Tuesday, February 22, 2011

And the Seoul searching continues...

Annyeong haseyo,
Hope you guys satisfied with the first part of our Seoul story and thank you so much for your support. After more than 2 years sharing our backpacking experiences, we mark our 100th followers yesterday and sememangnya ia sesuatu yang tak sangka. Now we continue with our second part of the journey in Seoul... Apalagi, Cerciter..cerciter.. (petikan dialog dari filem “Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah).

BudgetCouple in Seoul
If Malaysia is famous for its late night dinners/suppers and uptown/downtown market, I guess Seoul is not much different from us. Late night shopping is another attraction in Seoul. After Anna finished her Reception Dinner around 9pm, we decided to head down to Dongdaemun Market. Took a subway at Samseong Station straight to Dongdaemun Station, this market is very much alive regardless of the cold weather outside (-15c). Maybe the power of shopping kot yang buatkan diaorang ni semua kebal sejuk…hehehe!. Sememangnya anda akan rambang mata melihat seleksi barangan yang dijual disini. Migliore Mall and Am-Pm Mall are among the shopping malls that we managed to browse into. Everything from clothing, shoes, bag, fabrics, accessories, local designers brand is selling here (retail and wholesale) and be divided by floor sections. Even if some shops have their price tag, give your bargain skill a test. Who knows you might get a cheaper price. (Me myself doing the bargain, macam ayam dengan itik..hehe!). Dongdaemun Market open as early as 8.00am and close around 6.00am everyday. For those who shop till late, taxi charges are double after midnight. So, I guess it’s better to shop till you drop than paying the taxi charges ya…hehe!.

8.00 am, Friday morning and like any other days, the sun was shinning bright through our hotel window. But not today and that’s a bit weird. When the curtain is widely open, both of us scream excitedly. “Ya Allah.. Salji turun…!” Call me “Jakun” but seriously, in my 37 years of life this is my first time to see and touch a real snow. After breakfast and before Anna’s conference started, we took lots of photo with the snow and make some snowball (macam dalam cerita orang putih tu). Oh ya! You got to have proper shoes when you walk on a melting snow. It’s slippery and can be dangerous if you're not careful. Best to wear rubber shoes like sneakers and boots.

Snow in SeoulSnow in SeoulAll white in SeoulSnow in SeoulKids playing with snow
After the snow stopped, I continued my journey to Itaewon were expatriates, foreigners and embassies are largely reside here. The presence of US Army personnel can regularly be seen in Itaewon as The US Military base is located nearby. (mula2 tu risau juga, almaklumlah masa tu tengah kecoh pasal North and South Korea…hehe!). Suasana disini juga agak berbeza jika dibandingkan dengan beberapa kawasan lain yang saya lawati di Seoul. Here you can easily find lots of international restaurant and cuisine serving Middle East, India, Thailand and Chinese food. Pendek kata, halal food is not an issue here. There are also English bookshop, entertainment places like bar/club/café, market and a mosque; I guessed that makes Itaewon very popular among tourist. (Terselisih juga dengan beberapa grup pelancong Malaysia, tapi diaorang buat macam “tak perasan” jer).

Itaewon Subway StationItaewon, SeoulItaewon, SeoulSnow at Itaewon, SeoulItaewon, Seoul

Hard Rock Cafe Seoul
For those who love collecting Hard Rock Café stuff, you’ll be disappointed as the remaining building is no longer serving as the popular café but instead turn into a clothing shop. Damn..! (Anna was so frustrated..).

Sign to Seoul Central Masjid
Since it was Friday, I took a chance Friday prayers in Seoul Central Masjid, the first masjid to open in Korea. Established in 1976, it comprises the Islamic Center, which offers an Islamic based education and also halal butchers shops, groceries, restaurants and a bookshop that can be found around this area. After a simple lamb kebab lunch, my journey was cut short as snow started to fall again.

