* This post is written by Mimsie Ladner, one of the Korea Blog’s Worldwide Korea Bloggers 2013.
Nestled between Inwang and Bugak mountains, Buamdong (부암동) is a peaceful neighborhood located in the center of Seoul, shielded by nature from the neon and concrete that drench the remainder of the metropolis. Boasting only a single bus stop, Buamdong is not the most convenient place to visit. It’s this very remoteness, however, that has allowed the area to preserve its unique charm, seemingly unchanged by time.
Last year, I spent many a lazy Sunday afternoon in Buamdong, just a short bus ride from my apartment in adjacent Pyeongchangdong. Though it is not as big as other areas in Seoul, I never tired of wandering the artsy community and exploring its miniature cafes and quirky galleries. It’s subdued sophistication, gorgeous homes, and amazing city views provided the perfect atmosphere for readying myself for the week and relaxing in solitude.
The solo bus stop is the starting point for exploring Buamdong. Heading uphill, passing along traditional neighborhood institutions- a dry cleaner, a florist, a barbershop- one quickly begins to feel the timelessness of the area. For hikers, the Changuimun Gate (창의문) is an access point for trekking the Seoul Fortress Wall (한양도성). It’s also an impressive site for history buffs, as it was the location where North Korean spies killed the local chief of police during an assassination attempt on the Korean president in the 60s. Located just minutes from the Blue House (the presidential residence), the area remains to be heavily guarded and uniformed soldiers bearing arms can be spotted throughout the vicinity.
For the less fit, like myself, a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood is preferred to a trek up the wall. No visit to Buamdong would be complete without a visit to a cafe and there are many to choose from in the heart of the neighborhood. Coffee connoisseurs should be sure to stop at Club Espresso located just next to Changuimun Gate. The renowned cafe is famous for serving up some of the city’s best coffee using quality beans from all corners of the globe in a cozy building reminiscent of a Colorado ski-lodge.
Those that prefer to sip their coffee while taking in grand mountain views should follow the street downhill past Cheers and beyond a slew of obscure restaurants and old-fashioned mini-marts that are adorned with murals. The route will lead past the Campus Crusade for Christ building and a few small cafes that tempt passerby with open-air seating and quaint decor. Yet, the best coffee shop in Seoul, and possibly all of Korea, is further uphill and around the curve.
Sanmootonge (산모퉁이) is known as a filming location of Coffee Prince to K-drama fans, a snuggle spot to couples, a resting stop to hiking ajumma, and an urban respite to the weary. The cafe is set in a mansion (one of the many in the neighborhood) and offers amazing vistas of the Korean capital and the Seoul Fortress Wall. Patrons can sit under umbrellas on the cafe’s patio or in one of the beautifully adorned rooms. The bottom floor is a gallery of unique art pieces and is not to be missed. Visitors should take note that the cafe gets quite busy on the weekends so it is best to get there early to ensure a good spot. Prices, like the hill on which the cafe sits, are steep. Lattes start at 7,000 won but the views are well worth the money.
A more peaceful spot to enjoy a beverage is Sanyoohwa (산유화), located just beyond Samootonge and the grand homes that neighbor it. Although this unique establishment is primarily a cafe, it is also the workshop of the owner, a famous hanbok designer that has dressed dignitaries and other bigwigs. She serves up a delicious Western brunch, patbingsu, and a variety of traditional teas (try the omija!) and sells some of her wares, including beautifully dyed scarves, for a reasonable price.
After fueling up on caffeine, visitors can venture on down the road to explore a tranquil Buddhist temple and homes typical of Korea in the 1970s. Here, children still play in the streets and women spend their afternoons squatting, chatting, and peeling the day’s vegetables. The old-fashioned street leads into the entrance of Baeksa Valley (백사실), the gem of Buamdong. The valley dates back to the Joseon Dynasty, when it was the site of a villa of a renowned prime minister of the time. Nowadays, it is undoubtedly just as beautiful with its lush canopy of trees, engraved boulders, and trickling streams. With easy trails and plenty of places to rest, Baeksashil is the perfect spot for a private picnic or a family outing.
When hunger begins to set in, there are a number of restaurant options to chose from back near the entrance of Buamdong. Jaha Sonmandu (자하손만두) is an upscale Korean restaurant located next to Club Espresso that specializes in various types of mandu. The place has been around for some time and has become something of an institution for its well presented hand-made dumplings. The tteok mandu guk (rice cake dumpling soup) is as beautiful and colorful as it is tasty. For Chinese style dumplings, check out the tiny shop at the foot of the hill, and don’t forget to grab some desert at Shortcake, a darling cupcake shop that oozes kitsch, or grab a cocktail at expat-run Stuart’s Bar.
A visit to the Seoul Museum (서울미술관) is a great way to finish off an afternoon in Buamdong, though it does require about a twenty minute walk from the bus stop. The museum, which was only opened last year, boasts six floors of temporary and permanent art exhibitions featuring local and international artists. At the time this post was written, exhibits featured 19th century Victorian paintings and an eclectic mix of romantic-themed art from various eras and genres.
Seokpajeong (석파정), a former royal villa, sits atop the museum and is undeniably an art form in itself. The building, which was assembled skillfully with an unsurpassed craftsmanship, harmonizes perfectly with its scenic surroundings. It can be accessed from the third floor of the museum.
Sometimes, the places most worth visiting require a journey to get there. Buamdong is one of those places. It won’t be long until it is connected to the city by subway and the masses discover its charm, which too will be vulnerable once discovered. Until that happens, however, the quaint neighborhood teeming with nature and art remains to be a great escape from the hustle and bustle of Seoul.
To Get There: Take the Seoul subway to Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3). From exit three, walk straight until you reach the second bus stop. Take bus number 7022, 7212, or 1020 (all green buses) for to Buamdong Community Center (부암동주민센터) (15-20 minutes).
Tip: Check out the maps posted at the bus stop to orient yourself and decide on your route. OR Print out this copy before your trip.
Club Espresso Address: Jongno-gu, Buam-dong 257-1 Hours: 9:00AM-11:00PM daily Tel: 02-764-8719 Website: http://www.clubespresso.co.kr/
Sanmootonge (산모퉁이) Address: Seoul Jongno-gu Buamdong 97-5 Hours: 11:00AM-10:00PM Website: http://sanmotoonge.co.kr/sub_01.html Map: Click here
Sanyoohwa (산유화) Address: Seoul Jongno-gu Buamdong 203 Baekseokdong-gil Tel: 02-736-8075
Jaha Sonmandu (자하손만두) Address: Seoul Jongno-gu Baekseokdong-gil 12 서울특별시 종로구 백석동길 12 (부암동) Tel: 02-379-2648 Hours: Hours: 11:00-21:30 Website (map, menu, etc.): http://www.sonmandoo.com/htm/buam_index.htm
Seoul Museum Address: Seoul Jongno-gu Buamdong 201 서울특별시 종로구 부암동 201
Hours: 11:00AM-7:00PM (5pm for the Seokpajeong) Admission: 9,000 won Tel: 02-395-0100 Website: http://www.seoulmuseum.org/nr2/index.php (Korean) Map: http://www.seoulmuseum.org/nr2/?c=visit/13