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Insadong Street Shopping & Gyejeol Bapsang Korean Buffet

Street Shopping And A Korean Buffet

I decided to meet with my two new friends whom I met on the one day trip to Petite France and Garden of Morning Calm.  We met on a Saturday, in Insadong (인사동) a little past 11:00 a.m. since we wanted to beat the afternoon lunch crowd.

In my opinion, midday is the perfect time to go to Insadong because it’s a popular tourist area.  There are so many shops to browse and buy one of a kind souvenirs that you definitely want to spend a couple of hours looking around.  There are street vendors selling everything from sikhye (Korean rice beverage) to socks.

Korean Buffet

I will talk more about that in a moment, first, we decided to go to Gyejeol Bapsang, (계절밥상) an all you can eat Korean buffet.  Before we went inside the restaurant on the upper level there were two clowns walking on stilts, making twisty animal balloons.  In the background, upbeat music played as a small crowd of children gathered waiting for a balloon.

I’m only sorry that I didn’t take any pictures of the food inside the restaurant, hunger took over and instead of capturing the moment I only thought about how I wished I didn’t eat breakfast.  However, I wanted to share my first experience visiting a buffet in South Korea.

The restaurant is located on the lower level of the Insadong Maru building.  Because we were so early the restaurant was not busy and we were able to pay the cashier and go inside without waiting in line.

Once inside the restaurant, we walked past beautiful glass displays of traditional Korean earthenware (옹기 or onggi) crocks.  The restaurant uses the earthenware to store different sauces for the various banchan dishes.

The restaurant is rather large and has a relaxed vibe with enough space between the tables where you don’t feel as if you are listening to your neighbor’s conversation.  The food selection is vast and plentiful.  There is a selection of meats (pork, chicken, beef (including bulgogi), and seafood, additionally there are enough vegetable dishes for vegans to sample and enjoy.

Once you’ve sampled a selection of meats, salads: I’m talking about potato salad not the green leafy vegetables, but those are there as well, rice (brown + white available), and soup (my friend recommend the corn as the best) you’re free to roam over to the dessert bar.

If you’ve ever wanted to sample Korean rice cakes or red bean ice cream without the commitment this is the place to try Korean desserts.  Otherwise, there is the usual varieties of ice cream: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, along with fresh fruit, and cookies.


We left the restaurant and decided to go window street shopping.  The shopping area was filled with young girls dressed in traditional Hanboks’ they rented from a nearby shop.  The other shops we enjoyed were the calligraphy brush store, hand-painted fans, and the music store.

Poop Cafe in Insadong, South Korea
Outside the Poop Cafe in Insadong Shopping Plaza
Poop Cafe - Insadong
Poop Cafe Menu in Insadong Shopping Plaza

Overall, I recommend visiting Insadong shopping area and while you’re there stop by Gyejeol Bapsang buffet, it’s well worth the price of admission.

Wishing everyone good health, prosperity, and happiness for the Lunar New Year!

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Insadong street shopping
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Cheorwon DMZ One Day Bus Tour In South Korea

DMZ Train

One Day Bus Tour Experience

I researched and booked a trip to the DMZ to continue my solo travel plans.  I was proud of myself for figuring out I could take the DMZ train and then join a tour once I arrived.  Getting to the station was easy, I was going to Seoul Station.  I had been there before when I first arrived and I knew how to go again without any problems.

Seoul Station

But I didn’t know where I could pick up a hard copy of the ticket I purchased.  I walked over to the Korail Ticket line and prayed the ticket counter agent would be able to give me directions.  Walking up to the ticket counter I asked for a copy of my DMZ train ticket.  The ticket agent then informed me that I had only purchased only a one-way ticket to Baengmagoji for $12,800 won for reserved seats on the 9:27 a.m train.  After purchasing my return ticket for another $12,800 won, she gave me directions on where to board the DMZ train.  While I waited for the train I enjoyed a coffee and a pastry from Paris Baguette.

