South Korea: Season 2

New Snow. Winter in the beautiful city of Seoul viewed from Novotel Dongdaemun Hotel.

I am about to experience my second winter this year.  This time (that’s next week) in Melbourne, Australia and probably a third one this December in Taipei, Taiwan.  I was just thinking of how the world is so amazing that you can experience the same beautiful season more than once in a year and in different places (or all the four seasons in a year and in different places).  Anyway, I am just being melancholic and trying my best to write; so I have to start somewhere.  Besides, I have quite a number of photos I had finished editing and that should have been posted a long time ago.  It’s been a long while also since I last wrote and posted on this blog; and I missed writing (blame it on our toxic workload these past few weeks).  So this is obviously a very late post written simply to share a few thoughts and to cure tunnel vision.  🙂

So earlier this year, I had the chance to see Seoul, South Korea a second time (the first time was way back in the early summer of 2015) but now with a side trip to wonderful Jeju Island.  And what’s a better time to revisit this beautiful country than in winter.  Thanks to our employer who made this trip possible for all of us.  We call events like these as incentive trips which help motivate everyone to perform and allow us to bond as a team.  As my employer puts it:  the more we make, the farther we can go.  I believe we did well the previous year so we were rewarded accordingly.  🙂

I honestly enjoyed the trip despite the fact that we were on a travel package.  Yes that’s right.  We were on a guided tour; something that I really don’t like which I made quite clear in most of my earlier posts.  For the most part, we were constantly moving from one hotel to another; focusing only on the highlights of the places we go to.  In a group tour, the 6:00AM wake up call is really cruel.  It’s also always a guarantee that the tour guide (as part of the itinerary) will take you to some healthcare product or cosmetic store where the experts get to point out the maladies plaguing our human bodies and how their products would help provide the cure.  At this point, everyone starts to cringe or feel guilty about their respective lifestyles and give all sorts of rationalisations as to why they are not yet ready to (or not supposed to) buy the product.  It really felt like a trap.  And yeah I did fall into it and had my own rationalisations too as to why I decided to buy the product.  🙂  As a photographer on the other hand, I have these ideal times of the day when I plan to shoot certain scenes.  A guided tour (with a set itinerary) will not support this; and you will most likely end up sharing the famous spots with other tourists who come by the busload every minute.  So now you know why I don’t like travelling with a big group.  🙂

Setting aside all these funny things, nothing has changed much about the South Korea that I loved so much.  The people are still beautiful and hospitable; going the usual extra mile to make the tourist experience more memorable.  The food is always great and is a highlight of every Korean trip (on top of the endless shopping).  In Korea, everything tastes better when it’s free.  A different season also brings a new perspective on the same and old but familiar scenes.  Now because of my bias against guided tours, I never really maximised photographic opportunities in all my previous company trips.  But this time (thanks to a new colleague who was also into photography), I learned how to shoot spontaneously, tried not to think too much, and just simply enjoyed the moment.  So in this recent trip, I was happy I brought home a few decent photos despite the limited time and the not so ideal situations for an aspiring travel photographer.  So I share these random photos below.  You can also click here to read my earlier write-up on this beautiful country.

The Tour Jars. Stone Park in beautiful Jeju Island, South Korea.

This is supposed to be an informative travel post but I’m a terrible travel blogger and guide; and I will not write about all the things that we did (and eat) during this short company event.  But I list below the places which are the highlight destinations for this trip.  May I just request that you look them up yourself as the internet is a far more reliable source of information.  🙂

JEJU ISLAND (SOUTH KOREA)

