A Summer’s Day at Nami Island

A Summer Day on

Nami Island is a very famous spot in Korea and will be recognizable to classic K-drama fans. Nami is a tiny island resort and nature preserve in Chuncheon. It’s away from the craziness of Seoul, but easily accessible from public transportation.

From Gapyeong Station it’s easy to take a bus to Nami or Chuncheon’s other attractions. If you can make a weekend of it you can hit all three of Chuncheon’s most famous spots: Nami Island, The Garden of the Morning Calm, and Petite France. The Garden of the Morning Calm is one of the biggest dedicated gardens in the country with year round events and displays. Petite France is a faux French village in vibrant color inspired by the book The Little Prince (which is incredibly popular in Korea).

But I’m focusing just on Nami Island and how you can enjoy your time there. We visited in the late summer so it was still quite hot and most things were in bloom. It was over Chuseok weekend, so it was a gamble as to whether that would make the island completely empty or even fuller than usual. It was definitely busy and full with families enjoying their holiday off together. Still, it was worth the visit.

It’s actually an island! Readers of my blog will know that when we took a winter visit to Herb Island I was disappointed to find that it was not at all an island. Nami is the real deal. You must take a ferry to get on to the island as there are no bridges. You also pay for a “visa” to Nami. It helps add to the impression that Nami is somehow separate from everything else around it. They even declared themselves an independent micro-nation in 2006 becoming Naminara, not just Nami. You can buy a “passport” to Nami which serves as a sort of season pass. And Nami also has its own currency, though Korean won is accepted there too.

If ferries aren’t your thing, you can also take a zip line on to the island to get a bird’s eye view. It was tempting, but it was almost ten times the price of the ferry, so we stuck with that mode of transport.

Ecology and recycling: Nami is a nature park. All electrical wires are underground so as not to get in the way of trees and spoil the view. There’s an environmental protection school on the island and a lot of artwork featuring recycled material, especially glass bottles.

There’s a huge variety of plant life on Nami as well as an animal preserve where you can get up close to Emus and other creatures. One of the most famous views in Nami is the Metasequoia Path lined with red wood trees. The view in autumn is printed on Nami’s information brochure and that setting was used in the beloved drama Winter Sonata. Many scenes from the drama were shot on Nami and certain spots are marked with references to it. You can take your picture on the spot where the lead couple first kissed for example.


Commitment to fairy tales and imagination: The point of the Republic of Nami (according to their official website) is to create and live in fairy tales. The island definitely reflects the idea of whimsy and creativity. As you might expect, it’s very family friendly spot. Plenty of things to see and areas to play and interact.

What captured my imagination most were the extensive walking trails. The island is very small and we had circled it before I knew it, but it’s extensive paths for walking (and biking) let you meander through different spots all day long taking you out to little ponds, gardens, copses of trees.

The island is also home to arts and craft studios that are mainly dedicated to sculpture and pottery. The island is dotted with sculpture big and small. Including this very eye-catching sculpture of a mother creatively finding a way to nurse two children at once. You can also glimpse inside pottery studios and purchase finished pieces if you’d like.

It’s still touristy of course: Like most attractions in Korea, it will be crowded most of the year. Especially if you visit over a weekend of holiday. The amount of visitors didn’t spoil the scenery though. Something about the island makes everything seem peaceful in spite of the crowds. Plenty of Korean and foreign visitors enjoy visiting with their families and significant others and there are accommodations to even stay overnight on the island.

Some other amenities include bike rentals, swan boat outings, and plenty of restaurants to choose from. Fortunately the food is reasonably priced in spite of the high volume of visitors. You can find classic street foods like hoddeok (crispy fried dough filled with honey or brown sugar with seeds and nuts), traditional Korean favorites like lunch boxes, bibimbap, jeon (savory pancakes), or even some western cuisine like pizza at the one Italian restaurant on the island. And since it’s Korea, you can easily find a spot to get coffee as well.


