Saturday, December 1, 2018

Getting Around Seoul

We are quite familiar with Korean food- kimchi, kimchi jjigae, tteokbokki, bibimbap, ginseng chicken soup with rice, dak galbi, pajeon and bulgogi can be found in Malaysia. Well, the price for the food in Seoul is two to three times more expensive compared to Kuala Lumpur and Selangor area in Malaysia. For example, a kimchi stew with rice is around RM 12 - RM 18 in our country, while in Seoul, it cost around RM 26 to RM 40. 

For Malaysian, we would recommend kimchi, kimchi stew, and bibimbap. These dishes taste a bit different than what we can get in Malaysia. We should try the Korean style noodle in Seoul as well. They have more variety than the Korean Restaurants in Malaysia.

We tried budae jjigae (army stew) at Dongcheonhong (东天红) Restaurant, located at Saimunan-ro 9-gil, nearby Gyuanghwamun Plaza (upper left). Most of the visitors were from local (upper right). The portion of budae jjigae was big (lower right) with complementary kimchi and desserts. The price was around RM 40 per person. The taste was good and the portion was really big. So sharing is recommended. 

We visited the food street at Namdaemun Market (upper left), many shops were closing down around 8:30 pm. We stepped into one of the shops (upper right), and tried kimchi jjigae (lower right) and jap chae. Both dishes were spicy, but the taste was good. Kimchi jjigae, is the stew kimchi with vegetables and pork, while jap chae, is a dish with mixture of glass noodle, vegetables, meat, and egg with spicy sauce. The staff  there were not friendly and they couldn't speak English. But surprisingly, a few of them could communicate fluently in Mandarin.    

Myeongdong is a place with plenty of eateries. We chose one with Mandarin name "乌达里家", located at 28 Myeongdong 8na-gil (upper left). The eatery was full with the photos of visiting celebrities (upper right). With much anticipation, we tried bibimbap (lower right) and samyetang. Bibimbap is Korean style mixed rice, samyetang is Korean ginseng chicken soup. The bibimbap was really good. The staff however, was a bit inattentive and impolite.

Namdaemun Market has plenty of street food, including hotteok shop (upper row) and barbecue stalls (lower row).

Street food at Myeongdong- fruit juice and flour fritter with sausage.

Street food nearby Guro Station. We bought sausage (KRW 2000) and sweet potatoes (KRW 1000). The taste was good.

For traditional dishes, we tried bibimbap and kimchi jjigae for several times. Beside that, we tried several Korean street food, snacks and drinks (mostly Lotte), Klaud beer, bread and buns, seafood, banana milk which is famous in Malaysia, and many more. Well, nothing really special about these food. By the way, we found that for some Lotte snacks and drinks, the selling price in Malaysia was actually cheaper than in Seoul.

Place to Stay
To be frank, staying at the heart of the city, such as at Myeongdong area is great. It means we are not only staying nearby to numerous of eateries, shopping malls, underground markets, and street markets, but we are just a walking distance away from royal palaces and several other places of interest. 

However, the price and the availability are always the issues. It might be harder for us to get a room at low price, as peoples are queuing to get a room there. Well, that's why there are reports saying the service provided by small hotel or B & B owners there are not up to the expectation.

Therefore in our recent trip, we stayed a bit further from the city center at Daelim Residence. The apartment is located nearby Guro Station (Line 1). Guro Station is around 20 minutes away from Seoul Station, so it is very convenient for us to move around Seoul. 

 Guro Station is located behind AK Plaza. There is a huge supermarket in the plaza.

Daelim Residence is a tall building where we can see from AK Plaza. The entrance to the apartment is locate behind a Chinese Restaurant (upper left). The entrance is small (upper right), but the room is big and equipped with cooking facility, washing machine, flat screen television with online channels, clothes drying area, and even with a desktop computer (lower right). There is a small dining area on a side of the room. Water dispenser and free flow coffee and chocolate machine are provided at the lobby at every level.

The view from Daelim Residence. Walk straight along the road and we will reach AK Plaza in a few minutes.

