A cat cafe employee clad in full cat costume handing out flyers on the streets of Myeong-dong shopping district

Nova Renata heads straight for the labyrinthine shopping haven of Myeong-dong in Seoul

IN my discussion with friends about holiday destinations, South Korea’s Seoul has always popped up as one of the favourites. As someone who is totally unfazed by the K-Pop phenomenon, I only made the decision to visit Seoul recently.

Instead of being enticed by the supposedly captivating dance moves of K-Pop boy bands, I was more interested in tasting Korean fried chicken — that, and to behold the beauty of pastel-coloured cherry blossoms in spring.

The first sign of pink cherry blossoms blooming at Changgyeonggung Palace

Of course, there’s also the K-beauty phenomenon, a force to be reckoned within itself. After watching one too many K-beauty skincare videos and make-up tutorials, I decided that my trip to Seoul would also be an educational one to up my beauty game, and hopefully give me the enviable clear skin that Korean women are renowned for.

MYEONG-DONG

If you’re into Korean fashion and beauty, then this vibrant and pulsating dong (neighbourhood) has to be your first stop. With a name that translates as “bright tunnel” in English, Myeong-dong is one of the hippest fashion and tourism districts in Seoul.

This labyrinthine shopping haven is surrounded by K-fashion boutiques as well as shops selling K-beauty brands too many to name. To make my decision-making process easier, I research all the bestselling brands thatI just have to get my hands on.

Although so many are already available in Malaysia, I was surprised to see others that I hadn’t heard of before. My favourite is Too Cool for School, with its multi-functional skincare products and quirky packaging.

Should you be undecided about the products to purchase, you can always ask for samples, which the sales assistants will be more than happy to dole out. I am fortunate that I made the decision to visit Myeong-dong on my first day in Seoul. I ended up with many product samples so I didn’t even need to purchase travel-size toiletries. What an amazing way to save!

Also, if you’re a fan of Korean sheet masks, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that most ofthe popular brands will have sales assistants standing outside the shops distributing free face masks and other goodies to passersby.

The iconic Korean fried chicken served with an optional sweet and spicy sauce

Later in the evening, the streets of Myeong-dong are filled with pop-up stalls selling local street food, souvenirs and knick knacks. This gives me the perfect opportunity to sample the iconic Korean fried chicken, which is as crunchy, juicy and flavourful as I had imagined.

CHANGGYEONGGUNG PALACE

Before there were K-dramas and K-Pop music, South Korea was — and still is — a wealth of culture and history, dating back to as early as 7th century BC. Seoul has many wonderfully preserved historical architecture, such as Changgyeong Palace built in the mid-15th century by King Sejong.

To learn more about the history of this palace, you can sign up for the free guided tours in your preferred language. The tours are scheduled several times daily.

During the Japanese colonial era, this sprawling complex used to be a zoo, botanical garden and museum. Today, the vast courtyard and many halls are regularly visited by tourists dressed up in colourful and floaty Hanboks (traditional Korean dress), which can be rented at the many surrounding boutiques.

Women in their pretty Hanbok at Changgyeonggung Palace

If you’re planning to visit Changgyeonggung Palace (or any of the five palaces in Seoul), you may as well rent a Hanbok as your entrance fee will be waived if you are wearing it!

Changgyeonggung Palace comes alive particularly during the beginning of spring, which usually falls between late March and mid April, when cherry blossoms of all colours beautify its scenic surroundings. This will also make for a breathtaking backdrop for you to pose in your rented Hanbok!

DONGDAEMUN DESIGN PLAZA

Just less than an hour’s bus ride from the ancient Changgyeonggung Palace, you will be whisked back into ultra modern reality in the form of a futuristic UFO-like building, known as Dongdaemun Design Plaza.

This chrome silver-coloured structure holds within itself the creative Dream, Design and Play ambition of Seoul’s artistic community. The plaza is dedicated to arts and creative designs — with shops selling creations by South Korea’s young designers— from jewellery, furniture, clothing, arts and crafts to gadgets.

The building also serves as a centre for exhibitions, fashion shows, forums, conferences and other events. If you are an architecture and design buff, a visit to the plaza is a must to get inspiration.

NAMDAEMUN MARKET

Being one of the most expensive cities in Asia, Seoul isn’t known for its bargains.

Nonetheless, if you ask any of the locals, they will happily direct you to traditional markets they frequent for great bargains.

Enter the Namdaemun Market: the oldest and largest outdoor market in Korea next to Namdaemun (Great South Gate).

Sampling tasty Korean street food in between shopping andbargaining at Namdaemun market

Namdaemun Marketis especially popular for clothings, bags and accessories at wholesale prices. In fact, if you plan to shop, you may as well do your shopping here, as most retailers get their stocks from this market.

Be sure to drive a hard bargain, but just be sure that you really have an intent to buy before bargaining. For travellers, the Namdaemun Market is probably the last pit stop to get souvenirs before heading home.

In addition to its great bargains, Namdaemun Market is listed as Seoul’s 10 Greatest Street Food Spots to have the wwww (Korean pancake with fillings), Seoul’s answer to murtabak.

Taking a lovely stroll at Namdaemun Market

If you’re still hungry, there are many stalls offering the iconic Korean fried chicken in various flavours and sauces!

PICTURES BY NOVA RENATA

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