Monday, June 20, 2016

[Travel/ Food Guide] Itinerary to Seoul (首尔), South Korea (韩国).

Seoul, the metropolitan city, is the capital of South Korea and is often seen as the melting pot for culture and central business hub for the country. The country's economy has boomed in recent years and is now, in the top 10 list of the world's most economically powerful country while the country's tourism has received a lot of international spotlight due to Hallyu, the Korean Wave. There are countless of exciting things to do in Seoul but with such a limited time, we could only complete a handful of them:

1) Gyeongbokgung Palace (景福宫) 
Direction: Exit 5 of Gyeongbokgung Station (subway line 3) and walk towards Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Opening Hours: 9 am to 6 pm on March to May, September to October; 9 am to 6:30 pm on June to August; 9 am to 5 pm on November to February. Closed on Tuesdays.
Admission: 3,000 KRW for adults

One of the must-see tourist attractions in Seoul (for first-timer)- Gyeongbokgung Palace, is the first royal palace built in the Joseon Dynasty and one of the largest five grand palaces remaining in Seoul. Visitors would be able to witness the grandeur and majestic of the Korean empire.

If you are in the mood, rent and wear Hanbok (at the cost of 10,000 to 15,000 KRW for few hours) will grant you complimentary access to all these palaces. It makes a great experience to tour the area in traditional Korean attire. Also, it adds a lot of interesting elements to your photographs too. But do make sure that you have some time to spare.

Don't forget to see the changing of Guard ceremony happening at Gwanghwamun twice a day at 11 am and 1 pm. 

2) National Museum of Korea Contemporary History
Direction: Exit 2 of Gwanghwamun Station (subway line 5) and walk for approximately 5 minutes.
Opening Hours: 9 am to 9 pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays; 9 am to 6 pm on other days. Closed on Mondays.
Admission: Free

National Museum of Korea Contemporary History is right next to Gyeongbokgung Palace, so you may plan your itinerary in a way to visit both places in one go. The area is huge and would take some time to explore. Similarly to all palaces, if you are wearing Hanbok, the admission to all these palaces would usually be free.

3) Bukchon Hanok Village
Direction: Exit 2 of Anguk Station (subway line 3) and walk towards the Bukchon Hanok Village direction. It will be quite a long walk of 10 minutes. Keep going straight until you see find the area on your left. The art and craft center will be on the right though. 
Opening Hours: N/A *a housing district filled with traditional Korean houses* 
Admission: Free

A stone's throw distance away from Gyeongbokgung Palace is Bukchon Hanok Village... a place where the influential and wealthy families used to live... during the Joseon Dynasty. Today, it remains as a residential area so tourists are advised to be respectful while touring the area. The entire place is like a well-preserved ancient Korean village, existing in this modern metropolitan city. Every corner of the place is picturesque and most suitable for portraiture and hipstery Instagram posts; especially with those Hanok (traditional Korean houses) as background. There's also a Bukchon Traditional Crafts Experience Center nearby if you are interested (opens daily from 10 am to 6 pm during Summer, 10 am to 5 pm during Winter). 

4) Tosokchon Samgyetang (土俗村 参鸡汤)
Direction: Exit 2 from Gyeongbokgung Station (subway line 3). Go straight after you have exit the subway station until the third junction (with a GS 25 convenient store on your left), turn in the alley (named Jahamun-ro 5-gil) and walk for another 2 minutes. You will find the restaurant on your left, with a long queue of regular patrons patiently waiting for their turn. 
Business Hours: 10 am to 10 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +82 02-727-7444
Service Charge: No
Government Tax: No

Tosokchon Ginseng Chicken Soup (16,000 KRW)

When it comes to Samgyetang/ Korean Ginseng Chicken Soup, Tosokchon is the de-facto place. The Korean Ginseng Chicken Soup specialist has received numerous awards and has been recommended by many netizens. Locating the restaurant was hassle-free but the queue took us quite a while to clear. The restaurant takes diners to the traditional way of enjoying Korean food, where diners are to sit on the floor and enjoy their food. The menu is convenient for non-Korean speaking guests, English translation is inscribed to the menu. 

The standard serving would cost 16,000 KRW but there are other selections too. For us, we played safe by ordering their signature Ginseng Chicken Soup. It was served to us piping hot, the broth seemed to be in murky-white hue while the Chicken stuffed with Glutinous Rice was well-cooked to an extremely soft condition; little effort was necessary to slit through the Chicken. It was delicately salted (though some would think the flavor's a little thin). A small serving of Ginseng Wine will be given, you can opt to just drink it as it is or to pour it over the Ginseng Chicken Soup. The Ginseng-flavor was discernible and can be easily accepted by all age-range. 

