When in Seoul: Explore Gyeongbokgung Palace

Missing Gyeongbokgung Palace when in Seoul is like missing Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei or Fort Santiago in Manila. One can’t say he or she’s been to that particular country without visiting such historical landmark—there is so much to see and feel in terms of history, and of course, culture. And for a landmark that’s such a standout in the city, it’s not hard to overlook this piece of history.

DSC02629

I was filled with much awe the moment I saw Gyeongbokgung close up. It was that type of landmark you would see on Korean historical dramas, and it sort of felt unreal. More than the artifacts and ornaments we saw at the Folk Museum, this place truly gave me a chance to immerse myself in Korean culture—minus the hanbok traditional clothing and what not. Nevertheless, it was a lovely feeling.DSC02638

You know, just casually windblown… haha.

DSC02639

The admission fee varies for adults and kids. We got our tickets for 4,500 won each. For a wonderful and maintained landmark like this, it’s hard to believe it only cost around 135 pesos that time! Relatively cheap, if you ask me. And worth it. Korea lead me to a lot of surprises, actually. Surprisingly affordable things are just a few of them.
DSC02646

DSC02648

DSC02649 DSC02653

DSC02654Joy’s baon which she shared with us that day—barley tea (called màichá in Mandarin—yep, I am amazed!) and sweet rice drink.

DSC02655Gyeongbokgung Palace offers quite a lot of traditional activities like monthly tea ceremonies and calligraphy sessions. We experienced neither, unfortunately.

DSC02661When you’ve gone past the palaces, there is this stream you’ll pass by. With the clean, green waters, it was so calming and serene to look at.

DSC02667

And another regret… I swear we only had like less than 10 touristy pictures with our faces actually in it throughout the trip. I don’t know why either. Haha.DSC02672Media men from Korean TV stations such as KBS, MBC and SBS were present during that time for some reason I’m quite unsure about. It was a cool scenario.

DSC02679

I haven’t been to a lot of capitals but I have to say that Seoul is one of the most genuinely beautiful ones out there! There’s always that contrast of tall buildings and towering skyscrapers with mountain views—don’t forget the palaces and temples that add culture and vibrance to the city. It’s a beautiful mix of everything.

Advertisements

When in Seoul: Walk around Insadong

A close friend of mine in class was telling me about her day trip to Korea happening days after graduation and I was so excited for her as she showed me a paper of her itinerary! One of which written was Insadong, a place in Korea I truly enjoyed. It then prompted me to start adding words to this post that has been sitting in my drafts for quite a long time.

Among all the destinations included in the Seoul city tour bus itinerary, Insadong was my favorite because of the Ssamziegil complex located there. The beautiful mix of art, culture, and pretty things gives off this unique charm that makes this happy place so admirable.

DSC02536 DSC02537

Ssamziegil is basically a mall composed of shops located in small spaces that sell one-of-a-kind, fancy trinkets. A lot of them sell unique pieces of accessories, paintings, and music boxes. I love how it’s open-air—it gives you that cozy and homey feeling. The neon lampshades break the monotone color of the complex and it makes the place all the more visually appealing!

Insadong, in general, sells a variety of cultural crafts (from fans to bags, and from calligraphy materials to jars), souvenirs, artworks, accessories, clothing, and tea.

DSC02534

It was here where I had what was probably the best snack I had in Korea—ddong bbang! It literally translates to poop bread, as Joy mentioned. I really don’t know what is up with poop these days (there’s the famous toilet-themed restaurant in Taiwan, then poop-shaped bread in Korea), but I think it is such an absurd yet adorable concept.

DSC02535

It was for 1,000 won which is around 30 pesos, and I must say—it was so good! Totally worth the price. It had this bread/pancake texture and had walnuts in every bite. I didn’t even know what the filling was made of but I loved every bit of it. Tonight, I found out that it was made of red bean. Now I know why. Ahh… everything red bean is so good, from that fish bread ice cream to milk tea (and the song with that as the title which happens to be my favorite). I was actually tempted to buy a few to bring back home, but… yeah. Me and my regrets again.

Poop bread, I still dream of you.

DSC02538

YoonA’s signature! (Sorry, I mistakenly wrote BoA at first. Honest mistake.)

DSC02540

See that guy wearing blue standing by the sidewalk on the left? He was playing the violin with the case opened for some spare change! Pretty random but I love seeing things like this. It’s so… movie-esque. When we saw this view again from the building an hour after or so, he wasn’t there anymore. We were like, “Aww, he’s gone!”.

