Christmas Snow In Korea
23.12.2009 - 30.12.2009 -8 °C
23/12/2009: Brunei - Singapore - Seoul
We arrived at Changi International Airport at about 8.40pm after less than 2 hours flight from Brunei. From terminal 2, we headed off to terminal 3 whereby we had a 3 hour gap before our next flight to Seoul. Terminal 3 is smaller than terminal 2 but nevertheless, facilities are still available. Did I mention that I thought my mobile was already switched off throughout the whole flight before we left from Brunei hehehe... It was a good thing that they provide mobile charging facility and 3 hours was more than enough to fully charge my mobile or else I'll be going around with a dead mobile for 1 whole day. We also had time to change our clothes for the cold weather. It was actually very cold inside the terminal at midnight. The ride all the way to Seoul was not smooth at all as we experienced turbulence throughout the journey. I only managed to stay awake until after 1.30am but unfortunately, I only had 2 hours of sleep before I was woken up by a baby crying in front of where we were sitting for a whole hour. By then, I was already too awake to go back to sleep. Mental note - Try as best as possible not to sit near a baby or a small kid next time on a plane unless you plan to stay awake throughout the whole flight. Breakfast however, was very early which was at around 5am and guess what I had? Kimchi fried rice though it was soggy but the smell is definitely undeniable!
When we arrived at Incheon airport at 6.38am (not an ideal time to arrive in a country and start the tour right away if you did not have enough sleep on the plane though), not only was it hot in the immigration area but it was also very, very slow. After getting our luggage, we met up with our Korean tour guide, a Chinese lady by the name of Ah Mei who is probably in her late 40s but still very energetic. We also talked to the boss of the tour company who goes by the name of Ali Baba which was very funny because he's a Korean. He's a funny guy though and was teasing those who were still wearing t-shirt when the temperature was only 1 °C. We didn't feel the cold at all at first until we stepped out of the airport. Boy, it really felt like as if we were in a very large freezer with the cold wind blowing even though there was no snow at all. We could even see smoke coming out of our nose and mouth! The last time I saw smoke coming out from my nose was only at the Boston harbour in US in September.
The windows of the bus were badly fogged up so we can't see much outside without constantly wiping the windows. Our first destination was driving all the way to Chun Cheon for two and a half hours. On the way, we made a toilet stop which I would say, the toilet is very big plus there is a supermarket next to it. I was tempted to buy a Korean wine sold in there since it's not expensive and it came in a very nice box. But then the thought of having to carry in here and there just made me changed my mine though now I regretted not getting it since it wasn't sold anywhere else. Almost everyone had bought some sort of snacks and some of the guys tried the Korean plum wine. We also stop half way to have our first Korean lunch before heading again to Nami island. It was a healthy lunch I would say as it consist mainly of vegetables and rice cake but honestly speaking, the rice cake was actually tasteless and just tasted of flour only. Lots of kimchi to go about and also seaweed soup. Oh, one of the guy who bought the plum wine tasted it on the way to the restaurant and his face was really red during the whole time while having lunch.
After lunch, we headed all the way to Nami Island, a "MUST NOT" miss island for anyone who comes to Korea. Made famous by the Korean drama, Winter Sonata, this island is only 6km in circumference and shaped like a half moon. A Korean teenager was also trying to take the opportunity to take a photo with me by asking his friend to take a shot of him near me while I was busy taking photos near to the pier. Both me and a guy from our tour group was surprised that this kid was trying to ask me to wait (though I didn't let him take my photo with him) and I got teased by our tour mate after that. He did try again on the ferry but decided not to in the end LOL! Geez, doesn't that kid know that I'm twice his age! It was however, very cold over there and it made me dropped my camera twice. Good thing it didn't drop into the river! I would say the natural scenery on Nami island is just amazing. Straight rows of trees along the way everywhere. A lot of young Korean couples also took the opportunity to come here during the Christmas holidays and take romantic photos of themselves. It would be more lovelier during autumn though because all the leaves would be of different shades of colours.
After Nami Island, we headed straight to the famous Myongdong Shopping Street before heading to the ski resort. I was actually expecting a long row of shops or at least more than what we saw. On one side, you have the high class shops and on the other side, you have the food lane. We tried the bungeoppang which is a fish shaped pastry filled with red bean paste. Very crispy and not too sweet, just right. Should have bought more though because we didn't see anyone selling it anywhere else. We also bought strawberries which was pretty expensive but then again, it's very fresh and sweet. After getting what we wanted, we headed off to our last destination which is Hyundai Sungwoo ski resort which took another hour to reach from Myongdong.
We were sharing an apartment with 2 other people from the tour group since each apartment has 2 bedrooms. It wasn't too bad though the bathroom do need some improvement especially not having hot water constantly. Each bedroom has an ondol, meaning that the floor gets heated up at night so a thin bed is just spread on the floor. A must try if you come to Korea. When everyone had settled down, we went to for dinner, a delicious one I have to say or probably it's because we were just too hungry. After dinner, we went to a ski rental outlet and got all our ski attire before heading back to the resort. Our Korean tour guide also held a small Christmas party for us that night in their apartment whereby not only did we have 3 types of Christmas cakes; mocha, chocolate and coffee flavour but we also had fruits and Korean desserts like kkul dduk that is rice cake filled with brown sugar syrup and sesame seeds and also rice cake that is coated with peanut powder. We also exchanged gifts and also each of us was given a Korean pouch with small gifts inside from our Korean tour guide. What a day to end our first night in South Korea. Oh yeah, did I tell you that people were still skiing outside on the slopes even until late at night with all the spotlights switched on?
25/12/2009: Hyundai Sungwoo Ski Resort
Today is an exciting day because all of us will be having our first ski lesson! First of all before collecting all our ski equipments, we had our bare feet measured and mine's just a 230mm. Next thing is to walk out in the snow to the other part of the slope with all the heavy ski equipments as well as the heavy snow shoes. All inexperienced skiers walked like penguins. I expected it to be cold since it was -8 °C but in fact, it was just alright even though we were out in the snow. We were made to line up sideways in 2 rows facing each other. The first step is learning how to walk upwards the slope sideways without sliding downwards and also how to stop when required. Each of us were then asked to ski downwards towards her and funnily, quite a number of us fell on our butt and our Korean tour guide had to stop us from sliding down any further and also help us to stand up or else we would still fall down again. The guys fair better at it as some of them went higher up the slope while 2 of them tried snowboarding whereas the rest of us were still struggling to stay upright while skiing down the slope. Good thing the snow was soft instead of the artificial ones. After that, we took lunch and I had udon noodles which was not bad. We rested for a while and guess what? Exactly at 2.30pm, it actually snowed and what else did we do but rush out with all our ski equipments and played with the falling snow. Everyone was so excited about the snow and well, who can blame us because we never had snow before in our own country. It got heavier as time goes by and didn't stop snowing until evening. It was really cold though that night but we had the most delicious dinner which is grilled bulgogi which we wrapped with fresh lettuce, put a slice of garlic, spread fermented soya bean paste and a piece of kimchi before stuffing the whole thing into our mouth. After we returned our ski outfit, we headed back to the resort of a rest. We tried out the Korean plum wine and I have to say that it's a bit too strong for me because I felt so light headed in less than 20 mins. I fell asleep quite fast too but work up in the middle of the night feeling very fresh and our bedroom was so cold. If I had known that they had left a bit of the sliding door open, I would have closed it right away instead of wearing all my thick clothes back on again to sleep. Even the ondol wasn't even working.