All in all, we thought the food was good. My partner in crime vouched that Tosokchon serves better Samgyetang than the restaurant he previously visited (in Seoul). 

5) Gwangjang Market (广场市场)
Direction: 3 minute-walk from Exit 7 or Exit 8 of Jongno 5-ga Station (subway line 1)
Business Hours: 9 am to 6 pm. Opens Daily.
Admission: Free

Boribap/ Mixed Vegetables with Barley Rice (5,000 KRW)

Mandu/ Korean Steamed Dumplings (5,000 KRW)

Red Bean Pancake (2,000 KRW)

If you are staying in central Seoul, make sure Gwangjang Market is top on your list for breakfast. There plenty of local delicacies available here, at wallet-friendly prices. Though there are many food stalls in the vicinity but most of them are selling the same products. We wandered around and found a stall with Mandarin-speaking lady manning the stall (for easy communication sake). 

We had Boribap, a type of mixed-vegetable Rice; Barley-Rice was use in lieu of the usual White Rice and served with a splash of Gochujang sauce. The concoction was delicious- crunchy, sweet and savory. A healthy dish that could potentially assuage our guilt for over-indulgence in the trip.

We also had Mandu, Korean dumplings to share. The sizes can be terrifying (up to the size of a fist), there were 2 types available- ordinary and Kim Chi flavored. Both hit the standard-average mark but we thought the pastry skin was a tad too thick to our liking. Other notable highlights include Jeon/ Korean Pancake, Tteokpokki/ Stir Fried Rice Cake, raw-live Squid, Blood Sausage, Gimbap/ Korean-styled Sushi etc.

6) Andongjang (安东庄) Jajangmeyon
Direction: Exit 10 at Euljiro-3-Ga Station (subway line 2) and walk straight for approximately 3 minutes. You will find the shop on your left shortly.
Business Hours: 11:30 am to 10 pm on Mondays to Fridays, 11:30 am to 9 pm on Saturdays, 11:30 am to 8 pm on Sundays.
Service Charge: No
Government Tax: No

Seafood Ramen (8,000 KRW)

Jajangmyeon (5,000 KRW)

A short walk away from the train station will land you right in front of Andongjang, said to be one of the oldest Chinese establishments in South Korea. The Chinese restaurant is like an upscale chu-char place in Penang. We found a considerable amount of familiar Chinese dishes on the menu (prices start from 10,000 KRW per dish) but we were not keen to try... for obvious reasons.

Andongjang is famous for its Jajangmyeon (炸酱面), a type of Korean noodles served with thick, savory Black Bean sauce. Jajangmyeon is fairly common in South Korea but not ubiquitous. It does take some effort to find one (though there is one stall selling this type of delicacy at Myeong Dong Shopping Street). Andongjang's comes in a bountiful serving, generously ladened with the sauce. The texture of the noodles was amazing, more like Japanese Ramen; slightly chewy and al-dente, the thick sauce clung well to the fat-round noodles. It may appear saltish due to the black-hue but the flavor was well-balanced. It carried a sleek salinity with a touch of sweetness. Just we thought the dimension would be flat, the diced raw Onions introduced another layer of pungency to the dish. Diners having Jajangmyeon would usually order another stir-fry dish to share.

The owner speaks decent Mandarin so if you are having trouble in ordering the food and could speak Mandarin, try to talk to him in Mandarin and he would be glad to assist. Best to visit before 7 pm, be prepared to queue otherwise. 

7) Cheonggyecheon Stream
Direction: Exit 8 of Gwanghwamun Station (subway line 5) and walk over the entrance of Cheonggyecheon Stream.
Opening Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week unless stated otherwise by the authorities
Admission: Free

While shopping is meant for those with deep pockets, those who are watching the budget could go for a casual evening walk at Cheonggyecheon Stream; a 10.84 km long stream flowing from Gwanghwamun to Dongdaemun, The restoration took three years, there will be 22 bridges shine throughout the night and it is of course, best to enjoy the astonishing lighting at night.

The stream is only interesting at both ends, it can be dark in the midway so if you wish to take some photos, it is the best that you start from Gwanghwamun entrance. We tried walking for an hour, though we have reached Dongdaemun train station, we have yet to reach the other end of the stream. Physically exhausted, we threw the white flag. 

8) Myeong-dong Shopping District
Direction: Exit 6 of Euljiro 1-ga Station (subway line 2), walk towards the Lotte Department Store direction. Walk across the street (or follow the crowd) and you will find Myeong Dong Shopping district.
Business Hours: late afternoon to 11 pm. 