Naminara is a picturesque getaway from city life. It’s a great spot for a date or a family trip. And though it will be crowded in some sections, it’s definitely possible to find some peace and quiet for yourself if that’s what you’re looking for. If not, there’s plenty of lively excitement and activity to keep you busy as well.


My Korean Wedding

Goodness my arm looks pale

So, some of you who read my posts might know that I got married last year.In fact, it’s nearly our first anniversary! We’re enjoying married life, but planning a wedding in Korea was one of the most stressful periods in my life. I’ve done a post before on Korean style weddings here, but that style of nuptials (conveyor belt weddings as I call them) doesn’t really suit my style.

My husband is half Korean, but didn’t grow up there, so he wanted a western style wedding as well. Korean weddings tend to be quite impersonal and rushed. American weddings tend to be over the top. So we decided to go with a more French mindset. No bridal party. 50 or fewer guests. As little fuss as possible. Fun, tasteful, simple.

But, as anyone planning a wedding knows, there’s always a bit of fuss. There was a culture clash with my in-laws. We had to change our intended venue three months before. Our photographer canceled a week before. The friend making our cake had a kitchen disaster two days before. Because of Korean work culture, I had about two days off for our honeymoon. It certainly didn’t go as I envisioned, but, a lot of things did go right. So here’s my advice for people who want a non-Korean wedding in Korea or for inquiring minds who want to know how we pulled it off.

Talented Friends: We were really lucky to be able to call on many of the lovely and talented friends we know in Korea. One friend did our engagement photos. One was our DJ. One helped me translate and negotiate with our venue. One made my bouquet, knit me a bolero, and did my hair and makeup on the day. We basically had an international team help us. America, New Zealand, Korea, Canada, France, Argentina. If you don’t have friends who can do the job, look for a wedding planner who is willing to do a more unique ceremony.

Sign your papers in advance: if one or both of you is not a Korean citizen, you’ll need to visit the embassy of the country to get permission to marry in Korea. The you’ll need to register at the local Korean office. At that point, you’re legally married and that’s really the most important bit. You might want to get a physical copy of your registration to take with you if you ever go back to your native country.

Find a place: This proved to be very challenging. You want an out door space, so a park is probably your best bet. Yangjae Citizen’s Park actually has a free outdoor wedding venue. However, you have to book it about a year in advance. Most botanical gardens and parks will express extreme confusion if you call them and ask if they have a wedding or party space. Some people I know have opted to head out to the coast and do a small ceremony on the beach. If you are a member of a church, sometimes you can have religious service there and have a reception in a restaurant afterwards.

We used the website Spacecloud to find our venue. It’s sort of like an air bnb for space rental. Conference rooms, dance studios, etc. We found a gorgeous place called “Slow Dream.” By day it’s a photography studio. On weekends and evenings, they rent it out at a reasonable price for events. The staff was kind and helpful and I can’t recommend it enough.

Slow Dream before it got all wedding-ed up

Spiffy Threads: I’d heard horror stories of brides over a size six getting turned away from Korean bridal shops. I also didn’t fancy looking like a dollop of meringue, and those poofy princess style gowns are quite popular in Korea. So, to look a bit more like I wanted and to and save money, I ordered my dress from ModCloth‘s bridal line. I ordered a petticoat from Etsy to add a bit of flare and had a little custom tailoring done.

My husband got a custom suit made at Mercury Tailor in Itaewon. The price was reasonable, it was finished in a week, and the fit is great. We thought it was better to invest in a well made suit (since he needed a new one anyway) instead of renting a tux.

Food: Typically at Korean weddings, everyone gives a monetary gift, usually around $50 USD. Instead of asking for money, we asked for food. To save ourselves from paying for catering (which would have been hard to arrange for a reasonable per person price since we had only about 40 guests), we had a potluck style affair. We asked everyone to RSVP (unheard of for weddings in Korea) and let us know what they would bring so we could prevent everyone bringing the same things.

