Tag Archive: Korea



Yellow and Blue Scarves mean “handle with care”. Yellow for the young kittens and Blue for the grumpy ones. Found one with a blue scarf but he wasn’t grumpy at all. Perhaps, the little meow is just feeling unwell. No flash photography lest you startle them. Pay 8,000 won and you’re good to pick your free drink and stay for as long as you like.

 

 

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Now, where to find them? It is very near our Nine Tree Hotel in Seoul’s busy Myeongdong district. But if you are staying elsewhere, take the metro to Myeongdong. (Bet you’re going anyway, for some shopping) Exit 6 and walk towards Coffee Bean and Pizza Hut along the main street. Take the narrow street on your left and look out for the cat mascot. He’s there most days and nights. Or keep looking up — Cat Cafe is on the 6th floor of the building behind Pizza Hut.

 

 

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These kitties are simply adorable. Housebroken, clean, and playful except for a few “lazy” ones. I suggest you go after dinner so you limit yourself to the free coffee, tea or chocolate. Order some baked goodies and you may draw more than the desired attention from those feline creatures. Better to order some treats instead, if you are really into cats.

 

 

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Also, be sure to put your stuff in those plastic bags you’d find where you leave your footware and don house slippers. “Curiosity kills the cat” must have a good basis. One kitten persistently tried to get its head into my bag. Goodness know what caught its interest. Be ready too with cats jumping from the upper shelves into the chair beside you, or right on your table. I’m saying this as a warning lest you scald yourself with your hot beverage.

 

 

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My nieces went back a second time after our visit. I’m good with just a single visit. But for cat lovers? Playing with cats plus free coffee for 8,000 won ($8) is good therapy after many shopping rounds. Go!

 

 

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Oh, btw, Myeongdong is such a busy shopping and dining district. Meow Theraphy is highly recommended for serious shoppers. 😉

 

 

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It’s hard to take anything seriously in Korea. Been here years ago but I continue to be amazed how Korea has “reinvented” itself. It is, after all, the “Land of Gwiyomi” . As one friend describes it, the “land of cute-ness”. K-Pop, K-Fashion and Psy’s Gangnam style. How long has it been since my first trip in the 80’s? Then, as is now, FOOD and NATURE are major considerations and attractions. Neither can it be denied that Korea is so rich in art, culture and history. But there’s more NOW that’s drawing in more tourists to this country.

 

 

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The ‘”Flower of Fortresses”, Suwon Hwaseong Fortress.

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One of many gates to the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress.

 

 

Outside of the world-class theme parks and awesome natural wonders, Korea’s rich history finds a solid spot in its well-preserved palaces and fortresses. Many have visited temples and palaces to be found in Seoul, but I find those outside the capital even more charming. In Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, we found more local tourists and schoolchildren out on field trips. Much rehabilitation effort was spent here especially on the 200 year old circular wall spanning nearly 6 kilometers. Although reconstructed, the fortress is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is claimed that the restoration of the structures which began in 1975 heeded the details recorded in many books on the “Flower of Fortresses”.

 

 

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The Dragon Train In Hwaseong

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Such adorable Korean kids. One big hug!

 

 

The Dragon Train unloaded a bunch of schoolkids before taking us all in for a ride around the walled fortress to check out the 4 main gates, sentry posts, centuries-old temples, towers, and command posts. We comfortably took in all the sights in the comforts of our seats on the cute-sy train. Not so when we visited the Gyeongbokgung Palace in the city center. Though manageable, we walked across and around this large palace complex which also houses the National Museum. But it was a leisurely walk around this lovingly-restored palace. It’s hard to miss as it is right smack in the capital in the vicinity of the Presidential Blue House.

 

 

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Not a mountain park. This shot was taken from Gyeongbokgung palace grounds.

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Gyeongbokgung palace complex.

