The Han River Project

I like photographing all the amazing touristic places in Seoul, I really do, but I started to think that I was doing the same thing as every travel blogger in this country. In other words, I got bored. To overcome my boredom I thought of doing a project at the Han River. This is a blog post about that project and my thought process on how these pictures came to be. Maybe reading my ramblings will help you to be more creative if you're stuck in a rut like I was.

1. The picture that started it all.

1. The picture that started it all.

The Beginning

The picture above was taken when I was on another assignment for my blog. I noticed there weren't many bloggers writing about the cafes on the Han River, so I visited them all and wrote about it. Beneath one of the cafes were these murals painted on the underside of the bridge. Just by themselves they were nice, but not special enough for me to take a picture of. Then I saw the bikes passing by, which gave me the idea that you see above. I waited for a bike to be exactly in the middle, snapped, and instantly knew I had struck gold. Back home behind my computer I cleaned some things up with Photoshop, so the viewer wouldn't be distracted from the main subject. The rest is authentic. If you want to photograph this place as well, see the map below to see where to find it. It's on the south side of Hannam Bridge.

 

As time went on, there were fewer and fewer authentic places that nobody else already had written about. So when I was out photographing for my blog, I started getting bored from shooting the same things as everyone else. The picture above was in the back of my mind during that time. Trying to overcome my boredom, I started to think into making it a starting point for a project about the Han River.

I told some of my friends about my plan, but they didn't think much of it. According to them it had been done so many times already that it wasn't special at all. I wasn't deterred because I had something else in mind than just photographing bridges. What that something else was exactly, hadn't yet formed. I just took the picture above as a starting point and went wandering along the river. There wasn't a clear plan on what to shoot exactly (as you will probably notice when reading further), I just went and shot what came to mind. Some places I shot in the same style, with others I tried something different. I gave myself a restriction though: no excessive photoshopping. Removing or moving elements in a picture was ok, but that was about it. I broke my rule once, as you will see when reading further.

2. When you look the wrong way, you won't notice anything special. 

2. When you look the wrong way, you won't notice anything special. 

You may think I was going for the bridge/bike combo at this point, but the picture above was a pure coincidence. The pedestrian road on the north side of Jamsil Bridge is quite high compared to the underside of the bridge, so you have to bend over to see under the bridge well enough to discover its potential. It's also fenced off and there are steep steps right after the fence. There wasn't anyone present at the time, but I wasn't entirely comfortable climbing over that fence either. I saw a way around the fence if I backtracked a bit, so I did. When I came back I saw this guy sitting and having a smoke. I quickly climbed the aforementioned stairs, turned around, and shot the picture you see above. If I just had climbed the fence this guy wouldn't have been around, which would have resulted in an ok, but much less interesting picture. I got lucky. I haven't altered a thing in Photoshop at this picture, by the way.

 
3. Stepping into the light.

3. Stepping into the light.

This one I actually shot much further along the project than the ones before, but I used the same method as the others: I photographed without a plan. Although, not entirely. Fan Ho is one of my inspirations when it comes to photography and I think he died not much before I took this picture. His work must have lingered somewhere in the back of my mind.

It was a perfect day for black and white photography; it was early afternoon and the sun was out strong, which resulted in harsh shadows. Pedestrians were walking along the river and I took a couple of shots before I was satisfied with this one. I love that the shadows and the bridge make a sort of frame and the person being a part of that, but almost breaking free. I edited this in a way that the contrast is very high and also kept the strong highlights. No Photoshopping in this picture whatsoever. It's taken at the North side of Dongho bridge, just outside of Oksu Station. 

 
4. Bridge to nowhere.

4. Bridge to nowhere.

Another Fan Ho inspired shot, although this one I took earlier than the one above. I was just looking to do something different, because I quickly figured out that shooting all the bridges in one-point-perspective would be too boring. Then I saw Seonyu Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge leading to Seonyu Island. It's vastly different from the other bridges of Seoul, in that it's way slimmer and it is in an arch shape. I zoomed in as far as I could to eliminate any distractions in the background and took this shot. I edited it in black and white, because I liked the minimalistic feel and it would make that feeling stronger. The theme is still quite ordinary, but you can see I was already thinking of how to make my project different than just shooting some bridges the same way.

 
5. Strangers in a tunnel.

5. Strangers in a tunnel.

Here I tried to play with light in an otherwise boring tunnel somewhere near Olympic Bridge. I saw a few people walking further away from me and I immediatly saw the shot I wanted to take. I waited until they were at the end where they would be surrounded by the incoming light. I edited this in black and white because it gives more weight to the darkness in the tunnel and the silhouettes give an eerie feeling to the picture. This is the first time I started thinking to change the theme to be more scifi inspired.

 
6. It's always sunny in Seoul.

6. It's always sunny in Seoul.

I added this picture to give an example of what I mean with an ok picture. To me it looks nice; the light is great, there's repetition in the picture, and the murals give a nice contrast with the concrete. However, there's no plan behind it. It's just an empty hallway. I used to have a lot of these pictures (they're good for practice), but since I'm doing this for a while now, I want to tell a story that's something more than just a few pretty pictures. I have photoshopped exercising equipment out of this picture, because it was blocking the pillars at the end and it was distracting from the look I wanted the picture to have. This picture is also shot just next to Oksu station. 

 
 

My Daughter's Fairytales

After taking a lot of similar shots of bridges, I wanted something else. However, there isn't a lot else you can do that would make a photo of a bridge interesting. I've seen other pictures of the bridges over the Han River and they all look similar; a one-point-perspective with a repeating pattern going all the way into the distance. It's just the most interesting way to photograph them. Trying to solve this problem got me thinking. I figured that although you don't always have control over your subject, you still have control over your style. At that moment I thought of experimenting with creating another world, than the world I was actually photographing.

7. A bridge that's almost a portal to another world.

7. A bridge that's almost a portal to another world.

I read a lot of stories to my daughter. She's crazy about books and fairy tales are her favorite. Reading her all these stories about magic worlds with princesses, fairies, and monsters started to make me think if that could be the answer to making my photography project stand out. In other words, I started to question if objects in this world could be imagined to be something else from another world. The picture above of Seongsu Bridge was my first attempt. I started to see the path that leads under the bridge to some sort of portal. I edited the colors to reflect this a bit, but I didn't alter anything with Photoshop. 

 
8. On my way to Mordor.

8. On my way to Mordor.

The picture above is from the same location. I noticed Lotte Tower and I thought I maybe could do something with it. I've always thought that Lotte Tower resembled something of a modern Barad-dûr in shape, as well as the position a chaebol is in, within the Korean economy. I'm not the only one in this because people have been photoshopping the eye of Sauron on the tower. When I was scouting for angles I saw this view where the tower is perfectly framed by the pillars of the flyover. I edited it in black and white to subdue the feeling that it's a modern world and maybe make it more believable that the viewer is looking at a modern Mordor. I removed a concrete block in the bottom right corner with Photoshop, because it was distracting from the image.

9. Getting out of the Dungeon.

9. Getting out of the Dungeon.

My daughter usually is obsessed with one story for a period of time, which results in me reading the same story over and over to her again until I can dream the words. A lot of them feature dungeons (Beauty and the Beast, for instance) and that's what I was thinking about when I walking under the highway near Dongjak station.

When you walk here it doesn't resemble a dungeon in the slightest. There is a bike path and stream on the left. Also, the pillars are too far apart from each other. However, a long focal length lens compresses the background, which creates the illusion that those pillars are actually very close to each other. Changing the color of the pillars from grey into brown adds to the illusion of it being a dungeon instead of pillars supporting a highway. I removed a bit of distracting light on the right, but otherwise no photoshopping has been done.

 
10. Entrance to Atlantis.

10. Entrance to Atlantis.

This isn't the first time I flipped a picture upside down to create the illusion that it's a picture from another world. I'll go more into detail about that at the next picture, which was the first time I had that epiphany. The illusion of stairs that disappear in the water above, gave me the inspiration that this was the entrance to Atlantis. My daughter's obsession with The Little Mermaid might also have had something to do with it. Having to watch the cartoon together, then listen to the songs on iTunes, and then read the story at bedtime again, does something to your brain. I still think it's an elaborate scheme for revenge from the universe, because of all the times I teased my sister during our childhood about watching that awful cartoon every day.

Before I go off into a rant about mermaids, let me come back to this picture. This is the South side of Cheonho Bridge. I flipped the picture upside down and changed the color of the water and the "stairs" to give it a more off-worldly look. I didn't touch anything in Photoshop however. 

 
 

My Own Interests: Scifi/Space Station

Seoul is a modern city and the Han River is spanned by many concrete bridges. I was increasingly feeling that the fairy tale theme wasn't fitting to a lot of scenes I encountered. Being a scifi fan, I contemplated with what a scifi theme could do to my photography. My first thought was that of a space station. Because space lacks a distinct up and down, it would open up creative possibilities.

11. Dare to Defy Gravity?

11. Dare to Defy Gravity?

I didn't take the picture above upside down of course. It was right side up and although it was a bit different, it was still just a picture of a bridge. Being a bit bored and pondering what I should do, I pressed the rotate picture button in Lightroom a few times. That's when it hit me. This picture is so much more interesting upside down, because it creates an illusion of stairs going up, but when you're at the end your brain starts to malfunction. When I posted this on social media it blew up a bit. People were not sure what to make of it, but thought it was very cool. 

The black and white edit is on purpose, because having it in color doesn't work as well. Your brain receives too much information and figures out what's going on. The high contrast and blown out background emphasize the illusion. I photoshopped a few small distracting things out, but otherwise it is unaltered. The location is the same as number 4. Seonyu Bridge.

 
12. Space Station Fast Transport System.

12. Space Station Fast Transport System.

The above picture resembles a mass transport system that gets you from one part to another. In the real world it's exactly that (well not exactly that, due to Seoul's congested traffic), because it's an elevated highway flipped upside down. I photoshopped some buildings away and the lampposts that were sticking out in the middle. I used black and white to add to the illusion that it isn't just a highway upside down. This one is close to Oksu station as well. 

 
13. Space Station Water Reservoir.

13. Space Station Water Reservoir.

Another elevated highway, but this time with V-shaped pillars. The curve and width of the highway give the illusion it's going in a circle. Here I used the water and gave the light a dreamy look with filters in NIK software's Color Efex Pro 4 to give the illusion that the whole place is underwater. I used this technique in some pictures below as well. I photoshopped all the buildings out of the background. This highway is near the north side of Dangsan Railway Bridge.

 
14. Space Station Landing Platform.

14. Space Station Landing Platform.

This is actually the underside of Dangsan Railway Bridge. I photoshopped all the buildings away and made it monochrome to construct the illusion that it's actually a landing platform. For some reason it gives me a 2001: A Space Odyssey feel.

 
15. Space Station Docking Bay.

15. Space Station Docking Bay.

I sat in one of these V-shaped pillars while I took this picture. I noticed a group of pigeons flying around and I waited until they passed right between the support structure. That was easier said than done, because they flew so fast that they already went past before I noticed them and could press the shutter. It took a lot of patience and several tries to get it right, and I'm still not entirely satisfied. Next time I'll bring a pigeon trainer. :-)

I flipped this picture upside down, altered the colors, and photoshopped two benches out that were in front of the first V-shape, as well as some people on the top left corner. The last V-shape is a bit different than the others, which gives the illusion there's a glass door at the end. I kept that part the original color to emphasize this. You can find this place on the north side of Banpo bridge just to the left if you are facing the bridge. 

 
16. Space Station Maintenance Room.

16. Space Station Maintenance Room.

This photo is taken on a path that leads you under Dongjak Station towards the river. I noticed all the pipes and I thought it would have potential for my series. I flipped the signs in Photoshop so it would help in the illusion that this is the right side up and I changed the color of the concrete a bit. 

 
 

Scifi/Dystopian Future

I'm a huge fan of scifi movies and games where everything has gone to shit (not so much of a fan if it happened in real life though). Bladerunner, Fallout, the Matrix, and District 9, to name a few, are a huge inspiration to me. Although there are better places in Seoul to photograph a cyberpunk scene (Jongno-gu, Myeongdong, or anywhere with a lot of neon lighting), I confined myself to the river, so those were not an option for me. However, I still encountered places that could be transformed into a scene from those type of movies.

