Written by Composthp on 29 Apr, 2012
The weather had turned foul, threatening to pour rain on my last day in Jeju. I had originally intended to hike Mt Halla but was vetoed by Sylvia due to the lack of snow shoes. So I turned to Sylvia for suggestions on where to…Read More
The weather had turned foul, threatening to pour rain on my last day in Jeju. I had originally intended to hike Mt Halla but was vetoed by Sylvia due to the lack of snow shoes. So I turned to Sylvia for suggestions on where to go on this particular day after a hearty breakfast at TGG. She consulted her smartphone as if seeking answers from an almanac. "It will rain from 2pm onwards" Sylvia gravely informed me and promptly plunged into another discussion on possible attractions/places to visit. Once we had agreed, she quickly flipped through her collection of taxi contacts and made some phone calls. I held my breath as this was an extremely last minute request and 2 taxi-drivers had rejected her. Finally, she contacted Mr Kang, a tangerine farmer cum part-time taxi-driver and he agreed readily. Our half day tour was on. Our agreed itinerary: Jungmun Daepo columnar-jointed lava-> Jungmun beach-> Organic strawberry farm-> O'Sulloc Teahouse Museum-> Yongmeori coast-> Lunch.Mr Kang looked more like a gentleman than a farmer. He was soft-spoken and spoke some English. When he could not express himself well, he would whip up his smartphone translator and show me what he meant. Jungmun Daepo columnar-jointed lavaPart of Jeju's global geopark, and Olle trail #8, the hexagonal lava pillars were the result of the contraction of molten lava when the lava cooled. It stretches for about 2 km from Jungmun to Daepo and is a spectacular sight to behold. The boarded walkway along the cliffs gave visitors a closer view of the unique jointed columns. We spent about 30 minutes admiring the views before Mr Kang drove us to the Dolphin show area at Jungmun resort, from the restaurant, we had a bird's eye view of the Hyatt hotel, Jungmun beach and another view of the hexagonal columns.Opening Hours8am to 7pmEntry FeesAdults: KRW 2000Senior Citizen above 65 years: FreeO'Sulloc Teahouse MuseumO'Sulloc teahouse is a tea showcase for AmorePacifc, the company that mainly owns cosmetic brands such as Laneige, Sulwhasoo, Etude and Innisfree. The museum, opened in 2001 aims to revive the tea culture in Korea. Built like a tea-cup, the museum houses exhibits such as tea cups, tea sets and tools dating back to the Joseon dynasty while explaining the history of tea. Visitors can also sample and purchase their tea products in the tea shop and tea house. We tried the green tea ice cream which was rich, not too sweet and clearly taste of green tea. An observatory deck in the second floor offered a panoramic view of the surrounding green tea fields. According to Mr Kang, these fields were once barren land filled with rocks. It was reclaimed by the company and carefully cultivated into the now organic tea fields. This museum is a popular stop for tourists so be prepared for crowds.Opening Hours10am to 6pmAdmission is free.Organic Strawberry FarmStrawberries were in season at the time of our visit and I had asked Sylvia whether she knew of any strawberry farms that we could visit. She did and promptly called and persuaded the farmer to open their farm for us to visit. Despite GPS guidance, we thought we were lost as we were guided to a side road amidst bare fields. Mr Kang had to call the owner for the exact location when we realised that we had already arrived as the owner hurriedly came out to welcome us. The strawberry farm was in fact a greenhouse with rows of riped large berries ready for harvesting. Our arrival was timely as they were packing strawberries for sale. The owner was flustered as they usually do not open their farm to public, their daughter spoke good English and acted as our translator. We were offered berries to sample; these were large, sweet and juicy. We could not resist buying half a dozen punnets, even Mr Kang bought some for his family. We left with our finds, our stomach temporary satiated. Our last stop was lunch at a local Korean restaurant. According to Mr Kang, this place was a popular local haunt and was known for its sea urchin soup. The rain that had been threatening since morning finally poured. We decided to order the house specialty to keep ourselves warm. The restaurant was half empty when we arrived just past 1pm. Service was prompt and efficient. The sea urchin soup was tastier compared to the one we tried the previous day. It had clams as well as generous portions of sea urchin and seaweed. We did not linger as the patrons next to us started lighting up. We enjoyed our half day tour, Mr Kang was enthusiastic and a careful driver. A keen photographer himself, he stopped at certain vantage points to allow me to take photographs. We were not hurried despite the threat of rain, in fact, the timing could not be better as the rain poured after we had completed our sightseeing. Close
Written by Composthp on 28 Apr, 2012
Sylvia from TGG had helped arranged for a taxi cum guide for a full day tour of the eastern part of Jeju. After sifting through her contacts and regaling me on the potential driver's capabilities and experience, she final settled for Mr Lee. Mr Lee,…Read More
Sylvia from TGG had helped arranged for a taxi cum guide for a full day tour of the eastern part of Jeju. After sifting through her contacts and regaling me on the potential driver's capabilities and experience, she final settled for Mr Lee. Mr Lee, Sylvia warned; speaks minimal English but he was reliable and honest. The taxi reservation process was humorous as she reminded me of a matchmaker peering at her list of potential grooms and finally decided that Mr Lee would be the one. Mr Lee arrived early just before 9am, the agreed stipulated time of departure. Together with Sylvia who acted as translator, we went pored over the map of Jeju and mapped out the points of interests to visit. There were some negotiations as Sylvia and Mr Lee nay, agreed and recommended places for us to visit (do put your foot down gently if you really really REALLY want to visit a specific place). The final itinerary after much negotiation: Soesokkuk estuary and beach->Jeju Folk Village Museum-> Coastal road passing Pyoseon Beach-> Seopjikoji and Phoenix Island->Lunch at traditional Korean restaurant-> Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak-> Manjanggul