We have a friend who is a trained patisserie who volunteered to make our cake as a wedding present. However, due to the limitation of Korean kitchens, her attempts to make fine pastry in a toaster oven was a disaster. So the night before the wedding, she gritted her teeth and bought two cakes from Paris Baguette which she stacked together and redecorated. Not what we planned, but serviceable.

Decorations: Slow Dream was such a beautiful space, we hardly needed to add anything to it. I made some paper flowers and we hung some string lights. Diaso has some basic crafting supplies, but for more refined art supplies, I went to the Hottracks in the basement of Kyobo tower by Nonhyeon station, Gangnam. Modern House has some cute string lights and silk flowers in many varieties and shapes that were also used.

Overall, our wedding was a success. We managed to keep everything together and all our guests had a nice time. Our wedding had a cozy, intimate feeling and that’s what we wanted. An older Korean guest told me that our wedding was the most touching he had ever attended. That it was the first time he had appreciated sitting down and listening to the proceedings a mingling with the guests and the couple. t’s not a chance you get at most Korean weddings. We even got people to dance at our wedding which is pretty revolutionary for Korea.

If I’m completely honest though, are some things I regret about my wedding planning process. I wish that my mother-in-law hadn’t clashed with me so much. I wish that more people from the US could have attended (my best friend wasn’t even able to come). I wish that I could have enjoyed the bit of pampering brides at US weddings enjoy with bridal showers and bachelorette nights. I wish I hadn’t been so stressed out that I grew my first two grey hairs in the months leading up the event.

There were so many times when I felt alone and overwhelmed. I’m definitely jealous of brides who have very close friends and family members who swoop in and alleviate some of the burden. I owe so much to my former roommate who came back from New Zealand to help me bring everything together a few months before our wedding. Without her we probably would have eloped. The groom was, of course, a big help too. He was always there to listen when I needed someone to cry to, even if it was about his own mother. He  built a wedding website which served as our invitations complete with RSVP forms which was a big help and money saver.

Even though it wasn’t the ideal situation, few things in life are. If we spend our lives waiting for circumstances to be perfect, we’ll never do anything. In the end, what’s most important is that we survived such a stressful situation as a couple and came out stronger. It’s the marriage that follows which is important, not how much money you do or don’t spend on a wedding or if you had the silk roses or silk ranunculus in your hair.

5 Things I’ll Miss About Seoul, 5 I Won’t

After three and a half years, I’m leaving Korea. It’s time to start new chapter, so my husband and I are heading to America. Our current plan is to spend 1 year (2 max) in America before making our next international move.

I’m very excited to start the next chapter, but I know there are a couple of things I’ll miss about Korea. So here’s a mini-catalogue.

I’ll miss… the simplicity of my life here. Living in Seoul lets me live without a car. Public transportation is amazing, affordable, and easy to navigate. I’ve lived in four apartments in Korea, so the constant moving has made me pare down to my necessities. When I think about my friends and family back in the States with their houses full of stuff, I feel overwhelmed. I like keeping my possessions lean, so that when opportunity knocks, you can follow it. It also encourages you to save your money and buy investment pieces instead of cheap throwaway items.

I won’t miss… the occasional lack of creature comforts. Perhaps growing up in America spoiled me, but I always feel a sense of dread using public bathrooms in Korea. Will it have warm water? Soap? Paper towels or a hand dryer? More often than not, washing your hands is just giving them a cursory blast of icy water in a bathroom that might not even be heated in the middle of winter. Apartments are made of concrete that is often unsealed. In the summer, the humidity can seep through your wallpaper. In the winter, your walls are always cold to the touch. And unless you’re living in an apartment that’s brand new and quite expensive, you won’t have a bathtub if you live in the city. I miss baths.

