Seoul – The Soul Of South Korea

Seoul

East Asia is a region that has always piqued my interest. Apart from Hong Kong, Seoul is about the only other city that I’ve ever been to thus far. Hubby and I have been to Seoul twice so far – the first time in 2014 and once again this year, both occasions were in conjunction with hubby attending the TCTAP Cardiovascular Summit that was held at COEX Seoul. Interestingly, this summit is always held in the spring of April when the temperature ranges between 12-18°C. This climate is actually quite pleasant to walk outside without wearing thick winter clothes.

Obviously, the regional geopolitics this year has evolved so much from three years ago when we first visited Seoul. As you might already know, there was a great sense of insecurity and expectation of an impending war in early April amidst the escalating provocation by North Korea. We had at many times been drawn into the dilemma of cancelling or proceeding with our trip in late April. The decision to eventually proceed would have been life-changing had the war broken out. Thank God for His protective hands with no untoward incidents throughout our trip.

 

Flight

Nowadays, with several airlines plying the route between Kuala Lumpur and Seoul, it’s rather convenient and affordable for travellers. This time around, we took advantage of AirAsia’s premium flatbed which came up to RM2707 per person inclusive of taxes and travel insurance. Quite reasonable, isn’t it? That was what I thought too!

AirAsia Premium Flatbed

The premium flatbed is somewhat similar to a business class of a full-service airline. For a fraction of the price of a business class airfare, the size and comfort of the seats are almost comparable. Among its many privileges, the one that captivated me the most was a complimentary access to AirAsia Premium Red Lounge. Unfortunately, this is currently only available at KLIA2. I certainly hope AirAsia will establish it in as many airports as possible in the near future. You can read more about its privileges here.

The journey to Seoul took us approximately six and a half hours. The timing we chose was awesome – departing Kuala Lumpur at 8:00am and arriving in Seoul at 3:20pm. It was just perfect for check-in by the time we arrived at the hotel.

 

Accommodation

Company trips are always fantastic as far as accommodation is concerned. As long as it’s taken care of, the biggest headache is instantly gone. Our four-night stay in a standard double room at the Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas amounted to ₩1,415,700 (RM5401) inclusive all taxes. It was definitely expensive but this is the price to pay for staying in Gangnam district, which is one of the most affluent districts in Seoul. Having said that, this hotel was chosen because of its proximity to hubby’s summit venue – 10-minute walk.

Grand Intercontinental Seoul Parnas

 

Transportation

Incheon International Airport is located about 55km away from our hotel. The most convenient way to get into the city is via the Airport Railway Express (AREX), which goes directly to Seoul Station (non-stop) or stops at 10 stations before terminating at Seoul Station (all-stop). To get to our hotel, we alighted at Hongik University and boarded the Seoul Metropolitan Subway (Line 2) to Samseong. The train ticket was only ₩6,500 (RM24) per person. The Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas appeared right in front of us as we exited Samseong metro station and its strategic location made it so convenient for us to travel around the city.

Seoul Metropolitan Subway

In fact, the Seoul Metropolitan Subway is arguably the world’s most extensive metro system. With close to 300 stations within its network, you can get almost anywhere within the city. All you need is just to purchase a T-money or Cashbee transportation card, which you can use for travelling in the subway, bus and taxi. Both cards work very much like the Malaysian Touch ‘n Go.

Seoul Metropolitan Subway

 

Sightseeing In Seoul

Rest assured that Seoul is reasonably safe to walk around even if you’re alone. As such, when hubby was busy with his summit, I had no qualms about checking out the city on my own. All I required to begin my adventure was a comprehensive map of Seoul. Thanks to the subway, all places of interest in the city were literally within my reach. What could be more gratifying than exploring Seoul in spring?

