Samcheong Dong: Just Splendid

I wrote this article for Neh Magazine as part of my freelance work.

I wander wide-eyed along the eastern wall of Gyeongbokgung Palace, beneath the Gingko trees. You should visit Samcheong Dong with the intention of getting lost among the narrow paths and alleyways. It’s the most adventurous manner in which you can discover the small art galleries, welcoming boutiques, delectable cafes and classy restaurants that collectively create the ambient atmosphere of this Seoul neighbourhood.

At first something seems amiss. I can’t quite figure out what it is. And then I realise that the flashing neon lights and high rise buildings – that have become so synonymous with Korean urban landscapes – are nowhere to be found. This gives the area more of a European feel. Patrons sit on open-air verandas, beneath umbrellas while eating their afternoon treat. This cultural hideaway seems a world away from the rushed lifestyle that is so ubiquitous within Seoul. Instead, it’s a place where time is savoured. I admire the artworks and antiques that are proudly lined up along the cobbled side streets. Seoulites consider this the ideal location to find out-of-the-ordinary treasures, whether it’s a hand-made gift for a friend or vibrant street art and graffiti to catch your eye. The brightly coloured walls, wire art, fashioned metal signs and mobiles hanging in entrance ways are a delightful sight. Large chain stores are a rarity here, if you can find them at all; instead they are replaced with quaint privately-owned clothing and accessory stores where you can buy carefully crafted jewellery.

Although you will find Korean diners on the outskirts of the area, it is mostly home to European-style cafes, pizzerias and bakeries. Do not expect to see a fast-food outlet in the vicinity either. The closest you will come to that is a Kraze Burger outlet. I gladly happened upon a restaurant named after and decorated in the style of one of my favourite books: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. (Please please read it, if you already haven’t.)

SamcheongDong

As I leisurely stroll further away from Gyeongbokgung Palace, the hill begins to reveal a romantic view of Bukchon Hanok Village. At one of its highest points my eyes are met with a patchwork quilt of roofs. As I descend to meander between the traditional Korean houses, the wooden window shutters and layered roof tiles begin to resemble the intricately carved patterns found on a potato print.  People disappear through doorways. Some of the hanoks have taken on a new life in the form of an art studio, teahouse or beauty parlor. Others have become hanok guesthouses.

As I walk farther north, the road signs point me in the direction of Samcheonggak Park – a garden within which you can walk along the length of Seoul’s fortress. I hear children’s laughter emanating from the trees and well-loved swings creaking in the background. Although the walk is not too strenuous, comfortable shoes will ease the ascent. From the wall, I am greeted with views of Bukhansan’s granite rock formations, Seoul’s Namsan Tower, and waving teenage hikers.

How to get there: The best way to get to Samcheong Dong is from Gwanghwamun Subway station (Line 5, Exit 5) or Anguk Subway Station (Line 3, Exit 2). Walk along the eastern boundary wall of Gyeongbokgung Palace, turn right at the first, main t-junction (3-way junction).

Iga Motylska

Iga Motylska is a Johannesburg-based freelance writer, photojournalist, sub-editor and blogger. She is published in numerous local and international publications, including: Forbes Africa, Forbes Woman Africa, Forbes Life Africa, CNBC Africa, Ventures Africa, Marie Claire, Sawubona, AA Traveller, Fastjet inflight magazine and Seoul Magazine among numerous others. Her editorial interests range from documenting the entrepreneurial spirit to women's and human rights issues, environmental affairs and of course travel writing.

25 Comments:

  1. Wow! All the photo’s are beautiful. Someday I’ll be seeing this place for myself;)

  2. Amazing! I’ve been to Seoul for quick visits and have never been able to escape the neon chaos. This is definitely on my “to see” list this visit. Thank you for sharing. Your pictures are incredible.

    • Thank you! :) The natural charm has me returning all the time-at different times of the day; during the week and on weekends and even during different seasons. The best way to get there is from Gwanghwamun Subway station (Line 5, Exit 5) or Anguk Subway Station (Line 3, Exit2). Walk along the eastern boundary wall of Gyeongbokgung palace, turn right at the first, main t-junction (3-way junction). And Ta-Da you have arrived! Enjoy the sightseeing! See this helpful map as well: http://www.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SH/whereToShop/notable_pop.jsp?cid=995819

  3. beautiful photos! I’m heading to seoul in August, and i believe this will be one place i’ll visit. :) And thanks for the directions too! Will stay on your blog for a while to see what other places worth visiting! =)

    • Thank for the wonderful compliment! :) Yes, it is a definite must! It’s such a wonderful place but not enough people know about it or take the time to explore it fully which is a real pity and so that is why this piece is being featured in the August/September issue of a local magazine called NEH, to help people like YOU ;) experience it’s true beauty. I’m very happy to have you here! Keep reading!

  4. Wow, you take very good pictures and write very well! Makes me want to go there and see for myself.

  5. Hi there! ^^

    i just got back from South Korea last week, and i went to samcheongdong as you’ve recommended it. My friends and myself totally love the place! we def can a fun time at samcheongdong. =)

    and keep writing! ^^

    • Wow, Joyce! :) I’m so thrilled to hear that you enjoyed it as much as I did-and still do. I hope that you and your friends have many wonderful memories and photographs of your time in South Korea! I will most definitely continue to write while I am here! ^^, Thank you!