I’ll miss the safety. Korea has a very low crime rate. I had my own brush with danger at the end of my first year here (more about that at some point), but school children can walk themselves to and from school in the middle of a busy city without much worry. America has a much higher crime rate and I can’t help but have concerns about the perception people will have of me and my husband. He’s mixed race and I’m white. Here, we’re both just considered American (in spite of his Korean mother), or even the broader sweep of “foreign,” but in America, prejudice is alive and well. That’s not to say that prejudice doesn’t exist in Korea. Korea can be quite xenophobic, but since we exist outside of the mainstream society, Korean people aren’t offended by our relationship. We are categorically the same to them; we’re not Koreans.

I won’t miss… the lack of diversity. Only about 2% of the population of Korea is not Korean. This can lead to many misconceptions about non Korean people. All white people are assumed to be American, or at least English speakers. All black people are assumed to be from somewhere in Africa. I swear, if another person expresses shock that I can eat Korean food and use chopsticks, I might scream. Things tend to be over-generalized. It’s either Korean, or not. Though everything that isn’t Korean is quite a wide band. For example, Korea is certainly not the only culture with spicy food. It’s not even the spiciest. My friend’s mother is Sri Lankan and her “toned-down” curry was much hotter than anything I experienced in Korea. Cultural ignorance is rampant all over the world, but at least in some countries there is a bit more diverse population to learn from.

I’ll miss… all the cute coffee shops and fun places to go. Being in a big city comes with the advantage of having a lot of options for entertainment. From a handful of nice parks to escape rooms, you can usually find something cool to do. Coffee shops are plentiful and some are really cozy. Now that drip coffee has become trendy, coffee shops that roast their own beans are becoming more common. Nice drinks and a pleasant atmosphere at a local coffee shop can be a lifesaver. Most Korean apartments aren’t sized for entertaining, so meeting with friends, having a casual date, or even getting work done, are all coffee shop activities.

I won’t miss… fighting for space. Any area that has trendy cafes or entertainment is inevitably flooded with people, particularly on the weekends. Festivals and events in the city will have you getting pressed by possibly millions of people. In such a big city that has developed so quickly, most people are numb to it, just seeing other people as obstacles to wordlessly shoulder past. Rush hour on any of the main train lines is a similar nightmare of people wedging themselves into others as tightly as possible so they don’t have to wait for another train. Sometimes I really miss personal space and people saying “excuse me” in any language.


I’ll miss… the food. I really like Korean food with very few exceptions. And I love that eating out can be quite affordable if you don’t mind sticking to Korean staples. Kimbap shops and noodle places can get you a filling and relatively healthy meal for about $4 usd. Side dishes are refilled for free giving you extra value, which is great when you’re saving up for something (e.g. a wedding and an international move).

I won’t miss… grocery prices. Weirdly though, sometimes eating in isn’t much cheaper that going out. Things that are basic kitchen staples to me are priced luxuriously here. Fresh produce can be easily 2-3 times the price I paid in America. Basic vegetables like carrot, cabbage, and potato are not unreasonable, but most fruits are absurdly expensive. Buying off local fruit trucks can get you a better deal, but they aren’t usually as consistant. Beef is so expensive that I’ve only bought it a handful of times since moving here, substituting for more economical meats (such as pork). Nuts are priced like they’re stocking a hotel mini-bar. Canned tuna is about 3 times the price I’m used to as well. Keeping a stock of healthy snacks and ingredients can be a challenge.

I’ll miss… my friends. I’ve made so many great friends here. Both locally based and others that have moved to Korea from around the world. Of course, many of my friends love traveling too, so seeing them again becomes a greater possibility. And since my husband has family in Korea, the likelihood of our visiting again in the next couple years is pretty high. I’m fortunate to be taking the best friend I made in Korea with me.

I won’t miss… my job. Honestly, I’m feeling quite burnt out by the hagwon system in Korea. This has been a stressful year for me. I didn’t mesh well with the school, and I don’t agree with the educational trends in Korea overall. Chasing kindergartners around all day exhausts me.

