Seoul Searching…

This is a diversion post totally unrelated to Jeju. It seems these days that im like the go to person when people are traveling up to Seoul so I thought I should make a post about it and just refer it via a link the next time I get asked. ㅋㅋㅋ

Here’s some places of interests and tips i have from my travels and stay there🙂

Grouping food & shopping together by areas

MYEONGDONG

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Clothes, cosmetics, food, Artbox (one of my fav stores).  You can literally find anything there. From the mammoth Daiso to international fashion stores and local korean brands ( my personal favs include who.a.u and 8ight Seconds) to street shops selling KRW10,000 clothes shoes and bags. Theres something for everybody. Cheapskate or atas🙂 Special mention goes out to the CTRL A stores. Cutest socks from ₩1000 and really good quality.

Food wise – Myeongdong street food is awesome. Whether its a snack or a meal, so much to choose from. I especially like the grilled butter squid at ₩5000 and Cinnamon pancake (hotteok).

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For people looking for a substantial meal or sit down restaurant, there’s a buffet there called Vikings (its near the Daiso area – Starbucks and you can only get to the restaurant via the cafe on the second floor. There’s lift access also at the back of the building but its too complicated for me to explain it. Price is ₩24900 for dinner and comes with a shabu shabu pot apart from the buffet fare. Its good value but only so-so in the offering.  If you are a huge seafood enthusiast, better to just head to seafood buffet Todai Todai which is also nearby (In M-Plaza next to Zara)

However if going light is your area of preference, and you love porridge as much as I do,  my recommendation is Bonchuk.  i find it really delicious. It leaves me feeling really healthy after eating it as well.

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You can get the exact location from this blog.  http://ilovemyfoodlots.blogspot.sg/2014/05/bonjuk-myeongdong-seoul-south-korea.html

Shinchon/Ewha University/Hongdae 

– Its the three big name universities in Seoul and when you have a lot of female university students, the natural evolvement of the area will be cheap shopping and a litter of makeup stores.
For Shinchon, you need to go out of Exit 2, Ewha Womens University is Exit 3 and Hongdae is Exit 9 (Theres a SHOES shop Schoopen there which is a hit with university students and tourists alike.  All three areas are streets and streets of shopping – better still great fashion at bottom prices. Can’t complain.

Food specialty in this area:
8 Flavour Samgypsal, heres the link: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=1555859&nearBy=shopping&

A blog about it: http://www.jessytheklchic.com/2015/02/food-palsaik-samgyupsal-korean-bbq.html

Exit Shinchon station exit 6, walk down the street and cross at the lights. Once you reach the other side, go left all the way till you see a KIA showroom. The restaurant is located below the showroom.

Dongdaemun District – Migliore/AMPM Tower/Doota

Here’s where you can find nice and good quality leather goods by korean designers.  Decent priced and not too expensive but quality is good.  I used to shop there a lot 7-8 years ago but recently prefer the Gangnam Underground Shopping Mall instead.

Sadly I don’t know any specific must try food in this area.

Itaewon – This is where you can find designer inspired bags in quality leather for a decent price.  Costs are above USD100 but the sewing is good and its also made in Korea.  Itaewon is the Holland Village of Seoul.  Lots of really nice pubs, clubs and restaurants (international). Alight at Itaewon Station. Go to Exit 1 – the restaurants and mainly behind Manhattan Hotel🙂

This is definitely the place to go to when you’re sick of eating Korean food after the umpteenth day.  My favorite western restaurant there is Left Coast Burgers.  Gourmet burger joint that does not break your bank.

Details on location: http://www.leftcoastkorea.com

Bukchon – A really beautiful area in Seoul where you can see traditional korean houses nestled in modernization.  While at Bukchon, you can also visit Insadong, the cultural village of Korea.  There’s a lot to see and do in these two places.

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I would have tea in one of the traditional teahouses there and also order a mixed selection of Hangua (this is korean sweets and biscuits).  The place is truly unique. I sometimes bring a book there over the weekend, read it over coffee in one of the quaint little cafes there.

Here’s the links: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=561382

Insadong: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264354

When you’re in Insadong, you might want to try out this restaurant.  Hanjeongshiks are a must in Korea.  Eat like the emperor!🙂

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**this is not the restaurant offering.  Its just what a good hanjeongshik spread should look like)

http://vintagetrinkets.blogspot.sg/2014/01/seoul-2013-insa-dong.html

Last but not least, here’s a MUST TRY dessert to complete your experience.

