Thursday, October 25, 2012

25 Oct 12 - Day 1 (Namdaemun Market, Namsangol Hanok Village, Myeongdong)

Touched down at 6:35am, cleared the immigration and collected my luggage by 7:20am. Asked the information counter for the place to buy bus ticket and was directed to the outside of Gate 12. Found the bus stop and thought I will pay when I board the bus so stood there for a while. Then I recalled that a blogger mentioned in her post that one needs to get the bus ticket from a counter and so lugged my luggage to scout around. Found the counter not too far away and purchased my bus ticket for bus number 6015 at W10,000. 
I took a photo of my bus ticket and the bus came at 7:45am. There were two uncles at the bus stop helping to tag and stow the luggage under the bus after handing them the bus tickets. The journey from Incheon International Airport to Sejong Hotel took about 80-90 minutes because of the heavy morning traffic. I was so tired and drained from the flight journey that I dozed off on the bus for most of the bus journey. It was after the bus entered the Seoul City area that I became alert so that I would not miss my stop which was actually the last stop before the bus heads back to the airport.

Got down with a few other passengers, collected my luggage and tried to navigate my way to Zaza Backpackers. Walked according to the map given by Zaza but the surroundings didn’t match the descriptions. So I asked a local for the direction to Myeongdong station because the map indicated that I need to pass by exit #9. She directed me to the station; I found the exit and then checked the map again. It was then I realized that I had misinterpreted the map. The arrows didn’t mean the direction of the traffic but rather where they lead to. So much for my map reading skill. Found Pacific Hotel which was one of the landmarks printed on the map and followed the directions. It was an uphill climb and I had to pull my luggage in one hand, hold the map in the other and trying desperately to find the hostel. I was tired, sleepy and having a bad headache that I almost wanted to give up. Finally found Zaza which was hidden in a side road with a small sign.
A staff happened to come out and helped me with the luggage. Went into the reception area which was actually like a living room area, wrote my particulars in the register book, paid the W200,000 and was brought to my room in another building further up slope. Fortunately, the staff helped me with the luggage because I was dead tired, even the walk to the building proved to be taxing for me. Already I found it tiring to walk to that building and though WL stayed in the main building during one of her Seoul trips, she had the rooftop room which was worse because more stairs to climb. I thought to myself no wonder WL had knee problem after that trip to Seoul and didn’t go back to stay with Zaza after that one time.

The building was like a normal two-storey house with a front gate, a digital lock on the front door. Once inside, I was told to take off shoes and placed in the shoe cupboard. There were a few rooms on the first floor and a pantry beside the staircase. My room was 201, the first room on the second floor with a sofa just outside the room and a telephone that can make international calls just opposite it. There were two computers with free Internet and a couple more rooms. The staff explained to me how to use the air-conditional, the in-house phone to call the reception and also helped me to take two towels and a roll of toilet paper from the pantry.
After he left, I connected to the free Wi-Fi and started messaging sis while doing a bit of unpacking, taking photos and resting. By the time I went out again, it was already 11am. A part of my plan for Day 1 was ruined due to the timing. I headed to Myeongdong station, popped into a convenient store to buy a bottle of water and the T-money which was similar to our Ez-link card. Thinking there was value inside the card so used it to tap at the gantry but it gave me error. Checked with the station control and was told to top up the card. So went to the vending machine to top up the card with W3,000. The machine was touch-screen and very easy to understand even though it was mostly in Korean.
I took the train from Myeongdong to Hoehyeon which was just one stop away to get to Namdaemun Market. My initial plan was to find the Kalguksu Alley to eat breakfast but given the timing, I gave that up and just wandered around the market. Subsequently, I bought a Hotteok to eat because I was hungry and also because the cinnamon smell was very alluring. The market was very big with many stalls, shops, pushcarts and alleys as well as a few big malls selling many things like fresh seafood, women clothing, children clothing, socks, ginseng products, snacks, handicraft materials, textiles, shoes, accessories, street food so on and so forth.

I was overwhelmed with the crowd and the things to see in the market so I went into two of the malls to look around, Mesa and Samick. The malls were something similar to the Hello APM and Migliore where there were many stalls selling clothing and accessories over a few storeys. The only difference was that these two malls saw mainly female vendors while the other malls in Dongdaemun Market had male vendors. Saw a pair of boots that had a cut-out design and rather colorful, was tempted to buy but it cost W78,000. Left for Namsangol Hanok Village via the subway from Hoehyeon to Chungmuro, which was two stops away.
Namsangol Hanok Village was not very far from Chungmuro station and by the time I got there, it was already 12:45pm. There were many young children there on school excursions. Walked around the compound, saw some hands-on activities but they required pre-registrations and also the timing wasn’t right as most were out for lunch breaks. The trees in the village were in shades of green, yellow, orange and red, a very pretty sight.

It was a cloudy day with fog and I was very, very tired so scrape Namsan Park and went back to Myeongdong instead. It was already 2+pm when I reached Myeongdong and I was hungry. Saw a pair of tourist guides dressed in red and approached them for a map and asked for direction to Hadongkwan which was a 73 year old shop selling gomtang, a traditional Korean beef soup boil using various parts of beef and radish and served with sliced meat and rice and eaten with minced green onion and salt or kimchi gravy for seasoning. Found the place, made the order, took photos and ate my lunch. Personally I didn’t find it fantastic, either I didn’t know how to appreciate gomtang or I wasn’t eating it the right way, as in I didn’t add enough minced green onion and salt or kimchi gravy.

Left the shop and went to walk around Myeongdong while messaging little big sis on and off with the available free Wi-Fi in the area. Checked out Holika Holika, a shop recommended by a blogger saying that the packaging for their products were cute. Yes, they were cute but nothing suitable for me so in the end only bought two tins of hand cream for Mag and Kim. Most of the cosmetic shops were having 1-for-1 promotions and the face masks were packed in tens so essentially one is paying for ten pieces of face masks but getting twenty instead. Didn’t like to get so many pieces of the same type hence I got ten pieces of different types from Innisfree. Coincidentally, the ambassador for the shop is Lee Min Ho, who used to endorse Etude House where I bought my face masks from during the first Korea trip.
Sis suggested getting some food for supper and so walked over to Lotte departmental store to get a bottle of 2l water and check out the snacks suggested by another blogger. Found them and took some photos of them before leaving the place. Bought bread from Tous Les Jours since it was along the way and then I almost got lost again while trying to find my way back to the hostel. Got back by 5+pm, settled down, showered, messaged little big sis about my day while channel surfing and eating bread as dinner. Initially I thought the TV only offers Korean shows but eventually I managed to find some that had English shows. My room can see N Seoul Tower and it is lighted up in pretty blue colour. I will go there if I manage to finish up tomorrow’s program early.

Thoughts: When taking night flight, better be on half day leave so that one will have some time to rest the body and the brain before diving into another long day of activities. Though I didn’t get to find Kalguksu Alley and eat kalguksu, at least I got to eat gomtang. Myeongdong is very crowded with tourists and the cosmetic shops practically repeat themselves on every other street. I almost got lost in Myeongdong itself because every street looks almost the same to me. Even the subway station is a maze with so many exits and I had a hard time trying to figure out which exit to take to get back to the hostel.

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