Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Shopping in Garosu-gil and Thai Massage at Dream of Trees

The itinerary called for a stopover in Everland along the route from Gwangju to Seoul, before going for a traditional Korean stage show. Not wanting to see Ligers for the umpteeth time and watch the same performance again, we ran away from the group after writing and signing our own indemnity forms saying that yes, we could take care of ourselves and we wouldn't blame them if we got lost along the way. 

M & I booked a couple of last minute KTX seats, and before the rest of the group even got up for breakfast, took a cab to Gwangju Songjeong to catch the train that would take us to Yongsan station in Seoul. 

We were going on an adventure!

(Our idea of an adventure mainly involved escaping from the bratty children who kept screaming and kicking my chair on the bus, and doing something we actually found enjoyable, like shopping.) 

By noon, before the group was even due to reach Everland, we'd made it all the way to Garosu-gil after hitching our KTX train and navigating the sprawling Seoul subway system. Located on Apgujeong-ro 12-gil, a stretch of road spanning less than one kilometre, Garosu-gil has, in recent years, become a major shopping destination in Seoul. M had visited seven months before, and was completely taken by the laid-back, trendy, rather hipster vibe of the street. 

Unlike the claustrophobic Myeongdong and Dongdaemun areas, Garosu-gil is decidedly more relaxing - although high rents mean that most boutiques are cozy, it's far from a confusing mass of shops crowding into each other. There's also space enough for cool design features. 

Apparently Garosu-gil used to be one of those 'best-kept secrets' sort of locations that Korean celebrities and avid photographers in the know liked to frequent, but it's since become gentrified and trendy (the horror!), and is therefore facing the creeping in of chain stores and an influx of curious visitors. Even so, it's still got much more character than the rather soulless in-your-face luxury of other shopping districts in the affluent Gangnam area. 

The area used to be an artist's enclave where young designers set up their own stores. It later attracted an influx of restaurants and cafés designed with people watching in mind, capitalizing on the impeccably dressed crowd that frequented the area. These days, you can't go more than twenty paces without seeing another eatery, but on a midweek afternoon, the people you're watching are mainly other tourists. 

Still, the stores are an interesting draw. Apart from a smattering of overseas labels, all the boutiques offer looks by local designers. Many proudly carry items bearing Made in Korea labels. Given the general character of the streets, most stores have put in a fair bit of effort into their shop design. There's a mix of industrial minimalism, vintage-chic, impossibly frilly, straightforwardly girly, retro glam and airy & classy. 

After walking into nearly every single store on one side of the street, we were near collapsing when we saw a banner sign advertising Thai massages, with special rates before peak period. We just about qualified for the discount (15 minutes to spare!), we desperately needed a good massage and the price seemed very reasonable, so we found ourselves wandering into a building off the main street and trudging up a flight of stairs till we found ourselves at Dream of Trees

There was a slot opening up soon enough for two to do the one hour foot massage, so we were sat on the plush cushions by the reception and drank the cool lemongrass tea they served. The cups were brought to us on a wooden tray decorated with orchids. As we waited, two separate groups of Japanese tourists wandered in. With no other available masseuses at that moment, they were given later appointments. M & I totally lucked out on timing. 

Elephants and orchids seemed to be the main theme
We changed into the pyjamas provided and kept our things in a locker in the small changing area, before our feet were washed in large bowls of warm water again with orchids in it. At some point during the uber-relaxing massage, the both of us fell asleep. When we came out, it was to cups of hot ginger-y tea. They took a Polaroid shot of us before we left and placed it up on their wall. As we'd guessed, the place is very new. 

The wall of satisfied customers

All refreshed and with the aches in our legs and feet worked out, we continued our trek through the shops. Shopping is definitely an endurance sport. 

Garosu-gil is pricier than other shopping haunts in Seoul, and the markup can be ridiculous for some items, but the quality of the clothing feels better on a whole and it still costs less than high street shopping in Singapore. You're basically paying not to have to wade through a sea of people and search endlessly through poorly-made items to strike gold. At the end of the day, we left the thoroughly explored shops of Garosu-gil, laden with all manner of bits and bobs, including stuff for BB. 

The day's haul

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