Patbingsu –  http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_6.jsp?cid=1692586

http://evanandrachel.com/2014/08/bingsu/ (No.5 is my favorite.  You can find Sulbing in many places.  There’s one in Hongdae and Ewha – Just walk
along the shopping streets, you’ll be able to see it.)

OTHER USEFUL TIPS TO SURVIVING SEOUL

ON Staying connected!

Mobile Sim card:

Cheapest way is to purchase a EG Simcard. Preorder is preferred and all you need to do is to go the site listed below and pick out the plan and your place of collection.

Remember the card is a standard 35000won and if you pick the bigger data option, it doesnt mean you have to pay more.  Just pick according to your preference between having more phone minutes or data. Card lasts for up to 5 months. Just top up online or at the GS convenience stores when you run out of credits.

Here’s the links for simcard
http://www.egsimcard.co.kr/eng/buy-eg-sim-card/online/buy-egsimcard.asp

Olleh Egg.
This is a portable modem that allows you to stay connected all the time when you are in Seoul. (Or jeju or anywhere in the country for that matter). Charges are 5000 won a day. Its a good option to have when you are not planning to stay for many days.  Go to Airport doors 5A or 11B section, there’s a litter of counters that have mobile phone service.  Head to KT Olleh counter for this.

**South Korea is the most connected country in the world (lost to Denmark in 2014, reclaimed title again this year.  Yes I’m a geek. bleh) so not only are wifi speeds incredibly fast but its so easy to get connected just about anyplace anywhere in Seoul for free (mostly via IPTIME which is basically name of an unsecured wireless modem owned by someone nearby) so frankly if you’re gonna be in Seoul just for a few days, can just be cheap and not go through the hassle of getting the simcard or the egg.

ON Transfers/transportation
Never take taxi from airport to hotel as its crazy expensive.  They have a fantastic bus system that connects to all the major hotels so ask at information desk in Airport which one you should take that’s close to your hotel or place you will be staying at.  Also buses have dedicated bus-lanes, so you will never be caught in the bad traffic jams especially during peak hours.  Cost of buses are usually ard 10000-15000KRW per person. Taxis will set you back 90,000-100,000won.

Theres also the express train option to Seoul Station on the nonstop line which takes 43 min and a 52 min option on all-stops train. Price is double on nonstop line. Always check train timetable. Korean trains are prompt so please go early to avoid missing the train.  At airport, go towards Airport Rail direction and you will be able to ride the trains.

Money Exchange

I hope I don’t get flak for this and people don’t come after me for disclosing the cheapest place to get more won for your currency.  I also hope that with more people going, the owners don’t get greedy and start adding on points that make the transaction shitty. To my knowledge the best money exchange place in Seoul is at Myeongdong.  Once you go up exit 6, where the large Nature Republic is (theres also a CD shop located above) , walk past it and go left all the way.  Walk down till you see the Chinese Commerce place with the big red doors.  Theres a huge money changer just across from it.  The difference is pretty substantial so if you happen to make Myeongdong a stop in your itinerary, try to change your currency there instead. The other noteworthy place with decent exchange rates is inside Seoul Station.  I forgot the name of the bank that operates the exchange counter but theres always a ton of people there.  Its not quite Myeongdong but if you need cash and happen to take the airport express to Seoul Station, its a great alternative.

All the best and have a lot of fun in Seoul.  If you find yourself lost, there’s tourist info outlets everywhere so just go straight to them.

Hallasan, I’m coming to scale you soon!

Hallasan

Distance to cover: 19.2KM

Hours anticipated: 11 (5 1/2 up, another 5 1/2 down)

Challenge: Peak closes at 2pm in the afternoon

Set out time: Before 8am for sure

Success rate: I hope to get up there on my first try!!!!

I love walking, I do.  Its liberating to take hours wandering off someplace somewhere, daydreaming in that time, absorbing the sights and sounds of the trek.  Problem is – I’ve never actually tried an 11 hour trekking session before and it does sound daunting (best record by far is 8 hours of non stop shopping on foot at Dongdaemun area.  On heels. Puts me on good ground to succeed to be honest)

But they say the best is always reserved for the last.  The end goal for this challenge is to be able to see the above incredible crater lake on top of the mountain.  I’m pegging this for March when the weather is warmer and hopefully cherry blossoms season will kick in also for an extra push factor.  See you Halla-san. Its you, me and my faithful sketchers🙂

Matjibs (맛집) in Jeju

On travels, nothing beats a good serving of something delicious to reward your belly.  7 visits to Jeju and counting… Heres my 5 favourite restaurants in the island. (No order of preference).