After breakfast, we headed to Everland theme park located on a mountain in Yongin. I was told in advanced by a Korean friend that it is really cold over there but I never expected it to be that cold even though the temperature was the same like the day before at the ski resort. Right just after getting of the bus, everyone was freezing and complained about their numbed fingers and feet. It was a good thing that they had heaters at the entrance and that was where everyone headed to first to warm up their hands. It did helped a bit for a while but then again, we would be in the park the whole day. At every stop, everyone tried to find a place to stay warm. The guys managed to group inside a telephone booth for a while just to gather some body heat before going out in the cold again. The main attraction of this park is actually the liger which is a cross between a lion and a tiger but because it was so cold outside and the queue was so long, not many people were eager to queue for at least an hour just to have a few minutes peak at those ligers. We just went around the park and looked at the animals they have (and also at the same time keeping ourselves warm from the cold weather). I had cone pizza, corn dog and churros which was a bad choice because I didn't feel so good after that. We then watched the Christmas parade which was well, not as good as the ones I saw in Hong Kong's Disneyland but then again, it's still better than nothing for the Koreans. We only left the park at 7pm which was such a torture because my nose was already so runny. Dinner wasn't that nice, probably because I didn't feel well after eating those oily snacks also. Mandu guk was pretty tasteless to me and I didn't eat much. I didn't feel comfortable the whole night after that. Oh, the main attraction of the hotel we stayed in which caught everyone's attention was the automatic toilet. Everyone played with it but the only thing they (and also me) couldn't figure out was how the massage works or what is it for.
Today, despite of another day of cold weather, we headed for Suwon where our first destination is the Hwaseong Fortress. Some of them eagerly tried Korean archery but unfortunately, no one managed to hit any target. Then, we walked up the fortress halfway before going to Hwaseong Haenggung Palace, a temporary palace of retreat for the king. It was also the shooting place of a famous Korean tv drama called Daejanggeum or Jewel In The Palace. We also had the opportunity to take some photos with some Korean men who dressed up as Korean warriors. Most women in our group agreed that 1 of those men were good looking and the other one was very masculine that even our Bruneian tour guide teased a lady's boyfriend to be careful as his girlfriend kept on looking at the masculine guy's photo which he had taken with his camera.
For lunch, we had samgyetang, ginseng chicken in a very cold building. We can't believe that we were freezing inside a building more than outside while waiting for seats. But having that lunch was really refreshing and kept us really warm. Guess what? It started snowing again but this time it was more heavier than at the ski resort. Everyone of course took the opportunity to take as many photos as possible but the walkway had became quite slippery also. We then went to Dongdaemun Wholesale Market to buy some Korean souvenirs before checking out the COEX Shopping Mall which was very big. You can get lost inside it without a map to go about with since there are so many directions which are linked to each other. At night, we went to Lotte World which was what I was hoping for but unfortunately, a lot of rides on the outdoor amusement park were closed because of the cold weather. We went on The Adventures Of Sinbad and also enjoyed a panoramic view of Lotte World in a mid air monorail. Unfortunately, it was too dark to take any photos outside or even of the Magic castle nicely. We also watched the Galactic Odyssey laser show which was not bad with all the flames going up once in a while. Unfortunately, the character was speaking in Korean so all we could enjoy was the laser show. For late dinner, I had the kimchi instant noodle which was unfortunately, a very bad idea because I had to constantly go to the toilet frequently the next morning.
We had Chinese breakfast today which well, in a way is good because there's no kimchi (again). Another very cold day (-11 °C) since after the snow yesterday and also the kimchi in the instant noodle must have been very effective for my tummy. Not a good start but at least it went away before lunch time. We went to the kimchi outlet where we learnt how to make kimchi. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying much attention to it since I was wanting to go to the toilet but I did get a hand on making it before I had to go. On the other hand, I changed my mind about buying any kimchi for myself as 1kg is too much for me to eat alone since my family do not eat it because it stinks to them. All of us also took photos in hanbok and I had to say that I was given a very nice colour. We then made a stop to the ginseng and amethyst factory as well as at a cosmetic shop which sells Korean cosmetic products. One English mistake we noticed though (or probably the way they use the word inappropriately) on one of the box was that it says, "It will keep your HORNY and rough skin moisturized and arranged for clearness with various vegetable and cosmetic ingredients". People started complaining how cold the weather was and it was so uncomfortable and out Bruneian tour guide told us that we got what we paid for which is true because we get to see real snow falling twice and she also said, when it's too cold, we complain. When we go back to Brunei, we complain that it's too hot. People can never be satisfied LOL!!
