Friday, March 13, 2015

My Seoul itinerary, March 2015

I recently found out about the term "Saturn return", and am fairly intrigued. I'm not one to believe in astrology or the like, but the whole concept interests me. 
Saturn return: a point in our lives when the transiting Saturn planet returns to the same point in the sky that it occupied at the moment of our birth, believed by astrologists to mark influential developments at certain points of our lives - age 28-31, 56-60, and if you live long enough, 84-90 and 114-118. 

So my first Saturn return happens sometime this year. Coincidentally, I made the choice to pursue freelancing this year, leaving a full-time job for full-time freelancing. What will I be doing exactly? I don't quite know for sure, but right now it's a mixture of theatre, writing, pet-sitting, recording and teaching. Not having a full-time job and stable income is definitely daunting, but I quite like the idea that my life is now slightly undefined.

To mark the change, I went on a holiday that I've been waiting years for. 
Finally back to Seoul!

Warning: Long article up ahead. A week's worth of my Seoul itinerary.

Day 0: Spending the night and morning on 2 planes.

From my shameless #ootd in Changi Airport's Cactus Garden,

to Hong Kong Airport for our transit to Incheon.

We got our tickets cheap from Cathay Pacific during one of their promotions. Our transit to Incheon was 55 minutes. The counter staff at Changi Airport told us that a minimal of 45 minutes is needed for a transit in Hong Kong Airport, and that if our 1st flight is delayed, an airport staff will receive us at Hong Kong and usher us to our 2nd flight. 
True enough, delay. 
Mad rush across Hong Kong Airport to our 2nd plane with our airport staff usher leading the way. But still, enough time for a quick photo of deserted Hong Kong Airport at 12am.

Day 1: Incheon  Dongdaemun → Sindang  Hyehwa → Dongdaemun Myeongdong

5 hours later, we were on the airport (all-stop) train to Seoul (3,950 won). And the thing that greets us (besides the sharp, biting 3°C cold) when we exit Seoul Station and transfer trains? 
I was too busy geeking out like a noob to take a picture (I've never seen snow!).

Got my chance to take a picture of the snow when we got out at Dongdaemun station. 
And then found out that it's close to impossible to photograph light snow.

After leaving our bags at the hostel's reception (too early for check-in), we started the day. 
First, to Sindang for breakfast.

Our hostel receptionist warned us that it was too early for tteokbokki street (we were heading there at 8am).
We decided to try our luck anyway because korean tourism website says the stall we wanted to visit opens at 7am.

Sindang station, with a clear sign that points to tteokbokki street.

Sure enough, we were the first customers of the day. We loitered outside for a while, not sure if they were open because there wasn't anyone inside and ajummas looked busy. In the end, the cold won and we took a chance by going in and asking if we could eat.

Ajummas were surprised that we came so early, but served us anyway. 
Yay for hot food on a cold day!
Everything on the table for 11,000 won.

After a hearty breakfast, we set off for Hyehwa, to pop by a shop that I came across when researching for the trip.

We were too early (shop opens at 11am) and it was too cold outside, so a visit to Holly's Coffee for coffee and cake. First goguma (sweet potato) latte of the trip!

And then a somewhat-quick-because-it-was-cold stroll through Hyehwa to 10x10.

Besides YoungPoong and Kyobo, this is every korean design stationery lover's dreamland.

Next stop: Ihwa Mural Village.

Taking another somewhat-quick-because-it-was-cold stroll, we got to the start of the trail for the mural village. Because it's a village, there are different ways to get onto the trail. 
I won't even try to give directions because we pretty much winged it using the tourist map and road signs. 
I hope Google helps you.

You know you're nearing something arty when the signs look like this.

Ihwa Mural Village, a residential area that got a facelift by local artists who came together to spruce up the place with their designs. 

On the way up to the highest point in the village, where a small park and vantage point are.
I decided to leave a little mark of my own on a wall filled with plenty of other doodles.

My Seoul La Sardina (my prize for submitting a picture from my previous visit to Seoul to a Lomography+Seoul Metro photo competition) finally gets to live outside its box and visit the city its design was inspired by. I think that's pretty apt.

