Sunday, October 13, 2013

Into the Woods, Valleys & Countryside. Korea Day 1

3 years ago, i had the opportunity to step out of the country and take a plane for the very first time to somewhere i have never imagine going. I always thought my first flight out of SG would be to a nearby country like Malaysia or at the furthest - Taiwan. But because of this humble blog of mine that you are reading right now, i was sponsored to a country that most people would want to visit, especially with this KPOP craze that has been ongoing now, 6 hours away - Korea.

3 years later, last month, i received a pleasant surprise. This time it was from KTO (Korea Tourism Organization) asking me if i'm available for a fully sponsored trip to Korea. I almost couldn't make it but i'm not gonna explain the story all over again so you can read my pre-trip post by clicking HERE. Fast forward 3 weeks after receiving the email, 24th September, 10.30pm - i headed to Changi airport Terminal 2 with my luggage for my flight, departing at 1.10am.
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The feeling of entering the airport with your luggage knowing that you are departing to another country for a holiday is indescribable. Agree?  I mean the only time you go to the airport is probably to fly off to another country right? (:
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Checked in my 10.3kg luggage, got my boarding pass and i'm all ready to depart for Korea!
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Probably my 2nd time taking a midnight flight (first was to Korea as well, LOL) mainly because the countries i've been to so far takes only about max 4 hours to reach since they are all so near to Singapore so taking a midnight flight would be quite pointless.(unless you are going for cheaper fares) 7 hours flight to Korea, so i will probably reach around 8am+.
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Was told beforehand that i could charge my devices on board Korean Air so i brought my iPhone cable along! All planes should provide this service as well because you would want a fully charged phone to use upon reaching your destination!
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Took a couple of selfies before i was asked to switch off my phone, LOL. Knowing that bloggers would most likely take photos of everything, especially the window view of the clouds when traveling on the plane - Adeline, the marketing manager of KTO Singapore specially assigned window seat for me when she booked the air tickets! Thanks addy! :D
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Unknowingly, i had the whole row to myself so... i just had to lift up the arm rest for all the seats and slept horizontally throughout the flight. It was so much more comfortable and it's not every time you get 3 seats to yourself! HAHAHAHA
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Woke up to have my breakfast which was a simple omelette set with bread and orange juice.
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Typical clouds taken from the window seat shot.
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Touched down at Incheon International Airport at about 8.25am. Clear blue sky.
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First thing first after collecting my luggage was to head to K Books to collect my 1GB SIM card sponsored by Evergreen SIM card. ( For those going to Korea, it would be good to purchase the SIM card online beforehand and collect it at the airport. You can choose to collect it at K books, exit 7 when you arrive at Incheon.
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Another method would be to purchase a EG SIM card from GS25 outlets (like our 7 eleven) located in the airport. There is a "process" when buying the card which includes taking a photo of your SIM card application with your passport, after which you will need to activate the data plan etc, which is quite tedious. Especially if it's your first time buying...
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Had to grab a waffle snack at GS25 before moving on, LOL
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With my 3G SIM card settled, it's time to travel to Seoul!
Purchased the ticket from the Airport Bus Counter located at the arrival hall, Level 1.
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Bus 6002, heading for Jongak station where the hotel is located, ticket cost 10,000 won.
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The journey from the airport to Seoul take about an hour or so. Center Mark Hotel, Seoul. My accommodation for my first, fourth and fifth night in Seoul. (P.s: I'll be spending my second and third day outside Seoul.) Got myself a comfortable room, just nice for myself. Special mention to Hana Tours for the accommodation sponsor in Seoul.

After checking in to the hotel and do some unpacking, first time is to visit Tong-in Market and the Doshirak cafe!
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On the way to Tong-in market, we passed by the Gyeongbokgung Palace. Gyeongbokgung was the first royal palace built by the Joseon Dynasty, three years after the Joseon Dynasty was founded. The entrance looks quite magnificent.
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After stepping in, i realised... i have been here before! It was during my first trip to Korea 3 years ago but because i came during the winter period, instead of sand covering the ground, this place was filled with snow! *amazed*
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When i first saw these guards, i thought they were wax figures but upon going closer. I realised they were real, LOL
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Tong-in Market.  통인시장
How to get there: Alight at Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3) Exit from exit 2, walk straight
for about 10 mins, you will see a covered entrance to Tong-in market on your left.

