Monday, 18 January 2016

Korea, Seoul

I had a short visit to Korea back in October 2015, slightly before the season turned winter. Hence, I was there with normal jacket to intercept the cold winds, which is sufficient enough for me. There were parts of the day where I simply walked around with a jeans and t-shirt.

Well, I'm a person who rather suffer cold from hot!

Anyway, we took Korea Air, and it has also been some time since I last took a full-fledged carrier. Thus, I was so pleased to see the entertainment TV console right in front of me! The movies are limited yet updated, but do not expect the current movies showing in cinemas. Games wise are ok too, sufficient enough to keep the kids entertained.

The wired control in managing the selections has 2 sides, and can be pulled out to use comfortably, and retracted to keep it in place when required. Overall, the in-flight entertainment is splendid, and you need not be worried about the boring flight hours.

For those wanting to know "how the earth looks like", you will be able to see the route you will be taking.

I had my first Korean meal on the plane, and I had asked for the Bibimbap. I was told by others that this is a dish eaten by the poor people in the olden days, but seriously, as long as it's good, it doesn't really matter to me who came up with this kind of food style.

It's a little spicy but still within my manageable level, and is delicious too. Of course, you can also control the spiciness level by limiting yourself to the tube of chilli provided.

Some would have said that in-flight food can barely make it, but to me, it may not be delicious to the point where even 5 star restaurants fall under it's wings. The in-flight can be yummy too, depending on how high your comparison is with the high quality of food and amount you paid for in restaurants.

We were also given a snack some time after the meal, Ham and Cheese Sandwich.

We finally arrived at the airport, and I can't wait to rent the Wifi Egg which is a must in Korea, because a prepaid SIM card will need 3 days to activate, as I learnt from others. Of course, I have enuqired to rent the same in Singapore before my departure, but I realized I need to reserve it in advance as the Changi Recommends does not keep stocks on site.

There I have it, rented the Wifi Egg in the Incheon Airport arrival hall. The rental process is fast and you may also ask for car charger and such. The staffs are able to communicate in English, thus it makes the entire rental experience a smooth-sailing one.

The one I rented is from LG U+. There are several other companies providing this Wifi rental service, but I just took this as it is also nearer to my arrival gate. The staff also told me this will only last around 3 hours, but somehow I can use it up to 5 hours with the Wifi Egg being on all the time, and connected to 4 mobile devices at the same time. However, it's always good to have a portable charger in case the battery suddenly deplete like crazy.

We checked into our hotel first, and headed out somewhere near the hotel for dinner. Beef Soup with rice and separately ordered a Korean sliced rice dumpling. It was great to drink some hot soup in the windy weather, especially when it's night time and the weather is slowly turning from autumn to winter.

The rice dumpling is the first time I tried, and I seldom go to Korean restaurants for meals in Singapore. Thus, this experience has got me to love their dumpling and I have also started looking out for this in the menus whenever I dine in Singapore's Korean restaurants. I love it because beneath the dumpling skin is fully filled with it's fillings, unlike our local wantons which has stingy meat in it.

We have a Chinese guide who has been staying in Korea for years, and is available to bring us around during our stay. Luckily for us, as free & easy can be troublesome because English language is very limited even among the young people. Asking for directions and showing them the google map is almost fruitless.

For as we were going somewhere where it's not convenient to ride in a private car, we took a train ride with the guide. The train station does not have many of the ticket vending machine, unlike ours. But surprisingly, there wasn't any queue although people are streaming in and out of the automated gates. The guide helped us to purchase the tickets, which we didn't know the language can be toggled to English till one day when we were without the guide, and decided to wander around on our own.

The train ride was quiet too, just like in Singapore. But both considered when there is no ugly arguments going on in the the train. That is what I can conclude for now.

There is also a section where the seats are meant for elderly, and I took the seat without knowing. Luckily, I was being approached politely by one man whom is versed in English language and informed me since he knew I was a foreigner. There was no pictures indicating it' meant for elderly or people with special needs. Maybe I should have know it better when the colour of the seats are different from the rest.

We visited the Changdeokgung Palace in Korea. I'm not how many palace(s) there are, nor do I know where this is located, because I got quite confused after a few train switching and taking a cab from the train station to the destination. However, I have always been very interested in visiting the Forbidden City in China, hence I was quite looking forward to this visit even though I have never been to one.

The palace was quite crowded with people at some point, but at least we get to wander around. The place is quite big, but still not quite as I expected in comparison with what I saw from the Chinese dramas/movies filmed in the Forbidden City. We can't really venture into the buildings, and most of it are either blocked by barricades-alike, or closed doors. So the only thing you can admire is the overall scenery and be amazed at how big the place is. Perhaps the different culture between China and Korea, this visit has not dampen my interest to visit the Forbidden City still. Still pinning my hopes to visit it at least once!

After the walk around the palace, we came to another place which is like a park. There is nothing much about it, but seeing the mini-waterfall intrigued me to take low-speed photography.

