Vietnamese American Mai Nguyen, 21
Exchange Student at Yonsei University
about 2 months
One of her favorite places to hang out in Seoul is Hongdae, the neighborhood around (and short for) the art-oriented Hongik University. With no shortage of cafes, dance clubs, and street performances, Hongdae has become a magnet for expats, exchange students and locals alike. Here, her hotspots to hit in this Seoul hotspot.
Getting there: Right from the get-go, you can stumble on some street performances upon emerging from the incessantly bustling Hongdae subway station exit 9. (It really makes one wonder who actually uses the other eight exits.)
The style: Hongdae has its own diverse fashion culture, which I would best describe as a hybrid of vintage, hipster and the distinctly cutesy Asian lace look. If you don’t already dress like that, put together some funky fresh outfits (for a bargain price, too) from any of the vendors selling along both sides of the street.
Fill up: One of my favorite restaurants in Hongdae would have to be Yeolbong. Beware though – you have to be able to handle some spicy hotness before trying the food here. Owned by Korean pop singer Se7en, it’s a small and cozy place, specializing in steamed chicken (jjim-dak). Served over glass noodles, the chicken is stewed for hours with potatoes, carrots and onions, so the flavor is really soaked into the dish. It’ll leave you satisfied with a slight tingly burning feeling on your lips. Yeolbong.com.
Sweet spot: What better way to balance something spicy than with something sweet? There’s no place more appropriate than the Hello Kitty Cafe. From top to bottom, it’s all pink, all cute and, of course, all Hello Kitty. Don’t be surprised to see girls cooing at how adorable everything is, down to every drink and confection offered. It’s been around for a while and could use some touching up, but that doesn’t stop it from bringing out the girly side you never knew you had. hellokittycafe.co.kr
Belt it out: Now that you’ve got some sugar in your system and your throat is warmed up, how to release all this built up energy? Hit the noraebang (karaoke song room). A popular one is Luxury. Sure, it sounds a little pretentious, but it definitely lives up to its name. Not only is it decked out with glass floors and lit-up nature displays, there’s free-flowing ice cream – what more can you ask for? Luxury Noraebang: http://skysu.com/index_default.php
Club hopping: If singing’s not your thing, Hongdae has clubbing covered as well. To get more bang for your buck, pay a 15,000 won fee (about $12) and club hop among the three YG Entertainment hip-hop clubs, NB1, NB2 and Harlem. YG artists and other celebrities frequent these clubs, so if you’re lucky, you might find yourself partying it up with a star. What’s great about the clubbing culture here is that there are particular moves for every song that everybody seems to know. These moves are usually simple enough to pick up just by watching, so before you know it, you’ll be dancing in unison with the rest of the clubgoers.
— Mai Nguyen