Friday, January 12, 2007

Seoul's Kahoe-dong--Trendy and Rich with Heritage

On my last trip to Seoul, outside business, one area of the city I wished to spend time was Bukchon-north village. (That's me in Bukchon). This area between the Royal palaces is rich in heritage. During the Choson era, many of Seoul's elite yangban once lived in this hilly section of the city. When compared with other parts of the city I feel more relaxed as if I lived here in a past life. This Korea Times article does a wonderful job highlighting the district. In fact, I've visited many of the area's shops noted in the article...

Stylish neighborhoods are cropping up all over the metropolis. Kahoe-dong, located in Chongno-gu, is a traditional Korean residential neighborhood slowly undergoing a transformation.

Nestled between Kyongbok and Changdok palaces, the Kahoe-dong neighborhood is often overlooked in favor of the much swankier Samchong-dong and the tourist magnet Insa-dong.

The main attraction of Kahoe is Pukchon, most famous for its cluster of hanoks, traditional Korean houses. While it remains a quiet residential area, some of the hanoks are being turned into restaurants, cafes, teahouses, boutiques, museums and even offices.

Compared with Insa-dong, filled with hundreds of tourists at any given day, Kahoe is less crowded and relatively quiet. It also attracts a different crowd _ a mix of office workers from nearby office buildings, groups of middle-aged ladies who have long leisurely lunches, retirees who sit around having tea, students from nearby schools and tourists in search of the hanok village. [ and taxi and bus drivers relaxing over a few bottles of soju).

Trendy Food Places

Good food is probably the first thing that attracts people to a neighborhood. Kahoe is not lacking in trendy restaurants and quaint cafes serving tasty food in a tasteful setting.

Restaurant Wood & Brick
Wood & Brick occupies a fairly large area, with two of their ventures, Gourmet, a bakery and deli, and Ga-Hoe-Heon, an Italian restaurant.
Step inside Gourmet. and youÂ’ll be greeted with the scent of freshly baked bread and a whiff of brewed coffee. The shop offers a tempting array of bread, baguettes, multi-grain bread, chiabatta, as well as cheesecake, chiffon cake, tiramisu. It is almost enough to make one forget about their New YearÂ’s resolution to go on a diet.

Gourmet, a wine and tapas bar at night, is well stocked with wine and cheese. Ga-Hoe-Heon has a sophisticated atmosphere. You can sip wine and savor sumptuous Italian dishes.

Sandwich places are also becoming popular in Kahoe. SallyÂ’s Salon is popular for its hearty sandwiches, which are served with wine or coffee. Its salami sandwich with wine set is a steal for 7,000 won.

Coffee shop Egg
Bene is another sandwich shop that serves excellent Italian panini. The shop usually has a daily special, with a panini, a cup of coffee or tea, and a tiny cup of fresh yogurt. However, Bene is currently undergoing renovation. It will reopen next month.
Other interesting places to have coffee are the rustic-looking Egg and the modern Dexter House.

For a more upscale atmosphere, To Go Coffee is the place to go. Located in a red brick house with floor-length windows, To Go Coffee is a perfect place to relax and just watch the world go by.

Health-conscious people may want to check out Organic Coffee. The cafeÂ’s main selling point is that it serves organic coffee, grown without using pesticides or harmful chemicals. Recent studies have shown organic coffee has more nutritional and medicinal benefits than regular coffee.

Another popular Italian restaurant is Flora, located in front of Art Sonje Center. Flora provides a perfect ambience for a date. It boasts an award-winning chef Cho Woo-hyun, who won a gold medal with the Korean Cuisine Association in the gourmet team challenge in Thailand last year.

Wagamama is a Japanese sushi bar with reasonably priced dishes. Wagamama owner Cho Mun-ho said the restaurant has only been open for a couple of months but has already attracted a steady lunch crowd.

The restaurant also has a small section with clothes and jewelry for sale. The unique jewelry and accessories were designed by ChoÂ’s wife Park Myoung-hee.

If thatÂ’s not enough, Wagamama also has resident tarot card master who will tell you what you want to know about your future. A tarot card reading for one question costs 5,000 won, and a tarot card reading for couples is 10,000 won.

