Travel Tips in Seoul Part I

Over the years, I have had so many people ask me for travel tips in Seoul such as where to go, what to eat and how to get around the city. So I have decided to write it down here and refer people to this post in future. The caveat here would be that my suggestions are most suitable for people travelling without children, and are reflective of what I like. I will describe the options available based on what I know and then state my personal preferences.

Smoke Break In Autumn
Autumn at Ehwa Woman’s University in Seoul. Shot with iPhone 7+

Where to stay: I tend to orientate myself in Seoul as a city that is divided by the Hangang River. You can choose to stay north of Hangang where the palaces, museums, markets, Namsan and other attractions are situated, or stay south of Hangang where you have easy access to the high-end shopping areas such as Gangnam and Apgujeong. Whichever area that you choose to stay in, try to pick a hotel that is close to an airport bus stop and a subway station.

I have always stayed north of Hangang, usually in Myeongdong and occasionally, in Insadong or Seodeomun. I love the convenience of staying in Myeongdong. It is an area where I can find plenty of fun, shopping and local food options the minute I step out of my hotel. Strolling along the bustling streets of Myeongdong at night, tasting a variety of Korean street food at the numerous food carts lining the streets, wandering in and out of the plethora of cosmetics and skincare shops are activities that I never seem to tire of. Myeongdong has access to two subway lines: the green subway line (Line 2) and the light blue subway line (Line 6). It is also an easy walk to the palaces, Insadong, Cheongyechon stream, Namdaemun market etc.

How to get to and from Incheon airport: Seoul city is accessible from Incheon by taxi, the airport Express train or the airport bus. It would take anything between 45mins to two hours depending on traffic conditions.

Taxi: I have not taken the taxi to the city before so I am not sure what the cost would be. I reckon that it would cost a bit given the distance between the airport and the city. The taxi option would be worth it if there are at least three to four of you in the group. If you do, check that the taxi has enough boot space to carry all the luggage.

AREX Express: The non-stop Airport Railroad Express Train (AREX) from Incheon to Seoul Station costs 8,000 Won per person. It is a quick and convenient option, especially if your hotel is within close proximity to Seoul Station (which is north of Hangang). For those who are not staying near Seoul Station, you have to get off the AREX and commute to your hotel by subway or a taxi. For some reason, I have never taken the AREX Express before, and I should give it a try one day.

Airport Bus: This is my preferred option as the bus is comfortable, convenient, affordable and frequent. It usually takes about an hour to get into the city. [Travel tips in Seoul: Depending on the traffic condition, the bus could take up to two hours especially during peak hours.] The airport bus ticketing counter is located right outside the departure hall of Incheon. Tell the staff at the counter the name of your hotel and they will let you know the airport bus number and the bus-stop. Ticket price varies depending on destination – I pay 14,000 Won to go to Myeongdong. You can also find the bus routes here.

The bus handlers will carry your suitcase into the luggage compartment of the bus, and you can snooze your way into the city. Once the bus enters the city, you will start to hear announcements of the stops being made in English. At each designated stop, the bus driver will alight from the bus and remove the pieces of luggage from the compartment based on the luggage tag. Pick up your luggage and off you go. Easy-peasy!

How to get around: My preferred mode for travelling around in Seoul is by the subway, and where possible, on foot. The subway is cheap, convenient and reliable. Travel tips in Seoul: Get the T-money stored value card so you do not have to deal with buying subway tickets and loose change. The T-money stored value card is available at the subway stations and some hotels sell the card too. The T-money card is super handy as it can be used at the convenience shops, on the airport bus, in taxis and for lockers at the train stations.

Unlike Tokyo, taxis are very affordable in Seoul. They charge metered fares with a flat flag-down rate. No peak hour surcharges too! Just be sure to take the white and orange taxis – the black ones charge are pricier. Travel tips in Seoul: The taxis also have a free English translation service to help foreigners with difficulty communicating with their taxi drivers. I have used it several times and found it to be extremely helpful. The taxi driver calls the translator on his phone in the taxi, passes the phone over to you for you to speak to the translator and the translator will let the taxi driver know what your instructions are.

