Sunday, May 31, 2009

071230 – Skiing at Yongpyong Ski Resort

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One of the best things to do in Seoul during winter is skiing and snowboarding. Yongpyong is considered one of the Asia’s best ski resorts and also most popular ski resorts in Korea. Yongpyong has a total of 31 different ski slopes and it has different level of difficulty from beginner to expert. The resort also equipped with 15 ski-lifts and cable car ride for advanced skiers or snowboarders. Ski and snowboard lessons are also offered to different skill levels, even for kids.

My wife and I engaged a guided tour service provided by the US military based in Seoul, called USO Korea located at Itaewon. I have been engaging with this tour for all previous tours and 90% of the tourists are foreigners. If you are in Seoul and wanted to engage a local tour, USO Korea is highly recommended. I normally sent an email to requesting their monthly tour itinerary so that I could plan my travel schedule promptly. You may also call them at 0082-2-795-3063/3028. The one-day tour fare per person was USD109 included bus transportation, ski/snowboard rental and full pass for the ski-lifts. Ski jacket and pant was not covered in the fare.

We took a subway from Subway Line 1 from Jongno 3-ga, transfer to Line 6 via Seoul Station to Samgakji. USO office is 5 minutes walk from the subway exit. The fare cost 1000won. The tour bus departed around 7am and it was a 2 hours drive away from Seoul. Most of the tourists in the bus are US military personnel. We were fortunate enough that 2 military personnel volunteered to be the ski and snowboard trainer for first timer like us. That really saved us a bomb if we were to enroll a lesson at the ski resort and it’s not cheap.

We arrived at the ski resort and we had to wait for our fluent English speaking tour leader to arrange our ski equipment at Dragon Plaza. While waiting, we went to rent only 2 pair of ski pants, each cost 15000won, if you do not want your pant or jean to get wet after falling down on the snow. We wore our own winter jacket. We put our belongings inside a locker, cost 1000won. Our tour guide instructed us to gather back at 4.00pm at Dragon Plaza before we departed the bus back to Seoul.

After we geared up and ready to ski, the trainer gave us 2-3 hours basic ski lesson before guided us to ski at the beginner slope. I believed I actually need few more lessons before I can actually ski confidently and able to steer with ease.

Do I look like an expert skier?

Surrounding view

It’s not easy to ask someone with a thick glove to snap a photo for us

View of the apartment and condo at the ski resort

Posing moment

A lovely picture with a Korean twin at the ski resort, just lovely

Behind was the beginner slope we managed to conquer.

I believe that should be the advance slope, next time I will be back…

View inside the Dragon Plaza with a non-functional cable-car

After a tiring ski and had to bear with the terrible cold weather, finally it’s time to onboard the bus and headed back to Seoul for a satisfying dinner.

071229 – Food and Shopping Mission in Myeongdong

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After a light breakfast at the hotel and already prepared the shopping list yesterday, we walked for 15 minutes with a lovely weather to Myeongdong with full enthusiasm and hope. Brought along my backpack prepared to store all the goodies bought there. Myeongdong is one of the main shopping areas selling mid to high priced items and featuring some international brand outlets. This area was packed with mainly young people especially weekend, coming here for its latest fashion, coffee bar, foods, cosmetic products and nightlife. It's an interesting place and a definite must-go for crazy shoppers. When shopping in Korea, try to bring your own shopping bag. Korea government is trying to promoting people not to use plastic bags and some shops will charge for every plastic shopping bag used like in Lotte Mart. So far, I have never been charged in Myeongdong.

Lot of varieties of earrings with reasonable price

You will also see stalls selling fake designer goods at the roadside.

One of the famous snacks, mini sausage

Another popular snacks Odaeng, is a type of fish cake that is skewered and soaked in the boiling water until it cooked.

During our shopping mission, we bumped into this 2-storey restaurant call Myeongdong Gyoja with very long queue, one heading upstairs and one heading to the ground floor. With full of curiosity and with the tempting food image of noodles and mandu (dumpling) outside the restaurant, we also got in the line and waited for our turn. This restaurant is opened in 1969 and said to have served one of the tastiest bowls of guksu (chopped noodle soup) in Korea. The kimchi here served as side dishes was also very delicious and the waitress will always drop on your table to refill the kimchi on your plate. There are two Myeongdong Gyoja restaurants in Myeongdong, I have tried both and you won't be disappointed.

