Day 35: Departure from Seoul Olympic Style

I know this post is way overdue.  Terribly sorry for the lack of posting lately, just having way too much fun in Hong Kong.  But, I didn’t forget about my blog.  I still have a bunch of photos from my last day in Seoul.  Wanted to show you guys the awesome Olympic Park in Seoul.  It could definitely become a favourite photography site for those who are really into macro shooting as well.  There’s a really nice garden in the centre of the park and a lot of different types of flowers to look at, if you’re into that kind of stuff.

Park Vending Machine The park has a set out trail you can follow which will take you on for a walk for about 2.5 km or longer if you decide to get lost in the forest like I did.  So definitely, be sure to keep hydrated throughout the walk.  It’s not a crazy hike but doing the walk in 35+ weather leaves room for craziness to happen.  I actually walked around the park for about 4 hours, taking photos and stopping along the way.  But it was too hot for me, so I ended up passing out for an hour under a tree.  Not exactly the smartest thing to do with a Canon 60D sitting around my neck.  The park itself has some really funky statues and art and I mean really funky.  Like look at this piece, it’s a giant thumb.  Dogs are actually allowed in this park so it’s definitely a good place to take your pet for a walk.  Actually, if you skip over the ropes that serve as borders on the trail, you can actually find some nice spots inside the forest and lay back on the ground and stare up.  It’s like a roof top of leaves and branches with sunlight barely breaking through.  I think you get what I mean.Big Thumb  Probably my favourite bit of the park is the vending machines like usual.  I love Milkis! It’s definitely my second favourite drink in Seoul after Soju of course.  Mixing the two together isn’t a bad idea either.

Aside from the awesome scenery, you also see some Ajummas (Aunties) cleaning or gardening around the area.  Much different from the usual guys I see tending to the plants in other parks, like I saw at Guanghwamun.  And there were these funky pumpkins that looked really tasty! You can take a look at the photo at the bottom of this post.

Check out this building too! At the end of my walk, I saw this church across the street from the park.  Looks like some church of the future! It’s like completely glass and it looks like there’s office buildings inside too!  Not sure what the deal is with this building but definitely won’t find a church like this anywhere in the western world.Glass Church

After my trek for 4 hours, I went back to my friend’s and started packing.  I was leaving the next day to head back to Hong Kong; my landing pad in Asia.  If you’re ever planning on flying from Hong Kong to Korea, I definitely suggest taking Jeju Air.  Probably one of the best airlines I’ve been on and it’s cheaper than the other bigger ones.  Spent my last night having dinner with my friend’s co-workers.  They were having a going away party for one of them.  Sweet Korean Grill Again! Overall, I have to say I loved Seoul.  Favourite things here were definitely the Saunas, the Grills, the Parks, and most of all the Magic Number.  I’ll have to explain in another post what the Magic Number is.  But, in short it’s a free number you can call that has an English interpreter on the other line.  The possibilities with this number are ENDLESS.  Definitely another Travel Tip worth talking about.  So, look out for it soon.

For now I take my leave, and hopefully you’ll enjoy this new set of photos.  I’ll be gone for Singapore pretty soon, so I’ll probably be posting while I’m there.  In terms of Hong Kong posting, I’ll be doing something a little different compared to my other posts.  I’ve been to Hong Kong before, so I might do a sort of comparison to what’s changed and how it compares to Toronto.  Granted not everyone agrees with my opinions but then again it’s MY OPINION and you’re not obligated to agree.

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Day 34: Parks & A Korean Palace in Seoul

In my last post I wanted to explain my second favourite thing in Seoul after the saunas here.  Parks! Honestly, I think Seoul has some of the best kept parks I’ve ever visited.

Gwanghwamun Palace Today, I went to this area called Gwanghwamun or if you’re Chinese 光化门.  I guess a translation would be “Door of the Light.”  Once you exit out of the metro station here you’ll be in front of the the door that shares this name.  It’s the entrance to an old palace here in Seoul.  At Gwanghwamun Palace, every couple of hours during the afternoon, they change guardsmen at the entrance.  It’s pretty cool to watch.  It costs 3000₩ or about $3 to get into the palace.  But, honestly it’s well worth it.  The place is really nice.  There’s tons of benches to sit on.  Inside the area there’s a few places to buy drinks.  Might want to pick up a few bottles of water or soda before you head off any deeper into the palace grounds because you can walk for quite long.  It’s definitely a place you can come and hang out with some friends.  The scenery is beautiful.  Take a look at the photos below for an idea of what I’m talking about.   Because it isn’t your typical palace you’d expect.  It’s nothing like the castles you see in Europe.