MRT System
Moving around Seoul is easy, especially with their extensive MRT system. We wish to highlight an interesting fact- Seoul airport MRT announcements were made in four different languages- Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and English. For others, announcements were made in two languages- Korean and English. All the signage were stated in Korean and English, so, it was really easy for us to find our way in and out.

Detailed MRT map is provided by Korea Tourism Organization. Getting a T Money Card will make our life easier as the card can be used in almost all MRT and bus lines. We used bus and ferry services in Gapyeong. We had no problem using these services.

People are queuing for MRT. The frequency of the MRT in Seoul was 5 - 6 minutes.

Some of the MRT stations, such as Airport Station and Gyeongbokgung Station are beautiful (upper right). The signage are stated in different languages for all stations in Seoul (upper right). The MRT was quiet, with most passengers looking at their hand phone (lower right). Stairs are unavoidable at some places.   

No doubt Myeongdong is the shopping heaven for most of the tourists. It consists of several streets beside Myeongdong Station. The shopping area is near to City Hall Station (Line 1) and Eulji-ro-1-gal (Line 2).  

Souvenirs, clothes, handbags, IT gadgets, food and snacks, coffee houses, and on top of that, skin care and cosmetic products can be found in Myeongdong street market. Comparison of price of the same product in several outlets might be necessary to ensure the price of the product we bought was on the lower side. Best thing to buy in this market- skincare products.

One of the streets at Myeongdong. The street gets busier at night.

This photo was taken from Myeongdong Cathedral. We could see the crowd on Myeongdong streets.

Another place that we went for shopping was the street market at Namdaemun. Unlike Myeongdong, we could bargain at some outlets. Instead of mixing together, the outlets at Namdaemun are more organized- the outlets selling same or similar products were clustered together on the same street. Again, while we busy bargaining, we should compare the prices of the same product from different outlets. Anyway, Namdaemun was less happening compared to Myeongdong. The market is a good place for us to buy souvenirs, such as key chains, chopsticks, and fridge magnets.

We could use labelled gate sign to avoid getting lost in the middle of the Namdaemun streets.

Food stalls in Namdaemun Market.

The best thing to buy in Seoul (and worth buying)- skincare and cosmetic products from Myeongdong. For drinks and snacks, which mostly made by Lotte, we would advise to try a little bit first before we buy in bulk. If you are a big fan of seaweed, you can buy it from Namdaemun street market. The seaweed was sold with very low price in a local product carnival held in Seoul City Plaza during our visit.

For more information and sharing on our visit to Seoul and Nami Island, please read our previous blog posts on Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Nami Island and Attractions in Seoul City.

Attractions in Seoul (Seoul Trip Day 3)

There are many places to go in Seoul. We took a day trip by foot, starting from Seoul Station, to Deoksugong to Seoul City Plaza, Cheonggyecheon Stream, and Myeongdong. Gwanghwamun Plaza, Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung and Bukhon, and Namdaemun Market are located in vicinity as well.

Deoksugung was originally built as residence of royal family members. It was used temporarily as ruling palace after Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung were burnt by Japanese during Imjin War in 1592. Deoksugung resumed its role as auxiliary palace after the migration of the King to Changdeokgung after Changdeokgung was fully restored in 1618. The royal family resided in Deoksugung until early 1900s. 

Deoksugung is located right beside Seoul MRT Station. We found that the ceremony of changing royal guards at Deoksugung was far more interesting and extensive compared to the ceremony at Gyeongbokgung.

The entrance of Deoksugong. The ceremony of changing royal guards starts at 11 am. The ceremony is repeated on 2 pm and 3:30 pm.

The ceremony of changing the royal guards is more extensive and informative. The narration was conducted in both English and Korean languages. Live music was played by royal musicians. The whole ceremony takes around 30 minutes. As the ceremony attracts many visitors, we need to be early to get a good place to see the whole ceremony. The best spot- location facing the center of the gate.

Seoul City Plaza 
City Plaza is located in front of the Seoul City Hall. The plaza is huge, fills with beautiful flowers and a big signage of "I Seoul U". There were exhibitions ongoing during our visit. We found stalls selling local fruits and food, such as apple, chestnut, seaweed, kimchi, tea, coffee, and many more. We tried several free samples given there.