17. Police Station 10.

17. Police Station 10.

This is the only picture in the series that I broke my own rules (well there is another, but I didn't include that one in this post). The man in the picture is taken from one of my other pictures and photoshopped in. There were a few people walking behind the fence that you see to the right, but because they were behind the fence it was very time consuming to cut them out and move them. So I photoshopped them out and put a man in from another picture. I felt this picture needed a person for context. It gives more weight to the illusion that this is the right side up. I also flipped the sign in the lower right corner to add to this illusion and that sign also became an inspiration for the title. In actuality, this is the entrance to Dongjak subway station.

 
18. The Hive.

18. The Hive.

I saw the underside of Eungbong Bridge and got the idea to make it work like some kind of skyscraper, which houses something sinister in a scifi movie. I flipped the picture, removed two legs off the bridge and removed some buildings with Photoshop, and turned the picture black and white.

 
19. Taking a Stroll in an Post Apocalyptic World.

19. Taking a Stroll in an Post Apocalyptic World.

I'm proudest of this picture, because it took a lot of patience to get it right. This is on the south side of the river under Gwangjin Bridge. First I was photographing the opposite way, but I couldn't get it right because there were too many distracting elements in my frame. So I walked forward a while and turned around, which gave me this view of the bridge. I knew I needed a person in the frame to make this picture special. Since it was the dead of winter and there was a very cold breeze, there weren't that many people outside. When people did pass by they were on a bicycle or walking their dog. It didn't feel right for the dystopian theme I was aiming for.

I didn't have a tripod with me so I was handholding my camera while my hands slowly froze from the ice cold wind. I kept going at it for at least 30 minutes and I almost wanted to give up, because I had almost lost the feeling in my hands. Then this guy showed up and I knew he was perfect for the shot.

At home I edited the colors so they were a bit warmer, and I removed two small distracting locks on the bottom of the picture. The simplicity of this scene makes it so perfect to me.

 
 

Scifi/Alien Ruins

20. Alien Ruins.

20. Alien Ruins.

When I put pictures of the underside of this highway on Instagram, I wrote in the description that they were ancient ruins . Obviously I meant that's what they represented in my artistic view, but someone mistook them for real and asked me what ruins they were and where they were located. I replied with a joke, which made them realize that they had been fooled and in embarrassment deleted their comment. I thought that was unfortunate, because that they thought it was real was actually a great compliment to my work. Also, one of my friends said it looked like some scene from the Alien franchise, which was of course also a great compliment for me.  

21. Portal to Another World.

21. Portal to Another World.

22. Underwater Track.

22. Underwater Track.

In editing these I made the colors warmer than they were and also added a bit of a glow to give the illusion that it was underwater. I took a lot of pictures and just picked the best ones. Posting similar pictures repeatedly gets boring anyway.

23. The Inspection.

23. The Inspection.

Maybe you recognize this man from picture 17. (the police station), but he was originally in this shot. I moved him from the actual road you see above. It's not the best photoshop job, but it was my first time so please forgive me for that. One of my friends couldn't figure it out what I had done, so my mission was a succes. 

24. Rock Garden.

24. Rock Garden.

I also posted the above picture in between the upside down ones on social media. Someone commented that for an instance they were puzzled why there were benches on the ceiling, thinking that I flipped this picture as well. For me it was proof that my thinking was right. Flipping a picture upside down for the sake of flipping it doesn't work. It has to totally transform the scene in a believable way. It wouldn't be believable if the benches were on the ceiling. Keeping the viewer guessing is much more rewarding anyway.

All the above pictures in this section were taken on the south side of the river between Dongjak Bridge and Hangang Bridge. I just followed the trail along the river. 

 
 

Same Style, Different Location

25. Glitch in the Matrix.

25. Glitch in the Matrix.

26. What's up is down and vice versa.

26. What's up is down and vice versa.

These two pictures are taken at Hongjecheon, a stream that runs into the Han River. So technically not near the Han River, but I felt the style matched so well that I wanted to include them.  Maybe this is a style I will continue to use, although using it too much will probably turn it into a gimmick.

 
 

Conclusion

In fear of boring people to death and running out of locations, I end my Han River project here. Doing a project made me so much more creative that I actually want to continue doing another one. However, I haven't had the time to think of one yet, so that's something to figure out in the future. I have learned so much during this project that I recommend anyone that wants to push themselves creatively to do one of their own. I'll list the things I learned along the way in the hope it will beneficial to anyone who is reading this.

1. Just start when you have an inkling of an idea.

Inspiration doesn't come while you are sitting around waiting for it. It mostly comes to you when you are doing something unrelated. If you have even the vaguest idea of what you want to do, just start. You'll work out the details along the way. An idea can be a place, a subject, or a style. Anything that gets you going to press that shutter, actually.

2. Set yourself some limitations in the beginning, not too strict though.

Creativity flourishes within limitations. If you set the parameters of your project too wide you're not going to go forward creatively. In part this project suffers from that problem; I didn't narrow it down to what I actually was going to do, so now my project can be separated into a few parts. On the other side it's perfect as a first project, because it shows the journey I was going through. For future projects, I'm going to narrow it down earlier, or split it up in several projects. I am glad I set a Photoshop limitation though, because that made me think harder and made my work stronger.

3. Don't be afraid to change things up if it doesn't work.

One strength of this project is that I changed the style several times to make it fit better with the scenes I encountered. If I would've just stuck to a bridge and bike theme for instance, it wouldn't have figured out the style to flip the picture upside down and create another world. It would have been an ok, but slightly boring project.

4. Don't be afraid of criticism.

“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”


― Dita Von Teese

Regarding this project, I guess there will be a lot of people seeing this and think it's stupid or not to their taste. That's fine and I don't care, because I think it's awesome. I made these pictures for myself. If you like them too, that's an added bonus. 

Go ahead, post every picture that you're passionate about on social media. You'll have lovers and haters. Disregard the haters and also take the lovers with a grain of salt though. It's easy to press like or let a bot do that for them. Hopefully you'll also have people who comment something thoughtful and some that give you constructive criticism. Those people are your best friends in photography. Listen and take from them that what you think will improve your photography.

5. Know what to throw away and when it's time to quit.

Have I dragged this project out in the hope to find more photo opportunities? I guess I did. Not long ago I was at Olympic Bridge and I caught myself taking similar pictures as I already had taken numerous times at different bridges. It left me unsatisfied and I knew it was time to move on. Maybe I'll set a time or picture limit on my next project to counter this.

I am also left with a lot of pictures that I am dissatisfied with, which I didn't use in this project. That's totally ok because those failures led to the pictures I do like. I'll just throw the failures away. Some pictures I did post on social media, but didn't put in this post because it was just more of the same. At the next project I have to be harder on myself to kill more of my "darlings."

So there you have it, I have rambled on long enough. Thanks for sticking it out for so long. I hope this post was helpful and hopefully you'll come back when I have finished my new project (whatever that may be).

 

Chung Nyun Mall

Between the Hanok in Jeonju there is Nambu Market. Markets are not my thing at all, but this one has a secret. Above the market there is small area with cute little boutiques, cafes, and eateries called Chung Nyun Mall. It's Jeonju's hidden gem.

If you want to have a break from the traditional Hanok village, this is the place to visit. There are several boutiques where you can shop for unique gifts, a few eateries with western style food, and a few cafes to get a nice cup of coffee. 

The rough unfinished style of the alleys contrasts with the cute, neat interiors of the boutiques.

The rough unfinished style of the alleys contrasts with the cute, neat interiors of the boutiques.

A taco joint to the left and outdoor seating to the right.

A taco joint to the left and outdoor seating to the right.

In contrast with the Nambu Market below, Chung Nyun Mall has a nice and relaxed atmosphere. It's a perfect place to spend some time on a date. The crowd consisted mostly of young people when I visited. 

One of our guides saying hello to his friend.

One of our guides saying hello to his friend.

It says Sesemi, but I think they mean Sesami. Koreans spell English loan words phonetically, as they think an American would say it.

It says Sesemi, but I think they mean Sesami. Koreans spell English loan words phonetically, as they think an American would say it.

This shop seemed popular with the kids.

This shop seemed popular with the kids.

Its boutiques are the focal point of Chung Nyun Mall. Each is unique and interesting to photograph or browse in.

A few cafes.

A few cafes.

Conclusion

The mall was a nice place to spend some time in. I wandered around a bit to take some photos, have a coffee, and then it was already time to leave. I would recommend going here when you're in Jeonju, because it's a nice break from the historical stuff. 

Address

Jeollabukdo, Jeonjusi, Wansangu, Jeondong 3 ga, 2-241 Nambu Market 6Dong 2nd Floor (전라북도 전주시 완산구 전동3가 2-241 남부시장 6동 2층)

Their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/2Fchungnyunmall

 

Disclaimer: This post is written in exchange for an all expenses paid tour through North Jeolla Province with the Jeollabuk-do Tourism Board. However, all views are my own.

The Skyfarm

Half-bored and sleepy I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, when a post from the Seoul Korea account caught my attention. In the post there were a few photos of views of Yeouido (at an angle I had never seen before), a stunning interior of a restaurant, and a rooftop garden. The post also said you can get an all day breakfast for a reasonable price, and that was all I needed to go check it out. 

The FKI tower in Yeouido where The Skyfarm is located.

The FKI tower in Yeouido where The Skyfarm is located.

9000 won for a stale beer and 20,000 won for a bland burger isn't really what I call reasonably priced, but at least the fries and the view were good. I went to 세상의 모든 아침 (All of the World's Breakfasts), one of the two restaurants (the other one a buffet style Korean restaurant) located on the 50th floor of the FKI tower. Together with the garden on the 51st floor, they form The Skyfarm.

There is a magnificent view of almost all of Seoul, which I imagine, is even better during sunset or at night. The interior is just as stunning as the view. Next to the restaurant there's one of the most beautiful wedding halls I have seen in Korea. The whole floor is styled minimalistic, which is a big contrast with the posh overdone interior design you see in most wedding venues in Seoul.

세상의 모든 아침 (All of the World’s Breakfasts), one of the restaurants on the 50th floor.

세상의 모든 아침 (All of the World’s Breakfasts), one of the restaurants on the 50th floor.

Dining with a view.

Dining with a view.

The restaurant is nicely decorated.

The restaurant is nicely decorated.

Even the hallways are beautiful.

Even the hallways are beautiful.

In the weekend this hall doubles as a wedding hall.

In the weekend this hall doubles as a wedding hall.

The indoor garden above the restaurants is accessible by a somewhat concealed, separate elevator. That is possibly the reason why it was virtually empty when I visited. Every now and then a few people would come in, wander around a bit, and leave. The quietness makes it the perfect spot to relax from the hustle and bustle of busy Seoul.

The roof is full of solar panels and there are openings that let the wind through, which results in a nice breeze. The garden itself is full of flowers, potted plants, and even some vegetables (hence the name The Skyfarm). There are two small greenhouses, although just one had some chairs and a table in it where you can relax. The whole place just permeates peace and serenity.

The garden on the 51st floor.

The garden on the 51st floor.

The whole ceiling is full of solar panels.

The whole ceiling is full of solar panels.

Lilacs and other flowers can be seen.

Lilacs and other flowers can be seen.

Because of its serene beauty, the garden is also very suitable to do a photoshoot in. There are enough different background to try your hand in getting interesting backgrounds for portraits. I suspect wedding/engagement shoots are quite common here, because the garden almost seems to be built for this purpose only.

The name The Skyfarm has probably something to do with why they grow vegetables.

The name The Skyfarm has probably something to do with why they grow vegetables.

Relaxation and serenity.

Relaxation and serenity.

Lots of plants.

Lots of plants.

Like the restaurants below, the garden has big windows from which you have a stunning view of Seoul. Unfortunately, the building suffers from what I call the Korean disease: unwashed windows. It's difficult to get a clear shot of the city from these windows, because you can see the dirt quite clearly. Nevertheless, it's a very nice place to gaze over Seoul while you collect your thoughts.

The views are stunning, but they really need to wash the windows.

The views are stunning, but they really need to wash the windows.

Conclusion

Visiting The Skyfarm was worth it, although I wouldn't eat at 세상의 모든 아침 (All of the World's Breakfasts) anymore. The food was subpar and therefore overpriced. Although the windows aren't washed, the view is still very stunning and I would like to check it out during sunset.

How to get there

Go to Yeouido Station (Subway Lines 5 and 9) and get out at Exit 2. Walk straight towards the rows of trees and keep walking until you encounter a road. Don't cross it, but take a left. Keep going and You'll see the FKI tower. It's very distinct so you can't miss it. If you are still unsure on how to get there, click here to see a video with directions.

Address

28-1 Yeouido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 영등포구 여의도동 28-1 전경련회관 50, 51F)

 

Hakindang Hanok Stay

When I saw in the itinerary that we were going to stay in a Hanok, I guessed it would be a beautiful building, since most Hanoks are. It looked like an ordinary Hanok from the outside when we arrived. Once we passed through the gate however, I was pleasantly surprised. Hakindang exceeded my expectations and is by far the most beautiful place I have stayed in Korea.

The tiny gate has been made so they don't have to open the aging big one.

The tiny gate has been made so they don't have to open the aging big one.

Hakindang (학인당) is one of those Hanoks that permeates history. Completed in 1908 during the Japanese colonization, the house was first used by artists in the North Jeolla Province. After Japan had capitulated and the Korean War had started, Hakindang was occupied illegally by a high ranking North Korean official. After the official was driven out, the building was then used by high ranking figures in the South Korean government. Nowadays its use isn't as thrilling as in those days. Hakindang is mainly used as a guesthouse for tourists that want to soak up Korean history. 

The main building.

The main building.

Although its main function is a guesthouse, sometimes Pansori (traditional Korean opera) performances are still held in Hakindang during the Jeonju International Sori Festival. The main building was constructed as a concert hall especially to accommodate these kind of performances. Therefore the ceiling is higher than most Hanoks.

Main building hallway.

Main building hallway.

These are Gayageum; traditional Korean music instruments.

These are Gayageum; traditional Korean music instruments.

Traditional Korean pottery.

Traditional Korean pottery.

The courtyard has a very relaxing atmosphere and it felt like I was transported to the countryside, instead of being in the middle of a village. 

The courtyard has a very relaxing atmosphere and it felt like I was transported to the countryside, instead of being in the middle of a village. 

There is a guestroom in the main building, but I stayed in one of the other buildings on the premises. There was a mattress on the floor (common in Hanoks), but it was very comfy and although it was December I never once felt cold in the room. The floor heating was working very well.

The hallway to my bedroom at Hakindang. Your shoes have to come off, as is custom in any Korean home.

The hallway to my bedroom at Hakindang. Your shoes have to come off, as is custom in any Korean home.

In the morning you will be served traditional Korean breakfast. Although I'm not a fan of eating a warm meal in the morning, this was actually very good. After breakfast we had a small tea ceremony where our host explained how he made the tea. 

Breakfast

Breakfast

Tea ceremony.

Tea ceremony.

The courtyard from a window on the second floor.

The courtyard from a window on the second floor.

Kimchi pots.

Kimchi pots.

Although not for the budget traveller, I would highly recommend staying here if you are in Jeonju and want to stay in a real traditional Korean house. Hakindang is very beautiful and peaceful, located in the middle of the Hanok village, and the staff is friendly. You can find more details on their website. Though one obstacle you have to overcome is that the website is only in Korean. An English version seems to be under construction.  

Address

45, Hyanggyo-gil, Wansan-gu, Jeonju-si, Jeollabuk-do (전라북도 전주시 완산구 향교길 45 (교동))

 

Disclaimer: This post is written in exchange for an all expenses paid tour through North Jeolla Province with the Jeollabuk-do Tourism Board. However, all views are my own.

Jeonju Hanok Village Photo Spots

Last December, I was invited to photograph the beautiful North Jeolla Province at a three day press tour. Our first stop was Jeonju Hanok Village; a beautiful area of Jeonju, full of traditional Korean wooden houses (Hanok). In Jeonju alone there was so much to photograph that it won't fit in one blog post, so I will split it into three. Here I will touch upon some good photography spots inside the Hanok Village; in the next post I will show you where we stayed at (the beautiful Hakindang Hanok); and in the last post, I will show you a hidden area with small shops and cafes, which you would otherwise have missed when you visit this beautiful city. 

An overview of the Hanok Village.

An overview of the Hanok Village.

A Hanok is a traditional Korean wooden house, which was frequently used during the Joseon Dynasty. Although there are still several used by families to live in, nowadays apartments outnumber Hanok by far. Recently there is somewhat of a Hanok revival going however, and several have been restored, rebuilt, or completely re-engineered. Hanoks are now used as cafes, tea houses, restaurants or places for people to stay in (which we did during this press tour). 

Shops and cafes are all in traditional style buildings.

Shops and cafes are all in traditional style buildings.

Each Hanok is unique and therefore they are an excellent photographic subject. I just love photographing them. If you do too, then Jeonju Hanok Village is the place to be. The Village is made up out of several Hanok, although they are not all hundreds of years old. Some are fairly new, but built in the traditional style.

Having so many traditional houses in one place makes for a truly special atmosphere. There is this sense of past and calm that permeates the narrow streets between the Hanoks. The best way to explore this area is just to wander the streets and get lost. You will stumble on something worthy to photograph any which way you go. 

Exterior of the Woodblock Printing Experience Museum.

Exterior of the Woodblock Printing Experience Museum.

As an extra bonus, there are the many young people that walk through the village in traditional Korean wardrobe, which they rent in the many shops in the area. While wandering the streets of the Hanok Village they take selfies or photos of each other. Because they're so occupied getting the perfect picture with the age-old area as a backdrop, it creates a good opportunity for you to take some photos of them as well. In fact, there are so many of these opportunities, that it is a street photographer's dream. 

Tourists taking pictures of themselves in Hanbok.

Tourists taking pictures of themselves in Hanbok.

In addition to all the Hanoks and Hanboks, there are some other places of interest to photograph in the Village. There is an old confucian school, a palace that was built just to hold the portrait of the king, a cathedral (which we sadly didn't visit), a hill from which you can take a cityscape shot, and also a cafe with an amazing view of the Hanok Village. I'll address them below, together with a map, so you can find out where these places are.

 

Jeonju Hyanggyo Confucian School (전주향교)

The entrance. Taking a picture of Robert Koehler Travel Photography taking a picture of me. Also in the picture: 87pages

The entrance. Taking a picture of Robert Koehler Travel Photography taking a picture of me. Also in the picture: 87pages

This Confucian school was first constructed sometime early in the 15th century and later rebuilt, because it was destroyed during the Second Japanese Invasion in 1592. It used to be an important school during the Joseon Dynasty, but now people just come here as tourists. Fall is a very popular time to visit, because of the big ginkgo trees that are on the premises. Unfortunately, we were there early December and all the leaves had already fallen off and turned brown. Nevertheless, even without the yellow ginkgo leaves there was plenty to photograph. 

Locking up for the day.

Locking up for the day.

Inside the school.

Inside the school.

They certainly don't build schools like they used to.

They certainly don't build schools like they used to.

Run and beat the drum.

Run and beat the drum.

Address: 139, Hyanggyo-gil, Wansan-gu, Jeonju-si, Jeollabuk-do (전라북도 전주시 완산구 향교길 139)

 
 

Gyeonggijeon Shrine (경기전)

Gyeonggijeon Shrine  has all the characteristics of a Korean palace, but wasn't used as one. The whole place was built in 1410 to hold the portrait of King Tae-jo, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty. It was basically an early version of an Instagram profile. Portraits of successive kings are also on display. 

Symmetry is important.

Symmetry is important.

As you walk the straight road from the entrance to the main building, it becomes apparent that symmetry was very important to the architect of this place. It is therefore quite easy to take esthetically pleasing photos. Just point you camera straight ahead, frame your main subject in the center, and release your inner Stanley Kubrick

The sun fell right on this sword, as if it was a computer game and picking up the sword would start a new quest. Although, if I really would pick it up, the quest would be escaping the Korean prison system...

The sun fell right on this sword, as if it was a computer game and picking up the sword would start a new quest. Although, if I really would pick it up, the quest would be escaping the Korean prison system...

Address: 44, Taejo-ro, Wansan-gu, Jeonju-si, Jeollabuk-do (전라북도 전주시 완산구 태조로 44)

 
 

Omokdae & Imokdae (오목대와 이목대)

Although the building on this hill and the hill itself have a history of their own, photographically speaking, it is the view that is the most interesting. It's fairly easy to climb up the hill because there is a wooden staircase and the hill isn't very high. The view from the hill is great, although the view from cafe 전망 (described below) is even better. The difference between the two is esthetically: on this hill you can see the cathedral, which is harder to spot at the cafe. You are also not required to buy an overpriced cup of joe, which is an extra bonus for some. 

The Hanok Village seen from the hill near Omokdae.

The Hanok Village seen from the hill near Omokdae.

Address: 55, Girin-daero, Wansan-gu, Jeonju-si, Jeollabuk-do (전라북도 전주시 완산구 기린대로 55)

 
 

Cafe 전망

At the end of the day there was some time to wander around. The sun was slowly setting and I knew I had to get somewhere up high to get a nice cityscape shot of the village. I knew exactly the place to go to. However, I went somewhere else entirely.

Inside Cafe 전망, which means view.

Inside Cafe 전망, which means view.

As I found out, there are not one, but two cafes both located on the hill right at the start of the village. Because they are elevated, they have a great view of the Village. While Tomorrow Cafe (the place I initially wanted to go to) has a cozier atmosphere, Cafe 전망 (Cafe View, what's in a name) has a better view. The cafe has two stories filled with tables and seats where you'll have a great view from the city through the windows. There is also a terrace, which has an even better view, and the bonus that you don't have to try to photoshop out the glare from lights reflecting in the windows.

The view from Cafe 전망's terrace is stunning.

The view from Cafe 전망's terrace is stunning.

Although my hands were freezing off as I was trying to get some shots of the area, I could do it in relative peace, as there was not anybody crazy enough to attempt the same. I doubt that will be the case in warmer months though. Luckily there was coffee to warm me up afterwards.

When you have a long focal lenght lens you can get in close on parts of the city.

When you have a long focal lenght lens you can get in close on parts of the city.

People in Hanboks are passing by constantly.

People in Hanboks are passing by constantly.

The view at night.

The view at night.

Address: Jeollabuk-do, Jeonju, Wansan-gu, Pungnam-dong, 한지길 89 (전라북도 전주시 완산구 한지길 89 전주한옥마을 전망)

 
 

Conclusion

I still want to come back one day to explore the Hanok Village on my own and take my time to photograph, because it is incredibly beautiful. There is so much to photograph, that just an afternoon of exploring doesn't do it justice. If you want to come photograph Jeonju, I highly recommend being here for more than one day. At least stay here overnight, so you can shoot during the late afternoon, night, and early morning. That way, you can explore this beautiful city in every possible light condition.

Disclaimer: This post is written in exchange for an all expenses paid tour through North Jeolla Province with the Jeollabuk-do Tourism Board. However, all views are my own.

Hwaseong Fortress

Three times I have been to Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon (수원 화성) and I won't mind going a fourth time. Walking along the fortress wall and taking pictures along the way clears my mind and keeps me in shape. Because the wall slithers over hills and snakes between several parts of the city, there are multiple vantage points to take in the view. The highest point is Paldalsan Mountain (팔알산) from which you have an excellent view of Suwon. Although the "mountain" is 145.5 meters, climbing it feels effortless. The same goes for the rest of the 5.52km fortress wall. Walking on it is a breeze.

On top of Paldalsan Mountain, January 2012.

On top of Paldalsan Mountain, January 2012.

