Enjoying Seoul’s cultural center on the cheap : In Samcheong-dong, famous snacks and top-notch galleries can be enjoyed without breaking the bank
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.
For art lovers, Samcheong-dong in central Seoul is an attractive neighborhood, as you can hop between all of the museums and galleries concentrated in one spot. But entrance tickets that can cost up to 10,000 won ($9.31) apiece can put a strain on your wallet.
But don’t give up, as there are plenty of penny-pinching ways to enjoy a day of culture in this part of the city that may earn you a pat on the back for showcasing your frugal bravado.
Samcheong-dong is indeed an attractive neighborhood. Although many commercial businesses have driven out the small stores and artists’ studios that lined the streets before the area became a hot spot for tourist groups, it is still a space where old and new coexist. Buildings here are less than five stories high and there’s a beautiful hanok (Korean traditional house) village near by.
To demonstrate how it is truly possible to visit at least seven different museums and galleries in Samcheong-dong, eat lunch and dinner and even enjoy the luxury of drinking an Americano and a glass of wine, this reporter went out on a cultural expedition with a wallet containing only 20,000 won in cash on a recent Wednesday.
Believe it or not, she came back home with 5,500 won left over after a day full of fun.
This trip starts at Gwanghwamun Square. While it would be great to walk around the neighborhood wearing hanbok (Korean traditional clothes) like many others, rentals usually cost around 20,000 won for two hours. But to get at least one picture of yourself wearing a hanbok with King Sejong in the backdrop, head to the Court Costume Experience Program booth in the middle of Gwanghwamun Square.
Anyone can try on their royal garments for free. This reporter also wanted to start the day with a picture wearing hanbok, but the program does not operate during the winter. It will resume again in April.
Instead of taking a hanbok photo, this reporter decided to spend a quiet morning with books and made her way to the Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghwamun.
There is a large reading table and comfortable couches here that sometimes makes the store feel more like a big library than a bookstore. You can pick out any book you want, sit down and enjoy a good hour of reading. Just make sure you don’t earmark or write in the books.
12 P.M. OBSERVATORY
Of course, going up to the N Seoul Tower offers a magnificent view of Seoul. But it will also cost you 10,000 won to access the observatory.
For a view on a budget, go up to the open garden on the eighth floor of the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in front of Gyeongbok Palace. Here, you can get a panoramic view of central Seoul including the palace and a bird’s eye view of the Blue House.
Since you are at the museum, you can zoom through some of the exhibitions that are offered here. Currently, there’s a special exhibition titled “Korean Sports, A History Written in Sweat,” to celebrate the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.
If you’ve never been to the museum and are interested in the contemporary history of Korea, the permanent exhibitions are also worth a visit.
1 P.M. NOODLE SOUP FOR LUNCH
Usually, you wouldn’t spend 3,500 won for a bowl of ramyeon, or instant noodles, a dish that most Koreans eat at home. But if you want to really taste the quintessential bowl of ramyeon, visit Gyeong Chunja Ramyeon-ttaengginennal, located next to the Jungdok Library in Samcheong-dong. This Instagram foodie hotspot of Samcheong-dong usually has a line of hungry people out the door. But if you can stand the wait, get the basic noodles for 3,500 won or get them with cheese for the same price. Spend 500 won more and you can get a spicier ramyeon that tastes like jjampong (noodles flavored with onions and chili oil), or add dumplings. It takes about 13 minutes on foot to get here from the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History.
To walk off some of that lunch, get ready to kick it into full gear and try to visit as many free museums and galleries as possible. There are dozens of galleries in Samcheong-dong, but many have an admissions fee, so be aware. Unless you are going to buy a work of art at a certain gallery, visiting free galleries should be enough to satisfy your thirst for great art.
A few meters off of the main street, you’ll see Gallery Chosun. Currently, artist Hong Nam-ki’s works are on display. His works, which are objects, paintings and digital animation, reflect the artist’s personal experience or incidents at various places. The exhibition runs until Jan. 4.
A few steps from Gallery Chosun is another famous gallery, Hakgojae. Admission here is also free and currently, there’s a solo exhibition of artist Lee Woosung’s works under the title “My Dear.”