  1. Jeju Dragon Head Rock (Yongduam Rock):  Dragon Head Rock is a beautiful rock formation created by strong winds and waves over thousands of years.  Legend has it that the rock was either a former dragon that fell from the sky and froze immediately after it landed on Yongduam; or a horse who once dreamed of being a dragon but immediately froze after being caught by a soldier.  Visitors can enjoy viewing the scenic coastlines as well as checking out several cafes, bars, and restaurants near the rock lookouts.
  2. Jeju Stone Park:  Jeju Stone Park was inspired by Jeju’s history of myth, stone, and spirit.  The park provides a historical, informative, and cultural space where the stone collections explain Jeju Island’s foundation and culture.
  3. Jeju Sunrise Peak (Seongsan Ichulbong):  Jeju Sunrise Peak rose from under the sea in a volcanic eruption over 100,000 years ago.  The site is made up of cliffs, ridges, and verdant grassy hills ideal for walking and horseback riding.  The long walk to the peak was exhausting enough, but the view from the top was extremely rewarding.
  4. Jeju Rail Bike Park:  Rail Bike Park provides an unusual way of weaving through the grassy plains below Yongnuni Oreum (a volcanic core covered with grass).  The ride and panoramic view of the grassy meadows opening up before you is naturally mind-clearing and refreshing (with the added benefit of the physical exercise of pedalling).
  5. Dongmun Market:  Dongmun Market is Jeju Island’s best representative of a traditional public market.  It serves customers selling diverse and inexpensive items.  As a representative traditional market, it is best known for selling fresh seafood.

(click on any of the images below to enlarge photo or activate the photo carousel)

SEOUL CITY & AROUND (SOUTH KOREA)

  1. Gyeongbokgung Palace:  This is Seoul’s largest palace and has been the principal residence of Korean royalties.  It has been destroyed several times and in different periods by Japanese invaders and colonisers.  What you can see now are mostly recent accurate reconstructions.
  2. National Palace Museum:  This is one of few museums you can find within the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds.  This museum houses royal artefacts that showcase the artistic skills of the Joseon era, including hanboks worn by Korean royalties.
  3. Namdaemun Market & Myeongdong Cathedral:  Namdaemun is South Korea’s largest market with hundreds of stalls ranging from clothing, handicrafts, accessories and of course, food.  You can spend the whole day here and still not see it all.  Myeongdong Cathedral is a beautiful Gothic style structure that served as sanctuary for students and protesters during the military rule.  It has become a symbol for national democracy and human rights.
  4. Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP):  DDP is perhaps Seoul’s most impressive contemporary architectural masterpiece.  It’s a cultural hub and houses event halls, galleries, and several design studios.  The curves of the structure make it the most futuristic (or sexiest) building in the city.
  5. Hongdae:  Hongdae is Seoul’s hipster district and home to Korea’s leading design and art institutions.  It has less of the traditional sights but more on modern day entertainment and distractions.  Come here to enjoy bars, galleries, and street art; as well as clubs and live music.
  6. Alpensia Resort:  Alpensia Resort is a ski resort located outside Seoul in the county of Pyeongchang.  We stayed at the adjacent hotel for one night so we could do the skiing the following morning.  The resort has several slopes for both beginners and experienced skiers to enjoy.

(click on any of the images below to enlarge photo or activate the photo carousel)

One can never get enough of Korea.  Aside from its colourful seasons, the food and attractions (as well as its hospitable people) are always reasons for one to return.  In the next trip, I hope to see this beautiful country in either spring or autumn.  🙂

Thank you for reading.  I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I do.  See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!  🙂

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The Seoul I Love

Mapo-Gu (Seoul)

Morning Calm.  A view of the Mapo gu area in Seoul from my hotel room.

You know what?  It’s a good thing we will have our company retreat next week.  It will give me enough time to shake off this overwhelming feeling I had from my last trip.  I just came back from Seoul and obviously still in a daze; my body already here but my mind still back there in the cold.  I usually only spend a week or so in a certain place so I could use my other leave days to visit other cities and see as much places as I can.  But this is the first time I wished I had stayed longer in one city.  It is also the first time I heard myself wishing for time to stop (obviously dreading the work waiting for me back in the office).  It seems that I am the only one who has not seen Seoul yet.  At one time and for some reason, I passed off an opportunity in the office for a free winter travel to this place.  I regretted that one.  So I made it a point that I get to visit Seoul this year.  With all these recent frenzy for Korean drama, this Seoul trip is all the more significant. 🙂

