Tag Archive: Seoul



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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Out A Third Of The Year 2013


In 2013, I spent nearly 2 months in Sydney and even slightly longer in Madrid. A good third of 2013. And that excludes those weeklong trips to Mongolia, Phuket and 2 trips to South Korea. I blogged like crazy ….. Just like when I stayed nearly 3 months homebased in Madrid back in 2012. Whenever I get back to Manila, I always long to do a trip to some exotic place. Preferably those sites below the tourist radar. There is a long list. So much to cover and discover in our own backyard. And as always, the local trips draw more hits!

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Trek to Mount Pinatubo.

 

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Batanes

 

 

I struck off Batanes, Sagada, El Nido, MassKara Festival, Transfiguration Monastery in Bukidnon, Divine Mercy Shrine in Misamis Oriental and a trek to Mount Pinatubo off my bucket list which continues to grow longer. That list has its own life! I made a few “insignificant”, impromptu daytrips just outside Manila to entertain friends. And I’m surprised such trips drew much more attention and appreciation. Perhaps because many, like me, thought they were “insignificant” and were later pleasantly surprised. Maybe because they’re very doable and demands less planning and time. Or it could also be because these out-of-town trips were really good finds — a discovery that many (like me) have initially dismissed as “ordinary”.

 

 

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Half-Buried In Lahar. Bacolor, Pampanga.

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MassKara Festival. Bacolod. 2013.

 

 

The travels abroad have acquired a certain “routine”. Sydney and Madrid meant “family time” and homebase for many day and out-of-town trips. Twice doing it in Madrid, yet the 2 experiences can’t be branded or dismissed as “the same”. Because the 2nd time was timed with the Christmas Season, I enjoyed immersing myself in Spanish traditions and culture. In both Sydney and Madrid, my day trips were to such sites below the tourist radar. No crowds. Great sites. Reasonable prices.

 

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Winter in Australia.

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Autumn in Korea

 

 

My Seasons also got me confused, swinging from summer in the beaches of El Nido and Phuket to Philippine winter version in Batanes, to “end of winter-early spring” in Mongolia to “mild winter” in Sydney back to sweltering summer heat in Bacolod’s MassKara Festival to autumn in Korea down to honest-to-goodness winter in Madrid. You can say I’m done with winter last 2013.

 

 

Sydney. Not exactly on travel mode.

Sydney. Not exactly on travel mode.

Christmas In Madrid

Christmas In Madrid

 

 

From Traveller to Storyteller. That’s moí. In groups, out with friends, home with family or ALONE. I do enjoy my travels. I realize some of my friends do wonder why I continue to wander. I wanted to say I have not lost my capacity for joy and discoveries. I wanted to share that I continue to believe and trust and enjoy life’s simple joys, appreciating the kindness of strangers, and discovering how “little” I know of the world around me. Good health, joy in solitude paired with the unceasing thrill of meeting “angels” in my solo travels, these are God’s gifts. I appreciate them, and my gratitude expresses itself in the joy I feel. I remember meeting a Brazilian couple in the lovely town of Chinchon. They said nothing happens by accident. We got on the same bus because we were meant to spend the afternoon enjoying the medieval town and the village folks. I couldn’t agree more.

 

 

Three Kings Parade. Madrid. 2014.

Three Kings Parade. Madrid. 2014.

Football Game at Estadio Bernabeu.

Football Game at Estadio Bernabeu.

 

 

The year 2013 was marked by many firsts. Too many to list here without running the risk of boring you. It is also the same year I turned 60 so maybe, that calls for a separate blog. Like 60 “firsts” as I turned 60. How about it?


This 2013, my year ends 7 hours later. Madrid has been home since November but in a few weeks, I should be flying back to Manila. When I tried to recall how the year went, I automatically searched through my blog archives to check what has kept me busy. So…… my life has been a blog series of sorts. Nice 😉 And complete with photos too! These are my memory aids, and they work.

 

 

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We “baked” under the sun here in Nacpan/Calitang near El Nido, Palawan.

 

 

Our family commenced the year 2013 with a trip to El Nido and Puerto Princesa, Palawan. All of 5 days basking in the sun with sands in between our toes. A pleasant detour was the day spent in the twin beaches of Nacpan and Calitang. In this photo, we felt we were the only tourists but for this couple of Caucasians by the beach.

 

 

Paete Church, one of many around Laguna de Bay.

Paete Church, one of many around Laguna de Bay.

 

 

Then friends based abroad came a-visiting and we decided to do a roadtrip around Laguna de Bay. From SLEX through Calamba through the coastal towns of Pila, Paete and Pakil, then heading home via the Manila-East Road. We never thought we could do all that in a day.

 

 

We conquered Mount Pinatubo!

We conquered Mount Pinatubo!

 

 

I’ve always wanted to trek to Mount Pinatubo while my knees and legs would allow me. My nieces and a couple of friends joined me. We didn’t trek the whole way, and you may call us cheats, but still, I can’t say it was easy.

 

 

The northernmost island province is a must-destination.  Trust me on this!

The northernmost island province is a must-destination. Trust me on this!

