Happy 2018, everyone! 🎆🎉
I know it’s a little late, but how did you spend your Christmas and New Year’s? In view of our financial constraints brought about by our upcoming wedding in November, fiancé and I settled on a staycation in lieu of a getaway last year-end holiday. In a way, I was relieved to have escaped the harsh cold weather in the destinations we had shortlisted before aborting the plan. Being someone with exceptionally low tolerance for cold, holidaying in temperate places during winter is seldom fun for me. But unless I’m travelling alone, I usually don’t have a choice. Tropical Asians generally prefer to go somewhere cooler (it’s like air-conditioned air everywhere, they say), don’t they?
I wanderlust pretty often. But much as I enjoy jetting off to foreign lands from time to time, I’m not going to lie – I tend to drag my heels over writing travelogues mainly because of the amount of time needed to invest in editing the colossal torrent of pictures taken and recalling the experience (which is often impeded by my bad memory) when it could be better spent on doing beauty reviews. But knowing these experiences will be mostly forgotten in a few years, electronically journaling them is an absolute necessity. Thus this is why, after procrastinating for more than a year, my Seoul travelogue is finally happening 🤣
Having immersed ourselves in quite a number of Korean dramas and Running Man that year (largely kick-started by Descendants of the Sun in 2016 🤣), Seoul came naturally as our top destination pick. That said, it was my second trip to Seoul with the first being solo (fully subsidised by BLS Korea – thank you for having me!) during summer in July in the same year for a conference as a beauty blogger. I had a blast so I didn’t mind going there again to stock up on my Korean beauty supplies. My fiancé and I normally travel free and easy on our own but this time we were joined by his parents who prefer going on organised tours. For that, they engaged the services of Super Travels who provided us a Chinese-speaking tour guide (a Taiwanese living in South Korea) for our 8D6N trip.
The trip started on an awry note as my winter kicks gave way in the midst of my Grab ride to the airport unbeknownst to me. It was only after alighting from the car that I realised one side of my shoes was missing its thick sole. The infrequent usage must have dried out the glue and caused the sole to detach in the car 😫 I immediately changed out into my spare espadrilles meant for indoor use and discarded the unusable pair while praying that I wouldn’t need to hike across rough terrain.
For easy navigation, click on the hyperlinks in the daily itinerary to jump to their respective write-up, or choose one of the days below:
We boarded our SQ flight at 7.05 am at Terminal 3 and arrived at Incheon International Airport about seven hours later. If I remember correctly, we had to take a shuttle bus after disembarking from the plane to get to the immigration hall. The queue to clear customs was relatively short (like my previous time) so it didn’t take long before we could collect our luggage at the carousel. Our tour guide and a few other Singapore tourists (who took the same flight as us) had already gathered at the waiting area when we emerged through the arrival gate.
Anticipating that we wouldn’t have time to look for and pick up a pocket WiFi at Incheon Airport (there are plenty to choose from and the booth I got my WiFi Egg from on my first visit was super efficient), we had actually rented one from WifiBaby in Singapore for S$44 for 8 days ($5.50/day per unit). It ran on 4G with a daily fair usage of 500MB (after which the network speed would slow down) and could be shared among five devices. Technically, pocket WiFi isn’t entirely necessary if you’re on a free and easy trip because there is practically WiFi at most touristy areas. But I hate the thought of having to hunt for hotspots to post a photo on Instagram because I heavily rely on GPS to identify my location then and there. Besides, if you’re travelling in tour groups which often set off on long and dreary journeys, a pocket WiFi is a definite must.
Changi Recommends was our initial choice (for convenience sake) but all units were – as usual – already booked for that period when we tried to make a request online four days before. I figured that unless you plan your holiday way ahead of time (especially during peak seasons), it is almost impossible to successfully place a reservation for the pocket WiFi with Changi Recommends so the next best alternative would be WifiBaby for their comparable rates. The downside, however, is that you’d have to put down a deposit (though I don’t remember having to do so for my order) and collect and return the device to their office at Raffles Place during business hours.
Chilly winds engulfed me the moment I stepped out of the airport to get to the bus, followed by speckles of drizzle on my cardigan. Looking up at the gloomy sky, the rain didn’t seem like it was letting up anytime soon and that was when I knew my feet were going to be trapped in moist, smelly shoes for the next seven days. Therefore, my dedicated hashtag for this vacation was along the lines of #coldrea which was an understatement in itself. Perhaps #soakcoldrea would have been more apt 🙄..
Like Japan, South Korea is one hour ahead of Singapore which, by the way, requires some getting used to for sleepyheads like myself (as this means having to wake up an hour earlier every time 😴). After what felt like an hour’s drive, the bus dropped us off at Korean Healthfood Restaurant for dinner at about 6pm KST.
The overall facade of the restaurant somehow reminded me of that of a factory store. The name of the restaurant wholly in Chinese characters, coupled with the absence of local diners inside, gave me the impression that it was very tourist-oriented. For a split second, I thought we were going to be pressured to buy something at our first destination! Thankfully, this suspicion proved to be unfounded when pots and pots of piping hot samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) were served to our table.
For the record, I am not very well-versed in Korean cuisine (outside of kimchi and barbecue) so despite samgyetang being a relatively popular Korean dish, I had never tasted it prior to this trip. What better way to try a Korean delicacy for the first time than to have it in its place of origin? 😋
This bubbling pot of samgyetang sent warmth to my chilled soul (and belly) right from the very first mouthful. The ginseng taste in the broth is pretty mild on my Chinese taste buds but may be a little overpowering for those who’ve not had it before. And then came the surprise when I pried the chicken open with the spoon: there’s even glutinous rice with red dates and chestnuts (and a whole lot of other herbs) tucked in there to complete the hearty meal! Apparently, each ingredient of the samgyetang also packs tons of health benefits including boosting energy and the immune system.
The chicken meat was soft and tender but the many fragments of bones made it rather bothersome to savour fully. Still, the samgyetang was a great introductory dish to Korean cuisine, especially during the cold weather months. I was craving for samgyetang so much within a week from returning home that I started hunting it down at Korean restaurants and stocking up on the instant version!
Korean Healthfood Restaurant · 93 Yeonnam-ro, Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul 03975, South Korea
Post dinner, we hopped onto the bus and headed to the next destination. The vehicle halted at a bus bay and we walked some distance to an area lit with colourful neon lights. Behind these Christmas decorations was Eland Cruise, purportedly the filming location of the ship scene in My Love from the Star.
We were ushered to a kitchen (or bakery) on the second floor of the dock where we would try our hands at making danpatbbang (sweet red bean bread) alongside a live demonstration by a troupe of good-looking Korean performers who also attempted to inject some entertainment into what they were doing. To get us into character, we were also given a disposable toque blanche to wear.