Cave-> Sangumburi crater. It was an ambitious itinerary for a 9 hour tour and Sylvia placed another responsibility on Mr Lee, that of a time-keeper.Off we went, after Sylvia had her pictures of us and the taxi driver (next to the car) smiling widely. Mr Lee was polite and a careful driver. Although he could not speak English very well, it did not prevent him from trying to explain to us the places of interests enroute. Any awkwardness felt initially thawed under the bright blue skies. The tour went smoothly, Mr Lee was an excellent time keeper but he was also flexible, allowing us more than adequate time to explore the various places. Mr Lee highlighted more points of interests along the way, from the scenic coastal roads passing by various Olle trails, to abalone "farms" to the Saryeoni forest path (which I wanted to visit but was advised against it), past Mt Halla's Seongpanak hiking trail on the way back via a tunnel formed by a canopy of trees on either side of the road before heading back to Seogwipo town and TGG.Lunch, highly recommended by Sylvia; was a local seafood Korean restaurant near the sunrise peak that was also a favorite with taxi-drivers (taxi-drivers the world over are known to be gourmets who would know where the cheap and good food are). Aware that we had to pay for the driver's meal, we over-estimated Mr Lee's appetite and ordered too much. We had grilled mackeral, sea urchin soup, seafood nabe (Mr Lee's choice), abalone bibimbap and abalone porridge (all must-try local dishes) unaware that the soup and mackeral comes with rice as well (not forgetting the various side dishes of kimchi). The seafood was fresh and delicious but we did not quite liked the abalone as it was chewy and hard. Still, we managed to finish most of the food, knowing that we would be climbing Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak after lunch. We paid KRW 64 000 for our lunch (not that expensive after all).With the taxi tour, we had more freedom to explore at our own pace. We did not have to pay entry fees for him as he enjoyed guide privileges at the various attractions. The cost of the 1 day taxi tour was KRW 110 000, a good deal since a similiar one day group tour would have costs us KRW 70 000 to 80 000 per person. Close
Written by Composthp on 26 Apr, 2012
Saeyeon BridgeWe arrived at the Seogwipo port in the late morning and decided at the eleventh hour to join the Jeju submarine tour. With 1 hour to spare, we decided to explore the little island Saesom (Bird Island). Saesom can only be reached via the…Read More
Saeyeon BridgeWe arrived at the Seogwipo port in the late morning and decided at the eleventh hour to join the Jeju submarine tour. With 1 hour to spare, we decided to explore the little island Saesom (Bird Island). Saesom can only be reached via the Saeyeon bridge. This bridge beckoned me from day 1 of my arrival. From TGG's balcony, the illuminated bridge at night was akin to a light beacon in the dark. It was opened to public in 2009 and was modelled after the traditional boat of Jeju. Touted as the longest footbridge in Korea, visitors can be seen streaming to and fro the bridge at all times. The bridge was wide and arched with a mast-like structure standing tall and proud in the center of the bridge. It offered beautiful views of surrounding islands dotting the blue sea and Mt Halla in the background of Seogwipo town. Mid-way, we spotted a grey heron feeding at the foot of the bridge while women divers were busy diving further afield perhaps for abalone, seaweed and sea cucumber. The bridge was divided into 2 levels with the upper deck linking directly to Saesom. A spiral staircase leads visitors to the lower deck. At the end of the bridge, there is a resting platform that allows visitors to rest and recharge. Saesom Saesom, in local Jeju dialect means bird island. It has a 1.2km trail that hugs the circumference of the island. The trail can be easily completed within 30 minutes. The trail offers interesting views of the spectacular views of the sea, of Munsom island and 2 red and white lighthouses nearby and of Mt Halla towering over Seogwipo. There is not much flora or fauna on the little island. We completed the trail within 40 minutes, taking our time to admire the scenery and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Most tourists avoid the island, chosing to stop at the observation platform before heading back across the bridge towards the port again.Submarine TourThe submarine tour is perhaps the steepest tour I had paid for during my visit to Jeju. At KRW 51500 per person for 40 minutes, I felt a tinge of pain when I opened my wallet to dig out a wad of notes. The Seogwipo submarine tour was opened in 1988 and was then, the only one offering submarine tours in Asia. The submarine JIAH is docked near Munsom island. We were ushered on board a ferry that brought us to the submarine. The ride was short and spiked by humorous commentary from the captain of the boat; unfortunately in Korean. Prior to boarding the submarine, everyone had their photos taken (for sale at the end of the tour) before we climbed down the narrow staircase into the small submarine. The submarine was made in Finland and spans 22m by 4.6m wide. It was cramped but each couple had a port window so that everyone would be able to enjoy the ocean views unobstructed. The submarine dives as deep as 30m. Non-Korean speakers were issued with a sheet of paper that provided a summary of the dive, the types of coral and fish that could be seen as well as tips on how to take a good picture from the viewport. As we slowly submerged, I could feel my lung constricting and could not stop coughing. What made my experience worse was that my camera decided to die at this moment (fortunately, I had a smartphone). I was also disappointed that the submarine merely submerged downwards and did not travel beyond the Munsom island confines. To attract fish, a diver swam around the submarine, stopping at each port window to allow everyone a chance to take pictures of the schools of fish following him. The children were delighted, so were the adults for that matter. The highlight was when the submarine reached a depth of 30m and switched on the lights, illuminating the coral- Mandrami. A series of flash inside the submarine closely followed with squeals of awe emitted from almost everyone. Again, we had a lively commentary with lots of laughter during the tour; we were unfortunately, not able to understand and join in. Still, we were happy to sit back (cough notwithstanding) and enjoy the magic of the underwater world. The entire tour, inclusive of transfers to and from the submarine took about 1 hour. Visitors were then directed towards a booth next to the pier to select the photos that were taken prior and in the submarine. In all, we did enjoy the tour of the underworld (although I still feel a tinge of pain whenever I remember the price of admission).Saeyeon BridgeFree entry from sunrise to 10 pm dailySaesom Free entry from sunrise to 10 pm dailySubmarine TourDeparts every 40 minutes from 7,20am to 6.40pmKRW 50000 for the tourKRW 1500 for the Maritime park admission fee Close