And I was not disappointed.  It was not really the best time to visit this place though.  We did miss the spring blossoms (since my daughter had to wait for the school year to end before we could get here) but the weather was the most pleasant with the air still cold and chilly despite the sky being bright and sunny (the closing of spring and the beginning of summer) which made this trip one of the most memorable.  This is one of those places that lightning gets to strike only once.  But unlike lightning however, tourists make it a point to hit this place at least twice in their lifetime.  How can you blame them?  Seoul is one of the most beautiful and tourist-friendly places on the planet (at least in the region I have visited).  It is a shopping haven for travelers (you ask the ladies) and a food mecca for the adventurous.  The locals are the most friendly; going the extra mile to make the tourist experience memorable and speaking the most sweet-sounding of all languages (even though I didn’t understand).  I apologize for that.  Maybe we listened to too many Korean songs and watched too much Korean drama while we were there 🙂 .  It is a very lovely and picturesque place with old neighborhoods preserved and nestled within a modern and bustling metropolis; with different seasons providing new perspectives on every familiar scene.  Despite the ravages and destruction of war, Seoul has come a long way to emerging as one of the world’s 21st century cities.  This is one model city enjoying a comeback that should not be missed.

Bukchon Hanok Village (Seoul)

Old and New.  The beautiful Bukchon Hanok Village with the modern Seoul city in the background.

You have to believe me.  The photos in this post don’t do justice to the ultimate bliss of actually being here.  I originally wanted to do several posts about this trip with each post corresponding to each day I spent here; but then decided not to.  As much as I wanted to relive the experience, I also did not want the memory to linger any longer than it should.  It is one of those “I-wanted-to-stay-but-I-had-to-leave” situations you sometimes find yourself in.  Again, too much of that Korean drama  🙂 .  Besides, I also messed up my itinerary for my personal photowalk and committed the grievous sin of seeing most of the places I planned to shoot but actually forgetting to shoot some of them.  It is because the place is so beautifully distracting and the local food so sweetly unnerving.  All those preparations and plans to photograph the place with a fresh pair of eyes and from new angles all went down the drain.  I just simply didn’t care about doing original photography but just immersed myself in the moment.  I don’t even remember ever complaining about long walks and large crowds.  It was a welcoming change from previous tropical ramblings.

What am I talking about anyway?  Okay, I’ll spare you the Korean drama.  This is one place you definitely have to see.  But don’t take my word for it.  You just have to be here.  I am trying to make sense and order out of a disorganized bunch of random photos from my distracted photowalk and trying to write the names of places and their descriptions as I remember them.  So I share them here:  my must-see places in Seoul (the Seoul I love); not in the order of their importance but in the order I found them worthy to be salvaged from my camera’s memory card 🙂 .  Enjoy the images and stay inspired.

Gyeongbokgung Palace: Gyeongbokgung is the largest of Seoul’s four main palaces and perhaps the most recognizable of all the city’s attractions.  It has served as the principal residence for Korean royalties.  Much of the palace’s structures were destroyed during the 20th century Japanese colonial rule.  What you see now are mostly accurate recent reconstructions.  Take time to walk through the palace grounds beyond the Throne Hall to admire two beautiful floating pavilions:  Gyeonghoeru and Hwangwonjeong.

Gyeongbokgung Palace (Seoul)

Geunjeongjeon.  The Imperial Throne Hall of Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion (Seoul)

The highly-prized Gyeonghoeru Pavilion on an artificial island inside the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds.

Hwangwonjeong Pavilion (Seoul)

Hwangwonjeong or “The Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance” on an artificial island inside the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds.

Ehwa Womans University:  This is one impressive and imaginative piece of contemporary architecture I have seen during my stay here.  A sloping causeway dives six stories below ground level to the main entrance of this facility and is flanked on both sides by glass and steel fenestration.  The causeway is terminated at the opposite end by a flight of stone steps leading back to the Gothic style campus buildings at the ground level.