After I first went to the fortress in the winter of 2012, I was very much experimenting with editing pictures. I just had a new program (Apple's Aperture, which has been discontinued sadly) where I had a lot more control than in iPhoto. I was inspired by the history of the fortress and decided to give my pictures a vintage, washed out look. Consistency in your style is important in photography (so they say on almost every website about photography, but normally I just ignore that and experiment away) so every time I go to the fortress, I try to stay true to the theme. It makes for a nice series I believe. 

Details on the pagoda, January 2012.

Details on the pagoda, January 2012.

Wall and guard tower, January 2012.

Wall and guard tower, January 2012.

Another angle on the pagoda on Paldasan Mountain, January 2012.

Another angle on the pagoda on Paldasan Mountain, January 2012.

Now that I have several years more experience with photography and more powerful editing tools to my disposal (NIK software is fantastic), I made subtle changes in this style. I look more at the color in the scene and edit according to what I feel brings them out more. If you notice, the pictures below are a bit warmer than those from 2012. There are a lot of yellow tones in the pictures so I decided to bring those out a bit more while maintaining the washed out look. 

The fortress and the city, November 2016.

The fortress and the city, November 2016.

Fall at the fortress, November 2016.

Fall at the fortress, November 2016.

Old and new, November 2016.

Old and new, November 2016.

Also, I learned how to do panorama shots with my camera by stitching several shots together in Lightroom. It's a bit tricky sometimes because you need to balance the very bright with the dark parts. Otherwise you'll get a very underexposed or overexposed part of the picture. If I have to believe Lightroom however, my biggest challenge is keeping the camera straight. Anyway, I think this style works very well with the length of the wall and gives it a bit more character. 

The pavilion and the pond, November 2016.

In conclusion, I had a great day. Walking around in a beautiful environment taking pictures always gives me a sense of calm and makes me forget any problems I have been stressing about at a given time. Editing has a similar effect on me. Having to edit these pictures in a style I not often use was very fun. I would like to know what you think of this style and if you have any pictures of the fortress you would like to show. Let me know in the comments.

The fortress wall, November 2016. That's Robin Schimko Photography, an amazing professional wedding photographer. Go check out his work.

The fortress wall, November 2016. That's Robin Schimko Photography, an amazing professional wedding photographer. Go check out his work.

How to get there

Depending on where you come from it might be better to take a direct bus to the fortress than to the Suwon subway station first. If you're unsure how to figure out which bus to take, I would suggest you go to Suwon Station (수원역) first. Get out of Exit 4 and walk until you get to a bus stop. Take bus 11 or 13 and get out at Paldalmun (팔달문, it's a big stone gate) When you get out of the bus, go to the right and walk around the gate until you see the street with the entrance to the fortress. You'll see a wall going up a mountain, it's impossible to miss. If you're still unsure how it looks like, click here to see a video with directions.  

Other info

There is an entrance fee to get access to the fortress (a 1000 won per person), but if you check the website of the Korean tourism agency you can see they have a deal until 31 December 2016 to get in for free. It will also get you in for free in four other touristic sites.

Address

910, Jeongjo-ro, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do
경기도 수원시 팔달구 정조로 910 (장안동)

Other places of interest

The fortress is not the only interesting place in Suwon. There are several places that can keep you occupied for most of the day. Check out this post by Wee Gypsy Girl about a mural village in the city. Or you could go to the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace (화성행궁)

 

The Secret Garden

I normally refrain from posting locations that feature on all those top 10 places you have to see in Seoul posts that are plastered all over the internet. They all feature the same places and I figured that you, the audience of this blog, would be able to figure that out by yourself and come here for different content. However, the Secret Garden of Changdeokgung Palace is so special in autumn, that this time I'm making an exception.

The biggest pond in the garden.

I honestly don't know why this place is still called Secret Garden. The name is a remnant of the Joseon Dynasty, but with the sheer amount of people that visit this place, it doesn't even qualify to be an open secret. I took the panorama above quickly between two tour groups, and still it is full of people. Don't come here and expect to be surrounded by nothing than nature and a few people here and there. That is, when you go in the weekend. During weekdays you will have more luck of having some time to yourself without being surrounded by electronically amplified tour guides and throngs of people.

Marco Devon Photography doing his thing.

Marco Devon Photography doing his thing.

Although it is crowded during weekends, it isn't overwhelmingly so. It is still enjoyable to take a stroll in the garden. The crowds have a benefit; although you are required to buy a ticket for the guided tour, you are not required to attend. At the beginning of the tour, the tour guide will state that you have two options: take the guided tour or wander around freely for one and a half hour. I guess it is a system to keep the garden accessible to the maximum amount of people without it being overcrowded. Even if that wouldn't be intentional, it is working quite well. 

I'm not entirely sure how this works during the weekday, but I have been able to wander around freely on a weekday as well. I just stayed at the back of the tour and snuck out. There was nobody to give me a hard time that I was walking around without a tour guide, but that probably could depend on how many people there are in the garden. My experience in Korea is that it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission, because in contrast to forgiveness, permission is rarely granted. 

Colors everywhere.

Colors everywhere.

There are two ways to get tickets to the garden. The first is booking them online (click here to go to the reservation site). For every day there is a certain time slot where you can book tickets. However, there are just a few English tours per day and the maximum amount they sell online is 50. One person can buy a maximum of 10 tickets. You can guess where this is going. Time slots start at 10 AM 5 days in advance of the tour and tickets are sold out by 10:05 AM 5 days in advance of the tour. My advice is to keep hitting the refresh button from 9:55 AM until you see you can book your tickets and book as fast as possible.

At peak season (spring and fall) you have to be at the gate of the palace one hour in advance to pick up your tickets. The reason is there will be long lines before the cash register where you have to pay for your tickets. You don't pay for them online.

If you couldn't get tickets through the internet, don't despair. You can still get them at the gate of the palace. Just make sure you go early when you go on a weekend. That way you still have a chance to get tickets for the afternoon tours if the morning one is full. Tickets cost 2,400 won for the palace and 5,000 won for the Secret Garden. You are required to buy a ticket for the palace even when you just go to the garden, so the total comes to 7,400 won at the time of writing.

Although it is a bit crowded, the Secret Garden really has an unique atmosphere and therefore I still recommend that you visit this place. Make sure you walk all the way to the back of the garden, because there is more than one pond and several gazebos as well.

When to go

Looking at my photos over the years, the perfect time to go would be somewhere in the first or second week of November. It all depends on how soon the temperature in October drops, but since global warming is really showing its effect, I suspect that every year it will be a little bit later than the year before.

How to get there

There are two ways to get to the Changdeokgung Palace and they're fairly easy. The first is getting off at Jongno 3 (sam)-ga Station (종로3가역, subway line 1, 3 or 5), Exit 7. Walk around the bend on your right and follow the road until you see the palace right in front of you. It should take around 10 minutes if you're a slow walker.

The second way is from Anguk Station (안국역, subway line 3), Exit 3. Just follow the road for about 5 minutes until you see the palace. 

Address

99, Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 종로구 율곡로 99 (와룡동)

For more info on the palace and the garden go to the Visit Korea website.

 

Gosam Reservoir

Christmas Day in Korea is always quite a lonely day for me. There's no family around and my wife always has to work so there is nothing special going on. However, I have found a solution to this problem: a day trip with a friend. Last Christmas we went to Gosam Reservoir (고삼 저수지) and a temple (which I will feature in a future installment).

Sunrise at Gosam Reservoir

Sunrise at Gosam Reservoir

While discussing where we should go, my friend showed me this reservoir, which he found on John Steele's site (I am a fan of his work by the way). We planned a trip with a few other places in the area, got in the car, and off we went. Being there at sunrise was our goal so we set off very early in the morning. When we arrived at the reservoir we were not the only one. This spot is quite popular with photographers. Apparently the reservoir was a filming location at the movie "The Island" by director Kim Ki-duk, so it is a well known spot.

Well known as it may be, that doesn't make this reservoir less beautiful. It is a beautiful sight to behold when the sun rays trail through the mist and hit the water. The fishing huts make for welcome subjects to point your camera towards. It is a very serene place.

A little fog, but not as much as we had hoped for.

A little fog, but not as much as we had hoped for.

There was not as much fog as we had hoped for. Maybe the reason was that we went in winter. Going during fall will give you a better chance of seeing a beautiful fog covering the lake. It wasn't all that bad though. As a photographer you just need to adjust and work with what you get, and what we got was plenty to work with. After we were finished at the lake we went to a nearby temple, which I will write about in another blog post.

My friend Glenn taking a picture.

My friend Glenn taking a picture.

If you want to see the work of my friend Glenn, head over to his Flickr page. He has an awesome series about his home province in Canada.

How to get there

The best way is going by car, because you need to drive around the lake to find the best spot for you to photograph. Put the address below in your navigation and you should be fine.

Address

Gyeonggido, Anseongsi, Gosammyeon, wolhyangni
경기도 안성시 고삼면 월향리

 

Great Views, Easy Access Part 2

It has been some time ago that I posted part one of this series, so part two was long overdue. Instead of making this a list of five like the last one, I picked two places that are fairly close together. Don't worry, there will be future installments, because there are still other places with amazing views that are readily accessible. By posting just these two I can get the information out faster and it is also more useful, since both locations can be visited in one day. If you haven't seen part one yet, you can click here

 

1. Ansan Mountain

Look at that magnificent view.

Ansan (안산) has one of the best views of the mountains around Seoul, save for maybe Namsan. However, N Seoul Tower on Namsan is so iconic for Seoul's skyline, that I rather be on Ansan when I take a panorama. If you're an early bird (unlike me), you can even see the sun come up over Seoul when standing on this mountain. Sunset is just behind the mountain so it is difficult to photograph the sun directly, but you don't need the sun in the picture to take great photographs at this place.

What's also fantastic of going at the end of the day is being able to photograph the city at night. Seoul and its two towers light up like a christmas tree. Don't forget to bring your tripod and some warm clothes if you go outside of the summer season, however. It can be quite cold and windy. A flashlight, for going down the mountain in the dark, isn't a luxury either.

Night view of N Seoul Tower and Lotte World Tower.

Night view of N Seoul Tower and Lotte World Tower.

Hiking up the mountain is fairly easy. There is a wooden boardwalk that is encircling the mountain where you can work your way up slowly. I reckon it will take you an hour or so if you don't stop along the way. You do want to stop along the way, because the view is stunning. Eventually you'll have to take a stone path and do some climbing to get to the top though. It isn't major and if you're out of shape it is still doable. You can also take the stone paths almost from the beginning to go up quicker. Just follow the signs with summit on them and you'll get there eventually.

Only the last bit to the top is a bit steep.

Only the last bit to the top is a bit steep.

The other side of the mountain.

The other side of the mountain.

How to get there

Go to Dongnimmun Station (독립문역) on line 3 and go out at Exit 5. Walk around the prison and go left up the hill. For more details click here to see a video with directions. 

 
 

2. Bukchon Observatory

Bukchon is a bit of a tourist trap and that's why I have been avoiding to write about it on the blog. Although it has its charms, there are just way too many people in the weekends to roam around and take pictures of the buildings comfortably. Things have improved considerably however, since people decided to start wearing Hanboks. Now if there are people in your frame it is an asset instead of a distraction.

There is one place that seems to be unaffected by the surge in tourism this area has received the last couple of years. Maybe it is because it is not obvious that it is there. Although there are signs pointing at the Bukchon Observatory, they are not very eye catching and easy to miss. Also, the observatory itself is located on a dead-end street in normal apartment building. Many tourists wouldn't think there was anything special up there. Combine that with the winding streets of Bukchon (where I always seem to get lost in) and you have one hard to find place.

Don't visit this place for the interior. The view is where it is at.

Don't visit this place for the interior. The view is where it is at.

When you reach the top floor of this apartment building, the first impression is that of a boring cafe. However, when you reach the windows it is obvious that this is one special place. The view of all the roofs of the traditional houses with the modern city in the background is just stunning. A view like this is not easy to find Seoul. The one that comes closest is Tomorrow cafe's in Jeonju, which is a bit too far for me to get to regularly.  

View from the balcony.

View from the balcony.

There is an entrance fee of 3000 won, which will also get you one drink. They used to serve real coffee, but I guess it was too much of a hassle, because now they serve that Korean instant stuff which I'm not really fond of. Luckily they have juice as well. The owner is a quiet guy, but friendly. 