Written by Composthp on 21 Apr, 2012
Jeju is literally a hiker's playground with 18 walking trails (and numerous sub-trails) to date of varying degrees of difficulty and distance. These trails connect Jeju, bringing hikers past the ordinary as well as the main tourist attractions. "Olle" in Jeju dialect refers to the…Read More
Jeju is literally a hiker's playground with 18 walking trails (and numerous sub-trails) to date of varying degrees of difficulty and distance. These trails connect Jeju, bringing hikers past the ordinary as well as the main tourist attractions. "Olle" in Jeju dialect refers to the narrow pathway that connects the front door of a house to the main street. Indeed, the trails often lead visitors through narrow pathways between residential buildings to main roads and backstreets, via hidden gardens and quiet forests. There is always an element of surprise and discovery in each of its trail. Every trail is marked either with ribbons tied to tree branches, painted arrows on boulders, roads, lava rocks or the wired horse symbol at strategic places. At the beginning or the end of each trail (depending on which trail you start or end with since each trail connects to the next), there is a booth or a wooden horse with a stamp and ink pad for hikers to "mark" their "passports" as a sign of achievement.Olle Route #6 is known as a cultural and ecological route, it is also the most popular route. It is a great trail for beginners as the route starts from the Soesokkak estuary, towards Jejigi Oreum, onwards to Jeongbang waterfalls, meanders into way the center of Seogwipo city, circles Cheonjiyeon Waterfall (passing TGG enroute) and ends in Oedolgae Rock. The total distance is approximately 14km and the estimated time to complete the trail is about 4 to 5 hours. We explored this trail by sections over a period of 3 days. Highlights of Olle Route #6Soesokkak EstuaryThis is the beginning of Route #6. This is where freshwater meets the sea. The beach here is famed for its black sand. The main activity here seemed to be either to canoe along the estuary to admire the lava cliffs or to take a leisurely boat ride on a traditional Korean flat wooden raft called the Teu which is pulled across the estuary by a long rope that is strung between the two banks. Seogwipo is a quiet town, located in the southern part of Jeju-do. The town has many affordable hotels, guesthouses and inns as it is close to a number of tourist attractions which is accessible either on foot, or via the airport bus #600. The downside of staying here is that it takes 1 hour 20 minutes to and from and airport. Seogwipo Olle Maeil market, the main shopping "mall" here is a mere 10 minutes walk from TGG. There is also a small hole-in-the-wall Olle visitor center for hikers to find out more information about the various trails. The Olle market is a charming place to visit and get lost in. This is a covered market that sells everything from freshly made beancurd to kimchi, clothes dyed in persimmon juice to hand-made handicrafts, pots and pans to street snacks, freshly caught seafood to fruits and the list goes on. The vendors were friendly although very few could speak English or Mandarin for that matter. Lee Joong-seop (1916–56)To be honest, I have no idea who he is but Seogwipo seemed to hold him in high esteem, naming a street after him, restoring and preserving the house that he once stayed in and building a gallery behind it in that displays some of his works. Lee is a Korean artist who, during his short stay in Jeju, painted some of his greatest works while here. I did not visit the gallery but was impressed by the restoration of his house, a typical thatched house (choga) that was humble and yet homely.Japanese-Korean Friendship Plum gardenThis is listed as "Park in Namseong-ri Community Center" on the map but is part of the route. We followed the marked route from across TGG towards Oedolgae and came across this peaceful park with its plum blossoms in full bloom. This section is part of a larger park that includes a small golf course and fitness corner. An observatory plateform located towards the corner of the park (just follow the blue ribbons) revealed Cheonjiyeon waterfalls in its full glory (for those who do not want to pay the entrance fees for Cheongjiyeon falls, this is a great alternative). We had the park almost to ourselves and spent some quiet time here, admiring the blooms. From the plateform and towards the other end of the park is a path leading downwards towards Seogwipo port and Cheonjiyeon waterfalls. Follow the blue ribbons if your intention is to end at Oedolgae. OedolgaeThis was one of the filming locations for the popular 2003 Korean TV drama series, "Daejangguem" (you will not miss pictures of the main actress at various points of this route). The trail passes through some of the most scenic coastal area of Seogwipo, through pine forests, and at one point, down the beach which was once a landing place for invaders into Jeju. Oedolgae is a 20m tall volcanic basalt pillar that stands apart from the cliffs, it fires one's imagination. Also known as the lonely rock and the General rock. There are many myths and legends associated with Oedolgae. The name General rock was attributed to the legend of General Choe-Yeong who dressed up the rock as an imposing general which frightened the Mongolian invaders away. Regardless, this is a must visit for many tourists for its beautiful coastal views and spectacular sunsets.Other highlights (which are described in detail under individual entries) include the Cheonjiyeon waterfalls and the Jeongbang waterfalls. TipDue to the strong winds in Jeju, umbrellas are almost unheard of. Seasoned hikers seemed to adhere to a uniform code of dressing. This includes: hiking sneakers (no boots), cap, mask (to protect the face from debris and wind), gloves, track suits and wind-breakers, walking/hiking sticks are optional. Most will also carry a small backpack with essentials such as water bottle and sun-screen. Close