 

 

What I do mind fascinating — even amusing — is how historical spots bear reminders of some Korean film or television series drama. I swear there’s even a lilt in the voice of our tour guide whenever she draws our attention to some spots where such and such drama sequences were filmed. I wish i was familiar with them. It came to a point where i actually pretended to “remember” a movie scene, if only to appease our guide. Maybe that….. Or we just wanted to move on to the next site. 😉

 

 

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Still inside Gyeongbokgung.

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MBC Dramia. Wish I know them Korean TV stars!

 

 

There was no escaping more of these spiels though when we arrived at the MBC Dramia. Think Universal Studios ……. But movies loaded with history and showcasing Korean traditions and crafts. We meandered around folk villages, traditional and royal kitchens, korean architecture, arts and crafts. There were standees of popular movie and television stars to remind where such and such scenes were filmed. Wow. These koreans surely know salesmanship. I’d even go as far as saying that they have elevated the art of salesmanship to a higher level. Talk about raising the bar for branding and marketing!

 

 

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Recreated palaces and folk villages inside MBC Dramia.

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If you’re a fan of Korean TV drama series, this should remind you of many scenes.

 

 

Palaces restored. Fortresses rehabilitated. Arts and crafts preserved. Historical sites, Korean architecture & traditions lovingly recreated. Cute-sy theme parks, museums and galleries created and reinvented. Shopping and dining experiences brought to new levels. Natural wonders preserved and respected. And how about Incheon International airport? This is Korea? I’d go back in a heartbeat!

 

 

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I’d say…… The cutest police station in the whole world.

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There’s a kid in each one of us! And families traveling to Korea with kids would typically include trips to Everland Theme Park or Lotte World, as well as visits to cute-sy museums like the Teddy Bear and Trick Eye Museums. We crafted one that includes many of these typical visits and threw in a few more activities for the young travelers.

 

 

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Everland Theme Park , Korea’s very own “Disneyland”.

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The Everland parade is definitely world-class.

 

 

Rides, parades, much like one expects to enjoy in Disneyland. But this ….. with an asian flavor. And for the life of me, I am sooo intrigued over the korean fascination with teddy bears. We visited one, but the kids in our family have clearly outgrown them teddy bears. Just the same, trust the Koreans to excel in their branding and marketing skills. Plus they sure have the knack for cute-sy stuff : K-pop, Gangnam, K-Fashion, Gwiyomi, etc. Interestingly, many of these tourist sites were “created” or made popular by popular korean television dramas and movies. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Koreans start marketing their popular brands of cars, appliances and songs via entertainment medium like television and films. That is, if they haven’t yet.

 

 

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Petite France is like a French village where a number of korean TV drama series were filmed. It is now used as a youth training facility.

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One of MANY , yes many, Teddy Bear Museums in Korea.

 

 

But there’s a couple more that the kids in our group enjoyed. The visit to the Wind Village where we fed sheep and made ice cream manually comes to mind. It helped that the one teaching us how to manually make ice cream using only ice, some flavor powders and milk was so funny and full of energy. Under different circumstances, perhaps even with different company, that afternoon activity couldn’t have been as much fun.

 

 

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The resident sheep in Wind Village.

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Obviously, my grandson is “ill-attired” for this activity. Not politically correct 🙂

 

 

Same with the trip to the Ice Gallery where the activity involved ice-sculpting, perhaps to make us realize how much skill and effort went into every ice carving on display there. It took a lot for these amateurs to sculpt a drinking glass —- which is nothing compared to the temple, bar, slide, kitchen showcase, etc found in the ice gallery. The visit took a half hour of ice-sculpting lessons and another half hour viewing the ice sculptures. Bet no one can stay longer than that inside without freezing. 🙂

 

 

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Who will win in this ice-sculpting contest? (Ice Gallery. Seoul)

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Ice sculptures on display in Seoul’s Ice Gallery.

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Ice Gallery. Seoul, Korea.