Following the bread-making session which lasted around 30 minutes, we proceeded to board the cruise ship to watch the Pang Show put up by the same group of performers earlier while all of our danpatbbang was being baked. The show, inspired by TV series King of Baking, Kim Tak-goo, went on for another 30 minutes, bringing laughter to the audience with their silly antics despite the language barrier.
During the performance, the boat would have already sailed to the middle of Han River so once the show ended, we spent the next few minutes at the deck viewing the rainbow fountain (the world’s longest bridge fountain) along Banpo Bridge. I don’t remember paying attention to the attraction because I was literally shivering and couldn’t wait to return to the bus to take refuge from the biting cold!
By the time we landed at the dock, our freshly baked danpatbbang was ready for collection! Excitedly, I sunk my teeth into one of those I made, foolishly expecting it to have a similar taste to the red bean buns we have in Singapore. Needless to say, I didn’t really enjoy it as I found it a little too bland for my liking 😣 But on the overall, it was a great and educational experience your kids wouldn’t want to miss.
ELAND Cruise (Pang Pang Cruise) · 290 Yeouidong-ro, Yeoeuido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul, South Korea · Book through Klook or KKday
As the night wore on, an increasing number of yawns filled the bus as it crawled down the slippery road towards our hotel for the night. Located in the financial center of Seoul, GLAD Hotel Yeouido is built opposite the South Korean capitol building and in front of National Assembly subway station (like, literally a minute’s walk away, visible from the lobby) which makes commuting around Seoul extremely easy. If only the hotel I lodged in on my first visit (Belle-Essence Seoul Hotel, 15-minutes’ walk away from Yeoksam station, permanently closed now) was that convenient – I would have been more inclined to tote back a bigger shopping haul 🤩
There were a few convenience stores and pubs (chimaek, anyone?) in the vicinity of GLAD Hotel. Oh, KBS Broadcasting Station is nearby too if you want to catch a glimpse of Korean celebrities (though we didn’t see any during our stay 😆)!
Much to our delight, we accommodated at this hotel twice during the trip (once more before we departed) and both times were equally wonderful. It is one of the better five-star hotels in Seoul that are not too exorbitantly priced for their rooms (according Agoda) and the best one we stayed in Korea. Certainly a hotel worth considering for our future Seoul visits!
GLAD Hotel · 17-5, Yeouido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul 150-874, South Korea
(K Turtle → Namsan Seoul Tower →
Korea Bibimbap Experience Center →
Gimpo International Airport [Seoul to Jeju Island with T-Way] → Mysterious Road → Arboretum Theme Park →
Da Hae Jeong → Yongduam Rock → Best Western Hotel)
One reason for my preference for independent travel is the freedom to sleep in which is never possible in group tours. Our daily morning call was around 7am KST (8am latest) because it was a primarily weekday trip and the tour guide wanted to avoid the rush hour jam. It was so tough leaving the warm bed for the chilly morning air. With our bulky luggage in tow (since we were scheduled to leave for Jeju Island later that day), we joined the other early risers in the bus.
For breakfast before setting out for Namsan Seoul Tower, we were taken to a buffet restaurant called “K Turtle” in an unknown building (another reason for my dislike towards group tours is not knowing where I am most of the time, especially when it comes to meal times). The food spread (Chinese-Korean) there was boring at best.
The first tower-type tourist attraction in Korea, Namsan Seoul Tower is one of the tallest towers in the Orient with its highest point at almost 480m above sea level. An iconic symbol of Seoul today, it was first established as a broadcast tower to send out TV and radio signals in 1969. Although I am not very familiar with the landscapes in Korea, I had certainly seen and heard about N Seoul Tower in the earlier episodes of Running Man so I was pretty psyched to be there.
Apart from the breathtaking view of Seoul from the observatory, many couples go to N Seoul Tower for the purpose of locking their “padlocks of love” on the railing along the ground terrace because, y’know, it’s a cheaper alternative to travelling all the way to Pont des Arts in Paris for the same thing 😛 That aside, it’s also an unusual way to leave your footprints at this popular dating spot, so much as I am not the mushy sort, I could not let this opportunity pass!
The locks typically come in pairs (duh) with a black permanent marker and are sold as a set at souvenir shops there at a reasonable price (I think). However, there was little variety of designs to choose from and most had a smooth, rubbery texture which made the ink less resistant to fading (the writings on some of the existing locks had been completely wiped off). The design of the padlock is so generic that you won’t be able to spot yours easily among the sea of others so bring your own padlocks and markers if you’re planning to lock your love here! Ideally, if I were to do this again, I would be #extra and put a written note in a hollow padlock made of fluorescent or reflective material.
Fiancé and I kept the keys as memento of the visit even though they were supposed to be discarded. But we are not the most organised people on the planet so the keys are as good as gone now 😝
If you have a choice, swing by Namsan Seoul Tower at night because that’s when it comes to life with magnificent illumination (more bang for your buck 😌)!
Namsan Seoul Tower · 105 Namsangongwon-gil, Yongsan 2(i)ga-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
They say no trip to South Korea would have been complete without eating bibimbap, a healthy and fuss-free mixed rice dish traditionally using day-old rice and leftovers. Dubbed the Korean spin on nachos, the bibimbap is served with a medley of vegetables and meat arranged over a bed of rice, topped with fried egg and a dollop of hot chili paste and is so dearly loved by the Koreans that it is ranked second after kimchi (or among top 10 on other reports) as the most popular Korean food. At the Korean Traditional Bibimbap Experience Center (another place meant for tourists, I reckon), we got to observe how the bibimbap was made before relishing it for lunch.
Bibimbap in its unmixed state kinda reminds me of our traditional Hakka lei cha fan (“thunder tea rice”) but with more ingredients (like meat – which is mostly absent in lei cha fan), flavour and better visual appeal, and has to be stirred together like lo hei. It offers nutrients and a snappy crunch with every bite but as someone with a deep fondness for savoury and scrumptious food, the abundance of greens in this dish doesn’t quite make my taste buds throw a party for my mouth. Plus, taking into account that this place was specially created for tourists to participate in the Korean culture, it would be unfair to peg our expectations of a good bibimbap to that level (heck, there wasn’t even a fried egg on top 🙄) as I’m sure there are better ones out there.
That said, the bibimbap would have been much more of a pleasure to chow down on during our final days of bulgogi and Korean BBQ indulgence in Korea!
Korea Traditional Bibimbap Experience Centre (Gung-gol) · 경기도 고양시 덕양구 용두로 121 번길 6 (용두동) / 6 Yongdu-ro 121 beon-gil Deogyang-gu, Goyang-si Gyeonggi-do 10549, South Korea
As food coma started to kick in, we made our way to Gimpo International Airport to catch our T’way flight to Jeju Island. T’way Air is a South Korean low-cost airline serving several destinations in Asia including China, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam that flies directly to Jeju International Airport. The interior design of Gimpo Airport is, of course, incomparable to the world-class beauty of Incheon with its slightly dated amenities (or lack thereof) in the transit area but service was generally pleasant and more acceptable than that of Jeju International Airport. The journey from Gimpo to Jeju took about an hour or thereabouts according to the timestamps of my photos.