The view from the highest point of the mural village.
This city is beautiful.

And then it was downhill for more murals...

The murals were definitely cute and fun to photograph, but what caught my attention was the village life. Residents trying to go about their daily lives amidst camera-wielding tourists, probably jaded by the constant attention their village gets.

Completing our mural trail and leaving the village, heading back to our hostel to complete our check-in before heading out for more.

But first, a quick visit to the shopping district in Dongdaemun, home of Doota, Hello apM, Migliore, Goodmorning City and Maxtyle.
No pictures because I was too busy marvelling at how much the prices have gone up since the last time I was there. Prices of clothes used to be between SGD10-40 when I last visited in 2011. Prices are now between SGD30-70, with cheaper pieces looking not-very-fashionable.
At such prices, I no longer consider Dongdaemun a good place to go for value buys. 

After checking in back at the hostel, we hopped on the train to Myeongdong, where prices are hopefully still reasonable.

No pictures of Myeongdong because it's Myeongdong. It's just lots of shopping in various alleys. 
We did, however, stop at Baekje to relive our 2011 memories. Still as good as we remember it. 
Thank you, consistency.

Sure enough, prices at Myeongdong are more or less like we remember them. A good variation from 30,000 won to over 100,000 won. But at least pieces were more fashionable than the picks at Dongdaemun. 
The day's haul: 4 pieces from Myeongdong (3 from Åland, 1 from a basement store), each less than 35,000 won. 
Yup, shopping at Myeongdong > shopping at Dongdaemun.

No shopping trip to Seoul is complete without getting cute and cheap socks. 
1,000 won/pair at almost every respectable sock-selling shop.
Very cheap, very good.

Day 2: Buam-dong → Insadong  Bukchon Samcheongdong → Gwanghwamun

We were planning on doing the Bukhansan hike today, but the weather forecast warned us not to be idiots. Today was supposedly the coldest day of the week, with temperatures ranging from -5 to 1°C and strong winds. 
Okay Bukhansan, we'll see you tomorrow.

Waking up early, we head to Gwangjang Market to pack food for our trip to Buam-dong, touted as the quieter and even-more-hipster version of Samcheongdong. 

Nothing like hot food for another cold day. Our Singaporean bodies hadn't adjusted to the 4°C cold, and hot tteokbokki was just what we needed. Cute ajumma even threw in some jokbal because she was happy I could understand her in korean. Didn't like the jokbal (don't quite fancy chewing on bone), but thanks ajumma!

A quick bus ride (take bus 1020 or 7022 from the 2nd bus stop straight ahead once you come out of Gyeongbokgung station exit 3) and we arrived at Buam-dong. Stops are announced in English after Korean, so listen out for the stop if you don't understand Korean!

We escaped into the nearest café just up the road from the Buam-dong Community Service Center stop (where we alighted). 
Club Espresso, said to have one of the best coffees in Seoul. Basically, every respectable hipster's must-visit cafe.

Ah, hot drip coffee in negative weather. Doesn't get more hipster than this.

And then we had a kinda-quick-and-speedy picnic outdoors, with the food we got from Gwangjang. 
Not so sure that was a good idea considering the cold, but now we can say we've picnicked in Buam-dong, Seoul in the cold. And I guess that's pretty cool.

We also had soondae. Which tasted... unique. The taste resembles a mix of rubber+cinnamon+pepper+sticky rice. Wouldn't eat it again, but at least I can say I've tried it. 

After the kinda-quick-and-speedy picnic, we hiked up the hill to Seoul's most beautiful café. 
Signs along the way point in the right direction. If you find yourself walking past guards guarding the fortress facing the President's house, you're going the wrong way. 
This is the map we had with us when exploring Buam-dong. It wasn't very specific, but I guess it's better than nothing.

Finally arriving at Sanmotoonge!

What the websites say is true. This is Seoul's most beautiful café. On the highest point and overlooking the village, it's hard to go wrong. Coffee and food's average at not-so-average prices, but the view and ambience is totally worth it.
Also, k-drama fans, Coffee Prince filmed here. Gong Yoo was here. Gong Yoo.
Okay 8,000 won coffee+7,000 won cake+9,000 won grapefruit drink, worth it.