 

As if setting the tone, we even let the kids learn some Korean craft while waiting for our return flight. Incheon Airport rocks! There’s no way to get bored in this airport. Hello Kitty and Charlie Brown coffee shops? Plus, they even have parades right inside the airport premises. For sure, this has been one enjoyable and educational trip for my elves. 🙂

 

 

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Learn Korean Paper Craft right inside Incheon Airport.

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Hello Kitty not too far from Charlie Brown Coffee Shop. How can you resist it?

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Be sure to go early so you can explore Incheon Airport.

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What a pleasant surprise! A mini-parade right within Incheon Airport premises.


It’s a rather long drive from Seoul to Seoraksan National Park , like 3 hours or so on a good day. Slept through the ride — but despite the distance, this was certainly worth the trip. We had worthy pitstops along the way — Petite France early in the morning and Nami Island after lunch — so you can say we were kind of bug-eyed and feeling wrung-out wasted by the time we reached the mountain park. When we checked in at Seoraksan Hotel inside the Park, it was way too dark to appreciate the autumn foliage and jagged peaks.

 

 

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Mt. Seorak. My apologies for saying this : Awesome!

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View from our hotel room’s balcony.

 

 

Well rested and bursting with energy after a good night’s sleep, we stepped out the next morning and viewed nature’s Autumn surprise from the balcony of our hotel room. This is truly the LAND OF THE MORNING CALM. And for good reason. Korea is blessed with many mountains that seem to frame every photo with lovely landscapes. Burning crimsons, verdant greens fading into deep browns or vibrant yellows streaking across a forest teeming with trees that withstood time and seasons. The paths were already teeming with hikers this chilly morning. We should have been walking with this hiking crowd since no buses run through the Park, but thankfully, our hotel is located inside the heritage site. Besides, we’re definitely not serious hikers eager to conquer some hiking trails. 🙂

 

 

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One Family Picture for posterity!

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How about another one?

 

 

The line for the cable car ride was “3 hours long”. We decided to hike up to the Shinheungsa Temple instead and forego the chance to tread on stony paths where one enjoys unobstructed views of the mountainscape from rocky cliffs. The long line was a spoiler. But before long, we were already feeling uber-alert in an adrenaline-fueled overdrive. The giant bronze Buddha statue can’t be missed if one walks straight on from the park entrance. It is said that this statue expresses the wish of koreans for reunification. Interestingly, our own guide echoes this wish that one day, there would be just one Korea. Well-said.

 

 

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The vibrant hues of an Autumn foliage in Seoraksan National Park.

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This giant bronze statue is called “Reunification Buddha”. Seoraksan Park.

 

 

Just as the Autumn foliage floored us, we were awed by the colors of the temple structures inside the park. Not too far from the big Reunification Buddha, one finds a number of colorful structures comprising the Shinheungsa Temple. We crossed the gate guarded by 4 fierce looking “guards” and found many “prayer rooms”. Monks in gray here, in contrast to the many Buddhist monks I’ve met clad in thin orange or deep red outfits. The gray seems more “in tune” with the “Korean morning calm”, I dare say.

 

 

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The temple structures’ vibrant colors are a perfect match to this season’s palette of autumn hues.

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One of many prayer rooms.

 

 

For those visiting Korea, it is tempting to simply go for the wonderland-themed park or cute-sy locations for many films and Korean television drama series. Korea may offer the Asian equivalent of Disneyland, Universal or MGM Studios, not to mention the shopping opportunities, but this is also one country blessed by Nature. It’s a no-brainer that many Koreans love to hike. About 2/3 of the country is made up of mountains. Autumn and Spring should be lovely times to visit. Winter? Not for me. Just imagine walking on icy grounds in the snowy mountains of Seoraksan. Lovely in the movies, yes.  But sheer torture for my back and knees. 😦

 

 

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The stoney paths and jagged peaks of Seoraksan.

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Stone bridge inside the Park.

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To do justice to this lovely place, one has to do a leisurely stroll. No hikes!