Upon landing at Jeju International Airport, we proceeded to the baggage claim area where we waited half an hour or more for our luggage to show up on the turnstile. Probably because of the limited number of conveyor belts there, at least three carriers had to share one so there was a significant delay in processing ours which got us more anxious as time went by.
We exited the airport only to realise that it was pouring quite heavily. Dragging the wheels of our luggage, we braved through the strong winds with our spare hands futilely shielding us from the haphazard downfalls of rain to get to our tour bus parked at an unsheltered area. At this juncture, my feet were already drenched to the skin, no thanks to my water-receptive shoes. Plagued by the discomfort of walking in squishy shoes and the risk of developing foot odour, I was in a desperate need to buy a new pair which wasn’t feasible given our tight itinerary 😥
And off the bus went. Along the way to Arboretum Theme Park, we experienced the oddity of being moved against gravity on the Mysterious Road (Dokkaebi Road). To illustrate that things roll upslope on this road’s inclination, the bus driver turned off the engine and true enough, the entire bus actually propelled slowly forward on its own! If not for the rain, we would have gotten off the bus to do more experiments on the road, such as pouring water or rolling a coin on it and observing where it trails to and taking pictures (hence, none taken) but obviously we figured it wasn’t worth catching a cold over. Although this baffling phenomenon has been explained by numerous theories (mostly centered around optical illusion), it was still a fascinating sight to behold!
The Mysterious Road is marked at the start and finish points in multiple languages and the sidewalk beyond the end of the inclination are dotted by souvenir shops and street food stalls. We stopped by one of the stalls to grab a quick bite before taking part in an impromptu session of archery at the shop next to it. I vaguely remember the tour guide leading us there so I’m pretty sure he got a cut from the earnings because the archery activity was so random and nobody wanted to participate in it initially (most of us were puzzled by the choice to go there in fact) until some subtle nudging 😏 Or maybe, that was his way to kill time before resuming our trip to Arboretum Theme Park.
Mysterious Road · 2894-63 1100 (Cheonbaek)-ro, Nohyeong-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
Dusk had already fallen when we arrived at Arboretum Theme Park (the façade of Sumokwon Theme Park looks strikingly similar on Google so it could also be known as another name) even though it was barely 6pm KST. The theme park comprises an indoor museum and a 5D theatre. The inside of the building looked far too institutional (literally, it resembled a school) for a place of interest but it was clean and easy to navigate our way around because as far as I know, there were only a few rooms on every floor.
The first room we were brought to was the 5D theatre (camera is prohibited) where we saw a 10-minute (or so) kids-friendly animation called “Poseidon”. Apart from the 3D effect and the occasional water spritzing and chair movements, it was nothing too spectacular and memorable partially because I didn’t like the plot. Maybe, just maybe, if I had stayed on for the next screening – an animated horror film (my favourite genre) – which was another 15 minutes later, I would have a different opinion. Alas, we left because fiancé
chickened out wanted to spend the limited free time given to us on exploring other parts of the theme park.
The ice museum is one of the permanent features of the theme park which showcases ice sculptures crafted by famous Japanese artists. It is kept at sub-zero temperature to preserve the ice and visitors are expected to bring their own winter outfits all year round. Unlike many ice museums of the like, visitors are allowed to touch the sculptures, so hug them or kiss them (that’s gross, though) – nobody’s gonna stop you!
Unable to bear with the cold any longer, we moved over to the 3D illusion art museum which is the theme park equivalent of Trick Eye Museum where 2D art installations are turned into three-dimensional through the use of optical illusions. This was a great opportunity for us to experience illusion art without additional charges since we hadn’t (still haven’t – too far and expensive!) visited the local Trick Eye Museum at Sentosa and I beat myself up for not doing so earlier because, omagawd, we had so much fun!
I don’t want to bore you with a bunch of pictures and make this post ridiculously longer than it already is, so here are some of my favourite shots:
Due to time constraints, we were only able to see and take pictures with a handful of the many art installations at the museum which, in my opinion, was what made the admission ticket worthwhile. Of course, if you don’t have an abnormally low tolerance for cold like me, the ice museum would also make an enjoyable highlight of your time at Arboretum Theme Park!
Arboretum Theme Park · 69 Eunsu-gil, Yeon-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
After everyone gathered at the assembly point, we boarded the bus to our (late) dinner venue to fill our stomach with another round of authentic Korean fare. Da Hae Jeong (which also has an outlet in Busan) was vacant when we got there so we had the whole restaurant to ourselves!
Many of the dishes were pretty much standard across all the meals we had but the star of the table that night was, no doubt, the gyeran-jjim, or steamed eggs. Fluffy and custardy in texture, the gyeran-jjim was served simmering-hot in an earthenware bowl and has a mildly sweet taste. This unassuming dish is often sprinkled with scallions but I loved it in its bare form, and so did the rest at the same table as evident by how quickly the bowl was emptied. The small portion was obviously not enough to satisfy our appetite so we ended up ordering another, paid for out of our own pocket.
Da Hae Jeong (다해정) · 877-2 Yongdam 2(i)-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea · Phone: +82 64-745-1688
Before calling it a night, the tour bus stopped somewhere near the northern coast for us to view the Yongduam Rock (or Dragon Head Rock) but we had to get off and walk a distance. Feeling exhausted and reluctant to venture out in the cold and drizzle (which gradually became heavier, phew!), fiancé and I chose to stay in the bus while everyone else alighted. Missing out on the Yongduam Rock was no big deal to me because I was never intrigued by geological formations, regardless of how peculiar or stunning they may be. Furthermore, perhaps it takes a certain kind of imagination to make out the dragon head among the pile of rocks but, I just cannot see it in any of the Yongduam Rock pictures I found on Google Images 🤔
Yongduam Rock (Dragon Head Rock 용두암) · Yongduam-gil, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea · Phone: +82 64-728-3601
For the two nights in Jeju Island, we put up at Best Western Hotel (undeniably a name made up of highly searchable keywords 😆) where we would max out our daily sugar intake at the Starbucks outlet next to the lobby with a cuppa hot chocolate or Green Tea Frappé. Just a few steps away was a 24-hour convenience store that would become our spot for midnight munchies, and facing the hotel was a stretch of malls that we didn’t have the opportunity to explore owing to the unfavourable weather and the fact that we were always returning from our tour past standard operating hours.
Like many other large lodging establishments, Best Western uses electronic keycards for room access, and unless you want to leave the hotel several tens of dollars poorer, do not lose your keycard if you plan to stay with them. Do not attempt to keep it as a memento. Don’t even think about it.
We thought we had misplaced one of our keycards and was told to pay upon check-out a replacement fee of ₩40,000 (S$50) – or thereabouts (but it was an amount astronomical enough to drop my jaw) – which was ridiculous considering that it was just a generic card and the hotel could easily deactivate it. What’s a cheap keycard to a hotel, much less an international one? By and large, the stay was pleasant (I mean, the location is great and the room had almost everything we needed) but this incident sure left a bad taste in our mouths.
