To be perfectly honest, when I was told that I had won the trip, because everything happened so quickly, it didn't seem real. I only finished packing, what, 1 hour before I left for the airport? Even my mom commented that I didn't seem to be going on a holiday. But when I got my boarding pass in my hand, everything felt real. And when I got on the plane to Korea, it hit me, I was going back to where I had spent some of the best moments in my life earlier this year.
Blanked out my Chinese name. You wouldn't want to know anyway.
What was different though, was that this time, I had an itinerary to stick to. Meaning, no getting lost, no having to do prior homework, and basically it was just a time for me to really sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of Korea like a real tourist.
Did I like it? Quite! It was refreshing getting to do touristy stuff like wearing a Hanbok and staying in some of the top-notch hotels that I, as a student traveller, would probably have not been able to afford. I also got to taste some really good food. (Which probably explains why I put on some weight since coming back...) You will see tonnes of food posts starting Day 2 onwards. Day 1 was just us getting warmed up.
For this trip, Korea Tourism Organisation Singapore (The lovely people who made this trip possible!) sent three bloggers there. Myself, Carolyn from (x)clusive and Tiffany from Tiffany in Kimchiland. The other travellers with us subsequently were mostly media representatives or travel agents from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
We flew Asiana Airlines there. Prior to this trip, I had never flown Asiana, only heard about it. When Carolyn told me that they were ranked first on Sky Trax (Story here
.), ahead of our own Singapore Airlines, I was quite eager to get on-board and see why.
We had Bibimbap (비빔밥) on the flight! I was so excited to try!
Of course, not everyone is familiar with Korean culture or Bibimbap, so they provided some simple instructions on how you can enjoy it.
My favourite part of the meal was probably this! Red pepper paste in a tube! Makes it less messy since we're all cramped into such limited spaces.
How one should eat this is: 1) Add rice. 2) Add sesame oil & red pepper paste as much as you want. 3) Mix & enjoy! Simple right?
For plane food, the Bibimbap was DELICIOUS. Or maybe I was just hungry because I didn't eat much for dinner because I was busy packing. The Pollock soup that came with it (북어국/Bugeoguk) was really yummy too! (We got to try Pollock-styled food on Day 2 because it's apparently a Gangwon-do speciality. More on that in the later entries.) You know how plane food usually tastes really bad cos' it's been kept so long? The vegetables were still so crunchy and fresh! (I love those long, thick beansprouts-thing which you can't find in Singapore.)
I also caught two Korean movies: Cyrano Dating Agency (Uhm Taewoong reminds me so much of Chef from Pasta, also known as Lee Sunggyun. And Kim Minjung is so pretty in the film.) and Hearty Paws 2 (Starring pretty boy of the moment, Song Joongki.) And then I drifted off to sleep. I caught about 2 hours sleep before we landed at Incheon International Airport.
When we got off the plane, EVERYONE rushed into the toilets to layer on their winter wear. Myself? I was wearing one thick long-sleeved top. I put on a cardigan and then I readied my trench coat. I like to think of myself as being relatively cold-resistant. :D
My breakfast! Nothing like Korea's Dunkin Donuts' Chewisty.
Because we had one hour to spare before the people from other countries arrived, I also took the time to collect my Korean mobile phone from the SK Telecome Phone Rental Counter. (Read more here: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/RE/RE_EN_1_2_4_1.jsp
) My previous phone from my exchange had already been cancelled and I needed to contact my friends in Korea over meet ups and just to shout out to them that I was in Korea? Okay kidding. But overseas roaming is mad expensive. About 60 cents an SMS from Korea to Singapore.
The phone is pretty isn't it? For 1,500 KRW a day! Plus they give up a charger AND an extra battery. Plus a 5,000 KRW departmental store shopping voucher. Awesome service.
Also, if your phone is not 3G-enabled, like earlier versions of Blackberries, or older phones on the market, they wouldn't work in Korea, even if you have auto-roaming enabled. So, to ensure that I was always contactable, I got myself the phone. Since I reserved online, daily rental fees were just 1,500 KRW a day. That's like, less than S$2! Plus if you reserve online, you get your Korean number 3 days in advance. So you can tweet/Facebook/spam your Korean friends with your number prior to your arrival!
The tour bus which will be our main resting place (since we travel around so much) for the next 4 days.
Interrupting this post to bring you a photo of my stubby nails which I painted the night before. (Instead of packing, lol.)
The bus brought past the Cheongwadae (청와대) or the Blue House, where the President of S. Korea lives and works from. The Korean name translates into 'pavilion of blue tiles', which is probably named in this manner because of the architectural elements of the building.
There! You can see the blue tiles on the roof!
Because we were in the vicnity, we were also let down the bus to visit the Cheongwadae Sarangchae (청와대 사랑채)
, which is the Korean Presidential Museum
. The place is open from 9.00am to 6.00pm everyday except Mondays and admission is free. If you're interested in visiting the place on your own, you may read more about it here: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_6.jsp?cid=942212
Inside. One of the exhibits.
We were supposed to walk to Gyeongbokgung next. One of the iconic palaces of Seoul. But it was mad cold, so the guide brought us to Insadong (인사동)
for lunch first.
At Kyungho Kalbi for lunch! This is the first restaurant on the left before you enter the Insadong street. Kalbi (갈비) is Korean for barbequed ribs!
Ribs for lunch! Sinful much?!
Streets of Insadong. Really quiet because it was a Tuesday afternoon.
A lot of shops in Insadong have their names only in Hangul. Can you guess what famous coffee house this is? The colour of the name is pretty obvious!
