Seoul, South Korea (Part II) - Gapyeong County

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

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Between city scapes or countrysides, I've always considered myself to be a "city girl" - at least for the past couple of years whenever I traveled overseas, I'd prefer urban sights to nature ones. Yet this year, there is something about the latter that draws me in and I'm starting to appreciate more rustic views, a welcome change in my opinion. 

It's thus no surprise that for this Seoul trip, I really enjoyed the time when we traveled out to Gapyeong County on our fourth day, as it is an area known for its natural environment and its surrounding mountainous regions. It is, however, still a rather tourist-y (and therefore, gimmicky) place to visit so be warned. 

We chose to go on a day tour organised by KKday, as it was a fuss-free one that included an English-speaking tour guide (understanding the background of some of these places was probably integral in appreciating it fully) as well as transportation around by coach. Figuring out how to get to places would be slightly more tedious compared to doing so in the city so we decided to avoid having such problems entirely.

We started our day slightly differently this time - yes not a convenience store breakfast! - and headed to a nearby cafe to grab a morning bite. We stumbled upon quite the gem as we later learnt that Aoi Tori Bakery was a Japanese cafe frequented and raved by locals. While it was slightly difficult to order as the staff didn't understand English at all, we managed to get what we wanted.  

Ooey gooey cheese toastie with a side of salad slathered in my favourite Japanese sesame dressing. 

With such a great start to the day, we were ready to embark on our little Gapyeong County journey. We walked to one of the Hongik University station exits and were picked up by the tour bus, which stopped by at another subway station to pick up more passengers. Surprisingly, the entire bus was filled with fellow travelers and we headed for our first stop - Nami Island

We had to take a ferry to get to the quaint picturesque island. 

Although Nami Island is populated with tourists due to its fame from a Korean drama, I felt that it has still managed to retain its untouched charm and I really enjoyed every minute on it. Visitors could do a lot more just than just take photographs with random statues. There were pretty authentic stores selling Korean food that appeared to be prepared in traditional methods, as well as other activities available to partake in such as cycling. 

Family time. 

I absolutely loved the signs on the island - the font and illustrations are way too cute, and every one seems to be hand drawn with the calligrapher's own personality reflected onto it. 

As part of the tour, we were given around three hours to tour the island on our own. This wasn't quite enough time as we still had to eat lunch and it was a mad rush scrambling to take pictures afterwards. Lunch was so good though. We picked a restaurant, Seomhyanggi, as it served Dak-galbi (spicy grilled chicken) and apparently the dish's origins are traced to Chuncheon city, where Nami Island is located in. Initially, we thought it'd be expensive to dine in an eatery on the island (the ambiance was amazing too) but the bill didn't turn out too bad despite our over-ordering tendencies. 

We couldn't resist ordering a pot of Budae Jjigae to tide us through the cold weather. 

The famed grilled chicken platter, which came with an assortment of pork belly, mushrooms, sausages and other good stuff. 

Sizzle sizzle. 

We also got a bottle of Nami Island Soju to go with our meal, but I couldn't tell if it was good or bad as this was my first taste of Soju. Pretty strong though.  

Fresh steamed buns - Van got one, but I'm not a fan of red bean paste. 

There were a bunch of ostriches just roaming the island. What funny creatures. 

Love on wheels heh heh. 

It was so cold and honestly these fireplaces didn't provide much warmth. 

I really like this picture. 

And then it was time to leave by ferry. Views were amazing at sea.

The next stop of the tour is Petite France! Being a fan of the Little Prince (Le Petit Prince, but of course I read the English version), I was really excited of this leg of the day's programme. Although it is branded as a "theme park", I'd say that Petite France was more of a fun museum with a couple of performances and galleries that showcased French culture.  

A beautiful, beautiful wonderland. 

I really liked the colourful buildings, quite reminiscent of the pictures (never been to France) I've seen of Strasbourg. 

Captivating puppet show - only managed to capture the ending when he was making bubble art, but this guy's really skilled in bringing his puppets alive. Of course, this is only judged by my limited exposure to watching puppet shows. 

Belgian waffle with chocolate sauce. 

Van's chocolate and vanilla ice cream cone. 

The place was beautifully lit at night, especially because of the Christmas decorations.

At the galleries, I spotted a miniature figure of the Michelin man. As a marketing student, the Michelin company's insane marketing tactics intrigues me to no end and is one of my favourite success stories.

Yes, this is the tyre company that supplies the wheels for your automobiles and also the same one that rates restaurants with elusive 'stars'. The Michelin food guide was actually created to encourage people to drive around to eat the best food, and in turn use up their tyres and have them replaced with new ones, sold by Michelin. How genius is that? 

By this time, the sun has already set and we were really fatigued from all the walking we did the entire day. The weather was also getting pretty brutal. However, there was one final stop of the tour, the Garden of Morning Calm, an arboretum that houses rare and endangered plants and flowers. As we went during the winter, there was a Lighting Festival going on and we were made to visit the place at dusk. 

Unfortunately, I found the light-ups quite gaudy. The colourful lights were not displayed in a very tasteful fashion, with colour clashes and dated designs - I daresay that the Gardens by the Bay Christmas Wonderland can easily surpass this one. As a result, we decided to spend our time at a cafe inside the garden. 

Injeolmi toast, and a cup of hot chocolate. Injeolmi is a type of Korean rice cake with a mochi-like texture, and the toast was dusted with soy bean powder and topped with a drizzle of honey.

The food wasn't great, but we definitely didn't regret seeking respite in the warm cafe. I wished we could have visited the garden in the day though, because I might have appreciated the botanical beauties a little more. We could barely see any of the plants at night - they were overshadowed by all the crazy lights. 

After that, the tour bus dropped us off back at the subway station nearest to our Airbnb. We decided to do one final walk around Hongdae Street before heading back. 

The next morning, it was back to convenience store food. This time, we walked a little further to a larger CU for more food options. I had a cup of instant Samyang spicy noodles cooked in the Jjajangmyun (black bean sauce noodles) style, and a bottle of Melona melon milk to wash the spice down.   

Literally tasted like the melted down of one of my all-time favourite ice creams.

Thereafter, it was time to leave our cozy Airbnb - and Mr Teddy, who accompanied us for all four nights.

As our flight was a red-eye, we essentially had the entire day to do more touring. We left our luggages at Seoul Station and attempted to walk to Gyeongbokgung Palace, but somehow neither of us were really feeling it. We got awfully lost, and the weather in Seoul was getting insanely cold. Halfway through, we decided to abort our plan, turn back and just spend the rest of the day shopping at Lotte Mart. 

We did manage to get this from a 7-11 though. 

I have been meaning to try this ever since I did a lot of research about interesting ice cream launches in the Asian market during my most recent summer internship. And this was worth braving the cold for. If you are a huge fan of the Lotus caramelized cookies like I am, just imagine those flavours packed into a sleek crispy cone line with caramel-flavoured chocolate and topped with cookie crumbs. 

Prior to heading to the airport, we made a stop at Paris Baguette, which unlike its name suggests, actually originated from South Korea. 

Cutest cup. 

With that marks the end of our eat-walk-eat holiday in Seoul. Not the most eventful trip, but enjoyable nonetheless. Thank you to my travel buddy and roomie Van for carrying the weight of planning most of our itinerary, as well as figuring out the navigation directions during the trip. It has been a real pleasure. 

When we touched down in Hong Kong, reality hit us - it was time to take finals without much time to study at all. But now writing this, with the benefit of hindsight, heading to Korea was undoubtedly the right decision. Yay us. 

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Seoul, South Korea (Part I)

Monday, December 24, 2018

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Self-indulgent overseas trips have been a running theme throughout the entirety of my exchange abroad, so here's a note to myself right from the onset of this post that I don't quite enjoy them all that much. Please, girl, spend your money more wisely in future on experiences you will actually appreciate more. Destination wishlist for anyone out there who'd like to scoot me off (heh heh): India, Vietnam, or Bhutan! I suppose it is clear that the type of trips I find myself to enjoy more are not the ones I have been going to this half of the year.  

That being said, I am enormously thankful that I get to live these moments and it's still always exciting travelling to a new country. I've never been to Korea so this marks a first for me. And I shall take comfort in the fact that flight tickets from Hong Kong to Korea and Japan are cheaper than if I were to fly from Singapore. 

As it was study week in Hong Kong from 3-7 December, which equates to an extra week of holidays for exchange students, my roomie Vanessa and I decided to fly to Korea for a getaway - mainly to finally get a taste of spicy food that we've been sorely missing during our time here in Hong Kong. Who even knew that the people of Hong Kong rarely take chili? Eating McDonald's fries without garlic chili should be illegal, but that was the sad fate we had to resign ourselves to for the past few months. 

We landed on the afternoon of 3 December, which gave us time to check into our really insanely affordable Airbnb (it worked out to about S$10 per night per person) and take a leisurely stroll around the Hongik University area - also known as the Hongdae Street. To anyone who is intending to head to Korea on a budget, feel free to reach out for my Airbnb listing recommendation. It has an amazing location (Hongik University is where everyone will recommend you to stay if you're a tourist in Seoul), personable hosts, and a very cozy living environment. 

That night, we didn't get to do much other than get dinner. Under the recommendation of Ladyironchef's Instagram Stories, we headed to Shimsontang for Budae Jjigae (army stew) and pan fried spicy pork with mozzarella cheese. 

So very satisfying. 

The next day, we headed to a nearby convenience store, CU, for breakfast. I had a prepacked Gimbap and the much-raved-about banana milk (the iconic one produced by Binggrae). It looks slightly different here but this one's the limited edition festive edition with a lil' red Rudolph nose. 

Tummies filled, we took the subway to a hot tourist spot, the Ewha's Womans University. Funny how I'd always subconsciously judge the various tour groups that would stop by my own home university and here I am in a foreign country doing just that. But this one's pretty special, being a university that empowers women (not exclusively though, I learnt that they do have male students) and it also ranks as one of Korea's most prestigious colleges. And of course, one thing that draws people there is the sheer beauty of the campus - the autumn season definitely helped. I shall let the pictures speak for themselves. 

Hi, Van.

Fashion faux-pas but proud of it. My outfit assembles for the entire trip were completely thwarted by the insane Korea weather - it got way too cold to dress in a certain way, thus explaining my weird tights here.  

Hello there.

After touring the university, both of us were famished and decided to randomly enter an eatery called Kimbob along the fashion street. We ordered some Kimchi ramen for lunch which was pretty mediocre but good enough to satisfy our hunger. 

Lunch wasn't enough for us though. Quite soon after our meal, we found ourselves sitting in an Isaac Toast cafe devouring some sandwiches. 

I believe I got the Bacon Best and Van had the Bulgalbi one. While many people warn about the sandwiches' over-hyped reputation, I personally thought that they were great. Made on the spot with fresh ingredients, bursting with flavour, and reasonably priced, they are a win for me although I'm not sure how often I'd actually purchase these in Singapore. 

By this point, we were really full - the perfect time to head up to the Namsan Tower (Seoul Tower), and we did that by public bus. 

The bird's eye view of the city made it so clear that Korea is crazy huge, especially when compared to what we'd usually see at the peak of a Hong Kong hike, or of course that of Singapore too. 

Overwhelming promises and declarations of love. 

Yes, that's my second banana milk of the day - I was hooked! My digestive system definitely benefited for the sudden influx of lactose too. 

Even more breathtaking at night. 

Due to its high altitude, the both of us were practically freezing when exploring the Seoul Tower although some locals didn't seem very affected by the cold. When night fell, we took the bus down to Myeongdong Street to look for a potential dinner spot. 

Crowds upon crowds upon crowds.

We found ourselves at BHC Chicken, one of the more popular outlets of Korean Fried Chicken along the fried chicken street at Myeongdong. Although they offered us a table outdoors, we chose to wait to get a seat indoors because neither of us could deal with the chilly weather. The 45-minute wait spent waiting was so worth it though, and we got to enjoy our chicken feeling all warm and toasty. 

We ordered an entire Sprinkle Chicken, a side of fries and Van had a mug of beer to down it all (I'm not that huge a fan of beer). The dusting of cheese, onion and garlic powder on the crispy piping hot fried chicken makes all the difference! There was also an accompanying sauce that tasted exactly like honey butter chips. It was so fricking delicious sigh I can never ever call myself an animal lover if I continue to devour chicken this way. 

A frozen smore dessert that was torched on the spot. I'm pretty sure I got ripped off by this, and halfway through I decided I was way too cold to be eating chocolate ice cream and completely regretted my purchase. Oh well.

It was a pretty eventful and extremely tourist-y day (actually every day of this Korea trip was mainstream, but it allowed us to cover most of what Seoul has to offer, I suppose) and we went to bed so fatigued but just as satisfied. 

In the morning, we headed once again to our trusty CU convenience store for breakfast. This time, I tried an onigiri and had a matcha latte to go with it. I absolutely love convenience store food in Japan and Korea - I'd happily survive on them alone.

Our day's itinerary consisted of just one location - Lotte World! It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of theme parks but this one was quite a letdown. The element of imagineering (which Disney and Universal are experts at) was sorely lacking. I was unable to relate to their raccoon mascots and I suppose the language barrier played a part too. 

That's fine, but if a theme park doesn't have that, it should make up with out-of-this-world exciting rides which I personally feel that Ocean Park (Hong Kong) and Leofoo Village Theme Park (Taiwan) delivers. I think that's also the kind of concept that the Six Flags chain of amusement parks in the United States go for as well. However, the Lotte World rides were really disappointing with not much of a thrill factor. A lot of them seemed to cater to children. I guess I shouldn't have expected much from a company which has multiple and insanely diverse lines of businesses. 

Food was Lotte's saving grace though - everything was reasonably priced and of pretty good quality. This bowl of warm curry udon with fried chicken made my tummy quite happy. 

Ocean Park does this ride better. 

This ride looks pretty fun, but it was limited to those with a special VIP pass - I found that quite ridiculous because our normal ticket wasn't cheap and it doesn't make sense to completely limit the entire ride, as opposed to having a separate express queue. There were quite a few rides like that. 

Me being me, I bought a cotton candy made to the likeness of a bunny, more specifically Cony from LINE friends. 

Van's corn dog. 

A dose of nostalgia in the form of Mini Melts - I used to eat these dippin dots-like ice cream when there was an outlet in Heartland Mall back home. I was so happy to find it at Lotte World, and braved the cold to eat this cup. 

Oreo churros. 

All in all, I would not recommend Lotte World to anyone my age, unless you are going to Korea with a toddler in tow. We observed that most of the people there were locals and I personally don't think there's any ride there that would appeal to tourists (i.e. it's not a world-class amusement park). To illustrate how bad the attractions were, we queued around 40 minutes for a 12-minute 3D movie that was shot from the perspective of a cat entering a haunted house. We sat on hard wooden benches and put on flimsy 3D glasses to watch a poorly-made animation that did not have any storyline whatsoever. 

In fact, out of everything we were probably most impressed with a little room with cute photo backdrops. Yes, the theme park is actually that underwhelming. Thankfully, our next two days in Korea were a lot more eventful than this one, and I will be writing about them in the next post, hopefully soon. To end this one off, here's a picture of me in the said photo backdrop room.

 Merry Christmas to anyone reading this! Have a very blessed time with family, while I video-call mine from almost 3000km away. 
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