I was in Seoul for a five days business trip back in 2008. The first two days was boring as I was stuck with work. But I managed to spend the remaining time wandering around the land of Kimchi. South Korea is well known for its expertise in electronics, engineering, construction, automobile, shipbuilding, heavy equipment. And of course, the Korean wave, Hallyu or 韓流.
For the uninitiated, Korean wave have been swiping the world especially Asia like wildfire. From high energy rhythmic K-Pop songs to the dramatic (or overly teary) television shows had captured huge legion of fans. I myself am a huge fan of the action-packed series, IRIS. Or you must have at least heard of one of these well-known brands like Samsung, LG, Hyundai, KIA or Hynix etc. It is almost impossible to ignore the exposure to anything that pops out of South Korea nowadays.
Our Korean colleague arranged for us to catch a popular show in Seoul one evening. He mentioned that Jump! is highly recommended and we should not miss. All our first thoughts were the same, how are we supposed to understand? It turned out that there were more actions than dialogue. The nicely choreographed moves and the high jumps are great! Just avoid taking the front row seats if you are gonna catch the show (hint hint).
Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul
After the show, I took a stroll along the charming Cheonggyecheon Stream. This beautiful ‘canal’ is impossible to miss as the stream passes through many attractions in Seoul. It’s hard to imagine that it used to be covered by concrete roads and flyover. Credit must be given to the then Mayor, Lee Myung Bak who went ahead with his bold idea of removing the flyover and restoring the canal in central Seoul.
The Land of Kimchi
For some reason, the only thing which I cannot seem to like is – Kimchi. Yeah, I tried. It is just not my kind of food but was served with every meal I had in Seoul. I do like the rest of the Banchan (small dishes) like the bean sprouts, spinach, potato, and tofu etc.
And the most irresistible Korean food for me is Ginseng Chicken Soup and Korean BBQ pork (五花肉, five flower pork or bacon). Also, I am a convert for the Soju. The alcohol content is high but it is really nice to go along with the tasty food in the cold windy weather. Gun Bae!
My first stop was the famous and bustling Dongdaemun Night Market. Bright light bulbs and yellow tents are among its trademark. The market stretch is packed with vendors selling fried night snack, fashion accessories, leather stuff, shoes, bags, fake designer goods. Most items do not carry a price tag so you need to ask and of course – bargain. Not all stall owners converse well in English so bargaining can be frustrating. The varieties are aplenty but it felt like a Pasar Malang (Night Market) back in Singapore so I did not explore further.
Seoul Many More Malls
Across the street stood 3 major retail shopping malls naming Hello apM, Doota and Migliore. There were live music performances outside Doota injecting some tempo to the cold windy night.
I was in awe seeing the opening hours of Doota mall is from 10:30 am to 5:00 am. Do the Koreans even sleep?
The malls have different levels and the majority are selling ladies clothing and accessories. I walked around the malls to check out the men clothing and came across a handful of them. But T-shirts they are selling were the same from store to store, the only difference was the price.
Dongdaemun Wholesale Shopping
I continued walking along the road and came across a few wholesale shopping centres. The merchandises being displayed are a tab messy compared to the retail malls. The clothing samples are left on top of some big bags for anyone who is interested to see or examine. Prices are lower but the owner only wanted to sell in bulk. But I do not need 10 T-shirts of the same design so, no deal.
There were mainly business-minded people armed with big bags sourcing for suitable products from the wholesalers to be resold elsewhere. I left when the scene was getting more crowded into the night.
After visiting Dongdaemun night before, I made my way to the next shopping haven – Myeongdong. And can immediately tell the difference between the two. Myeongdong has a more upmarket feel with international brands flanking the streets. The trendy shopping district features hundreds of retail shops carrying fashion clothing, shoes, bags, beauty products and accessories. There is a great selection of restaurants and cafes lining the busy street. Not forgetting the popular aesthetic and plastic surgery clinics are within the area too.
All of which is surrounded by shopping malls and major department stores like Shinsegae, Lotte Departmental Store, and Migliore. This nice blend of products and services make Myeongdong a very popular place among the locals and tourists alike. The most crowded stores are those selling beauty products.
After the brief wandering in Myeongdong, I proceed to the more subtle Insadong. This is yet another tourist magnet in Seoul but minus the bright and colourful overhead signboards. Insadong is more of an art and cultural place. Plenty of coffee, tea houses and shops selling drawings, art pieces, and handicrafts.
Spectacular city view from Seoul Tower
Seoul Tower is one popular place among the tourists and locals so it was really crowded. I spent almost thirty minutes queueing for the high-speed elevator to the observation deck. The city view at night was awesome but I had problems capturing good shots especially with the interior lights causing bad reflections. Sigh…
The ‘love padlocks’ being affixed on the fences and railings surrounding the tower area.
When leaving the observatory deck, the queue for lifts going down was even longer than coming up. But I was in time to see the projected light shows. And the quiet park spruced into life in the cold weather!
Rodeo Street Munjeong in Seoul
I went to check out Rodeo Street Munjeong the next day. The outlet shopping district has stores carrying various designer labels like Calvin Klein, Guess, Polo Ralph Lauren, Levi’s and some others at a discounted price. However, I can only say that my experience here was rather disappointing at Rodeo Street Munjeong.
The outlet prices are not exactly cheaper and there are only a small handful of international brands. Some established local brands with nice looking products have a presence here too. But the prices are comparable or much more expensive than their international counterparts!
STAY: Han Kang Hotel review
My first impression of Han Kang Hotel was that both exterior and interior (lobby area) was extremely dated. The furniture and room decor made me think that I have travelled back in time to those good old days. The old and bulky air conditioner unit broke down twice during my stay. And the bed was too soft for my liking.
Maybe one good thing worth mentioning was the size of the rectangular-shaped room is really big and spacious. Also, my room comes with a nice view of the Hangang River.
Han Kang Hotel
188-2 Gwangjang-dong, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, South Korea