Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A Jongno Weekend: Hanoks, Mandu and Snow!

As part of my mission as a Global Seoul Mate, I checked in at  a B&B in the Jongno District, just next to Insa-dong, to experience a different kind of a weekend. I live in Seoul, and actually, Jongno is just seven minutes by bus from my neighborhood in Hannam-dong in the Yongsan District. Although it felt weird, I simply had to pretend like a tourist during the weekend!

I got to my preferred B&B place at the SK Hub Building right next to Exit 6 of Anguk Station on a cold Friday night at around 8PM. I was a starving by that time and I had to find a place to quiet my rumbling stomach. After dropping off my bag, I hurried down and follow where my hungry tummy led me.

Insadong's Koong Mandu
Luckily, Koong Mandu, my favorite restaurant in Insadong that serves the best mandu (Korean dumpling) in the whole of Seoul, was still open! Although, there were just a few customers inside finishing their dinner, I decided to join them. And from the menu, I then ordered a meal of six mandus swimming in a bowl of hot savory broth that could serve two hungry tourists! Ha-ha-ha! Their mandus are big, but for a starving person, the flavor of the minced meat filling and the softness of the mandu wrapper made it easy to gobble them down effortlessly. It has been a long time since my last visit here. I was happy to have made it before they closed for the day. 
(My hot bowl full of mandu. The lady in the background was filling the mandu wrappers with flavored minced meat.)

The Cheonggye Stream and Coffeesmith cafe
After a heavy dinner, I decided to walk it off by strolling towards the Cheonggye Stream, where I stopped by at the Tourism Information booth to ask for a map of Bukchon. It was very cold outside, but since the crowd that night filling the streets of Jongno didn't look bothered by the weather, I tried to share their spirit.

At the Tourism Information booth, I told Miss Ryu, the information officer, that I planned to visit Bukchon village the next morning; she then pulled out a map of the village from the shelf and explained the most interesting spots of the place to me.  Every night, the booth closes at 10PM and again, I was just in time! Afterwards, I continued my stroll along the Cheonggye Stream and stopped by the Coffeesmith cafe to study the map and update my blog while having a hot cafe mocha. It felt good sitting indoors with a hot cup of coffee!
                       (At the Tourist Information booth; 
                       Miss Ryu gladly took my photo)
                  (Frozen, not the movie, but the stream)
(Blogging away at the Coffeesmith with my hot cafe mocha)

Bukchon Village
This is perhaps the most famous place in Seoul where one can find a lot of clustered hanok, or Korean traditional homes. When I got there the next morning, a lot of international tourists were already there strolling the village. This place, by the way, is still a residential area. So, everyone is required to be quiet while walking around, but groups of tourists from Asia were noisy as they scampered around taking photos of each other. If only I could speak their language...
                                    (Hanok rooftops)

I followed the map that I got from the Tourist Information booth and had a great time revisiting the place. I was here a few times in 2006 when I was invited inside the house of Mr. David Kilburn, a British gentleman, who was an advocate of the preserving hanoks in this area. His house was a location of the movie, Empty House or 빈집.

My visit to Bukchon deserves a separate blog as I had a lot of photographs taken during Saturday morning when it was a bit cloudy, and the next day, when all the hanoks were covered with a thin layer of snow that fell the night before. I got there early in the morning to make sure I photographed the snow before it melted.

(A couple posing at a famous Bukchon alley full of hanoks)

Snowy Seoul
In the afternoon, I passed by Daehangno where I intended to catch a Korean musicale that night, even though I don't understand the songs. Ha-ha-ha!  This was where my friend Cielo and I caught Hwarang, a Korean musicale, when she came to Seoul last time.
                  (A sculpture next to the Hyewha Station)
                              (Snow started to fall!)

It turned out, while I was around Hyewha Station, I had to call it a day when heavy snow and strong winds came blowing through the city by mid-afternoon. I would have wanted to squeeze in a visit to a palace while there was still daylight. I guess the snowy weather didn't want me to.

Insadong's Ssamziegil
Although it was still snowing, but not as heavily as during the afternoon, I headed out again to Insadong, and stopped by Ssamziegil. 'Gil' in Korean means street, and this building is populary described as street as the structure is a continuous walk from the ground up to the highest floor. One can reach the top without using the stairs as the floor continuously elevates.

On my stroll at Ssamziegil and along Insa-dong, a few interesting souvenirs caught my eye. As a tourist, I gladly bought them to remind me of my fun weekend at this place. 

Insadong's Andamiro Restaurant
It was already below freezing when I finished my walk around Insa-dong, and dinner was just the missing slot in my schedule that night. So, I wandered around and found a familiar restaurant. Andamiro! Who doesn't like Italian food?

This restaurant's customers are mostly locals, who prefer a quiet place for their dinner of wine and Italian cuisine. A few friends of mine prefer this place when they're in Insa-dong, and there was no reason for me to go somewhere else to seek refuge and dinner in this weather. After all, I love Italian food, too!
                         (My bolognese pasta in cream)

'Dragon's beard' candy and Korean chestnuts!
And just along the main Insa-dong alley, there are a couple fo stores where tourists are attracted to. The guys making the 'dragon's beard' candy are always busy calling everyone into their stall to show how this unique candy is made. As I passed by, I got curious, too. I think I have tasted this candy years ago, and I forgot how good they actually were. This was the time I got me a box or two again!

And who doesn't enjoy a pack of warm, cooked chestnuts? As I walked toward my B&B right along the Exit 6 of Anguk Station, I spotted a chestnut vendor. I just couldn't resist buying a pack. I was supposed to be a tourist, who couldn't speak Korean, but I had to tell him I love chestnuts in Korean. He gladly gave me an extra to enjoy. A pack cost KRW5,000. Reasonable enough for these big chestnuts, freshly peeled and ready to eat!

Tourist Information Guides in Red Jacket
Since Insa-dong is also one of the most popular places for tourists in Seoul, a few teams of tour guides in red jackets walk around to provide information for everyone. They can speak in three languages: English, Japanese and Chinese. I will have to feature them in another blog as these guides are helpful and dedicated. I talked to a team while I was in Insa-dong, and they were there even during the snowy and cold morning, willing to help out anyone.

     (The Seoul Tourism Organization guides in red jackets)

Well, my weekend as a tourist in the Jongno area is over. But it was fun pretending to be one, especially there was a lot to see and discover again. 

So, thanks to the artisans, the vendors, the waiters, the hanok owners and everyone else who made my weekend in the Jongno District a good one!
                                  (Let's drink to Jongno!)


  1. Thanks for this nice and informative post! and very timely for me since I'll b coming to Seoul next month and will stay at Jongno area (though not on that guesthouse^^).
    Will try to hunt down that Mandu shop in Insadong! :)


    1. Thanks, Yan. I'm sure you'll also enjoy roaming around Jongno next month. Here's another blog about Koong Mandu with photos so you'd be able to find it. It also contains a link to their site. Have fun!


    2. Thanks a lot for that link! :) I'll surely check that one out! :)


  2. Alphonse, I admire how you go out and do some things alone...I feel weird trying to go out and do anything by myself as I just can't really enjoy and appreciate things if someone isn't there to enjoy it with me.

    1. Thanks! I used to walk around with friends (local and international) in roaming Seoul, but I am also used to doing it alone, especially if it's a spur of the moment thingy.