Korea Day 7 (7 Jan 16) – Bye Bye Korea and Korean Traveling Tips

Time to bide Korea Farewell

As our flight is at 9.30am, we took the first AREX train to the airport. The train departs Seoul station at 6am. We were at the train station at 5.30am got our tickets and headed towards the airport. Upon reaching, after we did our tax claims, we checked in our luggage and proceeded to return the mobile wifi that has accompanied our journey in Korea. The next part of our trip, we spent 2 nights in Bangkok for some relax and massages before heading back to Singapore.
Seoul Station in the wee hours of the morning.
AREX tickets
Do keep the paper receipt after purchasing the ticket, this receipt will be inspected and tells you where your seat assignment is on AREX
Inside AREX
AREX
AREX at Incheon Airport station
Rather than recounting what we have done today, I thought of sharing some travel tips I gained from my trip to Korea.

Tip 1: Keeping Connected 

Getting connected during a trip is what most travelers prefer, which allows one to share the experiences during the trip via social media. Staying connected is especially important for people who travels Free and Easy, as one would need the information on where to go and how to go. One of the problems (or so I heard) when traveling to Korea is the simcard. One way to circumnavigate this is to rent a mobile wifi router. The one that I have gotten is from SK Telecom. SK Telecom is one of the biggest Telco in South Korea. The wifi I have rented costs around SGD35 for the total of 7 days of rental (which is more than 60% savings as compared to similar router I would have rented from Singapore). The signal I have gotten from the wifi is fantastic. There are great coverage anywhere I been to in Korea. This is even true when I visited Seoraksan National Park, I was able to whatsapp my friend a picture I took near the peak of the mountain. There is not a situation when I did not get mobile data coverage from the mobile wifi router. However the downside is the battery of the wifi router only lasts for 8 hours. Luckily we brought our power bank with us on this trip, which allows us to charge the router on the go. Renting of the wifi router is easy, one can make reservations online via the SK Telecom website (yes there is an English Version of the website), or simply approach the counter at the airport for rental.
Very reliable wifi router that provided us access to the internet via our mobile phones throughout the trip. The connection is superb even in the mountains

Tip 2: Arrive at the Airport Early

The thing that most travelers fear is to miss our flight. I always have the habit of arriving at the airport at least 3 hours early. This is especially pronounced in Incheon Airport. We had to wait for our checked in luggage to be x-rayed before we can go anywhere. On top of that we planned to get our tax refund, which requires some time. More importantly, the queue to clear immigration in Incheon Airport is very long at all the entrances. We waited about 30 mins in the queue to clear immigration. There is very stringent checks before one is allowed to clear immigration. On top of that, Incheon airport is rather large, we had to take a train to a satellite terminal for boarding. All these already takes up around 2 hours of our time in the airport. We barely have time to roam around the duty free shops for shopping whilst in Incheon Airport.
It took us around 30 mins to clear the immigration. Do cater time for checking-in of luggages (especially when one have not done internet check-in), processing and collecting of tax refund, as well as clearance of immigration

Tip 3: Get a Subway App

There are a number of apps for the Korean Subway system. I used one of an app called Subway Korea app. It is very useful as the Korean Subway system can be confusing and overwhelming for some. This app tells me which station and which line to change subway trains and even gives an estimation of the time needed for traveling on the subway to my destination.
I used this app during my stay in Korea. This app is very useful in guiding me which station to change to which line in order to reach my destination. It also tells me the time required and the fare amount.
Interface of the Subway App

Tip 4: Visiting the Palaces

There are the “Big 5” palaces in Seoul. Do cater more time when planning to visit them. As my experience has taught me to space out visits to Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung into 2 days rather than cramping these 2 into 1 day.  These 2 palaces are the largest in Seoul and more time needs to be catered to have a more fruitful visit. While one is getting the ticket to these palaces, do pick up a copy of the palace maps from the ticketing counter, which can guide one on the suggested route to take when visiting. The palaces in Seoul does have free guided tours at specific timings. I would recommend Free and Easy travelers to join these guided tours as they provide more insights into the palaces and also the significance of each building. Otherwise all the buildings will appear the same after awhile.

Tip 5: Always Carry Your Belongings with you

It goes without saying that one should always carry their belongings with them especially while traveling overseas. However this context applies to when traveling onboard public transports especially interstate buses. From my experience during day 5 where the bus has drove off without us, at the point when we alighted the bus at the pitstop, I was still contemplating if I should bring my backpack along or just take the important stuffs. Luckily I decided to bring all my belongings with me, at least when the bus drove off, I still had my backpack with me. I can imagine the backpack would have gone missing, despite being told by the bus company staff that they would disembark my backpack at the terminal we were suppose to stop.
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Korea Day 6 (6 Jan 16) – The Ancient and the Modern: From Gyeongbokgung – The Pride of Joseon Dynasty to Night View of Seoul at Namsan

Entrance to Gyeongbokgung, the pride of Joseon Dynasty

Hunting for Lunch

We arrived Gyeongbokgung at around noon. Gyeongbokgung is easily accessible via the very efficient subway system in Seoul. There is a station next to the palace, Gyeongbokgung Station. From  the exit of the station, the palace is right in front of the station. As we did not have breakfast yet, we begin hunting for food nearby. As we were walking past Gyeongbokgung, we bumped into the hourly changing of guards ceremony at the main gate of the palace. The guards are dressed in ancient Joseon dynasty outfit, with a serious look on their faces, these role players take their job seriously in replicating what was being done in yesteryears. After watching the changing of guards ceremony, we continued our quest in hunting of food. We walked into a street that seem to be populated with restaurants, and settled in one of the restaurants that serves modern Korean food. As we were famished, we ordered what seemed delicious on the menu. The food indeed was tasty (not too sure if our hunger made it seemed delicious), however as we over ordered the quantity that we were able to finished, we had quite a bit of leftovers.

Taking the Subway to Gyeongbokgung station
We saw the change of guard ceremony the moment we arrived at the entrance
Change of guard ceremony at Gwanghwamun
The role players took their role seriously during the hourly change of guard ceremony
We have no clue where to find lunch and walked along this street to hunt for lunch
We bumped into this street and turned in to look for lunch
Eventually we ended up in this street
Ambience in the restaurant
One thing I like about Korean restaurants is that they always come with side dishes
I ordered pork cutlet for lunch, it is quite a big portion
My friend got the kimchi soup noodle
We also gotten Korean fried chicken
We traced our way back to Gyeongbokgung after lunch

Gwanghawmun Square

After lunch, we traced our footsteps back to where we came from – Gyeongbokgung. We headed towards Gwanghawmun Square, which is directly in front of the main entrance to Gyeongbokgung. At the centre of the square, a huge statue of King Sejong was being erected. The statue depicted the king sitting on his throne, with a book on his left hand and a gentle smile on his face. King Sejong is the inventor of the Korean Language. In front of the statues are some artefacts that was invented by King Sejong. A celestial glove, rain gauge and a sundial was placed in front of the statue. After taking some photos, we continued our walk towards Gyeongbokgung.

Rain gauge in front of statue of King Sejong
Taking a wefie with King Sejong
This road leads to Gyeongbokgung

Gyeongbokgung

It did not take us long to reach Gyeongbokgung. Gyeongbokgung is the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty until it was being destroyed by fire during war and was abandoned for around 2 centuries. The palace was restored in the 19th century during the reign of King Gojong. It was however, being destroyed by the Japanese in the 20th century. Since then the palace was being reconstructed to what we see today. Being the largest of the five palaces in Seoul today, Gyeongbokgung is situated north of the city.
Panoramic shot of Gwanghwamun, the gateway to Gyeongbokgung
Taking a wefie at the entrance of Gyeongbokgung
Gwanghwamun, the entrance to Gyeongbokgung
A stone lion guarding the entrance of Gyeongbokgung. There are a number of such statues around in the palace, which is believed to ward off evil spirits
At the entrance, we witnessed another change of guard ceremony. After the ceremony, we headed inside the palace grounds and gotten our tickets for entry into the palace. The main gate of the palace, Gwanghwamun, looks like 2 big pavilions stacking on top of each other. The double roofed, 3 storey gate has wooden structures painted in bright green and red, a typical colour scheme for royalties in Korea (as seen in Suwon Fortress and Changdeokgung), is perched high atop of a stone wall with 3 arch entrances. Passing through Gwanghwamun, a large courtyard awaits the visitors before one would reach a second gate in the palace grounds. Heungnyemun, the second gate as one enters the palace, guards the entrance to the throne hall. Heungnyemun, compared to Gwanghwamun, has a much simpler architecture. The gate also has 2 roofs stacking on top of each other, and painted in elaborate decors on its under roof. The base of the 3 arch wooden gate is painted in red. There are 2 additional doors at either side of the gate, forming part of the walls protecting the throne hall area. 

Another hourly change of guard ceremony. We were told this would be the last session of the day
Change of guard ceremony
My friend in front of what would be a guard post in the olden days
Passing Heungnyemun, between the gate and the throne hall is a large courtyard. Similar to that of Changdeokgung, there are tablets on the ground of this courtyard marking where the various rank officials would stand when the King is holding his audience sessions with his subjects inside the throne hall. I would imagine the higher ranker officials will be housed inside the throne hall, while the relatively lower ranking officials would stand, according to their ranks as inscribed on these tablets, in this courtyard. Before we head to Geunjeongjeon, we exited left of the throne hall area headed for Sujeongjeon. The lone building red building of Sujeongjeon, was once used as an office for the cabinet. The building is fairly simple in its design and decor. Opposite Sujeongjeon is a cafe and a gift shop where one can grab a cup of coffee or get some souvenirs.
Heungnyemun is a wooden structure that looks like 2 pavilions stacking on top of each other. This gate guards the entrance to the throne hall
Heungnyemun up close
Geunjeongjeon – The throne hall
Sujeongjeon
Me at Sujeongjeon
Another view of Sujeongjeon from the cafe

We moved backed into the throne hall area and headed to the throne hall. The throne hall, Geunjeongjeon Hall, is nested on top of 2 raised platforms. The throne hall is where the King held important state functions and court officials’ audiences. It also served as a venue where the new kings were being crowned. The decor of the interior of the throne hall is rather simple, covered with black tiles with high elaborated decorated ceilings, painted with red and green colour schemes. In the centre of the hall is the throne, perched on a raised platform, decked in red with a painting of mountain as a back drop, the throne hall looks different from that in Changdeokgung. In comparison, the throne hall in Gyeongbokgung looks smaller and modern, while that in Changdeokgung looks roomier and older. There are some furnitures in Geunjeongjeon, which probably serves to show visitors how the throne hall was decorated in the olden days.

It seem that all royal places are painted in green and red colour schemes in Kore
Under roof of Geunjeongjeon is pretty elaborate in its design
A guardian statue at Geunjeongjeon to ward off evil spirits
The throne inside Geunjeongjeon Hall
Taking a wefie with Geunjeongjeon at the background
There are a number of such statues around the palace to ward off evil
Around the throne hall

After taking some pictures of the throne hall, we headed to the rear of the throne hall to the Sajeongjeon Hall. This simple stand alone building is one of the three buildings directly behind the throne hall. It is at Sajeongjeon where the king carried out his daily kingdom affairs, akin to the office of the king. The interior of Sajeongjeon feels like a miniature version of Geunjeongjeon. There is a smaller throne in the centre of the building, with portrait of mountain again as backdrop to the throne. Together with the buildings to the left (Cheonchujeon) and the right (Manchunjeon) of the Geunjeongjeon, this area forms the office quarters of the palace. The king would use the building in the centre, whereas his ministers uses those to the left and right.