Tong-in market used to be a public market for the Japanese residents near the Hyoja-dong neighborhood when Korea was still under Japanese rule in 1941. The purpose of visiting Tong-in market this time is to visit the Doshirak cafe!
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Doshirak Cafe is located on the 2nd level of Tong-in market. If you ever wonder what Doshirak (도시락) stands for, it means lunch box and this is where my lunch in Korea would be at! Ready to learn how this cafe works?
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First, you would need to exchange money for these gold token  (500 won each) and you will be given a bento tray. With these tokens, you can now head downstairs to Tong-in market to look for participating stalls (with the doshirak cafe signage) to exchange food items with the coins. Side dish cost about 1 coin, and main dish would cost around 2 coins.
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If you see a food item that you wish to have, pass your bento tray to the ajumas (auntie)  and they will scoop generous servings to fill up your tray! There is all sorts of different Korean food to try, definitely something that suit your taste!
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Like a happy boy going around the market choosing all my favourite dishes to fill up my tray :D
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For main dish i got Tonkatsu pork cutlet (2 coins), side dishes include Tteokbokki 떡볶이 - a popular Korean rice cake snack (1 coin), Spam with egg (1 coin) and tempura prawns (2 coins) Got a bowl of purple rice with the rest of the coins.
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My doshirak lunch that cost 8 coins which is 4000 won only! (SGD$5) I feel that this is a really cool and interesting way of creating your lunch set and SG should totally have a place with this kind of concept too! Idea idea? LOL
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Next stop: Children's Grand Park! 서울 어린이대공원
How to get there: From Gyeongbokgung Station (Ogeum Bound) Transfer to Jongno 3ga
(Line 4, Macheon bound) and alight at Children's grand park station, Exit 1.

Children's grand park is like a theme park with a zoo, botanical garden, amusement facilities, a outdoor music venue, aviary, musical fountain and more. One thing that i should totally share with you guys is... the admission fee is FREE.
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Like i said, admission to the park is free but however if you wish to engage in activities like rides (like those in the photo above), you would have to pay for it. But take note that the amusement park is only for kids. Honestly when i was told #1: there is a zoo inside, and #2: the admission fee was free, i wasn't expecting much from the "zoo". LOL
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Came across the Parrot Village which is a huge bird aviary with lots of parrots inside like you see in Jurong bird park. In my mind i was already thinking, "Wah, free admission to the park still can see these..." Little did i know that... 
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It's really a full fledged zoo with lots and lots of animals! I was totally not expecting to see all these animals! I thought it's gonna be like a little petting zoo (which they have) with those goats, lambs and cows for kids to feed. Like woah.
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The huge cats were all sleeping -__-

If you are those who likes to visit zoo, and would like to visit one in Korea (now it makes me wonder if they have an "official" zoo in Korea, LOL), you can head to the Children's Grand Park to spend like a few hours exploring the place!
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For dinner, we made reservation at the Blind restaurant located near Konkuk university but since we had a couple of hours before the reservation, we decided to explore the area! Lots of fashion outlets, cafes, hair salons etc along the whole stretch of the street mainly because there's a university located nearby. Time for some shopping! :D
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Street stalls selling the most interesting food items which... i don't really have an idea what they are. LOL
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Chanced upon Mouse Rabbit cafe which i was told it's opened by one of the Super Junior members - Yesung. (Had no idea who he was until i went in and started looking at the photos pasted on the wall, HAHHAHA) so we got a table on level 2 and ordered a drink each. Shortly we realised a little commotion on the first level, apparently...

Yesung came in.

Like a suddenly the whole level 2 became empty because Yesung was serving at the counter  and everyone started to queue to order. I guess it's for an opportunity to talk to him, LOL. There were some fan girls going "omgg omgg" and one erm... cried. As much as everyone wish to take a photo with him, i was told that apparently he is still serving his national service and technically not supposed to "work" and we should respect his privacy and such. Well, it's still quite cool seeing a famous Korean celebrity in real life. Not any celebrity, but one from the famous Super Junior. HAHA
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Blind Art Restaurant
Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, 2-49 B1 floor Hwayang

This is one of my most anticipated stops for this trip - Dining in the dark! Prior to this trip, i have read so much about it and i'm finally gonna experience it for myself. It's gonna be a real challenge for me because i'm a super picky eater (there is a whole long list of things that i don't eat) I had the 5 course meal set which cost 29,500 won (SGD$35) which consist of an appetizer, a risotto or pasta, a speical salad, main course and dessert. Before we even enter the dining area, we had to deposit anything that can give off light or is of reflective surface (other than your spectacles.)

We had to form a line, hands on the shoulders of the person in front and we were led to our seats one by one. After which, they guided our hands to where our cutlery are. Even though our eyes were wide open, it's pitch dark.
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Like this. You can't even see your own fingers.

First up was the appetizer which was served by the waiter or waitress ( i have no idea which, LOL) and if you are wondering how they see, they were wearing night vision goggles. It was really a challenge trying to figure out what the dish is. I was using my cutlery at the very beginning but soon after, i was using my hands to feel the plate to see if there is anymore food left etc! This is probably the reason why they provide us with a wet towel each, HAHHAHAHHAA!

It was a good experience dining in the dark. I can totally imagine the staff secretly laughing at us through their night vision goggles, LOL Until today, i have no idea what were the actual dishes i had. At the end of the meal, we were given a pen and paper and told to write anything we want on it (yes, in the dark...) It can be thoughts, confessions, anything.
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At the end of the session, we can choose to paste it on the door at the entrance of the restaurant.
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I literally wrote down what i think were the dishes i had. Quite surprise i could read what i wrote in the dark, LOL
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Returned to the hotel after the meal for a good rest before Day 2 where i will be embarking on a journey out of Seoul on the "O" Train and experience staying in a village! Stayed tune for more posts on my Korea travelogue!

Pre-trip | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6