No trip to Seoul is complete without a visit to Myeong Dong, the central shopping district of Seoul. The place is often thronged with crowd, there are plenty to watch, buy and eat here. Stalls selling food will be available from 4 to 5 pm while the retail boutiques open as early as 10 am. You can find most Korean brands (as well as international brands) here. If you are looking for cosmetic products, make sure to ask for more free samples. There are a lot of currency exchange providers around the area but the rates for Malaysian Ringgit are often very low. Thus, it is advisable for you to bring more cash or convert them to U.S Dollars. Big retail boutiques do accept and trade USD, at fairly reasonable rates.

Line Friends Store

Lemonade (3,000 KRW)

Lower Ground of Lotte Department Store
Business Hours: 10:30 am to 8 pm on every Monday to Thursday; 10:30 am to 8:30 pm on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays.

The Bake Cheese Tart (2,800 KRW each)

While those hunt for cosmetics, branded apparels should rush to higher levels for tax-free shopping (if you wish to purchase Laneige, Nature Republic, The Face Shop or Sulwahsoo); higher end products can be purchased at lower floors (tax-deductible). Shoppers that spent more than 50,000 KRW may opt for instant tax-rebate at Lotte but the counter ceases its operations as early as 7 pm. To play safe, make sure you can get there as early as you can. You may always claim your tax return at the airport otherwise. The procedures are different so please ask accordingly.

At the lower ground floor... Korean snacks are available to be bought as souvenirs or gifts but in the event that you have ample tummy space left, look for this Hokkaido Bake Cheese Tart (operating on the same floor). Selling at 2,800 KRW per piece, it certainly did not come cheap but it was lip-smacking! The Cheese was in half-melted form, it oozes out with the slightest prick on top. The pastry skin was slightly harder than expected but it was the soul of the dish. The cheesy filling carried a hint of sweetness with a zesty-tangy end. The flavor lasted long on the palate... it certainly reminded me of Lemon Cheese Cake, well inflected in the form of half-melted Cheese Tart. Though expensive, it was fun to try (more for novelty experience).

9) O' Sulloc Tea House [Myeong Dong Branch]
Direction: Exit 6 of Euljiro 1-ga Station (subway line 2), walk towards the Lotte Department Store direction. Enter from Myeong Dong Street direction (with Zara boutique on your right), walk straight until the second junction. You will find it on your left (an alley on your left, McDonald's is just a stone's throw distance away).
Business Hours: 9 am to 10:30 pm. Opens Daily.
Service Charge: No
Government Tax: No

Chocolate Swiss Roll with Green Tea Cream (5,000 KRW)

Green Tea Bingsu with Green Tea Brownie and Ice Cream (14,000 KRW)

O' Sulloc Tea House is a big name and should be especially familiar for green tea frenzy. The Green Tea specialist has branches all over the country while certain products are being exported to other countries too (for instance, their Green Tea spread)!

Look out for their monthly promotion, a bundle-promotion that is usually cheaper when 2 items are purchased together. The Green Tea lover in us insisted that we must order their Green Tea Bingsu. The texture was coarser than expected but once we pop the spoonful of shaved Ice in our mouth, we reacted with a warm-gleaming smile. The vegetal Green Tea element was heavy, as though they have poured an extremely concentrated Green Tea juice to the shaved Ice; even tastier to go with their creamy Green Tea Ice Cream and sweet-chewy Green Tea Brownies. Though the vegetal flavor was bold, there was a nary of bitter-after taste. Every component seems to have amalgamated well here. The only setback? The hefty price tag.

The Chocolate Swiss Roll with Green Tea Cream on the other hand, was standard-average. The sponge layer of the Cake was moist and most chocolaty but the Green Tea Cream did not stand out; as though I was having an ordinary piece of Swiss Roll.

10) Namsan Park and N Seoul Tower
Direction: Exit 1 of Hoehyeon Station (subway line 4) and walk towards Banporo (towards Namsan no. 3 Tunnel). You will find a Namsan Oerumi (a special lift for visitors to Namsan Park) there. Use the lift and you will find yourself right in front of the cable car station.
Business Hours: 10 am to 11 pm. Available daily.
Cable Car Cost: 8,500 KRW per return trip per adult/ 5,500 KRW per return trip per children
Admission to Observatory Tower of N Seoul Tower: 10,000 KRW per adult/ 8,000 KRW per children

One of the most-visited parks in central Seoul would be Nam San Park, a park situated at the peak of a 860-feet mountain; conveniently located near to Myeong Dong area (only a few subway stations away). It's a place filled with love in the air; there are two ways of getting to the peak of the mountain. You can either walk or take the cable car; for those taking cable car, simply walk to the cable car station and purchase your pass. Wait for your turn and board the cable car to the peak. Temperature seems to be cooler over there, depending on season, it might be a good idea to put on a wind-breaker.

