Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Discovering South Korea: Seoul Part 1

Date of Travel: 23-28 May 2013

So, I shall split the post to two parts: Traditional Korea (23-25 May) & Modern Korea (25-28 May). Although we were in the same city, but because of the places we stayed at and visited was the old traditional houses of Korea and the modern one was, well, modern.

Click the link if you want my planned itinerary. Or if you're interested to know my estimated costs. Remember, we did not follow the exact route planned as the trip should be open to new ideas and developments!

Doo Guesthouse
Traditional Hanok Houses
Address: 15-6 Gye-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea
Tel: + 82-2-3672-1977
Nearest Subway: Anguk Station

Doo Guesthouse
I wanted to stay in a Hanok house to experience how the Koreans in the old days lived. It is a nice and cozy traditional Hanok style guesthouse and we got the Family room for 4 pax! It's a little squeezy because once you lay out the tatami (not sure what Koreans call them), you only have a little space in front of the TV area for your luggages and bags. There are only 2 bathrooms which everyone has to share, so during peak hours like in the mornings and evenings, everyone is rushing to have a shower, and you may have to wait quite some time for your turn.

The floor was heated as well, which surprised me. The weather was not that cold (it was just nice), yet the floor heating was on. We wanted to turn it off as it got a little too hot in the night when we were sleeping, but we could not figure out how. 

The owner even has a pet puppy which loved to play tug of war with his toys!

It is quite a distance from Anguk Subway Station, though it is just a straight road down. I think we had to walk about 500m from the station to our guesthouse. Along the straight road, there were plenty of Cafes and small restaurants. As I was sick, I only had dumpling soup. 

There's this rameyon dish which is served with ice. I can't quite remember the name of that bowl of noodles, but it's a summer dish and it's so refreshing!

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Address: 22, Sajik-ro 9-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 종로구 사직로9 22 (필운동)
Opening Hours: 09:00-18:00
Admission: 3,000 won

Doo Guesthouse is located in between two palaces, after lunch, we visited one. It is walking distance from Doo guesthouse, and we arrived at about 5pm. They stopped selling tickets 1 hour before closing time at 6pm. But over 5 days, the palace will open after 6.30pm. So, we went out and walked around, visited the museum below this entry, and came back at about 7pm. 

We got the shock of our lives! There were long queues (some proper, some not) snaking from the ticketing office! We really didn't expect so many people to visit the palace after sunset! In the picture below, the top picture is when we arrived at 5pm, and there's not much people. The bottom picture is at about 7pm, where suddenly, hordes of people just started pouring into the palace! This was still alright, as at about 8.30pm, when we were leaving, the crowd in the bottom picture, multiplied by about 4 times!

Difference between day and night
We didn't manage to get much photos nor read any informative signs because it was just too crowded! One of our friends, Sock got separated from us here as well. To get out the palace, you have to squeeze with 1000 people through the exit. What's more, another 1000 people are coming in the opposite direction and trying to squeeze INTO the palace. I was so afraid that if I fell, people are not going to care and just stomp on me! I could not move, but to just let the crowd push me towards the exit and out of the palace. If you've been to Singapore's IT fair, it's about 10 times worst!

Beef Satay/kebab
Outside the palace, there were many mobile street stalls selling all sorts of things. From corn, to sausages, to this beef satay/kebab thingy. The beef was so tender and soft, it just peeled away from the stick! It was fantastic! 


How Korean alphabets came about
Opposite the palace, there's actually an underground museum about how one of the emperors created the Korean Alphabet. It was super educational! There were even some puzzles and games for everyone to play! One of the game was a paddling oar, and you have to paddle and steer your ship away from oncoming ships and boats. 

We also tried our hand at writing the Korean Language. We were given some quotes and phrases, and we tried copying it down using the traditional brush and ink. 

What's more, this museum is FREE! 


