Saturday, January 02, 2010

Glimpse of Seoul & Jeju

Joining a tour can really wipe you out physically. This entire trip was done with SA Tours (S$1.5k) and I felt the whole trip was too rushed; having to wake up at almost 6am every morning with insufficient time to truly take in what Seoul has to offer.

Arriving at Incheon Airport
Seoul is a mere 6.5h from Singapore and this was my first time on Asiana Airlines - 2009’s Airline of the Year. I must say the service onboard was really quite good; hot towels and drinks were handed out once passengers were seated and the food served was a mix of western (Fish pasta) and Korean (Bibimbap). One grouse: sitting near the toilet in the very last seat has its pros and cons. You can recline your seat all the way but the toilet smell wafts towards you every now and then.

Dunkin Donuts lovin'

Just a glimpse of Seoul
After a quick Dunkin Donuts breakfast at the Incheon Airport, our tour guide took us into the heart of Seoul – Namdaemun and Myeongdong.

Namdaemun - give this a miss as there’s nothing to see nor buy (unless interested in fruits and fake goods).

Myeongdong - shops aplenty but they generally open from 1030-11am onwards. Stores in this area include Adidas Originals, Bean Pole, SPAO (SNSD are the faces for this brand), Etude House (Lee Minho), Tony Moly (Kim Hyun Joong), Face Shop, Skin Food, WeSC, The North Face etc. Lotte Plaze and Lotte Young Plaza (NII Level 2) are all within the vicinity.

SPAO with Yoona, Tony Moly with Kim Hyun Joong and Etude House with Lee Minho

After lunch we headed to Gimpo Domestic Airport to board Jeju Air to Jeju of course. The ambassadors for Gimpo Airport is SS501 but photos of SNSD and Big Bang are everywhere. A short 55min later, we arrive in the ‘Honeymoon Island’ for Koreans.

First stop was the filming location for ‘Da Jeung Geum’ - a pretty majestic temple. Tapdong Underground Shopping Mall is below the temple of Da Jeung Geum and we were explicitly told by our guide not to buy anything here as it’s all imported from Seoul, hence the marked up prices. Tapdong generally carries ladies and kids’ fashion with Etude House and Skin Food

Breakfast: hotel international breakfast
Lunch: mushroom + veggie steamboat
Dinner: abalone porridge and side dishes (abalone porridge is green and pieces were so miniscule you’d need to look for it) Seating is in 4s so we all had to pair up.
Weather: Seoul–7c (cold and gloomy), Jeju 12-14c (windy)

Into Jeju proper
Starting off the day, the tour headed to Mysterious Road where we experienced the phenomenon of going uphill with the vehicle engine turned off. Skip this if not on tour.

Next, we bus-ed it to Holland Village where the drama ‘All In’ was filmed. Dutch windmills litter the place and this proves to be a rather relaxing walk about.

The Teseum Teddy Bear Museum is located right next to the Holland Village and it houses the world’s most expensive teddy – a Louis Vuitton clad bear, sitting next to a Swarovski encrusted bear. There is also a bear with 125 carat eyes and this was the filming site for the show “Princess Hours’. The bears from said show are also on display here.

Mysterious Road and Holland Village

LV bear, Swarovski bear, 125-carat eyes bear

Bears from the show 'Princess Hours'

The one thing I truly enjoyed on this tour was to Seongup Folk Village where the drama ‘Da Jeung Geum’ was filmed. This traditional village uses little modern amenities and relies on farming. Raw honey here is sold for 35,000won and it goes towards the living expenses of these people. The enigmatic lady from the village gave a talk in Chinese, explaining about their daily lives. Honey from this village really forms a honeycomb shape when in water.

Life @ the Seongup Folk Village

Post lunch we were taken to the Seongsan Sunrise Peak, a volcanic crater hill offering a spledid view of the coast. However, getting to the top involves a 40min climb upslope which is a TIRING. Everyone starts stripping off their winter gear mid climb.