Nami Island is a relatively “new” tourist attraction just outside of Seoul, Korea. Many tourists “drop by” this half-moon shaped island which can be reached via an hour’s drive from the capital and a short 5 minute ferry ride across the Han River. A day or half a day spent here may be enough soaking in the beauty of this island which showcases nature in all its splendor. I hear they turn off all lights in the evening to allow guests to “commune with nature” while in this tiny island spanning only 4 kilometers in diameter. Must be quite an experience especially during Autumn when one hears fallen leaves “crunch” while squirrels run over them in the dead of night.

 

 

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One of the ferries crossing Han River towards Nami Island.

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“Winter Sonata” made this island even more famous!

 

A Republic Within A Republic

 

I sensed the question coming as soon as we lined up for the ferry ride. The arch bearing the name NAMINARA REPUBLIC caught the eye of one of my elves. Confused that there’s a republic within the Republic of Korea, I was caught off-guard. I didn’t know! So I shoo-shooed my little man to ask our Tour Guide. Naturally, I was all ears listening to the guide’s spiel as it was obviously not the first time the question was raised.

 

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Choose your Season. Winter or Spring? We came in Autumn and look what we found!

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Vibrant hues of Autumn.

 

 

Once a desolate piece of land, one man’s love for art, nature and music and his dream to share such partnership of Nature and Culture with the world gave birth to the Nami Island we enjoy today. The former Governor of the Bank of Korea bought the island back in 1965 as he prepared for a life of leisure with Nature in his retirement. Not just a banker, Mr. Minn also founded the very first symphony orchestra in Korea. The highly-cultivated island (recreated under the helm of a very cultured visionary) hosted many cultural events nearly every weekend and attracted moviedom’s producers as location for some popular movie and television series drama. NAMINARA Republic declared its CULTURAL independence in 2006 and adopted, rather “invented”, its own anthem, flag, currency, passport and “certificate of citizenship.” Truly, one can’t help admire Mr. Minn’s vision and determination.

 

 

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The island is teeming with flowers and trees. Nature at its best!

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Thrilling to walk between two rows of these lovely trees. Very romantic!


One Family Photo!

One Family Photo!

 

 

“One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

 

That is a line from one of the most read and most translated books “The Little Prince” written by Antoine de St. Exupéry. Not your ordinary children’s book, this one. It is both imaginative and philosophical, hitting mainly on the “strangeness” of human nature. Petit Prince’s very simple plot of a golden-haired Prince from some asteroid meeting a pilot whose plane crashed in the Sahara Desert sucks your attention by its very simplicity. Their conversations let you imagine the brilliance and depth of the characters such that you can almost imagine the prince’s affable laughter as the scarf around his French neck tightens with every laugh. I’ve read this book as a child, a teen, an adult in mid-life crisis and as an adult in the beginning of her autumn years.

 

 

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You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

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Petite France — official residence of The Little Prince in Korea?

 

 

Coming to this slice of France in Korea brings with it some degree of excitement. Made more famous now among Filipinos as a location venue for a popular Korea-novella we never watched, we got off our van one cold morning, bug-eyed and nearly wasted after a midnight flight and early morning arrival in Seoul. An hour’s drive from Incheon International Airport provided the chance to recoup all lost energy. By the time we walked through its gate, we were all prepped up for Petite France to meet the Le Petit Prince.

 

“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

 

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Many k-dramas were filmed here — Secret Garden, Running Man and Beethoven’s Virus to name a few.

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Now used as youth training facility, this “French cultural village” is on the same train line going to Nami Island.

 

“I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings.” -from the Fox-”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince.