At the top of the mountain, you will find plenty of "love locks" along your way to the center of the park; more can be found at the observatory deck. There's a souvenir gift shop right under Seoul Tower... selling "Love Locks" from 8,000 KRW each (large ones could cost up to 12,000 KRW). 

The lone rangers may proceed straight to Seoul Tower but the entrance tickets are priced exorbitantly and we did not want to check it out (I've been to Tokyo Tower and Taipei 101; did not find them spectacular). 

11) Hongik University (Hongdae Area)
Direction: Exit 9 of Hongik University Station (subway line 2)
Business Hours: 1 pm to evening
Admission: Free

Hongik University (also known as Hongdae area) has emerged as one of the latest shopping destinations in Seoul, thanks to the student population staying in the vicinity. There are plenty to shop, eat and play here; all at relatively-lower prices as compared to Myeong Dong (to accommodate the spending power of students). If time permits, you may even take a leisure stroll at the university; proceed straight to the market otherwise. If you are lucky, there will be street performances too. Skip this place if you are not into shopping. 

Belgium Liege Waffles (1,000 KRW per piece)

 12) Nami Island (南怡岛)
Direction: You may opt to take direct bus to Nami Island (more convenient but too costly), if you wish to, you may refer to this website. We took the usual train route. Exit Gapyeong Station (Gyeongchun Line) and walk to the bus station opposite the train station. Take Bus #33-5 or Bus #33-24, the Bus runs from 7:45 am to 8:25 pm while the frequency is 30 minutes to 60 minutes (it costs 1,100 KRW per adult).
Opening Hours: 7:30 am to 9:30 pm. Opens Daily.
Admission: 8,000 KRW (Foreigner with Passport)

The Bus from Gapyeong Station will drop you off near the entrance to the Ferry Terminal. When heading back, look for the queue right next to GS 25 convenience store near to the Bungee Jump corner. The Ferry ride from the mainland to the island takes approximately 8 minutes. Once there, you are free to explore the island or keep yourself busy with all sorts of recreational activities available through the island (at additional costs). 

Nami Island is famous due to its appearance in one of the most successful Korean dramas- Winter Sonata. The beautifully tree-lined roads are most suitable for photography while the nature lovers could explore the water-sports available. One down side though... the island is constantly thronged with crowd (not only tourists but locals as well) and as a result of that, taking wonderful photos become impossible. It was more like a walk in the park instead of visiting a nature-wonderland. 

If food is your concern, there are plenty of restaurants available throughout the island but no, we did not check them out. A cool place but not too sure if it's worth the travelling time and effort just to get here... to find the clamoring crowd. Skip this place if you are short of time (in my opinion).

Wood Fire- Steamed Red Bean Bun (1,000 KRW)

13) Chun Cheon Dak Galbi (春川炒鸡)
Direction: Opposite the car park in front of the entrance to Ferry Terminal of Nami Island (right in front of Bungee Jump Station).
Business Hours: Lunch and Dinner

Chun Cheon Dak Galbi (16,000 KRW/ 2 person)

If you have decided to spend a day just to visit Nami Island, make sure your lunch is planned at the nearby restaurants. Nami Island is just half an hour away from Chun Cheon, thus, finding a restaurant that serves authentic Chun Cheon Dak Galbi is easy. When approaching the Ferry Terminal of Nami Island, you will notice countless of restaurants offering Dak Galbi along the way. The Korean delicacy has stirred up many's interest in the nation... with many Korean restaurants offering the similar product. Unfortunately, none can beat (referring to Korean restaurants in Penang) the ones offered here at this particular restaurant.

Chickens were already cooked when they served to us, we need not dirty our hands. We love the brilliantly balanced sweetness with a gentle spicy kick and salinity. The handful of fresh Sesame Leaves were amazing, they have definitely added another layer of dimension to the dish. We enjoyed the dish by wrapping the Chicken (and condiments such as raw Garlic) with fresh Lettuce. The portion was more than great enough for us. If you wish to try out the delicacy, try your luck at any one of these restaurants near the entrance to Nami Island (or Ferry Terminal).

Have Fun Exploring Seoul! 

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