At Hairloom, we’re always on the hunt for top-notch, cutting-edge hair products and equipment for our customers, even when it’s as small and seemingly insignificant as a hair brush. Which is why we found ourselves taking our fourth trip this November to Seoul in just two years: Korea is currently at the forefront when it comes to beauty, beauty techniques, fashion, pop culture and more in recent years, especially in Asia. While Japan’s influence has stayed strong and constant, with many beauty trends finding their roots there (think: rebonding or hair straightening), the genius of Korea is in how they manage to put a twist on things to turn a trend into something that’s uniquely theirs.
One of the ways this comes across in the beauty industry is their strong belief in getting things done well while still looking as natural as possible (e.g. from rebonding to body rebonding – hair is straightened, but not to the extent of looking flat and lifeless, thus still retaining the kind of volume and movement that untreated hair does), and boom – they’ve just created yet another trend that will go on to spread like wildfire.
– Beauty comes from within. In general, there’s a consensus that eating right is the key to attaining and maintaining good skin and healthy hair. And authentic Korean food is already on the healthy side to begin with, featuring a variety of vegetables, tofu and clear broths. Plus, their great weather doesn’t hurt – low temperatures and humidity helps keep their pores closed and tiny – making their skin look flawless!
– Enhancing inner shine. Trending now: that unmistakeable Korean look – an overall simple and natural effect, with minimal and barely-there make up. This current trend focuses on mastering the art of applying make up that looks natural and serves primarily to enhance their inner shine. (There also seems to be a focus on lip make-up at the moment!)
– Full, healthy hair. As for hair, there’s not much layering, favouring instead full hair with some perm – like a C wave or S curl. (Click here to read more on Korean perm techniques.) When they do colour their hair, brown tones are preferred – because the emphasis is on healthy-looking hair instead of standing out with crazy colours. They don’t just stop there though – they strongly believe in investing in hair and scalp treatments, making sure their hair is nurtured from root to tip.
This time around, we were lucky enough to have the guidance of two charming guides – and we learnt a lot more from them than we did on our trips before! So here we bring to you some Korea travel tips, with some general know-how that will hopefully help you along when you visit!
- Try to do some homework when shopping at touristy areas. One of which is Myeong-dong, where busloads of tourists are deposited – and all the sales staff can speak Mandarin. We purchased some cosmetics here, only to realize that the same product was going for 20% less elsewhere – on the same day.
- English is understood! But Mandarin might be even better. Many younger Koreans do understand English, though they might be shy to speak it. But with the current influx of tourists from China, many Korean shopkeepers have a competent grasp of Mandarin to cater to the hordes of Chinese thronging their stores. In fact, with Chinese tourists known for being big spenders, shopkeepers might even treat you with more courtesy and enthusiasm if they’re under the impression you’re a mainlander. So don’t be afraid to try out your Mandarin on them!
- Look out for price tags. Always try to shop at places with price tags on the clothes, to avoid being quoted a higher price once they figure out you’re a tourist (not speaking Korean is usually a giveaway!)
Places to visit
- We love wandering around the Samcheong-dong & Sinsa-dong areas. Samcheong-dong is a idiosyncratic place, where traditional Korean houses are interwoven with modern architecture, with quaint cafes, art galleries and shops. Sinsa-dong is located in the famous Gangnam-gu business district, a promenade lined with boutiques that makes for some great shopping, reminding us of SoHo in New York! Tip: we were sometimes able to find the same items going for less in Sinsa-dong than in Dongdaemun – because we were quoted higher prices by shopkeepers who knew we were tourists. In Sinsa-dong, there are price tags on the clothes, saving us the need to bargain.
- Dongdaemun Market is a good place to find lower priced clothing, but if you don’t speak Korean, you might still end up paying a little more than the locals (for the same reason above!).
- Doota – a huge mall – we managed to find good quality clothing on first level (the designer floor). With price tags on the clothes, it was a breeze shopping there without the need to haggle. Tax refunds can also be claimed on the spot here, meaning more money to shop!
- Hongdae University – a city university known for art & design, the streets around the university feature a maze of shops, cafes and bars. We love cafe-hopping, shopping and eating around the area – but we especially enjoy soaking up the atmosphere, created by the entertaining street performances and people having a great time in general. On weekends, there are also flea markets where students sell their handmade wares – we found some great souvenirs here to bring back home for our friends!
Finally, a must-visit food place: Seo Seo Galbi – you won’t be disappointed. They only serve one type of beef, without any starters – the focus is all on the meat.
In fact, there isn’t even any seating available – everyone simply stands around a barrel (which the grill is mounted on) to eat! If you really do want kimchi to go with your beef though, you can head to the provision store next door to grab some. But this place is simply unmissable.
(Address: 109-69 Nogosan-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea Directions: Subway Line 2, Sinchon Station, exit 7. Walk straight to the first set of traffic lights and cross the street. Seo Seo Galbi is just up the steep hill on your right.)
Are you a Korean fanatic? Have tips you want to share? Leave us a comment here!