FINALLY sharing with you all my little getaway to Seoul. For those who need some Seoul itinerary planning, weepdeedoo! Sometime ago, my family and I were just in the car thinking about if we will ever go to Seoul again together. My dad and brother has never been there again since I went there to study – and they’ve never been brought around by me. My cousins, aunties and grandmother have all been taken around Seoul by me but not my own immediate family members. My mom has been there numerous times, all thanks to very viable reasons such as me needing an extra hand to do packing and i probably need another partner to lug my bags with me.
Back to the conversation about if we will ever get on the plane together – all 4 of us – something got into Dad and he asked to just check the airplane tickets online. I did – and it was only about RM 700 per person. We thought about it over a few days but didn’t really want to take too much time because of the price influxes. We bought the tickets. The next thing we knew, months later we were on a plane heading to Seoul.
After being away for more than 7 years (I was there in 2008!!), I am finally heading back. I was there in 2010 but it was a really short trip. I was honestly really excited because Seoul holds so much memories for me and it was a place that was always developing and growing. My friends were going in and out the country so often, and the Kpop buzz has only been undyingly harboring which made me miss it even more just by looking at shows that feature certain places that I used to spend a lot of time at.
We spent about 10 days there (from 30th April 2015 till 10th May 2015) and got ourselves some good companion. The Ming brothers and their family came along too and there was 10 of us in total! It’s funny how we ended up going together. I was in their house with a group of friends and Uncle Ho was just jokingly asking if it’d be okay if he tagged along and pretended to bump into us in every place. Fast forward, jokes became real – and we ended up in Seoul together. It was really fun having another family come with us cause it was a little bit more meriah.
Weather was going through the end of Spring. We didn’t know what to wear because temperature seemed so unpredictable as it kept changing on the sites online. I looked up hashtags (#seoul #korea) to see what would people be wearing. They all looked so different and there were so many throwback photos. Anyway we just packed what we could – only about 5-6 outfits each person, cause we were looking to shop or either get our clothes washed at the coin wash stores.
So here goes the beginning of our SEOUL trip in 2015!
[WARNING : 88 photos ahead!]
Day 1 : AIRPORT / SINCHON / SOLBING DESSERT
We checked in 3 luggages and the little lime one was a handcarry I took just incase we had extra stuff to put in the luggage on the way home. We took AirAsia so it was definitely a smarter way to make sure you still had extra space to put your stuff incase you went overboard shopping. I wouldn’t say we were huge shoppers because stuff in Seoul isn’t too cheap – but there are areas that sell clothes for about RM 15 in extremely good quality! What if we go crazy there? So bringing an extra bag was the plan! I lugged my laptop and everything else inside so it was quite hassle free. Quite worried that I would lose my eye one it for a bit in the airport then everything will be gone. Having things on my back would be a lot more easier to take care, but I made sure I paid more attention to it lah. Rather than have a sore bag throughout the whole 10-day trip, right?
For the first time, we weren’t seated at the wing of the plane! Was put at the aisle, but I guess it’s alright. 6 hour flight is considerably long, but cause I was too happy to be going to Seoul I think it really didn’t matter at all. Ask me sit at the end of the plane – sit only lor. AirAsia buy seats also must pay really kiksei me.
Second time boarding from KLIA2 and I see that they now have a lot more travellators. Good for people like us who had to walk till the ultimate end of the place. The only thing I can think about the distance is horror for those who is about to miss their flight – and realize its only at the end of the road. Good luck mate pfft.
After 6 painful hours – sigh, really so long lah. What also cannot do in the plane. No entertainment TV, iPad also didnt bring, forgot to download anything into the computer, had my harddisk but I didnt’ download VLC to play the odd formats of the movies. Submit myself to fate and just concentrate on being grateful I’m currently in a plane heading somewhere. “You are lucky, Natalie. Be happy. Be patient. You are lucky. Ok?”
Arrived at Incheon International Airport, went to collect our portable Wifi (we used Pocket Wifi Korea at USD 3.95 per day). You can check the link out HERE. It was pretty good as it covered a lot of places except for when you are underground such as the subway areas. I would recommend it. The sites say that the coverage is really bad in places like Myeongdong but it worked pretty well for me.
