Saturday, June 13, 2009

Day 1: Getting to Know Seoul

It takes a while to get to know a city. You've got to in the heart of it, doing what the locals do, travel the way they travel, & eating what they eat. I was also going to add and speak the language that they speak but that was quite an impossible task for us. Besides, we found out that there was another option for us - Mandarin!

No. 1 : The Subway
Seoul is so well covered with the subway system & that has got to be the best way to travel. No traffic, no jam. subway maps & names of places are in 3 languages: Korean, Mandarin & English. Wait, that is not the best part. The best part is that they're cheap. Most of our trips cost us about 1000 won (RM3).

Tickets can be purchased at vending machines in English.

Every ticket that you buy has an additional 500 won (RM1.50) added to it. Upon arival at your destination, you can return the ticket in another machine to get your 500 won back.

We were looking for something like an Octopus or an Oyster card but the closest thing to that was only the T-money card, which was the furthest from those.

The T-money is quite useless if you're there for only a few days like us. You see, you need to pay 2500 won (non-refundable) for he card, & then, you need to add in money for the trips. The 2500 won is just for buying the card. You'd get about 10% off every trip that you make, but to get your money's worth, you'd probably need to travel like 25 times.

No. 2: The People

We had a theory. We observed that we could actually draw a generational line at 45 years old. Anybody above that age would seem to be aloof & pushy (as in physically).

1. Don't be surprised if an auntie suddenly pushes you aside at the counter, with a sweeping motion of her arm, even though the cashier has not given you back your change yet.

2. Don't be surprised when you get pushed aside when you're in the middle of flipping through some bargains. They will slide in from behind or the side.

3. Don't be surprised if they squeeze thenselves through your armpits as you're stuffing your bags into the airplane luggage cabin overhead just before you take a seat.

4. Don't be surprised if an arm or a knee or a foot accidentally hits you, & you turn around to see a stone-cold face, & they just walk past you like you don't exist.

This is Korea. And after a couple of days, we really got used to it. In fact, we started doing what they did. And it felt good. And nobody complained. It's strange I know, but it's acceptable.

Other than that, everyone was generally friendly & helpful. Most of the older ones do not speak English. The younger ones probably does. However, I would say you'd have a better chance with either Japanese or Mandarin with the older folks.

No. 3: The Road Signs
They almost do not exist. Major streets have signages but most smaller lanes do not. In general, knowing the landmarks would be much more practical.

And with that, we were finally in Seoul!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 1: Korean Traditional Porridge at Myeongdong

Ok, it's about time we post about Korean food.

After one whole morning of catching up with sleep at Gimpo Hotel Airport, we were fully charged to 5 bars, revving to go, with our stomachs at empty tank, & our mouths wide open. This is our very first real day in Seoul. FEED US!

We weren't really sure which were the good restaurants but we knew that there were supposed to be lots of food in Myeongdong. And we felt like porridge, sort of like to cleanse off the constipated airline food in our system.

In the maze-like confusion of Myeongdong street, we actually had to circle a few rounds before spotting the porridge word in Mandarin, right above our heads. If you're coming out of Myeongdong subway, you'll be at the main road. The restaurant is at the first inner street, parallel with the main road (see how confusing it is?) If all fails, just look for UNIQLO. The porridge is just opposite from there.

If you can read the name of the place, tell us - it's inverted in the photos.
You'd need to walk up the stairs to this nice little cosy restaurant that serves all sorts of Korean porridge - abalone, chicken ginseng, red bean, beef & pine nut. Compared to that, we Malaysians only know 2 types - Teochew style (porridge with separated rice & water) & Hong Kong Cantonese style (really sticky, almost like puree). This is the porridge of the third kind.

Korean style - very sticky but with the grains still whole. Extremely different texture. Extremely nice. There's something about Korean short, stubby & fat rice grain.
For 2 hungry travellers, this has got to be the most refrshing meal ever. The porridge came out piping hot with the Korean side dishes. Porridge with Kimchi, now that's an idea!

And we found out later that Korean's unsually serve cold soup with hot porridge. It's sort of like a pair that goes together in cooling the body down.

We ordered the Abalone porridge. Abalone pieces small as compared to the Jeju ones but that is another story. Still yum nonetheless!

Chicken and ginseng porridge. Korean eating ginseng is part of their meals unlike Chinese which treat it like a rejuvenating herbal 'medicine'.

The whole thing cost us 18,000 won (RM50) which was pretty normal for a standard Korean restaurant meal.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gimpo Hotel Airport

We touched down for the very first time on Korean land at Incheon International Airport on May 25 6.30am (that's for our record). We were flying the whole night & you know that as much as you try to sleep on the plane, it doesn't really work. The old MAS Airbus 330 didn't have the adjustable head rest (although the seats were reclining) so our heads kept bobbing forward everytime we started to fall asleep. So we knew we needed a night of good rest before we flew down to Jeju.

The thing was this. Incheon was about 1 hour or so away from Seoul. The flight to Jeju was from another airport (Gimpo) which was 40 minutes away from Incheon. So the game plan was to rest for a night somewhere in between Gimpo & Seoul so that we needn't rush back & forth from Seoul city centre. And that in-between hotel was Gimpo Hotel Airport. And it was just a mere 5 minutes away from Gimpo airport which meant that we could just wake up, pack up & go.

We read from somewhere the hotel could actually pick you up from the airport if you ring them up but that sounded too complicated for us so we decided take an airport bus. And it was cheap. we paid only 5,000 won per person. That's like RM15 for a 40-minute ride. Despite the fact that the bus driver didn't speaking the England, he was kind enough to let us off quickly when we realised that we missed Seojong Station.
This is Gimpo Hotel Airport.

It wasn't really a hotel that everyone was raving about. We found it on the internet & the reviews were pretty much okay with certain things still left to be desired. However, its close proximity (5 mins drive) to Gimpo Airport is extremely convenient, & the nearest Seojong Metro Station is just almost at its doorsteps & that could take you all the way to Seoul city centre in 30 mins.
The room looked like this, a bit old but averagely clean.

The fan is there for a reason cos the air-conditioning moves like an old man. If you put your fingers near the ventilation, you'd be lucky to feel a faint, slight movement of air. Of course it didn't help to complain cos all rooms were the same & we didn't want to go thru the complexities of language with the hotel staff.

The bathroom was clean & it had what it's supposed to have for you to wash & to let go.

All the basic amenities were there including the hair dryer, although my favourite auto wash toilet funtion wasn't there.

Emergency flashlight in case of power failures.

Emergency ropes for climbing down the building in case of fire. I am not kidding.

I guess that's what you probably need to have when all the rooms are smoking rooms.

This was really in a more suburb Seoul where you could see school children walking alone, people sitting outside their shops minding their own business.

The hotel staff spoke some English but not fantastic enough to completely understand one another. The rate was about 80,000 won (RM240) BUT it apparently did not have any non-smoking rooms & the room was slightly old & dark in their decor. It's basically clean but it was just too smoky for non-smokers like us. But they gave us an air purifier when we requested for one, & that really helped a lot!

So yes, we'd recommend this hotel if you'd need the convenience & the free shuttle service to Gimpo airport. Otherwise, there would certainly be better hotels in Seoul.

And so we slept the whole morning, woke up around noon, & were on the go.

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