[personal profile] niori_1709
If there's one thing Korea, and Seoul in particular, does well, it's themed cafes. They are EVERYWHERE in Seoul, from big ones to small ones, very themey or not. Some are simple, like the hundreds of dog and cat cafes in the most random places scattered throughout the city (and while I'm not writing about any of them, I HIGHLY recommend finding one if possible and going there when you're feeling sad. Cuddly puppies and kitties equals instant happy). There are board game (so much fun) and study cafes, for those who like some quiet pastimes or just a quiet places to read. Then there are the more out there ideas, like the Hello Kitty or Lego cafes (which I will get to at some point). The one I want to inform you all about is The Princess Diary Cafe. Fun fact- I love fairy tales and princesses, the whole shebang. So clearly, after being told it existed, I was so at a cafe where you could dress up like a princess. Yes, you heard me right- dress up like a princess.

So here's the deal with the Princess Diary Cafe- it's this cute place, stretching about half a floor. The decor looks like something out of a fairy tale. There was a little cottage in the middle, where you go and give your order (the cookie and cream ice chocolate drink was delicious. I highly recommend it, if you find yourself there). The colours are all in soft pastels, and there are cutesy decorations, such as stuffed animals, all over the place. There was a corner that looked like an old fashioned vanity, where you can sit and preen as you gaze at your reflection (which yeah, we did). There were floral patterns (though nothing too gaudy) and trees painted on the walls. It honestly reminded me of a doll house, and if I looked up the word 'quaint' in the dictionary, I'm pretty sure I'd find a picture of the interior of this cafe. It was exactly what I figured a cafe called Princess Diary would look like. That was the atmosphere, and it was perfect for what drew me there. Like I said, it's dress up. The cafe has at least close to sixty-seventy fancy wedding dresses or hanboks (traditional Korean outfits), all in different sizes and styles (and there are suits for any men who come along for the experience). What you do is rent one of the dresses (or suits) for an hour and then go to town taking pictures with all those adorable backgrounds. So yeah, it's a photo op kind of thing, but good lord was it a fun photo op (and I love photo ops). So me, looking through those dresses and trying to find the perfect fit for those pictures. I ended up picking a strapless dress with a long train with lacy flower designs stitched into the material. I even got to wear a tiara! I love to dress up in costumes period, and this time I got to do it as a princess! It was SO much fun. Not for everyone, of course, but if you're one of those kids who loved to play dress up with pretty dresses (or an adult who loves to do the same thing!), this is a place that you're going to love. Seriously, if you're in one particular area of Seoul, do yourself a favour and find your way there.

Now, switching some gears. Perhaps you noted above that I didn't just say Seoul, but instead mentioned a certain part of Seoul. I phrased it that way because it's that area that we're going to go over. That area, where the Princess Diary Cafe (and many, many other themed cafes) is located, is Hongdae. Hongdae is one of my favourite areas in Seoul, and that's more quite a few reasons. One of those reasons is the quirky places like themed cafes. Another reason is the spectacular shopping. You can find anything from cheap bargain shops to high end boutiques full of clothes I'll never be able to afford. This is also one of the more...alternative areas of the city, so not only can your shopping be of the clothes variety, but of the piercing and tattoo variety. The reason that the alternative scene can gather around the area is because Hongdae is part of a university area. Not just one university, but two universities are in the area, and this is the place where a lot of them spend their time, especially when the sun goes down. That is, hands down, why I love this place so much. It's not the shopping, or the interesting cafes, or the killer clubs (more on that in a bit), but the vibe. Walking around Hongdae is the best, and it most certainly feels like a university area. The people are friendly, even though it's insanely crowded (especially at night). There are buskers everywhere, up and down the streets, playing different types of instruments or singing. There are people doing shows, be it dance, magic, or one memorial time, balloon animals. It's also pretty crowd interactive. People watching are also pulled into the act, given centre stage for a few seconds (and yours truly got to dance for the crowd the first time I ever went to Hongdae). The performers, whatever they're doing, always play up to the crowd. It's fun and laid back, the perfect kind of place to just chill and hang out...during the day. Once night falls, chill and laid back are the last thing to expect. Because Hongdae? Hongdae is the place to party once the sun goes down.