Written by manatwork on 27 Feb, 2011
Seoul is one of the largest cities in the world with a population of over 10 million people. It ranked third among the top tourist destinations for year 2010. I was told that the Koreans do celebrate Chinese New Year, and in fact, I was…Read More
Seoul is one of the largest cities in the world with a population of over 10 million people. It ranked third among the top tourist destinations for year 2010. I was told that the Koreans do celebrate Chinese New Year, and in fact, I was pretty excited to go there on the 6th day of the 15 day celebration. But I was disappointed. There was not a trace of Chinese New Year festivities in the city. Ms Sun, who runs the hostel that I stayed at said that in Korea, the New Year is celebrated for only three days. And this is not my only disappointment.My first full day in Seoul begins with a stop at Gyeongdong Market. It specializes in traditional Asian herb, dried and fresh food, and ginseng, lots of them. There are outdoor and indoor markets, and also stalls that sell cooked food. As I do not read any Korean, I pointed at a picture to the person who took my order in one of the stalls. I had wanted a bowl of spicy soup but instead I've got a bowl of soup with pig's blood jelly! This is not for those who are unfamiliar with exotic Asian cuisine. After my meal, I take the train to City Hall, and make a visit to Deoksu Palace, which served as the king's residence twice during the Joseon Dynasty. Located at the center of Seoul, it is very popular among visitors for its beauty and tranquility. Weather turns out to be nice on my second day in Seoul. I make a visit to the Royal tombs of King Seongjong, and his second Queen Jeonghyeon and King Jungjong of the Joseon Dynasty. The stone figures of civil and military officials are over three meters tall, while the other objects of animals are symbols of strong sovereign power. Unfortunately, I am able to get up close and personal with King Seongjong's tomb only, while the other two are off limit. As the sun sets, it casts shadows off the tree branches onto the ground in the park. It is a pretty solemn sight indeed. Like most major cities, rush hour in Seoul begins at 4 pm. The subway can be pretty crowded, and here in Seoul, the experience can be quite cold. There is not even one trash reciprocator around as I enter the station for Insadong, another popular shopping district. The station is so clean, and the service is so efficient that it is an impossible task for the New York's subway to achieve. And, everyone just whisper to one another. Just a bit too clean and quiet for my taste -- it's like living in a perfect world, a little too prefect for me though.I had Korean dumplings and rice cakes in Insadong. Delicious! Things are a little pricey, but quality are certainly better. I make a quick stop at Itaewon. I suggest that you walk away from the main road and head to the alleys. Small family run businesses are a common sight, and I could feel the old charm and tradition surrounding the area.Back in the hostel, I have five LOUD Chinese women in my dormitory room. Oh my gosh! I visit Changgyeong Palace the next morning. It's a half hour walk from Jonggak station. The palace was added during the reign of King Seongjong to provide comfortable living space for queen dowagers. Back to the Jonggak station, I head to Namdaemun market. This place is huge! It is a traditional day and night retail and wholesale market with underground arcades. Even more, the classy departmental store, Shinsegae is just nearby. You can bargain at Namdaemun from anywhere between ten to twenty percent lower than the asking price. There are some very good quality quilted blankets (queen size) selling for $30 which might be worth considering if you happen to go there. However, you might come across lots of products coming from China which you might want to reconsider before buying.The weather in Seoul got colder on my last day. I meet up with SungJin, a very good friend of mine. He takes me to his favorite place to eat. We have cold soba noodles, steamed dumplings, and rice in hot pot. Another delicious and satisfying meal! We parted and I head to Insadong again. I see a few more interesting shops this time around. I've got a pair of dragons handcrafted in glass, and a couple of North Korean dolls. Then it is time for me to go back to the hostel to pick up my bag, and head to the airport.I came to Seoul to experience the market squares which I did. I came to Seoul to experience the food which I did. I came to Seoul to experience the lifestyle which I did. The city is full of charm and tradition but yet, its people seemed monotone; as the city progresses to become a major economic power, I would rather see a more at ease society, and a less structured city, one that is not so driven by perfection. Close
Written by Composthp on 25 Feb, 2011
8 years ago, I would not dare to visit Seoul on my own as everything seemed foreign, from the language to the street signs. A lot has changed since then, there are clear signs in various languages such as English, Mandarin and Japanese not only…Read More
8 years ago, I would not dare to visit Seoul on my own as everything seemed foreign, from the language to the street signs. A lot has changed since then, there are clear signs in various languages such as English, Mandarin and Japanese not only near and around tourist landmarks but at subways, buses, restaurants, etc. Tourist information booths and tourist guides have sprouted around major sights and shopping areas, the latter can be found standing at intersections dressed in bright red (usually in pairs) in places like Myeongdong or Insadong. Kudos to them as they have to brave the elements to direct lost tourists to the desired destination. The official Korean tourism website is a good starting point for the latest information.The following are some tips when visiting Seoul.Free help-line1330 is a free telephone service for tourists in Korea, very much like a concierge service. It is available round the clock and is manned by bilingual staff.TransportMoving around Seoul could not have been easier with the extensive subways and buses. I prefer the former as you can avoid traffic