Inside of Sajeongjeon, which looks like a scaled down version of the throne hall. This is where the King used to work and discuss country affairs with his ministers
Sajeongjeon on the left and the building far right is Manchunjeon, which are two of the three buildings that forms the office district behind the throne hall
Sajeongjeon with Cheonchujeon in the office district
Sajeongjeon up close
Cheonchujeon up close
Inside Cheonchujeon which serves as the office of the ministers
Inside Cheonchujeon
Around the office district of Gyeongbokgung

Passing a gated wall to the rear of the office quarters, we arrived at the living quarters for the royal family.  The centrepiece of this area is the king’s sleeping quarters – Gangnyeongjeon Hall. The centre portion of Gangnyeongjeon Hall was left open for visitors to see how it looked inside. This open area is rather large and I would imagine this is where the king would entertain some of his subjects and even his queen and concubines. There wasn’t any furnitures placed here at the time of our visit. There are some buildings around Gangnyeongjeon Hall, which are closed to visitors. To add to the confusion of the purposes of these other buildings around the King’s chambers, there isn’t any signages around to explain the purpose of these buildings. I can only imagine these are perhaps quarters for the king’s bodyguards, who were likely to keep watch over the king while he is in his chambers.

Panoramic shot of Gangnyeongjeon hall, the sleeping quarters of the King
A large living room of some sorts in Gangnyeongjeon hall
Some other buildings within the compounds of the king’s sleeping quarters. We overhead a tour guide explaining to the group that the reason for having a sandy floor is so that the movement of assassins managing to get past the heavily guarded entrance of the palace can be heard
Around the King’s sleeping quarters
Some buildings around the King’s sleeping quarters
Back alley around the King’s sleeping quarters

As we did not get a copy of the map around the palace (the compounds of the palace is really huge), my friend and I roamed around the remaining palace grounds, without knowing what is what. At certain point, all the buildings looked the same to us and we were starting to get bored. As we were walking around from buildings to buildings, we ended up in an open area where we saw a frozen pond with a man-made island in the centre, connected by a small bridge. On the island is a 2-storey pagoda building decked in mostly green painting. I reckon the pond and the pagoda built in front of a mountains forms a picturesque and tranquil scene.

We roamed around the palace, having no clue the significance of these unmarked buildings
Exiting the compounds of the palace to the back of Gyeongbokgung
Hyangwonji pond and Hyangwonjeong pavilion forming a picturesque view with the mountain as the backdrop
Panoramic shot of Hyangwonji pond and Hyangwonjeon Pavilion

Walking past the pond, we headed to the buildings to the north of the pond. This set of buildings looks very simple and small as compared to the other areas of the palace.  A little research reveals this compound- Geoncheonggung residence is an annex of the palace where the king and the queen would stay to enjoy some peace and quiet, away from the hectics of running the country. There are a few buildings within the compounds of Geoncheonggung consisting of the sleeping chambers for the king and the queen, as well as a library.

My friend at the entrance of Geoncheonggung residence
Inside the compounds of Geoncheonggung residence, which is located the furthest north within Gyeongbokgung
Me at one of the buildings in Geoncheonggung residence. This might be where the king used to sleep
Other buildings in Geoncheongung residence
My friend in Geoncheonggung residence
Roaming around within Gyeongbokgung
We are still inside Gyeongbokgung grounds

A Side Detour To the Korean Folk Village

We continued our tour inside of Gyeongbokgug and came across a side entrance to the palace. This happens to be an entrance to the Korean Folk Museum. A staff stationed at the entrance came up to us and encouraged us to visit the Korean Folk Museum. Entrance to the museum is complementary and we can gain re-entry into Gyeongbokgung with our ticket later. As we thought we could afford a moment of detour, we decide to heed the advise of the staff and make a quick visit. As we were not really interested in museum visits, we saw some interesting structures at the compounds outside the museum and headed to these structures instead. This is the open-air exhibition area which showcases rural life as well as modern and contemporary streets of Korea. We headed to the rural area to find a farm house and a mill on display. Nearby the rural farm house is an open area with spirit posts, which were used by the villagers to prevent natural disaster and bring about bountiful harvest. Next to the mill, is a Street of Memory, which comprises of street scene of Korea in the 1970s. There are some shops replicated here. We headed back into Gyeongbukgung after taking some pictures here.

The Korean Folk Museum is located at the side entrance of Gyeongbokgung
This is a guardian that the Koreans prayed to for peace and good harvest
Korean Folk Museum
A typical farmland in Korea
Replica of a farm land in Korea at the Open Exhibit area
Typical Korean Farm house
Typical farm house
Next to the farm house is a mill where ox were used to mill harvests
Spirit posts which the villagers prayed to prevent natural disasters and for good harvest
The “Street of Memory” depicting a typical Korean Street scene in the 1970s
Some of the shops here include a photograph shop and a tailor shop
My friend in front of a shop selling clothe
Some of the replica of shops on the “Street of Memory”

Back into Gyeongbokgung

Heading back into Gyeongbokgung, we continued where we left off. By this time, the palace is about to close and we could only brush through some of the buildings, hoping to cover as much as we could in the remaining time we have in the palace before it calls off the day. As we headed southwards towards the entrance of palace, we came across the Jagyeongjeon Hall, the living quarters of the adoptive mother of King Gojong, Dowager JoThis hall is composed of two rooms with Ondol (heated) floors, Bogandang and Jagyeongjeon Hall and a veranda, Cheongyeonnu, to the southwest. The east side of Cheongyeonnu is connected with another room. 

The walls surrounding Jagyeongjeon Hall where the adoptive mother of the King used to stay in
Outside Jagyeongjeon Hall
Some of the buildings inside Jagyeongjeon Hall
This is the main sleeping chamber of Dowager Jo
A guardian statue protecting the Dowager
The building where the Dowager used to sleep in
Peeking at the other side of the wall inside Jagyeongjeon Hall
Scene inside Jagyeongjeon Hall
Inside the compounds of Jagyeongjeon Hall
The holes at the bottom of the building was where firewood was burnt during winter to keep the floors warm
Backyard of Jagyeongjeon Hall
Panoramic shot of the back yard of Jagyeongjeon Hall
Feature wall at the backyard of Jagyeongjeon Hall
Outside Jagyeongjeon Hall

As the palace was about to close, we hurried back to the entrance of the palace and decided to stop at the throne hall to take some pictures. After taking some pictures, we headed out of the palace.

Back to Geunjeongjeon
Geunjeongjeon at this hour is rather empty as most of the visitors has already left
Final shot of Heungnyemun

Bukchon Hanok Village

One of the places we wanted to visit is the Bukchon Hanok Village. Bukchon Hanok Village is a a residential area which still retains the traditional Korean house architecture. As the village is smack in between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, it is a short distance from Gyeongbokgung. We relied on Goggle map to bring us there on foot. As soon as we reached where Bukchon Hanok Village, we were expecting to see some traditional housings the moment we reached Bukchon Hanok Village. We were disappointed to see some modern architecture, we continued to walk towards a more secluded part of the area and soon some traditional buildings came into our sight. As it is already close to nightfall, most of the tourists would have already called it a day here. Strolling along the alley of Bukchon Hanok Village, looking at the various traditional houses is indeed a joy. Soon all the buildings looked repetitive, we decided to get out of Bukchon Hanok Village and visit Namsan once more, hoping that there will not be a crowd like day 1 of our trip in Korea.

Street scene of Seoul, on our way to Bukchon Hanok Village
Signs that we were near Bukchon Hanok Village
Look like a pretty modern street at the outskirts of Bukchon Hanok Village
As we walk further in, the traditional style houses started to emerge
Some of the traditional style houses along side modern buildings at Bukchon Hanok Village
Street scene of Bukchon Hanok Village
Further into Bukchon Hanok Village is where one will find more traditional style houses
Street scene of Bukchon Hanok Village
Peeking into one of the houses in Bukchon Hanok Village
Street scene of Bukchon Hanok Village
Street scene of Bukchon Hanok Village
Street scene of Bukchon Hanok Village
Street scene of Bukchon Hanok Village

Night View of Seoul At Namsan

By this time, we were rather familiar on which subway station to alight and how to get to Namsan Cable car station from the subway station. It did not take us long to reach the cable car station. We were not disappointed for our trip here. There was hardly any queue at the cable car station, we could board the cable car as soon as we bought our tickets. The ride from the cable car station to Namsan station took less than 5 mins and we soon found ourselves at the base of N Seoul Tower.
Near the base of Namsan Cable car station
Boarding the cable car towards N Seoul Tower
N Seoul Tower at night from the cable car

Namsan is famous for couples placing a pair of padlocks here and throw the key out at Namsan. To facilitate this, there are grills near the cable car station in Namsan set up for people to do so. The amount of locks here is practically countless. There are more unused grills around. We headed to the view point near the padlocks to catch a glimpse of Seoul at night. The view here is stunting, coupled with the cold winter wind blowing, and not too much of a crowd (only a handful of people were here at the time of our visit), the feeling is free and peaceful. From the viewpoint, we could see the busy Myeongdong shopping area, with the shoppers and cars near Myeongdong shrunk to the size of an ant, the feeling is great!

View of Seoul from the cable car
Getting close to N Seoul Tower station
On top of Namsan
Countless padlocks where it is believed that couples locking their pair of padlocks here will stay together forever
N Seoul Tower
More padlocks at the base of N Seoul Tower on top of Namsan
View of Seoul from top of Namsan
N Seoul Tower and the padlocks
N Seoul Tower at night
Pavilion at the base of N Seoul Tower
Panoramic shot of view of Seoul at night on top of Namsan
N Seoul Tower closed up

After we took some pictures of Seoul at night, we headed towards N Seoul Tower. At the base of the tower, we found out that we would have to pay entrance to get up to the tower. As we were hungry, we opted to spend our time filling our stomachs instead. We headed to one Korean restaurant and got our stomachs filled. Though the food at the restaurant isn’t really fantastic, the view from our table is enough to compensate for the lack of taste in the food.

View from the restaurant is enough to make up for the lack of taste of the food here
I ordered Jajiangmien
My friend had the omelette fried rice

After dinner, we headed back to the view point again and took in the view of Seoul at night. No wonder comments from people who have been here were recommending to visit this place at night. It gives one a different feeling, a feeling of peace and zen, rather than having to squeeze with the crowd we had the luxury of time and space. We also did not have to take pictures with people in them. As the temperature seem to get colder by the minute, we headed towards the cable car station for our ride back to the base. Alighting from the cable car, we followed the crowd to what appears to be a single cabin tram up to the base of the cable car station. At this point, I turned to my friend and commented “I felt cheated”. Now to walk up the cable car station from Myeongdong subway station requires one to walk up slope, with this tram system, it made getting tot he cable car station a breeze and effortless.

N Seoul Tower ticketing counter
View of Seoul from Namsan at night. It is very peaceful here, partly due to the absence of  crowds
Night view of Seoul from Namsan
The single carriage tram fetching people up from the base of the cable car station
Tram approaching our stop
Inside the tram

Last Shopping at Myeongdong

We headed to Myeongdong to walk around when we reached the base stop of the tram system. Myeongdong at this hour, despite close to 10pm, was still buzzing with life. Thought most of the shops are closing, the street food vendors and pushcarts selling goods does not seem to abide by the 10pm close shop timing. We did some final shopping and walked around, munching on street food as we walk along Myeongdong. As we had to wake up early the next day to catch our flight out of Seoul, on top of that we have yet to pack our luggage for our trip home, we decided to call it a day and headed back to the hotel.