My friend taking a picture on the balcony.

My friend taking a picture on the balcony.

A tree sticking out between the roofs.

A tree sticking out between the roofs.

How to get there

Go to Anguk Station (안국역) on line 3 and get out at Exit 2. From there it is a bit complicated to give you directions in written form, but I've made a video so click here and you'll get to know exactly how to get there.

Address

35-62 Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 35-62 3층 북촌로 11다길 22-3) 

 

Suyeonsanbang Teahouse

When I entered through the front gate on a seemingly mundane street, I was awe struck by what I saw. Stepping through that gate felt like stepping outside of Seoul and into the countryside. There was just no way that such a beautiful wooden hanok with a garden would be located in a busy city like Seoul.

The gate

The gate

And yet it is. Suyeonsanbang (수연산방) used to be the home of Yi Tae-jun (1904 - approx. 1970), one of Korea’s first modern novelists. He defected to North Korea before the Korean War and his descendants have transformed it in a traditional Korean teahouse. Suyeonsanbang means a small cottage in a forest where literary people used to meet, and that atmosphere still lingers. It's quiet and secluded. I can definitely see myself reading books and discussing them with others while sipping on a Omija tea, if it wasn't for the time limit they put on your visit. I will discuss the rules of visiting this place later. 

The teahouse

The teahouse

When I entered the gate and saw the beauty of the teahouse, I immediately started to take pictures. This alarmed one of the staff somewhat. He approached me while asking me in Korean if I was coming for the tea. I don't know what it is in Korea, but this wasn't the first time a staff member or owner wasn't very keen on me taking pictures near or on their property. When I responded in Korean that I did came for the tea, but the building was just so beautiful that I had to take pictures first, he immediately changed his manner and cordially invited me inside. I walked up to the stairs, took my shoes off, and went inside. I could pick any table I wanted and I chose to sit by the window.

The interior

The interior

When I sat at the table I was presented with a cup of barley water and the menu. Now, the menu didn't only contain the drinks, but also a set of rules that may be important to you when you visit: 

  1. You are only allowed to order one drink per person. You won't be getting a second.
  2. You are allowed a maximum stay of two hours per visit.
  3. For four people or more you have to make a reservation.

In the menu they explained that these rules are to preserve the tranquility of the place and at the same time let everyone have a chance to experience the atmosphere and beauty of this teahouse. In other words, this isn't your local Starbucks where you can buy a drink and play games on your laptop all day. I was there on a weekday so it wasn't very busy, but in the weekend there can be a lot of people wanting to visit, so these rules made sense to me.

The menu

The menu

As for the tea I ordered, it came in a traditional styled cup with a complimentary traditional Korean snacks. Both the tea and the snacks were delicious. Prices start somewhere around 10,000 Won and go up from there, so it is kind of pricey, but you're paying as much for the location as for the tea itself. If you want to have a unique date, but don't want to travel out of Seoul, I recommend you go here.  

The tea

The tea

How to get there
Go to Hansung University Station (한성대입구역) on line 4 and get out at exit 6. From there walk until you see a bus stop. Take bus 1111 or 2112 and get out when you see this coffee shop on your right. 

Press the button immediately when you see this.

Press the button immediately when you see this.

When you get out of the bus turn around and start walking towards where the bus came from. You'll pass that cafe again. After passing that cafe walk some more and go left at the first opportunity. At the beginning of the street at your right hand you'll see the gate that leads to the teahouse. Click here to see a video with directions.

Address
8, Seongbuk-ro 26-gil, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 성북구 성북로26길 8 (성북동)

Telnr
+82-2-764-1736

For more info visit the Korean tourism site.

 

Songnisan National Park

South Korea has a number of national parks and all of them contain some form of a mountain on which you can hike. When my friends and family came over for my wedding, they thought national park just meant a park. So they went in casual clothes and wearing normal shoes (some with heels) and were surprised that they had to climb so much. How they managed to climb to the peak of Bukhansan in those shoes is still a mystery to me. Anyway, Songnisan National Park (속리산국립공원) also contains a mountain, but if hiking isn't your thing, there are plenty of other things to enjoy.

I went with my family to Songnisan National Park and because we have a very young daughter, hiking isn't something that is in the cards. Besides, my daughter is in love with water, so swimming in the river and chilling in a tent under the shade of the trees was a much better idea. We didn't really camp, as in spending the night in a tent, because we stayed in a hotel in the park. There are a few in the area, but whatever you do, do not stay at the Lake Hills Hotel. On the front of the hotel it is proudly announced that they are in business since the 1960s, but apparently that is also the last time that they did any maintenance on that building. Everything looks just the same as it was in the 60s, but then used for over 50 years. The building was so damp that I had trouble breathing and I suspect the building had something to do with the cold that I developed there. Avoid the place if you can. An alternative to staying in a hotel can be doing a temple stay at the nearby temple, which I will address below.

Camping like the Koreans do: just put up your tent by day and leave before it gets dark.

Camping like the Koreans do: just put up your tent by day and leave before it gets dark.

The river where everyone swam in.

The river where everyone swam in.

Just next to the hotel on the other side of the river is a Hanok that has a cafe and gallery in it. It is located just in front of the ticketing booth of the temple and hiking trail, so it is hard to miss. I like these kind of styled cafes, even when it is clear that this is a fairly recent building. I bought us two iced lattes every morning, which tasted like heaven compared to the crap the hotel gave us with our overpriced breakfast.

I love that this traditional Korean styled house is a cafe.

I love that this traditional Korean styled house is a cafe.

Rocking your chair while you sip on your coffee.

Rocking your chair while you sip on your coffee.

Songnisan National Park also has a fairly large temple called Beopjusa (충북 법주사). To get there you have to pass a ticket booth where you are supposed to pay 4000 won to enter. Although I think I discovered a back route so I wouldn't have to pay, I decided to be a law abiding citizen and just pay the entrance fee. If you're there for several days and you want to visit the temple multiple times or hike every day, that ticket price can be a pain in the ass. 

The temple itself is fairly close to the entrance and the terrain is all level, so you don't need to strap on your hiking shoes. You just follow a path through the forest and it will lead you to the temple. You could also skip the temple and just go hiking, but since I was with my family and wasn't feeling well, I stuck to visiting the temple.

Path to Beopjusa.

Path to Beopjusa.

Beopjusa itself looks like your run-of-the-mill Korean Buddhist temple, except for the gigantic golden Buddha statue that looks over the complex. The architecture of Korean Buddhist temples is almost the same at every temple, with just a few exceptions. Beopjusa isn't one of them. As with most Buddhist temples in Korea, it is the scenery that sets them apart. Beopjusa is surrounded by mountains and has some very nice scenery. There is an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, unless there is some Korean Pop festival going on while you are visiting. A problem that my fellow travel bloggers Scott and Megan at boboandchichi.com encountered when they did their temple stay here. So if you decide to do a temple stay at Beopjusa, please inquire if there isn't a party going on when you are planning to live like a monk in peace and tranquility. You can read about Scott and Megan's experience here, it's an excellent post with some more info and pictures of the temple.

The scenery of Beopjusa is nice.

The scenery of Beopjusa is nice.

Gigantic Buddha statue, tiny human for scale.

Gigantic Buddha statue, tiny human for scale.

A close up of the statue.

A close up of the statue.

Some of the temple buildings.

Some of the temple buildings.

As I said above, the real attraction to this temple is its surroundings. There is a huge rock with Chinese characters carved in it, as well as some smaller shrines here and there. Its a very nice place to photograph, although the inside of some buildings are off limits. Try to respect that when you decide to visit. 

This rock is also gigantic.

This rock is also gigantic.

I like it when things are the same color. 

I like it when things are the same color. 

All in all it was a nice escape from daily life. However, I feel there are other temples that I visited that are more to my liking. 

Address
Sangpan-ri, Songnisan-myeon, Boeun-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do
(충북 보은군 속리산면 상판리 , 괴산군/ 경북 문경시, 상주시)

 

 

 

 

Kangfull Comics Street

Besides Ihwa Mural Village, Seoul has another area where murals have been used to revitalize a neighborhood. Seonganmaeul Kangfull Comics Street (성안마을 강풀만화거리) is not as popular as Ihwa, but since all the murals are made in the same style and have the same theme, it tells more of a coherent story.

Kangfull (강풀) is the pen name of Kang Do-Young (강도영), one of the most popular webtoon artists in the country. He has made webtoons in several genres (including children's books) and his work has also been adapted to several movies. The murals on the Comics Street depict his comics about daily life, which is really fitting because in Seongan Maeul (maeul means village, but it is also used for neighborhood) you are surrounded by daily life. When exploring this neighborhood you'll encounter kids playing in the street, women hanging the laundry, neighbors talking, i.e. the same things the murals are about. It is a quiet little neighborhood lacking the high-rise apartments that so many other neighborhoods are made up of, which makes it a joy to explore. 

A map of where all the murals are located (click to enlarge). 

These stars point the way so you won't get lost.

These stars point the way so you won't get lost.

As is depicted on the map above, the Comics Street is not just a street, but rather a web of streets and alleys with murals here and there. Some of the murals are in very narrow alleys. It might seem confusing and easy to get lost, but there are yellow stars painted on the streets to keep on track. So just follow the stars and you'll be fine.

Kangfull Comics Street Mural 1
Kangfull Comics Street Mural 2
A street with murals.

A street with murals.

As explained above, the murals depict daily life; women sitting on a bench talking and laughing, children playing on a playground, couples drinking coffee in a park, fish bread sellers, and various other scenes. Some of the scenes are right out of Kangfull's webtoons. There is a sign next to every mural, but it is only in Korean. That is also the only criticism I have on this area. Kangfull's comics are a good insight into Korean culture, so it would be nice to have English descriptions as well. It is as if the makers thought that this would only be interesting to Koreans and didn't think about foreigners being interested in their culture. Luckily, there is still the internet and  this site explains a few of them in English.

Depictions of everyday life.

Depictions of everyday life.

Say Kimchi.

Say Kimchi.

Children at the playground.

Children at the playground.

Drinking coffee in the park.

Drinking coffee in the park.

I have a gift.

I have a gift.

Fish bread sellers.

Fish bread sellers.

In addition to the murals, the neighborhood itself is interesting as well. A lot of the houses are made out of red bricks and have shapes that are not so common in Seoul. If you follow the stars you'll go through some very narrow alleys and interesting streets. The absence of high-rise apartments is also a breath of fresh air. I highly recommend this area if you're planning a photowalk.

There are some very uncommon houses in the area.

There are some very uncommon houses in the area.

Follow the stars through narrow alleys.

Follow the stars through narrow alleys.

The narrowest of alleys.

The narrowest of alleys.

Another street in with murals.

Another street in with murals.

Not only are there murals on the walls of buildings, the shops in the area also have cartoon figures on them. They are supposed to resemble the owner of the shop, but I didn't encounter many of them to really be able to test that statement. The one on the barber shop seemed to match somewhat. 

A barber shop's window.

A barber shop's window.

A clothing repair shop.

A clothing repair shop.

If you get hungry from exploring, there is a burger joint in the area as well. I didn't try it, but since it was full of locals, I think it wouldn't hurt to try it for yourself.

Seongan Maeul also has a burger joint. 

Seongan Maeul also has a burger joint. 

If you want some more information about the area, Seoul Sub->Urban has an excellent post on it. 

How to get there
Go to Gangdong Station (강동역) on line 5 and get out at Exit 4. Just follow the road until you see a slim dark grey sign with 성안마을 강풀만화거리 and an arrow to the left on it. Turn left there and you'll walk to the beginning of the Comics Street. Click here for a video with directions.

 
 

Coffee Hanyakbang

I had just traveled for two hours from my home to the Dutch embassy and I thought it would be a waste of the time I spent in public transport to just go back and forth. Then I remembered there is a very special cafe in an unlikely place just two stops from the embassy. It was finally time to check it out. 

