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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Planning to visit Korea? Part 1

I've had many questions over time about visiting Korea. I think many know that I have been to Korea several times and love the place very much. Anyway, my suggestion to these people has always been to avoid the tours. Tours can be tiring and stressful and imho, a holiday should be taken at one's own pace to soak in the atmosphere. So maybe, you'd wanna try going to Korea on your own?

Well if you DO want to go on a free and easy trip to Korea, my 1st suggestion is for you to focus on Seoul. The huge city (which covers roughly about the size of Singapore island and houses 18 million inhabitants), offers so much to do and see...

In this first part, I'll tell you a few things you'll need to prepare for the trip.

1) Select a season.
- It's best avoid summer (unless you want to see a lot of Korean women in bikinis at the water parks and beaches).
- Spring is beautiful for the plum blossoms and pleasant weather.
- Autumn is gorgeous for the golden brown foliage.
- Winter is my favourite... snow and skiing!

2) Select an airline.
- I prefer using Korean Air. It's coach sharing with MAS and most of the time, ticket prices are cheaper!
- Make sure you select the 1am flight from KLIA. It's perfect for arriving in Incheon at around 8am so you won't have to waste a single day.

3) Search for travel tips.
- Join a website like Virtual Tourist. It has a wonderful community that shares information on where to visit and you can even organize meetups to make new friends when you arrive there.
- Visit the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) website. It has wonderful tips and the calendar of activities in Korea. You can also find out information on public transportation (subway and buses).

4) Find a place to stay.
- Do try to find a place to stay in a convenient area in the city e.g. Gangnam, Itaewon, Insadong or Myungdong - these are all prime locations in Seoul. You can use a service like Hotels Combined or specifically click HERE to search for hotels in Seoul. With this, you can easily find a conveniently located hotel and compare prices too.

That's it for Part 1. More to come!

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Bittersweet Seoul Part 3 - Gangnam

Ah Gangnam. The name literally means 'south of the river'. It's easily the most expensive area in all of Korea and houses really luxurious locations such as Apgujeong and Rodeo Street plus the financial and commercial areas of Yeoksam-dong and Teheran Street. It was quite a pleasure to walk down Yeoksam-dong and Samseong-dong to see the hustle and bustle of the city and feel the cold air on my face. With winter coming to an end, the low sun certainly gave a lot of long shadows and it was quite a pleasure to not only take photos but just sit down on a sidewalk bench and watch life go by (when it wasn't TOO cold).

This building is on Teheran Street (aka Teheranno which was named as such since Seoul has a sister city in Teheran. There's also a Seoul street in Teheran fyi). This building actually houses the HQ for the famed software producer, NCSOFT.

A Shinsegae (Samsung Group's departmental store) construction site.

The very impression Hyundai Departmental Store.

More street sights including the new Coex Atrium.

At this point, I'll just continue adding the pics for this area...

View from my room...

These are known as 'winter flowers'...

Next part coming...

Copyright (c) Kelvin Tan

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Bittersweet Seoul Part 2 - The Food

Oh glorious food!

This is the 5th time in Seoul for me and the first time I stayed in Seoul without having touched any Kalbi!

Anyway here are some snippets of what I ate throughout my stay this time.

First off, haemul tang (seafood soup). As you can see in the photo below, it's basically spicy soup (with chilli powder) and an abundant array of seafood - from fish to mussels to clams to octopus to squid to vegetable to mushrooms to...

And can you see that weird looking intestine like thing there? They're fish guts.

The soup itself got really 'sweet' after simmering for a while and goes well with plain short grain rice.

Next is Kraze Burger. It's a Korean burger chain with a fine array of delectable burgers served with pickles and fries.

My friend brought me out of the city into Gyeonggi-do (about an hour's drive out) and we came to this traditional looking restaurant. He says it is one of his favourite places since they serve home cooked style Korean cuisine. The place is really cold inside due to the lack of heating but I liked it nonetheless. The walls were decorated with ancient Korean words that could not be deciphered by either of us.

The dishes did have a 'homecooked' vibe to them. Seen here are some river fish grilled and then lathered with sweet chilli paste. Even the dwenjangjigge tasted different (not better or worse... just more rustic).

I did of course have 2 things I normally have when I visit Seoul. First was juk (korean porridge). The tables of the restaurant are so finely decorated underneath the glass table top.

The other dish is buddaejigge (aka army stew or potluck stew) which is a kimchi and chilli based stew with lots of spam and sausages and ramyeon. I had this twice during my trip. One place even supplied bibs as the stew would bubble and splatter all over us.

There was also a quick stop at Krispy Kreme. It was a bit sweet though. We ordered a dozen of the originals with some Arizona lemonade. On another note, I must say that Rotiboy is doing well in Seoul!

I must mention that if ever you are in South Korea during strawberry season, FOR GOODNESS SAKE, BUY SOME!!! They will easily be among the largest and sweetest dalgi (strawberries) you will ever have and it is not a boast.

The best bulgogi I've ever had. We had the same thing the following day because it was so good. The side dishes here are spicy as hell but so delicious.

An aesthetically pleasing pumpkin tea after a wonderful lunch at Nolboo (which was surprisingly good for a chain restaurant though I was too busy stuffing my face to take any photos of the food).

A really special dinner of samgyupsal with rice cake slices to accompany the pork and grilled kimchi. The place was stuffy as everyone was grilling and the smell soaked into my sweaters but I didn't care. This meal was superb especially with the naengmyon (cold noodles) perfectly complementing the spicy pork. The grill was placed slanted to ensure that the fat would just roll down into the kimchi as the pork gave out its juices.

It was one the last cold mornings I spent in Seoul when I decided to venture into the Korean pizza chain, Mr Pizza. The chain had the cute Moon Geum Young (aka Korea's national little sister) as a spokesperson. The pizza I chose had cajun chicken and prawn on it. The crust I chose was made from 'frozen' dough which resulted in a crispy crunchy texture.

Ok near the end of this post...

The last thing I got before I left Incheon Airport... a really nice box of beautiful korean rice cakes (which I felt were too pretty to be eaten).

Copyright (c) Kelvin Tan

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