Seoul Day 3 – Tapgol Park, Insadong and COEX Mall

Posted on September 16, 2010

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(You can read about how I spent my other days in Seoul HERE)

Day 3 started with the, now familiar, usual fair of heavy rain- but the exception for today was the heavy rain was more of a deluge! The endless rain had taken it’s toll on our bodies, so I had to reconfigure my original itinerary so that we could spend most of our days indoors-  away from the rain.

Sorry but this post won’t be as photo friendly as I would have liked it to be! Because of the scary rain and my growingly tired body, I didn’t fancy lugging around my SLR camera, so I just used my normal digital camera, BUT because of the rain (as well) I didn’t want to damage my fragile camera by pulling it out in the rain. However, I hope I will be able to catch your imagination with my words 🙂

Tapgol Park

Despite the rain, it would be a waste if we didn’t at least try to walk the 5 minutes or so, down the street to visit the old streets of Insadong and even catch a glimpse of Tapgol Park, which was literally across the street from our hotel!

Arriving at the entrance of Tapgol Park our intentions of entering the park and taking a short wander around were hampered; the path leading into the park, and the famous 1400’s glass encased pagoda (which was what I really wanted to see) was flooded with 5 inches of water- not a good thing when your shoes only go up to your ankle! And so, we just stood at the entrance admiring the view from afar- so close and yet completely unreachable!

1400's Pagoda inside Tapgol Park- image from Wikipedia.

The park itself looked pretty small, but completely Oriental with, not only, this 1400’s Pagoda  but another, red, pillared pagoda slap bang in the middle of the park; also (as I’ve found common with Seoul parks) the whole area was highly populated with the elderly- these parks are like their versions of a youth club, where they hang out and play cards and stuff…

Insadong

Insadong

If you didn’t have a map on you, it would be quite easy  to just walk by Insadong without taking a second glance because it is set just off the main road and is a street that can only be fully appreciated the further you walk down it; this is the traditional street of Seoul- said to represent the “culture of the past and the present,” on wikipedia.

From my personal point of view, I could definitely see hints of old tradition through the cool little alleyways where small traditional shops and restaurants were housed and I could also see how this had evolved to it’s present settings; souvenir shops line the street and you’ll be inclined to visit every single one of them, because they offer such a variety of cool little items which you can gift to those at home. My recommendations would be to check out the smaller souvenir shops on the left hand side of the street when you first enter the main parade of Insadong, from the direction where Tapgol park is, because I managed to buy most of my souvenirs (at the best prices) on this side of the street.

Gaga Gallery

One of the best things to do, if you’re exploring Insadong is to sometimes look up at the surrounding buildings, because sometimes you’ll find the facade of the buildings have a hint of ‘old’ Seoul in them- or in the case of the above photo, hints of modernity, with numerous art galleries including a “Gaga” gallery… I wonder who influenced that then!

Further down the street, on the right hand side, you’ll also come across the famous “Ssamzie”  Space; a square courtyard with 3 or so floors of shops, each selling souvenirs, artworks or even offering fortune telling. If you get hungry here, you could purchase some of the famous ‘Poo’ cakes, which sounds gross but are actually poo shaped cakes (I dunno why the inventor would be inspired by poo to equate it to food?), these have a sweet red bean filling in them- and a pastry outer.  BUT BEWARE, when I bought one of the set menu options from the seller he ripped me off by 1,000 won in change… I dunno why, cos 1,000 won isn’t a lot, but if it’s part of some sort of evil masterplan by him, then imagine the amount of tourists he may get in a day and him ripping off 1,000 won from each of them… it works out to be serious wonga there! Anyway, despite this, I enjoyed eating the cakes, but they are definitely more worth it simply for the stories you can tell thereafter and the photos you can show your friends haha.

'Poo' shaped cakes

Also, you must keep your eyes peeled and your map handy, to find the alleyway which leads to the Jogyesa Buddhist temple, a place that I would’ve loved to have visited if I had the time and it wasn’t raining so heavily- big regret there!

I really do recommend a visit to Insadong, it’s a place that all tourists must go, even if you don’t buy anything, it’s always nice to visit a place where there is so much to see! Especially, when you reach the end of the street approaching “Anguk” station, because this area of Insadong, must house one of the most beautiful junctions I’ve ever seen- yes road junctions! Standing at this junction, you’ll be able to see the mountains of Seoul in the distance, with the low hanging clouds over them, and a giant poster picture of Gyeongbokgung Palace- which you could easily visit if you cross the road and walk down the street a bit.

COEX Mall

Touted as being the biggest underground shopping mall in Asia, we were keen to visit the place- especially as it could offer us some shelter from the threatening rain. After an epic Metro journey of over 15 stops, an hour or so later, we were gracing the grounds of COEX mall. First impressions were good- the mall was easily accessible using an exit from “Samseong” station stop, and there were a few eateries immediately to the left, near the entrance of the mall…we took a rest stop at one of the (numerous and popular) Dunkin Donuts.

I had high hopes for this mall because it boasts so much about it’s size, facilities (it has an aquarium, cinema, large food hall etc), but to be honest, all the hype wasn’t worth it, because compared to London’s new Westfield shopping mall (which I hate btw), it wasn’t even as good as that. However, I don’t want to taint my blog post with negativity, so I will point out some positives that I noticed with COEX!