jams. The T money card is perhaps the most convenient card to have if you intend to travel by bus or subway in Seoul and around Gyeonggi-do. This card can be purchased at any convenience store and at the subway station for a non-refundable charge of KRW 2500. It offers rebates and mileage (the latter requires registration at the T money website). Any unused value in the card can be refunded less KRW 500 at any convenience stores prior to departure. Seoul subway maps can be downloaded at the Korean tourism website or through apps market for smartphone/iphone users. To save on transport cost, we stayed in a central location near major sights as well as within easy access to subway line 1 and 3. Most sights and shopping areas are located along these lines.Do carry the addresses, map or names of the places that you intend to visit written in Korean. Smartphones with a camera are handy for taking snapshots of the addresses or maps which can then be used to show the locals when asking for directions. For day trips to Busan, Jeonju, Gangwon and Gyeongju, use the free shuttle services that are available for tourists only. These buses require advance reservations online via here. The buses are comfortable with business-class like seats, most importantly, these services offer direct routes and are FREE!Tax RefundsVisitors can claim tax refunds from participating stores with a minimal purchase of KRW 30 000. You need to ask the cashier before payment of purchases for the tax refund receipt. You will then be asked to fill in your particulars and given an envelope. Cash or credit card claimants can only be made at the airport.There are 2 kinds of tax refunds- Global Blue and local. For the former, claims can be made after you pass immigration, near Gate number 28 or at airports of participating countries such as Singapore, China, Japan and Russian Federation. These can be in the form of cash or cheque, the latter would be mailed to your preferred address.Local tax refunds are made before you pass immigration. Essentially, you need to inform the airport staff upon checking in your lugguge that you would be claiming tax refund. You would then need to proceed to the tax refund counter (we found one next to the oversize luggage check in counter) with your passport, luggage containing your purchases and receipts of the purchases. After inspection, he would then place the receipts into an envelope (please remember to fill in your name and address!) and dump it into a box. Refunds would be mailed to you later. Do check again that all receipts have been stamped. My friend was alert enough to realise that 2 of her receipts were not stamped and promptly returned to have it done.Note: DO separate the Global and local receipts into 2 envelopes. I did not do so when I presented my claim at the Global-Blue counter, the receipts were confusing and I was told that the receipts were not eligible for refund although they are from participating stores. I suspect these receipts were overlooked by the bored staff manning the counters. ShoppingHead for Myeongdong first if you can. This is a woman's haven for cosmetics and beauty products. Shopping here can be addictive as you would receive samples of their products just by walking pass the store, more if you make a purchase! My friend commented that she could have saved on her personal grooming products by coming here first to collect the samples to be used during the trip. Some of the highly recommended cosmetic/ beauty houses include Etude, Missha, Hanskin (home of BB creams), Skin79, the Faceshop and my personal favourite, Innisfree.For Chinese speaking visitors, do visit Gong Soon Sung at #50-6, Namchangdong, Namdamun (Hp 019-360-6013) for purchases such as seaweed, ginseng, kimchi and other Korean food products. This store is owned by a Taiwanese who gives up to 50% discount for tourists from Asia-Pacific region. Head for Dongdamun for the latest fashion and accessories, Insa-dong for antiques and Korean souvenirs, Samcheong for unique hand made accessories and shoes, Myeongdong for the young and trendy, Mario towns I, II, III and fashion town at Gasan digital complex station for imported brands like Levis, Zara at outlet prices (do take note however that the products here are from past season). Another place that offers good buys is the underground shopping area at the Express Bus terminal station (alight at subway station Express bus terminal). Goods on sale here ranged from shoes, flowers to linen. Close
Written by dbsovereign on 13 Feb, 2011
It was weird being back in Asia again! I had a great time despite the fact that it was rather a whirlwind excursion and the two long [non-stop, 10-hour] flights a week apart got me completely tired out. Seoul was very modern and in…Read More
It was weird being back in Asia again! I had a great time despite the fact that it was rather a whirlwind excursion and the two long [non-stop, 10-hour] flights a week apart got me completely tired out. Seoul was very modern and in places reminded me a bit of a cross between Bangkok and Taipei - though of course it is unique. I made a trip into an older part of town which was nestled in some tall mountains and has very narrow streets. These streets reminded me a bit of the sois or alleys in Bangkok because they're narrow and crowded. Most of the city has been built up in the last 50 years so unless you are in one of the older areas of town, it all rather looks very much the same. In the suburbs there are a lot of miles of just the same type of tall apartment buildings one after the other looking exactly alike - like dominos with different numbers on them. I wasn't sure if the constantly overcast skies were due to the weather in general (consistently cold/grey) or partially due to the smog - perhaps it was a combination of the two. It was very cold (+/- 2 degrees a good bit of the time) and there was snow on the ground which made for some treacherous walking due to ice in places. Most people walk on a very narrow bit of walkway that has been worn away by others. If you step away from that bit, you're in danger of slipping. Luckily I had a good set of boots with me. I also wore long underwear and many layers of jackets that kept my neck and trunk warm, gloves for my hands. Many people walked around with their faces swathed in scarves. Needless to say, it's been years since I've had to deal with snow and that kind of cold. What follows is a short piece I wrote while I was there: +++++++++++++++++ Jolly Green Giant is alive and well in South Korea. He looms over me as I ride an escalator up into the inside of a large department store on the outskirts of Seoul. I wonder what Koreans think of his green skin. The other main source of green is the one of camouflaged soldier’s uniforms evident on almost every corner and representing the plethora of military men on leave. National service is required for all men who reach the age of 21, and making these men stand out against the stark, snow-covered terrain seems to be a priority. Otherwise, the atmosphere seems to be relatively normal. Now that the North seems to be making noises about re-starting talks, any signs of previously-heightened tensions seem to have evaporated. I don’t see any demonstrations. As I enter a store, a suited man bows and calls out "hello" to me. I had thought this was something that only happened in Japan, but I guess this is one of those customs that has crossed over. Away from the hustle and bustle of central Seoul, there are not all that many that actually speak English. The department store I have entered is hidden inside a labyrinth of car garages. I take a wrong turn, trying to find the grocery store I’d been told was in the building, and climb another escalator leading to a seemingly endless number of parking areas on multiple floors. Finally, after making my way back downstairs, and passing the suited man again, I make my way to the back of the store and find yet another escalator leading down into multiple tiers of basement – on the very bottom is the grocery area. It is here in the food section that I find something that resembles other grocery stores I’ve seen in Asia. Almost everything is individually wrapped. Individual pieces of sushi - each wrapped in its own clear plastic wrap - are lined up in neat rows. A clerk uses a small spray nozzle to inject a mist of water between the leaves of some rather limp-looking bok choy. I marvel at how small the cheese section is… Back outside in the slushy snow, I notice three uniformed schoolboys shod in tube socks and flip-flops, hopping over puddles, trying to keep their feet dry. They seem very happy. A young girl, holding onto her mother’s hand, stands at an outdoor vendor’s stall, chewing on a large piece of steaming octopus on a stick. I’m sure the hot food tastes particularly delicious in the near sub-zero temperature. +++++++++++++++ The food there was excellent. All the restaurants serve kimchi the way our places serve water - at least two or three different kinds. If you eat it up, they automatically bring you more. Ate at several different kinds of Korean places, and also ate some wonderful Indian food. One place specialized in these dumplings rather like steamed dim sum. The raw fish we ate at a Japanese place seemed especially fresh. Close
Written by SeenThat on 12 Oct, 2008
On Planes and AirportsUsing technologies half a century old and a medieval guild-like organization, modern airplanes and airports pose heavy dilemmas to the eternal pilgrim. Unnecessarily, airlines are often regulated by trade agreements between countries; most airlines connecting two given countries belong to them and…Read More
On Planes and AirportsUsing technologies half a century old and a medieval guild-like organization, modern airplanes and airports pose heavy dilemmas to the eternal pilgrim. Unnecessarily, airlines are often regulated by trade agreements between countries; most airlines connecting two given countries belong to them and national airlines enjoy unfair advantages at their home airports. That means competition is almost nil; the natural consequence is that we – the travelers – pay inflated prices and are offered obsolete technologies, delays and often, bad food. With the Concord gone and no other alternative technology to be adopted as a mass transport method in the next years, it seems the average speed of our trip will continue to drop, while a change in the industry’s practices is improbable. Are we heading back to the days of "Around the World in Eighty Days?" Would cruises become again a major travel option?Random StopsThis cartel-like arrangement of the industry means that we often find ourselves as "transit travelers" in unplanned places. The needed stop in a flight between Bangkok and Los Angeles would be determined by the airline we use and not by the shortest route available. Imagine the city buses using such an approach: Bluehound will always stop at its own terminal five kilometers north of downtown, while Redhound would use its own on the southern side of town, while I simply wanted to move from the museum to the coffee shop!Having found a convenient flight with Asiana, I landed in Seoul for eight hours.Spare TimeHow can eight hours in an airport be spent? In a previous trip, I spent a night at the San Francisco International Airport waiting for a connection from Taiwan to Phoenix; the place was so deserted that at 3 AM I found myself studying a defibrillator’s instructions sheet.I had never visited Korea and since first visits to travel hubs are always a prelude to a future and more detailed visit the visit was of special interest. Before the trip, I studied the airport website and to my delight found it offers tours to the surroundings including downtown Seoul. All along the way I tried to decide which tour I would pick. Markets or downtown? Temples or DMZ? I was scheduled to arrive at 8:20 AM, the perfect time for booking the tours.Once in Seoul, I would have anything between four and seven hours for touring the city; most of the tours offered fitted in this window. Usually that would be enough for having a glimpse of the city’s main sights.Fast Winds"Due to the winds we would be landing slightly before schedule," the captain announced at certain moment, and I pictured myself taking the longest tour of Seoul.Yet, with no explanation, we landed after our scheduled time and too close to the tours departure time to allow me booking one. Where there is no real competition, efforts and explanations are skipped.Eight HoursSpending eight hours in an airport is not easy. Resigned, I decided to stop at Au Bon Pain and to make a winning plan while enjoying a coffee and having a sandwich; I was hungry after having skipped a bad meal during the flightThe math was simple. Two meals would consume two hours; a coffee would take care of another one; that would leave five hours of wandering among the shops. Five hours shopping around? There was nothing I needed! Yet, I would be able to see the commercial side of the Korean culture. What do they sell and buy and more how they do behave in such a place. Do they prefer cellular phones or traditional tea? Shortly after, I found an internet connection and amused myself by uploading fresh pictures from the airport; shops, restaurants, works of art, news and movies completed the visit.Would observations based on an eight hours visit hold any relevance? As usual, such questions are questionable; the first eight hours in a country are seven times more important than eight hours in the 77th day. Then, our impressions of the new culture are fresh, sharpest, and the differences and highlights clearest.Unquestionably, I had eight hours for tasting the local culture. Close