Seoul

Seoul City Wall

Although we spent four days in Seoul on both occasions, the city is so vast that we couldn’t possibly cover every place of interest. I honestly think we need to go back again the third time. Angel

Dongdaemun
Heunginjimun (Gate of Rising Benevolence) Also known as Dongdaemun (East Gate), it is one of the eight gates of the fortress wall, which encompasses Hanseongbu – Joseon dynasty’s capital city.
Namdaemun
Sungnyemun (Gate of Exalted Ceremonies) Unofficially known as Namdaemun (South Gate), it is the largest fortress gate structure that was ever built by the Joseon dynasty and today is designated the first national treasure of South Korea.
Cheonggyecheon stream
Cheonggyecheon Stream – Constructed as part of a drainage system during the Joseon dynasty, this stream spans 11km and runs through downtown Seoul. Today, it is restored with long parks on either sides of the stream.
Hyundai Development Corporation Building
Hyundai Development Corporation Building – Located across the street from COEX, its “tangent” facade creates a striking visual impact.
Bongeunsa Temple
Bongeunsa Temple – Located just north of COEX, it is an 8th century Buddhist temple that was built by the Silla dynasty.
Huwon
Gyeongbokgung Palace – The first and main royal palace built by the Joseon dynasty in the 14th century. Entrance fees are ₩3,000 (RM11.25) for adults and ₩1,500 (RM5.63) for children.
Olympic Park
World Peace Gate – Located in Olympic Park, it was built as a sign of peace and harmony for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Olympic Park
Mongchon Lake – Located within Olympic Park and together with 88 Lake, the scenic lake forms a moat around Mongchontoseong (Mongchon Earthen Fortification).
Olympic Park
88 Lake – The Olympic Indoor Swimming Pool is seen at the background of this lake.
Olympic Park
Mongchontoseong (Mongchon Earthen Fortification) – These are not heaps of rubbish, but an earth rampart, built in the 3rd century during the Baekje dynasty.
Olympic Park
Hanseong Baekje Museum – This museum displays artifacts and culture from Hanseong (18 BC–AD 475), when this part of Seoul was the capital of the Baekje kingdom. Entrance is free.
Myeongdong Cathedral
Myeongdong Cathedral (Cathedral Church of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception) – A catholic cathedral for the archdiocese of Seoul that sits majestically on a hill. I was surprised to discover that Christianity is indeed the dominant religion of South Korea.
DMZ
Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) – This is arguably the most important tour to get on, especially if you’re a war history buff. The DMZ tour alone, which I took amounted to ₩45,000 (RM168.50). You can also choose the DMZ+JSA (Joint Security Area, sometimes referred to as Panmunjom) tour that costs ₩85,000 (RM318.50). Clockwise from top left: view of the Freedom Bridge from Imjingak Park, crossing the Unification Bridge, Dora Observatory, a South Korean military outpost as seen from Dora Observatory.
DMZ
DMZ Theater & Exhibition Hall – This is where a briefing is given on the history of the DMZ, JSA (top right) and 3rd Infiltration Tunnel (bottom right), which you’re allowed to descend into (no photographs, though).
Dorasan Station
Dorasan Station – One of the last stops in the tour, this station was built in preparation for an eventual unification with North Korea. At present, it’s not operational. The construction of this station evidently showed the Koreans’ intent desire for unification.

 

Shopping

When it comes to shopping in Seoul, there’s really no point blogging about premium shopping as stores for that are already aplenty. Like myself, I’m sure most people are looking for a bargain. High on the list would be Namdaemun Market, which is quite similar to the night market in Malaysia. The number of stalls and shops here are endless. This is also where you get to practise and hone your bargaining skills.

Namdaemun Market

Other popular markets are Myeongdong Market, Dongdaemun Market and Pyeonghwa Market. In fact, most of them sell pretty much the same items but on a smaller scale compared to Namdaemun Market.

Dongdaemun Market

Also, if you’re looking specifically for Korean-made electrical appliances, crockery or facial masks, I’d suggest checking out the Korean hypermarket, Lotte Mart. Prices of items sold here are very reasonable.