Baseball Batting Cage
We went to Insa-Dong after the horrifying experience in the Palace to have dinner and take a walk around. We were able to walk to Insa-dong as it is about 10-15 mins away by foot. By night time, the weather became very pleasant to walk... Anywhere! We found this baseball batting cage where the ball travels at different speed like 90&100 km/h! All you have to do is insert two 500 Won into the machine, pick up the baseball bat and start hitting!

I tried this before in Japan, and I missed every single shot! This time round, I managed to hit about 3 out of 10 tries.
Street Food - TwistyPotato
Insa-Dong is supposedly filled with cafes and galleries, but by the time I reached there, only the cafes were open, there wasn't must to see or buy, just FOOD FOOD FOOD! One of my favorite Korean snacks I could get in Singapore was the Twisty potato, where they slice the potato into rings, skewer it on a stick, lather it with batter, and deep fry it! The doughnut shop in Kallang Leisure Park sells fantastic Twisty Potato and Chicken Thigh!

When I saw this stand, I didn't care if I had a sore throat, I wanted one stick! It was SUUUUUUUUUPER yummy! 

Changdeokgung Palace + Gardens

Changdeokgung Palace & Gardens
Address: 99, Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 종로구 율곡로 99 (권농동)
Opening Hours: 09:00-18:30
Admission: W 5, 000

The next day we visited the Changdeokgung Palace. There are free tours in which the palace provides and in various languages like English, Mandarin, Japanese, Etc. We joined the 10.30am English tour and the 11.30am tour for the Secret Garden. If we went without any guidance, we would be taking photos without any meaning! The guide was really informative and knowledgeable. 

If you're unable to catch the tours, there're guide books provided at the entrance with all sort of information! you could use that as a guide and walk around yourself. For me, I would rather someone told me all the information than reading it. 

Jongmyo Shrine

Jongmyo Shrine
Address: 157, Jongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul-si
서울 종로구 종로 157
Opening Hours: 09:00-18:00
Admission: W1, 000

After the palace, we walked to Jongmyo Shrine, which is about 10mins away by foot. This shrine is the place where the King come and worship their ancestors (previous Kings) of the Josen Dynasty. We arrived just in time for the free English tour as well! I felt that the shrine tour was more interesting than the Palace history.

Kwangjang Market
Kwangjang Market
Address: 6-1 Yeji-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 2-2267-0291
Opening Hours: 09:00-18:00

After that, we walked over to Kwangjang Market which is about 10-15mins away by foot. It is similar to a wet market here in Singapore, and the stalls sells all sorts of fresh produce and even textile things. There's also an area where they sold food like fried pancakes, kimchi, noodles, etc. So, if you're around the area, I would advice you to visit this market for some really good and authentic food and snacks!

Dongdaemuns Shopping District

Dongdaemun is actually a shopping distric with about 26 malls, not inclusive of the many underground shops and outdoor stalls. It's similar to Orchard Road in Singapore, where along the whole stretch of shopping district, there's ION orchard, Taka, etc. So, Dongdaemun is a whole area of shops! 

I had the misconception that Dongdaemun was like Platinum Fashion Mall of Thailand. Just a big building with many levels of wholesale stuff! Boy, was I wrong. At first we walking to DDM and found ourselves in a building that had levels and levels of... TEXTILES. I don't want cloths! I want ready made clothes! We got quite lost until we asked around and searched on the net through our mobile phones (WiFi is everywhere!), the places or malls to go. We started with Doota! mall which was wayyyyy to pricy for me. 

I only visited one shop which was on sale, and I was a little disappointed with the shopping. Then, we went to the basement and found an underground link to another mall, which was the best decision I made, because the next mall was about half the price of whatever I found in Doota!

So, if you don't know where to start, you could start with Doota, and from there, walk around to the other malls. Obviously, I didn't finish all the malls in DDM, I only covered three malls before I waved the white flag! My legs could not carry me any further!


Check out my posts to other parts of South Korea here:

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