Myeongdong at night
Last shopping at Myeongdong
Despite being at 10pm, these push carts does not seem to be closing
Still quite a crowd at Myeongdong
Tteokbokki!
Myeongdong at night
Myeongdong at night

Korea Day 5 (5 Jan 16) – Murphy’s Law in Action for our Snowy Day Trip to High1 Ski Resort

I would consider this day to be the climax of our Korean trip as today is the day we will be seeing natural snow for the first time. We planned to head out to the Ski Resort today, as with the day before, we planned to visit the ski resort on a weekday so that we will not be bumping into too large a crowd at the ski resort. I was hoping to see snowing at the ski resort, after all it is the middle of winter and the past 4 days in Seoul we were rather disappointed that it did not snow at all. Talking about ski resort, there are a number of ski resorts in Korea. There are several ski resorts located nearby Seoul, whilst some others are further into other nearby provinces. We chose to visit High1 Ski Resort partly due to the fact that this resort was designated to host the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in Seoul. The other reason for our choice to visit here is the opportunity to ride the gondola up to the peak of the Baekwoon Mountain standing some 680m above sea level, where we thought we might catch some great views of the surrounding mountains.

 

High1 Ski Resort

Getting to High1 Ski Resort

High1 Ski Resort is located in Jeongseon, Gangwon-do, about 170km Southeast of Seoul. There are several options of getting to the resort, we opted to take the interstate train as I thought it would be an experience to ride on the Korean railway system. Getting the train tickets is a breeze with the ability to allow passengers to book their tickets 1 month in advance on the Korail website. We booked our return tickets online from Seoul to Gohan which is the nearest train station to the resort, opting for the first class train travel (the price difference between first class and standard class is a mere ₩2,000 each way). The train departs from Cheongnyangni Station (and not Seoul Station). We took the subway to Cheongnyangni Station and got our tickets from the ticketing counter by showing the print out of our booking.
Up these stairs is where Cheongnyangni Station is located
Ticketing counter at Cheongnyangni Station
Our train tickets to Gohan Station
Outside Cheongnyangni Station

Murphy’s Law in Action

As we did not have breakfast after leaving the hotel for the train station, we thought since we still have around 15 mins before the train departs, we will have sufficient time to pack breakfast and have it on the train. This is just the beginning of what will go wrong will go wrong! We headed for the local fast food joint (it is the only one that opens at 9am in the morning). After ordering our takeaway, we were told that we would need to wait for around 5mins for our food to be ready. Since we have 15 mins to spare, 5 mins would be within our tolerant and we went ahead with the order. However it took them 10 mins to prepare our breakfast. Seeing what little time we had left, we made a dash for the train platform. Without reading the sign properly, we headed towards what pointed out to be Korail platform. By the time we reach the platform, we sensed something is not right as it seem that the platform is meant for the subway. We asked a local and he kindly pointed the right platform for us. By the time we reached the platform, we were already 3 mins late and the train had departed. Our only option at this point is to go back to the ticketing counter and check the next train departure timing. We were told by the staff that the next train would leave Cheongnyangni Station for Gohan Station at around noon time, which means we will only reach the resort at 3pm. Our return ticket is booked for at around 5pm, which means we wouldn’t have much time to have fun in the snow. Waiting for the next train is not an option for us, hence I checked with the staff if there are any other ways to get to Gohan area. We were delighted to learnt that we could take a bus from DongSeoul Bus Terminal and it would take us around 2.5 hours to reach there. We were pleasantly surprised to learnt that the train company would refund our missed train fare (less some administrative charges). After getting our refund, we headed to the subway and made our way to DongSeoul Bus Terminal.
We got our breakfast here and was late for our train
On our way to DongSeoul Bus Terminal

DongSeoul Bus Terminal is located next to Gangbyeong subway station, which is just a few stops from Cheongnyangni station. We arrived at the Bus terminal and quickly got our bus tickets to Gohan (costs us ₩14,500 each for the one way trip). Since there are some time to kill, we found a place and finished the breakfast we just bought awhile ago. We arrived at the bus bay for our ride to Gohan 15 mins before the scheduled departure to prevent missing the bus. The bus departed on schedule to Gohan. Around 1.5 hours into our ride, the bus pulled into an area for a pit stop, unlike the bus we took the previous day (operated by a different company), there were no announcement how long the pit stop will be. We got down the bus to buy some drinks and at the same pit stop we got ourselves some ear muffs. By the time we returned to where the bus parked, the bus was not there. At this time we realised that the bus had left without us! Wow twice within one morning things had turned south for us. At this point we were thinking what to do, there isn’t really a bus stop and we are in the middle of nowhere. To make things worst, we do not even speak Korean to even hitch a ride from others. After some time, we approached a couple of Korean ladies and told them our bus had ditched us. They do not seem to understand what we are talking about, but some how know we were lost! The ladies pointed us to an information booth, where we seek help.

Our bus to Gohan in DongSeould Bues Terminal
Heading to Gohan on a bus
Heading to Gohan on a bus
Heading to Gohan on a bus
Pit stop! This is where the bus ditched us
We went around taking pictures of the pit stop while waiting for our bus to come and pick us up
Seem like frosting on the ground. It is very cold at the pit stop

At the booth, we explained to the staff our situation and showed her our bus ticket. With her limited knowledge of English, we surfed the web to get the number of the bus company. The staff managed to call the bus company, luckily the guy at the other end spoke good English and told us they will arrange for another bus to come and fetch us in 30 to 45 mins time. We waited patiently and dare not move from the booth. Peeking out of the windows occasionally to see if the bus has arrived. Around 1 hour later, 2 buses called into the pit stop and both drivers came up to the booth to fetch us. Soon we found ourselves on our way to Gohan. Another 1 hour has passed and the bus called into a bus terminal. From our Google map (which I kept it on ever since our first bus ditched us), I know we were suppose to alight at this bus terminal. To play safe, we asked a fellow passenger whom confirmed we were at Gohan. From here we took a 5 min cab ride to reach High1 Ski Resort. What an eventful day!

Continuing our journey to Gohan

High1 Ski Resort

As there are multiple alighting points at the resort, we told the cabby to drop us at the Valley Condominium. On our way to the resort from the bus terminal, we were expecting the scenery to change from greenery to pure white, however no such luck. At the point of our alighting, we still did not sight any snow. I was a little disappointed that it was not snowing. At the Valley Condominium area, there is an information counter where we enquired more about where to sledge. Since we only planned for a day trip, we did not have much time to learn to ski, plus the little adventure of missing the train and bus ditching us, took up a fair bit of time. After we got the information from the counter, we headed outdoors. This is the first time we see snow! We soon went back in and took a complementary gondola to Mountain Condominium. The ride up the Mountain Condominium took around 10 mins. The 10 mins gondola ride we saw ski slopes and snow! Although we knew these are artificial snow, we can’t help but feel excited about playing in the snow. Arriving at Mountain Condominium stop, we got off the gondola and headed to a cafeteria for lunch. The cafeteria serves very simple and limited food. We opted for the Korean food and had our lunch facing the snow scenery outside the building.

We finally arrive at High1 Ski Resort
Gondola that took us up to Mountain Condominium
Making our way to Mountain Condominium in a gondola
Snow!
Ski slopes spotted
View of the ski slope in the gondola
View from gondola

After lunch we headed outside to walk around the snow (yes we know this is artificial snow, coming from the tropics, the snow still excites us). Speaking about the snow, it isn’t as soft and fluffy as we had expected and felt hard and slippery. We originally planned to get on a gondola and head towards the Mountain Top station and perhaps even across the valley. When we enquired about the gondola, we were informed that it was closed. We felt a little disappointed that we did not get to go to the top of the mountain.

Lunch time
Snow everywhere
My friend at the snow grounds at Mountain Condominium

Sledging Fun

We did not want to let the events of the day disappoint us and went sledging instead. Coming from the tropics, we had zero knowledge of skiing, plus the little time that we had left at the ski resort, sledging was about the only other thing we can do. After paying for our sledging, we headed towards a hut to collect a rubber tube, that will be used for sledging. At first there were quite a crowd sledging. As we went for more rounds on the sledge, the crowd thins out. After awhile, the crowd dissipated that we did not even have to wait for our turn to sledge down the slope. For my first run on the sledge down the slope, I bumped into the rubbery safety barrier that was put up by the resort, as I did not know how to slow down. The staff did not even helped to slow me down. After crushing onto the barrier, no help was offered to get me up. However after a few runs, I learnt to control the speed and slow down eventually to prevent crushing onto the barrier. We must have done the sledging for more than 10 times. Before long, we were told they are closing for the day. After returning our rubber tube sledges, we went around the area to take pictures of the surroundings. The view at the base of the ski slopes in the evening was stunting. Snow blanketing what would be a grassland in spring and summer, with the colours that the sun set effect has painted the sky, coupled with no crowds, the surrounding just felt peaceful. We spotted some ice sculptures in the area and headed to take pictures with it. Other than walking on the snow and taking pictures, there are practically nothing much we can do around here at this time when all the actions ceases to operate. Looking at the time, it is almost time for us to head back to the train station and catch our train back to Seoul.

 

Getting ready to sledge for the first time
We had to pull the rubber tube sledge back to the start point. Fortunately there is a make shift travellator .
Sledge slope
View of the sledge slope
Getting ready for round 2 of sledging
Sledging is fun
Selfie at the snow area
Panoramic shot of the ski grounds
Me at the ski grounds
View of the ski grounds
Wefie at the ski grounds
Selfie at the ski grounds
An ice owl sculpture
Me with the owl ice sculpture
Snow snow everywhere
This place would be beautiful when covered with snow
The gondola that brought us up to the Mountain Condominium
My friend with the ice sculpture
The sledge slope from the gondola
View of the ski grounds from gondola
Wefie in the gondola
Taking the gondola back to Valley Condominium where we boarded the shuttle to Gohan train station
Ski slope
More snow!
View of the ski slope from the gondola
View from the gondola
View of one of the ski slopes in High1 Ski Resort
View of one of the ski slopes in High1 Ski Resort
Valley Condominium at night
Waiting the shuttle to Gohan station at Valley Condominium

Traveling Back to Seoul

The Ski Resort provides regular complementary shuttle service to and from Gohan train station. Gohan station is situated on top of a slope and a 2 min walk from the place the shuttle service dropped us. The train station looked deserted when we arrive. We approached the ticketing counter to confirm that we were at the right place and were informed that the train will be calling in on platform 2. We did not want to miss the train again, hence we waited at the waiting room for the train despite being 30 mins early. Soon the train pulled into station and we were surprised that there are not many people traveling in First Class. The seats in the first class car were large and comfortable, perfect for a good nap on our 3 hour ride back to Seoul.

Gohan station
Goan train station
Waiting for our train at Gohan station
Our train pulling into the station
Our ride is here
View of the First Class cabin onboard. There isn’t many people travel in this class

 

Selfie in first class cabin onboard the train

About 1 hour into the ride, an announcement came on to the PA informing passengers of a cafeteria in car number 4. Curious, I went to car number 4 to take a look. As I pass through 2 other standard class cabins (the seats here are slightly narrower than first class), instead of seeing a car full of sets, an rather empty cabin greets me. At one side of the cabin, there appears to be 4 private rooms. As I peek into these rooms, I realise these are karaoke rooms, some configured with 2 seats and 1 with one huge seat. I thought this is rather refreshing, to have karaoke rooms on the train! In the centre of the cabin is a counter, selling snacks and drinks. I ordered some snacks and the staff even heated up for me. There are also vending machines onboard located in the cafeteria cabin. Further down the cabin is a row of seats facing the window with a long table for passengers to snack on while watching the changing scenery outside the train. After getting my snacks, I headed back to my seat for the rest of the journey.

Heading to the cafeteria car
These rooms painted in red and yellow are the karaoke rooms in car number 4
Peeking into the karaoke rooms onboard the train
Vending machine in car number 4
Snack bar!
This is what I got from the snack bar
Back to my cabin
There walnut sponge cakes are delicious

Back to Myeongdong for Dinner

When we reached Seoul we were famished, we headed to Myeongdong to hunt for dinner. As it was close to 11pm, most of the restaurants were closed or about to close. Myeongdong at this hour seem peaceful, without the crowds. It felt as if the whole area went to sleep. As we were walking, part shopping (some shops are still opened), part hunting for food, we chanced upon a restaurant that serves teppanyaki style hot plate chicken. We ordered a portion for 2 and the food did not disappoint. After dinner, we hailed a cab and headed back to the hotel to rest for the night.
A quiet Myeongdong at night
A quiet Myeongdong at night
Kimchi for dinner
We ordered the spicy chicken for 2
View of a quiet Myeongdong from the restaurant

Korea Day 4 (4 Jan 16) – Marvel the Wonders of Mother Nature at Seoraksan National Park

In our plans for this Korean trip, today is the day we visit Seoraksan National Park. By planning the day trip on a weekday, we will be able to avoid the crowds. Seoraksan National Park is located in Gangwon-do, some 3 hours from SeoulSeoraksan National Park is one of the most beautiful and most visited National Park in the entire Korean Peninsular. It is designated by UNESCO as a Biosphere Protection Site.

Mountain range of Seoraksan National Park

Making our way to Seoraksan National Park

To get to Seoraksan National Park, we had to take a bus from Seoul Express Bus Terminal to Sokcho and transfer to a local bus. Seoul Express Bus Terminal is accessible via the subway and is located at the Express Bus Terminal Station (Exit 1). We headed for the ticketing booth the moment we reached the Bus Terminal and got the tickets (costs ₩18,100 one way) for the next Express Bus to Sokcho. The bus ride from Seoul to Sokcho takes about 2.5 hours, with a pit stop in between. The express bus to Sokcho is very comfortable furnished with wide leather seats, which enabled us to catch a nap. The bus has a 32in LED TV at the front, showing Korean dramas. Before reaching the pitstop and subsequently Sokcho, announcements were made. The bus driver even went around counting the number of passengers he has onboard before driving off. Buses 7 and 7-1, from the opposite side of the bus terminal, goes to Seoraksan National Park from Sokcho Express Bus Terminal. The ride to Seoraksan National Park takes around 1 hour from Sokcho Express Bus Terminal, with scenery changing from coastal to mountainous through some farm lands.
Inside Seoul Express Bus Terminal
Tickets for Sokcho
Outside the Bus Terminal in Seoul
Seoul Express Bus Terminal
This is where we waited for our bus to come
Our ride to Sokcho
Inside the bus
Getting ready for Seoraksan National Park
On our way to Seoraksan National Park
On our way to Seoraksan National Park
On our way to Seoraksan National Park
On our way to Seoraksan National Park
Pit stop
No clue where we were… I only know we were somewhere between Seoul and Sokcho
On our way to Seoraksan National Park
On our way to Seoraksan National Park
Part of Sokcho
Outside Sokcho Express Bus Terminal. There is a tourist information booth outside the terminal
This is the bus stop opposite Sokcho Express Bus Terminal where we boarded our bus to Seoraksan National Park
We boarded bus 7-1 to  Seoraksan National Park. Scenery near  Seoraksan National Park
End of the line –  Seoraksan National Park

Arriving at Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan National Park is at the end of the bus service. We alighted the bus at Seorak-dong, we were captivated by the majestic mountains in front of us. I cannot imagine under 1 hour ago, we were still facing the coast line, watching the waves hitting ashore as we were riding on the bus. Moments later we were greeted by the mightiness of the mountains that were in front of us. I can’t help but marvel at the wonders of Mother nature. We were greeted by a Korean style arch way, marking the entrance to Seorak-dong, confirming we were at where we were suppose to be. A short walk from the archway, a large metal statue of a bear, that is an icon in this national park. Almost all visitors would stop here to take a picture of this statue. As there were people awaiting to take pictures, we skipped our photo opportunity with the bear and decided to come back later. We headed for the cable car station, which would whip us up into the mountains within mere minutes.

 The entrance to Seoraksan National Park is just a couple of mins away from the bus stop
Entrance to  Seoraksan National Park
We are here at  Seoraksan National Park
A pagoda structure on our way to the cable car station
Waiting to board the cable up to the mountains
View of the mountain from inside the cable car
And we are on our way in the cable car up to the mountain
Riding in the cable car
The cable car passes above the stream
View inside the cable car
Seorak-dong is getting smaller by the minute
We can see the coast line from afar
Frozen waterfalls seen from the cable car in  Seoraksan National Park

Up to the Mountain on a Cable Car

We gotten our cable car tickets (costs ₩10,000 round trip for adults) and were surprise there were hardly any queue for it. This proves that coming to Seoraksan National Park on a weekday is a good decision. We got into the cable as soon as it called into the station. As the cable car made its way up the mountain, through the woods below us, what was originally gigantic turned into miniature. From the cable car, we can see the entire Seorak-dong and far into the shores of Sokcho that we passed by while making our way to the National Park. Below cables of the cable car, frozen waterfalls are insight. There is also a narrow and steep set of stone-made stairway up to the mountain. The cable car brought us to the mountain top station in less than 10 mins. We got out of the station as soon as we disembarked from the cable car and headed out to the lookout point. The lookout point faces the base of the national park. From here we can see the temples and the various buildings and temples at Seorak-dong. At the lookout point, we can see as far as Sokcho and the sea. The cold crisp mountain air blew across our faces, despite being cold, the air is so fresh that we did not want to get inside the station to shield us from the cold. At the lookout point, we can also marvel at the wonder of mother nature, where part of the mountain range can be seen. It is not the best place to view the mountain ranges here. As we were a little hungry, we ordered tteokbokki (Korean Spicy rice cake) and Korean pan cake to munch. Having some Korean food with the view to die for is an enjoyment itself

 

View of  Seoraksan mountain ranges from the lookout point
Me at the lookout point at the cable car station in the mountains
One can never get tired of such a view
Panoramic shot of the mountain ranges in  Seoraksan National Park
My friend at the lookout point with the Seoraksan mountain range behind
More view of the surroundings in the mountains
We had Korean pancake up in the mountains…
And a tteokbokki

Gwongeumseong Fortress

After having our meal, we headed to the Gwongeumseong Fortress. The 30 min walk with well laden walkways and stairs, is more of a walk then a hike. The journey is mild and is suitable for all ages. Gwongeumseong Fortress is situated some 860m above sea level and was the situated on top of the mountain where the cable car station is. History of the castle was sketchy and is believed to be built by the 23rd King of Goryeo Period. After passing through some well maintained pavement, the area opens up to a vastness of rocks. This is where one would have to be careful when walking up to the edge or the top of the mountain. At this point, I was expecting to see some form of castle ruins or any reminisce of castle, however all I see was rocks and more rocks. Does not seem to have any humanly made structures up here. Wonder how the fortress looks like in the earlier days. Nonetheless, the view here is simply breathtaking. I walked up to the edge of the rocks and looked into the mountain ranges of inner Seorak. Miles and miles of unspoiled nature with no presence of mankind, draped in the clear blue cloudless winter sky of South Korea, this is a place where one can sense peace and zen. Great place for meditation or simply just absorb the wonder of Mother Nature. It is a good thing that we came on a weekday when the crowd was thin, we did not have to bump into a lot of people, which brings more peace into the area. This is a place where one can enjoy the cold winter mountainous breeze. We headed further up towards the peak. The upslope walk was easy despite having no clear marked path or handrails. We simply followed the visitors up the slope towards the peak. I did not go all the way up but stop near to the tip of the mountain. The view of the path that we took was fantastic. From up here, we started to wonder how in the world did we climb up here. There are no paths but a bunch of rocks sitting on the slope perhaps for centuries. We stayed here for around 30 mins to relax and take in the view that is before us, a picnic would be wonderful, but we did not bring any food with us here. We headed back to the Cable car station for our ride down to Seorak-dong.  Before that we stopped by the viewpoint to take more pictures.

Frozen water along the way to Gwongeumseong Fortress
Stone stackings sighted on the way to Gwongeumseong Fortress
Stop for a picture of the mountains in Seoraksan National Park
View of Seoraksan on our way to Gwongeumseong Fortress
Some frozen mountain stream in the background
Frozen stream spotted on our way to Gwongeumseong Fortress
Wefie time!
View of the mountain
More frozen streams
There she is… Gwongeumseong Fortress
View from Gwongeumseong Fortress
View of Inner Seorak from Gwongeumseong Fortress
My friend at Gwongeumseong Fortress
Crisp mountain breeze and stunning view of the mountains at Gwongeumseong Fortress
Selfie at Gwongeumseong Fortress
Taking a rest before resuming climbing to the tip of the mountain
View of the mountain from Gwongeumseong Fortress
Posing for the camera at Gwongeumseong Fortress
The view here is simply amazing
View of Inner Seorak
Panoramic shot from Gwongeumseong Fortress
Panoramic shot from Gwongeumseong Fortress
Selfie at the top of Gwongeumseong Fortress
We still get signal here in the mountains
Walking up to Gwongeumseong Fortress
The view here is simply amazing
Posing for the camera at Gwongeumseong Fortress
View of the valley and the mountain ranges from Gwongeumseong Fortress
Me at Gwongeumseong Fortress
Stunting view here
View on Gwongeumseong Fortress
View of the mountains at the cable car station
View of the surroundings on top of Seoraksan
Wefie at Seoraksan
Beginning our descent towards Seorak-dong
We are nearer to Seorak-dong by the minute

Sinheungsa Temple

Arriving at the base cable car station, we headed to the other landmark within Seorak-dong – Sinheungsa Temple. Passing a Korean-styled archway that reads Mt. Seorak Sinheungsa Temple (it is written in Mandarin rather than Korean), a large bronze statue of Buddha is located to the right. This is where most people would stop over and pray to Buddha before heading further in towards the temple grounds. It takes 3 mins walk from the Buddha statue to the front door of the temple. Along the way, on the side of the walkway, there are pebbles stacked on top of each other, made by those who visited here. Local folklore believed that by stacking stones on top of each other without toppling, one would get their wishes granted. My friend successfully stacked 7 pebbles on top of each other.

Sinheungsa Temple seen from the cable car
Entrance to Sinheungsa Temple
Wefie at the entrance of Sinheungsa Temple
This wooden building that looks like part of the temple is actually a shop
The 10m Bronze Buddha Statue that everyone has to pass by to get to Sinheungsa Temple
My friend with the Bronze Buddha Statue
Such peacefulness and tranquility at Seoraksan National Park
Either of these routes lead to Sinheungsa Temple
On our way to Sinheungsa Temple
Park of the temple peeking from the walls of the temple
My friend stacking pebbles for luck
Success!
The pebbles that my friend successfully stacked at the side of the road towards Sinheungsa Temple

After pebble stacking, we headed to the entrance of the temple. The wooden entrance to the temple looks like it has withstood the test of time. Like the wrinkles on an elderly person, the faded entrance still looked grand nonetheless. The entrance is essentially a building by itself, with 4 large statues of deities (2 on each side) guarding the entrance, these statues are meant to ward off evil spirits. Passing through the main gate to the temple, a small raised pavilion attached to a building caught our eyes situated at the other end of the small courtyard. The pavilion looked elaborate and seem to have similar architectural style as those we have seen in Biwon at Changdeokgung the previous day. There is another section with a larger courtyard to the left after passing through the main gates to Sinheungsa Temple, however there seem to be some preservation works ongoing, this other area was closed off to the public. Skirting around first building after passing through the gates of the temple, there is a second elevated courtyard. Right across the courtyard, facing the direction of the main gate to the temple, is a building where a statue of the Buddha is housed in. This building is painted in green with decorated under roofings. I spotted a couple of lion-looking masks on the under roofing on each side of the door where one enters to offer their prayers to the Buddha. Next to this building is a smaller building, similarly decked out in green but less elaborately coloured. This building is contains the tablets of the ancestors of the local people. There are several yellow coloured buildings built on the side of the courtyard. Perhaps due to the time we visited Sinheungsa Temple, when the crowds are thin, the temple appears to be very tranquil and peaceful. One can sit by the courtyard, breathing in the crisp fresh mountain air and forget all troubles.

