Friday, May 6, 2016

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

Palaces with the finest architectural details, hot and spicy cuisine matched with kimchi, cinematographic settings of Korean dramas, streams, traditional villages and drinking sprees at sidewalk tents set up at night are but some of the interesting features of South Korea.

Seoul is indeed a vibrant city.  But for time and budget constraints, it is impossible to discover almost everything that one envisions it to be.


THE T-MONEY CARD

Upon arrival at the Incheon International Airport, it is advisable to purchase a T-money card at a nearby convenience store (e.g. GS 25, CU, 7-Eleven, Mini Stop, With Me, By The Way, Story Way), which will be used for commuting either through bus (on selected companies), taxi and metro rail transits.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

T-money is a transportation card as well as a device used to pay for taxi fares and in some instances, to purchase goods at the convenience store.  When using the T-money, the public transportation fare is 100 won cheaper than when paying with cash, and unlike cash fares, T-money can be used when transferring from one bus to another, one subway line to another, or from bus to subway or vice versa (within a transfer time limit) at no extra charge.  T-money does away with the hassle of purchasing single journey subway tickets and there is the option of refunding the remaining balance once you leave South Korea.

TRADITIONAL VILLAGES

We get to know the culture of a particular country through a random visit at traditional villages.  Armed with that particular principle, we walked and searched for these traditional villages and discovered two.

A walking distance from where we live, we were lead to Bukchon Hanok Village.  The sloping terrain posed as a challenge in the stroll but we were comforted by the below zero temperature producing no sweat in this stint.  

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

The aligned residential houses have an architectural design unique to this part of the East Asia region.  The standard design is even more noticeable on the intricacy of details the roof tiles have.

Passing by the narrow alleys on upward and downward slopes, the walk became a mandatory exercise.  Stalls and restaurants offering both Western and authentic Korean cuisine adds up to the charm of the village as well.  Street food offerings are attention-grabbers as usual.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

Namsanghol Hanok Village is considered as one of the most beautiful villages of Seoul.  To revive the ancient serenity of the area, water was made to flow in the valley, a pavilion was built, and trees were planted.  Five traditional houses from the commoners’ houses to houses of the most powerful Confucian bureaucrats were moved to the area of 7,934 square meters in the traditional garden.

To help visitors understand traditional Korean life, furniture that reflects the status of the people who lived in these houses were placed inside the buildings.  There is likewise a Traditional Craft Hall that sells works by Intangible Cultural Assets artists and other souvenir goods.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

Admission is free at the said village.  A known landmark near the village is the Arirang television network, which I guess everyone is familiar to.

The compound showcases different traditional Korean houses where we hopped on from house to another and stroll around the garden that surrounds, popular for pre-nuptial and wedding photo backdrops.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

MYEONGDONG BY DAY AND NIGHT

If there is one area in Seoul that we have frequented, it is that of Myeongdong.  The vicinity of Myeongdong is one of the busiest, with restaurants, shopping malls, coffee shops and interesting attractions to drop by.

Shopping malls of interesting architectural facade is a common sight.  With such a vast area, every detour and intersection exiting the Myeongdong subway station provides landmarks worthy of visit.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERSSEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS
  
Walking down the narrow alleys bounded by malls on both sides, we were greeted by mascots of a dog and a cat.  Interesting find it is and since it may be difficult to find one back home, we tried both cafés.

DOG CAFÉ
Address: 22-2 Chungmuro 1(il)ga, Jung-gu, Seoul
Operating Hours: 1:30PM to 9:30PM

At the Myeongdong Station, Exit 6, we reached the Nature Republic building, turn left and walked straight until we reached a small alley and on the right there is a building with the signage of a dog café.  The dog café is located at the 4th floor of that building and once we arrived at the floor, we could hear the barking of the dogs.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERSSEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS
  
There is an entrance fee of 8,000KRW which comes with a complimentary drink.  No food is allowed and a short briefing is made with pictures of dogs to be avoided as they might bite.

It was a different kind of experience actually that I won’t recommend for people who easily panic upon hearing the dogs bark.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

CAT CAFÉ

On the opposite site from the Dog Café, marking the Nature Republic as reference, we turn right and look up for the yellow signage with a cat as its image, to experience an afternoon with these adorable cats.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

A fat and fluffy Persian cat welcomed us at the doorstep.  That itself was enough for us to enter the café at a charge of 8000KRW inclusive of complimentary drinks.  It opens earlier than the dog café.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

The cat café is more relaxing.  It actually appeared more like a playground for equally adorable kids.  It was fun going after these cats and the Korean kids.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERSSEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS
  
CARTOON STREET

In search for the way to the Seoul Tower, opposite to the exit where Uniqlo and Nature Republic buildings are, we were lead to alleys and coffee shops decorated and painted in colorful graffiti. Statues of animation characters likewise surround, which some are unfamiliar in my case.

