Happy New Year everyone! It’s the start of 2011. Are you looking forward to it? 2010 has been a great year for Hallyu in Singapore. We’ve had artistes coming every month. Sometimes, up to 4 artistes in a month. Who says nothing happens in our little red dot. From all accounts, it seems 2011 will be just as happening…so start saving people. ^^
To start of the new year, I’m going to post about my recent trip to Korea, which was very kindly sponsored by the nice people over at Korea Tourism Organisation. Thanks for selecting me to go on the KTO Familiarization Trip. ^^ And these nice people always have some contests on, so do go and check out their FB and take part coz you never know when you’ll get lucky…like me. : )
Anyway, I thought the following photo best sums up the feel of this whole winter trip in Korea… It snowed and snowed and snowed…. ^^
To be frank, I was a little apprehensive about this trip. I haven’t been away on my own for the last 3 years and I wasn’t sure how everyone would cope…especially the boss of my house- my 2 1/2 years old girl. But the lure of Korea was difficult to resist and I found myself at Changi airport at 8.30pm that night, waiting for Carolyn ((x)clusive) and Sarah (Sarah loves Seoul ) , the other 2 winners of the contest. It was going to be exciting. Unfortunately, it would also mean missing the JYP auditions, of which I was the official blogger. Thank goodness for people like bb and kandace (btw, this girl takes some awesome photos. Do check them out on her site) who helped covered the JYP auditions for me. Thanks people!
And so, at about 10.40pm that night, I found myself inside Asiana Airlines and on my way to Kimchiland.
For some strange reason, dinner was being served at 11.30pm but how to eat bibimbap at that time? So I declined and decided to catch an episode of the immensely popular variety show, 2D1N. If you don’t already know, the hosts, currently consisting of Kang Ho Dong, Lee Su Geun, Eun Ji Won, Lee Seung Gi and Kim Jong Min spend 1 Night & 2 Days in different parts of Korea for every episode. Along the way, the hosts are subjected to much trails and obstacles where they compete for food and accomodation. Great fun and extremely good for getting to know a little bit more about Korea. You can catch this show on KBS World. This was the episode I was watching and it was extremely funny.
We reached Incheon Airport at 6 in the morning and had to wait for the rest (consisting of mainly travel agents) coming from Malaysia, Indonesia & Thailand. I got hungry and decided to share a bowl of porridge with Carolyn. Can’t remember what I had though unfortunately (oops).
*Edit- Sarah reminded me that it was pinenut porridge. Thanks Sarah! ^^
Bon Bibimbap/본 비빔밥 is part of a franchise chain and the outlet in Incheon Airport only opened in 2008. No wonder I didn’t see it during my 2007 trip. There is a Bon Juk (or porridge) in KL. Hmm….I wonder if they’ll open up one in Singapore. I think it should do well here. Any takers out there? hehe! It would make a nice change from all the BBQ restaurants that we have here.
Along the way to the city center, I realised I really missed Korea…
Instead of checking into our hotel immediately, our guide, Julie, decided to take us on our sight seeing tour straightaway to avoid wasting time (it gets dark earlier in winter). So we headed to Cheongwadae/청와대 or commonly known as the Blue House, which is the official residence and office for the President of South Korea.
This is the fountain in front of the Blue House. I found out that it was only recently reopened again because of G20 summit. So lucky us. ^^
Tours are conducted on a regular basis and although you can’t actually go inside the buildings, you can visit the grounds outside. Check here for more information.
Along the way to the Blue House…
And the Blue House itself…so called because of the blue-tiled roof.
(side track- ‘Dae Mul/대물’, a Korean drama starring Ko Hyun Jung, Kwon Sang Woo and Cha In Pyo, about Korea’s 1st lady President, was extremely popular)
A newly opended attraction is Cheongwadae Sarangchae/청와대 사라채, presidential musuem showcasing the Korea. It has 2 floors and numerous rooms but we visited only Republic of Korea Hall and Hi Seoul Hall. A good introduction to modern Korea in a fun and interactive way.
At the entrance of the Republic of Korea Hall…I like this.
The Hallyu screen inside the Hi Seoul Hall… how many movies/ dramas have you watched? The only movie I was surprised to see was Lee Jun Ki’s ‘King and the Clown’ included but it was an excellent movie and if you hadn’t watch it, I seriously recommend that you do.
We were supposed to head to Gyeongbokgung Palace after this but it was really way too cold (it was -6 that morning!!). So we decided to go for a early lunch. As we were going to visit Insadong later, Julie decided to bring us to a local resturant and Gyeongho Galbi/경호 갈비 was an excellent choice. It’s a nondescript restaurant but the food was pretty good. It’s at the start of Insadong, on the left side (if you are coming from An-Guk station).