We planned to follow the wall mural we saw earlier on the way up to the final point (the wall mural seemed to suggest that it'd be worth it). Had a quick chat with one of the café's staff and found out that it'd be an hour's journey there and another hour's journey back. In under 0°C weather. 
Okay maybe not. We'll imagine the beauty in our heads.

Stumbled upon a cute little bakery while heading to the bus stop for the bus back to Gyeongbokgung. This English-inspired bakery stocks very yummy breads, brownies and cookies, and the whole place smells like heaven.

Apple crumble and banana bread for tomorrow, when we hike up Bukhansan.

Dropped off at Gyeongbokgung and walked to Anguk, to Insadong. 
But first, an obligatory shot of the most famous palace in Seoul, with my Seoul La Sardina (no more palace-visiting because we visited every Seoul palace possible in 2011 and are kinda done with palaces).

Back at Sin Yetchatjip for a cup of Korean tea (not to be confused with the more popular Yetchatjip). This lovely tea house is located in a small hanok, tucked away in an alley in Insadong, very different from the huge chain O'sulloc and definitely more authentic. Very hipster.

We were served by the same ajumma that brewed and brought us our delicious tea in 2011. 
I love you, familiarity.

After tea, a quick stroll through Insadong, stopping by Ssamziegil. Things aren't as interesting as they were; there seemed to be less hand-made stalls and more commercial-looking shops.
A good stroll, but nothing particularly interesting.

A quick exit from Insadong, and on foot to the Bukchon Hanok Village area, popping into many small, interesting-looking shops along the way.
Found a shop on the 2nd floor selling Iconic Design's stationery. Heaven!

More exploring and finally arriving at the next café on our list - 희동아 엄마다 (aka Heedonga's Mom).

Very yummy patbingsu, with homemade injeolmi. 
12,000 won for a huge bowl. Totally worth it for a mother's love. 

Exploring the area on foot finally brought us to Samcheongdong, Seoul's famous hipster area where many one-of-a-kind boutiques can be found.

Seoul has very good vintage stores. Or I'm just biased because the Koreans really know how to create gorgeous displays.

Stumbled upon a very interesting 5-floor shop, Heartist
Shops like these are the reason why Seoul will always have a special place in my heart.

Travelling for me is always about exploring the place on foot. More walking from Samcheongdong and arriving at Gwanghwamun, for a quick visit to Kyobo to grab some books and ogle beautiful stationery.

Stopping along the way to get myself a huge bouquet of fried squid from Ozzang
A whole fried squid, on a stick. There's no better form of supper.

The day's haul: 3 books from Kyobo, a pack of pens from Iconic Design, a wonderfully-designed bottle and simple dark green tote from Heartist.

Day 3: Bukhansan → Hongdae

Finally, the highlight of this trip - the mountain hike. 
But first, breakfast. We didn't know it then, but we were going to need it.

A quick stop at the Bonjuk outlet closest to our hostel, for a bowl of porridge. I got the Pumpkin porridge, which was tasty but a bad choice for the morning. A whole bowl of sweet porridge in the early morning = sweetness overload. 

A train ride to Gupabal, for the bus that would take us to the start of our trail up Baegeundae, the highest point of Bukhansan.

On bus 704, with plenty of hiker ajummas and ajussis. 
I love how active Korean seniors are. 
With my arthritic knees and useless ankles, I don't think I'll age as gracefully.

Getting down at Bukhansanseong Entrance, heading straight (follow the groups of hiker ajummas and ajussis), and then turning right for more walking uphill. 

Finally arriving at the entrance of Bukhansan. 
4°C, 836 metres up, let's go!

That peak in the distance? That's where we're headed.

The Bukhansan trek is popular among locals and tonnes of people head up Bukhansan everyday. That makes me feel slightly better. 
If the ajummas and ajussis can do it, so can we, right?

The trail starts off nice and scenic.

With clear signs pointing us in the right direction.

A midway stop station for vehicles and humans even has drink machines that dispense hot cans.

Wilting autumn leaves created a beautiful path for us to trek on.

