The air quality was a pristine 14 on a bright and sunny Saturday, a cause for celebration here in Seoul! We decided to take the subway to Yeouido (여의도) for a summer bike ride along the mighty Han river and The Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market (밤도께비 야시장).
Yeouido is a large island on the Han River. In Korean, the name Yeouido means “useless” or “you can have it” because it has historically been seen as an inconsequential sandbar on the Han. A true underdog story, Yeouido went from being a spot to breed horses to being nicknamed the “Manhattan of Seoul,” now home to Korea’s National Assembly and financial center.
When we left the Yeouinaru subway station (여의나루역) , a nice old ajumma approached me, putting a flyer for fried chicken in my hands. In Korea you are able to get fried chicken and beer delivered to you wherever you are, so people often get it delivered to the park. Then another ajumma approached me and did the same thing. And another. Before I knew it, I was in a swarm of old women and had thirty or forty flyers in my hands. Jessye was laughing hysterically.
The stack of flyers I had been given made more sense when we walked down the steps to Yeouido Hangang Park: an entire tent village had been erected for the weekend! Families, couples, and friends had brought tents or mats and set up shop on grassy fields and under bridges. Walking by encampment after encampment, we got glimpses into the lives of strangers — a salary man taking a well-deserved nap, a women listening to old ballads on the radio and eating silkworms, two best friends trying to take the perfect selfie, and love birds cuddling. Kids were everywhere, running around with squirt guns and splashing with their parents in the tiny concrete streams and the giant fountain area.
Jessye and I decided to try tandem biking for the first time. Renting tandem bikes from Yeouido only costs 6,000 WON an hour, and single bikes are 3,000 WON. Every additional 15 minutes is an extra 500 won. For two hours on a tandem, we only paid 11,000 Won.
Eventually we were biking by rows of fragrant flowers and the relatively unpolluted Han river. We saw a big red bridge in construction, a man playing a saxophone for a (non-motorized) biker-gang, and lots of birds and brightly-colored butterflies in small, riverside nature parks. An old man cast his reels out into the water as a crane flew by, a tableau that appeared to be a million miles away from the city.
When we decided to head back we realized the wind was now working against us. Soon enough, Jessye and I were getting our asses kicked, in tandem, as we huffed and puffed, moving at a snail’s pace. Swarms of professional bikers with razor thin tires and skin-tight biking clothes zoomed past us in all directions. One biker even slowed down to yell “hana-dul-hana-dul,” or one-two-one-two, at us. It didn’t help!
Upon return we took refuge from the sun amongst the skyscrapers of Yeouido, relaxing in a Coffee Bean / Tea Leaf that doubled up as a Hyundai dealership. Some people were even enjoying their drinks inside the luxury cars!
The Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market is named after the Dokkaebi 도깨비, a mischievous ogre in Korean mythology. Like the night market, the ogres appear at night, make a ruckus, and are gone by morning. Oddly enough, the ogres have gotten a lot cuter over the years. The power of Korean skin care, maybe?
There are six locations across Seoul but the one in Yeouido is advertised as the “World Market.” The brochure says “Come to the Hangang River for a night of traveling the world.” I think the “international” label was a bit misleading, as the only non-Korean fare was a Thai place, a crepe place, and a few Japanese places, which are not that uncommon in Seoul anyway. Although the food was not that international, the crowd was and it felt like the place to be on a Saturday night.
We started in on the food-trucks. The Hawaiian shrimp at Shrimp King was straightforward, but tasty.
Next, we went to Miss Corea and ordered kimchi fried rice with a piece of ham. It was the best thing I ate that night. The rice was fried in a giant wok and the eggs fried to perfection. There is nothing better than a simple dish served with great care.
Pro tip: when you go to the night market, make sure to get beer and water before you get your food, as the line for the tiny convenience store is… a bit long.
We finished off dinner with two big slices of pizza from I Seoul Pizza. The pepperoni pizza reminded us of home, and the cream cheese pizza reminded us of how far away we were from it. It wasn’t until we took the first bite that we realized it was covered with a heavy sprinkling of sugar!
With two beers in hand we listened to jazzy Stevie Wonder covers and sat with a thousand others, admiring the sunset along the skyline of the Han river.
Night Market Directions:
330, Yeouidong-ro, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 영등포구 여의동로 330 (여의도동).
Saturdays and Sundays, 6:00pm to 11:00pm.
Bike Rental Directions:
After taking line 5 to Yeouinaru Station (여의나루역) walk out of exit 2 and down the stairs. Facing the river, walk under the bridge that is to your left. You will find the rental stand behind the large fountain area.
9:00am – 10:00pm