HCMC Dining Guide

Monday, December 17, 2012

Seoul Part 3: Braving the Elements

The temperatures overnight Saturday had dropped to around 10 F, but the booze we had consumed largely masked the cold. When we went out Sunday morning though, there was no protection. Even with multiple layers on the frigid air sliced to the bone, and even the slightest breeze took your breath away. The wind chill had to have been below 0. We would later learn that the day's temperatures were the coldest Seoul had seen in December in over 20 years. Smartly, we decided to spend the entire day outside. At least it was sunny.

We took a bus and the subway to Samcheongdong, an upscale neighborhood that reminded me of Magazine St. in New Orleans, with its legions of boutiques, hip cafes and smart restaurants.

We needed some lunch to soak up the remnants of the previous night's revelry, and I was in the mood for some hot soup. We stopped at a place with a name in Chinese characters and had mandu, some simply amazing dumplings; and kalguksu, a noodle soup with mushrooms and beef. As always a side of kimchi was served as well. This was one of the best meals of the trip, and I'm still salivating over those dumplings.

Walking outside from the warm confines of the restaurant was like getting punched in the face, and we headed up a hill to the Bukchon Hanok village. A hanok is a traditional Korean house, and in this area a large number have been preserved, restored and turned into contemporary homes for people. Snow from the previous week still filled the grooves on the roofs in the neighborhood, making for some great visuals. The narrow lanes cutting through the area were dead quiet, and I reveled in the silence that is impossible to find in Saigon. The houses were beautiful, and a few vantage points provided a nice contrast between the traditional homes and Seoul's modern skyline in the distance.

The walk through the village had left us on the verge of hypothermia, so we stopped at a shop where an amiable older woman was making hotteok, which is basically a pancake stuffed with brown sugar cinnamon. I had heard about this treat from a friend in Saigon who used to live in Seoul, and I couldn't wait to try it. The shop had an electric heater where we warmed our hands, and the steaming, absolutely delicious hotteok quickly warmed our bellies. If I eventually move to Seoul I'm going to have a hard time controlling myself around these things.
After the snack we walked to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the largest of Seoul's five royal palaces. Originally built by the Joseon Dynasty in 1395, the palace was later burned and abandoned before being rebuilt in 1867. In the 20th century much of the palace was once again destroyed, this time by Japan during their occupation of the Korean peninsula. Since then the grounds have been gradually restored, and while buildings are still missing the walled palace is nonetheless quite impressive. The carpet of snow once again lent itself to nice pictures.


on frozen pond
As we were exploring the palace a young Korean-American woman approached and asked if we would be willing to answer a few questions on camera for a TV show. We said sure, and she brought us over to the camerawoman. We were told we would be asked about one of two subjects: the stock market, or Justin Bieber. Since neither Mimsie or I follow stocks, we were forced to talk about The Bieber. We were told not to curse and not to put our hands in our pockets, and that whatever we said would be translated into Korean. We were asked when and how we had heard about Bieber, what we think of him, and why we think he is so popular. I played semi-nice and didn't let my feelings on the musical abomination that is Bieber bleed through too much, and the woman seemed pleased with our answers. As a result of this completely random encounter I've now been on Korean and Vietnamese TV! Next stop, America!
a rebuilt building
We then ran into an eccentric young Korean man who asked where we were from:
"Ah! America is very good! And also Canada, Australia and New Zealand! And England and Ireland and Portugal! Many Americans travel to Italy!"

He bid farewell and ambled off, still rattling off country names, as if the only English he knew had come from a travel brochure. After exiting the palace through its formidable main gate we stopped at a Dunkin Donuts to warm up and regain feeling in our extremities, and then went back through Insadong.
We noticed an art gallery displaying some interesting pieces and stopped in. Called 'Plastic Zoo', the artist had made animals look like garbage bags in a representation of the conflict between man and nature. Very creative. And a little creepy.

We then took a bus to N Seoul Tower, the city's most prominent landmark thanks to its location atop Namsan Mountain. The 777 foot-tall observation and communications tower provides epic views over sprawling Seoul, and is a popular place for dates, though on this night the rapidly dropping temperatures that accompanied dusk made staying outside for more than a few minutes difficult. There is also a picturesque pagoda near the tower.

one of my favorite pictures from the trip
20 million people
We braved the cold for as long as possible before getting back on a bus and then taking the subway to Myeongdong, another neon-lit shopping district. We had a steaming helping of dalk galbi for dinner. Rice, chicken and rice cakes stuffed with cheese were cooked on the table, and the delicious, spicy result was something that reminded me an awful lot of jambalaya.

holy neon
Despite the brutal temperatures the streets of Myeongdong were packed with shoppers, and we joined them in some window shopping before finally retiring for the night. It had been a long, cold, but very good day.
The following day, Monday, I would be venturing out on my own for the first time. More on that in my next post.


  1. Hey what camera do you use? or do you use a phone to take pictures?
    Oh and keep having fun!

    1. I use a Canon SX20 advanced digital, it's a couple of years old so there are newer models out but I still really like it.