buying mood or not, Lush is simply delicious.
What to do in Insadong
Insadong is Seoul’s “Culture street”. Over weekends you can watch ceramic artists work on the streets, or have a good laugh at the entertaining honey candy hunks. Insadong sells a wide variety of traditional arts and crafts. I don’t recommend sleeping over in this area, though. The back streets are riddled with love motels, and unless you know what to look for, there is little guarantee you won’t end up in one. There is no subway station specifically for Insadong, but I recommend you get off at Anguk and follow the signs.
My friend and I stopped by a beautiful jewelery shop called “나무” (Tree). Most of the pieces are earrings, but everything is handmade using only real semi-precious stones and silver. The shopkeeper, a very friendly young woman, speaks Korean, English and Japanese, so feel free to browse and ask as many questions as you need to.
You may need to look out for this one carefully in the side streets of Insadong, but once you find it, trek up the stairs (it’s quite a climb) to the mezzanine and order yourself a waffle. Once you’ve rearranged yourself and dusted the snow off your hair, you’ll notice a hole in the wall with a table and a light on the inside. In Korean this is called “Darak”. I’m sure a name for this exists in English, but I have no idea where to go looking for it. In any case, its special and beautiful. Take some friends and a camera.
What to do in Myeongdong
*Shop shop shop!
This is the place to be if you can fit into a size zero and you love to dress. In Myeongdong you can find loads of High street brands like Zara. If you’re depressed because you cannot fit into any of the clothes that are on sale (it’s not cheap)…I recommend kalguksu (Hand cut noodles). There is a place in myeongdong where the ajuma’s know just how.
Nanta is a Korean form of traditional percussive music. In this specific production, set in a restaurant kitchen, four cooks are preparing food for a wedding feast. The production makes use of minimal Korean and is wonderfully entertaining and funny for audience members of all walks of life. Nanta shows at the following venues:
Myeongdong Nanta Theatre, Gangbuk Jeongdong Nanta Theatre, Gangnam Nanta Theatre
For Bookings, call 02-739-8288
As with most cities, there’s a lot of walking, and not all side-walks are “heel friendly”, and neither are subway steps on crowded Saturday nights, lady in silver heeled shoes and red dress. Come prepared.
Nanta picture sourced from the World Wide Web on 3 April 2010 from: