Saturday, July 7, 2018

K-POP TOUR in KOREA : A Fangirl's Ultimate Guide to K-pop Agencies (SM, JYP, FNC, BIGHIT)

When I was still dreaming of going to Korea, I had already imagined myself visiting K-pop entertainment agencies like SM, JYP and YG. I guess it's usual for any fangirl to want the same thing and this may be something non-Kpop fans just won't understand. 



I thought it would be a piece-of-cake to find their offices since I thought they were just situated close to each other in Gangnam. Well, they are... but I took a wrong turn and went to the wrong SM office from FNC building which caused me not to visit YG and COEX Atrium anymore. I also went to the old Bighit building, which was difficult to find from the SM Building in Cheongdam-dong. If you are going to Seoul anytime and are planning to alot 1 day for fangirling, I don't want you to commit the same mistake therefore I'm writing this long and detailed blog post to serve as your complete guide on your visit. Be sure to save the link to this blog post so you could find it easily when you finally need it!

PLANNED K-POP TOUR ITINERARY

  1. Cofioca Cafe
  2. JYP Building
  3. FNC Building
  4. SM Entertainment
  5. SM COEX Atrium 
  6. YG Building
  7. BIGHIT Building
  8. EXO's Chanyeol or Kai Resto
Mid-day, the itinerary changed and I was not able to visit few places because I got lost. But fret not, if you've been dreaming of going to Seoul, getting lost may still seem fun to you. Just remember to go with someone who has the same passion and interest as you do in K-pop if you are taking this tour.

If you want to see my whole K-pop journey in Seoul, watch my VLOG below.
I filmed it in English so non-Filipino readers and viewers could use it as a guide, too.



WHAT MY ACTUAL ITINERARY WAS...

TOUR START TIME : 9:00 AM
I left my Airbnb in Jongno at 9:00 AM to be sure I would be able to visit all agencies and cafes.

FIRST STOP - COFIOCA CAFE in Apgujeong Rodeo

Why you would want to visit : I am an EXO fan. Reading blogs, I found out that is small bubble tea cafe is often visited by budding and already popular K-pop idols. It's just a really small place, though, and drink is quite pricey. But I read that idols, especially debuting ones, come here for "good luck". Some believe that if you come here on your trainy days, you will make it "BIG" one day. The cafe has lots of colorful papers on the wall that bears signatures and messages of popular K-pop idols. EXO, Super Junior, SNSD, Shinee, 2PM, AOA, Sistar... you name it! You will see their real signatures there!

Address : 31 Seolleung-ro 161-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Open Time : 10 AM to 10:30 PM
Directions : 
1.) Take Subway to Apgujeong Rodeo
2.) Get off and take EXIT 6
3.) Walk straight from exit 6 and on the second block turn left.
4.) Walk straight until you see GS25 store, turn right.
5.) Beside the GS25, you will see Cofioca Cafe








It was getting colder on the days I was in Korea as it was getting close to winter. The moment I exited the subway, fresh air and beautiful flowers greeted me. I also saw Korean buses for the first time and I couldn't be happier at that point. I felt like I was in an actual Korean drama, if you get what I mean.



You will not imagine the join you will feel when you finally see this!

My Experience :
Remember when I mentioned that getting lost in Korea is still fun? I think it's because of the cool weather, the beautiful surrounding and the nice people. I couldn't find Cofioca cafe because I may have missed the second block where I should have turned left. *hehe* I asked a Korean guy, who seemed like he was in a hurry. Normally, you would expect him to just say "I don't know" or "That store, turn left from that." What he did? He actually went with me until we got in front of the Cofioca cafe. This WAS NOT the first time it happened to me in Seoul. Korean locals are warm and actually really nice to tourists! I guess it helped that I can speak to them in Korean... but still, they are really nice!

Okay, I'm fangirling. I did fangirl a lot when I was in the cafe. Luckily, I came in around 10:15 and they had just opened so I was the only one insde. The ahjumma who owns and manages the store is also really nice. You could tell her who your favorite idol is and then she will tell you where the signatures are and will also recommend the drink that your favorite often orders from her. I ordered EXO Sehun's favorite drink. It was just quite pricey at W6,000 or Php 286.


This may be a cringey-fangirl photo but I guess I am a cringey-fangirl. But I saw where Sehun sat on one of his visits at the cafe. 



SIGNATURES EVERYWHERE!!!
These are EXO SIGNATURES!!!



They also play K-pop music videos and music shows. If you can't find your favorite's signature, you can just ask the ahjumma and she will gladly point it to you. If you visit here, just be sure you're not coming for photos and to stare at signatures as that may irritate the owner. Be sure to get a drink, too.



I fangirl-ed hard just at this cafe alone and spent an hour and a half, which I shouldn't have and something I regretted later. If you are also making this as your first stop, 30 minutes is fine as you still have a long way to go!

SECOND STOP - JYP ENTERTAINMENT 

Why you would want to visit : Twice, Got7, 2PM, Miss A, Bae Suzy, Wonder Girls, Rain and so much more. This is home to some of the biggest names in K-pop. JYPe is also considered one of the TOP 3 entertainment agencies in K-pop. You also want to set this as your first stop at K-star Road is it's really convenient and easy to locate. It's just sad that they are moving out of this building after 17 years. 

Address : 41 Apgujeong-ro, 79-gil, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul 
Directions : 
I couldn't give you a proper directions as I just went on foot from Cofioca Cafe to JYP Building. It took me around 30 minutes of walking. I should have taken the bus or subway. I searched for directions on how to get to JYP and this is what I found :
1.) Take subway LINE 7 and get off at Cheongdam Station
2.) Take EXIT 9
3.) Walk straight until the BIG intersection. This may be a 5-10 minute walk. From there, cross the street.
4.) When you reach the other side of the road, turn right. Walk until you see a Baskin-Robins shop.
5.) From there, enter the small road and walk a few meters. You will see JYP entertainment, right in front of Dunkin Donuts.

How I actually got there : 
I kept walking and walking the main Gangnam Road until I saw this :

YASSS! OMG, I finally reached the K STAR ROAD where a lot of big K-pop agencies are!  Cube Entertainment used to be close to the JYP Building, too. But they already moved to another location.

If you see this map, take a photo of it as it will be really useful for your K-pop tour.

Once you see this sign along the road, walk through that and just few steps, you will see this. Once you spot a GS25 to your right and a Dunkin Donuts to your left, you know you're on the right track. 


Hello, JYP Building! 


My Experience :
It felt surreal! i used to just Google this place on Google and on Daum Maps. (If you know how to read Korean but can't go to Korea just yet, I really recommend you try Daum Maps. It would feel like you're walking the streets of Seoul and see establishments like this. You could also use to to plan your trip ahead.) Anyway, I'm also a fan of 2PM so I really wanted to come here and feel the vibe. There weren't a lot of fans outside. When I arrived around 11:00 AM, there were only 3 other girls. A few minutes later, a group of Pinoys arrived. It's funny because they are a mix of women and men and it seemed like only 1 of the group is into K-pop and her friends were nice enough to accompany her. I asked of the Pinoy guys to take this photo for me since I came alone.



Just be careful when you take photos infront of the building. It is located close to the main road so it's quite busy and cars pass by often, sometimes appearing out of nowhere so you really have to be careful.

But if you're here, be sure to go inside the Dunkin Donuts. The place has lots of JYP artists stuff like photos and letter and messages from fans who came to visit. What a lucky establishment. They won't even have to worry about promotion since they surely get tons of customers everyday. I'm sure JYP artists and trainees also come here often.

It's just sad that JYP is moving to another building. So this may be irrelevant once you visit Seoul. Still, it's fun to share my experience, too, right?

THIRD STOP - FNC ENTERTAINMENT

Why you would want to visit : CNBlue, F.T. Island, AOA, Seolhyun, Jung Hae In and so much more. These are top names in the K-industry. It's really convenient how these agencies are situated close to each other so taking tours like this for us first-timers become really easy!

Address : 06012 46 Dosan-daero 85-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Directions : 
This is really easy but if it's your first time and if you're going alone like me, walking few blocks may seem difficult, right? So what you can do is 
1.) Stand in front of JYP Building, Dunkin Donuts must be behind you
2.) Walk towards where your left is
3.) Few steps, you will see a street to your right, take that street
4.) Walk straight, walk past the first intersection until you reach the end of the road
5.) Turn left (you will see SM parking to your right when your walking)
6.)Walk straight and when you see a CU Convenience store, turn to your left before it
7.) You will see FNC Entertainment Building




Just after turning right from JYP Building, I saw this cool guesthouse. If you want to stay close where the agencies are, I guess staying here would be a wise choice. But I won't recommend it after your K-pop tour as Cheongdam-dong is situated far from the tourist places like Insadong and Myeond-dong.




My Experience :
FNC is really easy to find. Since it was late Autumn, I enjoyed my walked around Cheong-dam dong. The cool weather plus the lovely trees and colorful leaves were perfect. I was imagining all the Korean dramas and K-pop music videos I watched. Though, it would have been nicer if I was with someone so the experience would have been double the fun. The houses in Cheongdam-dong are mostly bricks and the interior looks mostly like those of what we see in Korean dramas. Take note that Cheong-dam is a place where rich people in Seoul live. I imagined what kind of jobs and businesses these people have... 

While searching for FNC Building, I saw a small sign that says SM Entertainment P. I thought to myself "Oh, great! This is SM Entertainment's Parking. I wonder where their building is... Anyway, I'll think of that later. Right now, I must find FNC first..."

There's a funny (and exhausting) story to this later. I took few selfies in front of the "Parking Lot" and then continued walking towards FNC.


Walk few steps and then you will see what seems to be FNC's parking area where a lot of black cars and vans are. Can you imagine how you would feel once you finally see these tinted black cars in person where your oppars and unnis get on?! I have to be honest and say I am not really a fan of FNC artists... but it still feels surreal and truly exciting. Non-kpop fans won't understand this. 

You will see a CU convenience store, turn left and you will see these signage that confirm you've arrived at FNC.



FNC's gate was just opened and unlike here in the Philippines, they do not have guards or securities in uniform standing my the entrance. I guess they just have security cameras. Even if you see doors and gates that are open, please take the higher ground by not getting in. It's your first time in Seoul and you don't want to mess it up, right?


So the adventures to finding SM Entertainment begins. I don't know how I should tell the story. If I should do it objectively and tell all the details how to get to the building. Or if I should share my funny experience. I will probably go with the latter. I was able to capture the moment on my Live Instagram video when I finally found the right SM Building I was looking for. 

It was almost 1 PM and I've only been to 3 spots. Remember I originally planned to go to 8 spots this day. It was autumn and you get almost no sunlight anymore when 5:30 PM hits. I was getting frustrated and hungry. 

I think I went around the same area three times trying to find SM Entertainment's Building. I also saw a building that seemed like another entertainment agency. I think I may have seen the boys in the poster. If you watch the video I embeded in this blog post, you will see that I was able to quickly capture some guys in black padded jackets. At that time, I didn't know they were singers. I thought it was just cute how they were all wearing same padded jackets. But now that I Googled, I think I really saw them in person. 

The poster says their release is November 1, 2017. I did this K-pop tour on November 5, 2017. I found this photo that seems like it was taken somewhere around the area, too.

Anyway, I kept walking trying to look for SM Building but continued to fail. 

Most of the time, I just took random photos, did Instagram live and imagined again all the Korean dramas and K-pop music videos I watched that may have been shot around the area. It was funny because I was hungry and I also needed to use the restroom... but there aren't any restrooms nor any convenience stores around.

I decided to go back to the CU store near FNC Building. Since I can speak Korean, I asked the Korean lady at the store. Turns out, she's also an EXO fan so she was really eager to help me. She asked if I wanted to go to the "small" building or the "big" building. Who would want to go to a "small" building, right? So I said, I want to go to the "big" building. But in reality, I was just looking for the SM Building that is said to be somewhere near FNC. While I'm at it, I went ahead and tried this CU sausage that was worth W1,500 (Php70). It was delicious and meaty but it was ref-cold.

The girl showed me the map and told me it's a 30-minute walk from the CU store to the "big" SM building. So I left and embarked on my journey.

If you are traveling to Seoul and can read Korean, I recommend installing Kakao Map on your phone. This screenshot was taken from that app. If you enter the start point and your desired destination, it will give you different route options : either on foot, by car, by bus, by subway, etc. It will also give you subway stations, bus stations and arrival time, the distance and also the calories you will burn should you decide to go on foot. It also has navigator so you see where you are as you go. This is a really helpful app!



Just be warned that places on phone maps appear closer than they are in real life. 

It was still fun to be able to walk the streets of Gangnam. I used to just imagine it so even if I was walking, was hungry and was getting lost, I still felt energetic and excited!



I saw this cafe along the road. When you're Pinoy and you see a fellow Pinoy in Korea, you say "Hi, Bebe!"


Few Olive Young stops after, I finally reached the final intersection. It meant I was close to SM Entertainment building!


Lo and behold. It was the "big" SM Entertainment building but it was not the building I was intending to go. Turns out, I was actually looking and wanting to go to the "small" SM Building. 


FOURTH STOP : SM ENTERTAINMENT COMMUNICATION CENTER



It was years ago since I last Googled SM Entertainment Building so I had no idea what this building or why the Korean girl thought I wanted to come here...


Turns out, this was the old SM TOWN building, only newly renovated and designed! It wasn't a bad idea anymore since it was also my dream to see this ever since I've become a fan of SHINee and would watch their iconic practice room videos with that iconic blue sky wallpaper. I'm pretty sure it was inside one of the room in this building, right?


I guess one of the downsides of fangirling alone is that you're not as brave and as adventurous as you would if you came with a friend or a relative. You become afraid to explore buildings... I thought this building had become SM's center for all their staff and employees and that fans are off-limits. So I just took some photos outside. The trees were beautiful anyway. After, I left hoping to still find the "smaller " SM.

Apparently, SUM CAFE is inside this SM Building!!! AHHH!!!


SUM CAFE Address : 648 Samsung-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

Why you would want to visit : SUM Market (Cafe) is the place in which you can find everything about the SM artists. It is located in the underground floor of the SM Communication Center. There, you will find variety of edible and collaborative products featuring SM artists : TVXQ, Boa, Super Junior, Girls Genereation, Shinee, f(X), Red Velvet, NCT and of course, EXO!

Directions :
1.) Take the subway going to Cheongdam Station (LINE 7)
2) Get off and then look for EXIT 6
3.) From EXIT 6, walk straight
4.) Just few steps from EXIT 6, you will see SM Entertainment to your left

Since there is not way I am walking again from the "big" SM building back to where I came from, I decided to take the subway. I was getting nervous since I couldn't find any money changer and my subway card only has around W4,000. I took the subway from Cheongdam Station going to Apgujeong Rodeo Station. But this time, instead of taking EXIT 6 like the first time, I took EXIT 1. This map shows directions from Apgujeong Rodeo Station EXIT 1 going to SM Entertainment Building.

Subway stations in Korea are out of the ordinary since there are cafes, restaurants, shopping malls and even events happening. I happen to see this GOT7 pop up in Cheongdam Subway Station.


One of the things that you have to note when travelling to Korean for the first time is that, unlike here in the Philippines, restrooms and money changers aren't always around so be sure you use the bathroom before leaving your hotel and have more than enough money in case you see something you want to buy, get extremely hungry or worse, you could take a taxi in case you get lost. 

What a lovely sight! I'm sure you won't mind getting lost, too, if you are to walk along safe and colorful roads like this!


From the subway station going to SM, I passed by Cheongdam Middle School. It definitely looks like one of those schools where they shot an idol episode of Dream Team.

After 20 minutes of walking, I finally reached SM ENTERTAINMENT!!! OMG!

FIFTH STOP - SM ENTERTAINMENT STUDIO CENTER

Why you would want to visit : This is the building where fans often see SM artists. I've read various blogs posts and Twitter updates of some fans who came here who were able to see them. I was not expecting to see anyone, though. I just really wanted to see their building in real life and of course, take photos in front of it.

Address : 106-16 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea 
Directions :
1) Take subway going to Apgujeong Rodeo station
2.) Get off and take EXIT 1
3.) From EXIT 1, turn to your right then walk straight
4.) Keep walking until you reach the end of the road
5.) From there, turn to right street
6.) Walk straight. This may be a long walk (about 20 minutes), Your landmark must be a park.
7.) Finally, to your right, you will see the blue building of SM Entertainment



My Experience : I TELL YOU, IT WAS SURREAL!! All the walking and getting lost were nothing compared to the happiness I felt when I finally saw SM's building. Again, I know that statement is cringey to a non-Kpop fan. But it just feels like a dream that I was finally able to see it in person after years and years of dreaming and hoping. It was a Sunday when I went so there weren't many people waiting. After few minutes, all the other girls left and I was the only one who stayed staring at the building in disbelief. I mean, Chen or Leeteuk could be inside that building at that very same moment, right?!

However, I tried my best not to look creepy. I didn't peak through the windows nor did I touch anything. For me, just the mere sight of the blue glass was enough. After taking photos, I sat on one of the benches in the park. There was a couple exercising while I was there. I grabbed my phone and did a quick Instagram live to update my followers I finally found the "small" building after hours of searching.



I tried my best to look calm and composed in the photos, but my soul was screaming!



You will understand me if you are an SM-artist FAN. Actually, no, you will understand me is you are a K-pop fan in general.

Sooooo, done with SM! Now, I need to hurry to Bighit Building. I still want to quickly drop by YG Building and then choose between Chanyeol's or Kai's resto so I could finally eat my first meal of the day. Out of curiosity, I tried to walk past the small alley to the right of the blue building. I wondered if there were any cars at that time. But lo and behold! I found this spot!!!


IT WAS THE SAME PARKING LOT I SAW PRIOR TO FNC BUILDING!!! I was actually at SM Entertainment's Compund already without me realizing it! 

So, instead of going round and round Cheongdam-dong looking for SM Building, what you should do instead after going to FNC is to just walk straight the alley and then once you reach the end of the road, simply turn right and you will arrive at SM Entertainment! I can't believe I walked for 2 and a half hours...


I took a selfie so I would remember that moment of awkwardness. I was actually doing a live Instagram video and was showing my followers what was behind the blue SM Building when I saw that what's behind it is the SM parking lot I already saw earlier. I literally screamed. 


It was getting dark and I still had many places that I wanted to visit. 

The map said I could walk from SM Entertainment going to Big Hit Entertainment but it would take 30 minutes. There's no way I am walking again so I decided to take the bus. It was my FIRST ever bus ride in Korea! 

If you like in a tropical country and it's your first time to visit a country that has Autumn and Winter seasons, you may find it weird that most establishments, stores and vehicles feel warm inside. We are used to that feeling of "relief" once we finally get on a vehicle and cool air greats us. Here, it's the other way around. I felt my cheeks burn each time I got on a vehicle. 

SIXTH STOP - BIG HIT ENTERTAINMENT

Why you would want to visit : Because BTS. I didn't know that Bighit already moved to another building so I went to the old one. But if you are an ARMY, it would really be a pleasure to see where the boys started and somehow imagine their humble beginnings. Imagine them walking the same roads and eating at same convenience stores. 

Address : Nonhyeon-ro 128-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Directions : 
1.) Take the subway going to Sinsa Station
2.) Get off and find EXIT 1
3.) Walk straight then count until the 7th road to your right
4.) You should see the Nimble Building on your right, when you see it turn right
5.) Walk straight, turn right on the first street
6.) Just few steps, you will see a CU Convenience store, turn left
7.) It's a slope up. Few steps you will see Neuls Flower Cake, turn right
8.) Just few steps from there, you will see the old and highly vandalized Bighit Entertainment Building



My experience : My directions seem easy and organized, right? It seemed I did not have a hard time at all! Wrong! I don't even remember which bus station the driver dropped me off. It took me a good 30 minutes of walking, asking some random Koreans and getting lost and going through the same roads before I finally found the building. Now that I am writing this blog post, I am certain it would be easy to go by subway rather than by bus, especially if you aren't familiar with Korean bus system yet. From there, finding the building is easy.


I was not expecting anything at all. I wasn't also expecting this is the old Bighit Building nor was I expecting their building would be filled be vandals and writings from fans. If you visit, you will see all sorts of messages written in different languages. I understand fans feel excited and they want to express their feelings. But I'm glad this is BTS' old building. Can you imagine if you were to go to work and your office is filled with writings on the wall? 





Every area imaginable is filled with writings!


I hope you don't hate me for taking photos at the balcony. The sun was setting and the view from their balcony was spectacular. From then on, I gave up all the hopes I can still visit the other K-pop spots that I wanted to see. I just sighed and promised myself I will be back in Seoul so I could continue my K-pop fan tour. 



This road sign should be your landmark if you're going to visit. 

I finished the tour at 6:00 PM. I was tired, hungry and out of Korean won but I was happy and felt fulfilled! It was like a dream come true for me to finally see those establishments in person. I am 100% sure you will even be more happy when you finally see them in person, too. Just remember all the tips I gave you and take note of all the details. Be sure to bookmark this blog post!

MY PLANNED ITINERARY
1. Cofioca Cafe
2. JYP Building 
3. FNC Building
4. SM Entertainment
5. SM Coex Atrium
6. YG Building
7. Bighit Building
8. EXO's Chanyeol or Kai Resto

WHAT MY ACTUAL ITINERARY WAS :
1. Cofioca Cafe
2. JYP Building
3. FNC Entertainment
4. SM Communication Center (SUM)
5. SM Studio Center
6. BigHit Entertainment

THE IDEAL ITINERARY
1. Cofioca Cafe 
2. SM Studio Center
3. FNC Entertainment
4. JYP Building
5. SM Communication Center (SUM)
6. Bighit
7. KAI's Kamong Cafe
8. YG Building
*This itinerary is perfect because it saves time from going back and forth certain roads. If you are staying around Myeongdong, you could either set YG Building as the first destination or the last destination since it's the closest to Myeongdong area. I eliminated Chanyeol's restaurant as it's really far from the other places. You may set another day for COEX Atrium and Chanyeol's Restaurant because I heard COEX Atrium is quite big and it might take hours to really explore and enjoy the place.




There's another funny story right after I took this photo : I got lost because I got off the wrong bus station, I couldn't ride another bus because I didn't know where I was so I could not search for the next bus station, I couldn't take the subway because my subway card doesn't have enough credits. I couldn't take a taxi either because I did not have any Korean won. I was hungry but couldn't buy any food because I ran out of Korean money. I couldn't exchange any money because I couldn't find any money changer. I will tell more about this funny incident in another blog post so be sure to come back to this blog for more Korea travel tips, itineraries and stories!


If you liked this post, please don't forget to FOLLOW me on my social media accounts!

Kristine  
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