S.Korea 2015 – Day 6 – Gyeongbokgung, Gwanghwamun, Hongdae

Started the day with brunch today, sort of to get it out of the way, but also as the restaurant we were going to is very popular and apparently has queues outside if you go too late. The restaurant was called Tosokchon, well known for it’s Ginseng Chicken soup, and not too far from Gyeongbokgung station. Mildly expensive, the dish consisted of a bowl of soup with whole boiled chicken inside, the chicken itself is stuffed with glutinous rice and other goodies (big ol’ root of ginseng included). It was okay, flavour could have been better, but i guess this is the sort of dish you eat for health and wellbeing more than taste.

A walk around Gyeonbokgung was scheduled next, a big ol fortress collection of temples in the same style as changdeokgung that we saw a few days ago. It was slightly boring given that we had already walked the same scenery before, and the sun as usual was in full force, it was hard to even see properly because the light coming off the sandy dirt on the floor was so bright. As we went to leave we got to witness the changing of the guard, which was about as much of a ceremony as it is in England I guess – a loud procession and march of men in brightly coloured clothes and carrying weapons.

We’d then walk the huge plaza across the road from the palace, a huge stretch surrounded by 5 lane carriageways. Some sort of Embassy Day was occurring, and the plaza was filled with a long row of shops manned by what I presume was all of the foreign embassies in Korea, lots of stuff for sale, but the strong sun was pretty discouraging.

We’d arrive at King Sejong’s Statue at Gwanghwamun Square after, and toured the 2 underground museums there for a little while, learning about the King and Admiral Sun-shin. The statues on ground level were more interesting than the museum exhibits however.

Toward the end of Gwanghwamun square was a somewhat depressing memorial / petition for the 300+ teens who died in the Korean Sewol Ferry incident (Wiki Link) almost 2 years ago, complete with old men holding boards asking for support for their children whose bodies have not yet been recovered, very upsetting.
Nearby was Cheonggyecheon Stream which we’d walk down for a while before taking a break and then heading to the nearby metro station to make our way to Hongdae.

Hongdae is actually named after Hongik University which is nearby, the area too reflects this fact with the shops being a very youthful mixture of trendy clothes shops, restaurants, bars and clubs. Before properly wandering around we headed to the Trick Eye museum, which was now coupled with an Ice Museum. The TrickEye is filled with visual optical illusions and practically designed for adorable korean couples to go and take photos with each other – fantastic for those who are good at facial expressions, and somewhat sad for those who have a face made partially of stone like myself. it was interesting, but a lot of the picture opportunities look obviously fake without some good photoshopping as reflections from lights and dark spots at the bottom of walls make the illusion too obvious.

The Ice Museum on the other hand, was pure awesome. The woman staffing the door was wearing a gigantic freezer coat, which was kind of an indicator of what we were into. A gigantic freezer door leads into the exhibit, and from there was an array of ice structures and sculptures to take pictures with. It was literally freezing inside, not really helped by the fact we were all in shorts and tshirt from the 30 degree weather outside.

Fried chicken again for dinner, though this time at a designated chicken and beer place, we ordered up a selection of fried chicken in different sauces and styles.

Then for the next few hours we’d explore Hongdae, one of the main streets was filled with buskers and street performances, presumedly students of the nearby Hongik University. Female singers and both male and female dance groups were common, busting their moves to kpop. Rather impressively there was also some goofy comedy routines, acrobatics, magicians, and a super old korean guy playing like 6 traditional instruments at once.

We’d also see a gigantic dog, guys riding electric unicycle segway things, and a shop with gigantic tanks of liquid nitrogen outside – Sort of irresistible to not go in for a closer look, they use liquid nitrogen to make ice cream, we went inside to order one and one of the guys gave us a cookie thing ‘cooked’ in nitrogen, still steaming and painful on the tongue if you hold it there. I think they realised we were attracted by the white gas spilling everywhere and started trying to drum up more business… by just pouring it fucking everywhere, one of the staff went out to the front tank and just let it run a little, before filling up a beaker and throwing it on the floor not even 1 foot away from us. I’m no stranger to L.N from my bio lab days, but this was so awesome (we were never allowed to literally throw the stuff around after all).