From the park, we are able to get to another tourist place which allow us to have a 360 degree, birdeye view of Korea. But before that, we have to walk through a short car tunnel.

Here it is, the Seoul Tower. The walking distance is quite long, and there is a 1.2km walk, if I remembered correctly, which is an ascending slope. Luckily, the road is only meant for walking, and the path is laid with sponge-like carpet to make the climbing more comfortable.

At the bottom of the Seoul Tower, there will be a glass panel, showing the tallest buildings in the world, and showing the ranking of where Seoul Tower stand. There is of course a fast-lifting lift that can get you to the top in less than a minute and I doubt walking up is advisable or even feasible.

Once at the top, you can walk around and admire the scenery without any time limit. But there is nothing much to do, except for the souvenir stalls towards the inner part of the viewing gallery.

The day was basically walking around and visiting the touristy places around the city. The following day, we went somewhere further, to the hilly areas, and visited Seoraksan.

It is not the tallest mountain in South Korea, and it can be conquered in less than 3 hours hike. We didn't hike all the way up, nor did we take the cable car to the peak because of the long queue, and calculating the number of hours we need to get back to the city for dinner. The car ride towards Seoraksan started early in the morning, and we can see the weather getting colder and the obvious difference in temperature when we made a pit stop!

In such a cold weather, I had to order some food to keep myself warm other than a cup of hot drink. Sadly, this is the only thing which I have craving for, before continuing the journey.

We were faced with a long jam, which got us caught for around 30-45 minutes. In between, we were deciding to make a turnaround, but luckily, we hold on to that decision and got the valet service to park the car for us. There were too many people on that day.

There is a gigantic Buddha statue further up the walking path after passing through the entrance, which does not require you to hike, but can be slightly tiring for the elderly.

We decided to trek for a little, as we are not really prepared to hike but didn't want to make a wasted trip of not seeing the insides of Seoraksan.

I especially love the autumn leaves as though trying to engulf the rocks.

We walked and climbed for about 2-3 hours till we reached an overhanding bridge that crosses to the other side. It's then, we decided to stop and make a returned trip to the foot and back to city.

It was overall a rewarding trip to the Seoraksan, but a pity we did not manage to get the peak even by cable car. I believe the view from peak is going to be rewarding, especially for those who hiked for the way up!

The next day, we headed to the Olympic Park (올림픽공원). It is like a big park where it definitely attracts people to come and spent a relaxing moment with loved ones. Big patch of grassy fields and some top view of the cityscape, a great place to reflect on the week that is about to past.

That was half a day gone, and we were back in hotel with no plans. Not wanting to waste the rest of the day, we ventured out of hotel on our own. We were lucky to have room that has a computer, thus it makes our research done with ease. South Korea has a website that can plan your train route, which I chanced upon by accident. But the only problem is to get to the boarding station from the hotel.

With the use of google map, to asking for directions, and finally hailing a cab and showing the map to the taxi driver, we reached the boarding station. We are also required to transfer from train to train, and seeing how complicated it is in interpreting the route to take, I am glad I finally managed to comprehend.

We had our lunch first, and it's just a simple sushi-like food and a plate of noodle.

We spent the rest of the day walking around Gangnam area. The basement where you exit the station gantry is like our Bugis Street, with shops all over the place selling apparels, cosmetics, phone accessories and etc. Just that level itself is enough to make shoppers go wild.

Exiting the station to the upper ground, it's like Orchard, where expensive brands are housed side-by-side. We had a walk around and then when it's finally dinner time, we had a sumptuous meal, which we even went back twice! Not really remembering what it's called, it has seafood and chicken meat for options, and able to choose the level of spiciness too. Lies beneath the thick gravy and big pieces of chicken, is the transparent noodle, which overall is just too delicious to not try! I do not have the shop name, but if I'm at the Gangnam Station again, I can still walk there!

After dinner, we briefly walked around the inner streets, where it was suddenly filled with push-cart vendors, and even the main streets are lighted brightly with the LED TVs and shop lighting. While walking in one of the inner street, I see something like our local "Hum Chee Peng" which seems quite delicious. It has a sweet filling but could not make out the it exactly is.

On the last night of our stay in Korea, we walked out of our hotel, and saw a street that seems worth walking. So we decided to explore it.

It is because we walked that street, we came to realize there are not one, but several shops selling the same food stuff. Pig trotters in food wrap, and was chopped and de-boned when there's an order. It is quite delicious, and should give it a try if you came upon it.

On our day for coming back to Singapore, the airport seems to be filled with interesting activties. First we saw the mimic of royal family walking down like on inspection tour back in the ancient days, followed by a team of musicians playing beautiful and enchanting melodies after one another. It was like a good farewell to us after a week in South Korea.



Our last meal in Korea, we ended up with in-flight food. Can't really expect much in terms of quality but it is not unacceptable.

The overall trip in Korea ended with satisfaction, trying on authentic Korean food, and having some good sceneries to bring back as memories, as well as another destination ticked off from my list!

Ending this post with a video capture from the in-flight entertainment system after we touched down in Singapore Changi Airport.


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