Hanbok Time at Gyeongbokgung

For the last Korea-related post, I will be showing off a little bit. On our last day in Seoul, I had the urge to go to Gyeongbokgung…in a hanbok.

Gyeongbokgung (경복궁) is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty. Serving as the home of Kings, the Royal households, and acting as the seat of the Joseon government, Gyeongbokgung was built in 1395. Mostly destroyed in the first Japanese invasion, the palace was restored under the reign of King Gojong in the 19th century…only for much of it, along with other major palaces, to be systematically destroyed by Imperial Japan during the Japanese occupation. After the Korean liberation however, the palace is continually undergoing reconstruction, and is now considered the most beautiful of the Five Grand Palaces. In addition to the vast gardens and ponds, the grounds also house the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum.

As Gyeongbokgung has become such a famous landmark for tourists, the surrounding businesses have started to respond to this new demographic by offering new services, targeting foreign visitors. One of these services, hanbok rental, has also become wildly popular with younger Korean females, especially among those in middle and high school. An initiative by the Korean government that grants free palace entrance tickets to those wearing hanboks only sweetens the deal.

You can choose to borrow hanboks for various lengths of times, from 2 hours to an entire day. I chose to borrow mine for about 4 hours, for a total cost of 12,000 Won. This includes an extra hour to get dressed and adjust your makeup/hair, a petticoat, the hanbok itself, a hair accessory, and a matching handbag. Not a bad deal if you ask me.

While I wore my hanbok by myself, it was not uncommon to see gaggles of schoolgirls and couples on dates wearing matching hanboks. It made me think that in the future, I would like to bring my fiancé to a palace in Korea to wear hanboks together as well.

Despite the many layers, it was not uncomfortably hot, wandering around the palace grounds. The weather was cool and breezy, so it was bearable.

After our walk around the palace, it was time for lunch! I still had almost 2 hours left until my rental time was up, so I just ate in my hanbok. While eating, two tourists approached me and complimented me on my garb. Upon discovering that I was more than proficient in English, we struck up conversation. Coincidentally, their next destination was Taiwan, from where I had just returned a few days prior. They hadn’t really planned out their trip in detail yet, so I was able to offer them some tips and suggestions on places to visit and things to eat. I didn’t get their contact information though, but I hope they enjoyed their last day in Seoul and their Taiwan trip as well.

For the remainder of the day, we visited the National Folk Museum. Not having visited this museum for at least 10 years, it was enlightening and fascinating to go back in time and witness the lifestyle of my ancestors. It was interesting to see how shamanism and Confucianism merged to give birth to life customs that I, along with my extended family, still practice, such as Jesa (a form of ancestral worship).

However, my favorite part of the exhibitions was the displays on how cloth was made, and the various colors that were achieved through natural dyeing. Korean spinning wheels, unlike the Western wheels that I am more familiar with, are operated by a hand-crank. I hope that I will get a chance to use one of them some day.

And that’s it for my holiday in Korea! I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts, and I’ll see you again when I write about my other trips!

Signing off,
Marie

Ihwa Mural Village

And it’s back to Korea! Today I’ll be showing you around the picturesque Ihwa Mural Village (이화 벽화마을), located in Ihwa-dong.

In 2006, as part of the Naksan Project, approximately 60 artists were commissioned to paint walls and install artworks around the Ihwa neighborhood. As a result, the area was reborn as a tourist attraction – visitors can come admire the many galleries and small stores selling handmade items among the prettily adorned concrete walls.

The neighborhood boom was not without its controversies, however. Many residents, constantly disturbed and harassed by the noisy tourists (and the trash they leave behind), have protested against the Naksan Project by painting over landmarks with grey paint. Wandering around the neighborhood, angry red messages spray-painted onto walls were not uncommon either. I could understand why they would be protesting, though – many tourists were blatantly ignoring numerous signs posted asking them to respect private property and keep noise levels to a minimum.

In spite of the controversy, there were still many murals left untouched, thankfully. I do hope that in the future, tourists are more considerate of the people who make their homes here.

One store that I really enjoyed visiting was Suga M, located at the bottom of one of the many hills. A small leather-working store, the owner was very friendly as she talked us through all of her pieces. Her store had not been open for too long, but I hope that she gets a lot of visitors (and business) soon!

We passed by a small wooden bench under some pieces of dyed fabric. I’m not entirely sure what they were there for, but they were quite pretty all the same.

There were a number of tiny museums dotted throughout the Mural Village. It was a shame they weren’t advertised more clearly; the only reason we found out about them was because we accidentally stumbled into one. One of them was showcasing traditional Korean embroidery, used in traditional Korean weddings. I loved looking at the intricate details of the richly embroidered dresses and bed-covers.

We also stopped by a small cafe, occupied by two adorable Siamese kittens that I played with as I sipped my iced cappuccino.

Despite the sweltering hot weather, we had a lovely trip to Ihwa Mural Village. I hope that in the future, some sort of agreement is made between the residents and the tourist board, to ensure everybody benefits equally from the Naksan Project.

Signing off,
Marie

The Owls Cafe

Today we’ll be taking a break from my Korean photos and will be having lunch in Malaysia! The Owls Cafe, located in the Bukit Jalil suburb of Kuala Lumpur, was an unexpected, but nonetheless, lovely little gem of a coffee shop. Having just stumbled into the place while passing by, I entered without any real expectations and was pleasantly blown away by the quality of food and coffee, and adorably cozy decor.

Upon entering, the crowded and noisy atmosphere was a little bit overwhelming at first, but we were quickly attended to by a friendly and courteous staff member who directed us to our table. Ordering was done at the counter, with payment made simultaneously. Having placed our order, I quickly snapped a couple of photos of the numerous owl figurines huddled together on cozy wooden shelves throughout the place.

Our coffees arrived fairly quickly, with our meals following not too long after. I was a little startled at how quickly the food came out, which made me initially suspect that the food was simply reheated in a microwave. But after closer investigation and tasting, everything was delicious and fresh.

I ordered the Muffin & Lox (RM18, about 4.40 USD) and the Flat White (RM9, about 2.20 USD). The coffee was very well balanced with the milk, and not too sweet nor too bitter. The adorable latte art was also a plus. The salad, drizzled with roasted sesame dressing, was very fresh and crisp, while the smoked salmon was complemented by the smoothness of the cream cheese and coolness of the diced cucumber.

We also ordered the English Muffin (RM16, about 3.91 USD) and the Long Black (RM6, about 1.47 USD). The egg mayonnaise on the deliciously buttered muffin was not overly rich, thanks to the sun-dried tomatoes mixed within. The buttered parsley potatoes were roasted to perfect doneness, and this salad was also very crisp and fresh.

Overall, our lunch at The Owls Cafe was delicious and our visit a pleasant one. If I had to identify one fault, it would be that the tables were placed too closely together, and there were a couple of loud and unruly children (which isn’t really the establishment’s fault). There were numerous delicious looking cakes on display, but unfortunately we were too full to have any. There will definitely be a second visit here however, maybe for some tea and desserts.

The Owls Cafe also has an Instagram account here, where you can browse photos of their delectable creations.

Signing off,
Marie