The trip to Seoul was planned sometime in September 2010, and then the tickets were bought sometime in November. And then… North Korea fired shots and tension rose and the the trip to Seoul became an uncertain one. Thankfully, everything cooled down a little, so we decided to go ahead with the trip. When we got there, it seemed like nothing happened, life went on as usual.
We didn’t do much on our first day. Mainly because we all took different airlines to Korea, arrived at different times, so we pretty much ended up spending most of our time at the airport waiting for each other. By the time the last of us arrived, it was already evening, and by the time we got to our hotel, it was already dark and time for dinner. The hotel we stayed at was way better than we had expected, the price was pretty reasonable too (includes breakfast to your doorstep!), and I loved the floor heating.
Before the trip, Flo and I had a rough itinerary of what we were going to do for the first week (they were only there for a week, and I stayed on) The original itinerary was suppose to look like this:
21 Jan: latest to arrive at 1620 reach hotel about 1800
go for dinner at gwangjang market (Jongno-3-ga Station Exit 12).
22 Jan: 5 palace route – Namsam Tower – Myeong dong
23 Jan: Sinsa-dong – Garaso gil – Hongdae
24 Jan: Namdaemun – Myeong dong – Dongdaemun
25 Jan: Ewha Uni – Sinchon (yonsei uni)
26 Jan: Samcheongdong – Insadong – Dongdaemun
27 Jan: Decide when we are in seoul, any places that we want to go or revisit.
28: earliest flight at around 3pm. incheon airport.
But… We obviously didn’t stick to it and it was changed as the trip went along. Haha.
While we were planning what to do, I insisted that we had to visit the old palaces, after a little bit of googling, we found this thing called the Palace route which takes you to about 5 different palaces. In the end we only visited one, Changdeokgung, which was the palace closest to where our hotel was. It was within walking distance!
We followed an English tour where the guide would bring you around the palace and introduce to you what the different areas were used for, where the King & Queen stayed (they had separate bedrooms due to Confucianism teachings blablabla), when the last royal family stayed/died etc. Changdeokgung is also the home of the Secret Garden, which is the King’s favorite garden or something and it’s suppose to be really nice and all. But we didn’t go in 😦 you have to buy another ticket to enter the place and I think we got sick of walking and wanted to look for food.
After lunch, we headed off to Namsan Tower. Again… it’s because I wanted to go there, so everyone kinda just got dragged there. Hehehehe.
It was the place that would always appear on TV where couples would come to lock a padlock together to signify their love or something. And they had signs everywhere telling you to not throw your key down, I guess that’s how a small key can become killer litter. Oh, and the Korean locals were more than happy to help us take our group photo exclaiming “KIMCHIII~!” and then going “Another one! KIMCHI~~!”
We walked uphill to get to the cable car station which took us to the tower. By the time we got to the cable car, we were all huffing and puffing. And then when we got to the station… we found out that there was this elevator thing that could take you uphill so you didn’t need to hike up. So we learnt our lesson and took that downhill when we eventually left the place for Myeongdong and Namdaemun. Didn’t do much there, we were tired and hungry. So all we did was a little shopping and then dinner and reached back at the hotel at about 8 or 9pm. We were asleep by like, 11pm or something. Oh, oh! It was also the day when we got separated and had a hard time looking for each other. It was a good thing that we got separated in pairs though. Imagine if you got lost alone. I was with Flo when the other two disappeared, so I was trying to look out for a girl with brown hair and army green jacket. But… there were so many people with brown hair and army green jackets! Her jacket was like the in-thing and everyone was wearing something similar. I was just pointing to almost every girl that had brown hair and army green jackets. But we found each other eventually, thankfully.
We spent the whole of our third day at Lotte World. Originally Flo thought that we would all be more interested at shopping than Lotte World, but then what’s a trip to Seoul without Lotte World?? So Lotte World it was.
The best part of Lotte World (to me) was the huuuuugggeeeee ice skating rink right in the middle of the building. The building is basically a mall plus an indoor amusement park, but there’s an outdoor part to the amusement park too. Which, we, unfortunately, didn’t get to enjoy because it was snowing pretty heavily that day 😦 The snow was pretty, no doubt, but… I was disappointed that we didn’t get to enjoy the rides outdoors (quite a few of the thrilling rides were outdoors). At first we were going ‘Yay, snow!’, after about what seemed to be 2 seconds ran back indoors because when snow melts, it becomes water, which meant that you get wet, which is not fun. Basically… we weren’t all that amazed by snow. Snow also meant slippery conditions which made walking from point A to point B in one piece, a difficult mission to accomplish.