National Folk Museum of Korea At the end of the walk, you can stop by a museum nearby; the National Folk Museum of Korea.  It’s a museum about Korea’s history and how the country came to be.  Mixed in the museum is also some modern art as well.  Actually, Seoul is pretty big on art museums or galleries.  So, if you like art, I think Seoul might be somewhere you’d really like going.  Just outside the palace walls is a strip where there’s literally dozens of art galleries; each one unique.  Beside the museum actually there’s these statues of the Chinese Zodiacs.  One statue for each animal year.  Take a look at the photos at the bottom of this post.

Park Workers This isn’t the only place in Seoul with a nice view, however.  Seoul is littered with tons of these fabulous parks.  Seoul is HUGE, so they definitely have the space for this kind of stuff.  And it’s amazing how well kept they are.  You’ll always see little trucks in the area of the parks.  Usually they’re garden workers who are there to clean up the place or tend to the plants in the park.  So far I’ve only been to a few, like the one in the palace near Gwanghwamun, there’s a really nice one while on your way up to Seoul Tower, and probably my favourite one is Olympic Park here in the Jamsil area of Seoul.  In Olympic Park you can rent bikes and trek around the park.  It’s pretty hilly so, there are some areas you can walk up to and get a decent view.

I’m probably gonna head out there tomorrow for my last night.  I want to relax a bit before I leave for Hong Kong again.  I really don’t like planes still.  I get a headache every time I’m on them.  Anyway, like always enjoy the photos!

Random Note: I thought this was really funny and ridiculous.  Did you know in Korea, they believe in something called Fan Death?  Wiki it.  It’s so unbelievable.  Doesn’t even make sense.

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Day 33: The Seoul Report – Food & Fun

I know I haven’t been posting as regular as I was in Europe but I’m finding it harder to find time to write.  But, here’s an update of my visit in Seoul, Korea.  I’ll try breaking up this post into parts.

Malls and Stores in Seoul

Lotte Department Store Over the weekend I had my friend’s place all to myself.  My friend went out for the weekend with co-workers so I was exploring Seoul solo.  The first few days I didn’t really think of doing much.  I went to a few malls around the area.  They were, Techno Mart, Coex, Home Plus, Lotte Castle Plaza, Lotte Mart, and Lotte Department Store.  All these malls are either in Jamsil or a couple stops away from Jamsil station.

Inside Techno Mart Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of inside the malls.   I actually got stopped by security a few times for taking photos inside the malls.  Specifically Techno Mart and one in the Dongdaemun area.  I wasn’t even taking photos of objects.  It was more like just landscape photos, like escalators and foyers.  Photo on the side is what I took before I had security all over my ass.

Probably sounds weird I’m coming to Seoul to visit malls, but over the weekend it was raining a lot so it was pretty hard to go to the outdoor sites.  Actually the outdoors sites are probably one of my favourite things here in Seoul but more on that later.  Hanging out at malls in Seoul is still pretty interesting.  Probably my favourite department stores or mall is Coex in this area.  It’s probably the most up beat and it’s easier to shop too.  At some of the other malls like Techno Mart, it’s kind of like an open concept stores, so people tend to bug you more and try to convince you to buy things you don’t need.  I noticed something weird at the mall too.  There were line ups or queues for the weirdest restaurants.  Like this one place that sold Japanese Don (a bowl of rice with some sort of topping  like chicken katsu or egg), was like packed!  It’s not even that uncommon.  Another place that always had a huge queue was TGIF.  I guess I can understand that it’s kind of exotic and it’s interesting, but taste-wise and price-wise, not nearly worth it.  Inside Coex there was a concert going on.  Some Korean dude was singing English and Korean songs and there was a decently large crowd.

If I were to move here though, I think my favourite store would be Daiso and Home Plus.  Both these stores will pretty much have everything you’ll ever need to move in here, like detergent, lint rollers, pots & pans, baskets, toiletries, blankets.  After I landed I stopped by the local Daiso here and picked up a few smalls things.  It was definitely a life saver.  They’re both pretty common all over Korea from what I’ve been told.

Korean Food and More.

I have to say, for the most part traditional Korean food here isn’t too much different from the Korean food in Toronto.  HOWEVER, for the same quality, it’s much cheaper here than in Toronto.  And overall it’s easier to find the food you want to eat.  Most local restaurants only sell a few dishes.  Like, usually a store will specialize in noodles, or grilled meat, or soup.  Even without knowing Korean, most restaurants have pictures, so you can kind of just point if you feel like trying something random.  There’s your usual stuff like:

Dolsot Bipimbap: A black stone bowl, that stays heated for a while, filled with vegetables, rice, an egg, and then you put on as much hot sauce as you like.
Kimchichigae: Kimchi soup.
Ton Kastu: Pork Cutlet, that usually comes in fruits and vegetables here.  The cutlet it sometimes even stuffed with sweet potato which is a really nice touch.
Kang Ja Tang: Pork bone soup that’s really tasty here.
Jajiangmyun: Unlike Chinese Zha Jiang Mian, this one is served with wheat noodles and a soybean paste, with onions, for sauce.

These are just a few things you can order in Korea.  Most local restaurants would sell any of these, so might save you if there aren’t any pictures.  Probably my favourite thing in Korea though is coal grill BBQ.  Unlike the ghetto Chinese-owned Korean BBQs in Toronto, these are legit grills that taste better because of the coal or hot plate (depending where you go).  Not only that, it they give you REAL meat too.  Like, Kalbi, Bulgogi, Deungshim, and Anshim.  In Toronto, it’s like super sliced cheap beef, unless you go to the real Korean places, but they’ll charge you an arm and a leg.  Here in Seoul, I can easily find grills that are ALL YOU CAN EAT for $13, taxes are included of course.  I would say the quality here is about the same as the higher end Korean places in Toronto, but you definitely can get more value for your money here.  Of course, you won’t find these places in the city centre or tourist areas.  You’ll need to know where they are in the outer areas.

BHC Chicken Aside from the traditional stuff, Korea is pretty famous for other types of food we don’t see that often in Toronto.  Like, their fried chicken!  The fried chicken here is absolutely amazing.  Most places sell whole chickens which can cost anywhere from $7 to $13 depending on the flavouring you get.  There are some other pretty good chicken places in the central areas that are more like Wild Wings back at home.  If you’re here check out Kyochon.  It’s really good too.  Another really neat chicken place is BHC.  They sell chicken bites.  Kind of like popcorn chicken.  But, they come in these neat little cups, where half the cup is soda and the other half is the chicken.  Check out the photo on the side.  I still haven’t tried KFC here but I’d probably avoid it at all costs.  No real reason, but I try to avoid Western chains while in Asia.

Omelette Rice I definitely think the chicken and the local grills are probably the best thing to eat here.  Street food is pretty common in most markets and near the metro stations.  Those are definitely worth trying for a buck or two.  Most of the malls have floors dedicated to restaurants and they usually have some fusion restaurants that are interesting, but granted they are a bit pricier.  Omelette Rice is really good in Korea too.

Saunas, Spas, Food & Fun

This is probably by far the most interesting thing in Korea.  More interesting than palaces and museums, probably even more so than the food, is  KOREAN SAUNA HOUSES! Or otherwise known as Jinjilbang.  A few days ago I tried one out.  Jinjilbangs aren’t as simple as a sauna in a change room.  Let’s try to paint a picture here.  Think of going to a gym.  Then go into the change room.  You have lockers and you have a shower area with a sauna.  Now take the shower area and add like 4 hot tubs a pool and an area where you can get a body scrub.  You’ll be hanging out in this bath area stark naked but nothing to fear since it’s a pretty common thing to do in Korea.  No one’s judging.

At the place I went to, called Dragon Hill Spa, it had six floors, and the entrance fee was $10.  The 5th floor was the male change room with bath area, and the 4th floor was for the women.  After washing up you can head back to the first floor which is the coed area.  Before you head down though, you have to put on these oversized shorts and t-shirt they gave you at the entrance.  On the first floor there’s a massage area, pool area, video arcades, a Korean restaurant, a snack bar, and 5 giant saunas.

