Sunday, May 7, 2017

Seoul Sightseeing: Days 3, 4 & 5

A catch up for Days 1 & 2 can be found here.

Day 3 started with another shakedown run along the Cheonggyecheon stream to do a final gear test before heading back to the apartment for a shower and get ready for our day's adventure. My wife had planned a trip to the Ihwa Mural Village and we wanted to get started early.

Aside from a quick cup of coffee, we both skipped breakfast and headed out to the subway station to find the correct trains that would take us there. I wasn't worried about that cos I knew my wife would have had all that figured out. On hindsight, skipping breakfast was a bad idea which I'll come to later.

We boarded the train from Euljiro station to Hyehwa Station and walked towards Naksan Park that led us towards the Ihwa Mural Village. The weather was pretty decent that morning, cold but not bitingly so. We had planned to find something along the way for breakfast but couldn't find anything and decided that we'll grab something to eat later. Now, I'm a total grouch and can get very annoying when I don't have food in me. I was already feeling irritable.

Finding the correct path to the Mural Village was not an issue. Armed with only a map and some jottings from her research, my wife knew exactly how to get there and we found the entrance to it after a short 10 minute walk. She would tell me what to expect and it was spot on every time. Sometimes I think she has been to Seoul before!

"Perched at the very top of Mt. Naksan, Ihwa Mural Village is an unlikely attraction in an unlikely setting. Only a decade ago, the neighborhood was set for demolition to clear away what was considered an aging and unattractive slum to make way for new development. Today, it’s a lively and thriving neighborhood that welcomes artists and visitors while still preserving the charm and intimate bonds of its long-standing and tight-knit community."
- Imagine Your Korea

You can already see the incline of the road up towards Mount Naksan!

Some of the lifelike murals outside the resident's dwellings.

Ihwa was basically a tourist spot which was filled with people from all over wanting to take pics with the many murals and art deco littered around. While I found this place interesting and presented loads of picture-taking opportunities, I was feeling cranky from lack of food. The fact that the place was perched on a hill made me even moodier. 

The long stairs up that we skipped.

People were actually queuing to take pictures of some of the more popular murals
most notably the 'Wings' graffiti.

Now, my wife knows all the signs when I get into one of my moods but remained upbeat. We stopped at every mural and did what tourists would do, snap away. Being in the state I was in, I wasn't too cooperative with the picture taking. She finally got fed up of me and asked me if it was that time of the month! With me being a buzz kill, we decided to go look for food and abandoned our touring not even halfway through it. 

Some of the creative statues along the path up to Mt. Naksan.

Small little shops selling arts and craft along the climb in Ihwa.

So off we went leaving Ihwa in our wake with my wife making a vow that she would be back here one fine day again and cover the entire area. We took a walk along the main roads looking for some eatery but nothing of interest came about and we ended up getting some stuff from a convenience store and sitting down in a small garden like enclosure overlooking the road. The weather was beautiful to be outdoors so it was really kinda nice just sitting there and watching people go about their ways.

The architecture looks more European than Asian.

After our short food break and with slightly filled tummies, and in a much better mood than I was earlier, we headed to the nearest subway station and took a train towards Anguk for the filming location of my wife's current K-Drama series obsession - Goblin!

After a short walk from the station, we arrived at Unhyeongung Palace, which was fronting the Goblin's house or mansion thingy. Since there were no entrance fees, we decided to go in and check the place out. The palace was beautiful on the inside giving you a taste of the old Korea and we spent a few minutes here taking pictures. Then it was off to check out the Goblin location shoot building which I came to find out was actually part of a school. According to my wife, it's one go-to place for the Goblin series fans.

Inside Unhyeongung Palace. Never one to miss a vain running shot opportunity. 

We walked into the area, was a little unsure at first cos there were some signs in Korean that we didn't understand. Something was amiss as we nonchalantly walked into the compounds as people were giving us the stares. Just as we got towards the said building, this caretaker or something came running towards us with arms crossed like Ultraman about to unleash his super laser ray and was saying something in Korean to us.

After he got nearer, we found out he was telling us to stop and to leave the place. We were a little taken aback but turned around and left anyway, but not before I got a quick shot of the building for my wife. So rude, we thought but once we reached the gate we realized that this was a school and parents were sending their kids to classes and we were actually intruders. That explained the stares. After checking the signage again, it was discovered that no tourists were allowed in. Okay, our bad. I wouldn't want strangers simply walking in my kids school so I understood the alarm.

Managed to get a quick shot of the Goblin K-Drama location shoot of the building from the outside.