Well, it turned out the card was actually in the pocket of one of fiancé’s soiled jeans all the while 😑 and it was only discovered when he unpacked his luggage in Singapore. Now that we’ve found the precious keycard, can we get a refund?!
Best Western Hotel · 27 Doryeong-ro, Cheju, Jeju-do 690-762, South Korea
(Olleh Gaseo Jeonbok Meogja → Teseum →
Seongeup Folk Village → Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak →
Mandarin Orange Farm)
Since breakfast wasn’t included for most of our hotel stays in Korea, we were often driven out to designated eateries to have our first meal of the day. This arrangement enabled us to break away from the repetitive menus of hotel breakfast buffets and be fully immersed in the flavours and aromas of the Korean cuisine from the get-go each day 😋 So on the third day, we started our morning with a bowl of juk (Korean porridge) and ended the night with the most palatable jogaetang (clam stew) and my virgin sannakji (moving octopus sashimi) experience – all from the same seafood restaurant called Olleh Gaseo Jeonbok Meogja which translates loosely to “let’s go and eat abalone”.
Filling merely half the bowl, the juk was plain without any superfluous ingredients apart from the mounds of seaweed shreds on top of it (no abalone too, in case you’re wondering). The grains looked like they were submerged in water and not smoothly blended together and we didn’t like the slightly gritty texture and taste (or lack thereof). Perhaps it is the Korean tradition to keep breakfast light, but a bowl of porridge definitely didn’t satiate our hunger so we reached for the jam and bread thereafter.
Fortunately, dinner was worlds apart from the bland and mediocre food we had in the day. Admittedly, we felt a pang of a disappointment when the bus pulled over in front of the same restaurant as that seemed to spell yet another round of unsatisfactory meal. But as soon as we dug in, we were all blown away!
In no time, our table was populated with dishes but ultimately, it was the jogaetang that stole the scene. Loaded with at least four different kinds of seafood fresh (largely short-neck clams) from the tank and then boiled in light, clear broth which thickened with flavour over time, this piping hot stew provided a much-needed respite from the cold. The natural sweetness of the prawns balanced out the briny tang of the abalone (which was still moving in its shell when the stew was served) and clams to give a refreshing taste, making it worthy of whatever calories it contained. Fiancé asked if we could go for a second serving but for some reason, I refused?! 😭
Even till today, I am still kicking myself for not ordering another bowl of jogaetang and this is probably one regret I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life..
The restaurant was also where I didn’t expect to strike an item off my bucket list – trying the sannakji! The sannakji is inarguably the most controversial South Korean delicacy as it involves slaughtering the baby octopus alive (which I didn’t know prior to this experience) and serving its still-writhing tentacles to diners. It was never supposed to be served to the guests in this restaurant until someone in our tour group spotted it appearing from its hideout in one of the tanks, thereby leading it to its unfortunate fate. The sannakji was a treat from our tour guide and although I enjoyed the chewy and slimy texture, I wished it was, at the very least, given a quick and minimally painful death before it was severed for the dinner plate.
Olleh Gaseo Jeonbok Meogja (올레가서전복먹자) · 2614-3, Doduil-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju, South Korea · Operating Hours: 07:00 – 21:00 · Phone: +82 64-713-2277
South Korea is home to at least five teddy bear museums in the world, of which two – including the first in the country which was established in 2001 – are in Jeju Island. However, the concept of teddy bear museums didn’t quite gain traction among international visitors until it was popularised by the 2006 hit Korean TV series Goong. As part of our itinerary, we were able to embrace our inner child at Teseum Jeju (Teddy Bear Safari), a spin-off from the original that prides itself as the world’s first exhibition theme park with various real life-sized wildlife and marine stuffed animals and teddy bears. Apart from those, there are also teddy bears dressed in traditional clothes of countries around the world (though the depiction can get a little stereotypical, so view with an open mind) and as gods from Greek mythology. On top of that, you can even come face-to-face with celebearties 😆
The museum is made up of two interconnected 2-storey buildings (A and B), each dedicating to a certain theme. Stuffed animals (not teddy bears, mind you) are displayed in a safari context on the first level while marine animals, subjects of prominent artworks and notable film characters take the form of teddy bears on the second. The place seemed moderately small and well-structured so two hours is all you need to see everything. I vaguely remember that there was a café somewhere in the building too but I could be wrong. Fiancé and I then concluded the tour with a brief shopping stint at the gift shop which honestly had more interesting variety of teddy bears than the museum itself.
On the whole, I thought the museum was rather.. pointless? It might have lost its charm over the years but it certainly didn’t live up to whatever hype it had a decade ago. First of all, to call this a museum would be a misnomer because none of its exhibits bear any cultural or historical value. I would have probably closed my eyes to this if there was at least a vintage bear but no, you’re paying to see mass-produced ugly – well, some – teddy bears pretending to be of great worth (though the museum claims otherwise). Echoing what an online reviewer wrote, Teseum is “more like a showroom for a teddy bear manufacturer” and it certainly doesn’t take much time and effort, as compared to making wax figures, to create teddy bears with generic faces. Calling Teseum a teddy bear gallery or exhibition would have been more apt.
And is it me or is the term ‘museum’ very loosely used these days? It seems like anyone can put a few bunches of human hair together and call it a hair museum just so that it would justify the collection of admission fees.
Secondly, as a tourist attraction (assuming since there were hardly any locals when we were there), not having the descriptions of the exhibits in English is patently absurd which further validates my point about Teseum serving absolute no educational purpose at all. Teseum feeds mainly on the obsession of teddy bears so I wouldn’t recommend this place if you’re not a fan. In fact, if you’re interested in genuine vintage toys or plushies, our MINT Museum of Toys would be so much more worthy of your time and money! (#notsponsored)
Jeju Teseum (제주테지움) · 2159, Pyeonghwa-ro, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea · Operating Hours: 08:30-19:00 · Phone: +82 64-799-4820
The afternoon dawned and it was time to eat, again! By then, our immunity to the usual Korean fare had set in so we were exhilarated to learn that we were going to be grilling some meat for lunch that day. It’s a pity I had forgotten to note down the name and address of the restaurant because the seasoning for the meat was actually quite en pointe, so much so that there wasn’t any leftover at the end of the meal (or we could just be hungry). To aid in my digestion, I would wrap the meat in the lettuce provided before chomping down on it – just like the Koreans do!
Rubbing our overindulged bellies in delight, we set out for Seongeup Village which was one of the filming sites for the most amazing miniseries of all time, Dae Jang Geum. Coincidentally, I had just rewatched the show with fiancé a few weeks prior to the trip because he, who had never watched a single episode due to his NS commitments when it was first aired on TV, didn’t understand why I loved it so much. Hence, while the excitement of most fans had already waned off, we were both thrilled to bits to set foot on this culture-rich old-fashioned village (even though up till now we still can’t figure out the scene/episode(s) in which the filming was done there 😐). Once we were at the entrance, we were handed over to a Chinese-speaking villager (more precisely, a Chinese who married into the village) for a guided tour around the village.
