Saturday, May 19, 2012

Korea Trip 2012 ~ Seoul

Korea Trip 2012


After our short stay in Jeju,
we returned back to Seoul for the second part of our trip.
Most people who have visited Korea should be familiar with Seoul.
Seoul gave me an impression like a fusion of Hong Kong and Tokyo.
Getting around this urbanized city is very easy with a good network of trains and English signs.
The train system is very efficient, almost comparable to that in Tokyo.
Per trip on the train cost 1,050 KRW and fare is easily paid using the T Money card, which can be purchased from convenience stores.
There are really a few sites in Korea that got attracted me, but there in fact many places to visit which are not recommended in guide books, for example Korean drama filming sites and places outside Seoul city.
The shopping in Seoul can be really fantastic for ladies, but for me, I prefer to get a glimpse of the life of the people living in the city.
I did not managed to see and do all that I had wanted in Seoul, so I will definitely do all that again soon!

We checked into the IPS Lounge, which is located just outside Myeongdong.
Finally, I do not have to share a bed and got myself a bunk bed.
This hotel is equipped with a nice pantry where you get free flow of coffee, tea, instant ramen and bread.
Throughout the hotel, there is free wifi access too.
The only thing lacking is a sink in the toilet.
 At the doorstep of our accommodation.
 Everywhere in the streets of Seoul, you can see flowers.
You really have to give it to the municipal council for making effort to make the city green and clean.

Since we stayed so close to Myeongdong, we might as well start there.
It was just 5 mins walk from our accommodation.
 Caffe Bene with Jang Guen Suk advertisement.
 There are many shops that sell cheap earrings, cute socks and tons of Samsung Galaxy SII & Note accessories. Makes you regret not getting a Samsung Galaxy.
 I had to visit Nature Republic to support Jang Guen Suk :)
 Of course, there is The Face Shop.
Apart from The Face Shop, Nature Republic, there are brands like Skin Food, Missha, innisfree, HanskinLaneige, Ipsa, Tony Moly, IOPE, Etude House, It's Skin, The Saem, Holika Holika.
 SPAO, a Korean label with the like of Uniqlo.
During our visit, SPAO was promoting their Marvel Avengers graphic tees.
I scored a nice cardigan from here.
 Another reason I loved SPAO is the advertisements with Yoona and Taeyeon from SNSD.

If you spot the "monk" on the streets, you have just found the best Bibimbap in Myeongdong.
The Bibimbap is really very good and no wonder it is packed with tourists.

 As usual, we would usually have something to add on.

Shinsegae, one of major shopping mall in Korea.
 This seems to be a popular tea house.
There plenty of street stalls that sprouted in the afternoon.
Fresh lemon juice with sprite can be a real popular thirst quencher.
 This cat cafe mascot in Myeongdong doesn't really make it too appealing for me to visit.

Just outside Myeongdong is the Myeongdong Cathedral.

A car from olleh (telco) parked outside the cathedral.
 A man solemnly prays.

 Girls choir at the nunnery beside the cathedral.

Back to Myeongdong.
 Something Singapore in Seoul.
Samsung not only make your electronics and Galaxy smartphones, they have medical centres and even Fashion stores.
 If you have the chance, catch a show in the Myeongdong Theatre.
 By evening, the streets are packed with carts selling apparels and food.
LCC and MT found a really nice restaurant in Myeongdong for Stir-Fried Spucy Chicken.
 This stir-fried spicy chicken is really fabulous!
The staff will actually help you to fry the chicken first, then throw in the rice or sticky noodle to mix, if you have ordered.

LCC and MT decided to continue to shop in Myeongdong, while LKM and myself decided to visit the Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain along the Hangang river.
 At certain times, the bridge will display a spectacular show of water works accompanied by music.
The performance lasts for 4 songs, and each timing has a different set of songs.
 Here is a video clip shot using the Nikon J1.
The wind was really strong, so you can barely make out the music from the clip.