Animation and cartoon is an important cultural content and a leading future growth engines for tourism and entertainment industries.  Situated near Gate 3 of the Myeongdong Subway station, we followed the trail and were lead to what locals call the “Imagination Park”.  The park allows relaxation for visitors and serves as the starting point of the Cartoon Street, attracting many visitors to enjoy images of Korean popular drama and its original cartoons.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

Namsan’s retaining wall displays famous cartoon characters of 40 dominant artists, including Lee Hyunse, Heo Youngman and Hwang Mina.  This is known as the Animation Hill.

The anime cinema and the park serve as landmark for the bus stop to the iconic Namsan Tower.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL TOWER

A visit to South Korea would not be complete without getting a closer look and a glimpse of the Seoul Tower.  From the Ani Center, there is a bus stop going to the tower.

Upon arrival, the changing LED light of the Tower was a pleasant greeting.  I was reminded of the mandatory visit to The Bund of Shanghai, China.  They have the same features only that the same is not surrounded by skyscrapers.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERSSEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

I noticed a wooden statue serving as part of the façade of the Seoul Tower, situated in one corner.  The said statue has the Korean smile as its subject and said to have been sculpted by craftsman Kim Jong-heung.  The latter was trained by Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 108.  The material is actually a 75-year old mulberry tree which had been destroyed by a strong wind in May 2014. 

From our vantage, the panoramic city light of Seoul City is apparent and so is the traffic.  It is advisable to visit the Seoul Tower at night.  Though, it could be equally beautiful in the morning.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

GANGNAM

Out of curiosity, we decided to pass by the Gangnam district of Seoul.  I had no idea what to witness on this part of Seoul, other than the mere mention of the district in the famed Korean pop song turned dance craze that is absolutely known worldwide.

Oppa Gangnam style?

In a short span of time, noticeable are the outstanding architectural façade of the district known to be the central business district of Seoul.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERSSEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

CHEONGGYECHEON STREAM

The walk along the stream was rather brief for us.  Located just off Sejongro, one of the busiest boulevards in Seoul, it was at first a challenge for us to find the stream as even locals can’t understand what we are talking about.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

The reward though of searching for the stream, is that, we were lead to take a glimpse of the varied palace gates and landmark statues of the city, in the likes of Nandaemun Gate and the famed Gyeongbokgung Palace glittering at night.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

PALACES

GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE

It was actually the first order of our business in South Korea to witness the Royal Guard Changing Ceremony at the Gyeongbokgung Palace, a few minutes walk away from where we live.


SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS


The vastness of the property and the attractions within the compound deserve a separate feature but apart from those, the experience and the opportunity to wear traditional Korean costume can be considered as part of the South Korea itinerary.

CHANGDEOKGUNG PALACE

Procrastination is the name of the game.  We settled in one of the guest houses just in front of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Changdeokgung Palace.

Changdeokgung Palace was the second royal villa built following the construction of the Gyeongbokgung Palace.  It was the principal palace for many kings of the Joseon dynasty and is the most well-preserved of the five remaining royal Joseon palaces. 

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS


If you have been following my journeys, you would notice that my goal is to visit every UNESCO World Heritage site in a country visited.  My travel buddy and I were so confident that we will do the visit on our last day since it was just right across from where we live.

Our last day came and it was closed to the public.  The palace is closed every Monday.  This is the price we have to pay for the less research made.  Nevertheless, we got the chance to marvel and scrutinize the detailed and artistic roof design of the palace.  We have to be contented on the façade.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

POJANG-MACHA (OUTDOOR DRINKING TENT)

Food in South Korea is quite expensive after conversions and comparisons made on the varied countries we have visited.  But food can be controlled though for budget constraints.  There will always be convenience stores and street stalls to the rescue.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

If you frequently watch Korean dramas, you’ll be slightly acquainted with the fact that nightlife can be spent on outdoor tents that are usually set up along the roads of Seoul.  And yes we did the same.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

A stir-fried boneless chicken foot is too spicy for us.  It was a waste of money in our case and a lesson learned.  A complimentary soup though is provided as a general side dish for alcohol.

With a glass of soju, ramyeon (spicy noodle soup) is a must try on these tents especially that we were there on a winter season.  Other offerings include raw fish, chrysalis, grilled croaker, dried side dishes (peanuts, squid, fish), Korean style pancakes, fresh-water octopus, seafood mixed with bean sprouts and seasoning.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

These drinking tents are set-up at around 7PM and closes until 4AM.  Though we attempted to look for other drinking spots excluding fancy restaurants and bars, we still ended up every day at these tents in Jong-nu near our hostel.

Soju is said to be the commoners’ drink of choice in South Korea.  Pojang-macha is the place where commoners and “salarymen” go to relieve the stresses of life.  And there we were mingling with them as if we’re stressed from the days’ activities.   

The culture of pojang-macha can be traced back to the 1970s, where during that time Korea began to experience its economic development.  Citizens often put their country and companies first, thus often working long hours.  On today’s television dramas, you can see everyday people trying to relieve anger, crying, consoling friends or even main characters drink away their sorrows all at pojang-macha.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS


Food can be quite pricey and so with the beer, but a one-time experience can be all worth it. 

And this is South Korea.  Finally.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA FOR FIRST TIMERS

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