What charmed me most about my time in South Korea is its proud promotion of age-old traditions and culture that lives side-by-side harmoniously with the ultra-westernised popular culture or Hallyu wave. South Korea is one of the very few countries in the East that manages to bring their roots into the 21st century successfully, the other two being China and Japan. Their K-pop culture certainly does an excellent job at promoting traditional Korean culture through various internationally popular TV series and movies such as Dae Jang Geum aka Jewel in the Palace, Love in the Moonlight, the King and the Clown, to name a few.
Traditional Korean food looks amazing and their traditional clothing called Hanbok, worn from the Joseon era, are just so adorable with its pretty pastel colours and flattering shapes. Naturally, I wanted to try experiencing all these things that can only be found in South Korea. Luckily, there were plenty of opportunities to do so, and I certainly made sure I did everything.
First thing first! Hanboks are available for hire from various rental outlets in Insadong area, as well as those close to the imperial palaces such as Gyeongbokgung Palace, which is where I rented mine. I found out later that each outlet has very different style of Hanbok available, so I recommend you look around first before deciding on one. As for me, I did not know this at the beginning, so I just went to the one closest to the palace entrance, but I found out later that another area with beautiful selection for Hanbok rental was Bukchon Hanok Village, and was only about 15 minutes’ walk from Gyeongbokgung.
As a foreigner, of course I was completely clueless about how to wear a Hanbok, but it turned out to be relatively easy to wear, compared to a Japanese kimono or traditional Thai dress. A traditional women’s Hanbok consists of a ‘Jeogori’, a blouse shirt or jacket, and a ‘Chima’ which is a wrap-around skirt worn full. Underneath a Chima is a petticoat skirt, that helps add volume to the ensemble.
Once in my Hanbok, I spent the afternoon in Gyeongbokgung Palace, admiring traditional Korean architecture, and walked around the nearby Bukchon Hanok Village, which was on top of a small mountain and full of delicious Korean Street Food that deserveed a separate post to go into more details. Suffice to say that we were eating all afternoon because everything just looked so interesting and delicious!
The highlight of this foodie adventure though, was no doubt the Royal Tea Room inside the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace called ‘Saenggwabang’. Here we were offered a choice of two different sets of royal confectionery with a selection of traditional Korean herbal tea, ranging from ginseng tea to citrus tea to milk vetch root tea. Since we had been eat all afternoon, we decided to try a selection of 4 traditional sweets from their Traditional Confectionery set with a pot of Ginseng tea each.
Our confectionery set consisted of Moyakgwa or honey cookies, Joenggwa – boiled lotus roots in honey, Gangjeong – puffed glutinious rice mixed with honey, malt and other cereal grains, and last but not least, Suksilgwa which was walnut boiled in honey. My favourites was Gangjeong because it was very light and not too sweet. Moyakgwa was also delicious but I had a feeling that it also had very high calories.
Saenggwabang was a traditional tea room inside a hanok or traditional Korean house, with a pretty courtyard showcasing traditional Korean landscaping. Inside, we were seated on the floor as this was how people lived and dined in Joseon era.
It was so peaceful inside the tea room, that it was as if we were lost in time where there were no cars or noisy stressful traffic jams, but only palanquins and horse riding on the streets.
PHOTOGRAPHER: May Naruemannalinee
PHOTO EDITOR: Julia Jevzikova