Seongeup Village boasts cultural properties that have been handed down from generation to generation and it is unique in the sense that some of its thatched huts are still inhabited by people who sleep, work and go about their business there. Even so, there wasn’t much activity going on (apart from the sounds of TVs blaring from inhabited huts) and many huts we went into were either empty or used to store their pots whereas those that were inhabited had their doors shut for privacy reasons. It would be better if there were demonstrations on how the pots were utilised to make kimchi or the miraculous tea they were about to sell us, though.
At the end of the tour, we were brought to a well-furnished hut where another villager would deliver her sales pitch about horse bones and their five-taste tea (omija) which was touted to possess all five basic tastes – sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness and spiciness. But she also mentioned that, depending on the individual’s physical conditions, the taste of the tea may vary on every taste bud (something along the lines of people with illnesses would only be able to taste bitterness or spiciness).
I’m sorry to be rude but, this smells like bull to me.
Sample cups filled with the tea were distributed to the group and frankly, it tasted like plum juice to me and people I asked (including a diabetic lady) – sweet with a hint of sourness. Well, I guess you must be on your deathbed to taste the other end of the spectrum, then. Each jar of omija cost about S$50, I think, as I remember it being quite expensive. However, because I accidentally articulated my liking for the taste (I mean, I’ve always liked eating sweet plums), fiancé purchased one jar on a whim despite my best efforts to stop him 😒 And as usual, it’s still sitting in the refrigerator, barely touched.
Seongeup Folk Village (성읍민속마을) · 104, Seongeupjeonguihyeon-ro, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea · Phone: +82-64-740-6000~1, +82-64-742-8866, +82 64-758-7181
The weather grew progressively gloomier and more blustery as the bus got closer to our next outdoor destination – the Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak or also known as Sunrise Peak – and eventually poured. Hard. What luck! Foreseeing that it would rain, our tour guide had thoughtfully prepared disposable ponchos for each and everyone of us so that we could comfortably scale the tuff cone. But the rain was just too heavy and my shoes were already wet beyond redemption (which makes them prone to slipping), so fiancé and I decided, once again, to stay put on ground level while the rest soldiered on and continued their expedition to the peak.
In the meantime, we brought business to the gift shops with our purchase of a few boxes of the Jeju cactus crunch choco (an airy snack covered with little rice puffs) for our family and friends back home. Available in a handful of flavours, the Jeju specialty is usually packed – individually – in boxes of roughly 12 pieces and is cheaper when bought in larger quantities, which makes it an ideal souvenir.
From there, we went to an Innisfree shop located further down the sloped base amidst the now-subsided rain to do my first round of cosmetics shopping. But just as we were about to leave, the rain returned with a vengeance, trapping us in the shop for a good 20 minutes 😑
Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak [UNESCO World Heritage] · 284-12, Ilchul-ro, Seongsan-eup, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea · Phone: +82 64-710-7923
Our final stop before dinner at Olleh Gaseo Jeonbok Meogja was a Mandarin orange/tangerine farm where we were supposed to pick our own oranges. But the torrential downpour had sort of dampened everyone’s mood and caused much of the farm to be mucky and marshy. With no desire to dirty our footwear, we were there for merely 20 minutes, tops – most of which spent on entertaining the affectionate dog guarding the farm. Others took the opportunity to visit the loo and buy boxes of the Jeju snack we got at Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak earlier (but pricier) as well as other miscellaneous stuff made from tangerines from the shop next to the farm.
Unfortunately, I do not know the name and address of this farm but if you are interested, here is a list of all the tangerine farms in Jeju Island compiled by Jeju Weekly.
(Jeju International Airport [Jeju to Seoul with T-Way] →
Nami Island → Geummun Dak-galbi →
Holiday Inn Resort Alpensia Pyeongchang)
After two fruitful and much warmer days in Jeju Island, it was time to leave. In lieu of not partaking in the hotel breakfast (as we couldn’t wake up in time for it 😆), fiancé and I had a quick meal at Lotteria, a popular Korean fast food joint in the bustling departure hall at Jeju International Airport. In front of it (and a few more shops) conveniently lay a row of departure gates which were visible from where we were eating. Subsequently, we joined our tour group on the floor (chairs were scarce so people were literally seated everywhere) while waiting for the cue to board our flight which had already been delayed once.
Our touchdown in Seoul was followed by lunch at a restaurant in Banghwa-dong (exact location unknown) where we had spicy hot pot to help us adjust to the sudden dip in temperature. Adding flavour to the broth were mainly vegetables (too much of them, actually) and beef shavings which, I vaguely recall, weren’t enough to go around.
After having our fill of lunch, we piled onto our bus and headed to Namiseom Ferry Dock where we would take a 10-minute ferry ride into Nami Island. As Nami Island is not accessible via road, visitor can only reach the place by sea from its designated dock at ₩10,000 per entry (for foreigners).
Once a desolate piece of land with only few scattered chestnut trees, poplar trees, and mulberry trees on the fringes of a modest peanut farm, Nami Island is presently known for its picturesque setting and tree-lined pavements that provide the perfect backdrop for (wedding) photography. With its popularity heightened by the 2002 Korean TV series Winter Sonata, the self-governed nation continues to draw flocks of nature-loving visitors annually, thereby making it one of the most visited weekend getaways in Korea. Getting into Nami Island would require one’s passport.
Fiancé and I were walking around Nami Island aimlessly (and buying food as we saw them) because there wasn’t any activity planned out for us. Tired of repeatedly stepping into the puddles of water left by the rain, we decided to head back to the meeting point before the rest. Don’t get me wrong – Nami Island is, indeed, a lovely place worth visiting, especially during the autumn season when foliage turns fiery shades of scarlet (just Google the pictures – breathtaking, I tell you). But as always, the persistent rain (and the extreme cold for me) ruined the experience and made me really reluctant to fully take in the beauty of the place.
Maybe next time!
Namiseom Island (남이섬 종합휴양지) · 1, Namisum-gil, Namsan-myeon, Chuncheon-si, Gangwon-do (accessible only by ferry) · Namiseom Ferry Dock: 1024, Bukhangangbyeon-ro, Gapyeong-eup, Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do · Phone: +82-31-580-8114
A short distance away from the ferry dock was Geummun Dak-Galbi where we had spicy stir-fried chicken (dak galbi) for dinner. The restaurant was housed on the ground floor of a three-storey building which, on the surface, would have resembled a haunted school if not for the illuminating presence of the LED signboard against its dark façade. Although I’m not sure if the restaurant actually owned the entire building, the only activity seemed to be coming from them.