The artist is known for creating portraits of young Koreans. For the works in this exhibition, the artist says he was inspired by novelist Kim Seung-ok’s “Seoul, Winter 1964.” His works will appeal more to younger audiences. This exhibition runs until Jan. 7.
Another gallery that is worth visiting is the Kukje Gallery, located next to Hakgojae. Kukje Gallery is one of the most popular galleries in Samcheong-dong.
If you have the energy to visit one more, walk across the road and visit the National Folk Museum.
Currently, there’s an exhibition titled “Wintering,” where you can witness how Koreans have spent winter throughout history. You can even take your shoes off and experience an ondolbang, or a room with heated floors where Koreans love to bask during winter. The exhibition runs until March 5.
4 P.M. SNACKTIME
Turn right out of Kukje Gallery and walk down the main street of Samcheong-dong, where you can visit the rows of shops selling clothes and accessories that may tempt you to open your wallet, but stay strong! Do drink a coffee while you are in Samcheong-dong to catch a breath. About 300 meters (0.18 miles) down the street, there’s a cafe called La:ppland de Caffe. Before 5 p.m., a cup of coffee here costs only 2,000 won. The cafe is also located on the second floor, giving you a nice view of Samcheong-dong’s main drag.
Feeling a little hungry? Another must-visit spot in Samcheong-dong is the old Pungnyeon Rice Mill selling various snacks made of tteok, or rice cake. Because it’s a mill, all the tteok products are made from scratch here, differentiating its tteokbokki, or spicy rice cake, from others. A plate of tteokbokki may be too much before dinner, and it’s enough to experience the taste of this mill’s exceptional rice cakes by simply ordering tteok ggochi, or fried rice cakes on a skewer. It costs only 1,000 won.
6 P.M. SUJEBI FOR DINNER
It’s dinner time and one of the most popular restaurants in the area is the legendary Samcheongdong Sujebi. Sujebi is a traditional Korean soup full of vegetables and hand-torn noodles. This dish, which costs 8,000 won, comes in a traditional-looking pot.
Almost always, there’s a line outside the restaurant, especially in the colder months or when it’s raining. But there’s no other restaurant here that will satisfy your palate for less than 10,000 won.
7 P.M. MUSEUM AND MUSIC
There’s a reason why this reporter chose to visit Samcheong-dong in the middle of the week. On Wednesdays, free events are organized by arts centers and museums, making it the best day for art and culture aficionados. The last Wednesday of every month is also designated as Culture Day by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. You can check out what programs are offered free on the ministry’s website.
Also on Wednesdays, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) stays open until 9 p.m. and those who come after 6 p.m. can access all of the exhibits free of charge.
Currently, there’s a Jonas Mekas exhibition titled “Again, Again It All Comes Back to Me in Brief Glimpses,” which sheds light on the extraordinary life of the artist, who is known as the “godfather of American avant-garde cinema.” This is the first retrospective of Mekas’ career in Asia, so it is worth a visit. The show runs until March 4.
There’s also an exhibition titled “Things That Do Us Part,” where visitors can see work by leading Korean artists being supported by Hyundai Motor Company. The artists selected for this year’s iteration is film director Im Heung-soon, who won the Silver Lion Awards at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. The exhibition runs until April 8. Tickets to both exhibitions cost 4,000 won each, so by visiting the museum on Wednesday evening, you can save yourself 8,000 won.
This reporter got lucky when she visited the museum on Dec. 13 — MMCA was hosting Museum Night, which included a free concert and wine in the museum’s lobby. According to the museum, similar free events will be held from time to time, especially on Wednesdays. Details will be listed on the MMCA website.
If you are planning to make a trip on a Culture Day, you can also attend a music concert held at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts for just 1,000 won. The concert is held in the M Theater and you must book a ticket beforehand by visiting the performing arts center’s website, happy1000.sejongpac.or.kr.
Upon returning home for the evening, this reporter surprised herself after realizing that she had only spent 14,500 won on a day full of cultural activities.
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [firstname.lastname@example.org]