Mings went on a different plane and arrived in Seoul about half a day earlier. We were able to get in touch with the wifi router to tell them we’ve touched down! It doubles as a shuttle train somewhat as it’s tracks are different and can bring you to stations in a shorter period as opposed to the usual city subway that may take about double the time that requires transits. Pretty cool – so you get to see people still walk in and out the train although their destinations isn’t the airport.
Nick and Dad in the Special Needs seat. Usually old ajussi’s will tell you to move if they don’t think you deserve the seats. They were there cause they were the baggage guardians LOL. Mom and I just sat at the common area and waited. The train right was about 45 minutes before we arrived directly at where our AirBnB apartment was – Hongik University aka Hong Dae.
Our apartment was REALLY REALLY close to the subway. It was really just a stone’s throw away, and didn’t take more than a minute from the exits. The building was SMACK right in between two exits of the subway so it was pretty convenient. It was my first time staying in an Airbnb and this was a self check in so I was pretty nervous. We booked the place a few months before and they gave us a password to enter. I inquired to confirm if the password was correct just a few weeks as we were about to arrive – and the owner confirmed that there was nothing to worry about. We found the place easily – but there was a problem.
THE PASSWORD WASN’T RIGHT! I tried again and again to no avail 🙁
We couldn’t get in for about at least 15 minutes and I was mildly freaking out because my family and all was with me and I couldn’t really answer as to what was really happening. I couldn’t really contact the host because she kept insisting that I could text her with the Airbnb platform and she would respond soon. I guess I was really a little too trusting to just have been okay with that. I texted her with our Wifi Router (thank God for that!) but I really couldn’t just sit down and wait for a reply outside the apartment door. I looked and searched for contact numbers, and there was one that I had saved – but nobody was picking up. I called again and again, and finally a girl picked up.
The girl told me she wasn’t working there anymore, but she could still give me the password to the apartment. My eyes opened wide but I tried to sound calm. In my mind I was just thinking “HOW IN THE WORLD DOES AN EX EMPLOYEE HAVE THE PASSWORD?”. I really just wanted to get in the house so I just responded as casually as I could as she confirmed my location, I assume the owner of the studio has a couple of properties opened for AirBnB. I told her the name of my building and she gave me the password – I keyed in the password – and slide down the cover – and the door unlocked!
BUT…it wasn’t over. The lady on the phone went on and didn’t want to hang up. I was trying to rush the conversation cause it was still an overseas call and was going to be damn expensive. It ended up being RM 14.40 for a call that was less than 3 minutes. She was complaining to me about how she wasn’t paid by the owner of the studio for being a local runner for the services. The owner who I’m communicating with on AirBnB resides outside of Korea and has her own runners to facilitate the place and make sure guests are comfortable and attended to. I guess this girl was having an issue with the owner and she was telling me to leave mean reviews for the owner. Girl, you don’t know what you doing man. That’s my moneh you complaining over. I just told her that I am sorry about what’s happening, thanked her for letting us in and hung up.
I really liked the place!! It had 3 beds and bathroom and toilet was separated – which was a great plus! We were about 11 floors up high and was overlooking the main roads of Hong Dae. You can view in in my vlogs on Youtube – will attach the vlog of the day below if you want to watch everything live. The only downside was that it had no air conditioning. It was still spring and weather was pretty chill – but man, first night was just cruel. We were kinda sweating, I figured it wasn’t the way to go and texted the owner to help us fix our aircond. Actually we didn’t know how to turn it on, but I still needed him to come over to take a look. He promised to come over either super late at night, or just next 2 days cause it was the weekend.
I decided to get the conversation about the aircond going as we went out to just do a quick screen though at Sinchon and also have dinner. I miss by 5000 Won (RM 15) BBQ buffet in Sinchon, where my uni was. Just couldn’t wait to get back to see how the place looks like!!