Travel tips in Seoul: I avoid taking taxis during peak hours due to the congestion, especially if you are travelling across the Hangang River. The roads around the Hangang get very congested during peak hours so you are better off taking the subway. For those of you who wonder about safety, I frequently travel to Seoul on my own and have found taxis to be safe for a lone female traveller.

Autumn in Namsan, Seoul, Nov 2018
Namsan heading towards Itaewon, Seoul. Shot with iPhone 7+

When to go: For nice weather and scenery, I would suggest spring time or autumn. I find the Korean weather to be too hot in summer and too cold in winter.

Spring time is lovely especially during the plum blossom season. Lots of gorgeous flowering trees to be enjoyed in the city. My favourite season to visit Korea is during fall, sometime between end October and the first two weeks of November. The autumn foliage in Korea is intense and wild. The sights of the vibrant orange, red and yellow colours never fail to take my breath away. The autumn air is crisp and cold, and perfect to indulge in piping hot pots and kimchi stews. I have been fortunate to have acquired many happy autumn memories in Seoul.


Corner House – Michelin Star Dining in Singapore

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Last weekend, we went to Corner House with one of my old secondary school friend and her family for dinner. Gosh, her sons are 18 years old and 16 years old. Time really flies. My friend had previously dined at Corner House and liked the experience enough that she wanted to take her sons there for dinner, and we agreed to join them.

It has been a long while since we went to a fine-dining restaurant in Singapore. Our last expensive dine-out was probably at Odette, several years back.

Corner House is situated in an old colonial bungalow in Botanic Gardens which is easily accessible from the Nassim Gate carpark. The restaurant has such a pretty view of the Gardens from the veranda dining room on the second level. The 7 course dinner was quite good – interesting flavours that popped in my mouth. I particularly enjoyed the vegetarian courses much more than the meat courses. The signature onion course (onion cooked in various ways) was excellent. The tomato and basil sorbet course (photo below) was refreshing and delicious – possibly my favourite course that evening.

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It was a nice evening out, catching up with old friends in a quiet and relaxing setting. Would we make a repeat visit? It is just too expensive! I doubt we will go back for dinner, maybe for lunch or Sunday brunch but even that is a remote possibility.

Making a note that the wines are very expensive – they have a 1-for-1 offer for BYOB which is quite a good deal that we became aware of at the end of the evening (and after we had paid for two bottles).

English Paper Piecing: Square Quilted Cushion

It has been a while since I did any sewing or crocheting. I have been learning to enjoy a slower pace during the weekends instead of doing everything that comes to my mind maniacally.  This is the case whenever I start on a new crafting project.

I wanted to start picking up the sewing needle again, or the crochet hook again. I told myself to break the process up into very small chunks to work on every day or every other day.  This way, I make some progress everyday but without sacrificing time to work on the other items on my to-do list.

I really like working with my hands ‘cos it has a calming effect on me. The level of concentration required in crocheting or sewing stops my brain from wandering into all sorts of places that create anxiety.  Plus, creating something increases my happy hormones.

My cushion covers are all hand-made, sewn using 100% cotton fabric and measure 16″ x 16″.  Perfect as a customised gift for my friends and family.  A cushion insert from Ikea fits the cover perfectly.

The Happiness Project

Some months back, I stumbled on The Happiness Project, written by Gretchen Rubin, on the Overdrive app (an excellent app that allows you to borrow and read ebooks from the National Library on your iPad).

Without going into too many details, the book is a memoir about the author’s experimental project to improve her level of happiness over a period of 12 months using a series of prompts. The book was published ten years ago but I have only recently heard of it.