DMZ Train

Finally, the announcement was made for the DMZ train departure.  I had purchased snacks and a bottle of water for my journey since it would take over two hours to get to the location.  The train was bright with colorful seats.  I loved the interior decor, the word “Welcome” was written in different languages from around the world.  It was my first experience besides my flight on Korean Air, where the stewardess stopped in every doorway and completed a slight bow before walking into the next train compartment.  It’s the small details that make me smile with the beauty and grace of the Korean culture.

Instead of writing or listening to music I gazed out the window at the green scenery and rolling hills landscape of the Korean peninsula.

Once I arrived at the final stop I followed other passengers and purchased a Cheorwon one day tour.  I didn’t realize then that the entire tour was going to be spoken in Korean.  I decided to go with the flow and realized this could be a great language practice session.  The cashier wrote down on a piece of paper the price of the tour.  After paying and boarding the bus, I realized I was the only foreigner on board and the only person who was African-American.

Crane Peace Village

Crane Peace Village Experience Center

The tour guide made an announcement that caused the whole bus to cheer.  I didn’t understand the announcement but filed out of the bus with the rest of the tour passengers.  I realized that a free lunch was provided as part of the tour package.  I don’t know if the rest of the group were surprised to see me select a portion of rice, beef and onions, soup and banchan, but just as a point of reference, I love Korean food.

Baengma Hill

After lunch, we visited The Site of Baengma Hill Battle.  I was happy to discover because it was a tourist location the plaques were written in both Hangul and English.


As the teacher spoke to the tour group,  I was able to read the English signs and understand the fierce battle that occurred during the Korean War.  The field represented a major milestone in Korean history.  The hillside had been transformed by bullets and bombshells yet remained, demonstrating the survival and sheer tenacity of the Korean people.

We continued on the tour to the Cheorwon Country road sign, the first and or last stop and central place for the residents of the city and transportation.   Next, we went to the Labor Party Building pictured below.  The Labor Party and the Site of the Cheorwon Police Office building were locations that inhumane interrogations took place during the Korean War.

Labor Party Building

Labor Party Building in Cheorwon DMZ Tour, South Korea
Labor Party Building

Next, we visited the military zone where we could see the last mountain in North Korea.  I asked the armed soldier if I could take a picture?  He informed me the view was only for my eyes and not for pictures.  The cold wind chill brought me back to reality and I realized he wasn’t on vacation, he was protecting the country.

Lastly, we visited a mini frozen waterfall at the Kumkang (Diamond Mtn.) Electrical Railway Bridge.  The bridge was used to haul military supplies back and forth during the war.

Electrical Railway Bridge on Cheorwon DMZ Tour in South Korea
Electrical Railway Bridge

Heading Home

Finally, back on the DMZ train, I was happy that I had chosen to go on this trip and that I had chosen to go alone.  I didn’t have to keep up a conversation and describe how I felt about the locations and monuments.


I was able to internalize my thoughts without feeling the need to speak.

One lesson that I can truly say traveling alone helped me with, is putting myself first in certain situations.  Something that you rarely get to do when you’re on a group trip or back at home.  It’s amazing how much more energy you can devote to yourself, when you’re not there for the day-to-day family drama of the people who you love, but can mentally drain you with their trials and tribulations.  When you only have yourself to take care of, you tend to do just that, nurture your spirit, body, and mind.

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South Korea’s Top Attractions

Garden of Morning Calm - South Korea's Top Attractions

Petite France & Garden of Morning Calm One Day Tour

I choose Petite France and the Garden of Morning Calm because I had seen both places mentioned on variety shows.  I found Goh Travel Agency through internet research and discovered they had a tour during the Seollal (Korean New Year) holiday.  I choose this tour for two reasons, first because I could pay online and second because the tour bus picked up passengers at Hongik subway station exit, the same exit I used to go to the hairdresser.

Since I would be outside for most of the day I decided I would layer my clothes.  Luckily the weather report forecasted a clear day without any rain or snow.   After finding my way from the subway I found the small tour bus.  As we waited for more passengers the tour guide asked if anyone needed to use the restroom.  I and the two other women on the bus declined.  I decided I would wait because I wasn’t sure where the bathroom was located and I didn’t want to get lost.