At some point, we even trekked on light snow!

It's cute how hikers have the tradition of piling rocks on top of each other to mark that they've been there and also to direct other hikers down the right way. 
How is it that after all that uphill hiking, we've only covered 1.2km?

Light snow on the rocky trail eventually became heavy piles.


We even spotted a dog in the middle of nowhere up the mountain.
By this point, I was starting to lose my sanity. For some reason, I thought he was a fox at first glance and slightly panicked. It was embarrassing.

And then rocks that mildly resembled steps eventually disappeared, replaced by these rails to help hikers scale whole boulders.
We have clearly underestimated this hike.

Arriving at a gateway, feeling extremely accomplished (and glad) that we were near the top.

Only to realise, on the other side, that we weren't even close. 
It was just a check-point.

Oh hello, more scaling.

Shit just got real.

After much slipping (we wore the wrong shoes and plenty of hiker ajummas and ajussis stopped us along the way, asking us to be careful because of the snow and frost ahead. Gotta love friendly locals) and panting (or rather, extreme shortness of breath due to bad stamina), we were finally almost there. 
Yes, almost there. Not quite there yet.

Another round of scaling, and we were finally at the top. 
Overlooking Seoul, we had our apple crumble and banana bread. 
Baked goods never tasted so good.

And fancy that. A cat, in the middle of nowhere on top of Baegeundae. He survives on the compassion of hiker ajussis and ajummas, who throw him some food while they sit and picnic. 
Cats, such smart little buggers.

No pictures on the way down because we were trying very hard to preserve our lives and not die on jutting rocks.
I've never been this glad to walk on level ground and return to civilisation.
But yay, we conquered Baegeundae!

Back to Gupabal on the same bus and a train ride later, we got to Hongdae.

Where we rewarded ourselves with more confectionery.

At Thanks Nature Café, where you dine with sheeps. Yes, sheeps. 
The owner of the café has sheeps for pets. 

I have no idea how we still had the energy to shop after a 6-hour climb up and down Baegeundae, 
but we did. 
Hello, STYLENANDA! Aren't you a sight for sore eyes.

Shopping is great, but fried chicken is even better.
Take-out from Kyochon, Hongdae (be prepared to wait for your chicken; we went back to shopping and came back after 20 minutes for our take-out), heading back to the hostel for supper.

Our bodies ached like 90-year-olds, 
but fried chicken and makgeolli for supper made everything okay.

Day 4: Sinsa Ewha  Myeongdong

Starting off day 4 in Seoul with a visit to Garosu-gil, walking over from Sinsa station.

Spotted a Volkswagen vintage T1 Camper Van parked on the streets next to a shop called Indi Brand
We later found 2 more outlets in Garosu-gil and Myeongdong. Decent designs, reasonable prices (quite a few pretty pieces priced around 30,000 won).
But I digress. The main point of this picture is the Volkswagen van. 
So gorgeous.

Exploring Garosu-gil, the street with plenty of beautiful window displays and quirky designs.

Home to designer stores, Garosu-gil is more for taking a stroll and admiring the quaint designs than for budget shopping. Prices are pretty steep; I guess you're paying for the exclusivity and brand names. 
Didn't get anything there except a wallet from Åland. 
Yes, Åland is almost everywhere in Seoul. 

Didn't spend too much time in Garosu-gil and saw no need to visit Apgujeong (land of even more expensive international brands), so train ride back to Ewha.

Ewha, land of cheap shopping.

But first, lunch.

Came across a Nolboo outlet while walking around Ewha.
Being creatures of habit, we decided to relive our Seoul 2011 memories and popped in for lunch.
Hello, budae jjigae!

After a round of shopping in Ewha, it was on to the next place on our to-visit list.

A walk to Sinchon from Ewha brought us to Homilpat, popular patbingsu place among the locals and tourists.
We used Google maps to get us there, but this blog has pretty decent directions too.

Served separately in two bowls - shaved ice in one and red beans in the other.
Green tea patbingsu on a cold day. I never thought it'd be refreshing, but it was.

And no trip to the land of churros-lovers is complete without having churros.
Koreans love their churros and I love churros. 
Best place to be.

After patbingsu, it's another walk to Sangsu for another must-visit café on our list.
It was pretty much walk, eat, walk, eat and walk some more. 
Which works out for us, since we probably walked off the calories we ate.

Hello, gorgeous! We finally meet in real life.

Hoho Myoll. Gorgeous café filled with Volkswagen memorabilia. 
The owner drives a Volkswagen beetle and there's a Volkswagen T1 parked inside the café, decked out with chairs and table for dining.

This is probably the closest I'll ever get to sitting behind the wheel of a Volkswagen T1. 
Can I stay here and never leave?

After a day out, we ended the night back at Gwangjang Market, for supper.
Our last night in the hostel before checking out and moving to another place. 
I'm going to miss being able to walk 10 minutes from where we sleep to this glorious food market.
And the cute ajummas.

The day's haul: Make-up inspired by Pantone palettes! 
Now how awesome is that?
Lipgloss, face mist and concealer palette. All in Pantone.
Korean cosmetics, you win.

Day 5: Paju → Hapjeong → Hongdae  Myeongdong

Last day at the hostel, checking out at 7am, an hour earlier from their usual checking out time (8am-11am).

Leaving a note on the keys before dropping them off in our shoe locker (yes, shoe locker. Because outdoor shoes are not allowed to be worn past the second entrance into the living area. A pretty good idea to help keep the living area clean). 

Took the train down to Euljiro 1-ga, where our second hotel was, to leave our luggages with the reception (again, too early for the usual check-in at 2pm). 
The hotel counter staff decided to let us check in early because the room was ready.

After checking in, another train ride to Hapjeong, for the bus to Heyri Art Valley. We took bus 2200 from a bus stand (note: the bus service has been relocated from the bus stop to a bus stand, just a short walk away from the original bus stop just outside exit 2; look out for a standing sign and people queuing), and travelled about 45 minutes before arriving at the bus stop: Heyri Art Valley's Entrance 1. For more directions on how to get there, go here.

Because it's located in Paju, the town closest to North Korea, the ride to Heyri Art Valley brings you past lots of guard posts, barbed wire and security facilities, reminding you that Korea is very much still a divided country.

Despite its location, there's no air of sombreness in Heyri Art Valley. Filled with lots of quirky galleries, museums and cafés, the place screams hipster artist.

Also, we found a shop with lots of cats living in the vicinity. They roam all over the shop's quarters and the shop's name has a cat reference. I'm guessing the owner loves cats.
Cats in an artist village filled with quaint cafés and galleries. If that's not hipster, I don't know what is.  

The last must-visit café on our list - Foresta. This book café puts Singapore's book cafés to shame. 
Floor-to-ceiling bookshelf stocked full of books that are free for browsing as you while away the morning/afternoon. 
I wonder if anyone has ever finished all the books on this shelf.

The artist village isn't huge, and a slow stroll around should bring you to everything worth checking out in this quaint valley. 
But just in case you're OCD and absolutely need a map, you can try downloading one from here.

After exploring Heyri, we crossed the road for the same bus back to Hapjeong. 
If you have more time to spare/would like to see it because Running Man filmed there, the English Village is within walking distance from Heyri. Paju Book City is also a bus stop or two earlier than Heyri when coming from Hapjeong. 
Better yet, do the DMZ tour and visit some spots where you can view North Korea from watch towers. We did the full DMZ/JSA tour with the USO the last time we were in Seoul. 
Money definitely well spent.

Back at Hapjeong and on foot to Hongdae. Yes, walking again. 
A place is best explored on foot.

Finally arriving at our next stop, Hongdae Free Market! 
I've been wanting to visit this market since I read about it in a friend's blog, and was crazy excited when I found out that the market begins again on 7 March (after its winter break), the weekend that we were in Seoul. 
No respectable hipster can say no to an artist flea market.

Held in the playground park in Hongdae, the Free Market happens every Saturday (March to November) from 1-6pm and features hand-made knick-knacks designed by local artists.

It is also packed with people. Lots of people.
Hongdae on a Saturday is not-funny crowded.

