I’d visited Korea a few times before, but mostly for work, which meant that my experience of Korea was limited to fleeting visits to popular tourist sites between meetings. There’s nothing wrong with them, of course, but I wanted to see and experience Seoul properly.
So this time, I made sure to include a couple of free days on my itinerary. And that’s when the headache began. What do I do? Where do I go? I’d already been to/done most of those ‘must-see’ recommendations, and with all my work and prep for the meetings in Seoul, I simply didn’t have the time to do any research; and I don’t really speak any Korean.
I’m glad I asked around for ideas and recommendations, because a friend of mine, instead of forwarding me yet another one of those ‘top 10 things to do in Seoul’ lists, told me about DARAMJI. I was relieved to hear about the concept of time curator and at the same time curious about how they would know what I’m after. I dropped them a line anyway, and within a few hours, Sang-ah, my DARAMJI friend, had got back to me. She had a few questions about my preferences, which I answered through a couple of emails back and forth. Then she told me to leave it all with her.
My day with Sang-ah started with a quick visit to Dongdaemun Design Plaza to see an exhibition of the wartime diaries of the heroic Admiral Sun-shin Lee. I’d asked for a glimpse of the Korean history (I am proud to be a bit of history buff!) that is not a museum or a palace, and the exhibition, hosted in the super modern venue which also houses a wide range of design boutiques and exhibitions, was a fine choice.
As unfortunately is often the case in Seoul, English information display was somewhat lacking. But this was no problem for me as Sang-ah was there with me to translate everything and much, much more; her knowledge not only of Admiral Lee’s life but also of Korean history in general was impressive. Listening to her stories and asking questions, to which she gave such fascinating answers, was one of the best guided tours I’ve ever had around any gallery or exhibition.
Then we went for a lunch at this 30-year-old Korean cold noodle place. I’d asked for a taste of authentic Korean meal that the local people enjoy, and Sang-ah gave me exactly that. Located right in the middle of an old central district strewn with metal workshops and construction tool shops, Eulji Myunok was a delightful surprise. The cold broth was light and clean but full of subtle flavors. Sang-ah told me that this is Pyongyang style cold noodle– polar opposite of the more popular Hamheung style which has a lot stronger flavours. (both Pyongyang and Hamheung are cities in what is now North Korea’s half of the Korean peninsula) We even enjoyed a cheeky bottle of soju!
We then explored Ikseon-dong – a traditional neighborhood full of old houses. This was another great find, as some of those traditional Korean houses were now retro-style, super cool cafes and restaurants. I felt like as if I was lost in time. What a magical side of Seoul!
The day ended rather abruptly when an urgent work call meant that I had to cut the DARAMJI itinerary short and find my way to a meeting elsewhere in Seoul. Once again, Sang-ah was quick to help me with this sudden change of plan; she easily beat Google Map and found me the quickest way to my meeting!
All in all, my day with Sang-ah was a sheer pleasure and I am 100% satisfied by DARAMJI’s personal time curation service. It was as if she read my mind better than I ever could and she was so resourceful and knowledgeable. Her Chinese was also excellent; thanks to her deep understanding and experience of Chinese culture, she was able to explain even the subtlest of Korean history and culture in a way that made clear sense to me. All in all, I would give DARAMJI nothing short of five starts, 10 out 10!