[Seoul saunter] Overrated, but charming ‘town of selfies’

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Aug 28, 2017 - 16:50
  • Updated : Aug 28, 2017 - 17:08
Seoul is a vibrant megalopolis with modern high-rises crowding the city’s major arteries. Nestled among the gleaming buildings are labyrinthine alleys that appear to have escaped the passage of time. We explore Seoul‘s many nooks and crannies. - Ed.

Cafes and stores alongside “Mangridan-gil,” the main street of Mangwon-dong, Seoul, are seen in these photos. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

At first glance, it is not immediate what is so special about “Mangridan-gil,” a nickname for the main street of Mangwon-dong, western Seoul.

Stepping outside Mangwon Station on Subway Line No. 6, one faces residential areas and narrow streets -- “This is the town of selfies?” one may ask.

But navigate a little farther by the Mangridan-gil, and you will come across charming little cafes and stores that provide photogenic moments for those wanting to decorate their Instagram pages.

(Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Located between the busy streets of Hongdae -- self-proclaimed “street of youth” -- and the Han River bank, Mangwon-dong is known as a hamlet of artists, writers and musicians.

The aforementioned nickname of its main street is a combination of Mangwon and Gyeongridan-gil, a commercial area in Itaewon-dong known for small restaurants and bars.

It does not yet have the glamor of Gangnam, nor has it become a hot place for youngsters like Hongdae or Itaewon. It has also lost its reputation as an “artist village,” hosting artists driven out of Hongdae because of rising rent.

What you can find are tiny stores and cafes of a peculiar fashion, like hidden gems sprinkled across the neighborhood.

(Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

If you are looking for little souvenir to bring back home from your trip, the airport gift shop is a fine option. But if you‘ve got the time, you may want to check out Linnea’s Garden.

Located about 100 meters away from the southern end of Mangridan-gil, the store is stocked with trinkets like coasters, ornaments and tea cups. The sheer variety indicates the owner’s effort to acquire a rich collection of items, which he says hails from all over the world.

From the outside, 817 Workshop is unimpressive, with the number simply plastered onto a gray wall. Do not judge a book -- or in this case, a cafe -- by its cover, though.

Walk across the gate and into the venue, all the way up to the top floor, and you will be able to see the entirety of Mangwon-dong in one glance. Sunlight piercing the canvas sloped above the sitting area gently greets you as your eyes journey across the narrow streets of Mangwon-dong and the busy metropolis just beyond it.

The cafe also serves as a workshop of 817 Design Space, which founded and has been running the venue since 2015.

One catch, though. The rooftop place is tiny, so it may be packed when you visit. Also, it is no climb up the Lady Liberty, but the eight-story hike may leave you out of breath.

(Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

(Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Why is Mangwon suddenly becoming a hotspot for the trendy and hip?

To find the answer, look no further than across town to Hongdae.

A few years ago, Hongdae was filled with unique and charming little cafes and stores selling trinkets. It was a place where youngsters could hang out on the weekends, where a simple stroll was a reward on its own.

The humble streets are now jam-packed with clubs, bars, and people looking to “get lucky.” With the rent soaring, many of the store-owners have migrated to Mangwon.

Some Magwon residents are concerned that the area will go down the same path as Hongdae.

In March, the residents’ group of Mangwon collected 1,000 signature from locals petitioning against people from calling the village Mangridan-gil.

(Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

According to a real-estate website, rent across Mangwon-dong have increased by roughly 38 percent compared to early 2015.

Residents say the unwanted fame is raising rent across the neighborhood.

Jo young-kwon, who heads the residents’ group of Mangwon-dong, calls Mangridan-gil “a phantom.” “No resident knows where exactly it is, and we never gave it such a name. Yet many people visit here looking for it,” he said.

Despite the looming prospect of gentrification, Mangwon-dong, at least for now, remains a quiet little “town of selfies” where youngsters drop by searching for an Instagramable experience.

(Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

By Yoon Min-sik