I love how, every time we visited Hongdae, there would be performances going on along the main street. 
Doesn't hurt that the performers were usually cute korean oppas with talent.

After squeezing with the crowd in Hongdae, we made our way back to Myeongdong for dinner before returning to the hotel. And today was when our lives in Seoul were completely changed.
We discovered Kimgane, a bunsikjip (분식집) that serves inexpensive korean dishes like ramyeon, rice, tteok and gimbap. 
We found this stall in the Myeongdong alley closest to our hotel. Extremely tourist-friendly, this shop has a menu in English and one of the staff speaks fluent Mandarin and Japanese. 
I am ashamed of my measly Korean skills.

The gimbap was to die for. One of the best gimbaps I've ever had, and is available in various flavours (tuna, kimchi, tonkatsu, beef, egg, cheese, assorted, etc.). A huge roll of kimchi gimbap (11 pieces in total) costs 3,000 won. A bowl of kimchi jjigae, 6,000 won. A bowl of very yummy sundubu jjigae (super smooth sundubu that tastes nothing like regular tofu), 6,000 won. 
Endless flow of kimchi and radish pickle (danmuji) available from their self-service counter, and you can also help yourself to warm/iced water and simple hot soup.
We ate there on 3 separate days, our bill never exceeding 15,000 won each time.
So satisfying, so tasty, so budget-friendly.

Myeongdong on a Saturday. 
Also not-funny crowded.

Day 6: Yeouido → Dongdaemun → Myeongdong

Last proper day in Seoul, and we decided to take things easy, waking up slightly later than our usual 7am. 

Day trip to Yeouido, to escape the mad crowds that would be at most spots within the city. 
Home to Korea's largest banks, financial services companies, major broadcasters (KBS, MBC!) and chaebols, the island would probably be relatively deserted on a Sunday.

First stop: Yeouido Hangang Park.
Exiting from Yeouinaru station, exit 2 or 3, the first thing that greets you should be this beautiful park that overlooks the Hangang. 
The weather was perfect for the park, the sun keeping us warm in the 10°C morning.

The park was filled with locals, enjoying the weekend next to the country's famous river. 
Lots of park activities kept the place lively, with water activities, cyclists, skateboarders,

families spending quality time together,

couples picnicking by the river,

couples walking their dogs by the river,

couples basking in the sun near camping grounds,

basically, just lots of couples.

And cats. There were also cats.
I love this place already.

After a long stroll from one end of the park to another and a bit of sitting on the yellowed grass,
we bid the beautiful park farewell.

And wandered the streets of Yeouido, passing lots of seemingly empty residential apartments and even emptier streets.
The streets of Yeouido on a Sunday remind me of Singapore's own CBD area on weekends.
There's something quite romantic about a deserted financial area.

We stopped at 63 Square, one of the island's landmarks. 
Famous for its aquarium, 3D movie theatre, wax museum and sky gallery, the ticket counters in the building were packed with visitors. 
We'd planned to visit the sky gallery, because aquariums are cruel and wax museums are kinda lame. At 264 metres above sea level, the gallery offers a bird's eye view of the city and will set you back by 13,000 won. 
63 square was somewhat underwhelming, and we figured we'd already seen the city from 836 metres above (Baegeundae, I miss you), so we left the building, heading for the next landmark.

Another stroll across the island, arriving at IFC Mall. Like most mega malls, this one features big international brands and select local brands like 8 Seconds and Beanpole. There's also a high-end supermarket in the basement stocked full of very gorgeous-looking groceries, run by CJ Group (random useless fact: every time I think of chaebols, I think of Lee Min Ho). 

I succumbed to a very gorgeous-looking product from the supermarket, and got myself banana pudding cake in a jar. It doesn't help that koreans know how to do confectionery right. 
So many calories, but so yummy.
Also, how does a hipster anyone say no to food packaged in a jar?

After spending the day on Yeouido, it was time to head back to the city.

Popping by Dongdaemun on our way back to the hotel, to take another peek at Cheonggyecheon.
I fell in love with this stream that runs through the city when I first saw it in 2011.
There's something incredibly lovely about this structure, where city dwellers can sit and while away the day, somewhat away from the bustle of the roads above.

