Friday, October 26, 2012

26 Oct 12 - Day 2 (Gyeongbokgung Palace, National Folk Museum, Samcheongdong, Bukchon Hanok Village, Namsan Park)

Got up at 8am after a good 12 hours of sleep, I felt better, even though during the night I could hear people talking and dragging of luggage. Went out by 8:35am to take the subway from Myeongdong station to Chungmuro station to transfer from line #4 to line #3 to get to Gyeongbokgung station. Followed the directional signs and found Gyeongbokgung Palace. Bought the ticket from the counter and went into the palace.
I was taking photos at the front when a middle-age guy asked me to help him take a photo. We struck up a conversation when I asked if he was there alone. Cannot remember his name now only remember him saying that his name means “Nice day”. Since we were both alone, we walked together to tour the palace with the help of the palace guide booklet and helped each other to take photos. He came from Iran, worked in the emergency unit in a hospital in Iran, was in Seoul for a week, gave a presentation couple of days ago and today was his last day in Seoul then he had to fly off to Kuala Lumpur in a couple of hours to connect a flight back to Iran. He mentioned something like Iranians needs to apply for visa to visit Korea. I asked him where else he went while in Seoul and he listed COEX Mall, Itaewon and some of the areas on the South side.
We didn’t cover everything in the Palace; I missed the change of guards and the National Palace Museum which was inside the Palace because we passed by the National Folk Museum and started touring that. After we were done, he wanted to take a rest and so we sat down on a bench where he offered me a tangerine and we chatted. He said he visited Singapore before and went to the Marina Bay Sands Skypark, Sentosa and a couple of other places. He commented that garlic in Singapore is so expensive and it is so cheap back in Iran. Told him that Singapore is small and doesn’t have the land to grow own food so most food are imported and hence the high prices.
He wanted to visit the Blue House while I wanted to go to Samcheongdong. Checked with the information counter and was told that both places were in the same direction. So went out of the side gate and walked together. He asked if I want to visit the Blue House and I told him I want to go to Samcheongdong. He said he will follow me since he has two hours before his flight. He looked at the map, asked the policemen for directions and we walked further. He asked what is there in Samcheongdong and I explained to him that inside there is a Bukchon Hanok Village where we can see some old traditional houses. I think he mistaken that Samcheongdong is a building structure and he commented that we may have missed it. Looked at my map and found the Owl Museum. It requires entrance fee and I asked if he is interested. He said no and finally decided that he wants to visit the Blue House so we said goodbye and split up.
I wandered around and then headed for the park because I read that it was at the base of Samcheongsan Mountain, famous for thick forest and scenic views. Came to the entrance to the park where I saw a map of the park which was in Korean. Couldn’t understand but took a photo nevertheless. Shortly after I entered the park, I saw a sign that say “Prospect Point”. I interpreted it as a high place to view the surroundings and the distance stated was less than 1km so decided to go for it. There were many flights of steps and I started to perspire profusely in my cotton long-sleeve top, especially with the hot sun shining.
Half way through the climb, I was feeling very tired and was tempted to just give up and head back down but a part of me was not willing to just give up without a fight. So pressed on and finally reached the top that rewarded me with nice views. Took some photos and then thought I will descend via another route so followed behind a few female hikers. I was walking along some stone walls and I was guessing that it could be the fortress wall. I was contemplating if I should explore the fortress wall, in the end, the rational side of me decided that it is best to retrace my steps and descend where I came from. The fortress wall was long, the park was big and I was ill-prepared so better not risk getting lost in the big park with no one with me.
I got back to Samcheongdong-gil, popped into the information center to get a map. Felt hungry and happened to pass by a rice cake shop. Went in and everything looked yummy. I stood in front of the display for a while and then a young Korean lady spoke to me in simple English asking if she can recommend me the nice ones to try. I accepted her offer and she recommended me to try the pan-fried sweet potato rice cake and the chestnut sweet potato rice cake. Bought those two, thanked her for the recommendations and then continued walking. I was feeling really, really hungry and needed real food.
Happened to turn around and saw the young lady again, approached her and asked if she could recommend me a good place for lunch. She was very helpful and asked what kind of food I prefer, whether it was rice or noodle. Told her I prefer rice and she led the way. Half way through walking, her friend came from behind and she was speaking to her friend in Korean. I was afraid that I might have held her up and checked with her if she has time to show me. She then asked if I’m ok with eating noodles and I replied yes since I think perhaps the rice place was probably too far for her to bring me to. She brought me to this shop that sells kalguksu and said that it is a traditional shop, very popular and has long queue. The staff spoke to her in Korean and then she translated to me that the staff said the waiting time would be about 15-20 minutes. So I thanked the young lady, said goodbye and joined the queue.