Korea was quite a ride. It’s terribly cliche, but I really grew up while I was living here. I lived on my own for the first time, I supported myself, I made amazing friends, I found the love of my life. But, I also know it’s time to move on. I don’t think that staying here will help me grow in the directions that I want to. Korea was a very necessary chapter in my life, but it’s not the whole book.

Winter at Herb Island

I really like plants. Back in America I grew a garden of herbs and vegetables, frolicked in woodlands, and even made my own plant essence rich soaps and skincare. I was kind of a hippie. At heart, I still am. Sometimes living in a city like Seoul can be really depressing for me. It’s gloomy and grey with parks and gardens too spread out for my taste. So my husband decided to take me to Herb Island in Pocheon on New Year’s weekend.

Pocheon is so far north that it touches the DMZ. It’s also pretty rural. He had been there once before and thought the trip might lift some of my winter blues. I’m not sure if it did the trick, but here are my impressions.

1. It’s not an island. I have no idea why they call it Herb Island when it’s landlocked. There’s a river nearby, but that’s about it.

2. It’s a theme park. I get it. Growing herbs out in the middle of nowhere isn’t that exciting of a premise. But like most family weekend places in Korea, it has weird faux European architecture, rides, and cartoon characters. It’s all about selling you stuff.

3. The herbs are legit though. Throughout the park they sell teas, jams, bath products, and candles. Some are made from the herbs grown in herb island. And the teas are pretty delicious. They have some nice soaps and bath bombs too.

4. There are some unique activities too. There is a spa  where you can get aromatherapy treatments and massages with products made on Herb Island. There’s also a craft shop where you can make your own candles and other handicrafts under the guidance of an employee. If you’ve never tried crafting before, it might be a fun environment to try it.

5. There is such a thing as too many twinkle lights. I love twinkle lights. At home we have string lights above our bed. I like having soft light before bed to help me wind down and feel cozy. Herb Island went too far. Possibly because it was winter, there were lights on everything. All the dormant plants in the field were covered by them even. And they were in very bright colors that hurt my eyes when the sun went down.

6. The botanical garden and plant museum are the nicest spots in winter. It’s quite balmy inside with a mix of local and tropical plants. Watch out for the rosemary though, there are rosemary bushes everywhere you turn in the botanical gardens, likely because they use it in many of their products. In the plant museum you can buy your own potted plants to take home.

In summary: I’m glad I went, but I was a bit disappointed overall. I guess I was expecting too much. Very few attractions in Korea offer an organic experience. Everything is polished up and pre-packaged to make money from people looking for a little relief from the soulless city life, but don’t have the time or inclination to really get their hands dirty. I was hoping for a chance to get close to nature. I don’t want to sound crabby. It was a change of scene from Seoul, and I got some delicious hibiscus tea, but for the distance of travel, I think Nami Island is a better spot (and an actual island).

My Korean Apartment Hunt

Horror of horrors. When I got my new job in Seoul this spring my new boss said to me, “so where will you live?” At that moment I was between apartments, crashing on a friend’s floor about 45 minutes away from the school. Typically workplaces will have suggested accommodations (which you are free to refuse for something else) or will help you deal with real estate agents.


Not my new school. Most of the teacher at my new school are more established. They’ve been in Korea for several years or they are married and already settled into an apartment with their partner. I’ve been in Korea a while too, but this was the first time I’ve had to go through the hunting on my own. Well, on my own is a strong word. I had a few supportive friends and a lovely fiance to help with the actually visiting places and talking to estate agents.

Ultimately it was overwhelming, but also somewhat satisfying to be in control, making deals and negotiating. I had some agents who were amazing, some who were super pushy. Some spoke great English. Some spoke zero English. The whole process felt like some final exam for how adapted to Korean life I’ve become.

Yongsan district

Getting an apartment in Seoul can be an ordeal for many reasons. Things get snapped up quickly in a metropolitan area of more than 20 million. Many newcomers to Korea are also shocked at the cost of a deposit. For a basic studio apartment, it can be almost ten thousand dollars for your deposit– more than a year of monthly rent in many cases. Fortunately, most employers will sponsor your deposit (they’ll get it back once you move out).