Dear Seoul, I'm going to miss you and your beautiful streets, landscape, winter weather and people.
Literally, beautiful people. Your people are just so well-constructed good-looking.

Entering an alley off Dongdaemun, to get ourselves our last dinner in Seoul.

And then walking to Dongdaemun History & Culture Park, our hot dinner in hand, taking in the streets at night for the last time.

Back in our hotel, having a feast before we board the plane tomorrow afternoon.
Yes, we had Kyochon chicken again (from the Dongdaemun branch this time; and the wait was even longer here - 35 minutes before we got our hands on our box of chicken). And this time we had it with beer.
When in Korea, do as the locals do.

We were going to call it a night, but who were we kidding. Myeongdong was just a 5-minute walk away from the hotel, and it was our last night in Seoul.

Back to Myeongdong for more shopping!

Shopping is important when in Seoul (because everything decent-looking in the recent Asian fashion world more or less takes its inspiration from Korea), but Seoul street life at night, 
I'm going to miss you so much.

And because we were greedy and wanted to see more of Myeongdong's shopping streets, I came across FILA's new line, launched 5 days ago while we were still in Seoul. Shoes inspired by gelato. Gelato colours on a shoe. 
How do I say no to that? Strange enough, I did, and walked away from the window display without stepping into ABC Mart.

And my resolve lasted a whole of a night. 
I went back the next day and got the shoes because a random Google back in the hotel told me that FILA is now owned by Koreans, i.e. new line is launched first in Korea, the land of beautiful sneakers.
Damn you, weak willpower shopping.

The day's haul: Monopoly Travel shoulder bag from YoungPoong, IFC Mall (I finally have this, after years of admiring it from my computer screen) and a dumpling-shaped beanie from Indi Brand, Myeongdong (I'll strive to make full use of this beanie, even when back in Singapore). 

Day 7: Jonggak → Seoul Station → Myeongdong → Incheon

Last morning in Seoul, waking up early and taking a walk to YoungPoong, Jonggak, for a last bout of gorgeous Korean stationery shopping.

I'm going to miss the land of beautiful design stationery at reasonable prices.
Dear Popular, can you start stocking better looking stationery?

After stationery shopping, on foot to Seoul Station from Jonggak, 
passing by another section of Cheonggyecheon.

After shivering endlessly for the first two days, I finally adjusted to the cold and started enjoying the weather. 4 days later, we're leaving.
I'm going to miss being able to layer clothes and wear all my knit tops without breaking a sweat.

I will also miss you, Kimgane. 
Your crazy smooth sundubu and glorious gimbap will forever have a place in my heart. 
I leave a part of my appetite behind with you in Myeongdong.

Goodbye, land of cafés. 
I'm going to miss seeing a café within every 10 steps.

This café, Super Coffee, has a Lego Superman strategically placed on its door who says "Come Again" to leaving customers.
The owner has no idea how apt it is that the last shop we're in before leaving Seoul for the airport says this to us.
Yes, we will come again, someday.

Land of beautiful people with beautiful shoes, I will miss you.

On the (all-stop) train to Incheon Airport.

But first, before we leave, time to get our money back. We planned to reach the airport an hour earlier from our check-in, to settle our tax returns. 
Thank goodness we ended up reaching 2 hours earlier, because the tax returns took the entire 2 hours to complete.

Note-to-self: Next time, check in and get boarding pass before joining crazy tourist queue at tax return counter. We stupidly forgot that we had to show our boarding passes to the tax return officer and queued up for receipt stamping without checking in.
Fortunately, the crazy queue went away after our first stupid attempt. We got our receipts stamped and sorted pretty quickly after coming back with our boarding passes.