Seoul Central Masjid, ItaewonSeoul Central Masjid, ItaewonSeoul Central Masjid, ItaewonSeoul Central Masjid, ItaewonLunch @ Itaewon
Back at the hotel and while waiting for Anna to finish her conference, I watched an interesting Korean thriller movie titled “The Housemaid”. (sound fishy ya.!). Directed by Im Sang Soo, the movie is a remake of 1960 classic Korean movie with the same title. It’s about a struggling woman who takes a job as a housemaid for the wealthy upper class family and later fall into the trap of destructible love triangle.

“Malam ni kita makan kat mana?..” That was always the question every time we decided to eat. Last kali, we end up eating at the same place, Coex Mall food court..he!he!. So, before we're leaving our luxurious hotel on Sunday, we decided to have our special dinner together at Buchesta. Everything on the menu looks tempting, tapi macam biasalah kena cari yang veggie and fish based.

Lepak @ Coex HotelLooking at the menuAnna @ BruschettaDinner @ BruschettaDinner @ Bruschetta
Saturday morning and before Anna wrapped up her last day of conference, I headed to Hongdae. Still using Seoul Subway that I find very convenient, I stopped at Hongik University the leading Art & Design University in Korea. It’s a different ambiance here with lots of artsy young people & students around, boutique, craft market, club, bar, wall graffiti and music. Talk about music, there is two music shops that I find interesting. Purple Record (mix, rock & indie) & Record Forum (jazz scene). For you information, Hongdae is also famous for it’s indie music scene. Go check it out guys!..

Graffiti @ Hongdae, SeoulHongdae, SeoulHongik UniversityPurple Records, SeoulRecord Forum, Seoul
Later in the afternoon, I met Anna at Gyeongbokgung Palace. Built in 1395 during the era of Joseon Dynasty by KingTaejo, the palace is the grandest among the Five Grand Palaces. In 1592, the palace was nearly destroyed during the Japanese invasions. Not until 1865, when Daewongun, the father of King Gojong started to rebuild it again. Many obstacles happened during the process and when Korea was under Japan colonial rule, most of the palace was torn down and destroyed. Now the first phase project to restore the palaces that begin in 1990 has finally finished. Another attractions in Gyeongbokgung Palace are the National Palace Museum and the National Folk Musuem.

Anna @ Gyeongbokgung StationGyeongbokgung Palace, SeoulGyeongbokgung Palace, SeoulGyeongbokgung Palace, SeoulUs @ Gyeongbokgung Palace
Changing of the Guard ceremoniesGyeongbokgung Palace, SeoulGyeongbokgung Palace, SeoulGyeongbokgung Palace, SeoulStatue @ Gyeongbokgung Palace
Climbing steps...Tolong jgn panjat ya..!Us @ Gyeongbokgung PalaceThe National Folk Museum, SeoulNational Palace Museum, Seoul
On the way back to hotel, we stopped at Itaweon to have our Middle East dinner. Sejuk-sejuk ni cepat betul lapar…yum!yum!. (Agak2 bila la Malaysian nak buka halal restoren kat tempat-tempat macam ni?). Lepas makan, cepat-cepat balik ke Coex because Anna had to attend one more show before the whole conference ended.

Gyeongbokgung StationMuka tgh lapar gila...Berasap ayam tu...Sedap pulak sup ni...Dinner @ Itaewon

Our Winter Sonata pose
Last but not least, experiencing snow for the first time was totally a dream came true for both of us... 
We’ll continue the last part of our Seoul story on the next post.. Stay tune ya! 
Gamsa hamnida.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Search your Seoul..!

Hi all,

Hope it's not too late to wish all our friends and readers "Happy Chinese New Year", may The Rabbit rules this year! It's about time to tell our story on Seoul, Korea.

Maybe it was a coincidence? That’s the first thing I told Anna when she got a chance to attend a conference in Seoul, Korea. Arwah Mak once told us that she's planning to go there this year (2011) because of his nephew got transfered to Seoul. Tapi sesungguhnya "Kita hanya mampu merancang, Allah yang menentukan segala-galanya". It's a mixed feelling actually, when we're preparing ourselves for this journey. Apa-apapun, this time we're bringing "mak's" dream together with us.

