Want to know what I thought was the best part of this trip? Believe it or not, it wasn’t food (though it ranks up there) or even the sites. It was discovering Korea’s 24-Hour Jjimjilbang, bath house or sauna. This wasn’t the hot spring bath houses I’m used to in Taiwan or Japan. In my opinion this place wasn’t just about bathing. This place was focused on rest, relaxation and recuperation. The one in particular we found was Siloam Sauna, an establishment out in Jungrim-dong.
It was a little tricky to find late at night being around a sharp corner.
Once we got in, the attendant spoke very little English but we got by. We paid ₩12,000KRW for the “fomentation” option. The other option was for the shower facilities only. The first level were the lockers and the lower level was the bath level. After bathing, drying off, and changing into the given clothes, I headed upstairs to explore. Four levels of relaxation fun. And from this point it was all communal. Gender separation was only the locker and bathing levels. At 9pm it was surprisingly crowded. What I found out was that people spent the night there. I see why. You spend quite some time in all the rooms and all the floors, you wouldn’t mind getting some shut eye there.
Onto the floors. The second level was where you can meet up with your friends. There’s a small cafeteria there and open areas for you to lie down. In the middle was a room for massages. They seem to be open all night given we opted for an hour long massage at midnight. Massage and food, can you tell where I spent most of my time? The third floor was a hang out area. They listed a fitness room, but I didn’t see one. We didn’t spend too much time here. The fourth floor were the fomentation rooms. The floor where I spent the second most time on and where most of the action was at. You go room to room tying out different focuses. Rocks in one, crisp air in others, and as you can see, a super hot one next to an ice cold room. I really enjoyed trying out the rooms. Almost fell asleep in one if it weren’t for a snorer in the room. I should have beat him to the top of that mountain. Oh well. We didn’t plan on staying the night anyways.
After our fill we got out and hailed a taxi home. It was very late so we had to go to the main road to hail one. Felt pretty safe at 3am and pretty tired. Good tired. Like that just-got-out-of-a-hot-bath-4-hour-fomentaion-room-lazing type of tired. It was time to hit the sack.
Such a great intro into Jjimjilbangs. My next trip to Seoul will definitely have this on the itinerary. Maybe even for more than one day.
Sorry for the bad pictures. I didn’t carry my camera around. Only had my iPhone.
Siloam Sauna (실로암불가마사우나)
128-104, Jungrim-dong, Jung-gu
Seoul, South Korea
Verdict: Definitely something to try out. If communal relaxation isn’t your thing, fine, pass on it. Otherwise, try this place or any other one you find.
There’s this little area east of Gyeongbokgung Palace that was a delight to visit. A place that’s getting a little more popularity It’s the Bukchon Hanok Village. An area preserving the traditional homes of Korea. And not typical preserving way of turning these homes into museums. No. Everyday people still live in these homes and we tourists get to wander the streets in awe of the architecture.
Some places do allow people inside the gates to look around. Some even rent out places for people to get a full experience. That’s something I would next time I stay in Seoul. The area isn’t too far from the SRMT. About a five minute walk. It felt peaceful walking the streets. There were tourists. Not masses of them debarking form tour buses. Though I see that happening here. Maybe it was an off day. Or maybe it truly wasn’t a must experience in all the travel guides. Please let it be the latter. I really enjoyed the peaceful stroll along the streets.
Food wise we stopped by a restaurant toward the middle of our walk. I don’t have the name, but it was a traditional house turned into a restaurant. It actually turned up as a surprise and lucky for them, I was hungry.
Seoul 110-260, South Korea
Verdict: It’s one of the few places left that is a whole neighborhood of these traditional houses. And for the restaurant, sure. Stop by there. Good food.
In Myeongdong you’ll find plenty of things to shop for. But when your feet are tired and you need that caffeinated pick me up, where else to go then… a cat cafe? Yes, a place where you enjoy your coffee in a room full of frolicking felines. A hellish place for those with allergies yet a bewildering place for people like me. There’s also a dog cafe around the corner. I stopped by. The place looked rather small and having dogs roaming around may be a recipe for disaster. Plus this post is title “Cat Cafe”, so let’s get back to that.
The place was rather difficult to spot and don’t count on Google maps to get it right. Streets in Myeondong can be small and the naming/numbering convention can lead you astray. You could probably also ask the people holding up signs for it. A group of foreigners told me about them when I came out of the dog cafe. We happened to be going off directions to an old place that shut down. This place was new-er. Okay. Wish I knew the whole story here. Oh well, we were able to find it.
