Secret Seoul

Sangam MBC studio, ice skating and more

Here’s a place not listed in any tourist brochures – the Sangam MBC Ice Skating Rink and Digital Media City. If you want to be where the locals hang out, this is the place for you.

We took subway Line 6 to Digital Media City station Exit 2 before making a 10-minute walk (northwest) to the cluster of TV broadcasting studios that make up the Sangam complex. More directions here. It’s pretty artsy with a big egg in the middle:

The futuristic-looking Digital Media City at sunset.

The first thing we tried was to buy ice skating tickets but we arrived late in the afternoon and they were sold out for the timeslot that we wanted.

Baseball cage!!!

Fancy yourself a champion batter? Or just wanna let loose some pent-up angst? The batting cage is your answer!

Thanks to the long-term American presence in Korea, baseball has become the hottest sport over the past 50 years and most neighbourhoods have a batting cage where you can step up to the plate and pit yourself against a robotic pitcher firing at 90km/h or 100km/h.

It usually costs 1,000 won or 2,000 won. At Insadong, for example, it’s 2,000 won for 20 balls. There’s usually a note-changing machine, but in case there isn’t, bring some loose change (1,000 notes and 500 coins).

Tombs of the Kings and a 500-year-old gingko tree

Here’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that you can visit for just 1,000 won ($1). It’s called Seolleung-Jeongneung and is the final resting place of two kings and one queen from the Joseon dynasty.

The verdant green hill tombs and little red shrines are a quiet getaway from the hustle and bustle of the Gangnam financial district that surrounds the area. There are also some cool stone statues in the shape of zodiac animals that guard the tombs.

Don’t miss the giant gingko tree that has stood watch over the tombs ever since King Jungjong was buried here in the 16th century. Magnificent in summer, watch out for fallen gingko nuts that quickly turn smelly in autumn.

How to get there:
5-minute walk from Seolleung Station (Line 2) Exit 8. You can’t miss the fluttering flags on the wall.

Best Korean BBQ (Samgyeopsal) in Seoul

I discovered this restaurant 4 years ago when I was out in the rain one day at Hapjeong Station and I saw some locals queuing on a street corner despite the weather. In other words, this place is pretty popular, so turn up early or prepare to wait!

Kimchi Fresh Samgyeopsal restaurant at Hapjeong station.

The speciality here is the samgyeopsal (BBQ pork) cooked with generous helpings of kimchi. There’s also “moksal” which is a different cut of pork. Don’t forget to try their mushrooms and also the steamed egg soup, which is a fantastic way to wash down all the meaty stuff. After all the meat is gone, you can order kimchi fried rice that is made in front of you on the hot plate.

Hiking at Namhan Sanseong

Want to catch a breath of nature’s fresh air without breaking a sweat? Namhan Sanseong is one of the easiest hiking areas in Seoul, as it’s possible to take a bus up the mountain and save your strength for exploring the fortress wall and other attractions.

First, get yourself to Sanseong Station (Line 8) in Seoul’s southeastern quarter. Leave by Exit 2, walk straight and catch bus 52 that brings you up the windy mountain road and into the fortress. Alternatively, you can hike from the train station all the way up the mountain (it took me about an hour) along a quiet wooded path.

Once you’re inside the fortress, there are lots of things to see as well as restaurants and snack shops. Here’s my route in red (click on the map for high resolution):

Studio Ghibli comes to Seoul

Are you a fan of Princess Mononoke, Totoro, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and other Hayao Miyazaki favourites?

There’s a special exhibition at Seoul’s Yongsan I’Park Mall that runs till the end of Feb 2015. It’s rather pricey at 15,000 won and it was disappointingly small, so I wouldn’t recommend it to casual visitors. But if you’re a big fan (like me) then you absolutely have to visit it anyway, haha. There’s also a gift shop with cards, folders, jigsaws, soft toys and more.

Howl's Moving Castle. It really moves.

Autumn Leaves at Seoul National University

Seoul National University has the biggest campus in Korea so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the best places to catch the falling leaves of autumn. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Autumn Leaves at Seoul National University

Autumn Leaves at Seoul National University

Fusion pastries at Paris Baguette

Just a quick intro to one of my regular staples in Korea. Paris Baguette is a chain bakery that you can find virtually anywhere in the country – it’s said that they are three times as big as MacDonald’s.

Pictured here is a really cool pastry – not sure what it’s called, but it’s basically coffee-flavoured bread filled with mochi stuffed with sweet red beans. As good as it sounds.

If you’re a frequent visitor at Paris Baguette, make sure you get the free Happy Point card that allows you to earn points. It also works for many other chain cafes and stores. Roughly you can get 1 free pastry for every 10 you buy.

And if you’re wondering what the difference is between Paris Baguette and Paris Croissant – they’re owned by the same company, but Paris Croissant is nicer and more expensive.

Korea’s first church, Yakhyeon Catholic Church

Most travel guides list the Myeongdong Cathedral as one of Seoul’s key attractions that tourists would want to tick off their list. But did you know that Seoul is home to a church that is even older and more beautiful than Myeongdong Cathedral?

Yakhyeon Catholic Church is one of Seoul’s better-kept secrets, perhaps because it isn’t located within the shopping district. But it’s actually really accessible, just five minutes’ walk from Chungjeongno station Exit 4 (Green Line 2).

Yakhyeon Catholic Church as featured in the K-drama Iris

Café in the forest

Been really looking forward to writing this post as very few people know about this cafe. It’s in a rather quiet corner of Seoul National University and even some students don’t know about it.

Cafe Pascucci is quite a big chain but this outlet is special because it’s nestled in SNU’s Gwanak mountain campus and surrounded by beautiful pine trees. The counter is on the first floor and the second floor has ample space for you to lounge on the nice sofas and do your homework.

The first floor of Cafe Pascucci's Seoul National University outlet

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