1. Bob Bar (밥빠)

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Discovered this place solely because my favorite abalone restaurant has over an hour waiting list and we drove on and on to find any restaurant that can feed 5 hungry and cold people. Viola! We decided to try this place and the date made history.

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Its a simple menu consisting only of 5 to 6 dishes. Their specialty is Seafood Tteokbokki ( 해물 떡볶이) -₩12000.  For someone who doesnt even like tteok i was surprised by the way they cooked it and the generous helping of seafood that complemented the dish making it simply delectable. But it was the best tasting seafood pancake (해물 파전) – ₩10000 I ever had that sealed the deal for me. Fried to crispy perfection with an abundance of seafood and chives, the taste lingers in my thoughts even till today. If you are visiting the Ichubong Sunrise Peak, this nearby restaurant is a can’t-miss!

Location: Jeju-si
Address: Handong-ri 1367, Gujwa-eup
Gps it via phone number! – 782-0007

2. Myeong Jin Abalone Restaurant (명진 천복)

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Not a looker from the outside but this is THE restaurant that had over an hour waiting list. Even on weekdays, dinner time is packed to the brim. It is one of the most famous restaurants in the whole of Jeju and a hit especially with local koreans.

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I have tried several other abalone porridge and hotpot restaurants in Jeju and there’s a reason why Myeong Jin is on top of the list. The flavoring of their abalone alone sets it apart from the competition. Everything is pretty much done to perfection and the cherry to top it off? Grilled makeral as a complimentary side dish. Prices from ₩13000- 30000.

Location: Jeju-si
Address: 1282 Haemajihaean-ro
Gps it via phone number! – 782-9944

3. Kkotbab (꽃밥)

This is a quaint little restaurant located at the aewol-eup area. I found it when I went into some naver blogs that were introducing famous restaurants in Jeju loved by the locals.

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This is their version of a mini hanjeongshik (table of different side dishes) and the mains on this version is duck fried with cabbage and stirfried pork. What makes this restaurant so special is their healthy purple rice and wide selection of greens for wrapping the meat in. At ₩11000 per person, its a fulfilling meal with an asssortment of side dishes guaranteed to find favor with the taster.

Location: Jeju-si
Address: Gwakji-ri Aewol-eup
Gps it via phone number! – 799 4939

*** Restaurant closes on Tuesdays

4. Innisfree Cafe

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Yes its overhyped! Yes its flooded with tourists! But doesn’t change the fact they have organic dishes that is too delicious not to give it a mention. I especially like their homemade sausage meal set and their desserts.

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Open for business next to O’Sulloc Museum, you can first shop for your favourite innisfree skincare products or make your own organic soap before heading to the attached cafe.

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The tranquil ambience with lush greenery outside, clean glass paneling and wood for its interior is definitely the next most enticing factor and it does come with a price.  Be prepared to pay ₩15000 and above for meals and ₩10000 onwards for desserts. Food portions are pretty small so sharing not advised.ㅋㅋㅋ

Location: Seogwipo-si
Address: 425 Sinhawyeoksa-ro, Andeok-myeon.
Gps it via phone number! – 794-5351

5. Samyang Momaejon Garden Restaurant (모메존가든)

The main offering here from the signboard seems to be black pig bbq but what they are truly well known for is their succulent pumpkin duck.

I must admit my rude shock seeing the restaurant for the first time as its a tad run down and old and frankly first impressions will probably have it as hygiene challenged. Mustering my innate gung-ho I told my family we need to try it since its a well reviewed restaurant and koreans and foreigners alike seems to have only high praise for it.

Our bravado was duly rewarded.

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Tada! Heres presenting you the goodness of a perfectly grilled pumpkin duck flavoured with an assortment of veggies and nuts. Its DELICIOUS!!! The smoked duck meat is succulent retaining maximun juicy moisture and the pumpkin mixed in with it together with a lettuce wrap… divine!

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We devoured the whole duck in minutes and just when we thought the adventure was over after slurping down the last of the side dishes that came with it… this came…

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The peppery duck soup after the course is not for the weak hearted or those who simply don’t eat spicy. Walaaaaaa… it was hot hot hot… if I wasn’t so stuffed I could have drank a full proper bowl but full + super spicy, after two spoonfuls i gave up.

It might seem expensive on paper but they do feed you well.  At the restaurant, you need to tell the person taking orders that you are here for the Hobak-hoon-jori (호박훈저리). The ₩40,000 portion will be sufficient for 2-3 people and ₩58,000 portion is good for 4-5 pax.

Location: Jeju-si
Address: 2140-11 Samyang 2-dong, Jeju City
Gps it via phone number! – 756-0332

Special Mention:

Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market – Mandu bao

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Many people come here for the restaurants that allow them to choose live seafood to be cooked on spot to their liking. I come to this market specifically for the kimchi mandu bao.