I was daunted, but decided that this was my chance. I could finally have an apartment that wasn’t crap. My first apartment was a studio that was so small, it was bursting at the seams with a bed and a desk as the only furniture. My second apartment was more spacious, but suffered from mold and was two subway stops away from a decent supermarket. The third apartment (which I shared with my friend from New Zealand) also had a severe mold problem and neighbors who were always experiencing some form of screaming, dish breaking, death threatening domestic upset. Perhaps that’s a story for another time.


So there were a variety of tools I used for my search:

Zikbang App: This a Korea real estate app. You can narrow your app by area, price, and other factors. You can also star your favorite properties. Through the app you can contact agents. The downsides are that it’s pretty much entirely in Korean. After a couple years here, that’s not a problem for me. My Korean’s not great, but I can read it well. I had Korean friends call the estate agents for me because I’m not that confident.

Craigslist: Many listing for smaller, less expensive properties can be found on Craigslist. A lot of English-friendly agents will post shorter term, low deposit places there specifically looking for foreign workers and students who might be staying in Korea for less than a year

Seoul Homes: This site had a great variety of listings throughout the city. Some agents were English friendly on that site as well. I highly recommend that site.

Over the course of two weeks, I saw about 40 apartments. I was completely exhausted by the end of it. My work is in Gangnam district, but typically living in the Gangnam area means paying for the neighborhood more than the tiny apartment, so I widened my search to Yongsan, even as far west as Guro.

I realized a couple of things. Many loft apartments are not worth in. Having a loft was something I really wanted to create a bedroom space separate from the rest of the house. Nearly every loft I saw was about three feet from floor to ceiling. That means you could only sleep on a floor mat. When we get married, my fiance is bringing his plush queen size bed with him. That’s about a foot thick. So if the cat knocks something over and we bolt upright in the night, our foreheads would be at real risk for concussion. Lofts tend to bulk up the price tag one to two hundred thousand won a month as well.

If a building is less than five years old, that also adds expense. Elevators in the building are great, especially if it’s over five stories, but that usually comes with a maintenance fee slapped on top of your rent. Living on a lower floor will often be slightly cheaper because in a high rise building, higher floors are more desirable.

The neighborhood is extremely important too. Having markets in walking district, as well as close access to train and bus stations is extremely important to your comfort and time. Sometimes you will have to pay a bit more for prime spots.

After a couple of overpriced high rises, and a few cheap, but scary places in the middle of a slum that looked like the perfect spot for a murder, I finally settled on a villa about a 20 minute walk or ten minute bus ride from my work. Yep, I ended up in Gangnam. The price is about the same as my apartment in the north of the city, but it’s about a third of the size. Villas are nice though because they are studios plus. Mine has a little patio room where my washer is so I don’t have to have it in the kitchen or bathroom like most Korean apartments.

It’s about ten years old, but the landlord is super nice. And it’s on a fourth floor with no elevator, which is very livable. Not a hint of mold. So, it’s pricey for the size, but overall, it is the nicest place I’ve lived in Seoul. I guess I passed the test.

Are you on the apartment hunt? What have your experiences been?

Going to Your First Korean Wedding: An Etiquette Guide


Korea easily has one of the most “coupley“cultures in the world. In fact, it seems a large part of the economy is driven by young couples. Marriage, however, still tends to be a business-like arrangement. If you don’t marry your college sweetheart, you will probably go on arranged blind dates when you are in your late 20s to early 30s.

For more information about romance and culture in Korea, check out my posts on Flirting in Korea  and Sexuality in Korea. But, the topic on hand today is marriage.

First, don’t be surprised if one of your Korean friends or coworkers hands you a wedding invitation out of nowhere one day. You likely didn’t even know they were dating. This is pretty normal. Courtships, especially ones that started through a matchmaker are pretty short. 3-6 months after meeting, it is typical to be married.