The big signage of "I Seoul U" facing the main road.

The plaza is nicely decorated with flowers (upper left) and alleys with shrubs (upper right). We visited some exhibitions there (lower right). We saw a confrontation between police and demonstrators there as well.

City Library and City Hall 
City Library and City Hall are located beside City Plaza. Actually, both buildings are beautiful, but they look odd to be built in close distance to each other.

The City Library is the old brick building, while Seoul City Hall is the futuristic building behind the library.

City hall is a beautiful futuristic building.

Cheonggyecheon Stream
The stream is located beside Cheonggyecheon-ro. It is around 150 meters away from Seoul City Hall. The stream flows around 8.4 km across Seoul and ends at Jungnangcheong. The stream was once dirty and polluted. An effort to cleanse and beautify the stream was carried out in 2003, and had successfully transformed the stream into a recreational park, as what we could see today. 

Cheonggyecheon stream in the middle of the city.

There are bridges for us to cross to another side of the stream (upper left). We visited the stream where the lanterns were displayed. It was the 10th anniversary of the lantern festival there (upper right). The art piece, "Spring" was designed by two Swedish American artists Coosje van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg (lower right). The stream is located at the busiest area in Seoul. We can see high rises at the surrounding area.

Gwanghwamun Plaza
The plaza is a happening place in Seoul. Korean Food Festival was held there during our visit. The plaza is surrounded by government buildings, eateries, museums and art centers. The plaza is located just in front of Gwanghwamun, so it will be the best if we visit it after Gyeongbokgung. 

The plaza is around 500 meters north from Deoksugung and City Hall. It is 200 meters away from Cheonggyecheon. In case you are too tired to walk around the plaza on the same day you visit Gyeongbokgung, you can go there another day when you are visiting Deoksugung and Cheonggyecheon.

The Statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin was built in 1968. The Admiral was famous for his victories against the Japanese during Imjin War. He won all his battles without losing any of his ship in the war.  

King Sejong was the fourth king of Joseon Dynasty. The statue was built in 2009. King Sejong is the most popular king in Joseon Dynasty, who has been remembered for the invention of hangul (Korean alphabet).

Myeongdong is the most happening area in Seoul. It consists of several streets around Myeongdong area. It can be reached from different MRT stations, including Myeongdong Station (Line 4), Seoul Station (Line 1), and Eulji-ro Stations (Line 2). It is the best place to buy skin care, cosmetics, and souvenirs. We can find many eateries, stalls selling street food, coffee houses, shops selling clothes and IT gadgets, and many others as well. Underground market as well.

We found Avenue of the Star at the entrance of Lotte Departmental Store is quiet interesting (upper left). When we put our hand on the hand print of a celebrity (upper right), the image of the celebrity will appear at the screen next to the hand print. Myeongdong street is busy during daytime (lower right), and gets even busier at night.

We saw some interesting promoters in special animal costumes with billboards promoting their special cat cafe (upper left) and dog cafe (upper right). Of course, Line friend shop with a huge Line bear in Myeongdong as well (upper right). We could find different promotions and prices on the same skincare and cosmetic products, from street to street. So if we are not in a hurry, compare the prices from different outlets can help us to buy a product at cheaper price.

Myeongdong Cathedral was built in 1898. It is a beautiful building located in Myeongdong. 

Myeongdong Theater was built in 1937. It was the national theater of Korea. The building is hard to miss as it is located at the middle of Myeongdong shopping streets.

Namdaemun and Namdaemun Market
Namdaemun was built using stones and wood in 1398, and rebuilt in 1447. The name Namdaemun indicated the location of the gate on the south of Seoul old city. The gate was one of the major entrance to the enclosed city. The wooden pagoda on the top of the stone structure remained as the oldest wood structure in Seoul until it was burnt in 2008. The wooden pagoda structure was fully restored in 2013 using the fund raised via public donation.

Namdaemun Market is not far from Myeongdong. It is located nearby Hoehyeon MRT Station, or we can take 10 minutes walk from either Seoul of Myeongdong Station. Namdaemun is one of the oldest running market in Korea, and it is the largest retail market in Seoul. We like Namdaemun in the way that the market is well-organized with similiar products are sold on the same street.