Somehow we still managed to spend the whole day in the indoor part, queuing for rides, eating Bibimbap that came in a bowl was bigger than our faces, enjoying Churros and ice skating.
You get a discount for tickets into the ice skating rink with your Lotte World tickets. I was happily skating, avoiding bumping into little kids and the other people who were skating, and then… I tripped… and fell forwards… and then… bruised both my knees.
I would like to add that this is the first time I’ve fallen forwards, usually I fall on my bum? I would also like to add that it was super embarrassing and am glad that it’s a good thing that nobody knows who I am in Korea. Hehe. Unfortunately, the bruised knee came at the wrong time because Chinese New Year was coming up, and I couldn’t possibly show up at people’s houses with such scary knees. So… I ended up wearing jeans to cover them up. I was partially freaking out about how I should cover up the bruise (concealer, maybe?). By the way, the knee is still slightly bruised now, and it still hurts when I press it. Sigh, why is it taking so long to heal! Why??
From our third day onwards, we kinda just threw the itinerary to the back of our minds and failed to stick to it. Like… failed to the max, fail. I don’t remember what did we do on Day 4. Umm… we went to Ewha Women’s uni, where there are a lot of little quaint shops. Found a Charlie Brown cafe and a Hello Kitty Cafe. After that we decided to head to Dongdaemun, but it wasn’t open yet. They only open at 7pm and stay open till like, 5am. Fortunately for us, there was one building open, so we could still do a little ‘warm up’ shopping before the real shopping began.
Visited Itaewon during Day 5, didn’t see much that interested us, attempted to walk to the National Museum but found out that it was too far to walk and we would have to take the subway, so we headed off to Hongdae instead where the Coffee Prince cafe was located. Unfortunately, the cafe was pretty packed and they only serve drinks there (we were hungry and wanted food). So we headed to this other cafe that was just opposite.
And then… I think we went back to Myeongdong for more shopping. The atmosphere at Myeongdong at night is always nice and lively. And we all went crazy shopping before stopping for dinner.
Slept in the next day because we’ve been staying out to shop and we were having trouble waking up early (especially for Flo & me).
We’ve been eyeing this Ginseng Chicken place for a few days, because we always walk past it on our way back from the subway station to our hotel. So we’ve already decided the night before that we would try it for lunch one day. And then we went back to Myeongdong yet AGAIN, so more shopping ensued, which explains the lack of pictures. The first few shopping trips to Myeongdong + Dongdaemun, we’ve been going clothes shopping. This shopping trip to Myeongdong was skincare shopping. The night before Flo was on the computer googling for reviews of masks and stuff in preparation. We were like making a mental list of masks to get or something. I’d be watching TV halfway and then Flo would pipe up saying ‘So-and-so says this mask is good! Let’s go get it!’ and then I tried one of the samples I got from an earlier trip to one of the brands during the first few days. It felt sooooo nice, so we were going ‘Let’s go back to get more!’ and then the other two girls would try theirs and come tell us how much they loved it, thus the mental list just grew longer and longer this way.
That day we visited all the various brands from Skinfood, to Innisfree, to Nature Republic, to Tony Moly and the list goes on. Finally we had to leave the place because we were suppose to meet Moohwan for dinner. Whom after that, kindly went shopping with us although we didn’t expect him to. In case you’re wondering… we went to Dongdaemun for more shopping. And then he realised why we didn’t take as many pictures as he had expected us to. Shopping = too busy for pictures.
Thanks for going shopping with us, Moohwan! I hope we didn’t bore you though, but it was great seeing you again! Hopefully I’ll see you again when you finish your army service 🙂
My last day with the girls was spent visiting a Hanok village (because we were all running low on money and had to think of something to do that didn’t require us spending even more).
We had a hard time looking for the place. So we stopped a couple to ask for directions, but they weren’t too sure themselves where the place was. But they were so nice to help us look for it, and then we eventually did. Wandered around the place, took pictures with their time capsule and headed off to Kangnam and Garusil-gil. We headed to Kangnam because Moohwan insisted that we should visit the place, and that it was a shopping area. It was like the place that he often heads to to meet up with his friends. In the end, we didn’t buy anything there and headed off to Garusil-gil. It was a place filled with nice, cosy cafes on both sides of the road.
Throughout this trip, we’ve been having about 4 meals a day. It’ll be breakfast, lunch, tea break and then dinner. And somehow, I managed to not put on weight despite eating so much. But then again, there are like stairs EVERYWHERE in Seoul, everywhere we went, we were climbing flights and flights of stairs. In Singapore, all our subway stations have escalators, in Seoul, only a handful of them have it. So, it was always a delight to find one with escalators. Every time we got to a flight of stairs, our faces seem to drop and sometimes you’ll hear ‘Ughhh… stairs AGAIN…’
Now I know why Koreans are so skinny, they walk so much and climb so many flights of stairs! Tsk tsk.