You’ll need to make a few preparations. First, while weddings can get very formal for the guests in Europe and North America, don’t stress so much about what to wear to a Korean wedding. While you’ll want to look neat and presentable, often the dress code tends more to semi-formal or even business wear. A dress and a cardigan will be fine for a woman, a basic suit or dress shirt, trousers, and tie will work for a man.

You’ll also need to prepare some cash. Presents aren’t typically given at Korean weddings. Instead you’ll bring cash (approx. $30-$50 for a coworker or acquaintance is considered polite, $50-$100 for a closer friend, relatives and bosses will often drop in the equivalent to a couple hundred USD at the wedding).

Likely, their venue will be at an all-in-one wedding hall. Some couples opt for church weddings if they’re from religious families, but typically it’s all in a wedding hall. These halls are kind of like the conveyor belt of marriage. You’ll rent the main, pre-decorated auditorium for 1-2 hours and have your ceremony quickly before the next couple runs in. When you enter the wedding hall they will be a reception where you can get envelopes to put in your cash. Sign the envelope and exchange it for a meal ticket at the desk.

When it comes to finding a seat, there is no bride’s side or groom’s side. Just make sure you get there early to sit. Wedding invitations in Korea are often spread wide to distant relatives, friends of the family, coworkers, old school friends, etc. Out of politeness, many people are included. At every wedding I’ve been too, it’s been so crowded that there were dozens of people standing at the back.

After the ceremony, the guests a line and take turns congratulating the couple (sometimes 2 lines, one for the bride, one for the groom). Then it’s picture time. First will typically be photos with the couple’s family. Then they will do friends– depending on the number of guests, they may do separate photos for the bride and groom’s friends. While you finish up your pictures, the venue staff will likely be prepping the next groom and guests for the next wedding will start trickling in.

After pictures, you’ll make an exodus to the eating area, often on a different floor. Occasionally, venues will have the wedding and eating all in one area, but typically it is in a separate area with a large buffet. If it’s a large wedding venue with multiple halls going at once, then you may be eating with the guests from several other weddings. The bride and groom will sometimes have a reserved table with their families. The couple will usually make the rounds to greet and thank their guests before they get to enjoy their dinner. After you eat and congratulate the couple again, you should get out of there and make room for the next party coming in.


Some couples may opt to have a traditional Korean wedding. I have only attended one of these at an outdoor venue. A traditional house or temple may be the backdrop and the couple will wear classic wedding hanbok. The colors tend to be red for the bride, blue for the groom. In this ceremony, the bride and groom get carried to the front on a chair or palanquin. These ceremonies tend to be a little more intimate because you don’t have the same venue sharing. Time is less restricted and you know that everyone there is part of your wedding party, not from the wedding down the hall.

Korean weddings tend to be quick and efficient, if a tad impersonal for my taste. What kind of weddings have you been to in other countries? Have you had a traditional wedding?

The Perfect Seoul Weekend for History Buffs: The Jongno District

Now that the heat and humidity of summer have dissipated, people are taking advantage of the temperate weather to enjoy the city of Seoul. This also a peak time for visitors to the city. If you are visiting from another city in Korea or another country all together it can be hard to budget your time. I’ve made a couple itineraries for your best weekend in Seoul, no matter what it is you want to see.

Saturday For the History Buff: This one is a lot of walking, so lace up some comfortable shoes, bring a water bottle, and maybe a hat for the late summer sun. We’re centering your Saturday on the Jongro district of Seoul.

If you come out Gwanghwamun station exits 3 or 4, you are perfectly positioned alongside monument square in front of Gyeonbukgung palace. From here you are ideally situated to either grab some brunch the the Paris Croissant in the Kyobo building or walk down the block to hit the entrance to the free underground museum about King Sejeong, creator of hangul and Lee Soon Shin, famous military leader. The museum is small, but has a half size replica of the famous turtle boats of Korean military history inside it.

