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SEOUL—Unique Korean Souvenirs and Where to Get Them

Souvenirs are a big part of a traveller’s journey; besides photos, the little trinkets and tokens we discover while exploring are often the best way to remember all the thing we saw, felt and experienced.

Seoul has a wealth of options (for any kind of traveller) when it comes to buying souvenirs, the ever-busy areas of Dongdaemun, Hongdae, Namdaemun, Itaewon and Sinsa are overflowing with malls, department stores and shops where you can buy something for everyone.

But for those who want to find more unique keepsakes from their time in Korea, Seoul is also home to many craft-workshops and art studios that provide visitors with a chance to create something one-of-a-kind for themselves and make lasting memories along the way.

Insadong 인사동 (a neighbourhood in Jongno) has many sights, one of which is Ssamzigil 쌈지길; a colourful mall where travellers can experiment with their artistic side with the many stores, galleries and craft workshops.

These workshops include pottery, painting, music-box making, glass-blowing and jewellery craft; all of which make for unique gifts and souvenirs. Other items available are clothes, accessories, handmade soap and snacks—the most popular café being the Ddong Café 또옹카페, well-known for its strangely cute toilet-themed interior and menu.

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©Ssamzigil, 08.08.2019, inspiremekorea.com

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Not only is Ssamzigil full of workshops, stores and fun activities, the area surrounding the mall is also home to street vendors and artists who sell their crafts in the winding streets; perfect for travellers who’d prefer to buy a handcrafted souvenir rather than make one.

Other handcrafted items one can find in the area include tea sets, vases, chopsticks and small art pieces — making the neighbourhood of Insadong a must-visit for creative minds and souvenir shoppers.

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©Jongno Street Illustrator, 08.08.2019, inspiremekorea.com

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Just around the corner from Insadong is the trendy neighbourhood of Ikseondong 익성동; a scenic location made up of many small alleys, or golmok, and hanok houses, making it a popular place for photoshoots.

These alleys are lined with cafés, independent stores, teahouses and vintage-clothing rental shops and various workshops; such as Assibabgagan 아씨방앗간, an aroma diffuser and candle store that’s become popular for its antique interior aesthetic and its sweet-smelling products.

Since Assibabgagan offers visitors a chance to create their own custom diffusers (using dried flowers or aroma sticks) it has become a place where both locals and travellers come to make something special for themselves or as a gift for friends and family.

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©아씨방앗간, 08.08.2019, inspiremekorea.com

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Above Ikseondong is the infamous Bukchon Hanok Village 북촌한옥마을, another area connected by golmok and filled with around twenty workshops; including AROMIND, the Donglim Knot Workshop 동림매듭박물관 and the Haneul Mulbit Workshop 하늘물빛.

AROMIND, a perfume store and workshop, offers one-day classes to teach visitors to create their own perfumes and scents with a professional instructor. After choosing from the wide selection of base scents, visitors will begin crafting their perfumes using raw ingredients; such as naturally fermented alcohol and aromatherapy-grade natural flavours.

Visitors are encouraged to share their feelings and emotions whilst they design a perfume to complement their own personality, or to try to capture their fondest memories of Seoul in a bottle—making these perfumes an excellent gift or personal souvenir.

Once the perfume is complete, visitors are given the choice of Italian, French, or Japanese perfume bottles (made of the same materials as luxury brands) to store their unique perfume.

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©아씨방앗간, 08.08.2019, inspiremekorea.com

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Around the corner from AROMIND is the Donglim Knot Workshop, which teaches visitors the art of making traditional Korean knots.

During the time of the Three Kingdoms (4th century – 668 CE), people in Korea realised the stylistic value of knots and began using them to decorate clothes, accessories and, in some cases, to adorn swords and horses. Throughout the Goryeo and Joseon Dynasties (918 CE – 1910) knots became more elaborate and were used to decorate traditional instruments, jewellery and women’s clothes.