We picked this little tart cafe in Garusil-gil for our tea and shared three different slices of tarts amongst the four of us. My favorite was the Earl Grey Tart.
On our way back from Garusil-gil, there were people handing out heat packs (there are different kinds of these) outside a Lacoste shop. Everyone walked past without taking one, except me. It’s winter, and there are people giving out free heat packs, so.. why not? It’s so cute though, because they had stamped the brand ‘Lacoste’ on it. When we got back to the hotel, I was like ‘I HAVE A BRANDED HEAT PACK! IT’S LACOSTE!’. Hahaha.
On the way from the subway to the hotel, there’s these two street stalls that set up little orange tents by the road side selling food. We’ve always seen it on TV in k-dramas and variety shows, we’ve thought of trying them, but… we don’t understand Korean. Usually such stalls don’t have English menus. But, since it’s the last night, we decided to be adventurous and headed in.
The tent is suppose to keep the heat in and the cold out. The lady was really nice and patient with us although we took a long time to figure things out and decide on what to eat. I could only make out egg rolls and chicken-something on the menu. In the end, we ended up ordering two bowls of noodles, an egg roll (my fave of the night, so yummy!), chicken feet (which was waaayyyy to spicy, I had one mouthful and I think I teared) and rice wine (which we brought back to the hotel to finish).
When the girls left, I moved into a backpackers hostel which was a 2 minutes walk away from SungKyunKwan University. If you’ve since the k-drama SungKyunKwan Scandal, this is the university the drama was based on. It has a history which goes way back, and this was the place where the king would send the scholars to study. The best part is that, the old buildings which were used for the university during the olden times are still preserved on campus. It was like the place had been frozen time.
I wasn’t sure if outsiders were allowed onto campus, so I kinda snuck in. Okay, not really, I just pretended like I was suppose to be there and just walked in.
I was amused, mainly because I felt like I had walked into the set of the drama series. And the fire extinguishers looked really out of place because they don’t belong to that era. Haha. But it was interesting nonetheless.
There was no one around, so I thought that it must have been my lucky day. And then I walked further in and there was someone sweeping the floor, but the guy just stared at me and then walked away. Phew, not caught. And then I saw this student (I think) filming a professor (I think) in front of one of the main buildings. And again, I thought I was going to get chased out. But didn’t.
The place is pretty cool, because they have little boards with explanations as to what certain areas were used for, and it’s history etc, in English too! After this, I went back to Hongdae. I read that Hongdae was suppose to be the place where Indie bands perform and it’s where the popular clubs were, basically, it comes to life at night.
The place was vastly different to when I was with the girls in the day time to visit the Coffee Prince Cafe.
Stopped by one of the push carts for Dokbokki. SO GOOD! I miss it now 😦 I was so proud of myself too. I managed to order food in Korean with my non-existant Korean language skills. Yay me!
Junnie was finally free to meet up with me. This was also when I found out I didn’t have to sneak around the SungKyunKwan Uni campus, because the public was allowed to roam around their uni campuses. She also told me I could have visited any of the uni campuses and it would have been perfectly fine too. If only I knew this earlier…
Caught Green Hornet with her. And the cinema seats were super cool! Because it vibrates during the movie depending on what was happening on the screen. So during all the action scenes with explosions and gun shots and stuff, the seat would be vibrating, it was suppose to be like a 4D experience. Oh, and I like the 3D glasses they use in Korea than those we get in Singapore and Adelaide. They more comfortable and you don’t have to pay extra for them, why? Because you have to return them after the movie. Haha. Save the environment! Reuse! Recycle! But sterilise them first. Hahaha.
After that it was dinner!
According to Junnie, it’s suppose to be a fusion thing. Korea bbq slash… something. Haha. I don’t know. But it tasted good! Despite it’s spicy-ness being a little higher than my threshold.
And I also discovered that I can make my own gif images using Photoshop. I is slow. Sigh.
You know how in Singapore we have the Ez-link cards for transport? So that all we have to do is just tap and go? In Korea, they have T-money. The hotel we stayed in had free T-money cards for tourists, so we didn’t have to spend money to buy them. And then… I saw the T-money Junnie had. It was this cellphone accessory thing in the shape of Mickey. SO CUTE. I wanted one. It’s so cool, I want one. Why doesn’t Singapore or Adelaide have such cool stuff? Why! 😦
A big thank you to Junnie for the Starbucks, movie and dinner! Hopefully I’ll get to see you again, eventually. 🙂
My last day before I fly, was spent at the Korean National Museum.