One of the ladies introduced herself and her friend.  I found a quick bond with one of the women seeing as how both of us were from Los Angeles, California.  I was excited to be able to speak English but also because of our common goal; the freeway traffic on the 405.  The next three bus stops people from different countries, ages and religions came on board.  Our commonality of being foreigners living in South Korea bonded us for the day.


Traveling to Petite France I took a picture of a frozen lake as we drove up the windy mountain road.  I could only imagine what a busy tourist location it was during the summer.  For now, the bus heater was turned on and I could understand other tourists conversation.  You never think you will miss familiar sounds until the option is no longer available.

Petite France

We finally reached our destination and slowly made our way from the bus to the entrance of Petite France.  As we waited for the tour guide to purchase our tickets I talked to the woman who was from Los Angeles.  We also discovered that both of us loved K-Dramas.  We talked about the dramas we liked and I recommended Coffee Prince and Boys Over Flowers, my two favorites.  Of course, they were the first two K-Dramas I had watched, so I consider them to be classics.

An African-American woman and her teenage daughter also joined in on the conversation.  I found out they were from Hawaii and she was teaching English at a local hagwon.  We grabbed our Petite France tour map as we went inside.  The lady and her daughter mentioned how they were really hungry.

There was the initial awkwardness of having just met someone but also knowing that we would see each other all day.  Do we wait for each other and form a stronger bond or do we go our separate ways?  If we choose the latter would it be awkward for the rest of the day as we walked past each other?  We stopped for a restroom break and then decided to go find something to eat.

I settled on hot chocolate and skewered chicken.  The perfect combo for the cold weather.  We found seating at the top of a lighthouse and asked each other the standard questions.  Where do you live and work?  What made you want to come to South Korea and how long do you planning on staying?  I was happy to sit and listen to them talk, they were talking in English and I was a part of the conversation.

The conversation quickly turned to politics and the various opinions on the new administration.  Both South Korea and the United States were going through Presidential turnover.  I don’t follow politics closely if I am telling the truth, I usually ask my sister the hot topic issues and vote accordingly.

After finishing our drinks and snacks, we walked around the French village and took photos.

Running Man – A Korean Variety Program

Next, we went to the marionette dolls house.  It was filled with dozens of marionette dolls, which was a little scary if you have ever watched the movie Chucky or IT.  Since I am not of fan of horror movies I went into the french houses that were decorated with old oil paintings. Grandfathered clocks and antique furniture.


I somehow lost the two women I initially met and ended up touring the rest of the French village with the mother/daughter duo.  I wanted to continue our talk about Los Angeles traffic, chipotle burritos and In/Out.  We left Petite France and went to a convenience store across the street and bought snacks before getting back on the tour bus.

Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival

After driving for about an hour, we arrived at the Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival.  It was a flower garden that was decorated with beautiful colored lights for the Winter.  Since we arrived before the sunset we had the excuse to shop at the Herb Gift shop located at the entrance of the garden.

As we walked around the gift shop we were comfortable enough to exchange Kakao I.D. and send hello text messages to each other.  I walked around the shop smelling beautiful floral flower scents and lotions that made me wish for Spring.

After leaving the gift shop we made our way over to a traditional Korean restaurant.  I ordered what I thought was bulgogi (seasoned beef), rice, soup and a vegetable.  *Tip – Read every ingredient listed on a Korean menu.  Because the sentence structure is different in Hangul than English, you could incorrectly read the menu*  If I had known this at the time, I would have realized what I ordered was actually tofu bulgogi.  However, even with the mixup, I enjoyed my dinner of beef soup, white rice, and vegetable banchan.

The lighting festival began and I filled my iPhone with the pictures of the beautiful scenes.


Walking around the garden I was immersed in the lights and magic of the evening.


I enjoyed my experience, I met new friends and I had gotten out of the dorm room.


In the end, my Korean New Year turned out to be a perfect day spent eating good food and enjoying the company of new friends.

If you want to read more about my travels in Seoul, South Korea check out related posts: