Day 1 – July 29th
With an 11 hour flight, an 8 hour time difference and an arrival time of 8am equating to about 23 hours of no sleep, you can bet day 1 in Seoul was more or less a complete write-off, however we did manage to get a little bit of exploration in. Where we stayed at our Airbnb was super close to the man-made stream that runs through the centre of the city – the Cheonggyecheon. A walk after all that flight time was more than necessary!
Bewildered and boiling, we dipped our feet in the water and had a slow walk around Myeongdong (shopping heaven!). Ended up in a 70’s radio bar – it wasn’t very Korean at all! But in our messy states, it was all I could do to not feel too much pressure to speak Korean perfectly after around 36 hours of consciousness. A set of very yummy chicken tacos and a bottle of soju later, it was time for some sleep!
Day 3 – July 31st
After two days of more or less winging it at convenience stores, it was time to find a real supermarket on day 3. Our Airbnb host was really helpful and showed us a big E-Mart four subway stops over in Wangsimni. Came across a gorgeous park with monuments and wall painting photo opportunities – the exact kind that I wanted to paint on the walls of my cat café! In case it wasn’t obvious already, I’m a huge fan of Korean culture; K-Pop, K-Dramas, the language and instagrammable cafés/stores, so I wanted to incorporate those influences into the interior design to combine the gorgeous Cornish coastline with other sources of creative inspiration to make something totally unique.
In the evening we went to our first cat café in Seoul. When we arrived in Korea, I did some research into some of the cafés available and checked over the reviews as I didn’t want to endorse or spend money on anything that wasn’t a safe and comfortable environment for the animals. I saw a lot of 5 star reviews for one in particular named Godabang and a lot of people saying it was the best in Seoul. My first mistake however, was no paying enough attention to the rest of the café listings.
For some reason, my dumb butt went around town thinking that there would only be one or two animal-themed cafés in the area, so when we came across a cute cat mascot with a huge fluffy cat head dressed in a onesie and handing out flyers for a nearby café, I didn’t even question that it wouldn’t be Godabang. I was wrong, and unfortunately we found ourselves in what was essentially the cat equivalent of a mosh pit at a heavy metal concert. Don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t necessarily a lot of loud hissing and fighting going on, but it also definitely wasn’t ideal for the cats. Any cat owner knows that cats don’t have to be biting and scratching to be very uncomfortable in their surroundings.
At first everything was fine and well. There were play towers, toys, wall shelving units for the cats to get some alone time out of human reach if they wanted to, as well as a cat-sized hole in the wall which presumably went off into a completely separate room for the cats to be in should they feel so inclined. However, the more time we spent here, the more saddened we felt by the apparent lack of care or attention on the owner’s part to properly look after these cats. When we sat down, we were greeted with a sign directing us as to what we should and should not do in the café. We should leave sleeping cats alone, never pick a cat up and take no photos with the flash on.
As you probably guessed, these rules definitely were not followed 24/7, and I appreciate that as the owner of a cat café, you can’t be everywhere at once, but in this case I felt disapproving towards the owner herself after watching her yank a cat from a table top whilst he was licking the remnants of the cat snacks they’d provided (given to him by a very absent minded girl who was half on her phone, half feeding the cat and so didn’t notice that she’d dropped food, nor intervened when the owner scolded said cat) and then dropped him onto the floor, catching his leg on a cardboard scratching post and stumbling. People (children in particular) picked up and bothered certain cats persistently, even right in front of the cashier’s desk where the employees were working, and nothing was said, and on top of that it seemed upon closer inspection that there were far FAR too many cats in such a limited space. Granted, I didn’t know the size of the separate room, but we tried to count the cats that we could see and lost count past the 30 mark.
Retrospectively, I re-examined the photos we’d taken afterwards and realised that (again, my dumb butt!) hadn’t even noticed that on the sign on the bottom floor it had clearly stated that they house not 30, not 40, but 50 freaking cats in one tiny café. Crazy! We were pretty scarred from our first cat café experience, and left quickly to go find somewhere to eat for dinner.
Day 10 – August 7th
We were trying to save themed cafés for days when the weather wasn’t so great as we had arrived in Seoul in the midst of monsoon season, closely followed by the hottest 43 degree weather I had ever experienced, so we ended up getting a lot of the outdoors-y stuff done over the course of the first week: visiting Namsan tower, Gyeongbokgung palace, exploring the different districts of Hongdae and Gangnam. It wasn’t until just over a week into our trip that we decided on visiting a popular meerkat café, again in the Myeongdong area, so we went in the evening after a day of sightseeing in the gorgeous Bukcheon Hanok Village – a village that had a lot of traditional Korean houses. Apparently they are worth over $1’000’000 each and people still live in them, with a lot of the interiors actually having been renovated to be very modern!
We had come across numerous cat cafés since visiting the last one, but after my lack of proper research the first time round, I was a bit nervous about paying money to get into another place where the cats were poorly treated or living in a crappy environment. I had heard however that this particular meerkat café, Eden Meerkat Friends had very good reviews.
We were greeted by a free-roaming raccoon, which was odd as we were expecting meerkats, but as it turned out there were several types of animals – including cats – at this particular café, but it seemed like meerkats were their main focus as they were the most common animals there with two separate closed off sections. Each kind of animal seemed to have their own section closed off from the others – the cats and raccoons each in a respective cage, and the meerkats and wallabies in their own glass rooms. There were also fish! The kind that you could pay to have nibble your feet, but I’m actually a bit squeamish about fish, so we took a pass on that one. Initially I thought we’d made another mistake with this place, what with such a small amount of space per animal, but it turned out the animals had shifts in which they would be let out and given full roam of the room. To be honest, I still wasn’t 100% happy about this, but compared to what we’d seen, this place was much better in terms of care. They were quite strict about the rules that they were enforcing, which was reassuring to see.
We ended up having a lot of fun, with mum victim to the head honcho meerkat falling asleep on her lap and myself making friends with the youngest wallaby. As we were making to leave, one of the workers quickly ran over to us with the Genet cats she was helping interact with customers and had them walk along our shoulders! It was very sweet and a kind touch on the employee’s part. I felt a good aura from the people working there – that they were experienced and strict with rules, only wanting the best for the animals there, which was really lovely.
Day 12 – August 9th
It wasn’t until 12 days in that I felt confident and determined to find Godabang! I had researched meticulously and I was convinced that this was the only place – if any – that I could pin my hopes on to demonstrate a good cat café. I knew the way (more or less, cities are hard!) and we set off back into the centre of Myeongdong.
Upon entering, there was a separate little room (as there had been with the other cafés) prefacing the main one where you could change into slippers (a Korean custom) and also read the rules printed on a cute cat paw next to the door. Unlike the other places, this one seemed considerably calmer than the ones we visited. Everyone seemed to be moving slowly and letting the cats roam about as they wished and the music was quieter and calmer than that of the others had been. Generally there just seemed to be a pretty relaxed atmosphere.
This was unfortunately to the exception of one little girl, maybe around 6 years old, who obviously didn’t know any better and was for – want of a better word – torturing this little munchkin kitten that was trying desperately to escape her grasp. [I feel like I probably have to disclaim that due to the nature of the subject matter, I’m probably always going to find an issue with an animal themed café just because I’ve yet to come across one that is totally successful, but I suppose that is also true of any business. For me at least, cat welfare was the number 1 priority in these cases, so apologies for the edge of negativity in each of these encounters – I am speaking from the perspective of a cat lover. I’m also gonna skim over the fact that it was a munchkin cat to begin with, just know that I don’t agree with the breeding of this type of cat, I feel its cruel, but in any case, there was a munchkin cat.]
This poor kitten was being picked up incessantly by this little girl, much to the ignorance or just sheer lack of care on the parent’s part. She kept putting this kitten into a box on the shelf, and obviously it couldn’t get out because of it’s tiny legs, so I had to keep politely talking to this girl in my limited Korean and taking the kitten out. This happened two or three times. I was losing hope a little until one of the employees spotted what was going on and gently scolded her, putting the kitten in my lap – to which of course it responded by running off again, bless it. If only we could communicate! I could have saved it from the tyranny of this little girl!
Other than this incident, we had such a wonderful time at this cat café! The employees really seemed to love these cats, and knew each of their habits and personalities. They brought out toys when it was playtime and blankets when they were getting sleepy. There was a sweet little black and white kitten who was very playful, and went crazy when the boy next to me started waving one of the toys around, which was entertaining to no end, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t seem to win the affection of any of the cats! I’d stroked a few, but largely they weren’t interested in me, which was totally fine (other than my complete and obvious desire for kitty snuggs) but the employees were consistently trying to help me out. They kept plonking down a cat on my lap and I would tell them it was fine, as said cat sauntered right back off again. That was until the fateful time – nap time.
I hit the jackpot. After about an hour of being there, the boss came over to me without a cat in hand and instructed me through miming and the odd English word to straighten my legs out flat, laying a blanket over them. I was confused, but did as I was told, thinking that this was a very uncomfortable way to sit and I couldn’t for the life of me think why they had a preference, when she came back over with a half-asleep tabby and lay him across my legs so that he was flat on his back. She then placed another blanket over him with his little paws sticking out over the edge and oh. my. goodness. I had peaked. There was never gonna be a cuter moment than this; and then she brought over the sleeping munchkin kitten and put her on his legs. I felt like I had the weight of humanity on my shoulders to not move an inch and disturb these sleeping cats. It would be a sin of the highest kind.
Needless to say, I loved it here. 9/10. Look at them!!!!!!
- Cheonggyecheon evening light show
- Han river cruise
- SMTown museum
- COEX Mall
- Street foooooood
- Manicure in Hongdae
- Trick eye museum