DSC02541 DSC02543 DSC02544

DSC02545 DSC02546

I love this place. It’s too artsy for words.

DSC02547

Poop again! I do not understand. But I am fascinated by the pretty toilet above.

I really don’t know if it’s just me, but Ssamziegil really gave me that hipster feel. I heard that there are more “hipster” places in Korea such as the Hongdae district… but this was quite hipster to me already, and maybe that’s why I like it? Hmm… just a joke. Haha.

DSC02548 DSC02551

Ombre-ish skies, a contrast of mountains with high-rise buildings and small establishments, wall scribbles… a favorite picture of mine of the trip to date.

DSC02552

I was glad to see a photobooth for a photo op! The pictures taken were sent directly to e-mail, although I wish they were printed straight from the machine instead. In that way, it would make things feel so “real”. It was actually one of our few pictures with us actually in it. I think we only have around five pictures or less (with our faces) throughout the whole trip? Another regret… again!

DSC02555

Joy was so persistent in letting me try this. She kept on forcing me to buy but my sore throat and the expensive price of it (almost 100 pesos!) didn’t really permit me to. It looked like normal ice cream to me, I thought, so I wasn’t too keen on trying it. It turned out to be Turkish ice cream which had this distinct consistency. But that wasn’t the fun part actually—it probably took a minute or two for it to be served! The ice cream man did all these weird tricks (like turning the cone upside down, dancing as he was flipping and twisting the ice cream scooper…my lack of descriptive words makes it hard to explain) before handing the ice cream to me—no, he abruptly stuck the ice cream to my teeth. Haha. I was just staring the whole time, so shocked with what was happening. I had no clue of what was gonna happen, so imagine my face. What an experience! Joy and her brother were just looking at me like I was an idiot or something. I wish they had videoed it to immortalize the hilarious happening.

DSC02567

Forgive the semi-annoying and tired faces.

Random, shallow realization: if we call our promos buy 1, take 1, in Korea, it’s 1 plus 1!

DSC02556

After almost two hours of touring the place, we had our early dinner at one of the restaurants in the streets of Insadong. Comfort food, if I must say. Had bibimbap, really delicious soup, spicy crab claws (gahd, I need to familiarize myself with Korean food vocabulary…). Then off we hopped to the subway to head home. In between that, we had a stopover at Kyobo Bookstore for some window-shopping and music album-hunting. It’s where I got a watch half its price which I wear to school every single day! I love a great steal. And can I just say that it was where I held a C-pop album (physically) for the first time in my whole life? Yeah, my likes are pretty unusual… it’s in another country where I get the chance to fulfill my interests. Haha, so annoyingly high maintenance.

I wasn’t able to take snapshots of everything I saw and passed by. A lot of the stores didn’t allow cameras to be brought out. Also, I found things here to be a bit expensive as well, as it is a tourist destination. The prices are nowhere near rock bottom, compared to the underground markets at train stations. But then, that’s fine with me. I didn’t bring anything home, but exploring such a pretty place was the most fulfilling and satisfying part of it!

When in Seoul: Shop at Myeongdong

Local brands, high street stuff, known and familiar names, and no brand shops make up the renowned shopping district of Myeongdong. You will see that tourists and locals alike thrive to the place for some shopping. A bit pricey in quite a lot of stores, but very affordable in a handful as well. I love how the establishments are all compacted together in buildings that are quite high. It really gives that distinct Myeongdong feel.

This was our one of our first stops in Seoul and this was where we had our late lunch (really awesome street food!), bought three Face Shop nail polishes for less than a hundred pesos, and got quite a lot of Korean beauty samples randomly handed to us by salesladies!

DSC02467

DSC02463

Myeongdong is such a happy place. You see and hear at least four different languages written and spoken here. Korea is so tourist-friendly, it’s amazing. The red banner above is written in Chinese. What I like about stores and shops in Korea (in general) is that there is at least someone who can speak Japanese or Chinese to assist you as you buy. Of course I took advantage of that opportunity, not by speaking, of course, but by listening to people conversing. Tested my non-existent skills. Hehe. You also get to see random guy groups dancing to G-Dragon’s music and people playing their instruments for a tip or two.