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This bao features chopped up kimchi stirfried with japchae noodles and minced pork stuffed into it. At ₩1000 its addictive, cheap and filling. Sometimes i just drive down,  buy two of these for lunch and it keeps me going all the way till dinner. Love love love it!

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The plus to buying them is the very nice store owner who seems to recognize this big fan of her mandu baos. If you happen to drop by these markets, do try it out :)

Location: Seogwipo-si
Address:  Jungjeong-ro 73 beon-gil, 22
Gps it via phone number! – 762-1949

Jeju and it’s immense potential

3 years and counting. Now with a house purchase on this incredible island.  Many people have said to me “why Jeju?” And my answer constantly is why not?

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There’s nothing not to like about this island. It’s one of the new 7 wonders of the world (2011), offers life amongst pristine nature surroundings yet has a city area that allows you to taste civilisation when you decide on a change of environment.

If your life’s goal is to stay in Asia, find a place that offers you 4 seasons, island lifestyle meaning fresh food, good air and water, picturesque trekking sites i cant think of a better choice than here.

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And its only going to get better. The city of Jeju has an open trading policy and welcomes external investments. They are trying to build a global education city and have big property players like Berjaya already in here with their award winning Airest City and Resorts World Jeju integrated resort opening in 2017.

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Tourist arrivals already make 12 million visitors to the island in 2014. 85% of these tourists are domestic, 10% Chinese and the other 5% others. It is already the most travelled air route in the world accounting for some 10mil passengers.

The potential is limitless ^^

Warm & Cozy – 맨드롱 또똣

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The new Wed-Thurs MBC drama Warm and Cozy is giving me all kinds of feels about moving to Jeju.  Mainly the huge inspiration to get there quickly and start life on the island. The backdrop is absolutely gorgeous and it is further enhanced by the simple love story between the leads that is as idyllic as the feel of the island.

I am so glad there is finally a series that will showcase the beauty of Jeju – in all 16 glorious episodes of it.  All thats left to sweeten tourism in this beautiful island is travel packages that can help tourists better enjoy the real Jeju – not manufactured museums and lackluster amusement parks or lousy shopping places that pay the guides each time a batch of tourists arrive (These are the places I detest most in every tour package I’ve signed up for) but a real glimpse into the lives of the people there and why they have such a fierce loyalty to it.

Here’s more screenshots.  If you haven’t seen it yet… I highly recommend it🙂

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Watch the official drama MV:

Can’t wait for my next visit up there in June.  More pics to come :))

Life in Jeju – preparations

I never thought that I actually reserved this blog page from as long as two years ago… which is when I started dreaming of a life on an idyllic island, away from the hustle and bustle of city life.  Then I was still living in Singapore and now I’m actually living in Seoul, so I guess its one step closer to the dream of the move.

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This one year which I’ve spent in Seoul National University trying to get proficiency in the Korean language has both been challenging yet rewarding.  Challenging in that learning a foreign language is never easy, learning one with the sentence structuring the complete opposite of English – suicidal. Yet it is in this time away – one I call my work sabbatical that I’ve met so many interesting people of different nationalities, formed friendships that are kind and loving in nature and having carefree time to take long walks in parks, checking out new nooks and hooks of Seoul and enjoy having seasons – a luxury to some, bane to others.

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Best of all now I can actually argue over some small injustice I face in the subway, bargain down clothes and things I find in an interesting marketplace, hold conversations with foreigners from different parts of the world – ALL IN KOREAN. Hah!

P:S – This year I celebrated my birthday in style with all 11 of us representing a different nationality each from Ukraine, Barbados, Indonesia, Pakistan, Japan, Hong Kong, France, Kazakhstan,  Russia, Korea and Singapore.  The global footprint, the stories I’ve come to know, fills life with the most interesting perspectives🙂

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This sabbatical has also given me the geographical advantage to visit more often, children from an orphanage in Gimcheon – a 3 hour train ride from Seoul.  Happy faces, chuckling from the background, incessant crying, playground happiness, all part of a good weekend adventure.

They have so much love to give, eagerness to interact person to person, juxtapose this to a growing social interaction-less world we live in is definitely quite a change,  If I ever get to adopt one of these kids, I hope he will have a life outside of an iPad/computer, one dominated by the great outdoors, hiking, fishing, running through the green fields without a care in the world just appreciating the wonders that God has made… that will be my biggest wish for him and for myself…

20140514_123434 Jeju… to be continued…