Entrance of Sinheungsa Temple grounds
Lucky we were here on a weekday where there is not much people around
Wefie inside Sinheungsa Temple grounds
My friend posing at the inner courtyard of Sinheungsa Temple
Sinheungsa Temple
Inner courtyard of Sinheungsa Temple
Around Sinheungsa Temple

We headed out the temple tracing back the way we came from. The whole Seorak-dong area screams of serenity. Passing through the bridge absorbing the wondrous view of the surrounding mountains, bathing in cold winter air is the reason why we visited Seroksan National Park. We reluctantly walked over to the main entrance of Seorak-dong. On the way we spotted the bear statue and took some pictures with the statue before heading back to the bus stop to wait for the bus that would take us back to Sokcho.

Walking back to the entrance of Seoraksan National Park
The scenery is simply breathtaking
My friend with Sinheungsa Temple in the background
It is so peaceful here at Sinheungsa Temple
My friend on one of the bridges in Seorak-dong
Stream in Seorak-dong
Posing with the famous bear statue of Seoraksan National Park
Wefie with the bear statue
Last view of Seoraksan National Park before we leave

Dinner Hunting at Sokcho

It did not take long for us to return to Sokcho. At this time our stomachs were gruelling, as we did not really had lunch. We wanted to have dinner at Sokcho before heading back to Seoul. As we were walking along the streets near to the Express Bus Terminal, this part of the town looks sleepy. There are hardly any human traffic around. There are several restaurants that we walked past, however we are not too sure if they are open for business. We ended up near the port area where there is a huge shopping mall and a fish market of some sort opposite. We headed towards the fish market and realised that we could get fresh seafood here, where the restaurants would cook the live seafood from the tank in front of the shop that customers chose. As we were not too sure if we could communicate with these restaurant owners, we gave this a miss and walked back towards the bus terminal.

 

Fresh seafood at the market opposite the shopping mall. There is a restaurant behind these tanks where the owners will cook the seafood that is picked from these tanks
Dusk at Sokcho
Dusk at Sokcho

As we were walking back, we chanced upon a Korean BBQ restaurant and decided to have dinner there. There were only one other table that was occupied by a local couple in this small family-owned restaurant. As we do not speak Korean (neither did the owner spoke any English), we were shown a menu with pictures on it. The owner was kind enough to help us BBQ the meat and topped up any side dishes that was empty. Compared to the BBQ dinner we had on our first night in Seoul, the food here pales quite a fair bit. However it is sufficient to last us till we get back to Seoul. A point to note to those who do not eat beef, be careful when you order any non-beef products on the menu. We ordered pork ribs, which turned out to be beef. The menu stated as pork, however reading the Japanese translation, it mentioned beef. Initially I thought it was the translation in this particular restaurant, however I also seen the same thing subsequently in some restaurants in Seoul. Best to stay clear of such options if in doubt. After dinner, we headed back to the bus terminal and got our tickets back to Seoul.

Korean BBQ for dinner
Korean BBQ for dinner
Side dishes that always comes with Korean BBQ
Vegetables to wrap the BBQ meat in
Side dishes
Side dishes

Korea Day 3 (3 Jan 16) – Changdeokgung and the Secret Garden

The original plan was to do both Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung in the same day with Bukchon Hanook Village slotted in between since the 2 palaces are nearby each other. However this was not possible due to the amount of time that is needed to roam around each palaces, especially when we plan to visit the Biwon or the Secret Garden in Changdeokgung. Coupled with the fact that we woke up later than we should (well we are on vacation after all, the beauty of free and easy trips is time is up to us to plan and adjust). Getting to Changdeokgung is a breeze thanks to the convenience the Korean Subway System brings. To get to Changdeokgung, one would need to alight at Anguk Station. Take Exit 3 and Changdeokgung is a mere 5 mins walk from the exit.

Changdeokgung

There are 5 palaces (namely GyeongbukgungChangdeokgung, Changyeonggung, Deoksugung and Gyeonghuigungspreading around in Seoul. Changdeokgung, built in 1405, served as a secondary palace to Gyeongbukgung and was the first to be rebuilt when all the palaces in Seoul was destroyed during the Japanese invasion of 1592. Since Changdeokgung was the primary palace where the King and his ministers decided state affairs for about 270 years.
Donhwamun is the main entrance to Changdeokgung

Biwon (The Secret Garden)

Biwon is the very reason why we visited Changdeokgung, covering about 2/3 of the entire palace grounds. There are limited number of visitors allowed on a daily basis into this Secret Garden. When we arrived at Changdeokgung, we realised that the last English tour for Biwon is about to start. Hence we decided to do the Biwon first and allocate the rest of the time to roam around Changdeokgung. We quickly got the tickets to Biwon Tour and Changdeokgung. To access Biwon, one must join a guided tour, which has 3 runs daily for the English tours during Nov to Feb (and 4 English tour groups from Mar to Oct). Biwon was known by several names, Huwon and Geunwon, but the name Biwon was officially known after King Kojong, the 26th King of the Joseon Dynasty and the first emperor of Korea, bestowed the name to the garden. Biwon was constructed to serve as a leisure place for the Royal family and palace women for centuries.

A rectangular pond – Buyongji Pond, greets visitors to Biwon and this is the first sight after walking for around 3 mins from the entrance to the garden. The pond was covered with a thin sheet of ice at the time of visit. There are 3 buildings surrounding the pond. Nearer to the entrance to the garden is the Buyongjeong Pavilion, the only building with a criss-cross roof in the entire Biwon area. There is a building nested on a small slope opposite the pavilion, known as the Juhamnu Pavilion, this is the place where the scholars hired by the King used to study. There is also a reading room for the King inside this 2-stoery building. It is a shame that this building was out of bounds to visitors these days. On the side of the pond, between Buyongjeong and Juhamnu Pavilions is a single storey red structure. This structure used to be the examination hall for scholars taking the royal exam. There is a certain peace and tranquil lurking around this area, and visiting this place is certainly therapeutic.

 

Buyongji Pond greets visitors as they step into Biwon
Juhamnu Pavilion rests on top of a slop with a examination hall at the side (the red building)
Panoramic shot of Buyongji Pond
Buyeongjeon Pavilion rested at the edge of the pond
The pond is frozen at the time of our visit
Juhamnu Pavilion
Entrance to Juhamnu Pavilion
Roof of the red building beside Juhamnu Pavilion
Examination hall
Examination hall
Me at the examination hall
Another view of the examination hall
Examination hall

After given about 5 mins for us to roam around this small area, the tour guide proceeded to lead the group to Ulduhap and Aeryeonji Pond. The Aeryeonji pond small square shaped pond lies beside a rather small building (Ulduhap) that looks rather common, which is different from the rest of the brightly painted palace buildings. It is here that the crown prince once studied. The tour made a brief stop here for us to take some pictures and we moved on to the next area.

Aeryeonji Pond
Entrance to Ulduhap
On top of this gate reads “Longevity door”
Me at Ulduhup

The third stop on this guided tour through the Secret Garden is the Jongdeokjeong Pavilion area. This area comprises of 3 pavilions and a small house overlooking an irregular-shaped 2-segment pond. A pavilion (Gwallamjeon Pavilion) that is situated at the edge of the pond is built resembling a fan, while the other on higher ground is a slightly bigger octagon-shaped pavilion (Jongdeokjeong Pavilion), overlooks the 2 section of the pond. There is a small building nested on top of a small slope that overlooks the lower pond. Between this building and the octagon shaped Jongdeokjong Pavilion is a small red building (which is nowhere near the ponds). This would be one of the most scenic spot in the garden, especially when it was covered with snow in the winter and red foliage in the autumn. Perhaps due to the controlled number of people, walking through this garden feels very peaceful and zen.

 

Jongdeokjeong pavilion area
The ponds at Jongdeokjeong pavilion area is irregular shaped, unlike the ones we seen before this
Pond at Jongdeokjeong pavilion area
Another view of Jongdeokjeong pavilion area
2 of the few pavilions at Jongdeokjeong area
This octagon shaped pavilion is the biggest of all the pavilions at Jongdeokjeong pavilion area
Fan shaped pavilion sitting at the edge of the pond
Fan shaped pavilion
Me at the fan shaped pavilion
This lone building is built on a higher ground at Jongdeokjeong pavilion area
Another building that offers no view of the ponds
Another pavilion located at the upper stream of the pond at Jongdeokjeong pavilion area

The next stop – Ongnyucheon Stream requires a fair bit of walk up slope, it seem that the Ongnyucheon Stream is situation on the highest ground in this garden. Walking through the garden in winter (where the snow has yet to fall) is rather unique. The garden at this time of the year is covered with mostly brown, draped with trees which leaves has fallen and occasional greenery for winter plants. The Ongnyucheon Stream is a manmade waterfall, spring water is used for this waterfall. The design of this waterfall was to blend in with the surrounding landscape. It is a pity that during our visit, the waterfall was not function, maybe due to the water being frozen at this time of the year. There are several buildings built in this area, with the waterfall function, I thought this would be a very nice place to relax in the days of the Joseon Dynasty.

Stroll through the woods before we reach Ongnyucheon Stream
There is another pavilion along the way to Ongnyucheon stream
There are a few pavilions at Ongnyucheon stream area. This is one of them
Ongnyucheon stream, due to the climate no water is flowing through the stream
Walking through the woods at Biwon
My friend at Ongnyucheon stream area
This is a manmade waterfall feature at Ongnyucheon stream area, however due to the climate no water was spotted flowing through
Me at one of the pavilions at Ongnyucheon stream area
Close up view of the ceiling of the pavilion
Ongnyucheon stream
Some trees at Ongnyucheon stream area
Me at Ongnyucheon stream  area
My friend at the Ongnyucheon stream area with 2 of the few pavilions in the area
Another pavilion at Ongnyucheon stream area
A stand alone building at Ongnyucheon stream area
My friend with the building at Ongnyucheon stream  area

The final stop during this guided tour is the Yeongyeongdang Hall. The buildings that forms Yeongyeongdang Hall was not brightly painted, but covered in earthy tones. These buildings does not resemble one that the King will be used. The halls looks like a residence of some sort complete with room and what appears to be a kitchen. The guide explained that this place was used to hold ceremonies where there are a change of title for the King or the Queen. We were told that this place was also used by one of the Korean King as a retreat from politics whilst the crown prince ran the country temporarily. Due to the rain, the grounds of the hall feels muddy. We were given some time to roam around the hall area before the guide led us back to the entrance, through a part of the garden that has mostly plants and no buildings, skirting the outer parameter of Changdeokgung before hitting Donhwamun gate.

Exterior of Yeongyeongdang hall
Me at Yeongyeongdang hall, there seem to be buildings that one can stay in here
My friend at Yeongyeongdang hall compound
Proper living areas with kitchen and stables can be found in Yeongyeongdang hall
My friend at one of the living quarters in Yeongyeongdang hall
Yeongyeongdang hall
View outside Yeongyeongdang hall

Changdeokgung Palace Grounds

We re-entered Changdeokgung through Donhwamun. The 5-panel 2-storey bright red main gate of the palace looks like a pavilion on a larger scale. It does screams of the King’s authority over the Korean Empire. The entire gate is made of wood and is very well preserved despite being built in 1412. Unlike most palaces where the main gate is preceded by another gate leading to the throne hall, the layout of this palace has the throne hall to the right of the main gate. Immediately in front of the main gate are some buildings and a shrine enclosed in a short wall.