I was quite disappointed when we didn't get to go to Ssamzegil, a prominent building that is a definite must-go when you head to Insadong. You can read about my time there when I went all the way back in February. (Insadong in February) But I guess as part of a tour, one is usually quite pressed for time. Instead, we got to go and try Hanboks (한복), the traditional Korean costume. But not before we stopped for some street snacks!
Hotteok is a Korean-styled pancake that is usually filled with brown sugar and Cinnamon. It is a common Winter snack and it is VERY sweet. I read on Wikipedia that one Hotteok can contain as much as 230 calories! (From what I gathered, they usually stop selling this after Winter, so if you're there during Winter, please do try it!)
So we walked a little and climbed up a flight of stairs and arrived at a little Hanbok shop where you pay to try on Hanboks and then pay a little more to get your make-up done and also to get your photos taken. It is a shop opposite 7-Eleven, to the right of the street. If I'm not wrong, there are a lot of shops along the street specialising in such services!
Look at all the gorgeous colours!
Me waiting to get my hair done. And then myself with the huge Hwangjini/Gisaeng headpiece that weighed a ton!
I really have KTO to thank for such an experience, else I would never have had a chance to try out the traditional Korean costume and the gigantic headpiece that comes with it. Because I would have been too..shy to do so? My friend, Katrina, commented that I would fit right into a Saeguk drama, meaning a period drama, like Daejanggeum and Hwangjini. I told her, I definitely need to train up my neck muscles first, because the headpiece is just SO heavy. Plus they pulled back my hair really hard to tuck it behind the headpiece.
Enough about Hanboks and on to our next location!
I think that just by the above photo alone, you can probably tell where I was for the afternoon on our first day there. If you don't already know, couples love making their way up to N Seoul Tower, lock a couple lock as a pledge of their love and then throw away the key. (Though there has been notices recently asking people not to throw the key off the building for fear of hitting passers-by below, I think.)
Long trek up before we got to the tower.
There are two ways of getting up to the tower. 1) Walking. 2) Taking a cable car up to the tower. BUT it drops you off somewhere and you have to walk too. So if the weather's not too cold or too hot, it might actually be good to walk. The view up is really scenic. We walked up to the tower after the tour bus dropped us off somewhere because the whole road up was too clogged for vehicles to pass.
If you're coming from a subway station, stop at Hoehyeon Station and then follow signs from the station. Be prepared to walk. You can read about how my friends and I trekked up the entire route to N Seoul Tower back in March HERE
This is the first time I've ever seen such a huge lock. Huge declaration of love, I guess. Or in Singaporean terms, kiasu
This is what you see when you go up the tower. It's 7,000 KRW per person to go up! It was a Tuesday afternoon but there were SO many tourists! Mostly Japanese!
The view upon looking out. I love looking at Seoul from the top and seeing the Han River and all.
Our time at the tower was short because we had to rush to the JUMP theatre somewhere near Jongno to catch the 4pm JUMP
performance. I blogged about it in detail HERE
because there was just so much to say about the performance.
The performance is about 80 minutes long, so that's about...1.5 hours? So by the time it ended it was 5.30pm. BUT when we got out, it was so dark! When I was in Korea earlier this year, Winter was ending, so it usually got dark about 6.30pm onwards. But this was the first time I saw it get dark so early. I even messaged Jeannie saying it was so cool, she said I was crazy.
Dinner at Hakoya Seafood
with KTO Korea people.
The dinner was a little awkward for me because everyone else was exchanging business cards and I didn't have a business card to exchange!? So I just sat and ate serving after serving of raw fish. The silence was broken when the head of KTO Korea (I assume.) asked us how the trip was. And that's when they found out I spoke a little bit of Korean. The lady next to him commented that my 말투 (way of speaking) was completely Korean. T.T Crying tears of joy. My Korean teacher would have been so proud!
Pretty Christmas tree at the hotel lobby!
We got back to the hotel and finally got to check-in. The hotel we were at is called Best Western Premier Hotel Kukdo, located near Euljiro 4-ga station, just two stations away from the one near Myeongdong. (Euljiro 1-ga station.)
The whole hotel room to myself!
The view from my room.
I had a shower and was going to go off to meet Jeannie, my Singaporean friend who was on exchange at Korea University, when some of the other people on the trip wanted to go to Myeongdong too. So we arranged to meet and set off together. According to the tour guide though, Dongdaemun was a lot nearer. But believe it or not, I have never shopped at Dongdaemun before! Not in my 4 months there, and not during my one week trip there recently. I don't even know why!
The familiar streets of Myeongdong! H&M on the left.
We settled at a HOF and ordered Peach Soju! I love Fruit Soju, but the only place I've found it in Singapore was at Sarang Restaurant at OC. And even so, it was so expensive!
Fried, yummy goodness!
Jeannie found a heart-shaped chicken nugget!
On the topic of Soju and drinks. Some stuff I picked up about the drinking culture in Korea: 1) Don't pour your own drink. 2) Always hold your glass with two hands. (A Korean friend once scolded me about this, even though I was in a Chinese restaurant in Singapore. But okay, since the guy pouring it was Korean, so fair enough.) 3) Don't refuse the first drink. (I have never tried doing so. But I've heard it's not very acceptable.) 4) Your glass should never be empty. (Usually when my glass is empty, my friends always fill it up for me. If you want to stop drinking, maybe leave a little inside so that they don't go pouring more for you.)
That said, if you don't drink, just tell them nicely. I've had friends who don't drink and friends who usually just drink the first glass and politely refuse subsequent glasses. Whether you're the latter or former, just make sure you're polite about it. After all, no one can force you to drink if you don't want to, right?
Labels: Bibimbap (비빔밥), Blue House, HOF (호프), Insadong (인사동), JUMP show, Mobile Phone, Myeong Dong (명동), N Seoul Tower (엔 서울타워), Winter 2010