A Seoul “Mansion” Redefines Accommodation in Seoul
One reason that I am a fan of collaborative consumption sites like AirBnB.com is that they take social media to a higher level. In a world where people you have never met consider you a "friend" because you are connected to them on Facebook, Twitter or most obnoxiously, LinkedIn, tools like AirBnb.com allow you to meet fantastic people. These sites also open doors to places you would have otherwise completely missed. During my recent trip to Seoul, I stayed at two different places during my week in Korea's capital. The first one was at a home in Itaewon, which was fine, but was booked for the rest of my stay. The second one was fantastic, offering the best of what is both uber-modern and most traditional about Korea. Nestled a short walk from Gwanghwamun and the Cheong Hwa Dae (or Blue House, the President's residence), this bed and breakfast is a pioneer in accommodation for visitors to Seoul. Hotel stays in Korea usually mean expensive five start hotels, noisy tourist hotels, or yeogwan that today offer more of a room by the hour vibe instead of a Korean countryside experience. Bed and breakfast inns will soon take off, however, because of one special place in northern Seoul. 126 Mansion opened less than one year ago in Palpan-dong, near the entrance to Samchung-dong, one of Korea's hippest neighborhoods. A stone's throw from Gyeongbokgung, 126 Mansion offers an intimate look at the long transition Korea has endured from an exporter of products to a leading exporter of innovation, ideas and design. Hyunchung Lee, her two sisters and mother have redefined what it means to be a guest in Korea. The first floor of 126 Mansion is the cafe, which blends a simple modern aesthetic with the feel that you are in a mountain retreat. As is the case throughout the inn, natural woods and soft neutral colors offer a calm retreat within this massive city of 10 million hyper-ambitious people. One floor up are the rooms, which vary in size, each with their own bathroom, and warmed by the Korean ondol floor heating system. The ondol is addictive and makes it difficult to climb out of bed on a cold fall or winter morning. The top floor will be a glorious roof garden in the summer and provides views of Gyungboekgung. You will not have the spacious room as you would in the Shilla Hotel, Westin or JW Marriott, but take comfort in that your sojourn at 126 Mansion is more sustainable--and friendly, too. Hyunchung and her family have plenty of great local recommendations up their sleeves during your stay. For first time visitors, 126 Mansion is the perfect place to find yourself situated. For road warriors, the hotel offers a cozy hideout with modern must-haves like wireless internet. Just a short walk away is Samchung-dong with its chic art galleries, numerous cafes and bustling restaurants. Enjoy the Korean breakfast (above left), which gave me a great start to my mornings, and be sure to nosh there for dinner: the bacon kimchee fried rice was a favorite of mine and my Korean friends who visited while I stayed there. And while Seoul is already one of the world's safest cities, you can rest assured that you are secure with the numerous police who are protecting the President of Korea--albeit with a smile. Best of all, you will be greeted by Shi-ru, the family's adorably surly shih-tzu who may, or may not warm up to your during your stay. On my last day Shi-ru finally dropped his stereotypically aloof shih-tzu attitude and let me walk him along the road next to Gyeongbokgung. I am not sure when my next visit to Korea will occur, but rest assured I will stay at 126 Mansion again. The inn’s success guarantees that others will notice and copy their unique approach to housing guests. But the original is better than any imitation, so 126 Mansion will always be my choice of hotel when I travel to Seoul. You can find them on their site or on AirBnb.com and Facebook.
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