Sigh but damn unlucky we arrived at Sinchon but I just COULDNT find the place. Thanks to KakaoTalk’s Call Feature I was able to call Dawn to check with her on where it is. The service was quite bad so I couldn’t really hear her properly. We had about 9 of us and i didn’t really wanna lug everybody to go look for the restaurant with me so we just decided on a random bbq restaurant. We ordered a bean paste stew, few pork belly slices and marinated pork ribs.
Yummy!! It was one of the best ways to kick start a Seoul holiday. Ahh, just miss the original BBQ. There’s just something so different about having barbecue in Korea. May just be me, but aiyah – holiday, then of course have to like and be happy with the feeling of being in the foreign land ma correct?
After dinner we walked around Sinchon a little and got a bit sad. So many things have changed since I was there. I sound like a broken record, but the changes were just TOO drastic. I didn’t recognize the place anymore. Imagine spending almost a year on the same rotary and to find it being so different you don’t recognise it any longer. I guess it’s almost like how an old folk comes pass the city, and gives that longing vibe and sigh on how they don’t recognise a place they once called home as they are now replaced by tall buildings and whatnot. How can a place change SO much in just a matter of 6-7 years? Wei shen me?
Looked around for about an hour and it was time for dessert. We spotted Solbing Desserts the moment we walked in Sinchon so I was adamant on trying it because so many people recommended it.
Wah the desserts there don’t play play – I think about 15,000 won on average for a bowl. That’s about RM 45 plus minus. But this is a holiday, so it’s okay. Think in the currency of the country you’re in! My family ordered two, one Strawberry and another Red Bean.
WAHHHH!! The Strawberry one was one of the BESTEST strawberry desserts I’ve ever had. I love that they didn’t use normal water but like shaved milk? The consistency was so soft and light and the strawberry serving was just ABSOLUTELY generous. With every scoop, I could get 2-3 slices of strawberry easily without really having to pace my bites to spread the toppings with the ice.
I didn’t try the red bean one cause I wasn’t a fan of red bean – but this was apparently really good too. The only downside is that those who can’t take milky tasting stuff wouldn’t really fancy it. The condensed milk gives the absolute topping and taste to the dessert – and its SO good. I loved almost everything about it except for the fact that it couldnt become a messy dessert. The spoon got quite sticky and my fingers ended up being sticker at every bite. That wasn’t a very comfortable experience, but it was worth the try.
While we were at the place, we thought we saw our first Kpop artist Sohyun from Akdong Musician. We’re still not sure if it’s her but it’s either we never got to confirm or everyone just looks pretty damn similiar haha. After dessert, we went back to our place to rest up for the next day.
I continued to try to fix the aircond, only to find out that the A/C was actually switched off by the apartment management. Weather was still quite cold so they switched off all A/C’s and if we turned anything on it was nothing but the heater. I got the guards into the studio to check and then only they told me it was a central A/C and there was no use in me trying to get the settings correct. Sigh, so I texted the AirBnb runner to request for a fan. At first he said no, because they don’t have the inventories. Finally Alexis the owner gave him permission to get one under the company and it came two days later! WEEE! Really cannot sleep without anything at all. Weather was chilly outside but not strong enough to come in and chill the whole room.
It was about 23 degrees or so but we could easily walk around in slightly longer sleeves and that’s about it. So that’s not exactly the kind of cold that would chill up your whole apartment. Anyway, that pretty much sums up first day of Seoul. It was only about 6 hours to do most of the things before it was bed time.
Moving on to Day 2!
DAY 2 : INSADONG/SAMCHEONGDONG/BUKCHEON HANOK VILLAGE
I have a 10-day itinerary all done before the trip. If it was only my mom and I, we probably wouldn’t make it so systematic. But because everybody else hasn’t really toured Seoul, it was pretty much necessary. It was also good for me to just walk around and re-see these places to see if they have changed. I can share the itinerary with you guys in Travelling Seoul 101 after my blog posts are done! I am very motivated to finish it this time!!
We decided to go around Jongro the second day. That means we cover Insadong > Samcheongdong > Bukchon Hanok Village! We didn’t want to rush things up so three places were more than enough. The day started at about 11AM and we headed straight to Insadong.