UPDATED 22nd MAY 2012
Remix one of the sequence that was synced to "Neverending Story"

 These buildings on the floating islands beside the Banpo bridge are really attractive with its changing color display.
They are supposed to house convention halls and retail shops.
 To our surprise, the building was open and completely unoccupied.
There are no visitors or even security in there, I had lots of freedom to take photos in there.
What a waste of this lovely building!
I love the way how the different colors illuminated the interior.
 Going up to the open roof of the building, you can catch a view of the Banpo Bridge.
N Seoul Tower can be spotted in the distance.
I attempted to shoot the Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain using both Nikon D90 and Nikon J1 handheld.
With both cameras set to Auto-ISO, both cameras pushed the ISO to levels above 800 to enable a steady shot. I used Shutter-Priority mode in order to capture a smooth effect.
The images turned out be clean and sharp!

The next day, we visited a Hanok Folk Village which is just around the junction from our accommodation.
The architecture puts you in the scene of a Korean period drama.

 School girls are everywhere.
 N Seoul Tower can be clearly seen from here.

A porridge fast food joint in Myeongdong.
I saw many locals visiting this stall, but turns out to be rather bland for us.

If you visited Seoul, you have to visit Namdaemun.
At Namdaemun, you can find souvenirs, local food, snacks, clothes, kitchenware, fresh food, kimchi and lots more.
One thing to note is to bring your own reusable carrier bag!
 Mock-ups displayed help you decide what to order.
 Making Hoeddeok.
Hoeddeok is a pancake that is usually taken during winter.
Its crispy exterior, chewy dough and sweet filling of sugar, honey, ground peanuts and cinnamon, makes me crave for it everytime!
 This stall that sells Hoeddeok is really very popular.
 Ahjummas selling vegetables in the middle of the junction.
Bundigie or silk worm larvae are popular snacks for the locals, if you can tolerate the pungent smell, and stomach its appearance, you should try this.
 The Koreans sure love their pork. I was so tempted to try the pork knuckles, but I doubt any of my travel companions will want to share this!
 A basement market.
 A variety of fish cake sticks at this stall. 
 A nice red post box!

LCC urged me not to try other Samgyetang or Ginseng Chicken Soup, and ask me to wait patiently.
She brought me to this restaurant which indeed served spectacular Samgyetang and Roasted Ginseng Chicken!
I must say this is the best that I ever had and nothing compares!
 Free flow of Kkadugi or radish cube kimchi and cabbage kimchi.
 The best Samgyetang served!
The Ahjumma beside me was slurping away, which made me felt so hungry.
The fragrance of the ginseng fills your nostrils when served piping hot.
The tender soft chicken stuffed with glutinous rice infused with ginseng flavour.
To add more strength to the stew, each person was given a shot glass of ginseng wine.
 Haemul pajeon goes well with the Samgyetang.
 Roasted Ginseng Chicken looked rather ordinary, but once you sink your teeth into the roasted chicken, you can taste the flavour of ginseng infused into the meat!

I will recommend giving Ewha Womans University a visit.
The campus is filled with fashion forward ladies in a beautiful campus.
 The buildings on both sides houses the library, cafeteria and lecture theatres.
Just outside the campus, shopping streets which are haven for ladies!
 You know that women are in power here!

When you are in Korea, you must definitely experience dining at Pojangmacha or covered wagons which serves a variety of street food. By default, the ahjummas will definitely serve bottles of soju, which is the culture of dining at pojangmacha.
 We already had so much food, so we decided to just have something light.
Thankfully, the ahjumma had an English menu.
You can also ask the ahjumma to cook a bowl of instant ramen.

I was up really early and decided to pay a visit to Gwanghwamun Square.
 Statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin
 Mascots of the Yeosu 2012 Korea Expo
 These nozzles on the floor are responsible for the water effects.
 The Haechi Madang museum below this platform.
 The statue of King Sejong
 Inventions during his time includes the celestial globe, rain guage and sun dial.
This grass patch is actually a flower carpet during season and in winter, it will be converted to an ice-skating rink.
 Haechi that guards the gate.
 An Ahjussi dressed in traditional outfit was actually a guide.
 The water fountain features has started!

