Monday, December 2, 2013

Seoul Exciting! (16 Oct - 20 Oct 13) :D

This update on my Seoul trip is long overdue.
On most days, there isn't the luxury of time to sit down for an extended period of time to edit the photos and pen down my thoughts.
On other days, I've been busy with work, weddings, baking, and mainly celebrations of many sorts.
Alas, my body gave me a last warning to rest properly as I was plagued by a fever of 39.1 degrees yday.
 It crippled the last bit of energy in me, I've slept for 1 day and 1 night. lol!
I'm feeling much better today already.
Hence, with the extra bit of time on hand, I thought I can provide this update. teehee.
*massive photo overload ahead

Had decided on the virgin trip to Seoul after Scoot launched this flight.
Paid about $1,200 for 2 person as I've upgraded to better seats with extra leg space.

As I'm travelling with my mum, her comfort is my top priority.
Even though the upgrade made the trip more costly, I thought it was well worth every penny!

Look at the amount of leg space we got to enjoy :D
Some passengers upgraded their seats halfway through the journey as well. 

Overall, the journey was pleasant.
My only gripe is that Scoot's flight to Seoul includes a stopover at Taiwan.
It's pretty torturous to lug our stuff, get down the plane, to pass customs, get up the flight again. 
Given a choice, I'd fly SIA next time as it's a direct flight.
No more transits for me. *shudders

We landed in Seoul at about 11pm, and all modes of public transport had ceased operations for the day.
Luckily for us, we met a solo female traveller who spoke fluent korean.
We shared a cab down to Myeong-dong and Hongdae as it was along the way.
I really can't imagine how I'd have to play charades with the non english speaking taxi driver.
It took about 1 hr to reach Myeong dong where our hotel (Nine Tree Hotel Myeong Dong) was located,
and we crashed on our beds after taking a shower.

Day 1

The day started out sunny, with crisp cool air caressing our faces we stepped out of the hotel lobby.
The street was still rather empty, and I stood there for a good one minute just to enjoy the cool breeze.
It was about 15 degrees if I didn't remember wrongly.
Such a lovely weather to be in.

As this was a 4 days trip, I didn't plan for a detailed itinerary.
The intention was to roam freely in Seoul, mainly to just shop and enjoy the sights. 
Here's me, upon chancing upon a make up stall's ambassadors.
My colleague said that I looked like I found my long lost sisters. haha!

Headed to this TwoTwo chicken place for brunch, which is hugely raved by many.
This is just one order of the original flavored chicken.
We could barely finish the portion.

The chicken skin was so good.
Thin, crisp, and totally not oily!
I love dipping the chicken in salt. 
It helps to give the chicken flavor an extra oomph!

After lunch, we went to the famous Dongdaemun area to shop.
Of the lot of shopping malls, I preferred Doota the most.
It has the trendiest stuff, and the building is most well-maintained.
Here's me with a knit toy soldier pullover that I found randomly in Myeong dong.
It cost me about $20 only!
From the background, I'm sure you can tell that most of the stuff are winter clothes :(
They are gorgeous, but not suitable for the Singapore humid and hot weather.
Perhaps I'd head to Seoul again in Spring / Autumn nx time :)
I heard the shopping is really good for Singaporeans during those seasons.

Next up, we had this Han Style Experience at The Korea House.
It's just a stone's throw away from Chungmuro MTR.
Came across this online previously, and thought it'd be pretty interesting!
For just KRW30,000 ($35) per person, we get the following:

1) Korean hands-on cooking (80mins)
2) Korean Hanbok experience (20mins)
3) Hangeul & Korean paper experience (20mins)
4) Traditional Korean Art Performance (60mins)

We are preparing this simplified version of kimchi for the day!
There's this broiled pork that goes together with it as well.

Both my mum and I agreed the dish was really good!
We finished almost all of it. 
We were initially quite apprehensive about eating it as we are not kimchi lovers.
It tends to be too overwhelming for our tastebuds.
However, this version is much more subtle in its chili and onion taste.
 Plus, the pear juice and pear bits made the whole dish super delicious 
as they go well with the slightly salty broiled meat.