Written by SeenThat on 09 Oct, 2008
On the Verge of Skipping Bi Bim BabTraveling from Thailand to Los Angeles with Asiana meant having three meals onboard. The first one was a very late dinner – or was it a very early breakfast? – on the way to the stopover in Seoul.…Read More
On the Verge of Skipping Bi Bim BabTraveling from Thailand to Los Angeles with Asiana meant having three meals onboard. The first one was a very late dinner – or was it a very early breakfast? – on the way to the stopover in Seoul. The insipid, shapeless rice and the suspicious meatballs convinced me to skip the following meals during the last leg of the trip; I could no expect the airline to redeem itself with such a short notice. After landing at the Incheon airport I enjoyed several restaurants and prepared myself to a meal-less almost eleven hours long flight.The second plane was of better quality; it was more modern and included more varied facilities. Among the magazines and brochures provided to the passengers was a menu. I picked it up and studied the dinner and breakfast options, but only after the landscape below had disappeared under a thick layer of clouds. The dinner included two main dishes; the Western style one was "Beef Tenderloin Steak" ("302 kcal" was printed next to it). The Korean style option advertised "Bi Bim Bab" (396 kcal), a name that meant nothing to me; the short description next to it was an excellent example of vagueness.On the Verge of Skipping Bi Bim BabI have learned not to expect too much from Asian prepared Western style steaks and I was not in the mood for yet another rice dish. Planning to concentrate on the fruits and coffee, I watched the reaction of the Korean people near me when the stewardess approached them. All of them were eager to get Bi Bim Bab; "obsessed" may describe better their reaction."If I want just the coffee, it doesn’t matter which dish I order," I reasoned while asking for the same. The stewardess seemed very please of my choice, smiled, and passed me a loaded tray. However, on my way to pick up the desired fruits, I noted a small piece of folded paper; its title was "How to enjoy ‘BI-BIM-BAB’." That caught my attention.How to enjoy ‘BI-BIM-BAB’Written in English, Japanese and Chinese – and obviously skipping Korean – the colorful paper explained with many errors and inconsistencies (the dish appeared also as bibimbab) what Bi-Bim-Bab is and how to eat/prepare it. Yes, I was supposed to prepare it by myself.The approach was remarkable, and soon I found myself mixing the ingredients as per the instructions. A Korean woman sitting next to me was obviously amused by my careful study of the instructions and labels on the packed ingredients.BI-BIM-BABThe largest bowl on the tray included several vegetables (sprouts, cucumbers, sweet pepper, mushrooms and others) and minced meat (it was mentioned that octopus and wild-greens variations of the dish also exist). The first step was to pour over the veggies the smaller bowl with steamed rice; the last was a bit too sticky, but acceptably so for such a dish.Following, the gochujang (a thick red chili paste popular in the Korean cuisine) and the sesame oil were added. At first I was wary of the chili paste, but later I found it to be relatively mild. Then, the stainless steel fork and spoon were used for mixing up all the ingredients; unlike in other Asian cultures, stainless steel is the standard for Korean cutlery. The clear soup next to the dish was to be enjoyed together with it. Kimchi – the ubiquitous pickles of the Korean cuisine – completed the dish, though in a too small serving.Other side dishes included two excellent egg rolls, hard-boiled burdock and peanut, and steamed pumpkin. Overall, the result was excellent; the dish was rich and tasty, and displayed a remarkable mixture of textures and shapes. Moreover, it offered a true gate to the local culture; something it is seldom achievable during an in-flight meal.Last and LeastThe coffee and fruits became a secondary feature of the meal, but not an irrelevant one. A nice touch was that the coffee was guaranteed to be produced eco-friendly methods; it was a cup of decent quality for a flight, decent enough for asking a refill.The fruits served in flight are usually a weak point, which is understandable due to the conditions of a long flight. A peeled wedge of mandarin sitting next to small pieces of a green apple provided the first surprise; the second was a dried prune, which despite not being a fresh fruit added another nice touch to a meal that turned to be a good example that in-flight meals can be imaginative and provide a meaningful experience. Close
Written by Ishtar on 21 Jan, 2007
We were so excited when we got our tickets to Vietnam on very short notice that we never really made much of the terribly inconvenient and tiring route we’d have to take. The Star Alliance, which counts Delta and Korean Air as part of its…Read More
We were so excited when we got our tickets to Vietnam on very short notice that we never really made much of the terribly inconvenient and tiring route we’d have to take. The Star Alliance, which counts Delta and Korean Air as part of its circle, will always "award" you the most circuitous route they can find, and never expect to fly anywhere directly, without stopping, though Korean Air has daily flights from New York to Incheon in about thirteen hours, Delta routed us this way:
JFK to Las Vegas; Las Vegas to Korea; Korea to Ha Noi. Return trip via L.A. Yes, we were surprised to find we’d have to connect in Las Vegas with Korean Air, but apparently, many folks from Korea are now flying into Las Vegas for, um, gambling? shopping? perhaps it’s the museums.