Steps for Tax Return:
1. Follow the instructions on all your tax-refundable receipts and fill in your particulars before approaching the tax return counter. We did ours in the hotel, the night before our flight home.
2. Sort your receipts by the various envelopes they come in (there are different tax return systems in Korea).
3. Check in when at the airport and get your boarding passes. Let the airline staff know that you have tax-free items in your luggage. They will tag your luggage and return it to you. You will check in your luggage at the tax return counter, after your tax-refundable receipts are stamped.
4. Queue up at either of the tax return counters (behind counter D or J at the departure hall).
5. Get receipts stamped, and airport staff will help check your receipts again and scan them using the machines near the counter.
6. Go through immigration and head for gate 27 and 28 (follow the crazy crowds and you can't go wrong; Korea is thriving on tourism right now).
7. Queue, get your receipts checked by staff/scanned by machine (depending on your type of receipt) and wait for your money back.
8. Spend money on Starbucks/Paris Baguette/Duty Free shopping inside the airport. Or save it. 
But then, what would you need Korean won back in your country for?

For more details on how to get your tax returns when in Korea, go here.

We used our tax return money on one last café visit while still in Korea.
The strawberry cake from Paris Baguette was amazing. 
Or maybe I'm just too sad about leaving to have discerning tastebuds.

Waiting for our plane to take us to Hong Kong for a 3-hour transit.
Yes, those are the gelato shoes I said I wouldn't buy but bought anyway.

Goodbye Seoul, I'll miss you.

Places we stayed at during our one week in Seoul

Day 1 - 4: Hostel Beige

This cosy hostel is conveniently located in Dongdaemun, a quick walk from Dongdaemun station exit 3 or Dongmyo station exit 8.
Dongdaemun's shopping area and Gwangjang Market are both within walking distance (unless you're the sort who hates walking and finds anything beyond 5 minutes far). 
Check-in: 2pm-11pm
Check-out: 8am - 11am
Let them know in advance if you need to check in/check out outside of their usual hours. 
They were very accommodating and readily made arrangements for our early check-out (we left at 7am). No difficulty in communicating because they understand and speak English.
There's a key deposit of 10,000 won, which will be returned to you upon check-out.
Our room had a TV, mini fridge, heater, hair dryer and bathroom. The bathroom was small but adequate; towels and shower gels were provided. There were also complimentary tea bags and a kettle for boiling water. 
A shared kitchen outside the bedrooms had a water dispenser that dispensed both hot and cold water. They also had a microwave oven. Not that we had any use for it.
The place was small and simple, but it was comforting to return to our room every night after a long day out.
The friendly people who run the place even dropped us an e-mail after we checked out to ask if we got back safely and to wish us well.
Definitely a place worth considering when planning your accommodation in Seoul.

Day 5 - 7: Small House Big Door

This design hotel is tucked away in a corner, in an alley just a few steps away from exit 2 of Euljiro 1-Ga station. 
Myeongdong's shopping district is 5 minutes away from the hotel.
We were attracted by the gorgeous interior and clean concept, and thought staying here for 2 nights would be enough for an experience.
Check-in: 2pm onwards
Check-out: by 11am
Hotel reception staff were friendly and could understand and speak English. 
The hotel and room were beautifully-designed. The bed was super comfy.
The room had a TV, mini fridge, heater, hair dryer, kettle and complimentary tea bags and mineral water, all tucked away in a fancy unit that resembled a pillar.
Towels, toothbrushes and shower gels were also provided. KORRES shower gels, no less.
While it's definitely gorgeous, the cold concrete floor and impeccably-designed room somehow lacked the feel of home. Returning to Hostel Beige after a day out was more comforting.
Still, this hotel is so gorgeous, it's worth the experience.

One week holiday for the soul, over.
Time for life, to tackle the unknown and hopefully come out in one piece.
Till we meet again, Seoul.


  1. beautifully written and thank you for your effort (:
    I shall at least head to the book cafe on my next visit and of cos, KIMGANE. Seoul, I'll be back soon. <3

  2. Thank you so much!!! Last time I went to Baegeundae Peek, I used Gireum Station (Subway Line 4), Exit 3, Bus 110B or 143, and get off at the last bus stop. I thought this was ok because its on the Korean tourist website. This route: It was a very long hike to Baegeundae Peek! I got lost because the signs were terrible and ran out of time to get to the top, I will definitely take bus 704! Thank you!!!

    1. Hi David!

      I hope this direction works for you! Have a great and safe climb up the peak! :)

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