A visit to the local market gives the best experience of the lifestyle of the locals.
There is no better place than Gwangjang Market.
Lines of cooked food stalls serving a variety of local food.
Heart of the cow in spicy sauce.
Rows of Gimbap!
The highlight of the market has to be the Sunheene Bindaetteok or mung bean pancake.
An automated mill grinds the mung beans into the paste for making the pancake.
Fried on a hot plate of hot oil, the savoury pancake is the most memorable for me!
Mandu or pork dumplings with kimchi and tofu, which you can either have it in a peppery broth or with kalguksu or knife-cut noodles.
We thought it was a salad stall, but we were all wrong!
A bibimbap stall. The ahjumma scoops rice into a huge metal bowl, and customers just pick the fresh greens and kimchi on top of the rice. A scissor is then used to cut up the leafy vegetables before starting to mix the bibimbap.
I had to try the spicy cow's heart, while the LCC and MT stared in shock.
MT sneaked a piece of spicy pig's skin.
Stacks of Sunheene Bindaetteok or mung bean pancakes!

After food, it is time to start shopping for kimchi and banchan.
Will you try this shellfish?
I nicknamed one of them "Angry Fish"!
This seemed to be very popular.
Silk worm larvae? Anyone?
These small crabs reminds me of those at Chek Jawa at Pulau Ubin.

Lunch was a full course of banchan fit for the royalty.
All the side dishes can be replenished, but I doubt you can go for another round.
After taking the rice out of the hot stone bowl, you are required to pour barley tea into the hot stone bowl and let it simmer.
You are then supposed to scrap the burnt rice into the tea and consume it like our Teochew porridge.

No visit to Seoul is complete without visiting the Namdaemun or Dongdaemun gate.
Unfortunately Namdaemun gate was burnt in a fire and has been under restoration until late 2012.
So I can only visit the Dongdaemun gate.
Dongdaemun is supposed to be a shopper's paradise.
However, the clothes sold here are mass-produced and cheap, which attracts exporters.
You can imagine the shopping at Dongdaemun, like that of The Platinum in Bangkok, except everything is Korean fashion.
When I was about to order something to try, I was approached by a lady who smiled and winked at me.
While reciprocating with the same, in the back of my head, I suspect that she is a guy!
I lost my appetite.

I still had some time, so I decided to take a walk to the Cheongyecheon stream.
The best time to visit the stream is in the evening, as the bridges are decorated with beautiful light up.
I recommend taking a walk either up or down the 5.8km stream and admire its beauty.
Flying bugs that hovered around the plants.
Could this plant be the reason for the hordes of hovering bugs?
One of the bridge is called the "Proposal Bridge" where the many locals will propose here. I wonder if this is the one?
Almost arriving at the start of the stream, I came upon a parade.
Paper-made clothes were hung out across the bridge and performers re-enacting the lifestyle of the early Korea period.
I like the paper-made outfits.
Ladies doing laundry along the stream.
This cute lady caught my attention and I could not help snapped away on the Nikon J1.
This day, I atttempted to just bring out the Nikon J1 and leave my D90 in the bunk.
I switched between both standard zoom and telephoto kit lenses, which can cover most of the shots that I wanted.
I shot the closing ceremony of the parade on HD using the Nikon J1.
One of the feature of the Nikon 1 is that you can capture photos while you are recording videos.
Below is one of the picture taken while recording the above ceremony.

This is the start of the Cheongyecheon stream.
I only managed to captured one frame of the stream, as the battery of the Nikon J1 went flat.
The Nikon J1 is a very capable mirrorless camera which can deliver quality pictures that rival that of DSLR.
I would strongly recommend the J1 to anyone who wants a small, but yet capable camera.
However, do note that the battery life of the J1 is short and is better to have a spare.
If you are going for the Nikon V1, the battery is slightly better.

Dinner is Korean style barbecue in Myeongdong.
This shop is opened by a comedian celebrity and patronized by many locals.
We were wondering why the staff poured soup on the circumference of the the barbecue plate.
We later realised that it was actually egg!

We have come to the end of our short trip to Korea.
Thank you for to my dear friends, LCC, MT and LKM for making this trip possible.
I will also like to make special thanks to Nikon Singapore for sponsoring the Nikon J1 which is responsible for many of the shots taken during this trip.

Say Goodbye to Haechi!
Thank you!

Photos shot using Nikon D90 with Tamron 18-270mm VC 
and Nikon J1 with 10-30mm and 30-300mm.
©William Tan 2012

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