I’ve visited Seoul a few times in recent years, but most of my sightseeing has usually been contained to the old Jongno district, north of the Han River. Filled with charming old Hanok villages and the ancient palaces as well as amazing districts like Myeongdong, Hongdae and, there was hardly any time to explore further.
So when I was invited by Big John’s Place invite me to check out their hostel in the midst of Gangnam, I was pretty stoked that I would get to see a different side of Seoul. Gangnam was most famously popularised in that Kpop song heard around the world Gangnam Style, and most know it as a rather affluent district with high-end shopping. But if you’re an indie traveller like me and want to see a side of Gangnam beyond shopping malls, here’s what you can check out:
Visit a UNESCO Heritage site – Seonjeongneung royal tombs
Jongno has the bulk of ancient Korean heritage sites, but this particular UNESCO heritage site can be found a short distance from Gangnam. Seonjeongneung is really made up of 2 royal tombs – Seolleung (for the 9th King Seongjong and Queen Jeonghyeon) and Jeongneung (for the 11th King Jungjong) – the area is also known as Samneung Park.
It’s less a graveyard and more of a very large forested park, very pleasant for a quick escape from the skyscrapers and bustle of downtown Gangnam. The tombs are large grassy mounds covered with stone statues and each mound has a shrine at its base. Stroll around and admire the intricacies of olden Korean architecture and learn a little about the history of how they honoured their royals and death rituals.
Getting there: I took a slow leisurely walk from Big John’s Place in Gangnam (more on that below) but the closest subway stop is Seolleung. It only costs 1,000 won to enter the park and you can pick up an English brochure which gives you more information. More here.
See one of Seoul’s most important temples – Bongeunsa
Bongeunsa temple is over 1,200 years old and located right opposite the north end of COEX shopping mall, so it’s really convenient to pop into. It’s one of the largest and most important temples in Seoul and sees a lot of visitors everyday. You can even do a temple stay here where you live, eat and follow the way of life of the monks. Not quite for me but it would make an interesting cultural experience.
Getting there: Bongeunsa station is the closest subway stop. The temple is free to enter though there is a cost if you want to do a temple stay of course. More about Bongeunsa here.
Uncover a graffiti tunnel – Apgujeong
One of my favourite secret finds in upscale Apgujeong from my last trip to Seoul was this uber cool tunnel leading to the parks by the Han River. It’s a short tunnel completely covered in graffiti which has been featured in several Kpop MTVs and it leads from the residential area to the bank of the Han River where you can jog or cycle.
Getting there: Apjugeong-Rodeo is the closest subway station – you’ll need to walk a little bit to get to the tunnel- I have full instructions in this post on where you can find street art in Seoul.
Eat Ginseng Chicken Soup at any time of day – Nonhyeon Samgyetang
My number 1 favourite Korean food to eat whether it’s summer or winter is Samgyetang aka Ginseng chicken soup. Something about this hot meaty broth really strikes a chord with me, and all the glutinous rice really fills you up as well! Most people know about Tosokchon, but the best part about Nonhyeon is not only that it’s conveniently located in Gangnam, but that this particular shop is open 24/7!
Getting There: The shop is located on the road right between Sinnonhyeon and Nonhyeon stations. Me and my travel buddy walked up and down the street 3 times before someone who spoke English finally took pity on us and helped us find it. Worth it though! Look for the logo with the black stylised chicken because the sign is only in Korean words.
Where to stay in Gangnam
Big John’s Place is really centrally located in Gangnam if you want to make this area your base – it’s tucked up a slope on a side street so the restaurants and bars are right on your doorstep but it is surprisingly quiet considering it’s right smack in the middle of the action. Just 10mins walk from the Sinnonhyeon subway and with a direct airport bus to either Incheon or Gimpo.
It’s a quaint little house, so very cosy indeed. There are dorms with single beds (no bunk beds!) – price wise you are looking at 40,000 KRW per night for a bed – not the cheapest hostel but I found the rooms very comfortable and clean. Twin rooms are going at 80,000 – 90,000 KRW so pretty good for couples who want a private room. (I don’t have a decent room picture because the lighting was a bit dim and my photos came out crappy!)
There’s even a mini hot tub outside though it was just way too cold when I was there… I did love the warm floors, which is a pretty typical Korean heating system during winter!
Big John’s Place sponsored my accommodation in the time that I was in Seoul, but the exploration of Gangnam and its surroundings was all on my own!