Tiring climb up the Sunrise Peak

Hotel: Jeju Pacific Hotel
Hotel Review: Obviously not even a 4* hotel that SA Tours promised. I don’t even have memories of this hotel, hence not worthy to be mentioned. Although, rooms are pretty big and spacious.
Weather: 10-12c (windy)

Yongduam Dragon Rock - this lava formation looks like a dragon emerging from the sea. The rocks here are black from the lava coagulation and waves are crashing in constantly.

Dragon Rock and on the way back to Seoul

Skiing at Yong Pyong Dragon Valley
From Seoul, Yong Pyong Dragon Valley is a grueling 3h ride away. This Ski Resort has been host to the Winter Olympics and is the largest ski resort in the Seoul vicinity. Ski suit rentals are done en route to Yong Pyong. Gloves cost 10,000won and suit rental is 15,000won. Upon reaching Yong Pyong, we took the gondolas to the top of the mountain to take in the sights. Slushy and dirty as it is, a good snow fight and slipping on the snow is all part and parcel of the experience.

We were given a 15min introductory course by the ski coach from the Yong Pyong Ski and Snowboarding School. Buy a ski pass if staying on the slopes for the day. Trudging uphill with skis is no joke. You take 15-20mins to climb up and just 5mins or less to ski down.

Hittin' the slopes at Yong Pyong

Another great attraction about Yong Pyong is that the cafe/restaurant here was the set for a popular K-drama Winter Sonata. You can take photos with the standees of Bae Yong Jun and Choi Ji Woo.

If only a white Christmas!

Hotel: Yong Pyong Ski Resort
Hotel Review: lucky us got a suite room 303! It had a separate sitting area and bedroom and faced the slopes so we could check out the activity till morning. Floors were heated so you can relax and recline anywhere.
Weather: -4 to -1c (chills)

Yong In Everland
From Yong Pyong, it is a 2h ride to Yong In Everland Theme Park. Recommended rides here are T-Express (world’s steepest wooden roller coaster) and Safari World (world’s only mixed safari where you can see white tigers, bears, lions and a liger). Like all theme parks, get a fast pass to skip the queues. However, the theme park may choose to close all rides off from using a Q-pass so 1h queuing time is expected. Christmas was around the corner and we managed to catch the Christmas Fantasy parade @ Yong In. Many locals with season pass also bring their kids to Yong In for some Christmas cheer.

White Tiger and Liger (lion + tiger cub)

Christmas Fantasy parade @ Yong In Everland

Tourist traps
  • Kimchi School and the Korean Traditional Centre - learn how to make Kimchi and to wear the traditional Hanboks. Not a fan of Kimchi but all made Kimchi is donated to an old folks’ homes so why not. We got to try the Korean Ginseng Milk here as well
  • Ginseng Monopoly showroom - 1 bottle of gold capsules will set you back several hundred USD
  • Some beauty school for a facial massage lesson and then to Face Shop. Masks here cost 1,000-1,500won which is 1/3 the price in Singapore. Generally, cosmetics in Korea retail for 1/3 less than in Singapore so stock up if you’re a fan

Quick stroll after breakfast by the Han River

Deep love, Fairy from the sky (people name their Ginseng) and a closeup

  • Lotte World Adventure Park (theme park) - many variety programs film here and the theme park extends outdoors with Magic Island. Their fast pass here is called Magic Pass and like Yong In, the fast pass queue was closed so a 1h wait was in store. Lotte World has an indoor ice rink and sells tidbits like fried chicken and churros

Ice Rink inside Lotte World and BIG BANG is VIP!

  • Cordyceps Monopoly showroom - Cordyceps are apparently good for your liver (attn: those who drink) and a bottle of capsules will set you back 400usd
  • Amethyst Factory - another pointless pitstop on the tour to hard sell you amethyst gems
**Couple of things to note: Language here is really a problem if you don’t understand some simple Korean words. Else, try Chinese when in doubt or broken English.

Hotel: Hotel Riviera Seoul
Hotel Review: the best hotel on this trip. Modern,comfortable and probably 4*. Towels are clean and beds are comfortable. However, location is abit far from the shopping/city areas. Probably a 15-20min ride to Dongdaemun.
Weather: 4-6c
Posted by fongie on 1/02/2010 10:41:00 AM in , , , ,