Palace grounds after Donhwamun 

Crossing a small stone bridge, passing through another door on the left is the door to the throne hall. Passing through 3rd door (since Donhwamun) opens up to a massive square before the throne hall. There are tablets laid on the floor of this square marking the position various ranked officers would stand when court session takes place. At the heart of this area is the throne hall – Injeongjeon. From the outside, Injeonjeon throne hall looks like a 2 storey building decked out in the iconic green and red colour schemes that is commonly found in Korean structures. Peeking into Injeonjeon (visitors are only allowed at the door of Injeonjeon), one can see the wooden interior actually is a single storey building with high ceilings. The ceiling of the throne hall is decked out with elaborate and well carved intersections of wooden pieces painted with mainly green and red colour murals. The throne the King sits during court proceedings is placed in the centre of the hall, with paintings of mountains and waterfalls forms the backdrop of the yellow throne. The throne hall itself can accommodate a substantial amount of people. I was rather impressed with the simple yet authoritative the throne hall presents itself.

This door leads to the throne hall 
Me at the door before the throne hall
Passing through this door will lead to the throne hall
Me at the door before the throne hall
Injeonjeon – the throne hall. Officials used to stand according to their rank int the square outside the throne hall
Me and my friend at the square outside the throne hall
Underroofing of Injeonjeon
My friend with Injeonjeon at the background
Inside Injeonjeon is the King’s throne in the centre
Some buildings at the side of Injeonjeon
Elaborate ceiling decor inside Injeonjeon
My friend at the square outside Injeonjeon
Panoramic shot inside Injeonjeon

Heading right from Injeonjeon, passing through a corridor and a side door, we end up in front of Huijeongdang Hall. Compared to the throne hall, Huijeongdang Hall is a smaller building, but yet still decked out in the green and red colour scheme. This is hall is where the King Chamber is located, which doubles up as his workplace. This hall is linked to the rear building with a series of sheltered corridors.

This side door at the throne hall leads to Huijeongdang hall
Huijeongdang hall
Corridor that leads further into Huijeongdang hall
Sleeping quarters for the King in Huijeongdang hall
View of Injeonjeon from Huijeongdang hall
Around Huijeongdang hall
A series of such covered corridors linked Huijeongdang hall to Daejojeon

Behind Huijeongdang, through a maze of covered corridors is where Daejojeon is located. Daejojeon served as the residence of the Queen. Compared to the King’s Chambers, Daejojeon has a much simplier decor. There is a living room of some sort at the centre of Daejojeon, furnished with pearl and marble laid wooden furnitures. Without a guide explaining the details of these palace grounds, roaming around on our own does not provide much significance to the areas that we have visited. After awhile all the buildings looked the same to us.

This corridor leads to Daejojeon
Around Daejojeon
This is the Queen’s residence at Daejojeon
Some buildings at Daejojeon
Korean ar chitecture at Daejojeon
My friend at Daejojeon
These corridors are one of the few that links Daejojeon to Huijeongdang Hall
Close up view of the corridors
Peeking inside part of Daejojeon
A living room that is attached to the Queen’s quarters in Daejojeon
My friend at Daejojeon

Heading out of Daejojeon through Huijeongdang, to the right of these buildings is where Seongjeonggak Hall is located. Seongjeonggak Hall is initially used as the residence of the Crown Prince, which has later became a library before taking its last task of being the royal hospital. This hall has a rather unique structure that one end of the building is laid on the flat ground, and another end on a raised platform, making it a split level building structure.

Part of Seongjeonggak hall
Me at  Seongjeonggak hall
 Seongjeonggak hall
My friend at  Seongjeonggak hall
Building in  Seongjeonggak hall
One of the living quarters in  Seongjeonggak hall
My friend at  Seongjeonggak hall
Me in front of a building at  Seongjeonggak hall

As it is approaching closing time, we hurried to a separate, dull looking stand alone building complex, locating to the right of the road to the Secret Garden. The Nakseonjae complex was built as the King’s quarters, despite being the King’s quarter, the King then decreed that the building to be kept simple in its construction. This complex was later used as the quarters for the wife of the last Crown Prince. As we walked into this area, it looked pretty much the same as the other buildings we have seen within Changdeokgung, but simpler and smaller. We hurried out of the palace grounds as it was approaching its closing time.

We did not take too many pictures in Nakseonjae complex partly due to the closing time is near and partly due to its simpleness does not seem fit for a king to living in.
Inside Nakseonjae complex

Dinner at Tosokchon Samgyetang

There are a few dishes that the Koreans are famous for other then the Kimchis and BBQs. Korean Ginseng Soup (Samgyetang) is one of the must-haves when coming to Korea. I Googled online after exiting Changdeokgung that Tosokchon Samgyetang serves the best Korean Ginseng Soup and the restaurant was always packed with queues of patrons during meal time. We were lucky that at the time we were at the restaurant, it is way past meal time and we did not have to queue for our dinner. The exterior of the restaurant looked traditional and small, but once inside, there seem to be plenty of dinning areas for patrons. Customers would have to sit on the floor for a taste of their Samgyetang. We did not have to wait for long for our Samgyetang to arrive. The Samgyetang does not have too strong a herbal taste to it and the chicken is tender and not too dry. Inside the chicken, one can see the ginseng that is being used for the cooking and is stuffed with herbs and gluttonous rice. Tosokchon Samgyetang can be reached via Gyeongbukgung station exit 2 about 200m from the subway exit. After the dinner we headed back to our hotel to rest for the night as we have to wake up early the next day for our trip to Seoraksan National Park.

Traditional shop front 
There are plenty of siting areas inside the restaurant
Menu
Samgyetang that we ordered
Side dishes
Customers have to sit on the floor to enjoy their samgyetang
Whole ginseng is used for the soup
Shops opposite the restaurant
Shops opposite the restaurant

 

Korea Day 2 (2 Jan 16) – Suwon Fortress: Legacy of the Joseon Dynasty

Getting to Suwon Fortress

Suwon is built by King Jeongjo, the 22nd ruler of the Joseon Dynasty, in a bid to make this place the 2nd capital city of Korea. The fortress is complete in 1796. The 5.74km Suwon Fortress was listed by UNESCO in the World Cultural Heritage List in 1996, making it a valued national treasure of Korea. Getting to Suwon, despite being located some 48km south of Seoul, is a breeze with the reliable subway system taking about 1 hour from Seoul Station and transfer to bus numbers 11, 13, 36 or 39 from the bus stop in front of Novotel Hotel. The fortress is 5 stops from Suwon subway station. Taking a bus in Suwon is a challenge, especially for non-Korean speaking visitors. There are announcements made on the bus PA system, however there is nothing close to “Suwon Fortress” or “Hwaseong Palace” being announced. One would have to religiously count the number of the bus stops the bus whizzes by. I made the mistake of listening out for “Suwon Fortress” or anything with “Suwon” in it and did not pay attention in counting the bus stops. Without paying notice to the number of bus stops, the scenery outside the bus changed from city to out skirts of the city. My friend and I finally got to the fortress with help from a local shop keeper, whom pointed out where to take a bus, and counting the number of bus stops that we had zipped by. The bus will stop at Paldamun, the Southern gate of Hwaseong Fortress. Paldamun is detached from the rest of the gates, located in the middle of the busy city. The gate is encircled by a present-shaped wall. The purpose of this design is to prevent the enemy from attacking the fortress.

Taking the subway from Seoul to Suwon
Underground shopping in Suwon Station
The bus stop where we ride to Suwon is just outside Novotel Hotel
Suwon in the day
We are in Suwon City
We did not count the bus stop and ended up here
Well taking a wefie at this place since we are already here
No idea what this says, my guess is this is the name of the bridge
Reminds me of Cheongyecheon Stream in Seoul
Information in the bus stop. Do pay attention to these
Traveling in a local bus
Paldamun
Me at Paldamun
From Paldamun, we headed west towards a tourist information booth, which also doubles up as a ticketing booth for the entrance of the most of the gates (except for Hwaseong Haenggung). We found out that Hwaseong Haenggung would be closed shortly (thanks to missing the stop and we spent time waiting for the bus to come) and made the palace our first stop. From the information booth, we headed north passing through what seems like a traditional Korean street, towards Hwaseong Haenggung
From Paldamun, we took this street to reach the tourist information booth
Tourist information booth and part of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress on the left
Some Korean Street from the Tourist information booth

Suwon Hwaseong Haenggung

Hwaseong Haenggung was a temporary palace used by the Royal Family as a retreat during the war in the Joseon Dynasty. Other then serving the purpose of a temporary shelter during the war, King Jeongjo stayed in this palace during trips when he paid respect to his father’s tomb. As we arrived at the palace, we noticed that there was no one at the entrance to collect any tickets and the ticketing booth was closed as well. To get to the audience hall one has to pass through 3 doors, with Sinpungnu as the main door to the palace, followed by Jawikmun and Jangyangmun. At our visit Sinpungnu is  still open, we ventured into the palace grounds for a quick visit and to snap some pictures before they are closed. Compared to the other palaces in Seoul, Hwaseong Haenggung is a rather small palace. Despite its size, the palace still has essentials of a palace such as a front yard, a mid yard and a back yard. Visitors would have to pass through other 2 doors before they reach Bongsudang, a building at the rear yard of the palace where royal audiences are granted to visitors to the King.  Bongsudang is also used as a banquet hall for the celebration of the King’s Mother’s 60th Birthday. Facing Bongsudang, to the right of the building is the King’s rest area known as Naknamheon. The palace was about to close, we did not get to visit the buildings here. We did managed to quickly visit the other parts of the palace before they are closed. To the left of Bongsudang, in a separate courtyard connected to the main courtyard by a low wall and low door, is the Yuyeotak. This is the area where the King used to conduct interviews with his subjects during his stay in Hwaseong Haenggung. South of Yuyeotak, near to the entrance to the palace complex is where the Oejeongniso is located. Oejeongniso is the office for the temporary officials whom were responsible to organise various events. Further south is where Bijangcheong is located, serving as the quarters to the staff member to the King. Still further south of the Bijangcheong, nearer to Sinpungnu, one will be able to located the Seoricheong, an office for the official who is responsible for issuing, receiving and recording documents, very much akin to the Post Office for the King in modern time. As the palace is near its closing time, my friend and I hurried out of the palace before their closing time, missing out on the other parts of the palace.
Map of Hwaseong Haenggung
Main gate of Hwaseong Haenggung – Sinpungnu
Me at Sinpungnu
These cardboard cut outs are characters from a famous Korean drama – Jewel in the Palace(大長今) placed in front of the entrance to Oejeongniso in the first courtyard after Sinpungnu
This courtyard greets visitors upon entering the palace from Sinpungnu
Me in the first courtyard with Jawikmun in the background 
Second door in the palace – Jwaikmun, the third door – Jungyangmun can be seen in the background
These buildings in Hwaseong Haenggung are painted in red with very simple roofings. There are no carvings or statues on these roofs
Entrance to Yuyeotaek
The building at the back of the palace – Bongsudang
Me at Bangsudang
Bongsudang
This corridor leads to the rest area for the King – Naknamheon
The courtyard in front of Bongsudang
Back view of Jwaikmun. There seem to be some rooms here
Entrance to Seoricheong
My friend at the entrance to Seoricheong
Very simple roofings
In the second courtyard
Second courtyard and the entrance to Yuyeoktaek
Seoricheong
This is where they burnt the wood to head up the floorings at night 
Outside Hwaseong Haenggung at night
Night lightings at Sinpungnu

A Detour Up and Down the Hill

Exiting the palace grounds, we plan to visit Seojangdae, the Western Command Post situated on a hill at the back of Hwaseong Haenggung and is the highest command post along the wall Suwon Fortress Wall. As we were walking up to the mid-point of the hill, we spotted a small red shrine with its doors shut. King Jungjo specially decreed the Sungshinga Shrine to be built in honour of the god for his protection of the people in Suwon. As the shrine is closed, we merely snapped some pictures of the external of the shine. When we were about to continue our ascent to Seojangdae, we spotted a huge Buddha statue and decided to detour to visit the statue. This statue is situated within the grounds of Daeseungwon Temple. As the statue is situated outdoors and there are practically no barriers surrounding the Buddha Statue, we entered the temple grounds and paid our respect to the statue. It felt tranquil in a cold winter evening visiting Daeseungwon Temple, mainly there are hardly any crowd other than another local family visiting the temple to pay their respects to the Buddha.  There seem to be a small shrine at the base of the Buddha. As the sky is turning dark, we decided to give Seojangdae a miss and head towards Suwon Hwaseong Fortress instead.

