Finally arrived in Seoul Incheon Airport after a red-eye flight from Singapore via Bangkok. My friend and I had been talking about visiting Seoul since two years ago, we were excited about the trip and hope to see snowing in Seoul during this trip since we visited in the middle of winter. After collecting our luggage, we headed to the SK Telecom counter in the airport to collect our pre-booked wifi router. More on a short review of the router later. After collecting our wifi router, we headed towards the subway station for our trip towards downtown Seoul. There are two sides to the station, one for the normal service, and another for the express train towards Seoul. We went to express train (known as AREX) to get our tickets to downtown Seoul. Taking the AREX saves us around 10 mins, however, the most important difference is the allocation of seat for AREX compared to the all-stop train service. For travelers who would want to get some more rest, go for the AREX where seats will be assigned.
Arrival at Seoul Incheon Airport
Seoul Airport Subway Station Building
Got our AREX tickets. Do Keep the receipt as it shows your seats, the staff will check the paper receipt when boarding the train and when inside the train while transiting to Seoul
Inside the AREX Train
Map of the train showing the difference between AREX and the all-stop train services
The scenery of Korea along the way to Seoul onboard the AREX
Checking into the Hotel
The ride to Seoul station whiz past fairly quickly. We headed for the exit that leads us to our hotel. It is around 9.30 am and the hotel would not be able to check us in for another hour. Rather than sitting around and wait for time to pass by, my friend and I opted to check out the nearby Lotte Mart. The supermarket opens at 10 am. We waited for another 10 mins, queuing up to enter the supermarket with the rest of the customers, locals, and tourists alike. When the door opened, customers entered the supermarket orderly. We were given a Korean traditional new year cake as we entered the supermarket. The supermarket is no different from any hypermarkets with loads of groceries organised into the various alleys. My friend and I walked around a little and decided to head back to the hotel to check-in and wash up, getting ready to explore Seoul.
Arrival at Seoul Station
Taking a wefie before heading to the hotel
It is a short walk to the hotel from Seoul Station. There are some homeless people sleeping inside the station, however, they cleared out during the day and were not distributing anyone using the subway system.
Arrival at the hotel
Hotel is dressed up for Christmas
Took this picture from the hotel lobby while waiting to be served
Change of Plan
Our plan today was to head to Namsan and N Seoul Tower in the morning, followed by heading out to Suwon in the afternoon and spending our night in the Gangnam area. Sound like a plan, however, the plan did not go as we wanted. As with most travels, one should plan and get ready to adjust the plan as one go along. We left the hotel at around noon and headed to Namsan via the subway. Getting to Namsan by subway requires us to stop at the subway at Myeongdong area. We exited the subway station, spent some time navigating towards the cable car station that will bring us up to Namsan. When we arrived at the cable station, we saw a queue snaking from the station. We joined the queue, which was moving very slowly. After around 10 mins, we reach a sign that says “70 mins wait from this point”. At this point, I turned to my friend and say ” I feel stupid waiting 70 mins for a cable car ride, why not we come back some other day”. My friend agreed. Later did we realise it is New Year’s Day. Most of the locals took this opportunity to get out and visit some of Seoul‘s major attractions as well. Hence it hit us that it is a bad day to visit any attractions. My friend turned to me and asked: “so what now?”. I proposed that we head to the nearby Myeongdong shopping area as a change of plan, and we did.
On our way towards Namsan Cable Car Station
Some eateries along the way
Eateries along the way to Namsan Cable Car Station
More eateries along the way
View of N Seoul Tower from the cable car station
Namsan Cable Car Station
Myeongdong is one of the major shopping districts in Seoul. There are shops for practically everyone, but most of the shops seem to be catering to female visitors. One should cater some time to get one’s bearings when visiting Myeongdong for the first time. I was overwhelmed when I first arrive at Myeongdong, due to the number of shops in the area as well as the massive number of people visiting. As we walked around Myeongdong, we noticed there are tons of shops selling Korean brands of facial care products such as FaceShop, Innisfree, Nature Republic to name a few. These Korean brand facial products are cheaper here in Korea than anywhere else in the world, attracting tourists. Most of the shops here do VAT refunds for foreigners. Essentially they will print out a receipt for foreigners, which is required to be produced at the airport when departing. There are some other international brand facial care shops in Myeongdong as well. Frat not for those who have missed their favourite skincare shops, there is always another one down the street in Myeongdong or round the corner. Other than facial care product shops, there are numerous boutiques selling clothes ranging from the familiar Uniqlo to Adidas to H&M and Forever 21. As it is a public holiday, it seems most of Seoul have congregated here in Myeongdong. Other than having to squeeze past hordes of shoppers to Myeongdong, the main street is also filled with make-shift pushcart stores selling clothing, socks, beanies to name a few. There is also street food on sale along the streets from some of these pushcarts. As we walked around, we seem to have lost track of time as we were overwhelmed with the shopping scene in Myeongdong. By the time we thought we were done with the shopping, it is already near the evening time. We realise we did not even have the time to head over to Suwon (which is around 1 hour by subway) and decided to head towards Garosu-gil at the Gangnam area.