I'm always on the lookout for new cafes. I make it my mission to avoid the big chains if I can and go to the small independent ones, because their interior is way more interesting to photograph and their coffee is usually better. So when my friend @rikaty, who shares my passion for cafes and coffee, told me about this cafe, I had to check it out. 

Coffee Hanyakbang (커피한약방) is not very easy to spot if you don't know of its existence. When you walk around this area nothing hints at that there is a cafe hidden somewhere. The cafe is located in probably the narrowest alley of Seoul. It reminds me of those photos of claustrophobic alleys of Hong Kong I frequently see on the internet; electrical wires hanging out in the open, drainage pipes, windows that look out on to a wall a few meters away from them. Stepping into this alley and into the cafe is almost like stepping into a portal from Korea to China, if not for the Hangul written everywhere.

Coffee Hanyakbang is located in this narrow alley.

Coffee Hanyakbang is located in this narrow alley.

The alley is almost as narrow as this sign.

The alley is almost as narrow as this sign.

The entrance to the cafe.

The entrance to the cafe.

That atmosphere is very fitting because Coffee Hanyangbang's interior is also influenced by China. I don't know if they saw this alley and decided to design their cafe this way, but it couldn't be a better match. The interior of the cafe is decidedly different from other cafes I have seen in Seoul. The walls and ceiling are rugged and unfinished and the cafe is full of Shanghai antiques. It is refreshing that the cafe isn't styled to the very last detail and full of cute little things, which so many cafes in Seoul are. 

The counter.

The counter.

I was there around noon and the atmosphere in the cafe was very lively, with people coming in constantly during their lunch break to order a take out or just sit for a few minutes enjoying their coffee over conversation. It just felt like Seoul life was happening all around me while I was sitting back and drinking my coffee. The staff was also very friendly so I really felt welcome while visiting this place.

There are just a few tables at the ground floor, but there is a second floor as well.

There are just a few tables at the ground floor, but there is a second floor as well.

The interior is very different from a lot of cafes in Seoul.

The interior is very different from a lot of cafes in Seoul.

And the coffee! Black, dark, and strong. Just the way I like it. They roast the beans themselves by hand, which you can definitely taste because the coffee is so fresh. The price is surprisingly affordable with 3800 Won for a simple coffee and 4500 Won for a hand drip coffee with beans of your choice. Apparently, you can even tell them your preference for how strong you drink your coffee and they make it for you. If coffee isn't what you want, they have some tea, fruit juice, and some other drinks as well.

Roasting coffee.

Roasting coffee.

Brewing coffee.

Brewing coffee.

How to get there
Get out at Euljiro 3-ga Station (을지로3가역 Line 2 and 3) Exit 1. Follow the road and turn right at the first opportunity. Walk until you see a GS25. The cafe is in a very narrow alley just before that GS 25. Click here to see a video with directions.

Operating Hours
Mon-Fri 7am-10pm
Saturday 11am-9pm.
Sunday closed.

Address
101-34 Euljiro 2 ga, Junggu, Seoul (서울시 중구 을지로2가 101-34)

This cafe was recommended to me by my friend @rikaty. Go follow her on Instagram, because she shows many more interesting places on her Instagram.

If you want to know a bit more background information about this cafe, pheurontay.com has a very informative post on it as well. Go check it out!

 

Seongsudong

Seongsudong (성수동), crammed in between Seoul Forest and an elevated part of the line 2 subway, is a rough neighborhood bustling with activity. Car repair shops, metal workshops, and several other light industries make this part of Seoul quite noisy and busy indeed. It is not an area where you'll stroll comfortably while taking in the sights. Walking here means being constantly on the lookout if a car or motorbike is not about to run you over.

Line 2 Subway on the left.

Line 2 Subway on the left.

Cars and motorbikes are coming towards you constantly.

Cars and motorbikes are coming towards you constantly.

Seongsudong is described by several websites as "the Brooklyn of Seoul." Since I have never been to the US, let alone Brooklyn, I can't judge that comparison. I can compare it to my own hometown though (Zaanstad, a small industrial town just above Amsterdam), and there are some similarities. Both have very ugly and boring areas, but between those there are some very interesting repurposed industrial buildings. The neighborhood lends itself perfectly for street photography, due to the contrast of daily working life and colorful art.  

The "ugly" streets of Seongsudong.

The "ugly" streets of Seongsudong.

One of those repurposed buildings is the former factory/warehouse where the cafe/art gallery Daelim Changgo (대림창고) is located in. The building itself is made of red bricks, which is quite unique in Seoul, where the majority of the buildings are made of concrete. From the outside it looks like there isn't a cafe at all. If I didn't know better I would have walked straight past, thinking its just another industrial building. It's when you peek through the big wooden doors that you realize that there is a huge cafe inside. That alone gives this cafe a very different vibe than most other cafes.  

The entrance to Daelim Changgo.

The entrance to Daelim Changgo.

The red brick walls make for an interesting background for pictures.

The red brick walls make for an interesting background for pictures.

From the outside it doesn't look like there is a cafe in this building. 

From the outside it doesn't look like there is a cafe in this building. 

Inside there are two big halls with seats and a top floor with some seats as well. Although quite big, due to the popularity of the place there isn't enough seating to accommodate everyone. I was there on a morning during the week and it was filling up quickly. It is much worse in the weekend, when a long line will form outside. There are exhibitions in the weekends as well, which attract even more crowds and may come with an entrance fee to enter the building. One of my friends that went there on a weekend, told me that the cafe was asking for an entrance fee, even though every seat was occupied. So plan accordingly if you want to visit.

The bar.

The bar.

Hipsters can't fix roofs.

Hipsters can't fix roofs.

The interior of Daelim Changgo has a hipster/artsy vibe, which somehow really fits the building. The owners tried to keep the warehouse look by fixing it just enough to be useable as a cafe. There are trees growing inside the building, which give the place an abandoned building look.

A tree inside the building.

A tree inside the building.

Although Daelim Changgo is the main attraction of the area, there are other interesting sights that you could go see if you have some more time. Another repurposed building is the former metal working shop where Veranda Industrial is housed. Veranda Industrial is an interior design firm, which uses the building as a exhibition space and shop. 

If Daelim Changgo is too crowded or not to your taste, there are also several other cafes in the neighborhood where you can have a drink. There are a few in the same street as Daelim Changgo, and one is on the opposite site of Veranda Industrial.

One of the many cafes in Seongsudong.

One of the many cafes in Seongsudong.

Besides sitting in a cafe getting buzzed on caffeine, exploring the neighborhood can be quite fun if you are into street photography. Seongsudong is like a sea of mundane buildings with little islands of art. The neighborhood harbors some very interesting murals, but everything is scattered so you have to explore a bit to find them.

Seongsudong used to be a shoemaker district before globalization killed it. Luckily, there are still shoemakers that managed to survive and they are concentrated around Seongsu Station. There is a street with a few independent shoe shops where you can buy hand made shoes for reasonable prices. It also has some street art to liven the place up a little.

The shoe street.

The shoe street.

Words to live by.

Words to live by.

How to get there

Take subway line 2 and get out at Seongsu Station (성수역). To get straight at Daelim Changgo, get out at Exit 3 and turn right just before the zebra. Follow the road until you get at an intersection. Croos the zebra right in front of you and then the one on your left. You are now in front of Daelim Changgo. Walk to the right to get to the entrance. Click here to see a video with directions.

Address: 322-32, Seongsudong 2 ga, Seongdonggu, Seoul (서울특별시 성동구 성수동2가 322-32) 

 

Sanmotoonge Cafe

The name Sanmotoonge (산모퉁이) is terribly romanized, which makes it very difficult to remember how to spell it correctly, but in Korean it means mountain corner. As the name implies, that is exactly where this cafe is located. As a result, the view from the cafe and its terraces is incredible.

Sanmotoonge Cafe is part of the very lovely area of Buamdong (부암동), a mountainous area on the very north side of Seoul. Buamdong, being more remote and quiet than most neighborhoods, has a very different vibe than everywhere else in Seoul. Every time I visit it feels like I'm on vacation. Although there are many more cafes in the area, I will leave those for a future blog post and concentrate here on the most popular cafe in Buamdong.

The view from the top level of the cafe

The view from the top level of the cafe

This popularity stems from the cafe having been featured in several Korean dramas, the most well known one being Coffee Prince. Now I don't know much about Korean dramas, since I can't bear to watch one for more than 5 minutes (why are women always portrayed as weak people who can never control their emotions and always have to scream/fight and being carried home drunk, while in reality Korean women are anything but that?!), but I do know when a place does show up in a drama, it's game over for peace and quiet.

This place is no exception, because its jam-packed with people during the weekend and very difficult to get a seat. However, I was there on a  late Friday afternoon/early evening and it was virtually empty. Keep that in mind when you are planning to visit. Another side effect of being featured in a drama is that you can jack up your prices to astronomical levels. At the time of writing a simple Iced Latte costs ₩9000, so that gave me the legitimization to stay half a day.

There were a few seats taken inside, but nobody was sitting outside. Maybe it had something to with it being 30 degrees Celsius outside. Ah well, more room for me!

There were a few seats taken inside, but nobody was sitting outside. Maybe it had something to with it being 30 degrees Celsius outside. Ah well, more room for me!

It's not that I stared bored out of the window for half a day, because this cafe has so much to see that you won't get bored easily. If you're getting tired of the view (which is impossible in my opinion), you can always move to the basement where there is a kind of exhibition of quirky artifacts and superheroes. I'm not sure if you can call it art, but the items in the room sure do make for fun photo props.   

I imagine a lot of girls buing buinging here with the Hulk. 

I imagine a lot of girls buing buinging here with the Hulk. 

Dreaming of a flying pig gives you enormous fortune according to Korean folklore. 

Dreaming of a flying pig gives you enormous fortune according to Korean folklore. 

You can play Mary Jane here. No upside down kisses though.

You can play Mary Jane here. No upside down kisses though.

There's also another room with Korean War memorabilia. From the cafe you are able to see the old fortress wall surrounding Seoul. Being so close to the Blue House, this wall is still being used with manned guard posts every few hundred meters or so. 

The Korean War room.

The Korean War room.

An old sign and rifles referring to the Korean War.

An old sign and rifles referring to the Korean War.

One of the guard posts on the old city wall.

One of the guard posts on the old city wall.

Although the interior of the cafe is nice, what really does it for me is its terraces. There is one big one on the ground floor and a few smaller ones on the top floor. They are beautifully designed and the view you get from them is spectacular. How much you can see of this view however, really depends in which season you are visiting, so make sure you time it right. If you come in the smog ridden winter or spring, you're mostly out of luck. However, I was there in summer during the monsoon season, and the rain clouds just came drifting in. It was a magnificent sight to behold. I recon that fall would be gorgeous as well, since the foliage in Korea is very spectacular.  

The main terrace on the ground floor.

The main terrace on the ground floor.

The terraces on the top floor have an amazing view as well.

The terraces on the top floor have an amazing view as well.

Hashtag cloudporn.

Hashtag cloudporn.

How to get there

Take subway line 3 to Gyeongbukgung Station (경복궁역) and exit the station at Exit 3. Keep walking straight until you see a bus stop with an LCD sign. Take bus 1020, 1711, 7016, 7018, or 7212 and get off at Buam-dong Community Service Center (부암동민주센터). The stops are announced in English so it shouldn't be a problem to figure out where to get off. Once you get off you immediately turn right and walk slightly uphill along the street. Turn left (do not cross!) when you see a zebra in front of you and walk uphill again. Follow the road that turns to the right (past a gray building with flowers in front of it) towards a white house. Take the road to the right of that house (there is a red sign for another cafe on the route to Sanmotoonge) and keep walking uphill (10 minutes or so) until you see a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. That's the entrance to Sanmotoonge. For a video with directions click here

Address: 97-5 Buam-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 부암동 97-5)

 

Yuldong Park

Yuldong Park (율동공원) is one of my favorite parks in and around Seoul. Although situated in Bundang, it's very close to Seoul and easily reachable by public transportation. Also, it's usually a bit cooler than the city, because it has a big lake and is surrounded by hills. It's perfect to spend your time on a lazy Sunday in summer.

