Hanging in Hongdae Free Market

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Welcome to an oasis of bohemian cool within Seoul’s concrete jungle.

We bet our fellow teammates in Seoul breathe a collective sigh of relief every spring with the opening of the Hongdae Free Market. Why? This outdoor market is the perfect spot for us to finalize our game plans and prepare for the night ahead in one of Seoul’s most happening neighbourhoods. Taking over Hongdae’s central outdoor park every Saturday from 13:00 to 18:00 throughout the spring and summer, Hongdae Free Market is the bohemian alternative to the luxurious chain department stores around the city….dare we say it’s a department store custom-made for the After Hours Athlete?

Make no mistake, the term “free market” isn’t some Konglish riff on “flea market” – Konglish being the prevalent mashup of Korean and English spoken around the city – but rather a nod to Hongdae’s status as the de facto HQ for independent artists and musicians to peddle their wares and debut their newest tunes. We hit up Hongdae last Saturday and waded through rows of booths to peep the original handmade crafts for sale, ranging from business card holders made of old cassette tapes (for when we mix work and pleasure) to creepily cool porcelain dolls that look straight out of Alice in Wonderland. At one booth, a design major from Hongik University (Seoul’s prestigious art school, just footsteps away) hawks a line of original backpacks made from bicycle tires and old leather jackets; at the next, girls eagerly line-up to get abstract portraits done by an underground artist. Our soundtrack for the occasion? A three-piece band taking requests from the crowd and dishing out playful covers of soft rock jams.

Soon enough, the night beckons, and we’re already situated in a prime area to make the most of it. Beyond the mainstream dance clubs and swanky lounges, Hongdae specializes in gritty bars and underground dives that showcase an embarrassment of local music riches. On the weekends, Club FF features stacked lineups of bands (with up to eight acts on a single bill, including local celebs Pink Elephant) before the dance floor opens up for an all-night party with some of Seoul’s hottest DJs.

One of the oldest live music clubs here in Korea, Freebird, is also within striking distance, with live shows every night of the week (except Tuesdays) and the now-legendary “Rock & Dance” parties anchoring Fridays and Saturdays until 06:00. And at DGBD, the rockabilly subculture is thriving – head over there to witness local stalwarts such as Galaxy Express and The Rocktigers tear the place down. To tide you over between stops, don’t forget to stop by Vinyl (which you may remember from our AHA Seoul Triathlon) and pick up a cocktail or two in a plastic to-go bag.

From midday all the way through the break of dawn, from craft booths to packed dance floors and all points in between, Hongdae is the place to be this summer.

Photos courtesy of Hyun Soo Suh