By Cpl. Bo Park, 2ID Public Affairs OfficeJune 9, 2008
Soon, your time will be up in Korea and you will feel somewhat pressured into bringing something back for your friends and Family. Where do you start' Insadong is probably your best bet.
Insadong is where you can get most Korean souvenirs, including pottery, accessories, jewelry boxes, calligraphy, hand-pressed papers and much more.
It is an area in the center of Seoul with one main street, which hosts many antique shops, restaurants, souvenir shops, street-food vendors and art galleries. The common denominator of these places is they are all very traditionally Korean. It is an island of Korean extravaganza in westernized Seoul.
The Seoul metropolitan government is deliberately trying to keep it as original as possible. One example of this is the fact the Insadong Starbucks coffee shop. It is the only one in Korea with its sign written in Hangeul.
Other shops try to keep the originality of old buildings, which is more apparent if you take side streets.
Insadong is traditionally an area with lots of antique shops and art galleries because the Ministry of Art used to be located in this area. Antique shops have been in business since the 1920's.
The fame of Insadong has grown every year since the 1988 Olympic Games, when many foreign tourists came to visit Seoul. Since then, it went through a series of road renovations, making it more pedestrian friendly, and bringing more commercial shops and tea houses for tourists.
There is no doubt the place is touristy, but you have to dive into a pond to catch a fish. If you are looking for souvenirs, you have to go to the most tourist place to find them. However don't be put off by the touristy price or quality because local restaurants are frequently visited by the nearby office workers at lunch time and galleries are always filled with local artists.
The street has a flea market feel to it. There are loads of vendors selling things like Ninja swords and antique Buddha statues. You will find lots of the same items in different shops, but they may have different prices, so sure you check elsewhere or bargain before purchasing. There are tons of souvenir items, so however little or large your budget is, you will definitely find something to buy.
The best way to browse Insadong is to follow the main street called Insadonggil from the very bottom to the top once. Then on the way back, explore the little side streets. Insadonggil is almost like a tree, branching out to many side alley ways, which are very interesting to walk along because they are very narrow and curvy with Korean restaurants and traditional tea houses. You need to look out for traditional houses converted into restaurants. Many of them have an excellent selection of Korean food and lunch-set menus, which gives you a tasteful sample of dishes that are more than enough to fill your stomach.
Whether you are looking to get souvenirs for your stamp-collecting dad and art-loving mom, or simply something to remind you of your time in Korea, check out Insadong this weekend!