Namdaemun City Gate nearby the market. The wooden structure was restored in 2013, with a little bit of old city wall attached to the gate.

Street with snacks and stalls (upper left), souvenirs (upper right), restaurants (lower right) and bags.

Seoul is a city that we can easily move around using the MRT system. However, we can opt to walk around the city as well, in order to see the scenery above the ground. What we need to do is getting a map of the MRT and start planning. 

We stayed in Guro, a residential area few stations away from Seoul. We will share more about food, accommodation, transportation and shopping around Seoul

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Nami Island (Seoul Trip Day 2)

Nami Island (Namiseom) was formed because of of the construction of Cheongpyeong Dam. It is a small half moon-shaped island, named after a grave which believed to be the resting place of General Nami. The general led a great victory against the rebels in between 1455-1468, early in Joseon Dynasty.

Nami Island started gaining tourists' attention due to the filming of several K-dramas, such as Rosy Lovers (2014), King of High School (2014), and of course, the one that brought the island into the eye of the world- Winter Sonata (2003). It is famous for its picturesque tree lines plant along the small pathways. The trees- ginkgo, cherry, pine, birch, and several more fill the island with beautiful colours in autumn.

The island is around 63 km away from Seoul. We can go there by bus, by car, by MRT, or ITX train. ITX train was our choice because it took us only 60 minutes to travel from Yongsan Station (in Seoul) to Gapyeong Station. From there, we took a transit bus to the jetty. The bus trip was about 10 minutes. The trip from the jetty to Nami Island took us around 10 minutes. We reached Nami Island at around 11:15 am and left  the island at around 2 pm.

Yongsan station is big. It can be reached by MRT Line 1.

We can buy ITX ticket online from Korail Website (Choose the normal type train, and key in the date, destination, and number of passenger to get the information about available trains). The frequency of ITX train is one per hour. If we cannot secure a ticket with seat online, we can always buy our "standing ticket" at ITX counter in Yongsan Station (upper left). There was no limit for "standing ticket". We bought standing tickets from Yongsan to Gapyeong at 8:52 am. We had no problem standing in the train (upper right). We reached Gapyeong Station at around 9:50 am (lower right). The transit bus station is located in front of the station. The queue was long. We took around 30 minutes to get into a bus.

The shuttle bus stops at the place with special bus stop signage (red arrow, upper left). From there, look for a tall metal tower (upper right). The tower is used by the zip-line to travel from mainland to Nami Island. The ticket counter (lower right) and the jetty are located beside the metal tower.

Nice view from the ferry.

Once we reached the island, we can see a convenient shop on our left and tourist information center on our right.

There are several attractions scatter around the small island, including fountain (upper left), stone artworks (upper right), ostrich farm (lower right), and a few rows of eateries and souvenir shops.

There are small hut resemble the "kimchi hut". Kimchi hut is the traditional storage place for the clay jars fill with kimchi. 

Picturesque Korean tea house.

The main attraction of Nami Island is its nature beauty- colourful foliage in autumn.

Walking paths with visitors busy taking their photos.

Trees are planted along the path.

In fact, the whole island is filled with numerous paths with trees line up beside them.

Stunning view with trees in different colours around the area.

Some of the trees are starting to shed their leaves.

It is not easy to take a photo like this elsewhere.

We can either walk, rent a bicycle, pay for an electric train ride, or take a electric cart to tour around the island (upper left). The filming site Winter Sonata is marked with signage (upper right). Food and drinks are sold on the island. We tried the sausage (lower right) and ice cream. Nothing special at all beside the food were more expensive.

While other people are rushing to Petite French and Morning Calm Garden, we took an afternoon walk at Gapyeong Town. We tried to get a ride at Rail Park (upper left). However, the departure time couldn't match with our plan (upper right). Anyway, if you plan to go to this place, booking in advance at Gapyeong Rail Park is recommended. We decided to roam around the local market there (lower right). There were stalls selling local fruits, snacks, clothes, fishes, and vegetables there. The things there were not cheap at all. Anyway, we saw the whole garlic plant for the first time in the market. 

