Namsan, which literally translates to "south mountain" is the perch from which Seoul Tower overlooks South Korea's capital city. With cable cars climbing it's slopes practically around the clock and a revolving restaurant at the top floor of Seoul Tower, it's a major tourist destination and death trap which is precisely why I've always disdainfully avoided going anywhere near it. But during our stay in Korea this time, I was surprised to hear my mother raving about Namsan's beautiful trails and a fantastic restaurant that is only accessible by walking. Intrigued, we decided to set out and discover for ourselves this unlikely gem.
As it was already almost lunch time, we opted to take a cab to the trail head and walk to the restaurant first. As it turned out, the "trail" was a paved road converted into a strictly pedestrian walking course. As vehicles are restricted from driving on it, our taxi pulled over at the intersection and let us off. We continued on foot for a few hundred meters until we came upon 'Mok Myuk San Bang' restaurant.
Named after Namsan's original name, 'Mok Myuk San' Bang runs out of a beautiful, old fashioned, hanok style house. To keep costs down, everything is practically self serve but we were happy to find that they didn't skimp on the food. While they also offer a handful of other side dishes, they almost exclusively serve bi bim bap which comes beautifully presented on a tray you pick up yourself from the kitchen. We found the bulgogi bi bim bap to taste as fresh as it looked and gleefully polished off our bowls. Before concluding our meal, we tried to sample as much of their tea menu as possible by each ordering a different flavor of tea: date, quince, and citron. Each had their distinctive qualities but we agreed that all were good.
Fuelled up on bi bim bap and tea, we started up the trail towards Seoul Tower. At first, the path lolled at a gentle slope but in time the incline grew steeper until we were climbing some pretty intense staircases through the woods. Eventually we reached the tower, which was every bit the tourist death trap I had imagined but the refreshing breeze and the amazing views still made the trip worth it.
I'm not sure if our timing was particularly lucky or if this is what normally takes place at Seoul Tower, but as we were leaving, a folk music and martial arts performance began to ensue. Watching the 'Pungmul Pae' perform took me back to my drumming days in college.
We headed down from Namsan in the direction of Namdaemun Market and Myong dong, where we wandered around about before stopping at Ding Tai Fung for a well deserved dinner. I never would have imaged that what started as 'a walk through the park' would lead to scaling one of the highest lookouts in Seoul, spectating samulnori, and wandering around Korea's most fashionable shopping districts, only to end with us stuffing ourselves silly with Chinese dumplings. Then again, for the over 10 million Seoulites who live here, I suppose it's just another day in the city.