[HONGDAE ON A BUDGET] A full day in Hongdae for the frugal explorer : For less than 30,000 won, check out food, books, art and more in Seoul’s most creative neighborhood
But the thinking over how people should best spend their funds has recently shifted, largely thanks to comedian Kim Saeng-min and his podcast “Kim Saeng-min’s Receipt,” where he analyzes the consumption patterns of listeners while looking through their account books and evaluates whether or not their spending was too extravagant.
Chasing after the popularity of Kim’s podcast, the comedian has appeared on two television shows that center on being thrifty. Cable channel tvN’s “Salt Tour,” features celebrities traveling on a small budget, and KBS has adapted the hit podcast into a weekly show with Kim at the center.
Keeping with the frugal spirit, Korea JoongAng Daily has chosen several spots in popular neighborhoods around Seoul that readers can enjoy without breaking the bank.
The university neighborhood of Hongdae in western Seoul is one of the most popular hangout areas in the country. Often dubbed the trendy youth culture hub of Seoul, Hongdae boasts unique cafes, restaurants, bars and buskers that attract crowds of locals and tourists alike to listen to their songs well into the night.
But in contrast to its youth-oriented atmosphere, many of the popular eateries and activities in the hip district are often more expensive than they are in other areas around the city.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, this reporter headed out to the bustling streets of Hongdae in search of the biggest bang for her buck. She enjoyed an afternoon full of activities in the hub of arts and culture on a budget of 30,000 won ($27.64).
On a recent Friday, when snow flurries briefly fell in Seoul, this reporter chose an udon shop for lunch to warm up. Located in a hidden corner about a 10 minute-walk away from Hongdae Station exit 9, this small yet cozy diner named Biga Omyun serves Korean-style udon made with hand-pulled noodles that are thinner than the usual thick, chewy noodles commonly found in udon.
Be sure to visit this location between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., when lunch set menus are provided at a discount. For 6,000 won, this reporter got a big bowl of hot udon filled with tenkasu (crunchy bits of deep fried flour batter) and sliced dried seaweed - all of which can be refilled free of charge - and a thick triangular bulgogi rice ball.
Other items on the menu include jjajangmyeon (black sauce noodles), bibimmyeon (cold spicy noodles) and eomuk (fish cakes) for side. If you are lucky enough to stop by the shop on a day that it is raining or snowing, you can get a 500-won discount on udon or jjajangmyeon.
Though the taste was not particularly jaw-dropping, it was a warm and energizing way to start off the day.
1 P.M. Book Street
Sitting in front of Hongik University Station exit 6 is the Gyeongui Line Book Street. The area, which is a segment of the old Gyeongui railroad line that once connected South and North Korea, has been converted into a cluster of bookstores that sell publications in small, boxy buildings that resemble train cars. Each of the building sells publications under a specific theme such as humanities, travel and art. Though quite small, anyone can freely enter the buildings to read publications. You will be able to find books at reasonable prices - Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” was priced at 3,000 won.
2 P.M. Cafe Crawl
Ascend the stairs to the right of the book street, and you will find a four-storied cafe named Object that not only serves drinks but also sells books and other items ranging from stationery and home goods like toothbrushes and soaps. The store sells specialized goods such as smartphone cases and eco-bags made in collaboration with artists.
Part of the cafe’s second floor is spared for exhibitions, which offer a fun place to take photos to upload to your Instagram. Anyone can look around the exhibition and pop-up store without having to purchase a drink. The entire building, which is painted bright white with an orange sign on top, is difficult to miss.
A five minute-walk away from Object is art-themed cafe The Colour. Take a step inside the so-called art gallery cafe, and you’ll immediately see colorful artworks displayed on every possible space. Several small coffee tables are located in the front of the cafe while bigger ones are in the back. In an exhibition space surrounded by three walls that display art, visitors can freely sketch, draw or paint whatever form of art they wish to create. Whatever art pieces made by customers left behind will be exhibited in the cafe in the near future, according to the owner. The place is equipped with art supplies such as oil paints, gouache, and acrylic paints. These tools are available to anyone who purchases a drink. Prices start at 4,500 won for an Americano.
4 P.M. Art, No Cover
No trip to Hongdae is complete without a visit to a gallery. On the second floor of the Samjin Pharmacy building around the corner from Hongik University is Gallery Sai. Currently on display is an artist Jeon In-kyung’s solo exhibition titled “Heterophony’s.” Scheduled to run throughout this month, the mysterious artworks painted with a wide range of sparkling colors were inspired by cells and space. Admission to the gallery is free.
If you are looking for pictures to post on social media, head to lifestyle brand store Day After Day.
Even from a few meters away, you will notice that this is a no ordinary shop. On the first floor, you will see uniquely-patterned mattresses piled up on one side while on the other side is a torn mattress that functions as the main entrance to get inside the store.
With an aim to encourage people to live a more interesting and unconventional lifestyle, the brand displays a variety of artworks throughout the store. Enter one of the rooms, and you will see more than a dozen of squat toilets filled with fake flowers and soil under a bright pink light. The walls are covered with tissue boxes with tissues sticking out. In the corner of the room is a pink cubicle, and inside there is a pile of soap surrounding a flush toilet.
On the second floor is fashion brand Ader Error, where unusual clothes are sold inside a uniquely-designed space. When you order clothes, they slide down through a shiny circular pipe from the third floor, where the stock is saved, to the cashier on the first floor. When this reporter visited, shoppers from not only Korea but also from China and Taiwan crowded the space, posing stylishly throughout the shop.
A male customer from Taiwan, dressed in baggy, cuffed jeans with black, shiny sunglasses and light makeup, told this reporter that the place is “funny” and that he found out about the shop through Instagram. For those looking to visit, the building has a sign for Ader on the front entrance.
6 P.M. Street-style Food Buffet
Most Koreans can never get enough tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes). Usually enjoyed at a small tent stall, the street-style food is considered a light snack people eat in between meals.
But Nimdo Chef, close to Seoul Art Space Seogyo, attempts to take a step further by offering a tteokbokki buffet.
For 7,900 won, visitors can enjoy different kinds of tteok (rice cakes) that come in different shapes as well as snacks that range from gimmari (fried seaweed wraps) to fried dumplings, noodles, fish cakes and ham. Put them all inside a rectangular iron pan in front of your seat, and stir them with sauce, which you can also choose out of several options.
The deep fried snacks may not be as crunchy as you expect and the taste of tteokbokki may vary depending on how you cook it. But the diner is a fine option for those wishing to fill up their stomach to the fullest for a small price.
7 P.M. VR Game
Don’t feel like heading home just yet? Drop by a Virtual Reality (VR) cafe to burn some off the extra calories you got at the buffet. About a seven-minute walk from Nimdo Chef, you will find The Maze VR.
Upon entering the VR cafe, located underground, you will see a number of colored rooms with VR headsets hanging from the ceiling. Choose one of the three dozen games, put the gadget on your head, insert the earphones, grab controllers on each hand and enter a virtual reality world, where you can enjoy sports like skiing or a simple game like chopping fruits that spring up in front of you.
Those who wish to enjoy the same games with a friend can play a two-player game in separate rooms in case of injury.
Admission at The Maze VR starts at 6,000 won for 20 minutes, and goes up to 16,000 won for an hour. For those who wish to try out a VR game for a short time, The Maze VR will be a reasonable choice, but for others that hope to play the game a little longer, #VR, another VR cafe nearby, might be a more economical choice. #VR allows 70 minutes for 10,000 won, plus the price of a drink you must order.
BY JIN MIN-JI