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.)
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).