We ordered two bowls of kalguksu that was served with pork mandu (dumpling) and topped with minced chicken.

On top of that, we also ordered additional plate of mandu with 10 pieces. Make sure you dip the mandu with slight vinegar sauce and spicy sauce before you eat. This was taught by the patrons sitting next to me.

The restaurant also served other type of guksu which I did not try. There are noodle with COLD soya bean soup called kong-guksu and the other with spicy soup called bibim-guksu. All serving cost 7000won. So it cost me 21000won for 2 persons. It’s a must try when you are in Seoul!!! Ask anyone in Myeongdong and they will be able to guide you to this restaurant.

After a satisfying lunch, we continued with our shopping mission. While wandering in Myeongdong, we bumped a group of activists protesting China for killing those North Korean refugees.

After some damages on my wallet, it’s time we walked back to our hotel while my wife was smiling with joy.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

071224 – Christmas Eve’s celebration in Seoul

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There’s no early dismiss on Christmas Eve for working in Korea as compared to US. So I tried to leave at 6pm sharp and prepared to have a good Christmas Eve celebration and countdown with my wife. In Seoul, Christmas celebration is mainly for young couples. On the streets, you will see many couples buying Christmas cake from the bakeries shop e.g. Baskin Robbin, Starbucks and etc, either to share with their parent or loves one. The Christmas cake has become a good business where any shops that have anything to do with bakeries will sell their own Christmas cakes design. Every year these shops will compete with each others in term of cake decorations and promotions.

Young adults will show off the hottest winter fashions, usually involving miniskirts and surprisingly they can withstand the cold weather. This will be a very busy day for my eyes…

We headed for dinner at the local restaurant, 15 minutes walk from my hotel. We ordered two different type of jjigae (stew) which is heavily seasoned with chili pepper and served boiling hot on a pot. One of the jjigae is Sundubu jjigae, made with bean curd and other ingredients

It also came with many side dishes and it’s refillable whenever you like, but please don’t overdo it. Some owners may not like it. This simple meal cost 11000won for 2 persons.

Christmas decoration filled with amazing lighting at Cheonggyecheon. This area was cramped with people.

At Cheonggyecheon, there was a digital photo kiosk for everyone to snap their memorable photo on the spot and the digital photo can send to someone through email via the kiosk. And the best thing, it’s free.

Another lights decoration in the shape of Christmas tree near City Hall

As the clock struck at 12 midnight, everyone was cheering and started greeting each other.

A humble Christmas decoration outside my hotel room

Merry Christmas to everyone...

071223 – Sokcho, Abai Village, Daepo Port Seafood Market, Sokcho Beach

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According to some websites, we can have magnificent views of the sunrise from Cheongchoho Lake. So I asked the hotel attendant, what is the best time to view the sunrise. He confidently said 4am and can be viewed from the hotel, or even better if we walked toward the lake. My wife and I were so excited and we decided to wake up at 4am. We woke up on time, prepare our camera and thick winter cloth as the temperature outside is between 0-5 Celsius degree. We walked toward the lake and the temperature was so freezing cold, we had no choice but to hide inside the broken dummy telephone booth, but that did not help much either. The chilling wind made it even worst.

Later we found out that this area was the shooting site for the famous Korean drama, Autumn in my heart. The love story of Eunseo and Junseo where both of them were switched at birth at the hospital. It is a sad but beautiful love story between these two. One of the episodes showed the lead actress made a phone call from this telephone booth. This was the first Korean drama I finished all the episodes and every episodes will definitely made me teary eyes, same goes with my wife. Always make sure a tissue box is always beside me.

Both of us waited for almost an hour and we can’t even see any orange rays of sunrise. Darn, probably the hotel attendant gave us the wrong information or there was a miscommunication along the conversation. We only saw the full moon shining in the dark sky; I guess this is what we call moonlighting with misery (with my wife inside the telephone booth). Without any hesitations, we decided to walk back quickly to hotel and continued with our sleep.

After checking out from the hotel around 11am, we walked to the Tourist Information Center near the Expo Tower.