We don't really watch Korean Drama or movie, therefore Nami Island is not a big attraction for us. The biggest attraction to us was the foliage with autumn colours there. We reached Yongsan Station around 5:30 pm. We  visited Namdaemun Gate and Namdaemun Market before we went back to our hotel. We will share our experience in our next post.

Palace in Seoul - Changdeokgung (Seoul Trip Day 1)

Changdeokgung (昌德宮) was built in 1412 and served as the secondary royal palace after Gyeongbokgung. It is sometimes referred as the East Palace. The palace was burnt to ground in 1592 but then fully restored in 1618. The palace was served as ruling palace before the reconstruction of Gyeongbokgung in 1800s. It is the most well-preserved royal palace in Seoul. It is currently an UNESCO Heritage Site.

Unlike Gyeongbokgung which was built on a leveled ground, Chandeokgung was built with better landscape design. If Gyeongbokgung gives us a feeling of "huge and elaborative", Changdeokgung gives the feeling of "calm and beautiful". According to some records, there are trees that grown over 300 years in the palace compound. 

Changdeokgung is near to subway Anguk Station (line 3 exit 3). We need to walk for five minutes to reach the main gate of the palace. The entrance fee for an adult is KRW 3000. Secret garden is a part of the palace, but we need to pay extra KRW 5000 to enter the garden (the ticket can be bought only at the entrance). More information about the entrance fee and open hours are available at Imagine Your Korea website. Useful information can be obtained from the official website of the palace as well.

We reached the palace at around 3:15 pm, and spent around 1 hour and a half there. Due to the time constraint, we didn't visit the secret garden. Changdeokgung is smaller compares to Gyeongbokgung, and we are using the same way to go in and and out. Thus we won't miss out any of the hall in the palace.

Donwhamun (敦化门), the main gate of the palace. The ticketing counter is located on the right side of the gate. The ticket to the secret garden is sold at the counter as well. We queued for less than 5 minutes to get our tickets. 

Beautiful walkway behind Donwhamun. We can go straight to see the officials' office, or turn right to enter the palace.

 Shrubs and trees are everywhere within the palace compound. 

 Jinseonmun (进善门), the first gate within the palace wall.

 Long passage behind Jinseonmun. The throne hall is on the left.

The throne hall, Injeongjeon Hall (仁政殿) is smaller than the throne hall in Gyeongbokgung. However, it looks nicer with the proper stone tiles and colourful foliage.

The throne hall is extensively decorated. The electric lamps were fixed in 1894.

 Seonjeongjean Hall is the place for the king's council. The hall is located beside the throne hall.

The residences for the king and queen are located next to the council hall (upper left). The residences are well-maintained (upper right). The rooms are connected by corridors (lower right) or by sliding doors. 

 The crown prince study hall is located beside the king's residence.

Another side of the study hall.

The entrance to the secret garden is next to the crown prince's study hall. There is a ticket checkpoint there.

We can see many visitors moving around the entrance to Changgyeonggung. Changgyeonggung is located beside Changdeokgung. We need to buy the ticket at the entrance of Changgyeonggung.

Nakseonjae complex was the last building that we visited in Changdeokgung. It was built in 1847 for the concubine named Gyeongbin. The concubine bear the king's child on behalf of the queen, thus being given a nice place to live in the palace. 

A part of Changgyeonggung can be seen from Changdeokgung.

We left Changdeokgung around 4:45 pm. It was getting dark early in autumn. However, we still managed to visit Bukchon before our dinner. Bukchon traditional village is not far away from exit 3 of Anguk Station. We spent around 10 minutes walking along Bukchon-ro to reach there.

We went to Buckhon information center to get information about the traditional village (upper left). The road to the village is smaller compare to the main road (upper right). People are still living in the traditional hut called hanok (lower right). The narrow alley, the hanok, and the village have been preserved in Bukchon for more than 600 years. 

Our photo at Bukchon.

After a tiring day trip to Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung and Bukchon, we took some street food on our way back to our hotel. Next on our trip- Nami Island.