So I really wanted to go to Korea with my husband especially after our trip in June had to be cancelled. And it seems that Korea is almost cleared of MERS. However, just 3 days before our departure, there was news of a man getting re-infected with MERS! But MERS is definitely under control and we proceeded as planned as the desire to catch autumn in full bloom was strong!
To enjoy the full benefits of the biz class tickets, I decided we could take the 8am flight instead of red-eye flight. And we took the Book The Cook option this time too!
When my meal was delivered, I realised I had this before. I am too consistent in my choices and this is not necessary a good thing :S
So our flight landed at Incheon Airport at around 3pm. And I thought we could get out of the airport by 3 pm. But I had neglected to factor in the queue at immigration. For some reason, in each of my visits to Korea, the queue at immigration is always longggggggg! And this time round, it was no exception. I think we cleared immigration in an hours time. After getting our luggage, we headed to get purchase the airport bus tickets to head to Myeongdong.
We stayed at the Grand Hotel Myeongdong, a small boutique hotel. I had chosen this place mainly because of its location. Myeongdong was a central base for the places we will be going. And the easy availability of shopping and food in the area made it a real convenient base. Rates for this hotel are not cheap though considering it is not 5-star hotel and rooms are not very spacious. But I do think the location matters especially in a big city like Seoul. Overall, this hotel works out fine for us.
Before we head out for dinner, we had to collect our wifi egg whom we had rented from someone online. It was easy to arrange for this wifi egg rental as they are really responsive and I like the idea of them meeting us at our hotel (additional cost). It costs $5000 won a day and the egg would work in Jeju too. Although we could tap into unsecured wifi throughout Seoul, such networks are not stable. Besides, the wifi would be very useful in Jeju.
So for dinner, I thought Andong Jjimdak would be a good choice. It was just a matter of being able to locate the restaurant that I had patronised on previous visits. And it turns out Myeongdong gets smaller with familiarity and with each visit. So it was easy to find Andong Jjimdak.
It’s a simple dish – essentially chicken stew with potatoes, carrots and glass noodles. But the simplicity of the dish strikes at my heart! The dish was served on a huge plate for sharing. It’s a little spicy but it made a really good dish to have on a cold autumn night. This was really delicious, definitely one of my favourite Korean dishes.
Then we decided to just hang around Myeongdong, so it was just taking in the stalls set up along the streets and visiting the abundant cosmetics stores in the area.
We didn’t get the cotton candy but we got the pomegranate juice. $5000 won for a packet, which is rather costly. But it sure was fresh and healthy! The packaging of drinks seems to have evolved so it felt like the juice was blood in the packets we see in medical shows.
The next day, I had planned for us to visit two palaces – Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung. The Secret Garden in Changdeokgung was much raved about and the plan was for us to head to Changdeokgung to get tickets for Secret Garden first and then we would head to Gyeongbokgung to start off with the palace visit.
As per our style, nothing goes according to plans. Because we are sleepyheads and didn’t get up early as we should have. So by the time we left the hotel, it was 10 plus and we were hungry. So we went to the famous Tosokchon for samgyetang (Ginseng Chicken soup). At least, we had followed the plan which called for lunch at Tosokchon.
I first tried samgyetang at a Korea restaurant in Singapore. The second time when I had it was in Seoul. I have to say, the samgyetang in Singapore was a lot more flavourful while the flavours in that in Korea is a lot more subtle and it could be even termed as bland. The samgyetang at Tosokchon was not too bland but it was not very flavourful. I suppose that is the true essence of samgyetang – subtle ginseng undertone with soup that is not MSG loaded.
I love drinking soups and the more samgyetang I have, the more I enjoy it’s subtle flavours. I especially love the glutinous rice that is stuffed into the chicken. I would definitely return to Tosokchon for its samgyetang when I’m back in Korea.
By the time we finished lunch, it was close to 1pm. So we headed to Changdeokgung to get tickets for the Secret Garden tour. The plan was to purchase the tickets for early afternoon but because we were so late, the only tickets available then were the tickets for the last English tour of the day. I guess we can’t complain because the tickets are easily sold out. So we were lucky to still be able to take part in the Secret Garden tour.
Since we had 2-3 hours before the tour starts, we decided to hang around Changdeokgung instead of heading to Gyeongbokgung.
To be honest, I cannot understand the appeal of the Korean palace. Perhaps this was because I was used to the gold and glamour of the palaces of the western world. I could not understand the bare-ness of the Korean palace. Maybe it was the lack of a tour guide or maybe it was the lack of exhibits…we were simply just wandering around, trying to pass time until the start of the secret garden tour. There is a certain serenity to the palace and the simplicity is oddly striking.
It is interesting how the colours turn our so nicely on camera though. That’s not to say the colours were dull in person, but rather in photos, the chambers look really quite pretty.
So we had about one hour to go before the start of the Secret Garden tour. The cafe within the palace was small and it was crowded. We then started to retrace our steps to find quiet spots to hang out until it was time to move on.
Finally it was time for the Secret Garden tour. There are tours in Korean, Japanese and in English. The Secret Garden tour is highly recommended wherever you read about Changdeokgung. So we had high expectations, especially in view of the autumn season.
The guide spoke very good english and had photos of the garden to show us. Essentially the garden was meant only for royalty and it took up a huge space of the palace. The garden was for the royal family to relax and enjoy nature. The architecture of the pavilions throughout the garden were designed to be “photo frames” for the royalty to enjoy the scenery.
Unfortunately, the autumn colours were not in full bloom 😦
Now, we understood why a lot of the doors in the palace and garden are so small. This is so that the officials who pass the door would have to hunker down and make themselves smaller to be able to pass through the door. This would remind officials to remain humble and as a show of respect to the king.
We enjoyed the Secret Garden tour. I’m sure when the autumn colours are in full bloom, the garden would be beautiful. I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of time in the palace grounds though.
After the tour, we then headed back to the hotel. And decided to have an early dinner at Yoogane at Myeongdong. I had first seen Yoogane in Singapore and there are often long queues. So rather than trying Yoogane in Singapore, why not try the one in Seoul?
We were given aprons to wear at Yoogane and there’s a free-flow salad bar. The staff would come over frequently to cook the food for us and this was the finished product.
The serving seems a little small but as we weren’t too hungry, the portion was just right. Or maybe the small portion is actually rather filling. I sneaked a peek at what other patrons ordered and it seems that rice would be nice to go along with the meat/vegetables. While the food was nice, it was not the best we had in Korea. Still, it was good to to get this “Must try Yoogane’ out of the system.
Then we decided to head to Dongdaemun for shopping. As it was winter, I didn’t expect to get a lot of clothes. However, I did want to buy a windbreaker. I came across one which I liked but it was rather expensive, even after negotiating it to half the asking price. There’s the classic burberry checker design in the interior of the sleeve which would be visible when the sleeves are folded. I guess that was the deal-breaker as I don’t fancy ‘displaying’ the imitation sleeves. But oh, it was almost the perfect windbreaker.
There was the electronic rose display at Dongdaemun and it was a must go cos it had looked so pretty on websites. It was a nice way to end the night. And onwards to Jeju tomorrow!