 

 

Aaaahhhh….. Batanes. The place is magical. I intend to go back. I’d love for my family to see this enchanting place and meet up with the very kind, welcoming locals. I’ve had some pretty amazing domestic travels early in the year, like striking off from a bucket list! Batanes ranks high up in that list and for good reasons.

 

 

Speedboating and island-hopping in Phuket and Ko Phi Phi

Speedboating and island-hopping in Phuket and Ko Phi Phi

 

 

And then Phuket happens. We didn’t plan on it, but the idea of speedboating and island-hopping in Thailand was simply too tempting. Images of James Bond sailing away on a speedboat and Leonardo di Carpio’s “The Beach” crossed our minds. We also enjoyed the luxury of a villa with a plunge pool while we were there. And this was just less than 2 weeks from our long- planned trip to Ulaan Bataar. A couple more off the bucket list!

 

 

RAW, unspoilt Mongolia

RAW, unspoilt Mongolia

 

 

By midyear, I felt I’m done traveling until my scheduled holiday by yearend in Madrid. But it’s June, and I joined some of my friends flying to Cagayan de Oro to celebrate a dear friend’s 60th. Sidetrips to Maria Cristina Falls, the Divine Mercy Shrine and the Monastery of Transfiguration in Bukidnon were soon arranged, and voila!

 

 

Monastery of Transfiguration in Malaybalay, Bukidnon

Monastery of Transfiguration in Malaybalay, Bukidnon

 

 

July-August till the first week of September found me in Sydney, Australia. Absolutely unplanned, but I needed to be there for my eldest sister and only surviving member of my immediate family to deal with her health travails. Thankfully, my sister beat the odds so it was a good celebration after 5 weeks of ordeal. God is truly good and merciful.

 

 

Sydney. Not exactly on travel mode.

Sydney. Not exactly on travel mode.

 

 

Before long, I’m back home. This time, eager to experience a local festival. The MassKara Festival in Bacolod was timely as kin based abroad arrived to join me in celebrating a milestone in my life. Six–oh! Soon after the MassKara frenzy, we were partying on a safari theme, and moved on to Seoul, Korea for an extended celebration. Phew!

 

 

MassKara Festival in Bacolod City

MassKara Festival in Bacolod City

In seoul, we feasted on Korean food like there was no tomorrow.

In seoul, we feasted on Korean food like there was no tomorrow.

 

 

And since November, I’ve called Madrid home. Certainly a break from tradition (and the rest of the family) to spend Christmas and New Year’s here in the midst of winter. It’s a great experience for me to hear Misa de Gallo — complete with singing of Christmas carols (in Spanish of course) in a country that christianized us and passed on many of its traditions. I have grown accustomed to lunch at 2pm and dinner at 9pm. No siestas for me. Yet. But Misa de Gallo at exactly midnight, Noche Buena at past 1 am till 3 am is a tad difficult. Many Madrileños celebrated till 5am. No wonder Christmas mornings in Spain are very quiet and peaceful. Everyone is still on bed!

 

 

Christmas In Madrid

Christmas In Madrid

 

 

A couple more things. Christmas here is more about BELENES. There are Nativity Scenes in churches, museums, palaces. The center of attention is the Child Jesus. Not Santa Claus or a Christmas Tree. And gift-giving? NOT on Christmas Day. Rather, it’s on the Feast of 3 Kings who introduced the idea of gift-giving. The kids have to wait. Feliz Navidad!

 

 

El Belen de Salzillo

El Belen de Salzillo

 


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!


Gentlemen:

 

I have confirmed bookings with Agoda under ID 28773745 as detailed below:

 

Hotel: Hotel MANU
Room Type: 2 Standard Twin Rooms for 4 adults
City/Country: Seoul/South Korea
Arrival: May 26, 2013
Departure: May 28, 2013
Payment Mode: Via PayPal

 

On May 9, 2013 I got a call from Hotel Manu that the hotel is overbooked and cannot accommodate me. I do not know how the hotel obtained my contact details but I contacted Agoda instead which offered Nine Tree Myeong-dong Hotel as alternative hotel. I accepted and looked forward to new hotel vouchers issued in my favor. It never happened. Despite a day-long email exchange and communication with at least 8 Customer Support Specialists from May 9-10, 2013, my frustrations piled up because Agoda insisted that I should make NEW bookings myself with Nine Tree Hotel and then just wait for my refund “for the room rate differentials”, without much explanation how I can be refunded for the 1st booking which Hotel Manu won’t honor.

 

As a paying customer in good faith, I wonder how and why it took over a month and nearer to my departure date to be informed that the Agoda-issued hotel vouchers cannot be honored. Worse, I have to arrange for the alternative bookings myself and suffer a 2nd charge on my credit card on the “vague” promise that I will be refunded. Nothing is clear. Nothing was resolved.

 

My patience is growing thin. But it isn’t easy to throw away US$418.52. Neither is it easy communicating with different customer support specialists who would take turns raising your hope, dashing your expectations and then leaving you spent and frustrated.

 

Day is almost over. I am still averse offering my credit card details. I mean, that explains why i use PayPal, right? More so now after this experience. I wonder how this episode ends. Hard lessons with an international brand like Agoda. People would still use them,for sure. Me? Need you ask?

 

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I won’t ever trust you ever again, Agoda!