 

These walls forms the exterior of Suwon Hwaseong Haenggung 
On our way up the hill towards Seojangdae
Nice stroll amongst the trees up hill
Sungshinga Shrine dedicated to the god for the protection of people of Suwon
Sungshinga Shrine was closed at the time we arrived
Me at the entrance of Sungshinga Shrine
At the entrance to Daeseungwon Temple
The Buddha statue in Daeseungwon Temple grounds
Me at the Buddha statue
Daeseungwon  Temple grounds

As we were walking, we decided to grab dinner at a nearby restaurant. After walking for about 20 mins, we came across a restaurant which seemed to be opened. We entered the restaurant to find that we were the only foreigners (again). When we asked for the menu, the owners of the restaurant seem to know that we are not locals and immediately passed us a menu with pictures and English writings on it. We ordered a King Pork Cutlet and Bibimbap. The food was delicious and the servings are definitely huge! For a size of the that serving, the bill did not burn a hole in our pockets.

 

We bumped into the restaurant on our way to Hwaseomun where we had dinner
Typical Korean Restaurant
I had Bibimbap
My friend had the Pork King Cutlet. The portion is definitely huge!
Soup that comes with my Bibimbap
Side dishes are free flow

Along the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress Wall

After dinner we continued walking towards Hwaseomun, the Western Gate of the Suwon Fortress. The magnificent gate is just the beginning of a series of gates and guard posts awaiting for us to explore. We intended to move clockwise ending up in Hwahongmun before heading back to Seoul to rest for the night. As the sun has already set, when we arrived at Hwaseomun, the night lights has already been lit up, displaying the grandeur of the Western Gate and the walls that surrounds the city. From inside the city, Hwaseomun seem like an ordinary gate. This impression soon change once I scaled to the top of the wall (it opens 24/7), where a crescent extension opened at one end can be seen from the top, facing the outside of the wall. The purpose of this crescent is to serve as a protective barrier to prevent intruders from entering the city gate. From the top of the gate, very distinct Korean architecture can be seen engraved onto the ceiling and the roof of the gate. Instead of heading clockwise, my friend suggested for us to visit the immediate anit-clockwise guard post, which is less than 100m from Hwaseomun.

Hwaseomun at night. From this view the gate looks rather small
Painting on the ceiling of Hwaseomun
My friend at Hwaseomun, the wall at the background is the crescent extension
My friend at the top of Hwaseomun
Top of Hwaseomun
Side view of Hwaseomun
My friend at the side of Hwaseomun
Looking out of the Fortress wall
Side view of Hwaseomun
Front view of Hwaseomu. The crescent wall can be seen from this view
Front view of Hwaseomun with its crescent wall

The Seobukgangnu Pavilion or the Northwestern is positioned on an elevated plain. It served as a watch tower as well as a resting point for troops in the olden days. The 2 storey open pavilion is painted in the traditional Korean green colour that is common in most older Korean buildings. The view from the second level of the pavilion gives the visitor a glimpse of a section of the fortress walls, especially at night where one can see the Fortress walls being illuminated for miles. The view is simply magnificent, coupled with the night time where the number of visitors dwindles to a mere handful, there is a sense of tranquil and zen here at Seobukgangnu. The pavilion remains open at night, however one is expected to remove ones’ footwear before getting on the stairs to the 2nd level of the pavilion.

Seobukgangnu at night
Me at the 2-storey Seobukgangnu pavilion
Traditional Korean Roof decked out in bright green colour in the under roof and red
My friend on the second level of Seobukgangnu
View of the Fortress wall from Seobukgangnu
Me at Seobukgangnu second storey
Despite being a modest structure, Seobukgangnu was still painted with murals
View of the wall from Seobukgangnu
Me on the second level of Seobukgangnu

We continued our walk along the walls of the fortress, passing by Bukseoporu, the Northwestern Cannon Fort (which was closed at the time of our visit) and Bukseojeokdae, the Northwester Guard Platform towards our next stop – Janganmun. There is a cannon at BukseojeokdaeJanganmun is the Northern Gate and also the main entrance to the city, as the King would arrive from this entrance during his visit. The 3-storey Janganmun is largest of the 4 main gates to Suwon Hwaseong Fortress. This structure departs from the rest of the gates where in place of a crescent extension, a semi-circular extension complete with a pavilion serving as a watch tower was constructed before the main entrance of  Janganmun. From the protruding extension, one can feel the grandeur of Janganmun gate. As gate was closed during our visit, we could not enter the upper levels of Janganmun. Moving clockwise pass Janganmun is another Cannon Platform fortifying the Main entrance to Suwon. One can spot another cannon at Bukdongchi, the Northeastern Turret).

Bukseoporu cannon fort
Bukseoporu closed up
Bukseoporu was closed a the time of our visit, we can only take pictures outside the cannon fort
Janganmun from afar
Cannon platform next to Janganmun
Janganmun with its semicircular extension wall. Unlike the crescent wall design, there are no openings on this structure
Janganmun is the biggest gate and the solemnly stood  in the middle of the night
Me with Janganmun in the background
Janganmun
Top levels of Janganmun
My friend on the pavilion at the semicircular extension of Janganmun
Janganmun from the semicircular extension of the wall
Janganmun at the background
Janganmun at night
Night view along the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress wall
Janganmun
Cannon Platform on the other side of Janganmun

We continued our walk clockwise towards our next stop – Hwahongmun, which was supposed to be our final stop before heading back to Seoul. Instead after visiting Hwahongmun, we decided to continue walking towards the Archery centre as the walk was pleasant and more importantly the view  of the night fortress wall is simply breathtaking. Hwahongmun is the one of the 2 flood gates to the city, being the Northern one. This seven-arched structure is built across Suwon River allowing control of water into Suwon Fortress. As with SeobukgangnuHwahongmun has a 2 storey pavilion built on top of the floodgates. It is opened 24/7 however we did not go up to the pavilion as we would rather skip the hassle of taking off our shoes.

The fortress walls reminds me of the Great wall of China
Night view of the fortress walls
Hwahongmun is used to control the amount of water that flows through Suwon Fortress. At the time of our visit, there isn’t much water flowing through
Another view of Hwahongmun at night

Continuing eastwards, a short distance from Hwahongmun is the Dongbukgangnu – the Northeastern pavilion. This 2 storey pavilion, similar design and structure as well as decor to that of Seobukgangnu, sits above a pond surrounded by a small garden. This structure was originally built as a command post. The view of the night fortress wall and the garden is fantastic. I personally like the view of the wall more than the garden. One can never get tired of seeing the lighted night scenery of the Suwon Fortress wall.

This is one of the several secret gates spread throughout the fortress walls
Dongbukgangnu pavilion is a typical Korean structure with the Taichi sign on its doors
View of Dongbukgangnu with the wall
Me with Dongbukgangnu in the background

We strolled along the fortress wall towards Dongjangdae, the scenery opens up to an air of familiarity. It turns out that I have been here a few years ago whilst on a package tour. Little that I realise I been to only one small section of the the entire Suwon Fortress. The thing about package tours is that they only brings you to one small section and that picks a tick in the list of itinerary that says Suwon Fortress. This part whilst iconic, did not do justice to the grandeur the entire Suwon Fortress (that is one of the reasons why I don’t like package tours). Dongjandae is a command post on the east side of the fortress as well as a training camp. Dongjangdae comprises of a huge sheltered platform and an open field enclosed by a short wall. As it was night fall, the doors accessing Dongjangdae were closed. The Archery Centre is located outside Dongjangdae. We skirted around the parameters of Dongjangdae to continue walking along the fortress wall to get to our final destination – Changnyongmun. 

Night view of the fortress walls
Dongjangdae command post
Peeking at Dongjangdae
Night view of Suwon Hwaseong Fortress Walls
Night stroll along the fortress wall is very tranquil
Dongjangdae from Changnyongmun

Changnyongmun is just right across the road from Dongjangdae, however we saw a couple of buildings along the wall and decided to continue our journey along the wall rather than taking the short cut (after all we had been walking the whole night, a few more steps will not matter). The 2 buildings that we passed by along the along are Dongbuk Gongsimdon Observation tower and Dongbuknodae Crossbow platform. Dongbuk Gongsimdon Observation Tower is at the Northeastern edge of Suwon Fortress. The 3 storey oval observation tower was closed for preservation works when we visit. The next structure we came across is Dongbuknodae Crossbow platform, which is an open air raised structure fortified area with small holes used by archers with crossbows to attack approaching enemies from all directions.

Changnyongmun – the Eastern Gate one of the 4 main gates of Suwon Fortress. It looked the same as Hwaseomun, the gate that we began our 2.8km walk along the fortress wall, with another platform on top of the gate (we did not scale up to the top of the gate). As the gate was not closed at the time of our visit, we ventured outside the gate and see how it looked like from outside the fortress. The walls of the fortress gave me an impression of guardedness and defensiveness. I guess this is the impression the designers of the fortress wanted to portray when constructing the fortress walls. We did not stay outside the gates for too long and headed back into the gate, crossing the road and took a bus back to Paldamun, where we started our entire Suwon Hwaseong Fortress trip.

Side of of Changnyongmun
Changnyongmun at night
Changnyongmun from Dongjangdae
Outside the Fortress
Me at Changnyongmun
My friend at Changnyongmun

Suwon at Night

When we first arrived at Paldamun, we saw it was buzzing with life with all the shops and thought that it would be the same and perhaps there is some sort of night market in the vicinity. We wanted to head back to Paldamun area and do some night shopping before heading back to Seoul. When we alighted the bus at Paldamun, it seem as if the whole area went to sleep. The liveliness in the day we saw was no where to be found. Disappointed we strolled a bit and took a bus back to Suwon Station.

Best thing about eating ice-cream in winter is it won’t melt and make a mess

At Suwon station, the liveliness we wanted to see at Paldamun area was here at what seems like a shopping street full of youngsters right across Suwon Subway Station. The shops remained open (but mostly the facial skin care product shops) and restaurants and pubs occupy most of the street. It seem like this is an area to be at night in Suwon. We strolled down the street and back up before heading back to Seoul to rest for the night.