Possibly the laziest and most underwhelming meal we had during the trip, the dak galbi felt like a poor attempt at passing off as a meat dish with only a few chunks of chicken among a mass of cabbage strips despite the fact that it was meant for four grown adults. The pathetic portion is a far cry from the way it looks on Google pictures taken by walk-in diners so either our agency had opted for the cheapest meal package or the restaurant had run out of chickens by 6.30pm KST. And to top it off, it tasted nothing short of ordinary so it failed to leave a lasting impression on us. In fact, none of us remembered we had dak galbi until we went through all the photographs again.
Geummun Dak-galbi 금문 닭갈비 · 323 Daljeon-ri, Gapyeong-eup, Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea · Phone: +82 31-581-9282
Shortly thereafter, we embarked on a five-hour drive to Pyeongchang (hats off to the driver, and tour guide for keeping him in conversation to help him stay awake behind the wheel – tough job!). The bus stopped by a deserted convenience store en route for us to buy some nibbles as well as to use the toilet before completing the rest of the journey. As we were nearing our destination, we dropped by a ski rental shop to choose and collect our ski suits that would be used on the next day. The designs of their female ski jackets were generally very obiang-looking (kinda like those of Lularoe leggings 🤣) but I realised the patterns tended to be less ostentatious and tacky with smaller sizes. Still, they were goddamn hideous. I very much preferred the men’s which were predominantly in simple colours of red, blue, and so on. Blah.. gender stereotyping at its finest 😑
For my future reference, I wore M for the ski jacket and L for pants.
It was already past midnight (KST) when we checked into our room at Holiday Inn Resort Alpensia Pyeongchang but having spent the whole evening sleeping in the bus, we wanted to stay up for a little while to watch TV after taking a shower. The in-room TV came with an extensive selection of premium TV channels – including a few catered to the kink-inclined 😉
But our bodies couldn’t resist the softness of the bed and warmth of the duvet so very soon, we found ourselves drifting into our slumber with the TV still turned on in the background (our usual practice when staying at hotels to cancel out any unwanted sounds in the middle of the night, if you get what I mean 😐).
By the way, the hotel (as with most hotels in Pyeongchang) charges for WiFi access at ₩14,300 (S$18) per day, so good thing we had rented a pocket WiFi for our trip!
Holiday Inn Resort Alpensia Pyeongchang · 325 Solbong-ro, Daegwalnyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do, South Korea · Phone: +82 33-339-0000
Looking through our room windows, we saw the rays of the winter sun cast upon the accumulation of snow around the hotel compound, unveiling what was in the pitch darkness the night before. Are we in Winter Wonderland now?
Since we wouldn’t be checking out until late morning, we had the luxury of sleeping in but nevertheless managed to wake up just in time before the hotel breakfast buffet ended. Given that time was tight, we would have passed on it if not for the fact that breakfast and lunch on Day 5 were excluded from our tour package. At the restaurant with only 5 minutes remaining until the chafers were taken away, we scrambled to scoop whatever was left – basically croissant, smoked salmon, sausages and chicken wings – onto our plates. Although the dishes had already cooled down to room temperature, they were still fairly tasty!
The sole purpose of coming to Pyeongchang was to ski at the Alpensia Ski Resort behind our hotel. We kept our personal belongings in a rented locker and obtained a complete set of ski gear over a counter (rental fees already included in the cost of our tour package). But because we didn’t know how to ski (and couldn’t be bothered to hire a private instructor), we took them off after a couple of minutes of reckless “skiing” as the weight of the boots was hindering our movement. We were freezing too so it didn’t take long for us to retreat indoors. Oh my.. when did we become so boring? 不认老都不行了。
Food options are limited at the Alpensia Ski Resort so unless you don’t mind going on a 3-hour bus ride to Seoul to tame your hunger, you are pretty much stuck with the usual hotel restaurant fare, fast food restaurants (Domino’s Pizza, Baskin Robbins, etc.) and the cafeteria within the resort that served mediocre international food. For convenience sake, our lunch venue was settled on the cafeteria which would become packed with famished skiers as the afternoon set in. Stalls were run on a self-service basis, where diners would receive a queue number to collect their orders.
As we had some time to spare before setting off again for another region of South Korea, we looked around in the retail shops and (finally) bought a pair of winter boots for myself to wear in place of my damp and musky espadrilles (that’s like 4 days later but better late than never). The new dry boots added what felt like a spring to my step and for once in this trip, I just wanted to keep walking 😄
Alpensia Ski Resort (알펜시아리조트 스키장) · 325, Solbong-ro, Daegwallyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do, South Korea · Phone: +82-33-339-0000~9
Moving farther out of Pyeongchang, we had another round of Korean hot pot at an unidentified restaurant – which most locals probably don’t even know exists – for dinner. This time around, there were more ingredients (that appealed to my taste buds) with a free-flow of meat but the bland broth did little to enhance their tastes and vice versa. Granted, the meal was healthy but everyone got bored of them very quickly.
Our bus resumed its route and at last ground to a halt at the top of a slope where Hotel Inter-Burgo Wonju was located. Once we had collected our access cards, we took the lift up to our respective rooms. Upon entering ours, we were greeted with a slight musky odour and warm air as if the air-conditioner hadn’t been turned on for a while. But that’s not all, for there were more to be undesired when the power came on.
The lights were dim but non-adjustable and were unevenly distributed across the room. Thus there were a lot of dark corners which I had absolutely no hankering to inspect (God knows what was inhabiting there). The wallpaper, furniture – especially the armchair by the stained coffee table – and carpet looked dated while duvets were of an odd, mold-like green with a texture that resembled crepe paper – crumply and thin. The pillows were as flat as pancakes and dust was amassed on the bedside wall lights which were not working. Television reception in the room was terrible as there was not one channel that had optimum signal quality. What’s more, the only English channels were BBC and CNN 🙄 Thanks Hotel Inter-Burgo, just what I needed to catch up on current affairs and be bombarded with Trump news.
The filthiness of the room made me extremely wary of what might be lurking on that bedspread so I would scrutinise its every detail. While doing so, I would occasionally spot little critters crawling on the bed frame. As a former victim of bed bug infestation, I was tremendously fearful of repeating history. Hence I laid a bathroom towel on the duvet before sleeping on it to avoid direct contact with the bed.
I could go on about the condition of the room, but you get the gist. To be fair, the room in the day looked less shabby and had a beautiful view of the surrounding snow-covered landscape but I was essentially so paranoid and crept out throughout my stay that I couldn’t wait to leave this hotel. Thank goodness it was just for a night.
The toilet, on the other hand, was better lit than the bedroom and equipped with possibly the most state-of-the-art technology in this ageing hotel – a washlet. The grouted gaps between the tiles contributed to the clean look of the toilet. Still, I wouldn’t want to sit in the bathtub. Basic toiletries were also provided although it was rather miserly of the hotel to combine hair and body wash in a single diminutive bottle. The shower door hinge was faulty too as it kept swinging open and couldn’t stay shut when I was bathing.
