Traditional Korean teahouses set in intricately patterned, antique homes… Ultra-chic hipsters sporting extravagant, bleeding-edge fashion… Open-air markets selling everything from live squid, to children’s toys, to fluffy steamed dumplings bigger than your fist.
Seoul, South Korea‘s capital, is a sprawling metropolis of culture and diverse tastes. You could spend years there and you simply wouldn’t be able experience, or even photograph, everything this mega city has to offer.
Any time my husband has a business trip to Seoul I jump at the chance to tag along and see more of the city. I bring my camera gear and turn the “business trip” into a treasure hunt. I can usually come home with some photos that pay for my share of the trip.
On a recent trip to Seoul, we had the pleasure of staying in historic Insadong, a neighborhood that is the perfect blend of trendy and tradition. Located in the center of the triangle formed by Seoul’s beautifully preserved royal palaces, the neighborhood dates back 500 years. It was originally a residential area for government officials, but, over time, it became the spot for artisans to ply their trade.
Today, Insadong is the art center of Seoul and a photographer’s dream. The old teahouses and artisan workshops still line the main street and back alleys, but these days they’re joined by art galleries, and trendy shops selling hand-made jewelry and other crafts. The teahouses are a great place to stop for pot of tea and a hand-made, green-tea cake, and recharge the batteries.
In the afternoon, students linger here on their way home from school. They line up for Hotteok, a syrup-filled pancake that is fried while they watch. If it’s warm outside, they can also be seen eating the delicious Turkish ice cream that the vendors serve with a magician’s sleight of hand—placing seemingly full cones into the customer’s hand before whisking away the ice cream with a flourish, leaving them with an empty cone.
One of the best things about carrying a camera in South Korea is that everyone loves photography. I fit right in as I wander the streets with my camera hanging by my side. Friendly Koreans, and English students will often stop for a chat and take pictures.
On the weekends, traffic is rerouted and Insadong’s main street becomes a pedestrian thoroughfare. Families visit to share the history and culture with their children, and couples parade up and down the street, arm in arm, selfie sticks in hand. If I take a photo of them, they stop and smile…and I usually end up in one of their photos, too.
One evening, I took a quick walk to nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace to snap a few photos of the palace lit up at night. The best time to arrive is just as the flood lights are coming on to illuminate the grand Gwanghwamun Gate. The contrast between the blue sky, the light stone walls and the elaborate, colorful carving of the woodwork is dazzling.
I was able to pay for my half of the trip with the photos I took in Insadong, and the photo I took of the palace is my best selling photo to date.
Image: ©iStock.com/Min-Gyu Seong
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