After chastising ourselves for not being more aware of signages, we headed off towards Insadong, which was just a short walk away from the street across the Unhyeongung Palace. I was keen to see Insadong, this was a place I was a little more aware of having read about it before we arrived in Korea.

"Insa-dong, located in the heart of the city, is an important place where old but precious and traditional goods are on display. There is one main road in Insa-dong with alleys on each side. Within these alleys are galleries and traditional restaurants, teahouses, and cafes. The galleries are the heartbeat of Insa-dong. There are about 100 galleries in the area and you can see every example of traditional Korean fine art from paintings to sculptures." 
        - Imagine Your Korea


The entrance into Insadong.

Insadong reminded me of our very own Jonker Street in Melaka. The main street is blocked off to traffic every weekend and stalls are set up outside the shops selling all kinds of stuff such as trinkets, crafts, local candies, souvenirs, food and the likes. We took a stroll along the streets and our hunger pangs came on again. This time, we decided to look for something to eat as eateries were in abundance here. We found a nice quaint shop in a basement of a building and sat down to chomp on our first real meal for the day. The meal consisted of sliced pork and huge giant dumplings that was actually very delicious.


These dumplings were really huge unlike the ones back home and really delicious.

Once we were done, we were energized and continued our stroll along Insadong. We stopped to look at stuff and I was even video interviewed by some Korean University students on assignment on why I picked Korea as my destination, hopefully I'll be famous in some University over here ... hahaha!

A holiday is not complete without a picture with one of the locals.

Wifey wanted to find the Ssamziegil Mall which was just around the corner. Ssamziegil Mall could be described as 'an Insadong within Insadong'. It was a unique artsy kind of mall that was connected to each level in the form of a spiraling walkway with 70 plus shops selling all kinds of handicrafts and souvenir items that included art galleries and restaurants. The place was packed with both local and tourists having a great time shopping or simply browsing for stuff.

'Ssamziegil Mall - 'An Insadong within Insadong'

We browsed around, bought a few stuff and made plans with Choon Yuen for dinner with the rest of the gang who arrived earlier in the day. Since we were already out and it was close to dinner time, we didn't bother heading back and just hung around the area instead until meeting the gang at the pre-planned location.

We stopped by McD's to buy some time while waiting and I grabbed a quick pre-dinner meal of some Bacon burgers. All that walking and the ever decreasing night temperature making the place chilly was making me constantly hungry. After the quick bite, we met up with the rest of the gang and found a barbeque place nearby for some hot dinner which turned out to also be both Choon Yuen and my birthday treat by Jeanie and Yan Leng.

After 'cutting' our ice cream cake, we all headed back to our respective apartments but not before making plans to meet up at the Jamsil Sports Complex the next day for our race kit collection.

Our 'birthday cakes' :D

Day 4

We woke up early and this time time we made ourselves some instant noodle so as not to repeat my annoying and irritable state of mind the day before. We headed down to the subway station which was just under our apartment. The subway below us actually housed an underground mall that catered to everything from inkjet printing (which gave me the idea that I could find a job here), clothing, shoes, mobile phones, some restaurants, convenience stores and lots more.

The train schedules in Korea are pretty accurate, just like in Japan and every train arrived on time. The train ride to the Jamsil Sports Complex took about 25 minutes or so and we arrived much earlier before the gang. The moment we exited the subway and walked out to the amazing view of the iconic Olympic Stadium in front of me, my excitement level increased. I've only ever seen the stadium in pictures and here I was actually looking at it in real life! It also brought not so happy thoughts that I'd be slogging through the streets of Seoul tomorrow before I finally reached here again.

A surreal feeling being outside the Olympic Stadium!

Since we were early, we headed to grab some drinks and snacks nearby before messaging the gang that I'd meet them at the race expo just ahead. The race expo is literally a new thing for the Seoul International Marathon. Prior to two years ago, there was no such thing as a race expo. Participants just walked into the organizer's office to collect their kits and that's it! At least now, they have an expo.

It wasn't a big race expo, in fact it was incredibly small scaled compared to the likes of Kyoto and Gold Coast but I was thankful that they had an expo. The gang finally arrived and we all made our way to collect our kits which was hassle-free. We were done within minutes and then it was checking out the various booths around and taking pictures.


I managed to get myself an Adidas event tee which on hindsight was the best thing I ever did cos we all didn't get any Finisher tees at the finish line. Aside from the finisher medal, this event tee was my only other reminder of my race here.


My wife wanted to visit some place called Apgujeong Rodeo to see the Gangnam Dolls lining the roads and the gang decided to tag along and grab some food there together. It was a short train ride to to Apgujeong Rodeo. This area was high class, somewhat like the Beverly Hills of Korea. From the cars, to the shops, to the people on the street, everything reeked of the upper class. We were all hungry and decided to find food first before doing anything else.