Next up was the calligraphy session.
Yup, that's my name in Hangeul.
We were supposed to practise writing our names.
But we were all so distracted by the rack of gorgeous hanboks!
The instructor had a difficult time trying to hold our interests,
 while explaining the history of calligraphy and hanboks. lol.

My mum got the royal hanbok, while I got a 21st birthday hanbok.
omg. Should I feel flattered that I look like I'm 21 this year?!
Oh yes, they chose the hanbok for you after sizing you up.
There were some over zealous tourists who accidentally pushed the entire rack of hanboks over,
much to the dismay of the instructors.
Hence, we can't choose our own hanboks, 
and had to wait our turn for the instructors to pass them to us.

After the hanbok session, we headed to their theatre for the traditional performances.
There were many dance performances, and they were really good!

Really enjoyed the Han Style experience thoroughly,
and would definitely recommend it to any first-time travellors to Seoul :D
Even if you do not want to enrol in the programme, do check out the Korea House.
Its traditional architecture and classical atmosphere is enough for you to feel awed. 

With that, we ended our first day!
Can't recall what we had for dinner, but I do think we had tried some very yummy street food.

Day 2

Started the second day with brunch at the Myeongdong Gyoja place.
It's apparently very famous, and boy, 
I'm so glad I stayed in Myeong Dong cuz there's really tons of good food!
This noodles place has been around for 40 years, and is famous for their knife cut, hand made noodles
They only have 4 items on the menu. 
And judging by the crowd, those 4 must be pretty amazing dishes. 

We ordered the gyojas, and handcut noodles.
It was the most amazing gyojas I've ever eaten.
The skin was thin and soft, and it melts into this bursting flavor of well seasoned meat and vegetables.
The meat was tender and the soup within the skin just explodes in your mouth.
Simply the best of the best.

The noodles were very special as well.
They were so soft that I thought they were going to melt in my mouth any moment.
It's unlike any other noodles I've ever tasted in my life.
For most noodles, you can feel the distinct strands and its thickness as you bite into them,
but for these noodles, they seem to not undertake any shape as you devour them.
It's almost like they swish down your throat as soon as you taste them.
Plus, the broth is so thick and flavourful that you can't help but finish them all.

Guess what? It doesn't come with a hefty price-tag. 
Every dish here is KRW8000 ($9.50) and the portions are generous enough for 2-3 to share.
We went out feeling very satiated and warm with all the soupy goodness :)

For the rest of the day, we shopped around Dongdaemun and Myeong Dong.
Had went to Hongdae for a while too, but found the sun to be a little overbearing.

When night fell, we headed to Hongdae again to try out this place called Mammoth Grill House.

It's basically a korean bbq house,
and for KRW11,000 ($12.80) per person, you get unlimited servings of the meat and veg.
The waitresses couldn't speak much english,
and we had a bit of difficulty conversing with each other.
One funny moment was when I pointed to the meat section, and asked one of them:
"Which is pork?"
She pointed to each meat and stated the respective meat type.
There came one where she said "Dog" (or least that was what it sounded to me)
I was absolutely horrified as images of the dog I kept at home flashed through my mind.
I gasped and went "Dog?! No, no, no dog meat for me."
The waitress realized something was amiss and crossed her arms over each other to show a "x" sign,
and gestured the "x" sign repeatedly while saying "no dog, no dog! errrr. Dog-dugk-duck!"
That was then I got her message that its duck meat, not dog meat. lol.
So much drama over a duck dish. lol. 

Drama aside, the dinner was pretty alright for a cheap bbq place :)
It would be good for big eaters, 
but both my mum and I couldn't eat beyond 6 pieces of wrapped meat each.

When we went out on the streets, we saw this really adorable kitten mascot.
It went into a squatting position in the middle of the street, and this attracted many curious onlookers. :D
I know for a fact that there are many cats and dogs cafes in Seoul,
but I didn't know it's such a competitive market.
We can easily spot about 3 - 4 such mascots at any turn of the street.

We went on to shop even more, and that concluded our second day!

Day 3

Woke up all excited to dress up 'cause
I found this gorgeous Chanel inspired bag off the street on the second day!
It's KRW45,000 ($52)
but thedetailing of the quilt bag was good,
and the pink was too pretty to resist :D

Headed to the Trick Eye Museum in Hongdae in the morning :)
We have never been to such a museum, and thought it would be pretty fun.
As it was a Saturday, it was rather crowded.
If you ever go, please go on a weekday instead. 

We were famished when we were done with all the photo-taking,
and we popped by a random stall for lunch.
This was garlic rice with stir fried chicken.
Pretty yummy for fuss free food.

Thereafter, it was more shopping again!
This time, at Hongdae. :D
Generally, I feel that the stuff at Hongdae are not much different from Myeongdong and Dongdaemun.
Plus, it's all winter clothes with all the knit wear, long sleeve dresses, and boots.
I felt quite sad that I came at the wrong season.
Couldn't really bring myself to purchase any more of the winter stuff as they really aren't suitable back home.

Onto happier stuff, we tried korean street ice cream.
My mum had stared at me like I was a mad woman when I told her I wanted ice cream.
She thought it was too cold for such an icy treat.
Heh, turned out that she enjoyed it so much that she ate almost half of it -.-
The ice cream was super yummy!
It's not as creamy as brands such as Magnum's or Nestle's
The milk taste is much more subtle, yet it's much more fragrant.
You wouldn't tire of eating it, nor will you find it to be overbearingly sweet.
It's a perfect blend of flavor and lightness.
I can eat this for dessert after every meal. :D

Tried this twist potato stick as well.
I'm not sure what's the orange powder that they dip this stick into,
but it does make the potato have this tinge of sweetness + saltiness.
The potato isn't as crisp as potato chips.
The skin area is crisp, andthe main body is slightly chewy.
But it doesn't taste soggy or anything.
Do try it if you have a chance to!

That sums up our day 3!

Day 4

Last day in Seoul!
Went to Paris Baguette for a quick breakfast before proceeding to Changdeokgung.
We were rushing for the Secret Garden tour (Huwon tour) at 10am.
 Paris Baguette is everywhere in Seoul, and the locals seem to hold the place in high esteem.
Back to the Changdeokgung palace, it is the second royal villa built, 
and was the principal palace for manyof the Joseon kings. 
It's the most well preserved of the five remaining royal Joseon palaces.

I found the whole vast space to be very serene and awe inspiring.
The architecture, the long winding roads, the colors. 
During those times, only the royals have their houses painted in colors.
The commoners' places are all natural teak colors. 
Nothing outlandish or bright. 

The above picture shows an example of a commoner's place.
It's brown, as compared to the earlier brightly-colored villas.

We had went on the huwon tour, which is the Secret Garden's tour.
It's the private resting area of the royals, hence its name.
The grounds is huge for a garden, and the whole atmosphere was thought provoking.
To think we're treading on the grounds which the king had sole access to previously..
South Korea has changed so much since his reign.
In this palace with so much ancient untouched beauty, it feels like we have been transported back in time, 
and it feels too good to be true that we were indeed walking on his grounds.

After an hour of touring, we headed back to Myeongdong for some last minute shopping.
Also managed to pop by O'sulloc Tea House, which has everything green tea!
 Here's a Green Tea latte and a green tea swiss roll.

With that, we went back to our hotel to pack up and check out.
Before we know it,
we were on the plane again.

Here's our loots from the trip!

Psst, I miss the Binggrae banana milk so much that I hunted them down in Singapore!

Overall, I really enjoyed this trip to Seoul.
I enjoyed simmering in their atmosphere, absorbing their culture,
appreciating their food, and buying all their home brands.
It's a wonderful place to live and play in, 
and I really hope plans to head there for next year will materialize :)
*keeps fingers crossed