While The Happiness Project received mixed reviews on Amazon, I enjoyed reading it so much I went on to borrow her other books – Better Than Before and Happier At Home. They were all good fun reads and I felt personally inspired by her ideas and concepts.

So this year, I decided to sign up for a community-based personal Happiness Project where I am supposed to create my own prompt and resolution driven project. Will write more about that soon. Time to go to sleep.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Champs Elysees – Excellent Lunch In Paris

I have ticked off another item off on my bucket list, which is to visit Paris.  I made plans to visit Paris last November but because of the terrorist attack on the city, I cancelled my travel plans.  The trip in June was an impromptu trip with two other girlfriends who planned to shop, eat and do the cultural sights (in the same order of priority)!  They were going on a trip to celebrate arriving at a new decade in their lives and invited me to join the party. 🙂  Despite the heavy focus on shopping, we managed to visit a number of sights and eat some pretty good meals during the short 6-day trip.

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We went to several bistros for traditional French food including Josephine Chez Dumonet,  Pierre Gagnaire in Hotel Balzac, Ze Kitchen Galerie near the Notre-Dame Cathedral, L’atelier de Joel Robuchon and Cafe Breizh (for buckwheat galettes).  I enjoyed all my meals but if I was asked to choose my favorite amongst them, it will definitely be L’atelier.  It was one of those meals that was so memorable, you can re-play the experience in your mind again and again long after the meal had ended.  Just to name several places where I have had such wonderful meals: Boulevard in San Francisco, Ristorante 245 in Kyoto, the Chinese restaurant in The Lalu at Sun Moon Lake, Karo-no-udon in Fukuoka.

To accommodate a rather hectic shopping itinerary that day, we decided to have a late lunch at 2pm.  By the time we got to L’atelier, the three of us were the only customers dining in the restaurant.  I had expected lunch service to have ended between 2pm to 2.30pm but was surprised that this was not the case.

We ordered the 3-course lunch set.  Each course was generously sized and delicious.  Service was good too.  The food photos that I had taken are not great because I was too ravenous by that hour to put much care into taking photographs.  The lack of natural light in L’atelier’s trademark red-and-black interior did not help matters.

 photo Latelier 1-160814-v2__zpssih8mckj.jpgThe amuse bouche was a shot of mushroom soup laced with truffle oil (I think).  For starters, I ordered the burrata in a strawberry-tomato sauce and my friends had the lobster salad and grilled white asparagus.  I was torn between the burrata and white asparagus (which I love and were in season then) but decided to go with the former.  The bread basket, amuse bouche and appetizers filled us up quickly.  We were definitely going to struggle with the main courses.

 photo IMG_1879-160609-v2__zps7uexmlrh.jpgRight after we were served our appetizers, a friend reminded me on Whatsapp to order the famous Robuchon mashed potato.  OMG, how could I have forgotten about the mash.  All that frantic shopping must have scrambled my brain.  I placed an additional order for mashed potato and we were each given a small serving of it.

The Robuchon mashed potato was luscious – smooth, thick, and so creamy.  I loved it so much!

 photo Latelier 2-160814-v2__zpsvstjyaxe.jpgFor mains, two of us ordered the duck breast and the other friend had the cod in a consommé.  The duck breast was cooked perfectly and I savored every bite of the tender, juicy meat.  The cod was very tasty but we did not think it was special because it is quite similar to how we prepare Chinese-style steamed cod.

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The options for dessert were chocolate mousse, a cake with citrus sorbet and a cheese platter.  We opted for the chocolate and cake.  I love how they plated the cake and sorbet – the plate is gorgeous, isn’t it?  We ended the meal with coffee and very delicious madeleines.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal!

Seoul: Galchi Jorim (Spicy Hairtail Fish Stew) Alley In Namdaemum

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I have been wanting to visit some of Seoul’s many food alleys – jokbal alley, gamjatang alley, nyaengmyeon alley, tteokbokki alley, kalguksu alley and many more.  As I was wandering around Namdaemum one cold wintry morning in early December last year, I had a craving for a bowl of spicy stew and decided to look for Namdaemun’s galchi jorim alley. The alley was tucked away in one of the many buildings in the market and it took me a while to locate it.

Unfortunately, I had chosen to visit the alley on a Sunday morning when most of the eateries in the alley were closed.  I entered the only eatery that was opened and ordered galchi jorim.   I had not eaten this stew before and was looking forward to trying it.

Look at the Korean ahjummas working in the kitchen, and chatting loudly with the customers sitting at the tables.

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So much food for just 8,000 won.  There was no way I could put away all that food and when I tried to tell one of the Korean ahjummas that I do not need rice, she glared at me and refused to take it away.

The galchi jorim was delicious, but you have to eat the fish very very slowly and carefully, ‘cos it has many tiny bones.  It is not for everyone – you really have to love eating braised fish and have the patience to remove the tiny bones to get to the flesh.  I loved the fried fish bones sidedish and steamed egg that came with my lunch.

Next food alley expedition would be to the gamjatang alley!

Crocheting: Rosette Granny Square Cushion

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Another cushion cover!

I have been seeing this beautiful rosette pattern quite a bit on Instagram, but I could not find any written instructions in English online.  After much searching, I found a video tutorial on a blog for this pattern.  Unfortunately, the instructions were in a foreign language – Turkish, I think – and not in English.  You can find the video tutorial on Gulay Degirmenci’s Youtube channel here.

I played the video forwards and backwards countless times to eyeball the stitches and after much hair-pulling, managed to figure it out.  It is quite an easy pattern to make and I have to find some time to write it down before I forget.

I thought it would be an overkill if I made a rosette on all the granny squares so I decided to alternate the rosette granny square with a plain solid granny square, and then made a lattice-style edging before stitching it to the fabric.

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Another milestone in my self-taught sewing lessons.  I made a zipper that is concealed.  It turned out quite well though the machine stitches could have been neater.

I love the print of this fabric which I bought from Sin Mui Heng at People’s Park Centre.  This is a lightweight and silky-smooth cotton fabric from Japan that costs $16 for a yard.  I could have bought something cheaper from Spotlight but I do not like the look and quality of their fabrics which are mostly from China.  I like going to Sin Mui Heng – most of their staff are elderly aunties who are helpful and polite.

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If someone were to tell me 30 years ago that I would resemble my mother 30 years later in that we both love buying fabrics (for making clothes in her case), I would say the person is crazy.

Tokyo: From afar 倉庫01Coffee And Tea

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From afar倉庫01 is a beautiful tearoom that I had seen in the Instagram feed of shewhoeats. Her Instagram feed is gorgeous – filled with photographs of cakes, pastries and desserts that she bakes and her travels.

We were heading to Asakusa for dinner at Otafuku Oden and decided to drop by From afar倉庫01 in Kurumae which is along the way to Asakusa.  Kurumae is an old Tokyo neighborbood that is situated along the Sumida River.  We alighted at the Kurumae subway station and walked along the Sumida River to get to the tearoom.  We have never been to that part of Tokyo and it was nice exploring a new neighourbood together.

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Wow. From afar倉庫01, part tearoom and part gallery space, is visually stunning.  It is located in a quiet alley off the Sumida River in what looks like a refurbished warehouse.  The calm but dim and edgy-looking interior is filled with beautiful wood furniture and pottery.

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It may sound a little strange to say this, but I felt like I was in Taiwan.  The tearoom has a strong Taiwanese vibe (as opposed to Japanese).  This place feels like it came out of a Jay Chou music video.  If you are a Jay Chou fan, you will know what I mean. 🙂

 photo IMG_9081-160221-v2__zpsjqpj3svg.jpg photo IMG_9068-160221-v2__zps0hjkjpln.jpg photo IMG_9080-160221-v2__zpsyqmucqpr.jpgThis is definitely what I would call an Instagram-worthy tearoom.