By the time I was seated, it was already 2.20pm. Looked at the menu and the greedy me ordered a bowl of kalguksu and a serving of jumbo dumplings. The aunty who took my order had to ask me if I was one person twice and I answered yes. I think she must be thinking “I’m going to see how this woman is going to finish all the food.” She served the dumplings very quickly together with a small dish of kimchi and a small dish of non-spicy cabbage. There were seven jumbo dumplings in total, took a couple of photos and I ate two right away because I was very hungry and sent the photo to sis via Whatsapp. Then the noodle was served and it was a big bowl. I took photos of it too before eating and sent the photo as well. I ate directly from the bowl and then I saw the man over at the next table taking the noodle out onto the extra plate to eat. A few other patrons nearby also did the same and so I followed suit. No wonder I was given the extra plate. In the end, I only managed to finish half of the noodle and four out of seven of the dumplings after 60 minutes. It was a good meal nevertheless and a well-deserved one after doing the impromptu hiking.
Continued with my adventure in Bukchon and asked the tourist guide in red for directions to the Bukchon Hanok Village. Managed to find the main street where most of the hanoks were congregated and there were lots of tourists there taking photos. So most of the photos I took have people other than me in them and not as nice as those seen in the promotion materials. Would have been nice if I can take a look inside a hanok but because most of them are residential and had their doors closed, I didn’t know which are the ones that are actually free to enter. Still it was a good experience to see so many real hanok and not just know them through drama series.
Ended my adventure in Bukchon at 4+pm and traveled to Chungmuro station. I was told that I can take a yellow shuttle bus from the station to N Seoul Tower. Tried to look for a sign in the station that indicates which exit to get to the bus stop but was unable to find one. Came out of the station, walked around the area and saw a bus directory. Fortunately the directory has English names and I saw N Seoul Tower for bus number 2 and 5. There were some other tourists there waiting for the buses and soon bus number 2 came. I checked with the driver again asking if the bus goes to N Seoul Tower before tapping the T-money to pay for the bus fare.
Alighted at N Seoul Tower bus stop at 5.20pm and had to walk up the slope to get to N Seoul Tower area. The slope was somewhat similar to that of the Bukit Timah Natural Reserve and I was panting like a dog half way through the climb. Just then a man who was walking his two big dogs passed by and I took the chance to stop and take photos and to rest a bit. After that one minute of rest, I continued with the climb and soon I reached the top. The sun was already setting and I checked out the ticket counter, there was a long queue. Weighed my options and decided to forgo going up to the Tower since by the time I reach the top, the sun would have already set. Quickly made my way to the area where lots of locks were and took photos of the sunset. There were many people there but fortunately, I managed to snag a good spot.
After the sun was set, I wandered around the area, taking photos while waiting for the Tower to light up. Then I sat on the steps in front of the pavilion and ate the two rice cakes that I bought in the afternoon. A couple came along and started unpacking their dinner on the steps beside me. I could see many small containers with dishes and after they had laid out all the food, they started eating. Oh man, if only I could have some hot food too. It was getting chilly and I put on my jacket. Soon the Tower was light up in green but the top portion was not totally lighted up. Waited around some more, hoping that it would change color and after some time, it changed to pink color. Feeling satisfied, I went to take the cable car down. The staff tried to pack as many people into the cable car as he can and we ended up like sardines in a can.
It was 7+pm when I got to Myeongdong and a lot of pushcarts were out on the streets selling hoodies, socks, tights, bags, shoes, scarves and so on. There were also many stalls selling street food such as roasted chestnuts where they even shelled the chestnuts for you; tteokbokki, grilled chicken on sticks, fishcakes, etc and people just buy and eat while standing at the stall or eat while walking around. Walked up and down and around Myeongdong many times and chanced upon “Too Cool For School”, a cosmetic shop that I read about in someone’s blog. The packaging of the products was very cute but because I hardly put on makeup, I didn’t buy any cosmetics. Only bought some yogurt masks and then went to hunt for cute socks. Bought four pairs before getting some BBQ squid strips from a food stall, a bottle of my favorite banana milk from the convenient store and tteokbokki from a food shop along the way back to the hostel.
Got back slightly after 9pm, washed up, ate dinner, watched some TV before sleeping at 12 midnight. Tomorrow is going to be rest and relax day so I can sleep in a bit later.
Thoughts: Missed a lot of things in Gyeongbokgung Palace so will have to go back again if I ever go back to Seoul. Traveling solo is good because I can see what I want, when I want but the downside is that I have to ask other people to help me take photos. Samcheongdong-gil and surroundings are a contrast to the Bukchon Hanok Village. Samcheongdong-gil and surroundings have a lot of shops and coffee houses with interesting designs and selling interesting stuff.
Bukchon Hanok Village is a residential area with very nice traditional houses. I think in order to get nice photos, it is better to go in the early morning before the tourists arrive. This is the second time I missed going up N Seoul Tower, perhaps third time’s a charm eh? Myeongdong in the morning and Myeongdong at night are very different and I actually prefer the night Myeongdong because it is much more lively, not to mention lots of street food to eat!

No comments: