Seoul, South Korea (Part II) - Gapyeong County

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

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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