But under Japanese rule, ornamental knots were banned (since they promoted Korean culture) and subsequently became a rare sight. These days, however, various workshops around Korea have made it their mission to not only bring back decorative knots but also to teach people the ancient art of knot-making.

The most ideal courses Donglim offer for travellers would be their one-time lessons, where visitors can choose to make either a dragonfly-shape cellphone tassel, a bracelet or necklace—all of which are excellent traditional souvenirs to remind you of your time in Korea.

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©동림매듭박물관, 08.08.2019, shimyoungmi.com

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If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, head over to Haneul Mulbit where visitors can learn the ancient art of naturally dyeing fabrics with persimmon and anil which give the fabric a blue-ish indigo colour.

Most of the Hanbok (traditional Korean clothes) these days are made with machines and artificial colouring, but the traditional process of fabric-dyeing has been preserved at Haneul Mubit for people of all sorts to experience and enjoy.

Haneul Mulbit also has traditional knots and art pieces made with the dyed fabrics.

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©Yvonne Morgun Workshop Embroidery, 13.08.2019, yvonnemorgun.modoo.at

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Over in the district of Mapo, near Hongdae and Gyeonggi Line Forest Park, the Yvonne Morgun Workshop has become a popular destination for both travellers and locals. Here, they offer visitors one-day classes (as well as four-week courses) on candle making and embroidery that are suited for everyone—experienced or novice.

The one-day embroidery classes, which are ideal for travellers, are run by owner Morgan and Lee Myung-Sun (author of French Embroidery Botanic Lettering) and will take participants through the process of embroidering either a handkerchief or small coin-pouch.

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©Yvonne Morgun Workshop Embroidery, 13.08.2019, yvonnemorgun.modoo.at

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The other one-day class offered involves making your own soy candles decorated with either pressed flowers or lettering. Upon completion, the candles are packaged along with a few souvenirs, making the Yvonne Morgun Workshop a great destination for travellers who want unique mementoes or gifts from Seoul.

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©Yvonne Morgun Workshop Candles, 13.08.2019, yvonnemorgun.modoo.at

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Also in Mapo, in the artsy neighbourhood of Yeonnamdong, is ZEITGEIST Atelier; a studio that teaches visitors how to make unique souvenirs using an antique letterpress device called the Adana.

Run by a devoted letterpress-lover, these courses (roughly 2.5 hours) take visitors through the process of printing personalised quotes onto either personalised postcards or bookmarks—a simple token that will symbolise your time spent in Seoul or make a thoughtful gift for someone back home.

All you’ll need to bring beforehand is the quote you’d like to have printed, which can be anything; although, the studio owner recommends a quote that reminds you of Seoul.

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©Ceramics Studio Chaewoon, 17.08.2019, chaewoon.org

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In Yeonhuidong (the next neighbourhood over) is Chaewoon; a ceramic workshop run by artist Nina and her family of creative minds. Focusing mostly on ceramics, the class at Chaewoon begins with a tour of Yeonhuidong’s culture and art-life, followed by a two-hour course where Nina teaches visitors the basics of ceramics.

During the class, visitors will be able to make their own pottery pieces which can be anything from plates, spoons and mugs to the sweet little ceramic sheep which the studio is known for.

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©Ceramics Studio Chaewoon, 17.08.2019, chaewoon.org

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Since the firing process could take some time, the studio has two options; either wait two to six weeks and have your ceramic piece sent to your home or leave it behind at the studio and choose one of the previous student’s works to take with you.

Whichever you choose, after visiting Chaewoon Studios you’re guaranteed to leave with a unique souvenier that will capture your memories of Seoul.

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Feature Image Source: © Ikseondong by rawkkim, 29.04.2019, unsplash.com

Claudia Deborah (이보라)

Book-dealer by day—writer by night. Instant coffee, Thai food and trot music get me through the day. 나 생명은 조금 심심하고 단순하지만 나 인생은 한 번이야. 그래서 저는 단순한 일상에 감사함을 느껴.

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