On a semi-unrelated note, a random seller actually talked to me in Chinese! It wasn’t in Myeongdong but in either Namdaemun or Dongdaemun market (I’ve got a terrible memory). As we were walking, the man selling in one of the booths said something in Chinese to me. I actually don’t remember what the sentence was, but all I remember was replying, “我不会中文!“ then ran away laughing like an idiot because I realized what I said was wrong (I think it can be used in chatting or what, but yeah). I missed one word which was “说” (say) so it pretty much came off weird. Well, with what I said, I wasn’t lying anyway right? Haha. But then, him talking to me in Chinese means he thought I was Chinese? I wonder what was in his head right after. I didn’t fool anyone!

DSC02466DSC02468 DSC02469

One of our biggest regrets was not buying stuff. Since it was only me and my brother depending on each other on budgeting our money, we would say no to purchases most of the time. Joy was our living conscience and she would always tell us, “Buy! Buy! Buy!!” My brother and I were so afraid that we would spend all our pocket money and not have a single cent left. We were too overwhelmed that we barely bought anything! Looking back, I could have bought so many more things because they were relatively cheap.

Would you believe I didn’t even buy any article of clothing throughout the trip? I don’t know what was going on my head… I was already in the land of pretty clothing. There were denim jeans in the perfect shade of blue being sold in the underground shopping markets for three hundred pesos and I didn’t even buy. I have so many regrets about this trip that even up this day I cringe. Joy was right. We should have bought, bought, bought. Haha. 

DSC02470 DSC02472 DSC02475

This was our lunch! Joy, her oppa, my oppa, and I shared these two plates of ddeokbokki and sausages with a name I’m unsure of. Served with them were warm tea. Street food can make you feel fulfilled so easily. DSC02480

4:53

DSC02326 DSC02745

The sun hasn’t risen yet and I was trembling because of the cold air I wasn’t used to. With my crumpled, cream cardigan hugging my body and my black shawl wrapped around me like a blanket, I braved the wide and crowded hallways of the place. Tucked in my left hand was my purse filled with some bills to be converted to the local currency, and in the other was a tiny, brown book waiting to be kissed by fresh ink of a stamp. Unknown destinations, food trips, and cultural immersion were in store in the new and unfamiliar place. Although afraid, clueless, and helpless of the current situation I was in, the beginning of an adventure in a place one thousand miles away from home, all alone with my brother, was one of the most surreal feelings I had in such a long time. It felt so liberating yet restricting, humbling yet empowering, fulfilling yet unpromising… all at the same time. 

2013年5月20日上午04:53

When in Incheon: Go for a morning walk

When being a tourist, sometimes, it’s nice to drop all the food tripping and sight seeing and instead go and do some unconventional things, like waking up at sunrise and going out for an early walk around the district, accompanied by cold morning winds.

DSC02699

6:24 am

Our last (whole) day in Korea was spent in Incheon. Taking the bus and subway to and from Seoul for three straight days was very draining, so exploring Incheon for the last day was something I was looking forward to doing. The day started with waking up to the alarm at six and going straight out of the apartment in our sleeping clothes.  Didn’t even think that taking a morning jog would part of the itinerary, but it’s all about not knowing what you’ll end up doing anyway.

DSC02703

Incheon is genuinely beautiful. When Joy’s dad was asking me and my brother whether we preferred Seoul or Incheon, we immediately said the latter. There’s just something about this place. Probably of it being less-crowded, but I really liked the feel of this city. And this morning jog gave me another reason to admire it. The place (or at least the district we were at) was so people-friendly. There are public parks here where you can freely use the equipment to do some exercise, or the swings and slides if you want to channel the inner kid in you. Wow, such a dream to be waking up in a place like this everyday, where everything is right there to suit your needs.

DSC02711

DSC02704

I am using the term “jog” loosely. Well, the plan really was to jog, but for a person like me who lives a very sedentary lifestyle (and it’s not something I’m proud of, honestly), I didn’t expect anything from myself anyway even from the start, haha. I was walking at my own pace, with the occasional stops for some photo ops.

DSC02706

And seeing trees everywhere—that’s a plus point too!

DSC02709

I didn’t expect that apartments in Korea would look like these. I always thought apartments were low and wide houses clustered together. Or maybe I’ve just gotten used to the norm in our country. The ones above would classify as condominiums to me. The first time I saw these type of buildings, I couldn’t believe that these were what they called their apartments.

DSC02710

As we went back the apartment an hour after, this is what greeted us. It isn’t much of an exaggeration when people say that every meal in Korea is a feast.

Forever grateful to Joy’s parents… I miss the Korean kindness and hospitality!

DSC02712