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I was attempting a “stylo-mylo” photograph of that part of the tearoom but since the man would not budge from the comfort of the sofa, he had to try to look the part.

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We ordered a slice of cheesecake, an iced Thai milk tea and a cappuccino and rested our feet from hours of walking since the morning.  The tearoom is highly recommended for those who want to get away from the crowded and touristy spots in Tokyo.  While it is a little off the main tourist route in Tokyo, it makes a good stop on the way to and from Asakusa or the Tokyo Skytree.

From afar倉庫01

Address: 東京都墨田区東駒形1-1-9 (〒130-0005 Tokyo, Sumida, 東駒形1-1-9)
Directions: Exit A2 of Asakusa subway station, or Exit 6 of Kurumae subway station.  See Google Map below for location of the tearoom.

Osaka: Dojima Roll Cake By Mon Cher Patissierie

In Tokyo, I satisfy my Japanese cake and pastry cravings at Harbs. Even though Harbs is also present in Osaka, I wanted to find out which are the other patisseries that I should visit.  One name kept popping up in my research – Mon Cher Patissierie’s Dojima roll cake.

I love love love roll cakes so I made plans to drop by their main outlet at Dojima in Osaka (which was a little way out from where we were staying).  Interestingly, the Mon Cher roll cake was created by a Korean lady.

 photo IMG_9261-160224-v2__zpsfszgaama.jpgAs luck would have it, I did not have to make my way to Dojima.  We were walking around in the Hankyu Department store in Umeda and saw a Mon Cher outlet in the mall’s food basement.  I hurried to the counter and stared at the roll cakes for a long time, struggling with the decision of whether to buy one entire roll cake back to the hotel, or be sensible and buy just two slices. We still had some Pablo cheese tarts sitting in the fridge in the hotel room!

In the end, good sense prevailed and I decided to get two slices of the plain roll cake.  By which time, the plain roll cake slices were almost sold out and only one slice was left if I wanted it.  Arggghh – the cost of indecision.  In the end, I bought the remaining slice of plain roll cake and a slice of chocolate roll cake.

 photo IMG_9279-160224-v2__zpscytitkaa.jpgThe roll cake was absolutely delicious.  The cream filling, made from Hokkaido milk, was very fresh, light and silky.  Mon Cher’s sponge cake was denser and had a more chewy texture, unlike the usual feather-light and fluffy Japanese sponge cakes.  I felt that bread flour may have been used in making the sponge, giving the cake its denser texture, which goes very well with the cream filling.

I should have just been greedy and bought the entire roll cake!

Crocheting: Citrus Vintage Popcorn Stitch Cushion Cover

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This is the third installment of my crocheting journey with the vintage popcorn stitch cushion cover.  I made one in a citrus colored cotton yarn this time.  The first two are in vanilla and taupe.

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The cushion inserts in the previous two cushion covers were sewn into the cover and cannot be removed.  For this piece, I decided to sew a zipper to the fabric so that the cushion insert can be removed.  It was my first time sewing a zipper and as you can see from the photo, it was not sewn straight even with the use of pins!  I definitely need more practice with the sewing machine.

I like the bright and cheery prints on this fabric that I bought in Japan.

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This time, I had a slightly easier time making a roll-hem on the fabric and sewing it to the crochet piece.  I can now see why some crafters use a plain fabric (as opposed to one with prints) so that you don’t have worry about the prints looking ‘crooked’ or ‘slanted’.

I am going to take a break from this popcorn stitch pattern for a while.  There is another 3-D rosette granny square pattern that I have been dying to try and have only recently found a video tutorial on it.

Modern Korean At Meta Restaurant In Keong Saik

It has been a while since the husband and I dined out at a nice restaurant on our own. There are so many new restaurants popping up every month, we are spoilt for choice whenever we want to splurge on a meal.