Decided to go to Abai Village by foot, we strolled along the Cheongchoho Lake for almost 45 minutes. Along the way, we bumped into a fishing boat docks and the fishermen were busy unloading fresh catch of the day, really fresh crabs.

Below is the view of Abai Village from Sinsuro Arch Bridge. Abai Village is the hometown for those elderly people who fled from North Korean during the Korean War and now still resides in this village. Abai means aged people.

Abai Village is another famous shooting site for the Korean drama, Autumn in my heart where the lead actress’s mother owned a supermarket here.

Photo shot inside the supermarket

It’s already lunch time and we headed to one of the local shop which is facing the beach.

We ordered the popular dish, Hamheung naengmyeon. Naengmyeon means cold buckwheat noodle. The soup is made from a pickled flatfish broth, which is mixed with sesame, sesame oil, beef, veggie and egg with spicy red chili paste. Imagine eating spicy food, but with cold ingredient, sometimes there were crushed ice into it. My wife and I liked it and it tasted refreshing. Naengmyeon is typically associated with North Korea, especially the cities of Pyongyang and Hamheung, from which the two most famous varieties are said to come. The lady voluntarily showed us how to prepare and eat the dish. Because the noodles are long, she will cut the noodles with scissors.

Another popular dish here will be the Abai sundae. Sundae is a Korean dish made from boiling cow or pig’s intestines and stuffed with various ingredients. So I believe Abai sundae has its own ingredients and specialty. The lunch cost 15000won for these two dishes.

Another shooting site for the Korean drama, Autumn in my heart at the nearby Cheonghodong beach.

Due to the chilling wind, we quickly walked back through the alley and passed by the supermarket. Nearby the supermarket, the lead actress of the Korean drama often took the ‘Gaetbae’ boat which was also another popular tourist attraction.

The boat ride cost 200won per person and it ran on manpower where a man will be pulling the ropes to move the boat across the waterway. I tried to do it alone and it’s not an easy task as it required lots of energy, shame shame shame on me…

At the downtown Sokcho, we went to the local Jungang market which sells mainly fresh seafood and dried fish

While exploring the town, we bumped in to this pub called Dumb Bar, haha. Is it for dumb customer or the owner can’t think of a name? What a dumb name…

Ahh, my wife favorite snack, I do not know what it called, but I called it squid balls. It made of squid and flour, then steamed it in a round shape, seasoned with mayonnaise and dried salted seaweed. Once you bite, it was so succulent as if your mouth going to burst with juices.

We strolled along the town doing some window shopping. At one point, we saw many people fishing along the shore.

At this area, there were many stalls selling dried fish.

Feeling a bit hungry at 4pm and no other destinations for us to discover, we took a bus to Daepo Port for our early dinner before heading back to Seoul. At the seafood market, there was a row of stall selling fresh seafood which we did not explore yesterday. We quickly stopped at one of the stalls selling fresh mussels, clams and scallops. Due to language barrier, we were expected to be slaughtered with a neck full of bloods. Personally we managed to get some good negotiation, I guess.

We also ordered the famous squid sundae. Since it’s a squid sundae, definitely I’m expecting lots of squids, with the mixture of bean curd, onions, carrots, eggs and other ingredients. This stuffed squid is baked then cut into small pieces. Emm, this is a must try and it tasted much better than Abai Sundae, yummy yummy yummy. I wanted to ordered more, but it’s too filling. My cholesterol level definitely will shoot up like a rocket at the end of this tour.

After a satisfying meal, we strolled in the vicinity of the Daepo Port.

There are ample of parking if you decided to drive to Daepo Port and it’s about 5 minutes walk to the seafood market.

Then we headed to Express Bus Terminal to buy our ticket back to Seoul. The ticket cost 22000won per person and the bus will depart at 6pm. I wondered why it is so expensive when heading back to Seoul, probably different bus company. We still have an hour to spare; we walked about 500m to the nearby beach called Sokcho Beach. The beach has white sand with clear water, surrounded with pine trees.

What amazed me was the hotels nearby which have the influences of Aladdin or Middle East and they were colorful like a toy world.

Finally the bus arrived and we had to endure the 4 hours journey back to Seoul.