The place is huge! I came across this place after walking through the main gate, towards the main exhibition centre (admission is free), and I realised that the sign said that it’s suppose to be a lake. The lake had frozen up and obviously someone or people had been walking on it (judging by the foot prints). I was half tempted to try, but there was no one around to save me should the ice give way and I didn’t really enjoy the thought of me falling into icy cold water.
I spent most of the day walking through the three (or was it 4?) different levels of exhibitions. And I noticed about 60% of the local visitors to the museum carried DSLRs. My mind screamed ‘Whoooaaaaa’. Actually it wasn’t uncommon to see people walking along the streets of Seoul carrying huge DSLRs while hanging out with their friends. In fact, I saw this father & daughter duo, each carrying one DSLR. I wished my family was that cool. Haha.
There was this little eatery place just downstairs of the hostel. They serve yummy kimbab and local Korean homecooking. I love their Kimchi Jigae, I liked it so much that I went back there again during my last night in Seoul. The first time I was there, I got 5 side dishes (it’s a popular fact that side dishes in Korea come free), the second time I went there, I got 6. Hahaha. Which was the same number of this Chinese couple that was seated beside me. The sixth and last side dish that came was a fried egg, and when it was served to me, the Chinese couple went ‘哇， 她有蛋嘞。(Wah, she got an egg)’ because they were served some other side dishes but the egg. I was tempted to offer it to them, and then decided to keep it for myself. Hehehe.
Oh, I got another free heat pack while walking to the subway. This time it was from a beer company, they were giving out hot tea too. Haha. In Japan, they give out free tissue, in Korea, they give out free heat packs. I am liking this. Speaking of heat packs, throughout my whole trip in Seoul, there was never one day when the temperature was above 0 degrees celsius. It stayed below zero throughout. For majority of the trip, the highest temp would be like -4 or something and the lowest -11ish -12? But we brought way more heat packs than we thought we’d need. The cold wasn’t that unbearable, and we were all boiling from having too many heat packs on us (we had about like, 2 each sometimes 3). In the end, we ended up not putting on heat packs. In fact, we came to the agreement that the weather felt like it was about 4 to 5 degrees (mainly because it wasn’t windy) and that Shanghai felt heaps colder because the wind is always bellowing in your face.
At the end of the trip, I ran out of room in my luggage and had to buy an extra bag. Good thing that it wasn’t overweight though!
My transfer flight back to Singapore got delayed, and I was stuck in Shanghai for a couple of hours (I had to stopover in Shanghai). Which was torture because I didn’t have a single cent of RMB with me, I was thirsty and hungry and all I could do was sit and wait.
When the plane finally decided to show up. The flight back was horrible. The air circulation was so bad, it made me feel sick. It was probably my most uncomfortable flight, ever. When the plane touched down, I think I semi-ran out of the plane, gasping for fresh air the moment I set foot into T3 at Changi. Never been so happy to see Changi and smell it’s air-conditioned air before.
When I first told people that I was going to Korea, everyone asked which tour group was I going with. When I replied that I was heading there alone with a group of friends, not with a tour group, everyone’s reaction was to give me this wide eye stare. People in Singapore usually head to Korea with a tour group because we don’t understand the Korean language. Now that I’ve been there, with no Korean language skills, I can tell you that… it is perfectly possible to survive in Korea alone, without being able to speak Korean.
Korea gets a lot of Japanese and Chinese tourists, so if you can speak Japanese or Chinese, yay for you. A lot of the shops in the big shopping areas such as Myeongdong, usually have staff members who can speak either languages. There’s usually someone who can speak English too, but they’re more fluent in Japanese or Chinese. Quite a few (not all) restaurants have English menus. And in popular tourist spots such as Itaewon, Insadong, Dongdaemun etc, etc, there’re these ladies who walk around in red winter coats with name tags that indicate what language they’re able to speak. They have maps and information booklets and stuff for tourists.
Every time we spot them we’ll start nudging each other going ‘The red jacket 姐姐s! (red jacket big sisters)’. In Dongdaemun, they helped point out the different opening hours for the different areas, which areas were wholesale and which areas weren’t etc. In Insadong (which was where our hotel was), they helped point out the various places we could have dinner. We basically see them around quite often and they were always a great help.
The airport also has quite a few booklets and maps of Seoul stating where are the popular places to go. And it was probably also because of these booklets that we pretty much didn’t stick to our initially planned itinerary.