From there you can approach the famous Gyeongbukgung palace. It’s on nearly everyone’s itinerary of Seoul, but it is actually very interesting and worth seeing once. It’s rebuilt, but still only a quarter of its original size. Everything is authentically recreated, so it’s impressive to see the innovative architectural technology (like the original ondol floor heating) being used hundreds of years ago. Many of the original stones were salvaged for use in its rebuilding. And the water garden is a lovely place for photo ops. IMG_1662

If you can get an English guided tour of the palace, it can really help you pick out many cool details about the palace you might not see just looking at the information brochure. However, tour guides are obliged to take you to everything, even the repetitive royal bedroom after royal bedroom. So you can decide whether you want to explore on your own or not. Gyeongbukgung also gives you access to the Korean folk museum that can be accessed from one of the back side gates, just follow the signs in the palace. When you finish the palace, you can exit out the back gate facing the mountain and see the Blue House. This is the home of the current president of Korea.

After staring at the palace (and being stared at by guards) swing to the right and walk down the side wall of the palace past all the security to head back toward the main street. It’s a long, peaceful walk, but at the end of it, just before you hit the main street, you can cross the road to Seoul Selection. It’s book shop with a mainly English collection. They sell and even publish books about Korea. From history to food to language, traditional folks tales and poetry, even some modern Korean set fiction, the small shop always has a great variety of books. They even have some DVDS in stock of documentaries and kdramas. They also serve beverages such as traditional Korean honey tea, which will be a nice refreshment after the palace.

From there, you can cross the main road and head down to Insadong. Insadong is a fun, but often crowded and touristy neighborhood where you can buy traditional pottery, calligraphy brushes, and plenty of food. Get off the main road and try the little side alleys for some more interesting and unique shops. Down the main walking street of Insadong is an OSulloc tea shop– one of my favorite Korean tea producers in Korea. Black, green, and oolang teas from Jeju blended with herbs and flowers in dozens of different flavors, the shop has  containers on the shelves that allow you to smell the perfume of the tea before buying. The upstairs of the shop is also a cafe, so you can order teas and even food made with tea (green tea ice cream, green tea pesto grilled cheese, scones with green tea spread!) before committing to buying a whole box of the tea.

However, if you stay on the same side of the street, you can head to Samcheongdong. At the foot of Bukchon, the traditional house district, Samchegondong is a cute little district of shopping, eating, and playing. It’s mainly populated by young couples, but there’s cool stuff for everyone, with buskers playing on the street, and crafters selling handmade goods at pop up tables. Get some traditional Korean street food or dessert– there’s even a few places to get western food if you’re craving it, and some coffee shops that offer cheap to-go cups. Head up the hill to Bukchon to look at the houses in the traditional Korean architectural style, and snap a few photos of both the beautiful houses, and the beautiful view if you make it all the way up. But remember, Bukchon is a residential neighborhood with quiet hours late in the evening through morning.

And that’s your historical Saturday! For some alternative plans or plans for your historical Sunday, here are a few more ideas.

If you’ve seen Gyeongbukgung before or are simply looking for something a little bit different, you can also try Changdeokgung. This is a smaller palace in the same neighborhood. It was built later and covers less ground. However, it is a UNESCO heritage site largely because of its beautiful Secret Garden.

The Jongno district also features the Cheonggyecheon stream– an open stream that runs through the center of town from Jongno for several km. You can follow it all the way to Dongdaemun if you want a walk. Jongno features the Cheonggyecheon plaza. It’s a big open square around the start of the stream that has fountains and a giant conch shell that signals the beginning of the walk. Many times there are markets and events around the plaza as well on weekends. Families and couples frequent the walkways around the stream and often put their feet in the cool, clear water. Don’t be shy, join them.

The Jongno district and beyond is home to many great museums. Try the Seoul Museum of History or the War Memorial of Korea for interesting (and free!) permanent collections with changing special exhibitions.

Once your taste for history is satisfied, there is still plenty to do in Seoul. What kind of weekend do you want to have next?