Not wanting to be cooped up in this hellhole all night, fiancé and I decided to explore the hotel grounds and perhaps, look for something in the vicinity to fill the void from our unfinished dinner earlier. When we got to the spacious but empty lobby, we realised that all the restaurants in the hotel were closed although it was barely 8pm KST. There were also no malls or dining options nearby and according to the tour guide, the city centre was a 30-minute drive away 😑 There was, however, a 7-Eleven store near the drop-off point from where we eventually bought cup noodles and some Korean beverages.
The saving grace of this hotel would be the free fast-speed WiFi connection which we tapped into to stream Running Man (I remember it was the BLACKPINK episode 😆) on our phone. It was truly a no-frills business hotel with the most basic amenities at a mid-range cost (if booked through the right medium) and could be the best hotel you can find in Wonju based on online reviews. That said, Hotel Inter-Burgo still fell short of the expectations of a four-star hotel. In my opinion, it deserved three stars or less.
Hotel Inter-Burgo Wonju · 200 Dongbusunhwan-ro, Bangok-dong, Wonju, Gangwon-do, South Korea · Phone: +82 33-769-8114
Once again, we overslept and missed the hotel breakfast (or maybe instinctively we just weren’t keen) so lugging our baggage, we jumped straight onto our bus for Everland. The theme park was thronged with many other tour groups who, like us, were all heading to see the two newly-arrived Chinese giant pandas, Ai Bao and Le Bao, at Panda World first. But we ended up devoting more time at the gift shop because the pandas were resting (and also if we really wanted to see pandas, we can always visit Jia Jia and Kai Kai at River Safari).
Thereafter, we were given time to roam Everland on our own. Due to fiancé’s acrophobia (*yawns* 😏) and our reluctance to squander our (limited) time at theme park away on queuing, we didn’t take any of the rides and only went on a food hunt and gift shop-hop for the most part.
Generally, we are not fond of visiting theme parks while on a time-sensitive tour because it wouldn’t be possible to enjoy them to the fullest under a tight schedule and this was no exception. If given a chance to visit South Korea again (without being on a tour group – just no, thank you), I would certainly insist on going to Everland or Lotte World (against fiancé’s will) and queue for the rides 😁
Everland · 199 Everland-ro, Pogog-eup, Cheoin-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea · Operating Hours: 10:00 – 19:00 (Mon to Thu, Sun) 10:00 – 20:00 (Fri & Sat)
Under the recommendation of our tour guide (that’s what he claimed), we were taken to Sky Hansik (Sky 한식) somewhere in Pil-dong (exact address unknown but it was quite near to Everland) to binge on Korean barbecue for lunch. The restaurant was bustling with a mix of locals and foreigners in another tour group when we were there and staff were scuffling around trying to clear used plates from tables. It operated on a self-service system so we were free to take as much food and drinks as we wanted. All in all, the meat quality and seasoning was average and the food selection was nothing spectacular. But I was glad to have had a satiating meal for the first time in a long while.
Our next stop was Dalin Laver Museum and while there, we were taken on a guided tour around the gallery to learn about the process of making laver (seaweed). The tour concluded at their – what else – in-house laver specialty shop where the Chinese-speaking sales representatives demonstrated the various uses of the laver, such as cooking them in soup or stuffing them in rice balls, in an effort to entice customers. They then invited us to try the samples of all the flavours before beginning their sales pitch. Among the 8 (I think) flavours available, barbecue is my favourite because not only is it indeed infused with barbecue essence, it also has only right amount of saltiness 😆 Others that come close are sea salt and kimchi and I prefer eating them as is to preserve the original flavour of their seasoning.
The laver is sold in bundles of 5 packets in the same flavour. Each packet contains 5 sheets of laver that are a little smaller than A4 and most amazingly, it only breaks along intentional creases; no scissors is necessary to cut them into bite-size pieces! Fiancé noticed the grin of satisfaction when I bit into the samples and readily bought 10 different sets (I forgot the prices, but our order cost at least S$100) with the secondary intention to give some out as souvenirs. It was one of the rare on-tour purchases we did not regret making. Unfortunately, this brand of laver is not sold anywhere else, not even online 😐 So.. anyone booking a Seoul tour package soon and doesn’t mind letting me tompang my laver order? 😫
Strangely enough, the museum also enables visitors to partake in a hanbok fitting experience on the second floor 🤨 It felt a little out of place but I suppose that helped save us a trip to Gyeongbokgung Palace. The entire level is dedicated to this short cultural experience so you can find different styles of hanbok in common sizes strewn all over the rack with plenty of photography props to aid you in perfecting your shots.
We had fun playing dress-up but still, nothing beats wearing hanbok to the actual locations where history was made. Furthermore, as an added advantage of wearing hanbok at any of the palaces, admission is free. However, this is likely to be counterbalanced by the rental fees of the costumes if you don’t own one.
Dalin Laver Museum · 7 Hangang-daero 21-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea · Phone: +82 2-793-7300
As promised on our itinerary, we were allowed time to shop and have dinner in Dongdaemun district so our bus dropped us off in front of Doota Mall. We could have walked over to Dongdaemun Market but considering that none of us had been there before, we didn’t want to risk getting lost in the maze of stalls (which we honestly didn’t mind if we were in Seoul without a tour group) and hold up everyone else. Thus, we chose to remain in the mall for some serious shopping 😸
Doota Mall is composed of 8 floors, each catering to different demographics. While I went crazy in ARITAUM (for Laneige) and Tony Moly on 4F, fiancé monitored my spending discreetly, occasionally dissuading me from purchasing more cosmetics. But when it was his turn to go gaga on B2, he had no qualms about forking over his money on several shoes 😏 #doublestandard
Doota Mall · 275 Jangchungdan-ro, Gwanghui-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea · Nearest Subway Station: Dongdaemun (Line 1 or 4 – Exit 8) Dongdaemun History & Culture Park (Line 2, 4 or 5 – exit 14)
Once we had shopped till our hearts’ content (read: bank almost emptied), we reunited with fiancé’s parents at 1F for dinner nearby. As we were walking along a row of eateries at an alley, we caught sight of the signboard of Nolboo Restaurant and decided to give it a try not knowing that it was actually part of an established chain (they even have an outlet in Singapore). We placed an order with the waiting staff for two hot pots with chicken-based broth (yeah, so much for variety 😶) because we weren’t in the mood for spicy. Soon after, the ingredients – a mixture of fresh meat and vegetables – were served to our table and they were ready to be cooked!
But the moment we took our first bite of our meat, we regretted our decision because it lacked flavour. Should we have gone for budae jjigae (army stew) like everyone else in the restaurant, the food might have tasted a lot nicer so we’ve only got ourselves to blame. Nevertheless, the portion and quality of the ingredients were undoubtedly much better than those of what we had eaten during our tour.