Anyway, we’d have about an hour to make the connection, then we’d arrive at Incheon and not depart until the next evening. Why? Because the flight, which departs to Ha Noi daily, would leave before we could arrive from the USA. I have been a loyal Delta flyer for many years, but this is beyond asinine. You cannot even suggest to Delta that they give you a direct route.
Thus, I began to make plans in New York on how we could spend a day in Seoul. It never occurred to me to check the distance between Incheon and Seoul, nor did I bother to look up the distance of a particular shrine that was recommended by my acupuncturist, who is Korean. All he said was to hail a cab, and give them the name of the shrine. It is so well known, we’d be there in no time. I will not fail to mention that said acupuncturist hasn’t been to Korea in at least 20 years, and his memory may have gotten dim.
I remembered our experience at Changi Airport when we had a longer than expected layover, and decided we’d probably spend the night at the transit hotel at Incheon. Well, it was sold out, so that made it impossible. There is also a hotel called Incheon , but don’t let the name fool you. It is outside the actual framework of the airport. Dealing with where to stay became secondary when we realized that our luggage was lost. Since we arrived at 6am the next day, the airport was not exactly teeming with staff, so it was increasingly difficult to find someone who could help us. Let me explain that Incheon Airport is humongous. The majority of personnel do not speak English, and that really shocked me. Thankfully, the people in the offices and behind some of the counters have the basics. We had to find the Korean Air offices that deal with lost luggage and see what they could do; we also stopped in with our friends at Delta, and though they were terribly helpful, they at least confirmed to us that our luggage had never left New York. I understood that they were trying to route the luggage through L.A. where daily flights occur, rather than thru Las Vegas, where there are flights twice a week. Korean Air gave us KRW938,000 (a dollar is worth 938 won, so about $100) for our pain and suffering. That actually took care of our food for the 2 days we were there.
After a concerted effort to try to depart Korea a day earlier, and have our luggage forwarded to Ha Noi, a very alert Korean Air agent reminded us that our Visa did not allow for an earlier arrival to Vietnam. I am grateful for that, in retrospect, as our arrival in Ha Noi was a bit bizarre to say the least.
At that point, we were ready to find a hotel and collapse in it. So, the Sky Hotel happened to us. As check out was at noon, we decided to return to the airport and check out the shopping, use the Internet, and of course, check the baggage arrivals.
Thankfully, the luggage had arrived, and we had to retrieve it at some distance from the offices on the third floor, but relief overcame annoyance. We proceeded to check in immediately, even though we were eight hours early for the flight just to get rid of the bags. Now we’d have time to appreciate this state of the art airport. One thing I did notice is that for such an enormous airport, it does not seem to move a commensurate number of people. The only time you see a crowd is when people are boarding at a gate. Otherwise, the foot traffic is quite light.
For those of you in transit for a couple of hours or so, there is a transit lounge on the 4th which has boxy armchairs and wooden tables, and if you’re savvy enough, you can configure something that can support a horizontal body. A snack bar (unopened when we arrived) is also present for quick bites, or a drink, but nothing earth shattering. Instead, we went downstairs and I had a delectable cream cheese bun with Earl Grey Tea. Korean buns are all the rage in New York, and more and more patisseries are opening in Queens featuring these amazing buns with gorgeous stuffing. The Internet station is on the second floor, and for 3,000 won (about $3.20) you get an adorable orange and white cyber pass for an hour. Except for the numbers and the company name, everything on that card is in Korean. On to the shopping!
There must be a tremendous demand for Korean seaweed. Not only can you buy it in almost every shop that has foods, but also there is a stall completely devoted to seaweed and every shape and form you can imagine. Also extremely ubiquitous is Korean Ginseng, recognized by most to be superior to its competitors, and Royal Jelly. Don’t count on buying any books at the GS Bookstore: they are all in Korean. Also, contrary to what I had read, their cultural magazine called Seoul , and which is published in English, was not available. Also surprising was a pharmacy on the premises: I tried to get some Motrin, but all they had were boxes of 10 caplets of generic ibuprofen.
Major American and European brands share the space on the third floor, and I will list a few for you, though I am not particularly interested in any of them: Gucci, Bulgari, Ferragamo (I do love his shoes!) Chanel, Max Mara, Samsonite, Cartier, Swatch, Coach, Escada, Rolex, Boss, Versace, Hilfiger and Dior. Also interestingly different were the displays of refrigerators at the airport. And of course, you can find liquor galore, perfumes and cosmetics, electronics (no bargain), tobacco products, chocolates and other sweets.
One of the most interesting features of Incheon Airport is its Korean Wave Cultural Center. For the uninitiated, the country’s photos, video images, and personal belongings of famous Korean actors and pop musicians represent the Korean Wave. The trend is one of the strongest in Asia.
Another memorable moment was spent trying to call Ha Noi from a public phone at the airport. Forget your phone card, it doesn’t work here at all. You will have to purchase one of their phone cards, and you really need to follow instructions very carefully, lest you get a female voice on the other end, most likely telling you that you’re an idiot. In general, I would say that if I ever return to Korea for a visit, I would not do it in December, as the temperature is downright cruel. I also would not plan my duty free shopping at Incheon, as I like to find real bargains. I’m sure that Seoul would give me something to write home about.