Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Bittersweet Seoul Part 1 - The Arrival

For some unwritten reasons, I decided to make a trip to my so-called 2nd home, Seoul, a couple of weeks back. It was perhaps the last bits of winter with the Northern winds from Russia blowing so the temperature was quite cold (on some days it dropped to -7 degrees Celcius). I love the cold but I certainly had rashes and flaky skin from the exceedingly dry air.

I landed in Incheon airport on the morning of the 7th of March. The road leading from the airport to Seoul was a welcome sight. It always signified a promising week of fun and relaxation in a place I am now so familiar with (and yet so alien - alien enough to still make me feel that I want to know more about life in Seoul).

This time around, I decided to leave my DSLR in the hotel and basically spent the entire holiday only lugging around the Panasonic Lumix LX-3. I had found the leather case I was looking for in Technomart on the first day I arrived and the case is so beautiful that it made me simply want to use the camera outdoors all the time. Also, after such a long time, I could feel the freedom afforded to me with the more compact form of the LX-3 and enjoy the holiday so much more instead of worrying too much with the bigger DSLR. I thought it was a compromise of image quality I could afford.

Now, most tourists think of Yongsan as the place for electronics but lately, Yongsan has had a bit of bad press and stories of rude dealers. My local friend brought me to the extremely customer friendly electronics mall of Technomart which features several floors of neverending shopping for the gadget enthusiast. I loved the experience a lot and many vendors were polite,helpful and ever willing to share information. In short, it was an extremely pleasant experience shopping there. Prior to that, we stopped by VIPS (which is owned by Samsung group and provides a stunning steak meal with a superb salad bar spread) for a mouth watering lunch.

I managed to find the Samsung Yepp YP-P3 MP3 player with HAPTIC technology which was only launched in certain places in the world. I also managed to find the Audio Technica ATH-EW9 which are wooden earphones that are so beautiful and irresistable.
You can read my mini review here.

After a few hours of tiring shopping and comparing of prices, we went for a very very good dinner of barbecued pork.

Now, I've always been having great food at Kangsane, Ampang but Korean food in Korea (I guess that goes for any other country as well) always tastes stronger, fresher and more appetizing.

Anyway, after that dinner, my friend brought our group to this REALLY REALLY memorable restaurant. The place was packed and we had to line up to get a car park. It was about an hour's drive from the center of the city. We were already full from dinner so we just wanted to have some coffee. The place was set in a forest clearing and it had large huts made from wooden logs. As expected, the huts were all full and many had to be put on the waiting list. We grabbed some seats around the circular hearths that dotted the areas in between the huts. Many people were just enjoying the warm flames with coffee or soju with roasted sweet potatoes. It was -7 degrees that night and we loved keeping each other warm with blankets around us as we rubbed our hands over the fire.

You can also see the standing heaters that customers stood around to escape the cold.

That night, I slept well in my hotel. The chosen abode for my week in Seoul was the very nice Art Nouveau City Hotel in Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu. I got 50% of the normal rates for a Crystal Suite which had a kitchen and even had an upper floor (studio style) for extra guests.

Certainly, staying in Gangnam-gu gives one a skewed perception of Korea. It is the poshest district in all of Korea and houses the financial district. Everything here costs more and there are lots of pubs, cafes and clubs nearby to cater to the needs of the office workers in the area. You get to see lots and lots of beautiful women here (they're almost all slender, with long black hair, fine features and smooth pale skin).

I spotted a lovely pub/bistro that sells German Erdinger beer. It is called "Beautiful Beer". The waitresses were dressed in tight school uniform like outfits with short short skirts and I think it's safe to say that it was a nice place to be :) We went there a couple of times to enjoy the setting the good abundant beer. No photos of it though but I do hope to go there again on my next trip. We also spotted a place called "Sexy One Bikini Bar". I'll leave that to your imagination :)

End of part 1...

Copyright (c) Kelvin Tan

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