In general, I'm not all that much of a go out and party person. I personally much prefer adventures or events more than bar hopping. However, there are some times that all I want to do is dance the night away. Hongdae is the perfect place for that, and is actually the only place I like to go out. Not only is the vibe still there, but there are clubs upon clubs that you can choose from. Dancing clubs, pub-like places, themed bars (because of course, themes are big, everything from hip hop to classic rock), the whole shebang. There's venues with live music and ones where the DJs rock it out. You don't even have to pay the cover to get into a club to party. There's also the Playground, a mix of a tiny park with playground equipment, where lots of people also gather to drink and hang out (you're allowed to drink outside on public property here in Korea, something many people take advantage of). If you're feeling hungry and need a break at sometime during the night, there are plenty of places that stay open all night (there are a couple of cheap pizza places Monster & Mafia Pizza respectively, and they are amazing. I highly recommend), and if it is your thing, alcohol is usually pretty cheap (baring foreign brands) and easy to get. The best part? the bars don't really close. There's no last call around 2am, but you can keep on going right until the subway opens back up at 5:30am. The crowds start to clear out, but the party keeps on happening. If you're in Seoul and you want to party, skip Itaewon or Gangnam (the other two big party areas) altogether and go for Hongdae. You will not be disappointed.

Here comes a pretty 180% turn from either cafes or party places. For our final miscellaneous part of Seoul in this review, we're going back to nature. No more city for us, but we're heading for the forest. Not just any forest, but Seoul Forest. In the same vein as Central Park in New York, Seoul Forest is marketed as a large space of green nature in the middle of a huge city. It is, don't get me wrong, but it's not as big or as foresty as a place like Central Park, but it still is as advertised- a bit of forest amongst the skyscrapers of central(ish) Seoul. The park is still pretty big though (I spent most of the day walking around, and still didn't get to the marshland area. Which was unfortunate, since the bridge to the bird observatory looked pretty cool. I love wetland birds, oddly enough), and there was more than enough forest to soothe any nature withdrawals you may be suffering from. It's also a pretty nice park, with lots of grass areas to picnic, a skate and sports park for the more active, some cool looking sculptures, and some beautiful (and run by community programs, which was nice) gardens. There's a walk along a pretty stream, where there's a small wishing area. Throw in a coin and get it into the bowl just under the surface? Make a wish. I had a few spare coins, but didn't get to make my wish. Hopefully you'll have better aim if you take your shot. However, as much as the park is wonderful, Seoul Forest is called 'forest' for a reason. The forest part is one corner section of the park. The trees are tall and thin (pine, I think? I wasn't completely sure), and all of them are really close together. Trying to make your way between them would be both a tight fit and potentially suffocating. There's one big path through the forest (paved) and some smaller ones (dirt), and you really can't go for a walk through the trees (which would have been spectacular, to be honest. It's been a long time since I've gotten to do that). There's enough space to lay down a blanket and take a rest just along the edges, and plenty of people did do that.

Part of the draw of the forest is the fact that they have deer that wander around (and any sort of wildlife, even tamed ones, are hard to come by in Seoul). There's one section that's called the deer park, and they do, in fact, have deer there. They weren't, however, wandering while I was there. Most of that section of the park was closed off when I went there, and the only deer I caught sight of were in normal zooish enclosures. I have to admit that deer are not all that exciting to me, because I grew up looking out my kitchen window and seeing deer in my backyard. Seeing them in enclosures was even less exciting. However, I completely understand why this is so popular. When you don't grow up seeing deer out your window, then seeing them this close (and wandering around, when that part of the park is open). How often do most people, especially people from such a big city, get to see woodland creatures that close?

For me, the part of what makes Seoul Forest pretty interesting is the how and where it was set up, or at least where some of it was located. One area of the park is built on what used to be old water treatment plant, from way back when. The bigger building itself is now long gone, but the park still found a way to use the leftover foundations to their advantage. There are still some concrete pillars and walls that you can step down to walk through, and that area has been converted into a beautiful walking area, filled with some of the most vibrant and colourful flowers in the whole park. Those flowers crawled up the slope and were arranged into kidney shaped gardens in the middle of the stone path. Ivy crawls up the pillars and covers the walls, creating an almost fantasy image, where these old ruins have now been taken back by nature. I know it's all man made, but it still looks very cool. The entrance looks like someone punched out a section of the wall and just left it at that. It's not refined in anyway, still rough around the edges and looking like it might start crumbling at any second. It just adds to the nature taking civilization back vibe, which is such a perfect thing for a place that's meant to be nature in the middle of civilization. That's the main way they used the old water treatment plant, but they also kept some of the smaller buildings and turned them into both a butterfly garden and an insect garden.

The insect garden was closed, so I didn't get a chance to go in, but I did check out the butterfly gardens. Butterflies are nature's gift to the world, almost making up for all the creepy crawlies it has unleashed on us. There had to be at least half a dozen types of butterflies flying around, landing on the flowers or rocks in the building. It was rather enchanting, or would have been had it not been SO crowded (though I'm so used to it, having lived in Korea for four years).

So there you have it, three different parts of Seoul worth checking out. One quaint, one wild, and one natural. Three wildly different tones and places, but each something that you should completely try if you have some extended time in Seoul. One for the nostalgic joy, one for the party, and one for the nice walk in the park/forest. Just a little bit of everything to suit the needs of three different kinds of fun.

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niori_1709

August 2017

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