I came across Meta Restaurant when I was browsing around in Chope. The website introduced the restaurant as one that serves modern cuisine with an Asian (Korean) influence. The chef is Korean who was trained in French cooking. I was intrigued by the chef’s profile, especially after visiting Jung Sik Dang in Seoul, as it is not usual to see modern cuisine with a Korean influence. You see quite a number of restaurants serving modern food with Japanese flavors; not so much Korean.

Meta Restaurant has only a fixed price menu that changes every season.  We had their Spring menu. I thought the restaurant was a tad cheeky in how they displayed the price of dinner.  At first glance, the menu showed 9 courses for a price of $118++ per head.  However, if you look again carefully, of these 9 courses, 3 courses are supplementary courses (ranging between $20 – $28) that would increase the cost of dinner incrementally depending on the number of supplementary courses you pick.

In other words, the price of $118++ per head is for only 6 courses displayed on the menu, and if you pick all 3 supplementary courses, you would add an approximate $70++ to your dinner bill.  A whopping $190++ per person (excluding drinks) if you eat every item printed on the Spring menu.

Mega OUCH.

Well, the menu and prices are published on the restaurant’s website, so you cannot say that you have not been forewarned before making a dinner reservation.

We opted for the full menu and a glass of wine each.

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Clockwise: (1) Meat wrapped in a cabbage, pickled cucumber, kimchi puff balls (amuse bouche); (2) Irish oyster in a gingery broth with pomelo (supplementary); (3) Hokkaido scallop in a yuzu-shiso dressing; (4) Bibimbap with sea urchin; (5) Squid and sea snail fennel Korean pancake; (6) Seabass in a clam broth with daikon and fregola (supplementary)

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Clockwise: (7) Quail with burdock, Jerusalem artichoke and carrot puree; (8) Lamb with doenjang and celeriac; (9) Wagyu striploin with tendon, shitake and potato; (10) Mango ice cream with passionfruit, toffee and coffee (supplementary); (11) Bingsu; (12) Cookie frozen in liquid nitrogen (courtesy of the chef)

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The food was beautifully executed and very good.  Every course had ingredients that were creatively put together, the presentation was visually interesting, flavors were balanced and very tasty.  You do not even have to like Korean food to enjoy the food because the Korean ingredients used are very subtle, not strong and overwhelming like how we know traditional Korean food to be.

We liked everything that we ate – the panfried seabass and quail were my favourites.  The sea bass was fresh and very sweet, and the quail was delicious without being too gamey.

The chef came over to say hello.  He speaks English fluently having spent some years in Australia, but with a Singaporean accent (you can definitely hear the Singlish tones), has a Singaporean wife and enjoys chicken rice and kway chap.

I would recommend Meta to anyone who is interested in modern cuisine, particularly one with a Asian/Korean twist.  But the price is the only drawback here.  I find it is too expensive for most people I know given the numerous dining options available in this city, and for us to make a repeat visit when they change their menu next season.  Pity, ‘cos the meal was so enjoyable I would like to know what else the chef has to offer in his next menu change.

Meta Restaurant
9 Keong Saik Road

BAKE Hokkaido Cheese Tarts

 photo IMG_0776-160501-v2__zpsghultuup.jpg I don’t usually queue up for food but I had some time to kill while waiting for a hair appointment, so I joined the queue that had formed outside BAKE about 15 minutes before the shop’s opening hours.

These cheese tarts were quite tasty.  The crust was crispy and the cheese filling was moist, rich and runny.  But at a price of $3.50 each, I find them a little small (you could eat one in two big bites).  I prefer Pablo’s cheese tarts for its larger size, better taste and texture of the cheese (firmer, less runny).

Having tried both Pablo and BAKE, the husband and I like our local old-school egg custard tarts better.  I love the ones with a wobbly egg custard and melt-in-your-mouth pastry crust from Tai Chong Kok Confectionary at Bukit Merah Lane (in one of the shophouses opposite the Alexandra Village Food Centre.

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