Satisfy your sweet tooth at JÂ’s Cake (, which offers yummy treats such as raspberry cheesecake, Austrian choco cake and yogurt potato cake.

Coffee shop To Go Coffee
JÂ’s Cakes also offers made-to-order cakes, with special designs for birthdays, weddings and other occasions. These unique cakes are such a delight to look at, with delicate sugar flowers and perfect frosting. It is almost impossible to imagine eating such a pretty cake.
Stylish Shops

For a fashionista, exploring KahoeÂ’s streets can yield chic finds and maybe even some bargains. Boutiques specializing in one-of-a-kind, handmade shoes, bags and jewelry are sprouting up in the neighborhood.

Tibet Museum
Hosevan is a shop specializing in handmade leather goods, which are classic yet stylish. A simple but well-made black leather bag can set you back 480,000 won, while a pair of leather pumps costs around 350,000 won.
The boutique Shoes and Shoes also displays quite fashionable shoes and handbags.

A row of small boutiques selling quirky jewelry, bags, clothes and other accessories is also found behind the Jeongdok Library.

Hat shop Luielle
Luielle ( is a well-known brand of beautiful, colorful and funky hats. Shirly Chun is the modiste who learned hat design and hat making in Paris. Luielle hats have been seen on the heads of top celebrities like Rain and Lee Hyo-ri.
Cometa is a small shop specializing in art jewelry. Kim Hyung-mo designs most of the jewelry sold at the shop, although some pieces are imported from Venice, Italy.

Kim, a friendly, soft-spoken man, greets customers at the store, where he also painstakingly creates earrings and other pieces of jewelry. He worked in a chemical lab for 15 years before deciding to shift to his passion for jewelry design.

Jewelry shop Cometa
Cometa has been open for only a year and a half, but Kim said he has had many Japanese and European tourists come in and buy his pieces. Most of the colorful earrings are sold for 10,000 won, but some pieces with imported Murano glass are sold for 40,000 won. It may seem a bit pricey, but KimÂ’s designs are one-of-a-kind and the Murano glass is imported from Venice, Italy.

Another interesting shop is Piktor, which sells a mix of handmade accessories and fashion-forward clothing.

Not many flower shops in Seoul can boast of a chic shop like Soho and Noho. This is no ordinary flower shop, since it also provides party and event decoration services.

Cultural Tour

There are many art galleries in the area such as Arario Seoul, PKM Gallery and Art Sonje Center.

There is even a Tibet Museum (, which may initially conjure questions as to why would there be a museum devoted to Tibetan culture in a traditional Korean neighborhood. Admission costs 5,000 won.

But a visit to Kahoe would not be complete without checking out the hanoks. Some residential hanoks are open to the public, while others have been converted into museums to show different aspects of Korean traditional culture.

The Dong-lim Museum, which features Korean traditional knots, is located in a hanok. The museum sheds light on the different meanings behind knots. For instance, amber knots symbolize wealth, while pepper knots symbolize fertility. The museum also offers knot-making program for those interested in learning how to make Korean knots. It takes about an hour to complete a project such as a cell phone cord.

Gahoe Museum ( is a hanok remodeled to become a small museum. Yoon Yul-soo, the museum director, said the hanok is estimated to be nearly 90 years old. The museum boasts of a collection of amulets, folk paintings and books, although only a few are actually on display. Admission fee is 3,000 won for adults and 2,000 won for students.

A tour guide is ready to greet visitors, but does not speak English. The guide does offer some key English words to describe some interesting pieces in the museum. At the end of the short tour, visitors can try out amulet stamping, folk painting coloring and folk fan drawing.
Visitors are served a cup of green tea from the Dongwoen Temple in Naju, South Cholla Province, and are encouraged to stay and savor the peaceful atmosphere

A middle-aged Japanese man from Fukushima enjoyed the peaceful ambience at the Gahoe Museum. He said he enjoyed walking around the hanok neighborhood. ``It is very quiet. It makes you forget you are in a busy city,” he said.

True enough, Kahoe is only a few blocks away from the busy, chaotic streets of downtown Seoul, but there is a sense of calm in the hanok neighborhood. Amid the rapid pace of development and modernization of the neighborhood, it will be a challenge for Kahoe to preserve its unique character.

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