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Buam-dong’s Tranquil Pocket in Seoul

Recent Posts, Posted by Matt in ALL DESTINATIONS,Food & Drink,Seoul,Video, 19 Comments

Buam-dong’s Tranquil Pocket in Seoul


There are a few ways to approach the Buam-dong‘s tranquil pocket in Seoul. Nestled between two mountains – Inwangsan and Bugaksan, the area has the feel of somewhere far from downtown Seoul. Indeed, one shop owner described the neighborhood as, “too quiet for a serious business.” And yet, that entrepreneur and many others in Buam-dong hope their peaceful piece of Seoul stays the way it is.


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On a recent visit to the top of Inwangsan mountain, my friend and I walked along the old Seoul Fortress walls that follow the mountain’s ridge. In 1968 North Korean spies took a similar route in their attempt to assassinate South Korea’s president. Along the way they killed the chief of the local police station, whose likeness is celebrated in a bronze bust, located near the entrance to Buam-dong (부암동).

From Buam-dong’s Tranquil Pocket in Seoul (부암동)

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Despite its dramatic history, today the gate into Buam-dong is decidedly peaceful, guarded by Changuimun (창의문), the oldest of Seoul Fortress’s four small gates. Built of granite and wood in 1396 when Seoul was established as the capital of the Joseon Dynasty, the current gatehouse dates to 1740.

From Buam-dong’s Tranquil Pocket in Seoul (부암동)

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It’s a distinguished entry point to a decidedly unpretentious piece of Seoul. Buam-dong is home to modest one- and two-story residential units punctuated by audacious splashes of turquoise and yellow paint. Until recently, one conspicuous building just inside the gate was painted a deep red with the words “Life is suddenly” painted in white at the bottom.

From Buam-dong’s Tranquil Pocket in Seoul (부암동)

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Although very little of sleepy Buam-dong seems “sudden,” many of the area’s residents like their neighborhood as is. Trouble is, the secret is getting out as more and more people are experiencing the charms of this backwater neighborhood of central Seoul’s Jongno-gu district.

From Buam-dong’s Tranquil Pocket in Seoul (부암동)

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As a result, today there’s a handful of cute shops – a bakery specializing in cupcakes, a flower shop, a tea house and a wine bar line a couple of blocks along Changuimun-gil. The good news is that despite the growth, the establishments are maintaining the local charm.

From Buam-dong’s Tranquil Pocket in Seoul (부암동)

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This charm is no doubt cultivated by Buam-dong’s relative inconvenience – after all, residents are likely to be people who like all that city life has to offer and yet also wish to escape it. In turn, these creative residents have opened a handful of wonderfully idiosyncratic cafés, restaurants and galleries.

From Buam-dong’s Tranquil Pocket in Seoul (부암동)

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A great example is Seong Pil-gwan. After many years as a classical musician performing with the Paris Symphony, he returned to Seoul and opened Art for Life in a refurbished hanok. The attractive space serves equally attractive food, albeit in small tapas-style portions at higher-than-expected prices.

Among Buam-dong’s hotspots, the Whanki Museum (환기미술관) is one of the best loved. Comprised of a library, art shop and a café, the museum showcases work inspired by the Korean abstract painter.

From Buam-dong’s Tranquil Pocket in Seoul (부암동)

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Another local highlight is Ivy, a tiny yellow café that contains just three tables. A row of Poloroid photos hang on a line and a small row of books rest upon a window sill. While there, I ordered a cup of hibiscus tea that came in a wonderful shade of garnet. The proprietor said the café could be rented out for a cozy evening with your friends for just 50,000 won.

From Buam-dong’s Tranquil Pocket in Seoul (부암동)

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Thanks to its innumerable charms, Seoul’s stylish crowd and a handful of amateur photographers can be seen milling about on a lazy weekend. Even I’ve often thought about making this neighborhood my new home… but then I remember it’s a good 20-minute walk to the nearest subway station, and even bus service is infrequent.

From Buam-dong’s Tranquil Pocket in Seoul (부암동)

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Of course, it’s the remoteness that’s preserved it as a quirky neighborhood, and I guess the trek there is a small price to pay for Buam-dong’s tranquil pocket of Seoul..
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19 Comments

25 February 2010 11:50

Flor Helena

As always, a beautiful reports and videos

March 04 2010 15:52 pm

Matt Kelley

Thanks... it's good to hear from you again. I can't wait to spend some time on your blog, too! ~Matt

3 March 2010 18:46

Scott Miloscia

I tried getting your email, but was unable to do so. I just had a quick question for you about some tourist thing in Seoul. Could you please send me an email. Thanks.