There's a path all around the lake where you can take a stroll. The path is for pedestrians only and it is nice to not have to constantly watch out for bicycles or motorbikes trying to run you over. Walking around the lake gives you a sense of being far from the city, although the park is right next to it. 

The lake

The lake

Just next to the path there's a cafe called Kona Queens, where they have Hawaiian coffee. It's a very peaceful place, since it is directly next to the lake. The building has two stories. You can sit outside on the terrace or sit inside next to the window and gaze upon the lake. The coffee is quite good too and reasonably priced considering the view you have here. It is a great place to sit a few hours and enjoy the scenery.

The front terrace of the cafe. There's one a the side as well.

The front terrace of the cafe. There's one a the side as well.

Almost everywhere inside the cafe there's a good view of the lake.

Almost everywhere inside the cafe there's a good view of the lake.

The view is excellent on the terrace at the front of the cafe.

The view is excellent on the terrace at the front of the cafe.

If you don't want to spend time at a cafe, there are other leisure options in the park as well. There's a big grass field with a book themed park on it, full of sculptures and other art inspired by literature. Here you can get your photography game on, since there are so many different sculptures you can use as prop for your shot. There's also a small library where you can read books, but I doubt they have English books there. 

Poor man's fisheye pic of the book themed park.

Poor man's fisheye pic of the book themed park.

At least you won't have to be afraid to catch MERS from this one.

At least you won't have to be afraid to catch MERS from this one.

One of the sculptures.

One of the sculptures.

Just in front of the library.

Just in front of the library.

In addition to the art, there is also a big bungee jump tower where you can get your adrenaline fix. Or if you're afraid of heights like me, just watch people jump of screaming while you are safely on the ground eating a snack you just bought at the convenience store nearby. Anyway, if you do want to test your bravery, there's a first come first serve policy (no reservations) and there are some restrictions. See the picture below for the full details.    

The bungee jump tower.

The bungee jump tower.

All the rules and opening hours.

All the rules and opening hours.

On the other side of the park there's a grass field as well. Also there is another convenience store with enough snacks and drinks to get you through the day. If you want something else than convenience store snacks, the employees of various chicken and pizza places handing out flyers have you covered. Don't want to eat chicken or pizza? There is a restaurant street just outside of the park with more options. Actually, the only thing you need to bring to this park is a mat and maybe a tent, if you are too late to take a spot in the shade.

The only square in the whole park

The only square in the whole park

If you have kids, Yuldong Park is a great place to bring them. In addition to the big grass fields, there are also two playgrounds with sand. Don't forget to bring their beach set though, because otherwise they'll be upset (I know that from experience).  

How to get there
Go to Seohyeon Station (서현역) on the Bundang line and go out at exit 2. Don't get confused when it says Gate 4, because that is the shopping mall's numbering, not the subway station's. So it's both exit 2 and Gate 4. After exiting, turn left immediately and walk past the regular bus stop towards the local bus stop (마울 버스), which is a yellow and blue sign with 602 and 602-1 on it. Take bus 602-1 or 602-1C and get out at Yuldong Park. The bus will drop you off at the beginning of a big parking lot. Just walk over the lot towards a big stone stairs, climb it and you will be at the beginning of the park. Click here if you want to see a video with directions.

This is where you'll be if you followed the directions above.

This is where you'll be if you followed the directions above.

If you want to get to the restaurant street, you have to go all the way to the other side of the park. Just follow the path on your left and it will get you to the entrance on the other side.

The arrow points to the restaurant street.

The arrow points to the restaurant street.

Address
145 Munjeongro, Bundang-gu, Seongnam-si, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 성남시 분당구 문정로 145 (율동), 분당동 일원)

 

Bojeongdong Cafe Street

Korea has a very exciting cafe culture if you are willing to look past the chains. These days there are so many better alternatives, because Koreans have evolved past the air conditioned run-of-the-mill franchise cafes to independent ones with unique interiors. The best part is that some of these places have a terrace where you can sit and enjoy the weather.

Bojeongdong Cafe Street (보정동카페거리) is located in Bojeongdong, Yongin. It's a small area without high rises and full of cafes, restaurants, and some shops. The street has a faux-european vibe to it, as only Koreans are able to create. As a European myself, I still strangely feel myself at home at these kind of places, even while it doesn't resemble Europe at all. The terraces that all cafes have where you can sit outside to enjoy the weather, is the main attraction of this street. These terraces are kind of a trend of the last couple of years. Before I didn't see them that much. Koreans usually prefer the air-conditioned big franchises that I don't like very much personally. However, if you do like air-conditioning, you still have options in this Cafe Street, because many cafes close their doors and turn on the aircon as well. That way everybody wins.

Outside, but in the shade. Probably best since the summer is so hot here.

Outside, but in the shade. Probably best since the summer is so hot here.

The Cafe Street is located in a rather rich area (Bundang) and that tends to be reflected in the prices you pay for beverages and food. This is not a place to be sitting all day if you are on a budget. A simple Ice Latte costs around 6000 won, which is quite high if you ask me. However, the location is quite peaceful and its just comfortable sitting outside sipping on your drink while you watch people go by.

I have tried two different cafes; Selecto Coffee and I'm Home. Although I'm Home has a better interior and is generally more busy, I didn't like the coffee that much because it tasted like Starbucks coffee, which I don't like (if you do like Starbucks, then this is the cafe for you). Selecto's coffee was much better and the owner was also very friendly. Although that might be because he mistook me for someone else. :-)

I'm Home

I'm Home

Selecto

Selecto

 

Apart from the main street, there are also several side streets filled with more cafes, restaurants, and shops. I also have see a bakery and a cafe that sells macarons. There's a photo zone, complete with cute looking characters, so you can get your selfie game on like the locals do. 

Although the side streets lack the shade from the trees of the main street, the cafes did come up with a solution, so you don't have to sit in the burning sun. The terraces are all covered in one way or the other. There are a few very interesting looking cafes there as well, so you should definitely wander around a bit before making a decision where to sit. However, be careful when you walk because there are cars driving through these streets. This is Korea after all. Thankfully the main street is pedestrians only.

A sign pointing to one of the side streets.

A sign pointing to one of the side streets.

 
Two pizza places next to each other.

Two pizza places next to each other.

One of the terraces in one of the side streets.

One of the terraces in one of the side streets.

It seems that no touristic spot in Korea is complete without a ridiculous photo zone.

It seems that no touristic spot in Korea is complete without a ridiculous photo zone.

If sitting at a cafe the whole day is too boring for you or you want to explore a bit of the area, there is a shop that lets electronic scooters. There is a park with bike paths along the river that runs right beside the Cafe Street that you can explore. Renting a scooter costs 10,000 won for an hour plus 5,000 won for every extra hour. If you want it for a day it costs 25,000 won.   

The electronic scooter place.

The electronic scooter place.

There are also other things to do than renting an electronic scooter. On the opposite side of the scooter place there's a path that leads to a skating park and a climbing wall. The skate park just recently opened.

The skate park.

The skate park.

The river that runs beside the Cafe Street

The river that runs beside the Cafe Street

How to get there

Take the Bundang line (분당선) to Jukjeon Station (죽전역) and go out of Exit 2. Immediately make a right turn and walk towards the alley on the left of the stairs (don't climb the stairs). At the end of the alley turn left and keep on walking until you see a wooden stairs leading up. Take those stairs and turn right. Walk all the way towards the first zebra you see and cross it. Immediately cross the zebra you see on your left as well. On your right hand you'll see an alley with some restaurants. Go through there and you'll arrive at the cafe area. Click here if you want to see a video with directions.

Address: Bojeong-dong, Giheung-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do (경기 용인시 기흥구 보정동)

 

Dongdaemun Design Plaza

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) is quite a well known landmark in Seoul. Usually I try to steer clear of these places, because I try to show you different areas of Seoul that are less well known, but the DDP is so awesome that it can't be ignored by this blog. Besides, it was monsooning the whole week, where else was I supposed to go? 

If you're into photography at all, the DDP is a must visit. With its futuristic design and equally futuristic interior, it's the embodiment of modern Seoul. Gifted to Seoul's photographic community by the late Zaha Hadid (at least that's how I see it), it has been Seoul's most tagged location on Instagram in 2015. Although to be fair, the majority of those pictures are probably selfies of pretty girls trying to imitate a blowfish while making the victory sign, with some element of the building in the background. Anyway, there is some serious photography of the DDP done as well and there are several Korean dramas that use(d) it as a filmset. To make a long story short: it's a very popular place.

The exterior is something out of a SciFi movie

The exterior is something out of a SciFi movie

Stairs towards the park

Stairs towards the park

The plaza and bridge

The plaza and bridge

There are several things to do at the DDP besides taking pictures of every corner of this awesome building. Let me quote from the Visit Seoul website

The DDP is comprised of five halls: Art Hall, Museum, Design Lab, Design Market, and Dongdaemun History and Culture Park. The Art Hall is the primary launch pad for the Korean creative industry. The hall is a key venue for conventions, trade shows, exhibitions, fashion shows, concerts and performances. The Museum Hall brings together Korean design and global trends. The Museum Hall is comprised of five sections: Design Playground, Design Dulle-gil(trail), Design Museum, Design Exhibition Hall, and the Design Rest Area. The Design Lab serves as an incubator for rising Korean and international creative product designers. The Design Market is a multipurpose space that combines culture, experiences and shopping. This hall is open 24 hours a day to provide added convenience to visitors of Dongdaemun Market, the town that never sleeps.
— Visit Seoul

That is enough to occupy you for the day I recon. 

At the top of the staircase you can also go outside on a plaza on the roof. From there you can see the path going under the building.

On top of the roof

On top of the roof

In addition to the exterior, the interior looks futuristic as well. In one part there's a winding hallway that goes 4 stories down. It reminds me a bit of the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey. Unfortunately, some parts are quite dark so its not very easy to photograph in there. There's also a winding staircase that also makes for an interesting photographic subject.

Futuristic hallway

Futuristic hallway

The winding staircase

The winding staircase

When to go

There are good times to visit and there are bad times. If you're going for the art, the museum, or the exhibitions, a bad time would be on a Monday because not much is open. If you want to photograph the place, a good time would be the end of the afternoon and nighttime, or even better, when it rains. Somehow, the architecture of this building really fits gloomy weather. If it doesn't rain, try to go at the end of the afternoon so you can take full advantage of the golden hour (a few hours before sunset) as well as the night. Golden hour gives you warm tones on your pictures and at night the whole place is lit up and there is a whole new atmosphere and scene to photograph than during the daytime.

At nighttime the building is lit up

At nighttime the building is lit up

Even the stairs have lights

Even the stairs have lights

Under the bridge makes for a nice one point perspective photo

Under the bridge makes for a nice one point perspective photo

Thousands of led lights make an interesting scene. Although there have been talks of closing this thing down, it was still there when I visited.

Thousands of led lights make an interesting scene. Although there have been talks of closing this thing down, it was still there when I visited.

Nighttime and rain, the perfect combination

Nighttime and rain, the perfect combination

How to get there

Getting to the DDP is very easy. Just head to Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station (동대문역사문화공원역, Line 2, 4, or 5) and get out at Exit 1. It will get you right to the plaza of the DDP.

If you would like to see the building from above, head to Exit 12 and enter the Lotte department store there. Go to the 9th floor with the elevator to the Klive experience, but instead of entering, go past it to the left where there's a cafe with a balcony. You can't use a tripod there though. Also it opens from 2 PM so don't go in the morning.

Click here to see a video with directions to both places.

DDP's official website: http://www.ddp.or.kr/MA010001/getInitPage.do

Address: 281, Eulji-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 중구 을지로 281 (을지로7가))

 

 

 

Cafes on the Han River

The Han River has had an important role in the history of Korea, where it has been fought over as early as the time of the Three Kingdoms, and even more recently, during the Korean War. Now the river serves as the water source of the city. A staggering 27 bridges cross the Han River in Seoul, and it's a kind of an open secret that there are cafes located on some. The English information on those cafes is already several years old and because Seoul changes as fast as you change your underwear, not all that information is correct anymore. Interiors changed, cafes changed owners, or in one case even turned into an art atelier. In other words, it is time for an update. Below is a selection of cafes located on (or near) the Han river.