We walked into Galleria mall just ahead and decided to have something at the food court there. As I said, this place was upper class and when we got down to the food court we were kinda shocked as the definition of food court in this mall was more like fine dining, not something we were looking at. So we made a quick exit and headed out down the road towards some shops looking for something to eat.

Fooling around in Apgujeong Rodeo

We eventually found a shop in one of the lanes and came to a decision to grab something here cos the cold weather was making us really famished. We entered the shop and didn't know what to order so we just ordered what everyone was having. You know the saying, when in Rome and all that ...

When the food arrived we were a little skeptical that it would fill us up or even taste good but to our surprise, it was absolutely satisfying and utterly filling! Never judge a book by its cover is something we should all remember. We had something called Budae Jjigae or also known as 'Army Base Stew'. The dish originated during the Korean War, and was popular for a time afterwards, when people had little to eat. It combined leftover Spam and hot dogs from U.S. Army facilities with whatever else was available. All the leftovers were mixed with water in a large pot and boiled.


After filling our tummies, my wife brought us to another place on her list of places to see. It was a short walk away and called the Apgujeong Rodeo Graffiti Tunnel. The tunnel was lined with graffiti by the locals that was tastefully done and led towards the beautiful Han River. Loads of cyclist were using the tunnel to head towards the river which had a nice long loop around the river. It was actually just ripe for a run but with a marathon the next day, we weren't up to try it.


Part of the graffiti lined tunnel

We savoured the view of the Han river and tried to deduce which of the two bridges we saw in the distance we would be running across tomorrow. After nearly an hour or so, we made our way back to the subway station but not before my wife dragged me along to look for the BTS Gangnam Doll. And as fate would have it, it was basically the last doll at the end of the road! I also managed to get a picture with the Girls Generation doll just to spite Choon Yuen ... hahaha! I'm a Wonder Girls fan myself but since they disbanded, this was the best I could do!

With the Girls Generation Gangnam Doll.


The view of the city along the Han River.

Once we were done, we all headed back and decided to rest up since it was going to be a long tough morning of racing the next day. My wife and me bought some food stuff from the subway station for our dinner since we wouldn't be going out anymore until the next day. We mostly lazed around the apartment and after getting my gear for race day laid out, I called it an early night while my wife stayed up to catch some local show on TV.

Day 5

This was it. It was race morning and one of the reasons why I'm in Korea in the first place. I didn't really sleep well the night before. It's the same with any race I'm running overseas (probably pre-race jitters) but I was well rested nonetheless. After getting dressed and a quick breakfast and good luck wishes from my number one fan, I was out the door heading to race start.

I'm not going into the race details again, so you can read my race report here. After the race, I headed back to get some rest and a nap since anyone who runs a marathon would know that sightseeing is the last thing anyone would want to immediately do.

Photo rights belong to Photosports.

But strangely as tired and exhausted as I was, I just couldn't get a proper nap. The body was still winding down from the race and ached in every conceivable part. I messaged Choon Yuen on dinner plans later as we planned to meet for our usual post race dinner. We planned to meet at Insadong and revisit the barbecue place CY and me had on the first night. My wife also wanted to visit Namdaemun market and Namdaemun Gate which was a short walk away from Myeongdong.

"Opened in 1964, Namdaemun Market is the largest traditional market in Korea with shops selling various goods. All products are sold at affordable prices and the stores in this area also function as wholesale markets. Most of the goods are made directly by the store owners. Namdaemun Market is crowded with retailers from all over the country. When day breaks, the site of busy shoppers bustling around the market creates a unique scene that attracts tourists worldwide. Namdaemun Market sells a variety of clothes, glasses, kitchenware, toys, mountain gear, fishing equipment, stationery, fine arts, accessories, hats, carpets, flowers, ginseng, and imported goods."
Imagine Your Korea

Somewhat like our very own Petaling Street.

Namdaemun market was reminiscent of our own Petaling Street but much cleaner. We browsed the market checking out the items on offer and bought some street food to munch on as we strolled along the length of the market before making our way towards the Namdaemun Gate, a majestic looking palace like structure right in the heart of the city. It really was majestic with the lights on and backed by the more modern structures of the city. After the usual picture taking, we headed off to meet the gang for dinner which was as yummy as the first night we had it. After lots of banter and complaints about the race, we all finally adjourned back to our respective apartments for some much needed rest. It had been a long, long day!

The beautiful and majestic Namdaemun Gate.

Coming up, Days 6 & 7.

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