Scott

5 March 2010 08:12

Matt Kelley

Hi Scott, my email is matt@discoveringkorea.com. Happy to help. ~Matt

4 May 2010 00:11

Josephine

Hi Matt,
Just got back from a girls trip in Seoul. We visited Buam-dong on our last day. It is really a charming neighbourhood, too bad we did not have enough time to do the hiking. I will definitely recommend this place to others! By the way, we stopped by Whanki Musuem but it was closed. We were told that business will resume in May 2010 (due to language, we do not know why it was closed)

May 20 2010 15:30 pm

Matt

Hi Josephine,

Thanks for your note. Not sure why the Whanki was closed either, but in my experience, the Buam-dong sites are less... um... "disciplined" when it comes to their hours of operation :) Then again, that's part of the charm of the place. Best, Matt

12 September 2010 20:45

Discovering Korea – ALL DESTINATIONS

[...] 14, 2010] Sampling Samcheong-dong’s Charms [March 29, 2010] The Lock Museum [March 6, 2010] Tranquil Seoul in Buam-dong [February 22, 2010] Insa-dong’s Tradition and Modernity [February 15, 2010] Gwangnaru [...]

14 September 2010 08:58

Discovering Korea – Hiking Seoul Fortress

[...] the stately secondary gate of Changuimun (창의문) signals your arrival in the peaceful hamlet of Buam-dong (부암동) [video], and just in time for [...]

10 September 2011 21:51

JIN GLASSMAN

Hello,
We are trying to locate a good tapas place in Seoul, and heard that there was one in Hyojadong. Any advice? Love your blog,
Jin

September 13 2011 08:46 am

Matt

Hi Jin,
Off the top of my head (and I'm no expert in tapas), Spain Club in Garosugil has been good the couple of times I've gone. I think they have another location, too. Pakito in Hongdae has a dark/moody/funky interior, but I've found the food just OK. A lot of folks really like Mi Madre, just down the road a bit from Noksapyeong Station (Line 6) if you're heading to Haebangchon. Their sangria was great. Food was pretty good. One place I haven't visited but hear good things about is Shim's Tapas in Hongdae.

I hope that helps! If you find a nice place, please let me know.
Best,
Matt

17 November 2011 14:39

Michael Chang

Hello Matt,

I enjoyed watching the Seoul Scene episodes on YouTube. I have a question. I would like to hike Bugaksan then visit Buam-dong afterwards. Which trailhead should I start from? Also, I am a US citizen. Will I need to make a reservation to hike the trail?

Thank you,

Michael

December 22 2011 02:06 am

Matt

Hi Michael,

I'd suggest starting at Waryong Park (Sungkyungwan University back gate) and ending up in Buam-dong, since the last stretch down into Changuimun Gate and Buam-dong is very steep. As a U.S. citizen (most countries), you'll just need your passport, which they will request near the entrance of the trail. It will only take a couple of minutes and they'll give it back to you along with a pass to wear around your neck. No need to make a prior reservation.

Happy hiking!

Best,
Matt

4 December 2011 22:21

Angela Toh

Hi, I am from Singapore. Planning a winter trip to Korea in late January/February 2012. I was reading a travel guide of the best 100 in Seoul and came across Buam Dong and thought it was beautiful so I googled and came across your blog. Can I check with you whether it is difficult to find Buam Dong? It seems like Buam Dong is near the Seoul Fortress? Is it recommended to visit Seoul Fortress/Buam Dong during winter since lots of walking would be required?

Thank you!

December 22 2011 02:22 am

Matt

Hi Angela,

Buam-dong is great. It's not too difficult to reach. Just go to Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3), take exit 3, and walk 100 meters to the bus stop. Buses #1020, 7022 or 7212 go to Changuimun Gate at the top of the hill. The ride only takes about 15 minutes or so. Re: weather, if there's snow or ice, it could be tricky to venture off the main intersection, but otherwise it should be fine. Just remember that it's a bit colder and windier up there, since it's in the foothills. Have fun!

Best,
Matt

21 July 2012 19:36

Seoul: Week 2 | Words in Space

[...] north of the Blue House that I happened upon last week, and discovered that it’s called Buam-dong. I found the Whanski Museum hidden in the hills. It was designed by Kyu Sung Woo, but it looks a [...]

11 February 2013 23:39

teddi

hi, matt! your blog is a goldmine, and i appreciate how detailed everything is! i’m returning to Korea very soon, and after my first trip (which was 3 days of non-stop food, palaces and shopping), i’d liek this one to be quieter and more exploratory. Thank heavens for blogs like yours!

could i trouble you for info on how we can get back to any subway station after we end our Bugaksan Hike in Buam Dong? :)

thanks!

–Teddi :)

February 12 2013 00:52 am

Matt

Hi Teddi,
Thanks for your note. Sure, it's pretty easy. Once you arrive at Changuimun gate (the end of the Buam-dong end of the Bugaksan trail), exit onto the main road. Walk underneath the overpass and there should be a bus station leading back towards downtown. Hop on that, and about 15 mins. later you will arrive at Gyeongbokgung Station on Line 3. Have fun!

Best,
Matt

21 April 2013 08:30

elegiacomo

Thanks for the heads-up, I’m going today…

May 03 2013 06:16 am

Matt

I'm jealous. Have fun!
Best, Matt

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