My first day in Seoul went as planned, EXCEPT i lost all my photos to a faulty SD card! Thankfully, my better half took some photos, so i’m able to show you some highlights.
Arriving on an early morning flight, the best thing to do, it seems to me, is to grab a bowl of Ginseng chicken. When we arrived at Tosokchon at 10am, we were directed to an empty hall. Within 10 minutes, the hall filled up! If you want to try Ginseng chicken at Tosokchon, you should probably get there before 11am.
The Ginseng chicken was nothing like what i imagined Ginseng chicken would be. You couldn’t really taste Ginseng in the soup nor chicken! The Ginseng is stuffed together with rice inside the chicken. The soup is thick and savoury, and it is certainly a very hearty bowl of soup, worth trying even if one does not like Ginseng.
From Tosokchon, we went to Insadong which is just one metro stop away. Insadong is all about soaking in an artsy atmosphere, and we made a stop at Ssamziegil like everyone does. Well, if art is your thing, you could spend a lot of time browsing.
Seoul is jam packed with cafes, and they are really good. We went into a random one and had the opportunity to recharge both the body and the phone.
From Insadong, we crossed Cheongyecheon on our way to dinner. This revitalized stream is one of the first of its kind, inspiring others to follow, including Singapore’s Active, Beautiful and Clean Waters program. It probably doesn’t make sense to cover the full length of the stream, but you should definitely make it a point to stroll along at least a section of it.
Visiting Lotte Department Store was unplanned for, but since we were there, we thought, why not. The store at Euljiro-1 is a particularly big one, and one can get immediate tax refund in cash here.
We had an early dinner (5pm) at Gaehwa, a Chinese food restaurant, to sample the fabled Jajangmyeon so often featured in Korean TV serials. Many restaurants in Seoul stay open throughout the afternoon, which is a good thing for tourists. As with Ginseng chicken, the Jajangmyeon was beyond imagination. The noodles was a bit like overcooked instant noodles, yet retaining chewy-ness. The sauce is wet, and I can’t really describe the taste other than saying it’s sweet, onion infused and bean paste derived. You’ll have to try it to find out.
Myeongdong is just around the corner from Gaehwa, and it is where tourists go to pick up facial masks and beauty products. Despite reports of fake products being sold here, we were able to load up from those shops that sell only products from a single brand.
The last stop of the day was to sample fried chicken with beer. Kyochon at Dongdaemun is a very convenient location to do so, located right next to exits 6 and 7. By chance, we saw Hanbok being sold at Dongdaemun underground shopping, and we bought them for the kids. They don’t come cheap though.
The fried chicken was very thinly battered and incredibly crispy. The meat was more stiff than what we’re used to in our part of the world, in a good way though. It feels more real, less like growth induced chicken. The red (spicy) version is better than the regular one. Unfortunately, i could still taste the oil used for frying the chicken, which is not desirable. The fried chicken from Busan in the later part of our trip was much better. Beer is certainly the perfect pairing to wash down the heaty food.
The host of Haemil Hanok Guesthouse where we were putting up in was very kind to loan us a set of adult Hanbok, so we were able to put together a nice family photo.
We skipped Gweongbokgung altogether and chose to visit Changdeokgung instead, to have a look at the Secret Garden. You’ll have to join a guided tour in order to get inside, and to secure a place in the tour, it’s best if you do it online one month in advance. Despite the slight drizzle, the Secret Garden was still awesome.
The original plan for lunch was to go to Ojangdong Hamheung
Naengmyeon, but they were closed for renovation when we got there at around 230pm. Thankfully, the shop next door sells cold noodles as well, and we figured they must be good enough if they can survive selling the same kind of food. Yeah, cold noodles on a cold rainy day. A friendly English speaking stranger i met on the metro was surprised that i found out about Ojangdong Hamheung
Naengmyeon, but was shaking his head in disbelief that we were going to eat that in such cold weather.
Patbingsu is another must-eat item for my Korea itinerary, and among the top recommended places, i settled on Meal Top. It was a good choice, partly because the store at Apjugeong Hyundai Departmental Store (5th floor) was easily accessible. The Patbingsu was truly phenomenal. I suggest you don’t anyhow choose a place to try Patbingsu. I say so because i had Patbingsu at another random place and it turned out to be far inferior. Go to Meal Top if you are clueless, you won’t be disappointed.
Noryangjin Fish Market, like Tsukiji in Tokyo, is a popular attraction in Seoul. It is bigger than Tsukiji, and being retail rather than wholesale, allows one to actually buy seafood and have them cooked in a restaurant there. Due to lack of time, we had a look and went off. Anyway, I don’t feel good about eating at a touristy place where the stall owners keep touting.
In lieu of seafood, we had pastry and coffee from Paris Croissant. It was one of the best franchised cafes we had experienced. If I were to come to Seoul again, I would definitely do cafe hopping, something I have never done before and probably will not do except in Seoul.
On the way to collect my rental car at Mapo, we had a look at Yoido Full Gospel Church, the largest church (in terms of members) in the world, and proceeded to cross the Hangang on foot. It turned out to be quite an adventure. It was so windy my glasses nearly got blown off!
Now, about driving in Seoul, it’s maddening! Seoul traffic is really bad. Expect to be stopped at every junction. The estimated time to get to our destination, Gangchon Rail Park, was just over an hour, but we were stuck in Seoul for nearly an hour! If you’re renting a car from Seoul, do take this into consideration.
Anyway, we arrived more than an hour later than our booked timing, but the Rail Park staff allowed us to join the next scheduled slot, which happened to be running late also, thankfully. My advise is, if you’re not going to the Rail Park on a public holiday or weekend, just go without pre-booking. They have plenty of bikes to accommodate a very large crowd. Anyway, my honest opinion about the Gangchon Rail Bike attraction – no real pretty sights along the route, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you can give it a miss. Certainly, this is no match for the SkyCycle. But this was rather family-friendly, so it worked well for us.
Gangchon is about 80km outside of Seoul, as is Nami Island, which is often included as part of a visit to Seoul. We had to do Nami so it can struck off the list. We were here on a Saturday during the national festivals/holiday period, and the crowd was crazy! Definitely avoid going on a weekend/public holiday unless you can be there before 830am. Thankfully we were there real early, and not only did we get a parking lot in the official car park, we also just made it onto the 830 ferry.
As you probably already know, Nami was made popular by the Korean serial Winter Sonata. You simply cannot leave this place without having a look at the Winter Sonata statue and the Metasequoia Lane, however meaningless it actually is.
In order to get to Nami so early, we stayed at Chuncheon the night before. Chuncheon is quite a large city. The signature food in Chuncheon is Makguksu (cold buckwheat noodles). To sample Makguksu, obviously i chose the restaurant recommended by Korea Tourism – Sigol Makguksu, located at the outskirt of Chuncheon. It was really good, worth the travel out of town.