Nolboo Restaurant · 34, Eulji-ro 43-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul 04564, South Korea · Phone: +82 2-2264-1669
(LOTTE Department Store → Myeongdong Shopping Street →
Cheongha Korea Co. Ltd → Departure [Tax Refund])
So long, GLAD Hotel Yeouido! Much as we didn’t want to leave the hotel, we had to 😪 Once our tour guide had gone around to do a headcount on the bus, the driver stepped on the gas pedal and drove a short distance to a rather dilapidated-looking commercial building (exact location unknown; not worth knowing anyway) for our breakfast. Due to the size of our tour group, we had to take a cramped lift up in batches to the Chinese restaurant at the topmost floor. Before the waiting staff arrived at our tables with our breakfast, our tour guide assured us that it would be food that’d take us back home, so in our minds we were imagining kaya toast, fried you tiao, dim sum, Teochew porridge or whatnot.
But, lo and behold…
*deep breaths* For the last time, Singapore is not in China, and the food on the table is downright criminal, they belonged in the trash because I certainly had more delectable breakfast dishes when I was in Beijing and Chengdu. The appalled expression on everyone’s face said it all. I had lamented about breakfast on Day 2, but this took the cake. We dried beancurd, peanuts, baby bok choy and this white rolls thing to go with our plain porridge (not pictured). Bruh, where is the meat?! Did someone just assume we had turned vegan for the day? In the end, only the bok choy and peanuts were eaten up and the white rolls were practically untouched.
Checking off more compulsory shopping stops on the itinerary, we were subsequently brought to a ginseng gallery showroom where the spendthrift fiancé bought a box of red ginseng extract. Then, we were driven to a cosmetics megastore that stocked up on seemingly passé products and unheard-of brands. As a way to curb impulse spending, I was constantly looking up products on Carousell to ascertain if I could get them at a bargain price (and you’d be surprised to see tons of them listed there in their unopened condition). That tactic worked wonders because, much to the surprise of fiancé, these tourist traps failed to make me any poorer ✌
We climbed back on the bus and thereafter alighted near Lotte Department Store in Myeongdong. Since breakfast was horrendously inadequate, we made it a priority to have lunch first at 고구려 (Goguryeo) Corean Cuisine on 13F of the mall to acquire some energy for the vigorous shopping later on.
After footing the bill, we and his parents went our separate ways because they wanted to wander the mall on their own. Before taking the underpass to the shopping street across the road, I went on a lipstick shopping frenzy at the HERA booth on B1 while fiancé splurged on a new cologne.
LOTTE Department Store (main) · 30, Eulji-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea · Nearest Subway Station: City Hall (Line 1)
Having already familiarised myself with the layout of Myeongdong shopping street on my first visit to Seoul merely a few months ago, getting to the intended shops and back was a breeze. I continued my shopping streak at one of the numerous Innisfree and Etude House outlets in Myeongdong near the underpass and amassed considerable amount of samples in the process. For the remaining few minutes of free and easy time, we scoured a small area for delicious street food but only managed to buy from three stalls. In response to not being able to try a wider range of the food, fiancé groused about spending too much time at Lotte Department Store earlier 🤣 Well, would this constitute as a good excuse to return to Seoul? I don’t mind hitting the streets of Hongdae and Ewha (I was there on my solo trip) again 😆
Our bus picked us up outside Young Lotte Plaza and proceeded to a random jewellery shop in hopes of exhausting the remaining Korean banknotes we had with us. The group obliged the tour guide by making a couple of rounds about the display cabinets but ultimately left empty-handed within minutes because clearly no one was interested in splashing out hundreds of dollars on some impractical piece of ornament. Taking the hint that we were eager and ready to leave, our (dismayed) tour guide told us to get on the bus for our last meal in Seoul at Cheongha Korea.
The building comprises a hypermarket on the first two floors and a restaurant on the third, and it accepts strictly (tourists-only) group reservations accompanied by a tour guide. Judging from its close proximity to Incheon International Airport, I reckon this place typically serves as the final stop for tourists to eat and stockpile on local specialities and souvenirs before catching their return flight home. Hence, perhaps to facilitate human traffic flow and speed up the payment process, any individual customers who attempt to shop or dine there would be turned away.
Our dinner was yet another simple and healthy one-pot meal, but this time it was beoseot jeongol (mushroom casserole) which had broth quite similar to the taste of sukiyaki, topped with a touch of spiciness. Some felt it was a tad too salty but not so for me since my taste buds tend to gravitate towards briny and piquant flavours. However, as someone who isn’t really big on mushrooms and vegetables in general, the measly amount of meat in this dish didn’t do it for me.
Following an extensive shopping spree at the hypermarket where we snapped up
packets boxes of tteokbokki and churros crackers, and honey tong tong (‘coz honey butter chips are so overrated), our bus made its way to the airport.
Cheongha Korea Co. Ltd (for tourist groups only) · 211-2 Unnam-dong, 78 Jung-gu, Incheon City, South Korea · Phone: +82 32-751-0448
Hauling our inflated luggage out of the vehicle to the SIA check-in counters, we were relieved to have met the baggage weight allowance despite buying so much. While waiting for the gates to open, we went to the refund counters at the departure hall with our passports and the applicable receipts to get our tax reimbursement. Technically, based on the information I read, we were supposed to do this before checking in our luggage but past experience told me it wasn’t necessary.
A useful rule of thumb is that any purchases made at large, touristy department stores and brick and mortar stores downtown amounting between ₩30,000 and ₩200,000 on a single receipt (unless products are already tax-free) would be eligible for tax refund. That said, do check with the shop assistants first just to be sure. Some department stores are also equipped with tax refund kiosks and counters to process your tax refund on the spot (yay to more shopping cash 🤑) but it is only possible up to a certain limit. Plus, we usually leave our passports in the hotel safe because we can be quite careless at times 😥 We had the option of receiving the refund in USD or KRW but somehow fatigue from seven days of non-stop touring had kicked in… and I stupidly opted for KRW. When I finally realised the blunder I had committed, it was already too late because completed transactions are irrevocable 😭
LEARN FROM MY MISTAKE AND DON’T BE LIKE ME OK.
At last, we boarded our SQ flight and was once again greeted with a sense of familiarity. As the plane gained speed and began to lift skyward, we bade farewell to South Korea. Admittedly, I didn’t have as much of a great time as I did on my solo trip because of various natural factors and oversights on my part – for a start, I hated the cold and was inadequately dressed and prepared for it. On top of that, it was constantly raining and that made commuting a hassle. Referring back to the original itinerary from the tour agency, I also noticed that we had skipped several stops such as the Garden of Morning Calm in Seoul as well as Seopjikoji in Jeju, which could likewise be attributed to the weather.
Therefore, if we ever plan to travel to South Korea again, I am going to make doubly sure it doesn’t happen during the winter season (spring or autumn would be ideal). And yes, it has got to be a free and easy one.
Thanks for reading!