Ehwa Womans University (Seoul)

Ehwa Womans University is one of the most beautiful and unique works of architecture at the heart of Seoul City.

Ehwa Womans University (Seoul)

The six-story high stone steps leading to the campus grounds of Ehwa Womans University.

Seoul City Hall:  The recently redeveloped Seoul City Hall embodies the modern interpretation of traditional Korean architecture.  The curved top of the new glass and steel building resembles the roof of old palaces and temples.  Underneath its shade is the beautiful stone-cladded old City Hall building.

Seoul City Hall

The modern and respectable Seoul City Hall at the blue hour.

Deoksugung Palace:  Also called “The Palace of Virtuous Longevity”, Deoksugung is one of several main palaces built during the Joseon dynasty.  It is the only palace ground that is open until late evening so you could admire the buildings when they are illuminated.  The highlight of this attraction is the unusual mix of traditional Korean and Western Neoclassical buildings within a single palace ground.

Deoksugung Palace (Seoul)

Junghwajeon.  The throne hall of Deoksugung Palace.

Seokjojeon (Seoul)

Seokjojeon.  One of the Western Neoclassical buildings inside the Deoksugung Palace grounds.

Cheonggyecheon Stream:  This famous stream of the Joseon era was once covered by an elevated highway that was built after the Korean War.  In 2003, the highway was removed as part of an urban renewal project to restore the stream to its present state.  The stream is 11 km. long running through downtown Seoul and passing under 22 bridges with several attractions along its entire length.

Cheonggyecheon Stream (Seoul)

A River runs Through the City.  Cheonggyecheon Stream provides a soothing contrast to the surrounding urban jungle.

Namsan Hill:  Namsan Hill is Seoul’s geographical center and is topped by N Seoul Tower, its iconic observatory.  The cable car ride to the base of the tower is impressive enough; but the view of the city from the top of the hill is breathtaking.  Counter the cold weather with a cup of coffee and churros from one of the restaurants at the base of the tower. 🙂

Namsan Hill (Seoul)

Breathe Again.  A view of Seoul city from the base of N Seoul Tower above Namsan Hill.

Namsan Hill (Seoul)

Love Locks.  Beautiful and assorted locks adorn the railings at the base of N Seoul Tower above Namsan Hill.

Bukchon Hanok Village:  Walking through the alleys of this village feels like going back to the time of Korean kings, dynasties, and royal subjects.  Bukchon is a cluster of traditional Korean houses (or hanoks) nestled between two main palaces at the heart of an urban city.  Some of the houses were recently converted to small coffee shops, restaurants, and homestays for tourists who want to be near major local attractions.

Bukchon Hanok Village (Seoul)

Time Passages.  A view of one of the picturesque alleys of Bukchon Hanok Village.

Some Sevit and Banpo Rainbow Bridge:  Some Sevit is a cluster of contemporary flower-themed buildings set on a man-made island off Han River.  The buildings house restaurants and a number of multi-purpose spaces.  Come during the blue hour to admire the buildings when illuminated by color-changing LED lights.  Next to the buildings is Banpo Rainbow Bridge (the world’s longest bridge fountain).  At night, colored lights illuminate the fountain as it sends up jets of water into the air with synchronized music.

Some Sevit (Seoul)

Some Gavit.  The convention and corporate events venue of the Some Sevit community.

Some Sevit (Seoul)

Some Chavit.  The dining and restaurant venue of the Some Sevit cluster.

Banpo Rainbow Bridge (Seoul)

Banpo Rainbow Bridge with the lights and water show at night.

National Museum of Korea:  The simple but impressive exterior doesn’t divulge much of the diversity of exhibits found in its interior.  The stories and cultural treasures within its walls are topics that require a separate discussion.  The lush garden and beautiful park outside the museum provide a calm and soothing contrast to the rigid and stately character of the buidling.

National Museum of Korea (Seoul)

Afternoon Calm.  Lush landscape softens the hard-edged and imposing but beautiful National Museum of Korea.

Thank you for reading. 🙂

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!