After having a bland Chinese lunch, we passed by the blue house which unfortunately, we couldn't visit because President Lee Myung-bak was not in Korea at that time. Then we headed to the National Folk Museum where we saw all the traditional cultures that a Korean has goes through in life from the day they were born until the day they pass away. Next to this museum is the Kyongbok Palace where the kings used to live. Nice architecture and the weather was so cold that icicles were forming on the roofs. We also stopped at a store selling Korean food products like Korean biscuits, cuttlefish, seaweed, sweets, etc. Our final shopping destination is the Ewha Woman’s University fashion street. They have a lot of cute stuffs like clothes and accessories for women but mostly for the winter season so not so suitable for Brunei weather but the boots did look really nice. For our last Korean meal we had bimbibap with small shrimps which was delicious but I still prefer the one in Brunei. It is much more tastier and had more ingredients. That night, we decided between having McDonald's or Korean noodle for breakfast the next day since we have to be at the airport very early. If we want to eat noodles, we would need to need to leave the hotel by 5am but if we eat McDonald's at the airport, then we can start moving at 6am. Knowing that everyone of us are too lazy to wake up so early, all of us decided McDonald's in the end.
29/12/2009: Seoul - Singapore
We checked out very early today and the snow was still thick but started to melt already so everywhere was wet and dirty. We reached to the airport close to 7am and with all the luggages each one had, we really did quite a lot of shopping (or maybe the things are just bulky). I had 3 luggages to check in plus 1 small luggage which I am bringing with me to Singapore. The check in counter was really slow and they made a huge mistake on the luggage which had been checked in earlier because instead of checking all the way through to Brunei, they checked it through Singapore only. Due to that error, it delayed the rest of the check ins and also, they didn't managed to find my luggage as well as my friend's but there was nothing much that we could do since we were running out of time already. By the time we queue to go through the customs check, it was already 8.45am whereas our flight was supposed to leave at 9am. It was a good thing that there's 30 of us still together or else the plane would have left without us. Our Bruneian tour guide had to demand assistance to bring us straight to our departure lounge because it wasn't our fault that we were late. A staff then came along and asked all of us to run in order to catch the plane. Thinking about about it, it must have been a really funny sight for those who were watching us running with our bags. We ran to catch the sky train to go to the other terminal and then ran again to catch the plane. It was such a huge terminal that we only finally reached the plane at 9.20am. By the time I actually sat down, I was practically knocked out even before the plane took off from the runway! But it was a good rest because when the plane started to take off, I felt quite refreshed. Now I wonder, how did Incheon Airport managed to get the 1st position for being the best international airport when their service is really slow!
We landed at Changi airport at 3pm and we had a good laugh over the incident at Incheon airport. Never in our life had we need to run just to catch the plane. One of them even said that it was like running in an Amazing Race and seeing who can be the first one to reach the plane. What an experience! The wind in Singapore is very hot and dry even though it wasn't sunny (we can never be satisfied with the weather). The hotel that we stayed in is not that bad and there are also shopping and food centres around it though we would really prefer if it was near to a MRT so that we could go to Orchard Road. Unfortunately, they didn't have a camera store where I can check for new cameras. We checked out the stores and did some shopping before having dinner. For dinner I had ABC and also nasi bryani with curry lamb which was not bad as compared to having kimchi for the past 5 days. Next day, we headed off to the airport at noon time and it was a good thing that the Changi staff did managed to track where all our luggage are so we do not have to come back to the Brunei airport again another day just to get our luggage when it is finally sent over during the next few days. It would have been a nice trip if weather wasn't too cold and they didn't make a mistake on our luggage which make us ended up having to run for our flight. Overall, I managed to get away with 33kg of luggage in Korea and another 10kg of luggage in Singapore without having to pay for any excess. That's one big advantage of following a tour group