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From Soap to Souvenirs in Insadong
Tucked away in the heart of downtown Seoul is the quaint Insadong district, where a Korea of yore comes to life in the form of traditional artists and musicians, shops selling Korean crafts and souvenirs, and street performers dressed in native costumes. This is the place to go if you're set on buying the wooden masks, paper lanterns, and tea sets that the country is famous for.

Two other stores also stand out from the crowd in Insadong:

Gounjae Handcraft can be smelled before you even enter the door. This handmade soap shop, in the small brick courtyard of Ssamji Gil Center, offers sumptuously scented soaps, lotions, and bath products in scents like avocado, ginger, and almond. I love the tiny, traditional mask-shaped soaps that make inexpensive and lightweight souvenirs.

The Ee Gee boutique is a veritable treasure chest bursting with glimmering necklaces, bracelets, and other one-of-a-kind baubles–it’s located on Insadong’s main drag.

Still hand-painted...
Seoul's Insadong district is one of the best locations for arts and antiques browsing in the Korean capital. On nice days, especially weekends, artisans demonstrate their traditional crafts on the sidewalks--the street turns into another of the city's outdoor markets.

With so much manufactured for the souvenir trade, it was refreshing to see this 'haraboji' (respectful Korean term for 'grandfather') painting his fans, one by one, inkstone at his feet--a bit of unlikely art, still slowly painted with bamboo brushes, as smart-phone-wielding city-dwellers rush by...

Artists his age have seen Seoul transform itself from the bombed-out ruins of the Korean War (1950-1953) into one of the most Internet-connected cities on Earth; just 30 miles from the world's most heavily fortified border, the DMZ, twenty million people call this metropolitan area home.

To get here by subway: Line 3, exit #6 from Anguk station; Line 5, exit #5 from Jongno 3-ga station.

windows in Insa-dong
Brushes, seals, ceramics, books...a center for art since the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), the Insadong district in central Seoul has morphed into a more touristy locale. There's even a (gasp) Starbucks here now, but tradition remains. Tea-shops and antique dealers can still be found in a neighborhood that once was home to court officials and a royal painting academy.

In between calligraphy demonstrations and K-pop-boy-band postcard-browsing, stop at a street-stall and snack on pumpkin-taffy. Just watch out for all the texting-while-walking pedestrians; smartphones are ubiquitous in the Korean capital.

Seoul's Best Food Stalls
I love eating at the food stalls of Insa Dong Street. This is where ladies of the royal court used to live during the Joseon Dynasty. Don’t miss the Korean sweet pancakes, fish cakes, and spicy rice cakes. Insa Dong is also known for its classic teahouses. —Heong Soon Park

Korean dumplings and rice cakes in Insadong.

Messages everywhere!
Drinking coffee on a sunny day in Insa-dong, Seoul in a very nice roof terrace...messages again..in form of badges this time. Very popular with teen-agers!

Vendors in downtown Seoul
Winter can be pretty cold in Seoul. You can find long row of tiny tents built by vendors to keep themselves warm while they conduct their daily business activities here in Seoul.

Korean Street Treats
Once a confectionery creation for the kings of Korea and now a roadside attraction in Korea's popular pedestrian zone, Insa-dong, Dragon's Beard candy is a trick and a treat. At street hawker stalls in the busy shopping zone, very upbeat Korean candy makers take frozen honey and pull it into 16,000 fine strands of silky sugar. Then they cut the strands into squares and fill each square with a sweet peanut nougat. Lastly, you buy a box and walk off the calories exploring the streets of Seoul. The candy is very delicious and melts in your mouth like cotton candy, but the real treat is watching the honey transform before your eyes.

Doctor Fish
Doctor Fish will see you at Insadong. For $10 you can have hundreds of tiny fishes nibble for the dead skin off your feet for half an hour. The experience is a lot of fun and you will have softer cleaner feet by the end of it.

Insa-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea