Insadong, beyond Korean souvenirs and handicrafts

 KOREA. Art beats in the heart of Insadong. There are more than galleries in the area. (Photo by Jinggoy I. Salvador)
KOREA. Art beats in the heart of Insadong. There are more than galleries in the area. (Photo by Jinggoy I. Salvador)

HANBOK, janji, calligraphy items, tea, pottery, antiques, art, and other traditional Korean handicrafts and souvenirs -- locals will point tourists to Insadong.

At the center of the city, the 700-meter long Insadong-gil, which runs from Tapgol Park to Angok-dong Rotary, is one of the most popular shopping destinations. But it’s not all tourists that fill up the main street and the alleys, the locals too are regulars in this area.

There is much more than the place other than a souvenir and handicraft attraction. The culturally-rich address was a very prominent area in the past. During the Joseon Dynasty, a number of buildings along the street were once owned by government officials, merchants, and bureaucrats.

Along the crowded street and myriad of craft shops are art galleries. Art flows in Insadong’s veins, so to speak. In the past, Insadong was once the location of Dohwawon, the National Department of Painting, the division which created paintings and woodworks for the royalty and the palaces for centuries. Maybe this was the reason why artists made their way to the place.

After the Korean War, art galleries started moving in. With more than a hundred galleries in the address today, Insadong is an art mecca.

If you’re in search of traditional Korean fine art, then this is where you head to. Popular galleries are the Gana Art Center and the Gana Art Gallery, which promotes budding artists, and the Hakgojae Gallery, which functions as the folk art center.

Pottery is also an art form and there are several in the area too. Fancy a souvenir for a few wons or a dearer set that can set you off by a million won or two.

Where there are pottery shops, expect to find teahouses (Osulloc has an outlet there), and restaurants too. Venture to the side streets and discover these establishments.

If you think that the 700-meter stretch is easy to navigate, think again. Not only will the heavy crowd slow down your pace, consider the hundreds of interesting shops and galleries. Stopping at each, or most of it, and go through the merchandise will make you forget time. Oh, there is the street food, too.

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