Incheon I'ntl Airport, Seoul
This is our first working trip, and traveling with the entire itinerary been prepared seems a bit odd for us. Rasa macam manja la sikit sebab tickets and accommodation tak payah susah2 cari...hehe!. Kalau ada pun cuma hostel booking for our extended nights sahaja. (Oh yeah, I did a surprise to Ana as I quietly bought the ticket to keep her company..).

It’s a 7 hours flight from KLIA to Incheon International Airport and since we took a night flight, apalagi lepas makan tidur la… Alhamdulillah, everything was smooth and when we landed, the airport really amazed us. It’s huge and spacious while the interior design looks very modern and hi-tech. Not easy to get lost as there are direction and signages in English plus interpreters to assist you. (Incheon Intl Airport is a runner-up for Best Airport in 2010 for Sleeping In Airport website).

Incheon I'ntl Airport, Seoul
We took a shuttle bus just outside the airport terminal that provides the hotel drop off service. Purchase your ticket (W15000) from the counter before you take the busride and stand at the right queue to where your destination is. It took about an hour from the airport to our hotel in Gangnam. For 5 nights, we stayed at COEX Inter-Continental Hotel, the luxurious 5 star hotel located right in the middle of the top entertainment and shopping attraction and also business district like Coex Mall, Convention Centre, The Lucky Seven casino and World Trade Centre. (Shopping!… Opps! kerja..kerja..kerja…)

Coex InterContinental Hotel,SeoulView from our roomCoex InterContinental Hotel,SeoulCoex InterContinental Hotel,SeoulCoex InterContinental Hotel,Seoul
What we like about this hotel is the connecting underground mall that connects places like Coex Mall, Coex Aquarium, Kim Chi Field Musuem, Samseong Subway Station and the Convention Centre (a 10min walk for Anna to attend the conferences), Just remember from which entrance you use and everything we’ll be fine.

World Trade Center SeoulWorld Trade Center, SeoulCoex Convention Center, SeoulAnna @ Coex MallCoex Artium, Seoul
Makanan halal agak susah untuk didapati disini (most of the menu in Korean..), so we had lots of vegetarian base food like pizza, bread, Kimchi fried rice and soup. (Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean dish, made of vegetables such as cabbage, radish, green onion, cucumber or anchovies with a mix of garlic and red chili seasonings). One of the interesting place to eat in Coex Mall is Kraze Burger. Berintikan tofu yang dibentuk seperti daging burger, rasanya agak pelik tapi menarik. (Love the packaging though). Apa-apa pun, Maggi Hot Cup and biscuit are always on standby kalau2 lapar..hehe! What we discovered here, Korean like their food “pedas” and no wonder they love to come to Malaysia and our food…

Todai Restaurant @ CoexYummy..!Jom makan Kimchi Fried RiceKraze BurgerKraze Burger
This time, Faizal did most of the wandering around because Anna’s conferences normally finished late. “Not fair!” kan, but Anna told me “the show must go on”. Lagipun takkan nak duduk kat bilik jer. Boring jugak..

Transportation is not a problem in Seoul. You can choose to take bus, taxi or subway, whichever way you feel comfortable. As long as you don’t hop on the tourist group bus dahlah..hehe!. For me, I prefer to take a subway. It’s an easy way to move around the city plus the service is good, efficient and safe even if you travel late night. It won’t take long for you to understand the connecting lines compared to Japan. For smooth and hassle free trip especially during the rush hours, I bought a T-Money Card that cost W3000. The card give you a W100 discount on every trip too and useable for buses and taxies.