 

Our guide took us for K-Drama fans and kept harping on such and such spots used in “Beethoven’s Virus”, “Secret Garden” or “Running man” — and almost “lost” us. We were here for the Little Prince, his asteroid, the characters in the book like the fox, the King, the pilot, his “tamed” rose that he kept missing. The kids with us and “in us” made us remember. We certainly enjoyed the ride coming here. The lake which looked like it’s “steaming” from sheer coldness ……. The 17 or so French structures inspired by Provence, the arts gallery and the closetful of puppets. There was no puppet show in the amphitheater when we visited. I suppose they have it on weekends. But we’re only too happy to have visited on a weekday sans the crowds. For 8,000 Krw (adults) and 5,000 Krw (kids), this French cultural village now functioning as a youth training facility is worth the trip and the admission price.

 

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Some 17 Provence-inspired structures including Aunt Stella’s coffee kiosk, an arts gallery and a mini museum of puppets can be found here.

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Spot Pinnochio!

 

“You see, one loves the sunset when one is so sad.” —— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

 

If you have kids with you, or if you happen to be K-Drama fans, an avid reader of “Little Prince”, or if you simply wish to be awed by a “French Village” nestled amidst lovely mountains and an enchanting lake, visit Petite France. Heck, if you’re out of Seoul to visit the famous Nami Island, drop by here on your way or after the island tour. It’s not very far and it’s along the same (train) way. A taxi ride won’t cost you any more than 20,000 Krw. C’est magnifique , Oui?

 

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It’s a small place — really just a slice of France — but packed with many photo opps. Think “selfie”?

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No shows on weekdays?

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The Land of “Cute-Ness” indeed!

You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” —- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince<

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http://youtu.be/tkQeboZozSY

 

 

 

Here’s a quickie post.  More like a vid-blog or whatever it’s called 🙂

 

 

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He topped the charts in at least 15 countries and is still hitting it with his signature Gangnam Style song and dance routine. So LSS that almost every kid in my country readily jumps at the song’s first few bars. And when that happens, be sure the adults will soon join the fray. Ewwww, my not so little elves would say.

 

 

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As my friends said……..the “land of cuteness”. Right, Fely?

 

 

K Fashion. K Pop. I look at young men and stare mindlessly, trying to figure out their hairdo. Curly tops, bangs way over one eye, neon shorts and pants. Whoa, so …….. What else, Korean!

 

 

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The elves would love shopping here!

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Look at the facade. The displays. So Korean!

 

 

Retail therapy at its best. There’s more. Walks across the night markets of Myeongdong or just strolling past underground stalls in subway stations make you forget the time or take the right exits!

 

 

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View from Coffee Bean at the 2nd floor of our Nine Tree Hotel.

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More shops. Such retail therapy!

 

 

Day or night, rain or shine, those cute-sy shops can easily take half a day. Or the whole night. You go at your wits’ ends too choosing where to eat. We tried some of the street food and toyed with the idea of shopping for plastic containers to bring some home!

 

 

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Frankly, we never tried it. But smells good, must taste good. By the time we’ve decided we’d try it, he was gone!

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These I’ve tried. Sneaked in a couple while having breakfast coffee at Coffee Bean!

 

 

Psy, Gangnam, K-Pop, Gwiyomi, and more. Trust the Koreans for mastering the art of branding! More than that, they truly patronize their own products. Samsung tablets not iPads, Hyundai not Toyota, etc. Psy may not be a looker but hey, he conquered the world with his Gangnam song & dance! Korea ❤ — a nation getting a lot of world attention on all fronts.

 

 

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Oh, Psy. How you’ve conquered the world!


It was a Sunday too early. Left Ulaan Bataar midnight and broke our journey for a 2 night stopover in Seoul on our homeward flight. Fine. Only problem is that hell driver from Mongolia ticked on all our “alarms” that we hardly slept on our flight. When we landed in Seoul at 4 am, we were all wasted. A cup of good brew at Incheon’s Cafe Pascucci failed to stir our soul.

 

 

 

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Found in Incheon Airport just as soon as you exit, where you can decide to either take the Airport Express train, bus or arrange a limo transfer to your hotel in the city some one hour drive away.

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Who can resist this? Across it is the Charlie Brown Cafe, another cute-sy coffee shop. Only in Korea!

 

 

Not even the cute-sy coffee shops in Incheon Airport — Hello Kitty, Charlie Brown Cafe — could perk us up. We were completely zonked out! By 5:30 am, we hired a limo cab to take us to our hotel in Myeongdong one hour drive away. Left our bags in Nine Tree Hotel and walked towards the Myeongdong Cathedral (Church of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception) — the very first Roman Catholic Church in Korea. Also the very first Gothic structure in Korea. Took us 15-20 minutes to find it. Could have taken less if we weren’t dragging our feet. Sunday Mass at 7am. That done, we were about to set out for a breakfast place when we noticed a food bazaar beside the cathedral. We took one look at the pancakes, rice cakes, bibimbap, grilled squid, etc and decided we’d best kill time here before checking in at our hotel. Some hours to waste, and we weren’t up to doing anything else that would so much require lifting our ass off those plastic chairs.

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Myeongdong Cathedral is the first ever Roman Catholic Church in the whole of Korea. It is also the very first Gothic structure in that country.

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Just right outside the Cathedral is this piece of art. I love the facial expression and how the features are very Oriental!

 

 

This is where we met our new Korean friends. No conversations in English. Just hand gestures and more. They talked to us in Korean like we were old friends. We laughed when they laughed. We shared our bag of pistachio nuts and they offered us Korean wine and some foods which we understood are best eaten with the wine.

 

 

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Is this what they call soju? Basta. It’s Korean wine and the locals love it.

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Whatever it’s called, we got it for free. Compliments of our new Korean friends!

 

 

We stayed more than 3 hours. Every so often, we’d get up to buy some bibimbap, pancakes, rice cakes, etc. while more new friends joined our table. We continued to laugh together. One of them looked at my bibimbap, picked up my bowl, walked to the stall, and returned with my bowl with more added. We continued to eat together. How can you not love these people? We didn’t have to speak the same language to understand and like each other.

 

 

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Bibimbap!

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One of the stalls selling wine and some meat and seafood slices.

 

 

By the time we checked in at our hotel, we were ready to collapse. That midnight flight was a curse and we promise not to do it again. But we’ve gained new friends. We may have lost our soul and a good part of the day, but we certainly understood that friendship does not require nor demand much. My friend E explains that we are being “rewarded” for being uncomplaining even when confronted with delayed flights, rain showers, hell drivers and fellow travelers in our group who had a penchant for making others wait. Well….. We don’t sweat the small stuff. No Matata. GWIYOMI 🙂

 

 

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They talked to us like we understood Korean. We laughed when they laughed. We ate whatever their fingers pointed at. We drank as they poured!

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Lovely people. Lovely Koreans!


Who leaves Mongolia without feasting on their Mongolian Barbecue? Stuff your bowl with meats & veggies, make your own sauce concoction, and then leave it to this Mongolian to cook it for you on this round hot rock table.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJZr-D3-42A&feature=youtu.be

 

But I must say Korean food is something else. We hit the ground running by choosing a bibimbap meal on our KAL flight. Well…… Let’s just say we can’t wait. Of course the inflight meal ain’t the real deal, but it’s a good start. So, here’s how we indulged ourselves in the 2 nights we stopped over in Seoul. Call us gluttons! GWIYOMI……… I’m happy!

JUST CLICK ON THE HEADINGS FOR MORE PHOTOS AND DETAILS:

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Ginseng Chicken from YongYang…………for ENERGY!

GINSENG CHICKEN IN YONGYANG

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That’s our lunch being cooked for us.

BUSAN GALBI RESTO IN ITAEHWON

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Korean Seafood Paella? Looks like it, but spicier!

YOOGANE’S DAK GALBI

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Never ever miss this!

KOREAN BARBECUE & MORE

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Korean Street Food is LOVE!

NOT TO FORGET: STREET FOODS!