[Directions to Insadong : Take Line 3 and head to Anguk Station, and exit through Exit 1. Walk all the way straight and you will see a huge walkway on your left after about 2-3 minutes. On your right should be a couple of roadstalls selling food or newspaper stands etc]
Insadong is a place that is very heavy on cultural and traditions of Korea. If you like that kinda thing, this is where you should go. Occasionally you get to still see old ladies in hanboks walking around. There are also a couple of good cafe’s if you’d like, but you need to walk around. I had the best waffle in my life here, but have no recollection of where it is. Anyway, first thing for us was BREAKFAST!
It was quite tough scouting down a normal bakery that served breakfast-like food. There was one at the corner right before we turned in Insadong, but the place was filled. We walked down a little to find nothing, and just turned back to the initial bakery to try to forcefully put everybody in. Thankfully, a couple left and that gave us just enough space to put all 10 of us!
While the rest were all inside the bakery trying to stuff ourselves, Aunty CK was still outside with Ming Yue and Ming Li looking at street art. They were selling hand-drawn hand fans and whatnot. Ming Li got herself a fan with her name written for 10,000 won. That’s about RM 30. Quite pricey – but we accepted it as tourist price.
Mom asking us to get in quick haha
Finally getting some bread in our tummy to start off the day. Our staple drinks in the morning would be this. Parents could get coffee, Nick would get Korea’s latest fad of blue lemonade and I will ALWAYS ALWAYS get iced peach tea. There’s nothing like the peach tea that is being sold in any random cafe in Seoul as compared to the ones we get here in KL. Peach tea there is…so peachy.
Fresh flowers that were sold almost everywhere in Seoul. They are really huge on flowers!
——MID NOTE : Okay this is my SECOND time rewriting this blog post from this point. I finished the blog post with a LOT of words and was done after about 2-3 hours. It didn’t save and now I am sad. I soldiered through a mild headache writing it and just told myself, a bit more – just a bit more! And WordPress decides to log me out. I don’t know if I’m angry at myself for not copy pasting the last moment when I could or what now sigh. Sad sad sad sad sad sad sad sad sad sad sad——-
So we walked along the road of Insadong (which is approximately about 15 minutes walk down at normal pace without stopping) and then I saw Ssamziegil! I had to go in there. I always love going in Ssamziegil because everytime I come it’s always different. I usually end up here from another direction (don’t ask me how) but anything works right. Ssamziegil looks like a building you can easily just walk pass along the streets but it gives off a whole different vibe, and for me, it is the highlight of the whole stretch of Insadong. It’s the lot with all the green leaves on it. We took the side entrance in (not sure why) but wherever that leads us into the place lah.
Hello side entrance of Ssamziegil!
Also, we were greeted with a new kind of street snack. It was called the Ddong Bbang, which literally translates to Poop Bread. Good thing it didn’t smell as nasty as the name suggest, but I would think that it would sell better if it had a funkier taste to it – just like smelly tofu. At least a selling point right? Took some photos and we went in.
Finally inside of Ssamziegil (how many times have i said this word? I don’t even know what it means). Look how vibrant and lively the whole place is. As you can probably see, it is this building with four levels and you keep walking up in a spiral as it leads you up to the rooftop. Along the way up, you will get to see different shops that sell mainly locally made products that are really cute or just things you’d buy as souvenirs. A lot of films are shot here thanks to it’s artsy fartsy outlook and the interior always changes. The last time I came it was some eco-friendly kind of theme, and this time I think they were exhibiting children’s paintings. The colours made the place look really pretty though.
Looking down from the second level. We don’t usually stop at the shops because its either too expensive or the stuff doesn’t really suit what we are looking for. I don’t know what we’re looking for also, but not the hipster kinda of stuff lah.
Notebooks and whatnot. All the store owners like tak sempat sempat wanna tell “Made in Korea”
I took a couple of tourist-y photos, please don’t judge. How else do I take a photo here.
We almost decided to leave and start going down, but I caught sight of this place right at the other side of the rooftop and felt like we had to go see what’s happening. Turned out to be this Couple Note Tags kinda thing going on. Korea’s really big on coupley things, like the Ddong Bbang I mentioned just now even had a couple set that you can buy on a discount from original prices. So this was nothing surprising but I always love taking photos at such places, especially when notes and deco is really packed and photo worthy!
