K-culture has grown to be something so phenomenal as the Korean Wave continues to sweep across the globe. K-pop, dramas, outrageously ha...

K-culture has grown to be something so phenomenal as the Korean Wave continues to sweep across the globe. K-pop, dramas, outrageously handsome actors, gorgeous actresses, trendy fashion, beauty products, and most of all, Kimchi! All these immediately spring to mind when someone mentions South Korea. It all started when a friend recommended me to watch the TV series 'Running Man'. Since then, I was fixated. Though one could say the Korean Wave isn't something new in Malaysia, it probably started back when the drama 'Winter Sonata' was screened and became the talk of the town (I remember I used to watch it with a box of tissues next to me *sob sob*), but it never hit me as hard as Running Man did. So, I just had to visit the place where it all began.

Upon reaching Incheon International Airport, we took airport limousine bus to downtown Seoul. The ride took about 75 minutes. We got off at Dongdaemun station and checked in at Hostel Beige, which was just 3 minutes away from the station. I got to know this place through a friend and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Though the rooms are a bit small, the hotel is clean, conveniently located and the owners/staffs are very friendly and helpful. We then grabbed our lunch and took a walk around Dongdaemun area before taking the subway to Yeouido Park.

Dongdaemun Gate
Dongdaemun Gate
Lunch: Dak Galbi @ Yoogane (Dongdaemun branch)

Yeouido Park is a large recreational area located on Yeouido Island in the central part of Seoul. Many people in the city come here to rest, stroll around, play sports and enjoy the view of Seoul's modern skyline as Yeouido is home to the National Assembly, Korean Stock Exchange and Korea's three broadcasting stations: KBS, MBC, and SBS. This place is also famous for having the loveliest cherry blossom street in Seoul, but we missed the full bloom by a week :(

Yeouido Park
Yeouido Park
Yeouido Park
Yeouido Park
After spending some time relaxing and taking pictures here, we headed back to Dongdaemun to explore the night market and indulge in some street food. 

Tteokbokki - spicy rice cake 
Sundae - blood sausage
Twigim - fried snacks
The next morning after breakfast, we visited Gyeongbokgung, the first royal palace built by the Joseon Dynasty, three years after the Joseon Dynasty was founded. Located in northern Seoul, Gyeongbokgung Palace is arguably the most beautiful and the largest of the Five Grand Palaces (the others being Gyeonghuigung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace). It served as the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty. (*Please take note: The palace closes on Tuesdays.)

Geunjeongmun (Gate)
Geunjeongjeon (the Throne hall)
Gangnyeongjeon (King's Quarters)
Palace courtyard
Managed to catch a glimpse of cherry blossoms in the palace courtyard! Lucky ♥ 
If interested, one can also visit the nearby Bukchon Hanok Village. This village has the largest cluster of privately owned traditional Korean wooden homes or 'hanok' that date back to the Joseon Dynasty. Today, many of these hanoks operate as cultural centers, guesthouses, restaurants and tea houses, providing visitors an opportunity to experience, learn and immerse in Korean traditional culture. We gave that a pass due to time constraint. We had to make sure we would make it in time to catch the last session of the Deoksugung Palace Royal Guard-Changing Ceremony after lunch at the crowded Tosokchon. 

Samgyetang (Ginseng chicken soup) is one of the most well known Korean dishes. It is an energizing soup-based dish, traditionally served during the summer, to replace the lost energy and vitamins taken by the summer heat. When searched or asked where to find the best samgyetang in Seoul, the answer would be Tosokchun, which is located near the Gyeongbokgung station. This legendary Tosokchon is a restaurant that was converted from a traditional Hanok. There was already a long line consisting locals and tourists when we arrived, and we waited for about half an hour before being ushered to a table. The restaurant was huge with plenty of open space and tatami style rooms. There were no chairs, just cushions on the floor and guests dine on low lying tables.

One of the nation's best Samgyetang!
Seafood pancake - loaded with squids and shrimps
Homemade kimchi

We ordered both the regular chicken and black chicken soup, plus a seafood pancake. Both soups tasted the same, except the black chicken is probably a premium version of the normal chicken as it is considered to be more nourishing. The soup was really thick and rich that the broth turned milky, and the ginseng taste was strong. Besides the piping hot tasty stew, Tosokchon's homemade kimchi was absolutely delicious and fermented just right (perhaps the best I had on the entire trip)!! The four of us ate almost half the pot that was left on the table. Bbuurppp!

From Tosokchon, we headed to Deoksugung Palace to watch the changing of the Royal Guard ceremony. A tradition comparable to the changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace, this is highly recommended for tourists because it offers a great opportunity to experience a rare traditional scene in Korea, as the ceremony is reenacted exactly as how it used to be held during the Joseon Dynasty. This ceremony takes place three times a day (11:00 / 14:00 / 15:30) in front of Daehanmun Gate at Deoksugung Palace. As each ceremony follows the same procedure and lasts for about thirty minutes, visitors can choose whichever time that is convenient for them. The ceremony is free of charge but there are no ceremonies on Mondays, rainy days, as well as in extremely hot or cold weather. 

Changing guard ceremony
Changing guard ceremony
Changing guard ceremony
Changing guard ceremony
After spending time soaking up Joseon culture, we decided to chill out at one of the locals' favorite relaxing spots - Chenggyecheon Stream. While being in the city center (just off Sejongro, one of the busiest boulevards in Seoul), Cheonggyecheon is remarkably quiet because the stream is located 4.6m below street level. Once a neglected watercourse hidden by an overpass, it was restored and transformed into a haven of natural beauty amidst the bustle of city life in 2005. 

At the beginning of the stream
The sounds of the water and man-made waterfalls really help to clear one's mind.
Feeling refreshed after relaxing at the serene Chenggyecheon Stream, it was time to head to Myeongdong for some shopping! Myeongdong is the most popular shopping district in Seoul, much like our Bukit Bintang. Unlike Dongdaemun, there are several major shopping malls here including Lotte Department Store, M Plaza and Migliore, that sell designer brands. Being a one stop center with many restaurants, cafes, banks etc, the number one thing to buy here is skin care/cosmetic products. If you are looking to buy any of these products, buy them all in Myeongdong. Every Korean cosmetic brand has a branch here. It is impossible to miss out any of these skincare product shops because there are just so many of them, hence competition is fierce. The sales assistants often attract customers with free samples. You can just take without making any purchases, and if you do buy something, they will give you even more free samples. They are very generous with that. I took the samples and tried them during my stay here so I could decide which suitable products to grab after our Jeju trip :D

Crowded day and night
Crowded day and night
Lotte Departmental Store
Dinner was at Jeonju Jungang Hoegwan. Hidden in the corner of a small alley, this is a specialty restaurant featuring ‘Jeonju Gopdol Bibimbap’, which is the famous Jeonju bibimbap in a hot stone pot. 

Thumbs up!
We dropped by Lotte afterwards to grab some food stuffs for our Jeju trip, before calling it a night. The next morning after checking out, we made our way to Gimpo Airport and departed for Jeju. 

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