Hannam Saemal Cafe (한남새말 카페)

Hannam Saemal Cafe is located on the south side of the Hannam bridge. It was formerly known as Cafe Rainbow, which had a bicycle theme, but sadly that kind of interior isn't there anymore. Instead, its kind of plain looking with cheap wooden tables and chairs. On the plus side, the coffee is decent and you can still enjoy the view. However, the location that the cafe is built on doesn't give you an unobstructed view of the river. The bridge and highway are between the cafe and the river and therefore obstruct the view somewhat. There are other cafes in this list with a better view of the river.

A cheap wooden look

A cheap wooden look

Let's order some coffee

Let's order some coffee

However, it's not the view nor the interior that makes this an attractive place to have a coffee. If you go down with the elevator or stairs you'll get under the bridge and you will be greeted with some of the finest murals that Seoul has to offer. Be aware that, like all the cafes on the bridges, the cafe doesn't have its own toilet. It is located in the park below and depending on when it was cleaned, it may not be the cleanest toilet in the city.

Gorgeous murals

Gorgeous murals

Even the stairs down from the cafe to the park are painted with murals

Even the stairs down from the cafe to the park are painted with murals

How to get there

Go to Sinsa Station (신사역) on line 3 and get out at Exit 3. Follow the road until you get to the second zebra crossing on your right hand. Cross just one part, turn left and take bus 140, 142, 241, 400, or 407. Get out at the bus stop on the Hannam Bridge. Click here to see a video with directions.

Address: 708, Gangnam-daero, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 강남구 강남대로 708 (압구정동))

Operating Hours
March-June: 10.00-0.00
November-February: 10.00-23.00 (Friday-Saturday: 10.00-23.30)

 
 

Cafe Goorim (Cloud) and Cafe Noel (Sunset) (구름 & 노을 카페)

Cafe Goorim and Noel are located across from each other on the south side of the Dongjak bridge. These twin cafes look very similar on the outside as well as their interior. They have a neat and clean look, albeit it is a bit simple. The views of the river are thebest of all the cafes on this list. There is a clear view of the river and of the bridge and the Hangang park is also clearly visible. The coffee is very good, although a bit pricey. You can even have lunch or dinner if you would like to because they have a menu with a selection of pizzas and pastas.

The counter

The counter

The coffee is very good although it is a bit pricey

The coffee is very good although it is a bit pricey

The main attraction of these cafes are their terraces. Cafe Noel's terrace gives you a sunset view (hence the name Cafe Sunset) and you can clearly make out 63 Building and Namsan Tower. The cafes are a good spot for a romantic date and even advertise with a special for couples, although I didn't try it so I can't comment on what that actually is.

Terrace of cafe Noel

Terrace of cafe Noel

How to get there

Cafe Goorim
Go to Dongjak station (on line 4 or 9) and get out at exit 1. Walk to the end of the path and make a left turn. You will see a staircase, which you will need to climb as it will take you on top of the bridge. Keep following the road and make a right turn. Cross the zebra and turn left. You will see the cafe in front of you. Click here to see a video with directions.

Address
350 Dongjakdae-ro, Seocho-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 동작구 동작대로 350)

Cafe Noel
Go to Dongjak station (on line 4 or 9) and get out at exit 2. Don't go down the stairs, but go left just before it. You'll see a staircase going up the bridge. Walk up, follow the road, turn left, cross the zebra, and turn right again. The cafe is now in front of you. Click here to see a video with directions.

Address
355 Dongjakdae-ro, Seocho-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 동작구 동작대로 335)

If you want to get from one cafe to the other, take the elevator down and walk under the bridge. 

Operating Hours

March - October 10:00- 2:00
November - February 10:00 - 0:00

 
 

Nodeulgyeonu Cafe (노들견우카페)

Nodeulgyeonu Cafe is the only cafe on this list that is located on the north side of the river (together with Nodeuljiknyo Cafe, but that one is not on this list because Nodeulgyeonu is significantly better) The cafe is built on the Hangang bridge and you have a nice view of Nodeul Island. Its interior is, like the other cafes on the bridges, pretty basic. The coffee isn't special either, but if this is the cafe that is closest to where you stay, it's a decent alternative to the other ones in this list. 

At one side you see apartments, on the other the river

At one side you see apartments, on the other the river

The coffee is ok, but not the best I ever had

The coffee is ok, but not the best I ever had

How to get there

Go to Ichon Station (이촌역) on line 4 and go out at exit 3-1. From there make a right turn, walk to the end of the street, and turn left again. Walk until you see a zebra on your right. Cross that zebra and walk towards the main road. Turn right when you get there and walk towards the bus stop. Take bus 6211 and get out at the stop on the bridge. You'll see a cafe right in front of you, but that isn't the right one. Just take its elevator down, walk under the bridge to the other side, and take the elevator up to Nodeulgyeonu Cafe. Click here to see a video with directions.

Address
496 Yangyeongro, Yongsangu, Seoul (서울특별시 용산구 양녕로 496)

Opening Hours
12.00 - 0.00 weekdays
10.00 - 0.00 weekends 

 
 

Cafe Naru (나루카페)

Cafe Naru is the only cafe on this list that is not located on a bridge, but on an island in the Han River. It's on the river side in Seonyudo Park, which is an old water filtration plant converted into an ecological park. The park has kept some elements from its past, which makes it quite a unique. The style of the cafe is also somewhat different than the rest on this list. With its red bricks it doesn't look like a typical Korean building. 

The entrance to the cafe

The entrance to the cafe

It's a decent looking cafe that also doubles as a convenience store and chicken/pizza place. It has three terraces; one next to the cafe, and two on the top floor. All have a nice view of the river.

The ground floor doubles as a convenience store

The ground floor doubles as a convenience store

One of the two terraces on the top floor

One of the two terraces on the top floor

The atmosphere is calm and it feels like you're not in Seoul. It is a perfect place to get away from busy city life for a while without having to travel very far.

Sitting on this terrace feels like you're outside of the city

Sitting on this terrace feels like you're outside of the city

How to get there

Take subway line 9 and get out at Seonyudo Station (선유도역). Walk out of exit 2 and follow the road until you reach the highway. Go left before the highway and keep going until you see a metal railing. There's a path that leads to an overpass, which in its turn leads to a bridge. Cross both and you'll end up at the entrance of Seonyudo Park. Go down the big wooden stairs and look to your left, where you'll see a curve leading to a path that swerves to the right. Take that path and keep following it until you reach the cafe. Click here to see a video with directions.

Address

343 Seonyuro, Yeongdungpogu, Seoul (서울 영등포구 선유로 343)

Opening Hours

9.00 -11.00

 
 

Riverview 8th Avenue (광진교 8번가)

The only place on this list that isn't actually a cafe, but its on a bridge (actually under) and it's special enough to write about. Riverview 8th Avenue is an art exhibit/cultural center in the middle of Gwangjin Bridge. It was also the set for the Korean drama IRIS. They remind you of that with a sign outside the entrance and a very creepy cardboard cutout of one of the actors, which made me feel like someone was constantly watching me. The building itself hangs under the bridge, with glass panels on the floor so that you can see the river flowing under your feet. Those glass panels are not so pleasant if you suffer from Acrophobia (like myself), because it gives you the constant feeling that you're going to fall off the bridge. 

Take a look at the art, if you dare

Take a look at the art, if you dare

Creepy actor from IRIS is constantly watching you

Creepy actor from IRIS is constantly watching you

There's also a performance hall where live performances are held on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday nights. Seating for those performances is limited, so you need to reserve beforehand if you ever want to attend one. The views from the bridge and the building are amazing. Although the glass panels in the floor scared me shitless, they give off a nice light from the reflection of the river. 

Live performances are held in this room

Live performances are held in this room

This bridge is perfect for photography

This bridge is perfect for photography

If you want to know more about this place, head over to their website (only in Korean). http://www.riverview8.co.kr

How to get there

There are two ways to get to Riverview 8th Avenue:

1. From Cheonho Station (천호역) on line 5 or 8: Get out at exit 2 and follow the road until you reach an intersection. Don't cross the intersection, but go left and follow that road until you reach the bridge. Keep walking on the bridge until you see a zebra. Cross that zebra and turn left. Walk until you see the entrance and a staircase that leads you down. Click here to see a video with directions. 

2. From Gwangnaru Station (광나루역) on line 5: Get out at exit and cross the road. Turn left after crossing and follow the road until it splits with a curve to the right. Take that curve and follow the road until you reach the bridge. Keep walking on the bridge until you reach a zebra. Cross it and turn right. Walk until you reach the entrance and a staircase that leads you down. Click here to see a video with directions.

Address

527-2, Cheonho 2-dong, Gangdong-gu, Seoul (서울 강동구 천호2동 527-2)

Opening Hours

Winter (Dec-Feb) 10:00-21:00
Summer (Mar-Nov) 10:00-22:00

 

Anmok Beach

Anmok Beach (안목해변) and its cafe street (안목해변 커피거리) are located in Gangneung (강릉시), a small city on the east coast in Gangwon province (강원도). Although the city itself is like any other small Korean town (boring), the cafe street and beach have a nice relaxing atmosphere. 

Anmok Beach is certainly not ugly, but there are certainly more beautiful beaches to be found in Korea. The sea gets deep almost immediately, so it's not ideal for swimming when you have little children, and the sand is a bit coarse. However, going to Jeju Island requires you to take a plane, Busan's Haeundae is overcrowded in summer, and if its really important to you that you lie on a perfect beach, head over to nearby Gyeongpodae Beach.

Anmok Beach

Anmok Beach

The real attraction of Anmok Beach is its cafe street. There are several nice looking cafes with a view of the sea. Its a godsend in the cooler spring and fall months, where it cools off quickly in the evening and you can warm yourself up with a nice warm cup of coffee.

Bossa Nova has one of the highest roof terraces with a great view.

Bossa Nova has one of the highest roof terraces with a great view.

Cafe Santorini tries to give you the Greek island vibe. 

Cafe Santorini tries to give you the Greek island vibe. 

AM Bread & Coffee is great for breakfast if you don't want to go for Korean food.

AM Bread & Coffee is great for breakfast if you don't want to go for Korean food.

Interior of AM Bread & Coffee with a view of Anmok Beach.

Interior of AM Bread & Coffee with a view of Anmok Beach.

Interior details.

Interior details.

The garlic bread wasn't overly sweet, which is huge in my opinion.

The garlic bread wasn't overly sweet, which is huge in my opinion.

In addition to the cafes there are several fish restaurants that serve very fresh seafood. I'm sure they are very good (my wife said it was delicious), however I don't like seafood so I had to look for alternatives. I was almost going for the convenience store food when I spotted Bikini Burger (비키니버거); a hole-in-the-wall burger joint full of murals, toy robots, and just a few tables.   

Three or four tables, that's literally it.

Three or four tables, that's literally it.

I'm guessing this mural depicts the guy in charge of the burgers.

I'm guessing this mural depicts the guy in charge of the burgers.

The menu.

The menu.

The interior certainly looked interesting. What's more important however, is that the staff was very friendly and the burger really delicious. I really recommend eating here if you have the chance.

Toy robots everywhere.

Toy robots everywhere.

The guy in charge of the hamburgers.

The guy in charge of the hamburgers.

This bacon bbq burger was really good.

This bacon bbq burger was really good.

How to get there

Gangneung is roughly 3 hours by car from Seoul. If you don't have a car to your disposal, you can take a bus. go to the Dong (East) Seoul Bus Terminal (동서울종합터미널), across the street from Exit 3 of Gangbyeon (강변역) subway station on Line 2. Ask for tickets to Gangneung (강릉). When you arrive at the Gangneum Express Bus Terminal (강릉시외 고속터미널) take bus 202-1 from the street behind the terminal to get to the cafe street. 

Address of the cafe street: 1Gangwondo,  Gangneungsi, Changhaeno, 14 beongil, 16
(강원도 강릉시 창해로14번길 16 (견소동)).

Address of Bikini Burger: Gangwondo, Gangneungsi, Gyeonggangno 2668 (강원도 강릉시 경강로 2668).