Seoul Subway StationT-Money KioskGot the card..!Seoul Subway StationInside Seoul Subway
The weather was cold (-11c). Even though outside the sun is shining bright, it’s not an excuse for not wearing the winter jackets. Sejuk beb!... My first day venture is to City Hall, downtown Seoul. Since Christmas was on the way, some workers were busy preparing the big ice-skating ring and a gigantic Christmas tree in the Seoul Square area. (Seoul Square is the oval shape grass field square that holds many activities and events). Just across the road is Deoksugung palace, one of few palaces that you can visit in Seoul. Actually, some of the places you can go by walking, what you have to do is bring a good map with you. Since, this is my first time going solo travelling, I took a very slow and steady approach. But after Ana finished her first day's conference, we went to Namdaemun Market but it was third quarter closed. The market is open from 4.30am till 7.00pm. Tapi kitaorang sempat jugaklah beli souvenir kat sini. (Orang Malaysia pun ramai disini). Tempat ni memang sesuai kalau nak beli souvenir atau barang2 wholesale. Disebabkan sejuk, perut memang cepat lapar, so went to this kebab place somewhere there, called Sunshine Kebabs. Not bad sedap! Atau memang tak hengat lapar...He..he.. Makan quite expensive here tapi makan untuk hidup apa salahnya kan?

Haechi SeoulSeoul signsSeoul Square City HallDeoksugung Palace, SeoulSeoul road signs
Namdaemun Market, SeoulNamdaemun Market, SeoulShopping @ Namdaemun MarketAnna @ Sunshine KebabsSunshine Kebabs
The next day after felt more confident reading the map, i made my move earlier. My first stop was Olympic Stadium which is part of Jamsil Sport Complex. Just a walk away from the hotel, the stadium has been used for 1988 Olympic Seoul and venue for concerts such as Metallica, Michael Jackson and their phenomenal K-Pop Stars. (Lebih kurang macam Stadium Bukit Jalil la...). Biarpun sejuk, it's a very nice weather to walk and paling menarik after puas membelek map to find this place, rupa-rupanya tempat tu betul2 depan hotel. Damn!!.. Surrounded by Seoul high rises building and fast development (Tu sebab tak perasan..), Bongenusa is among one of the Buddhist temple that play a major role in Seoul. Other attractions here is the 23 meter Buddha statue and Temple Stay experience that offer you a chance to live a monk life.

Seoul road signsSeoul Olympic StadiumSeoul Olympic StadiumSeoul Olympic StadiumSeoul Olympic Stadium
Bongenusa Temple, SeoulBongenusa Temple, SeoulBongenusa Temple, SeoulBongenusa Temple, SeoulBongenusa Temple, Seoul
Since the temple just across Coex Mall, i had my lunch at Coex Mall Food Court, Kimchi Fried Rice + fried egg (boleh tahan sedap!). Lepas alas perut, I went to Seoul Folk Flea Market, "my unexpected discovery" in Seoul. Unlike Namdaemun and Dongdaemun Market, Seoul Folk Flea Market is seriously an Amazing place where you can find anything from junk, collectibles and anything that you can think of, all under one "BIG" roof. Sememangnya tempat yang kitaorang suka cari everytime we travel. Located inside the 2-story warehouse building, hundred of shops were divided into sections like antiques, clothes and food court. Open from 10.00am till 7.00pm everyday except on every 2nd and 4th Tuesday.

KimChi Fried RiceSeoul Folk Flea MarketSeoul Folk Flea MarketSeoul Folk Flea MarketSeoul Folk Flea Market
Malam tu, Ana had to attend Reception Dinner at Ramada Seoul Hotel. So, to kill my time, I just strolling down the Coex underground mall again with the K-POP sound ringing my ear... (still terngiang-ngiang lagu Girls' Generation - Hoot). To tell you the truth, even though we stayed there for 6 days, I don't think we had been to all the shops, it is damn Gigantic!

Anna & Kevin @ Siggraph Asia 2010Anna & Kevin @ Siggraph Asia 2010Siggraph Asia 2010 ReceptionCinema @ Coex Mall SeoulCinema @ Coex Mall Seoul
*Stay tuned as our story in Seoul will be continue on the next post!... If you guys happened to buy yesterday KOSMO! newspaper (5 Feb 2011), their travel section (Horizon-Percutianku) menampilkan cerita pengalaman kami semasa di Iceland (written by Anna). And to those who missed it, boleh pinjam dari kawan or jiran sebelah or read it online by click this link. Selamat membaca.