Walked out of the place after about 20 minutes and walked along the roads of Insadong. For those who needs to see what Ssamziegil is like from the main entrance (here you go below!). It is the highlight of Insadong for me but wouldn’t really spend too much time there if photo quota is fulfilled pfft. We had about an hour or so before meeting the rest again so my family continued marching down the halfmark of the street.
So many Koreans are in Insadong. I would guess that for a place so local like this would have many tourist flocking in the area – but they were all mainly Koreans just soaking up all their own culture on a weekend. Great stuff. When will this happen in Pasar Seni? One day – I am hopeful.
Also randomly walked into this other building that had stairs with flowerpots so I just ran towards it to take photos for the blog. So long since I could do a #dedicatedblogger thing. Here is a small part of the huge cafe culture in not only Insadong, but Seoul. Two or three story cafes are like – you know, just any other clothing store.
As we kept walking i can’t help but notice like this increasing number of people just walking around eating what seemed like ice cream. It was pretty warm and I could use a popsicle. I saw the store selling it just a few stores away. OH EM GEE they were frozen mangoes!! I love love love love frozen fruits; i would slice up bananas or strawberries just to freeze them and bite on them like ice cubes. I’ve never had frozen mango but with my love for mango and that its now frozen FOR ME without having to wait – ON! We easily bought three and I just loved the way it tasted. Of course, nothing special – just like a normal mango. But i love that it was frozen and i was so convenient to eat – just like an ice cream. The mango stick was selling at 3000 won. Pretty expensive but worth it for me.
After Insadong, we went to Samcheongdong. There wasn’t much there but I felt it was also a place that was worth being at. I didn’t know the roads and because there were coincidentally so many policemen (and young ones teehee) so I just went and ask about three separate ones to see if they could guide me there. We were walking in a larger group so it’d be easier if there was a shortcut. To my surprise, none of them knew – which was actually why I ended up asking THREE – and they were all volunteers (yeap, they cared to explain why they couldn’t help). So I could only ask for directions for larger landmarks like the Gyeongbokgung Palace because I knew Samcheongdong was around that area. They guided me across the road from Insadong but while walking towards the direction, I recognised this path on our right below.
It was the fancier path to Samcheongdong!
Not even halfway : We just had to stop by at the little resting seats at the side because our staminas just won’t allow the turbo up. Everyone was just strolling happily up the slightly inclined route – but well, not for people who usually just use our legs to drive. You can actually see how incline the road actually is. Slightly, but surely,
We decided to really just take a rest after all that walking at a restaurant since it was lunch time anyway. Couldn’t seat all 10 of us together so 6:4 it was. Just ordered very simple stuff as we weren’t too hungry. Rested for about 45 minutes and we were ready to go again.
As we walked out there was a throng of policemen who marched pass with all their safety gears. In my head I was thinking “Crap, don’t tell me something is going on”. They were bringing their safety kids with the body shields, gas masks and everything. It was hard not to be bothered. Didn’t want to make a fuss by asking so much and decided to observe first. Is that way I could so easily bump into three policemen at the same spot just now?
Anyhoo, we continued walking along and ended up in this area that had alot of quaint shops here and there. You just had to stop by some because sometimes there’s a queue and you just wanna kepoh and see whats up. As for us, for the first queue we snooped a little and just found that it was this guy who drew portraits of people. He must either be 1) really famous 2) good at marketing because those drawings didn’t seem like they were genius or close drawings. Didn’t really stop by any other queues after that and minded our own business.
With the above area being the halfway mark, we got to Samcheongdong and had to find another cafe to sit down (yes we just had to). Well, Samcheongdong IS about cafes and dessert houses anyway so if you’re just here to look see – you’re bound to be out in 30 minutes. Do some cafe hopping, walk by the shops in the attic of the lots, and you can possible spend half the day here. We were only here for 45 minutes (30 minutes cafe, 15 minutes look see) before we went straight for Bukchon Hanok Village
When we stopped by we started seeing more and more police guarding odd entrances of the alleys around Samcheongdong. I just had to ask what’s going on cause situation was getting to look quite serious. I’m not kidding when I say they had about hundreds of young policemen (probably serving NS) all dispatched just to guard the area. Here’s how the conversation kind of went (in Korean) :-
Me: Hi, do you know how to get to the Bukchon Hanok Village?