Myeongdong from opposite the street
Other than the shopping area, there is an underground shopping belt at the subway station
Exiting to Myeongdong from the subway station
Myeongdong shopping district
Street food at Myeongdong
More street food at Myeongdong
The amount of visitors to Myeongdong is massive!
Some of the shops in Myeongdong
Shopping in Myeongdong
Shopping in Myeongdong
Shopping in Myeongdong
It did not take us long to reach Garosu-gil in Gangnam via the subway. Garosu-gil laterally means tree-lined street in Korean. Garosu-gil is around 5 mins walk from Sinsa Station. True to its name, the street is lined with trees and is another shopping district in Seoul. However, the shops here in Garosu-gil is different from that in Myeongdong. Compared to Myeongdong, Garosu-gil feels more upmarket with pictures of artist studios, galleries, designer clothing shops, and cafes along the ginkgo tree-lined street. There are some shops selling local designer brands here in Garosu-gil. Garosu-gil is not as large as Myeongdong, stretching about 1km. There are also fewer shoppers at Garosu-gil compared to Myeongdong. For those who prefer a shopping district with fewer people, do visit Garosu-gil. There are also shops selling popular Korean facial care products shops here. We spent around an hour walking along Garosu-gil and decided to head for dinner.
Start of Garosu-gil
Me at Garosu-gil
Garosu-gil shopping scene. Compared to Myeongdong, there are fewer shoppers here.
Garosu-gil is a nice place to stroll
Shopping in Garosu-gil
Me at Garosu-gil
Perhaps the only shop with a long line in Garosu-gil. These people are queue to take a picture with a gigantic line bear plush toy
Shopping in Garosu-gil
Mapo Sutbul Galbi
Prior to our trip to Seoul, I did some research on youtube. One of the restaurants that I came across is Mapo Sutbul Galbi. This restaurant mainly serves Korean BBQ and is famous for its pork short ribs. As the restaurant is in the Gangnam area, we decide to head over for dinner. As I did not get the address, mainly relying on Google Maps, it took us around 45 mins to locate the restaurant from Garosu-gil. By the time we reached Mapo Sutbul Galbi, we were famished. As we walked into the restaurant, we realised we were the only foreigner in the restaurant. Although the staff spoke very little English, upon realising we were not local, she immediately brought a menu with pictures and English wordings. We ordered pork ribs and pork belly. As with most Korean restaurants, other than the meat, side dishes were also brought to the table. The thoughtful staff stayed with us throughout, helping us grill our meat, occasionally peeling away to top up our side dishes such as Kimchi as soon as they are emptied. The staff even changed our grill three times during our stay in the restaurant. The pork is well marinated and the side dishes are very tasty.
After walking for 45 mins we finally found the restaurant
Traditional charcoal grill and more side dishes
This red looking side dish is crab. It is very tasty
Pork belly on the grill
Pork short ribs
Vegetables and mint leaves to warp up the meat
After dinner, we headed to Dongdaemun Shopping district. Emerging from the underground subway station, the Dongdaemun or the East gate that once surround Seoul stood timelessly by the exit of the subway station. The ancient monument was closed off at the time of our visit, not too sure if it is ever open to visitors to scale. Not too far from the East Gate is the Dongdaemun Shopping district. Dongdaemun opens till late at night, providing shoppers after-hour shopping. There are a few shopping malls that make up the Dongdaemun shopping district. We headed for the Doota! shopping mall, which is again, crowded with people picking up clothing and facials stuffs late at night. The 7-storey shopping mall (with two additional basement storeys) is a shopping haven. Doota! mainly sells clothing offering both local designer clothing and some international brands as well. There is a food court on the top level of the mall and some cafes scattered on different levels of the mall. We did not spend too much time here and wanted to hope to the next shopping mall beside Doota!, however, our fatigue has set in and returned to the hotel to rest for the night, hoping to recuperate some energy to explore Seoul the next day.
Dongdamun or the East Gate
View of the East gate from the exit of the subway station
Me at the East Gate
Side of the East Gate
We walked past Cheonggyecheon Stream on our way to the shopping district