If days 1 and 2 got us acquainted with the beauty of Busan and Seoul, then day 3 is our time to get acquainted with the amazing South Korean culture and hospitality.
Day 3 – Magnificent Korea
We woke up late so that as soon as we were ready, my sister and I headed quickly to Myeongdong to look for a place to eat. After walking for a few blocks, we found this restaurant called Yoogane Chicken Galbi, in one of the alleyways near M Plaza. We have no idea what’s the food like inside but the long line of patrons waiting for an available seating surely peaked our interest! (Tip 1: Always eat where the natives eat…or wherever there’s a long line).
We were immediately seated and given the menu. The sister and I opted for the Dak Kalbi Chalpan Bokkeumbap, chicken marinated in a spicy sauce, cooked with a side of veggies and rice in a hot sizzling flat pan while you watch. One order costs around KRW5,000 (PHP184.00 x 2), and we ordered for two. Orders come with three side dishes dishes (electric yellow daikons, kimchi bean sprouts and shredded cabbage), plus a tall pitcher of cold water, maybe in anticipation of the fiery pit that will be your mouth.
First, a confession — I have low tolerance for spicy foods that even a sliver of chili is enough to make me cry and shed copious tears. Maybe it’s the “newness” of being in a foreign land, especially in one where Kimchi is a staple diet and the need to prove myself, I immediately said yes when my concerned sister asked me if I can handle our brunch.
How can I describe the taste? It’s a wonderful mixture of spicy, savory and awesome goodness of the crunchy vegetables mixed with slightly burnt rice. To temper the heat, I eat cold daikons, the shredded lettuce and drank glasses of water one after another.
The effects of the dish started reeling by the time that I was in my second serving. I actually had a picture showing me about to dispense another spoonful, but my eyes were already red, my cheeks flushed and it looked like I was about to cry. So, I’d rather not post it here.
After brunch, we headed back to M Plaza to have our pictures taken wearing Hanbok. I’ve read in one of the blogs I’ve visited prior to the trip that takes pictures of tourists wearing hanbok for KRW20,000 (PHP738)–that would have been cool too, but after doing a bit of research, I found out that the Seoul Global Culture and Tourism Office located in M Plaza is offering photo ops for FREE! So instead of spending KRW20,000 for our hanbok picture, we got it for nothing and we get to chat with the friendly personnel manning the tourist office.
The tourism office is also the place to withdraw money (using your international ATM — I used BPI International Card here and it worked just fine), write and send post cards for your loved ones (for free!) and even check out some of the pictures of Hallyu stars.
The staff is very nice and accommodating and they will allow you to take as many pictures as you want wearing the costumes (within a 15-minute allotted time frame, of course). You can also ask them for maps and brochures of places you want to see within Seoul. Before we left, they gave us cellphone charms featuring Haechi, Seoul’s mascot.
Note: The Seoul Global Culture and Tourism Center is located at 5th Fl. M-Plaza 31-1 Myeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, Korea. Contact Information: (02) 3789-7961~3 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Jewels in the Palace
After having our pictures taken, we headed to Deoksugong Palace located near the Seoul City Hall. Entrance to the palace grounds is just at KRW1,000 (PHP36). The palace was considered the smallest of the other palaces within Seoul and is built during the mid-fifteenth century.
The palace courtyard houses a lot of structures including various courts and houses for the King as his palace staff, his Queen and the quarters for the princes and princesses. Also inside was a massive throne room and various antechambers.
The most exciting part our palace visit is the changing of the guards. It was full of pomp and pageantry which is impressive considering that in the real world, we are just in downtown Seoul. If you will try to ignore the cars and buses whizzing behind you and the ringing cellphone of the person to your right or the flashy DSLR cameras, maybe you can try to imagine that you are in 15th century Seoul as a commoner watching the changing of the guards.
To continue our “Seoul Cultural Day”, we also paid our respects to King Sejong the Great, the founder and father of Korea and the widely regarded as the inventor of the hangul, Korea’s written and spoken language. He is also credited for advancements in military, science and technology and literature during his reign.
Behind the base of this great statue is an underground museum dedicated to the life and legacy of the great King. Called “The Story of King Sejong,” the space is a compact representation of the many legacies of this brave and intelligent king. Inside is summary of his life, a replica of his throne and his many contributions to the country. Entrance is FREE so I would recommend that you spend a few minutes getting to acquainted to this wise ruler. The museum is located beneath the Gwanghwamun Square and in front of the Gyeongbukgong Palace (The Northern Palace) near the Seoul Police Department.
Our third day was definitely the best type of field trip I ever had. It made me appreciate Korean culture more and at the same time, be conscious of my country’s own culture and history. It is truly impressive how Koreans managed to incorporate their history to the continuing modernity of their city.
NEXT: NAMI ISLAND!