Have you ever watched Korean Dramas or avidly stalked a Korean celebrity online (I’ve not done this…yet), well you’ve probably noticed that sometimes celebs will be rocking a cool eyemask- yes an eyemask- the type that you use when you go to sleep. Well, if you’ve been lemming to purchase such an eye mask then you must keep an eye out for a shop in COEX mall called “Artbox,” who stock such eye masks for 4,000 won (about £2.50) each, as well as neck pillows, and a weird mix of stationary, luggage, and cute homewares.

My nephew rockin' an eyemask from Artbox

If you happen to get lost in COEX mall, then you’re in luck, because dotted around the mall’s floor space are interactive maps which you can use to find specific stores, your current location and (handily) directions to get from your current location to a specific store- why can’t they have such techy stuff available in London? I mean, they even have interactive map things in Seoul’s tube stations, which can help map out your journey! I didn’t manage to take a pic of these interactive maps though, so you’ll have to imagine what it looks like LOL sorry…

There is one area of the mall which I particularly liked, which was their famous food hall. It’s situated near the entrance side of the mall and is definitely a good place to head for food because there is so much variety condensed into a large open space; I saw the usual coffee shops, Chinese food, Japanese, Burger bars etc. I (unfortunately) decided to feast at a Tonkatsu specialist place, situated right next to a Chinese place- which I wish I choose to eat at instead- the Tonkatsu ended up being GIANT sized, I swear I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece of pork that big… it must have been 4 pieces wielded together or something?!  And it wasn’t that yummy- just cheap.

One thing that did catch my eye from COEX was the “Noraebang” or Karaoke room, which we just had to hunt down- but, dissapointingly the Noraebang only had Korean songs (from what we could tell from the song list posted on the window) so my sister and I had to go check out other shops intead 😦 Would we ever be able to try out Korean Karaoke? (We did, I’ll post about that later!)

If you want to buy Korean CD’s then you could head to the only CD store within the Mall, where I managed to buy Yiruma’s “First Love” album; they had higher places than the lady from Migliore at Myeongdong (who I wrote about HERE) but they might just stock the albums that you won’t find from the lady, so worth a look!

Only one final store caught my eye at COEX, and which I think is worth mentioning, is a mini mart situated in the mall- I don’t remember what it’s called though? But the place had loads of home ware stuff, an electric/techy section, and food hall/mart at the back; we managed to buy some really cute notepads and diaries here for under £2 each! Yes, a weird purchase for a holiday- but if you enjoy writing… and timekeeping (?) like me then you’ll enjoy perusing the aisles of stationary!

Stationary from COEX

All in all, COEX mall, was a place I visited simply because it was recommended in guidebooks etc, but if you’ve ever been to the shopping centres in London (Bluewater, Westfield etc) then this place won’t seem so special to you, because it didn’t have the right mix of stores- it’s as if the place is trying to live up to it’s name and fame too much, so it ends up missing a few bases, because they want to advertise it as a place as having this store and that, but the actual goods in the stores aren’t that great!

Tips about COEX’s surrounding area!

If I knew that COEX mall was quite boring, then I would’ve planned in more time to explore the surrounding are, which seemed more interesting… hmm, but the rain might’ve hampered all those plans though? BUT, if you visit Seoul, then I would recommend that you check out these things within the vicinity of the mall!

Bongeunsa Temple

Being Buddhist, I really wanted to visit a temple during my stay in Seoul, but I couldn’t because of the weather! This was my one big regret- especially because all the guide books praise the size and beauty of these temples. However, if you’re within the COEX area then definitely try to find the exit from the mall which will directly take you to the street where this temple is; the temple has a room with 10,000 gold Buddha statues and I hear the views there, with greenary in an urban environment, is a beautiful thing to see!

Garosu-gil (Sinsa Area)

If you read my blog post HERE, which I wrote before I went to Seoul, one of the areas I was really keen in visiting in Seoul was Garosu-gil in the Sinsa-dong area; the literal translation for this area is the tree lined street (I think) and it is pretty much the background to, what is touted to be, a beautiful street with a hint of European cafe culture. I really wanted to see the Korean take on ‘Europe’ and liked the idea of sitting out in the sun, coffee in hand and people watching. Alas we couldn’t- you all know why by now! But, yes, definitely make a visit to this beautiful street, which I hear might have some awesome shopping because of the cute boutiques. You might even want to visit to do a bit of celeb spotting as I hear that this area (and the next one which I’ll be writing about) is where the celebs like to hang!

Apgujeong/ Rodeo Drive

Apparently Koreans (kinda like the Chinese) love to imitate foreign things- like Garosu and Europe- and within the rich burb’ of Apgujeong you’ll find all the rich and, sometimes famous, people living out their lives with designer Western stores and their version of the US Rodeo Drive.

I’m not usually inclined to hanging out in rich areas, because I definitely don’t fit in, but I like the idea of heading to Apgujeong just to people watch- see how the forward thinking, elite, fashionistas of Seoul choose to dress and carry themselves. If you like shopping, and you’ve got a lot of dosh in your pocket, then you might consider visiting the 2 large malls in the area as well (Hyundai & Galleria).

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Posted in: Seoul