Policemen : Uhm, I’m not too sure I’m just a volunteer.
Me : Oh, that’s fine. Okay, look is there a situation going on here? A riot maybe?
Policemen : Uhm, yes there’s one going on nearby but you don’t have to worry about it.
Clearly he didn’t want me to probe further and was reluctant to disclose where the riot was. But in my heart I was like CRAP CRAP WE ARE GOING TO BE TRAPPED. WE WILL BE IN TEAR GAS ALL OVER HOW HOW I HAVE 10 PEOPLE WITH ME WOR! So I tried to investigate further.
Me : Okay, do you think it may be near the Palace cause I’m heading there soon.
Policemen : I think it’s best not to head there because that’s where the riot may take place.
Me : Oh so it’s at the Palace?
Policemen : Y…es..
Me : Okay cool thanks.
I went back to the cafe and went “YES THERE’S A RIOT!” and everyone’s automatic reaction was “How do we get out of here Natalie?!”. Okay that’s the end of it. We didn’t really panic much la, after abit of research it was just for Labours Day the people of the country were demonstrating against some policy of the country for labour.
After shopping at random shops like the 5 Dollar Shop (that had stuff more than 20 dollars!) we headed straight for Bukchon Hanok Village. It was said to be the “Santorini of Seoul” as it overlooked all the houses on a slanted angle and they are looks really beautiful. So we had to see it for ourselves. It was my first time to the village – I guess they made it a thing in the recent years as a Must See spot.
We spotted some tourist information guides who walked around in red uniforms with a huge ‘i’ on their caps for Information. They could speak fluent English, Chinese or Japanese (albeit with an accent but it works) so they guided us easily to where the village was with a free map!
At one of the turnings up! Encouraging each other to go for the inclined path first pfft.
Ming Yue was asking for a plaster here but I didn’t realize cause I was busy taking photos haha.
Hello is me.
Finally at the top after quite a quick climb I must say. The path was just REALLY inclined (but not yet the worst of our whole trip) and we were sometimes lost but if we knew the way it would probably only take 5 minutes from Samcheongdong. I’ve never been to Santorini but the view from were we were was pretty sweet. The traditional roofs and colour scheme of the whole area during the golden hour was just very very pleasant to look at.
One of the better lighting shots I managed to take
We went up further just to take a look at the real residential houses around the area, since it’s what the place is famous for. And according to the map this was the route to the subway station!
Random painting in one of the alleys
You see that door behind me. So tradition. So cool. So sturdy right? Probably just half right. If you look closely it’s just an a automated door that opens and closes like a normal door but made of wood. Probably sturdier than your average apartment door – but still a bit cheat ah. I think the government must have played a part in enforcing that the houses here don’t change in interior. We realize some even go to the extend of just placing wood-looking plastic on the roofs and fake it to be extension planks from inside of the house (as part of traditional architecture) but it’s all just for show.
Walked down after about an hour or so, and the walk down was even steeper than the route up. We had to talk mini mini steps to make sure we didn’t lose our balance. Thank God the weather was getting slightly cooler so we weren’t sweating so much with the walking.
On the way to the station at the end of the road down, we came past this shop that had a mini queue. They were selling octopus skewers at 3000 won each. Well, we were sort of hungry by then and decided to buy one. WAH it turned out pretty damn good and was one of the best random street snacks we ate. It was so good we were already 2 minutes away from the store, Ming Li decided to walk back to buy another one.
Yummers! Octopus with mayonnaise and the dried Japanese flake thingies.
That marks the end of our Day 1 & 2 in Seoul for now. Probably will start updating the Travelling Seoul 101 page slowly but surely. If you’d like to experience the whole journey on this day live, you can watch my vlog below. As for now, I’m signing off to prepare the next post for you.