First off, I love dogs and cats. Never had one growing up though. So when I walked it, the first thing that hit me wasn’t how nice and clean the place looked, it was the smell. Best way to describe it was, it smelled very, err, feral. No matter what, animals are animals. With cats, they tend to mark things. And if you probably know how they go about marking. The owners are well aware of this and supply every customer with a plastic bag to store your belongings. And trust me, you need it. I happened to witness a lady who didn’t seal up her bag. And in slow motion I saw a cat casually walk up to the lady’s bag while she gleefully held up her phone snap off a picture, I muttered “I think that cat is going to…” The cat let the lady know what it thought of her Louis Vuitton bag. Yikes.
On the positive side, there were a great variety of cats. From Saimese, to Siberian, and even Sphynx, there were more than enough. Most slumbered away, but the social ones came to visit us.
I think this place is great for cat lovers, though for the rest of us. I don’t think mixing a cafe with a petting zoo quite works. And I have to say, this place seemed to have it together. Just not my cup of tea.
3F, 37-14, Myeongdong 8-gil
Seoul, South Korea
Verdict: Pass. Intriguing concept, but for the most part, you’re not missing much.
Our journey back brought us through Sinsa station, the station around Gejang Alley. An area known for restaurants specializing in ganjang gejang, raw crabs marinated in soy sauce. It was a bit early for dinner though. So what to do. Stop by of course. Early meant no crowds and no need to make reservations (luckily I was correct).
The place was easy to find and very close to the SMRT station. Inside the place was nice. A bit modern with a touch of tradition. That being, cubed sections of tables with, my favorite invention that should be in every restaurant, the help button. Awesome. We were seated immediately. It was 5pm, not too many tourists yet. They would soon line up after we finished our meal. We couldn’t quite figure out who was serving us. It seemed like whoever we could get a hold of would help us out. But there wasn’t any one person checking in on us. I guess it was really busy. Still, that shouldn’t be an excuse. Anyways, just a minor drawback. We got our food in a timely manner.
One thing to note was that they only serve female crabs. Best way to guarantee there would be crab roe. However, on this day they only had small. I was disappointed until we actually started eating. Small would be the best size because this was the first time I’m trying this stuff. A bit of a risk committing to large.
Overall, I was pretty impressed with the whole experience, full of first time eats.
Pro Ganjang Gejang (프로간장게장)
Seoul, South Korea
Verdict: Definitely try this place out if you don’t want to take any chances. This place is a tourist spot though. Expect crowds.
It was time to see more of Korea. See what makes Seoul more than a foodie metropolitan. A place of rich culture and global influences. One such influence being Korean dramas. WTF right? Well, yeah, if you haven’t watched one, you’d be surprised on how many people watch these shows coming out of Korea. And today we were visiting two places used as backdrops for some of the most popular K-dramas.
First up was a place called Petite France, a small cultural center located east of Seoul. We didn’t have a car so we went by SMRT to Gapyeong station on the Kyungchun line. It was a little confusing transferring onto that line. Just make sure you pay attention to which train is arriving at Mangu, since there are express trains into the city. Once at the station, it’s pretty easy to spot the bus to Petite France. Everyone seems to go out there to visit the place. Within ten minutes of winding through the mountain we arrived at our destination. It was much smaller then I imagined and thankfully so. I was getting hungry. It only took us an hour to see everything. The most memorable was the showcase for Le Petite Prince, a French children’s book. Amazing how literature reaches across the globe.
Next it was a cab ride to Nami Island where we had lunch and sampled what the region was known for, dak galbi. Yum. Just the boost I needed to last through this. What? I was sold on this trip based on what we’d eat for lunch. Really.
Anyways, back to Nami island. You have to take a ferry to the island which they set up like a separate nation inside of Korea. Though there’s no need to bring your passport. However, bring your camera. This place, sans all the people and the K-drama moments, was rather beautiful. Looking beyond the touristy stuff, like the quad bicycles, overhead train ride, and historical cultural teepees, you’d enjoy rows of lined trees with the backdrop of the lake. I see how location scouts love this place. Not sure what they think of it now that it’s so popular. My how popularity changes things.
Both places have admission.
Petite France (쁘띠프랑스)
Namiseom Island (남이섬 종합휴양지)
Verdict: If you love Korean dramas, then it’s a must. Otherwise avoid, or look forward to the lake side dak galbi.