Each sauna area is pretty unique.  I went into one room that was like a salt sauna, heated at 52°C.  I’m so not used to it though. I walked like 5 steps and my feet were on FIRE.  I had to sit down and put a towel on my feet.  The next room is like a regular sauna but it had this ginseng scent to it.  I like eating ginseng but I rather not sit in it.  This next sauna was an ice room.  It was literally below zero in there.  Then there was a TV room sauna.  And the last sauna was this one that was, I swear, over 60°C.  It looked like I was walking into a coal furnace.  I didn’t last very long in there.  After relaxing in the saunas I got some Ton Katsu at the restaurant.  It was pretty expensive compared to the local places I go to, but the portion was pretty HUGE.

This place is amazing if you come with some friends.  I literally spent like 6 hours in this place alone.  Just relaxing and eating food.  There was this awesome restaurant on the roof top too.  It’s definitely a thing you have to do when you’re in Seoul.  Even the local Jinjilbangs is something you should try if you can’t make it to the central areas.

Anyway I think this post is long enough.  I’ll explain in my next post my next favourite thing to do in Seoul. Parks!  For now enjoy some of the photos I took! Finally found sometime to take some.  Most of these photos were taken around Seoul Tower.  I didn’t go up to the tower, but there’s enough in the area to keep you distracted.  The surrounding area is just beautiful.

Day 29: Korean Landings Land-of-No-Engrish

Just another plain blog post with no photos again.  I flew with Jeju Air to get to Seoul.  They only have charter planes so the smaller kind and they do flights within Asia.  The service is actually really good, and for a chartered flight in Asia you get a total of 20kg as check-in which is a lot for this kind of plane.  The flight itself was pretty cheap, around $300 CAD for a round trip to Hong Kong.

I landed in Seoul last night.  Their airport here in Seoul (actually Incheon) is really nice.  “A” plus on the cleanliness of the washroom.  It was super clean.  Although, from where my plane landed it took a while to get to the exit gates.  I spent like a good 20 minutes looking for the bus stop I needed to get to.  As I was looking though I noticed that at the airport they actually rent out cellphones.  I ended up picking one up since I’d probably need one to call all the tour companies and sites for information.  They don’t sell pre-paid SIM cards here because in Korea they don’t use GSM cellphone networks like most of the world.  They use CDMA which doesn’t use SIM cards so you can’t even use your phone here if you wanted to.  I ended up finding the bus I need to take to get to my friend’s place.  There’s a specific booth that sells bus tickets in front of every exit.  Remember this when buying KAL (Korean Airport Limousine – Coach Bus) tickets that you can get round trip tickets.  They might try and scam you saying that they don’t sell them.  But just argue until they do.  Its generally cheaper to get a round trip.

Notable things in Seoul.  Remember to bring deodorant when coming here.  Its not popular at all and generally pretty hard to find in the less central areas.  Bring cash before arriving.  Most of the ATMs here won’t accept your debit card if you want to withdraw cash directly from your bank account, and only take credit card.  I had to find a HSBC that was a few subway stops away from where I’m staying, but it wasn’t exactly close.  Seoul is HUGE.  From one end of the subway system to the other, it can take up to 2 hours to travel.  So its definitely much much larger than Hong Kong.  If you love fried chicken, you’ll love Korea.  There’s a fried chicken place at every block! Better than KFC or Popeye’s any day!

Earlier today after getting my cash, I walked around the underground mall in Jamsil Station.  It’s pretty neat.  It’s kind of like Toronto’s PATH mall but slightly smaller.  From I was told, these underground malls are generally easier to shop at than the bigger malls.  I guess I’ll find out what they mean when I actually go see them tomorrow or later in the week.

Tonight I went out with my friend and her co-workers from the private school she teaches at and everyone there is Canadian save for one.  But, it was awesome.  They took me out to this ALL YOU CAN EAT Korean BBQ.  It was 100 times better than the ones in Toronto!  Actually, in Toronto, all the all you can eat KBBQs are pretty crappy.  The Chinese owned ones where they sell you cheap ass meat, but then I guess it’s okay after 10pm for $10.  But, this KBBQ here is EXCELLENT meat and it’s ridiculously cheap! Only 13000₩ which is roughly $13 CAD.  What made it so good though was that it wasn’t on a cheap grill either.  It was on a pretty high grade hot plate from what I can tell.  Cooking food on it didn’t really leave a dirty char film that you usually get with cheaper grills and of course the side dishes were great!  Oh and can’t forget the cheap soju here for like 2000₩ or $2.

I’m headed off to bed now though.  Going to check out Seoul’s multicultural area called Itaewon tomorrow and there’s supposedly a museum there too.