  6. I’ll be in Seoul for two days next week. Could you suggest a cool place to stay in Samcheong Dong. It looks like a really nice area. Thank you very much. – James (jamesob@nyac.org)

    • Hi James,
      I just sent you a long email. Have a look at it. I hope you have a wonderful time in Seoul, even though you have such limited time. On my blog you can find some suggestions on what to do while you are here. Have fun! :)

  7. Your photos are awesome! Samcheongdong seems such a beautiful place not to be missed.

    I will be travelling to Seoul in mid November and would like to visit samcheongdong after reading your blog. Pls advise how i can get there.

    Thanks in advance.

    Cheers
    Libby

  8. Hi there, just came across your blog. I’m traveling to Seoul on a work trip in less than 10 days and going to stay the following weekend to check out the city. Actually, I really want to do a hike in Seoraksan to experience the fall foliage – do you have any tips/tours you’d recommend? Very glad to see your blog and I’m going to read it in detail to get some ideas. Mrina

    • Hi Mrina,
      Yes, Seoraksan is a must, especially this time of year. I went last year and it was breathtaking. Don’t forget your camera and comfortable hiking/walking shoes. I would suggest that you take a cable car up to one of the peaks-the view is splendid. I would recommend taking a bus from Seoul (Gangnam express bus terminal) to Sokcho and then doing your own thing from there – then you can go at your own pace. I hiked up to Ulsanbawi Rock (the shaking rock-it rocks back and forth). You can get a map and hiking routes from the information office at the entrance to the gate and the staff are very helpful too. Hiking trails are clearly marked as well.
      Have a look at this link. http://visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264211
      Have fun! :)

  9. Hello
    really nice to get a pre-peek at Seoul’s old town area. I am hoping to stay here when I pass through on my way to Australia. I’ll be with my baby and only staying for one night. Can you recommend a place to stay? I’d prefer to be in this quieter Samcheong area, than a busy city centre area, as I live in Central London and will need a break from travelling.
    Thanks
    Jemima

    • Hi Jemima :)

      Due to the fact that I live in Seoul I never stay at hotels so unfortunately I cannot personally recommend anything. However, please have a look at this link. It is to the official Korea Tourism Organization website, specifically the accommodation page. I’m not sure what you’re looking for because you will be with your baby but there are numerous options available which you can look through. You can choose something to suit your needs. Keep in mind that Samcheong-dong is really close to Gyeongbok(gung) palace, Anguk station and Gwangwhamun square. http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/1031_Accommodations.jsp
      Also you can call the very helpful and informative 24/7 helpline. http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/GK/GK_EN_2_7_1_1.jsp. They can give you trustworthy recommendations.

  10. Hi, thanks for sharing. I would certainly go to this place on my trip there in early Dec. My only concern is whether the weather would be too cold for a pleasant stroll along the entire stretch from Samcheong-dong to Insadong. Since you have been living there, you may be able to shed some light. Would you mind?

    • Hi Molly,

      Samcheong-dong and Insa-dong are located fairly close together, most definitely within walking distance of one another. If however you do get too cold (because it can get chilly during the winter and will most likely be snowing) there are many restaurants and cafes in both Samcheong-dong and Insa-dong and between these two areas, where you can stop for a bit of respite from the cold and grab a hot drink. Insa-dong is famous for traditional (and modern) teahouses. Please visit my blog again before you leave on your trip to Seoul as I will upload one of my articles, on tea houses in Insa-dong, which was published in a local magazine. :)

  11. Thanks so much Iga. I followed the link and found so many hotels that were a lot cheaper than if I just google hotels Seoul. I have booked into Hotel Sunbee, which is near Anguk Station. Trip Advisor gave it good reviews, so fingers crossed. I look forward to exploring Samcheong-dong and surrounding areas.

    I don’t eat red meat, only chicken and fish and try to avoid chicken unless it’s free range. Can you recommend some food that would be safe for me to eat? I love Asian food, so it shouldn’t be too hard I hope.

    Jemima

  12. Hello again
    The hotel was fully booked, but I found out the area is called Jungno, so this helps a lot, as the visitkorea website has the option for in putting area and this then selects all hotels, hostels etc in the area.
    Everywhere seems fulyl booked so far, but there are loads of places to try.
    Thanks again
    jemima

    • Hi Jemima,

      Sorry for the late reply. I am currently backpacking through South East Asia, yay! :) I’m sorry to hear that it is fully booked. Have a look at the other surrounding areas I suggested-they are all quite close to samcheong-dong (within walking distance). All the best. With regards to food you will find many available vegetarian options. I too only ate chicken and seafood and in the last few months have become vegetarian-although Korea has a meat heavy diet, it’s definitely do-able. Check your email for a chapter I wrote about South Korean food for a book written by expatriates! :)

  13. Hi Iga,

    Awesome blog, can you advise if there’s a place in Seoul that offers “Kimchi Making Sessions” for tourists?

    Please write more! ^_^

And... what do YOU think? ;)