The second day of my sojourn in Seoul entailed one major mission: Getting a haircut.
You see, most Korean barbers are not familiar with precision. And while I have been getting by with sub-standard haircuts, I thought I'd use my time in the big city to find a reputable and authentic barbershop experience. My hair and beard were in a bit of a state, so I managed to find an joint called Billycat Barbershop, not too far from where I was staying.
I knew the trip was going to cost me an arm and a leg, but I figured that I'd chalk this up to one of those experiences that you have when you're on holiday.
About 20 minutes by bus and I entered the lion's den. They got to work on my mop and two hours later, I was a new man.
But man, that price. For the haircut, they charged KRW45,000, and for my beard, they charged an additional KRW25,000. So, KRW70,000 smackers in total for a haircut… Not an amount I can ever claim to have paid before to get my mug fixed.
Service: Outstanding. 10/10. They had two barbers wait on me, spoke enough English and went all out to make me feel comfortable.
Actual cut: Good. 8/10. The haircut was pretty much on point, with a fade worthy of a GQ spread. I was a bit hacked that they took too much off my beard though, so points off for that.
Cost: Yikes. 5/10. Yeah, I've written enough about that already.
Verdict: It's a yes from me. These guys don't disappoint. They're the real deal, and I will probably be going back to them soon.
Feeling famished after my haircut, I took the bus heading towards the Dongdaemum district once again, getting a bite to eat before heading to the famed Myeongdong shopping district for a dose of exploration.
Myeongdong is much like other shopping districts, just more eclectic. It has all the major chain stores and brand outlets, but really is quite a bit more sprawling than any other shopping district I've been to.
A sensory smorgasbord is really the only way to describe a place like this, especially as a street photographer. From the street food scents wafting through the avenues, to the counterfeits lining the streets, this is definitely a worthwhile visit if you want to soak up a bit of hedonism, South Korea style.
From Myeongdong, I head through to Itaewon for dinner with a few friends. Having already eaten a good deal of street food in Myeongdong, I opt for a lighter meal at a a Canadian bar called Canucks.
Later that evening I got a message from the co-founder of PRRC (Private Road Running Club), one of the oldest run crews in Seoul. I'd initially reached out to them asking about a weekend run, after which James got in touch with me, inviting me to a record bar in the Apgujeong district. Kompakt Rekord Bar plays music using only analogue instruments, no digitally powered amps or anything of the sort. Over the din of the disco tunes, the venue exudes a beautiful ambience and in the spirit of BTG, we exchange running tales over a beer, or three.
I wake up on Saturday morning craving an authentic Western breakfast. I envision flapjacks piled high with cream and compote. Google directs me to an American-style restaurant in Hongdae called Travel Maker. A short train ride later and I'm in the bustling student district. The heat continues to belt down and after devouring a hearty portion of blueberry pancakes topped with whipped cream, I jump on a train to Yongsan, purportedly the best place to browse and buy electronics in Seoul.
The one thing that I hadn't counted on was Yongsan being one of the main railway exchanges connecting various lines of the subway, as well as the KTX. This made it a bit tricky to navigate and meant that I took a few wrong turns before eventually finding the Hyundai iPark Mall, adjacent to the sprawling Yongsan Station.
When I did find it, it was worth it.
If you haven't cottoned on by now, let me lay it out to you straight. Seoul is synonymous with shopping. Spending dollar. It's tough to estimate exactly how big each shopping floor was, but I'd hazard that it was about 350-400m2 in size, going up (in true Korean style) about 7 floors. Cameras, lenses, drones, tablets, speakers, toys, Lego, books, furniture, phones – you naaame it. Good luck getting this guy to part with his hard-earned Won though – despite perusing all seven floors, I'm pretty chuffed that I didn't buy a single thing at Yongsan, although I'll definitely be back.
So, with Korea's largest electronic market checked off the list, I decide to make tracks and head to James's suggested cold noodle spot, Donga Naengmyeon. Directions are a bit trickier than I expect, and I end up walking for about ten minutes through Itaewon before finally hitting the Hannam-dong district.
The noodles do not disappoint. For good measure, I decide to top off the meal with some dumplings. Solid.
The sun hasn't abated for the entire day and after almost 10 hours of traipsing across the city, I headed home for a quick rest and recharge.
That doesn't mean that my day is finished, though. The one engagement that I had booked before coming to Seoul was a walking tour of the Gangnam district.
Gangnam as a district really didn't impress me anywhere as much as Dongdaemum, Itaewon or Myeongdong. It seemed far too quiet and reserved, bland almost in comparison with the other hubs. It definitely exudes a very 'high-street' feel, but that doesn't do much to save it from being decidedly average. The tour, however, was great – Brian (our tour guide) was extremely knowledgeable and showed us a variety of landmarks; Coex mall and the underground library, a Buddhist temple in the heart of the city, a stunning lookout point over the Han River, and the High Street in Cheongdam – home to some of the world's most famous brands. The tour lasts about 2 hours and after that, I'm headed back to Hanyang.