SEOULFUL ENCOUNTERS [BUSAN/SEOUL 2017] EXPLORING SEOCHON AND LUNCH AT TONGIN MARKET’S DOSIRAK CAFE

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In my previous visits to Seoul, I have always stayed in the Jongno area, specifically in the heart of Samcheong-dong, and because it’s the neighborhood that I am most familiar with, I have declared so many times in the past that my favorite neighborhood in all of Seoul is Samcheong-dong. Even to date, Samcheong-dong still one of my favorite neighborhoods but my list of favorites is growing the more I visit Seoul.

Last Spring, however, I did not get to spend time in Samcheong-dong at all because I purposely wanted to explore the west of Gyeongbokgung that time. I visited Seochon, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Jongno-gu which translates to “Western Village” as it is geographically located at the west of Gyeongbok Palace. Historically, Korean literature has plenty of references to Seochon neighborhoods. But I did not learn about Seochon through history. I got curious about it after watching “Legendary Witches” because Seochon was the setting for that drama. Actually, if you’ve been to Tosokchon, the famous Samgyetang place near Gyeongbokgung, then you’ve been to Seochon.

Read more about my route going to and around Seochon below.

My journey started at the Cheonggyecheon. It was the campaign period for the 2017 Presidential Elections that time and because there was some sort of a happening at the Cheonggye Plaza, I ended up going there and checking out Cheonggyecheon.

From Cheonggyecheon, I walked towards Gyeongbokgung and passed by the statues of Admiral Yi Sun Shin and King Sejong.

When facing the main gate of Gyeongbokgung, one can easily reach Bukchon, Samcheong-dong or Insadong by turning right. But because I was headed to Seochon, my direction was to the left.

So to the left of Gyeongbokgung I went and walked a couple of blocks towards Jahamun-ro. It’s the third block from Gyeongbokgung. I turned right at Jahamun-ro and from there, I visited a couple of places that I have Googled prior to going to Seoul. Below was my Seochon map:

I spent half a day walking around in this compact area that has seemed to have dodged the modernization that nearby Samcheong-dong, Bukchon or Insadong has been subjected to. As I was walking through Seochon, I noticed that there were still some hanoks although not as many as those one will find in Bukchon.

I can’t say though that Seochon is not modern at all. There were a lot of commercial establishments in the area too but the neighborhood still has that traditional aesthetic and while it has the same charm as that of Samcheongdong, Seochon is cozier and not touristy at all. I remember bumping into a lot of foreign tourists in Samcheongdong before but in Seochon, I encountered mostly, if not all, local Seoulites.

I walked towards Tongin Market because that’s where I intended to have lunch. I found a Kopitiam branch in one of the alleys at the right side of Jahamun-ro. This cafe, although inside the alleyway, can be seen from the main road. I noticed that there’s a photo shoot so the nosy me had to take a look at what’s going on. And lo and behold, I saw someone familiar. Can you guess who the guy is?

There’s a side story to this. I posted these pics in my Instagram page and I got so many bad messages and comments from his fans. They said that the guy is in alternative military service and that I probably was just mistaken about his identity. The thing is, I confirmed with a guy assistant there and asked whether he is the same actor that I had in mind. The assistant said “yes,” and he also named the girl, then continued, “but no camera.” He even got my phone and selfie stick and acted out that I should put them inside my backpack. The photos, however, were taken before he said so and those were the only ones I got.

I’ll just leave it to you to guess who he is.

Moving on, I continued my way to Tongin Market and passed by some group of friends or couples in hanbok. I passed by a hanbok rental shop at the corner before I turned right to Jahamun-ro.

The photo above was taken during lunch time and if that was of Insadong or Samcheong-dong, the photo would have been filled with people. I loved how quiet Seochon was. I was able to take in all its beauty without stressing over being caught in a crowd of tourists.

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I used Waze to lead me to the entrance of Tongin Market and it was pretty reliable. After walking for some 15 minutes, I reached Tongin Market.  I didn’t even spend time looking for the Dosirak Cafe because as I entered the market, I already saw people getting in and out of what seemed like a stall with stairs and a guy who handed out coins and plastic lunch trays.

At the Dosirak Cafe, you pay up 5,000won in exchange for 10 coins and a plastic lunch tray. You can use the coins to buy your preferred food from any of the participating stalls inside Tongin Market.

So my 5,000won lunch at the Dosirak Cafe then included rice, japchae, spicy pork, spicy chicken, an egg roll, and a fruit cup which was not in the picture because I claimed it after lunch when I found out that I had extra coins. That’s a lot for 5,000won! If I used that to buy street food in Myeongdong, I would have only gotten one cup of the spicy chicken with tteokbokki. And because the lunch tray was a lot for me to consume, I asked for the tray cover and packed away my leftover for dinner. I can’t believe that I only spent 5,000won for lunch and dinner that day!

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After lunch, I continued making my way to the small streets of Tongin-dong. I’ve heard about the oldest second hand bookstore in Seoul and that was where I headed to first. It’s called Daeh Oh Bookstore 33 Cafe 대오서점. It was built in 1951 by spouses Daeh and Oh and it’s been their house and business at the same time. The bookstore turned cafe is no secret but because Seochon is not as populated or tourist-infested as Bukchon or Samcheong-dong, the place was off the radar for most tourists or even residents in the area.

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I was reserving my tummy for coffee somewhere else so I decided not go inside. But to go inside Daeh Oh Bookstore 33 Cafe, one needs to pay a small admission fee in exchange for a postcard or a drink. Their popular drink, I heard, is their watermelon juice. The bookstore cafe is slowly becoming famous nowadays after having been used as the backdrop or filming location for “Shark,” a drama starred by Son Ye Jin, as well as the album art for singer-songwriter IU.

Seochon maintains its old world charm because it is not as heavily commercialized as Samcheong-dong, for example. The feel was more like Gyeongnidan in Itaewon but with lesser crowds. I really enjoyed walking around Tongin-dong because I was able to really view and appreciate the neighborhood quietly. You can actually tell from my photos that weren’t too many people around.

Kim’s Boutique sells clothes and cute knick knacks

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I noticed that some groups of office workers went inside Coco Blanc and it seemed like it is a known cake shop and cafe in the area. 

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This is inside Zenana Jam. They sell artisan jams and preserves. I was looking for salted caramel jam but they sold out before I went  😦

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Look at how almost empty the street was. I can just imagine how busy a similar street would look like in Bukchon. Here, you have similar artisan shops, cafes and restaurants, and even the old world vibe, but definitely a lot quieter. And the prices, better.

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After all that walking, I needed to refresh myself. It was cold outside but the sun was making me thirsty. I stopped by Flower & Cafe do to grab some ice cold Americano. It’s  a flower shop and cafe that looks rustic from the outside and even more so inside. It was like entering a forest where plants were just thrown sporadically all over the place but they visually look like they’re in tune with each other. Order in chaos, as they say. I spent some time in that cafe to relax and it felt good.

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After coffee, I walked back to Gyeongbokgung because I was going to transfer to Insadong to buy some stuff from O’Sulloc. On my way back, I stopped by Chateau Chocolat. They sell chocolates like Royce but they’re much pricier.

I passed by the corner going to Tosokchon Samgyetang, as well as the entry point for Sejong Village Food Street or the Geumcheongyo Market. It’s not too lively during lunch time but it’s a must-visit during dinner because most local workers in the area go there after office hours.

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I don’t know how long I have been walking since I started at Cheonggye Plaza that day and I felt tired already by the time I reached Gyeongbokgung. I had no strength anymore to watch the changing of the guards but that’s alright because I’ve seen it twice in the past already. If you want to know more about Gyeongbokgung and the changing of the guards, you can read my posts here and here.

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I was so very tired that after crossing the street from Gyeongbokgung going to Insadong, I literally sat down on the plant box to take deep breaths. I was so tempted at that point to take a taxi and just head back to Myeongdong. But then I decided to take it easy while I’m in the area and that helped me feel less anxious. As I was sitting on the plant box, a group of school kids crossed the intersection to go to Gyeongbokgung. They reminded me of how fun it was to join a school field trip.

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Finally, I reached Insadong. I went there only to get some tea boxes from O’Sulloc and after that, I went back to Myeongdong. In case you’re asking why I didn’t go to Myeongdong’s branch instead, I am partial to this branch in Insadong because it’s more spacious and the design of the shop and layout is better. If you want to read my old posts on Insadong, you can read them here and here.

And that wraps up my visit to this part of Seoul. I’m glad to have explored Seochon and hope that you would include it in your future trip too. Meanwhile, I’m ending this post with a compilation of short video clips from my visit to Seochon. Until my next post, Annyeong! 🙂

 

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