Singaporeans are known to love food and we demonstrated this characteristic to the fullest when the 4 of us sat down and decided that the galbi, ginseng chicken and pajeon looked just too delicious to ignore. (I didn’t try the chicken so I can’t comment but the galbi and pajeon were good)
I’ve always felt that the banchan tasted better in Korea. Maybe it’s the vegetables they use? Hmm…
Insadong is known as the cultural street in Korea. This stretch of road, which is closed to trafic on weekends is lined with little shops selling little trinkets, traditional gifts, art galleries and antique shops. There are no high rise buildings within this road in keeping with the culture and all signages have to be in hangul including that for Starbucks. Originally, this enclave was the residence of government officials and wealthy businessmen. During Japanese occupation, the wealthy businessmen were forced to sell off their belongings and thus started the antique & art trade. Then, at the start of the Korean democracy, many of the royal chefs and kitchen help, who were forced to leave the palace, set up shops here as well as it is very near the palace. Hence, the abundance of eateries.
I just could not resist getting this snack- hotteok/호떡, even though I’ve just had a full lunch. The dough is deep fried and filled with sugar or cinnamon. The unqiue point? It is a snack sold mainly during winter. Totally sinful but oh…so good. Eat it while it’s hot. And be careful not to spill the fillings like I did. Only 1,000won.
Perhaps many of you may have tried waering the hanbok but Go Guan, a photo studio offers not just hanbok but the full works- including headgear, make-up, complete with the right background for photography. A totally fun way to spend an hour or two. This photo studio is nearish to the 7-11 store along Insadong.
Add: Insadong 143, 2nd Level
*Quirky note: We had to take off our jeans and top as we had to wear a inner white garment first that included a skirt.
We went around the studio (which had various backdrops) and snapped away in our hanbok and pretended we were Hwang Ji-ni. Obviously, the 2 men in our group did not partake in this at all. Go in small groups as they were in a fluster when the 10 of us decided to do this.
I haven’t been to N Seoul Tower for a long time but if it’s your first time there, it offers you a great view of Seoul and it’s vicinity. Unfortunately, to see this view, you got to to climb first (well, it is on a hill)….so here we go…wear comfortable shoes.
It seems to be a popular spot not just with the tourists but also the Koreans as the place was packed that day, despite it being a Tuesday afternoon. There are very nice cafes/ restaurants at the top, though I’m guessing it’s pretty crowded most of the time and oh…there is a Nature Republic store too…with standees of JYJ and Rain.
The Love Message Tile was started in 2008 at the Tower. Get a mini tile, declare your undying love for each other and post it for the world to read. I’m not sure how much it cost but you can get it from the souvenir shops.
N Seoul Tower has always been known to be a romantic spot especially for lovers and many dramas have been filmed here including ‘Boys Over Flowers’, ‘Beautiful Days’ and the recent ‘Dr Champs’
Another way to declare undying love amongst lovers- Locks of Love. At the terrace of the tower, couples write a message and their names on the padlock and lock their ‘love’ before throwing away the key….Again, you can get the lock from the gift shop.
And after the giddying heights of Namsan Tower, we’re off to see the giddying heights of Korean martial arts. Korea is pretty well known for it’s non-verbal performance. Think Nanta, Break out, ‘The Chaser’, Sachoom and Jump. All these performances combine dance, comedy and martial arts rolled into one. And because it’s non-verbal, anyone can understand the story.
JUMP at JUMP Theatre in Seoul
I’ve already watched JUMP at The Esplanade last year but it was still fun to watch it again. There is no plot just a simple story about this ‘simple’ family…who just happens to be really good martial arts. The uncle is the ‘joker’ but watch out for the ‘old man’ narrating the story. Trust me, you won’t fall asleep.
*Quirky note: If you are a foreigner and sits at the aisle, be prepared to be called on stage for some interaction. hehe!
The cast of Jump…which changes daily. You can get their signatures after the performance. I was too shy….
That night, we checked into Best Western Premier Hotel Kukdo. It was nice and roomy enough. Although there are no shopping near the hotel, it is only minutes away from the nearest subway station and very near dongdaemun and myeongdong. I took a look at the rates- not too bad for it’s location. I like the basin…. which is location outside the bathroom. ^^
I couldn’t resist a quick trip to Meyongdong that night, seeing as I was so near it. So a few of us took the train down. It’s even easier now to buy the tickets from the ticket vending machine. There are 4 languages available on the machine- English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Select the language you want and then select the station you want to drop off. Insert the money and ta-da! You’ve got your ticket. At the end of the journey, after you’ve got out of the station, just pop the card into the refund machine and you will get 500won back. These tickets are only good for single journey. Or you can also get your ticket from the ticketing booth.
*Quirky note: Unlike Singapore, there is normally a magazine booth right inside the station itself, so if you do get bored, you can get a magazine or a newspaper to read. Also, the Koreans do observe quite strictly the rule about seats being reserved for those in need, so try not to sit in them if possible.