Walking Street Opposite Suwon Subway Station 
There are no lack of choices for food and drinks
A lot of youngsters hanging out here

 

Korea Day 1 (1 Jan 16) – Shopping in Myeongdong and Garosu-gil

Arrival In Seoul

Finally arrived in Seoul Incheon Airport after a red eye flight from Singapore via Bangkok. My friend and I had been talking about visiting Seoul since 2 years ago, we were excited about the trip and hope to see snowing in Seoul during this trip, since we visited in the middle of winter. After collecting our luggage, we headed to the SK Telecom counter in the airport to collect our pre-booked wifi router. More on a short review of the router later. After collecting our wifi router, we headed towards the subway station for our trip towards downtown Seoul. There are 2 sides to the station, one for the normal service, and another for the express train towards Seoul. We went to express train (known as AREX) to get our tickets to downtown Seoul. Taking the AREX saves us around 10 mins, however the most important difference is the allocation of seat for AREX compared to the all-stop train service. For travelers who would want to get some more rest, go for the AREX where seats will be assigned.
Arrival at Seoul Incheon Airport
Seoul Airport Subway Station Building
Got our AREX tickets. Do Keep the receipt as it shows your seats, the staff will check the paper receipt when boarding the train and when inside the train while transiting to Seoul
Inside the AREX Train
Map of the train showing the difference between AREX and the all-stop train services
Scenery of Korea along the way to Seoul onboard the AREX

Check in hotel

The ride to Seoul station whiz past fairly quickly. We headed for the exit that leads us to our hotel. It is around 9.30am and the hotel would not be able to check us in for another hour. Rather than sitting around and wait for time to pass by, my friend and I opted to check out the nearby Lotte Mart. The supermarket opens at 10am. We waited for another 10 mins, queuing up to enter the supermarket with the rest of the customers, locals and tourists alike. When the door opened, customers entered the supermarket orderly. We were given Korean traditional new year cake as we entered the supermarket. The supermarket is no different from any hypermarkets with loads of groceries organised into the various alleys. My friend and I walked around a little and decided to head back to the hotel to check in and wash up, getting ready to explore Seoul.

Arrival at Seoul Station
Taking a wefie before heading to the hotel
Seoul Station
It is a short walk to the hotel from Seoul Station. There are some homeless people sleeping inside the station, however they cleared out during the day and was not distributing anyone using the subway system.
Arrival at the hotel
Hotel is dressed up for x’mas
Took this picture from the hotel lobby while waiting to be served

Change of Plan

Our plan today was to head to Namsan and N Seoul Tower in the morning, followed by heading out to Suwon in the afternoon and spending our night in Gangnam area. Sound like a plan, however the plan did not go as we wanted. As with most travels, one should plan and get ready to adjust the plan as one go along. We left the hotel at around noon and headed to Namsan via the subway. Getting to Namsan by the subway, requires us to stop at the subway at Myeongdong area. We exited the subway station, spent some time navigating towards the cable car station that will bring us up to Namsan. When we arrived at the cable station, we saw a queue snaking from the station. We joined the queue, which was moving very slowly. After around 10 mins, we reach a sign that says “70 mins wait from this point”.  At this point I turned to my friend and say ” I feel stupid waiting 70 mins for a cable car ride, why not we come back some other day”. My friend agreed. Later did we realise it is New Year’s Day. Most of the locals took this opportunity to get out and visit some of Seoul‘s major attractions as well. Hence it hit us that it is a bad day to visit any attractions. My friend turned to me and asked “so what now?”. I proposed that we head to the nearby Myeongdong shopping area as a change of plan, and we did.

On our way towards Namsan Cable Car Station
Some eateries along the way
Eateries along the way to Namsan Cable Car Station
More eateries along the way
View of N Seoul Tower from the cable car station
Namson Cable Car Station

Myeongdong

Myeongdong is one of the major shopping districts in Seoul. There shops for practically everyone, but most of the shops seem to be catering to female visitors. One should cater some time to get one’s bearings when visiting Myeongdong for the first time. I was overwhelmed when I first arrive at Myeongdong, due to the number of shops in the area as well as the massive number of people visiting. As we walked around Myeongdong, we noticed there are tons of shops selling Korean brand of facial care products such as FaceShop, Innisfree, Nature Republic to name a few. These Korean brand facial products are cheaper here in Korea than anywhere else in the world, attracting tourists. Most of the shops here does VAT refund for foreigners. Essentially they will print out a receipt for foreigners, which is required to be produced at the airport when departing. There are some other international brand facial care shops in Myeongdong as well. Frat not for those who has missed their favourite skin care shops, there is always another one down the street in Myeongdong or round the corner. Other than facial care product shops, there are numerous boutiques selling cloths ranging from the familiar Uniqlo to Adidas to H&M and Forever 21. As it is public holiday, it seem most of Seoul has congregated here in Myeongdong. Other than having to squeeze past hordes of shoppers to Myeongdong, the main street is also filled with make-shift push cart stores selling clothing, socks, beanies to name a few. There are also street food on sale along the streets from some of these push carts. As we walked around, we seem to have lost track of time as we were overwhelmed with the shopping scene in Myeongdong. By the time we thought we were done with the shoppings, it is already near evening time. We realise we did not even have the time to head over to Suwon (which is around 1 hour by subway), and decided to head towards Garosu-gil at Gangnam area.

 

Myeongdong from opposite the street
Other than the shopping area, there is an underground shopping belt at the subway station
Exiting to Myeongdong from the subway station
Myeongdong shopping district
Street food at Myeongdong
More street food at Myeongdong
Shopping paradise
The amount of visitors in Myeongdong is massive!
Some of the shops in Myeongdong
Shopping in Myeongdong
Shopping in Myeongdong
Shopping in Myeongdong

Garosu-gil, Gangnam

It did not take us long to reach Garosu-gil in Gangnam via the subway. Garosu-gil laterally means tree-lined street in Korean. Garosu-gil is around 5 mins walk from Sinsa Station. True to its name, the street is lined with trees and is another shopping district in Seoul. However, the shops here in Garosu-gil is different from that in Myeongdong. Compared to Myeongdong, Garosu-gil feels more upmarket with pictures artist studios, galleries, designer clothing shops and cafes along the ginkgo tree-lined street. There are some shops selling local designer brands here in Garosu-gil. Garosu-gil is not as large as Myeongdong, stretching about 1km. There are also fewer shoppers at Garosu-gil compared to Myeongdong. For those whom prefer a shopping district with fewer people, do visit Garuso-gil. There are also shops selling the popular Korean facial care products shops here. We spent around an hour walking along Garosu-gil, and decided to head for dinner.

Start of Garosu-gil
Me at Garosu-gil
Garosu-gil shopping scene. Compared to Myeongdong, there are fewer shoppers here.
Garosu-gil is a nice place to stroll
Shopping in Garosu-gil
Along Garosu-gil
Garosu-gil
Me at Garosu-gil
Perhaps the only shop with a long line in Garosu-gil. These people are queue to take picture with a gigantic line bear plush toy
Garosu-gil
Shopping in Garosu-gil
Garosu-gil

Mapo Sutbul Galbi

Prior to our trip to Seoul, I did some research on youtube. One of the restaurants that I came across is Mapo Sutbul Galbi. This restaurant mainly serves Korean BBQ and is famous for their pork short ribs. As the restaurant is in Gangnam area, we decide to head over for dinner. As I did not get the address, mainly relying on Google map, it took us around 45 mins to locate the restaurant from Garosu-gil. By the time we reached Mapo Sutbul Galbi, we were famished. As we walked into the restaurant, we realised we were the only foreigner in the restaurant. Although the staffs spoken very little English, upon realising we were not local, she immediately brought a menu with pictures and English wordings. We ordered pork ribs and pork belly. As with most Korean restaurants, other than the meat, side dishes were also brought to the table. The thoughtful staff stayed with us throughout, helping us grill our meat, occasionally peeling away to top up our side dishes such as Kimchi as soon as they are emptied. The staff even changed our grill 3 times during our stay in the restaurant. The pork are well marinated and the side dishes are very tasty.

After walking for 45 mins we finally found the restaurant
Side dishes
Traditional charcoal grill and more side dishes
This red looking side dish is crab. It is very tasty
Side dishes
Pork belly on the grill
Pork short ribs
Kimchi Soup
Vegetables and mint leaves to warp up the meat

Dongdaemun

After dinner, we headed to Dongdaemun Shopping district. Emerging from the underground subway station, the Dongdaemun or the East gate that once surround Seoul stood timelessly by the exit of the subway station. The ancient monument was closed off at the time of our visit, not too sure if it is ever open to visitors to scale. Not too far from the East Gate is the Dongdaemun Shopping district. Dongdaemun opens till late at night, providing shoppers after-hour shopping. There are a few shopping malls that makes up Dongdaemun shopping district. We headed for the Doota! shopping mall, which is again, crowded with people picking up clothings and facials stuffs late at night. The 7-storey shopping mall (with 2 additional basement storeys) is a shopping haven. Doota! mainly sells clothing offering both local designer clothing and some international brands as well. There is a food court on the top level of the mall and some cafes scattered on different levels of the mall. We did not spend too much time here and wanted to hope to the next shopping mall beside Doota!, however our fatigue has set in and returned to the hotel to rest for the night, hoping to recuperate some energy to explore Seoul the next day.

Dongdamun or the East Gate
View of the East gate from the exit of the subway station
Me at the East Gate
East Gate
East Gate
Side of the East Gate
We walked past Cheonggyecheon Stream on our way to the shopping district
Dongdaemun shopping district
Dongdaemun shopping district
Dongdaemun shopping district
Dongdaemun shopping district

 

Korea Day 7 (09 May 09) – Time Fillers

This is our last day in Korea, after spending about a week here. In the morning after breakfast we were driven to the airport for our flight back to Seoul. The flight was uneventful. Upon reaching Seoul some 2 hrs later, our guide gave us some options on how we wanna spend the rest of our time here before we head to the airport. Some of the folks chose Chinatown. So we were driven to the Chinatown. Well nothing much here, as this is the place where the Chinese set up business and sell stuff, the usual stuff one would see in any Chinatown around the world. However we did get a shock here. One of the members in the tour group approached this shop browsing through their merchandise, then came a woman’s voice very loudly and rudely commented in Chinese “Don’t touch if you don’t want to buy”. We were like if we don’t touch and see your products how the hell we know what to buy? Several of the group member (including my auntie) rebutted the comment and told the woman she should just close her shop if she is having a bad day. After that incident, we continue our walk around this area…. really uneventful.

Walking around Chinatown in Seoul
Walking around Chinatown in Seoul
Walking around Chinatown in Seoul
Walking around Chinatown in Seoul
Walking around Chinatown in Seoul

We were then brought to this pier where our bus was driven up a ferry (with us in it). After the driver parked the bus, we got off the bus and went to the upper decks of the ferry. This is the seagull feeding itinerary as stated in our tour package. My auntie bought a packet of fried prawn crackers and started to feed the seagulls, and so did some of the member of the tour group. Upon reaching the other side of the sea, we got on our bus and we were driven to the airport for our flight home.

Seagull feeding onboard the ferry
Crossing the channel towards Seoul
Crossing the channel towards Seoul

This is my first time to Korea, if not for the language barrier (very few Koreans can actually speak English), I would like to do a free and easy of this country and not subjected to the touristy stuffs like being pushed into a ginseng shop listening to them promoting their products and such. Korea is a vast country and gives me the impression that they are very self-sufficient, the locals are also very proud of their heritage through the preservation of some of these palaces, and also we saw locals visiting these palaces. I might return to Korea one of these days to travel abit more on this place, but this time round not in a tour group.

The bird that is gonna take us home
Korea art and craft in the airport
After immigration area in Incheon Airport
Last minute shopping in the airport
Ready to take off
Last glimpse of Korea
Last glimpse of Korea
Last glimpse of Korea
Food onboard Asiana Airlines