Lotte Mart

 

Eateries

When in Seoul, you shouldn’t miss giving Korean cuisine a try – kimchi almost always being the indispensable element. Having said that, I must admit that Korean food is an acquired taste that not many people would eventually learn to appreciate. If you’re adventurous and don’t mind street food, I’d recommend trying tteok-bokki or cylinder-shaped rice cakes, which are readily available in most street corners. They are usually taken with spicy sauce or less commonly, soy sauce.

Tteok-bokki

Pojangmacha (covered wagons) are pop-up tent restaurants that you frequently see in Korean movies. They are prevalent in Seoul and we had an interesting experience dining in one at Namdaemun Market. Fortunate for us, the hawkers could converse in Mandarin and they also had food menus, which made life so much simpler when ordering. What’s more important was that they open late at night, when most other restaurants are closed.

Pojangmacha

What about proper restaurants? I can’t give you specifics, but there are plenty around and equally good. One thing they serve and you definitely must try is kimchi-jjigae. It’s a traditional kimchi stew (possibly the most-loved of all the stews in Korean cuisine), which is served with rice or noodles. As usual, side dishes are provided.

kimchi jiggae

Gogi-gui (barbecue) is another popular Korean cuisine, whereby you get to savour a variety of roast meat – chicken, pork and beef. One particular restaurant in Myeongdong that we chanced upon and found to be superbly tasty was Yoogane Chicken Galbi (유가네닭갈비). However, the only meat served here is chicken. Interestingly, it just opened its first branch in 1 Utama (Malaysia) last year.

Yoogane Dak Galbi

Dakgangjeong (crispy fried chicken) is extremely popular in South Korea, if you’re familiar with 4Fingers Crispy Chicken (Mid Valley Megamall KL) and Chir Chir Fusion Chicken Factory (Pavilion KL). Mad Fry Chicken (매드후라이치킨삼성점), arguably the best fried chicken in Gangnam is the most mouth-watering I’ve tasted so far and would highly recommend it. It provides you a selection of flavours to choose from, namely spicy, honey, soy, etc.

Mad Fry Chicken

 

Peculiar Things

It never crossed my mind that Christianity is the dominant religion in South Korea, until the sight of churches became more prominent. Only then did I dig deeper to understand that Christianity was first introduced in the Korean peninsula as early as the Joseon period. What’s more interesting is that the largest church in the world by membership is in Seoul – Yoido Full Gospel Church.

Yoido Full Gospel Church

The most unusual thing you’ll notice when you’re in a subway station is the presence of “Relief Goods Storage”, which contains food, gas masks and other emergency equipment. The reason is because all underground stations are designed to function as bomb shelters in the event of an attack by North Korea. This threat has been ongoing since the ceasefire in 1953, but it seems more imminent lately.

Relief Goods Storage

Despite its external threats, South Korea is actually very safe domestically. The spectacle of people flaunting their designer collection without much concern for their surroundings is commonplace. Honestly, Seoul gave me the feeling of absolute security and that was why I dared walk alone when hubby was at his summit. Besides that, the cleanliness in Seoul is also commendable and comparable to that of Singapore or Tokyo – literally sterile.

Back to the subway stations, you might also notice that some walls and glasses are overlaid with pictures of groceries akin to a supermarket. These are virtual stores with QR codes where you can scan and make your orders, while waiting for the train. I suppose the goods will then arrive at your doorstep when you reach home. What an brilliant idea of maximizing time and space. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

Virtual Store Seoul

 

 

NOTES:

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4 Comment

  1. I always get the picture that SK is such a hyper-modern place. It’s neat to see that there’s still a lot of older cultural stuff around. I’ve always been interested in visiting it. That food looks and sounds great too!

  2. East Asia has become the center of my travel interest this yeat. Just done with Singapore and missing all others. Thanks for sharing
    , very helpful

  3. Daniela Miovska says: Reply

    Great article.! Easy to read and rich with details and relevant information. I also enjoyed the photos. I am quite fascinated with Asia, too. I haven`t been anywhere yet, but I am planning to in near future. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Good tips. nice pics of South Korea. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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