Saturday, March 27, 2010

DAY 7 IN SEOUL - Visiting Wondang Horse Ranch and shopping at COEX

(Above) The Wondang Horse Ranch - Filming location for Korean drama - On Air

On day 7, we will check out of our apartment early after breakfast by 7am and leave our luggage at the security deposit so that we can go somewhere else without lugging our bags. As our check-in time at Seoul Park Hyatt is 3pm, we will have a whole morning past lunch to start our own Korean drama location shoot visit. Leaving early would also help us avoid the morning peak hour

We will book an international taxi from our hotel to the Wondang Horse Ranch for 4 hours(70000W – SGD$80). The Wondang Horse Ranch was one of the filming location for the popular Korean romantic drama series – On Air starring Kim Ha-Neul, Park Yong-Ha, Song Yun-Ah, Lee Beom-Soo. We had watched the show and marvelled at the open expense of the ranch and it’s picturesque scenery and beautiful horses. The ranch was the location shoot for the drama series – On Air in episode 7.

(Above) On Air Korean romantic drama

The location was featured in the part where Oh Seung-Ah(Kim Ha-Neul) elegantly rides up on a beautiful horse as Jang Gi-Jun(Lee Beom-Soo) brings her the script for , explaining that the script is entertaining. As the two share a nice conversation, Manager Jang receives a disturbing phone call saying that Oh Seung-Ah has been signed to a contract deal for a movie, without any consent. Knowing that this was all a scheme of Manager Jin, Jang Gi-Jun leaves Oh Seung-Ah telling her that he would take care of this himself.

We will spend a little more to hire the International Taxi which is managed by the Seoul government to provide tourists with English or Japanese speaking taxi drivers who are well trained and are able to provide a customised transportation service if the tourist so desires. International Taxis can also be flagged down along the streets like any normal taxis and metered fares start from 2880W. For those who want a cheaper way to get to the ranch, you can take a subway train on Line 3 and alight at Samsong Station and use exit 5. Then take bus no 1 for 10 minutes to it’s last stop and get off at the horse ranch. The address is Gyeonggi-do Goyang-si Deokyang-gu Wondang-dong 201-79. The journey by car should take about an hour and we aim to reach there by 9am which is the opening time. The ranch closes is opened daily except for Mondays and Tuesdays.

The ranch is one of two stud farms the Korea Racing Association runs. First used as a racing track and training facility for racehorses when it opened in 1986, the ranch is no longer used for racing, but as a stud farm and stable for retired racehorses. Most of the horses at Wondang are thoroughbreds valued from 20 million won ($21,200) to 500 million won. The ranch is popular as it is a free attraction that does not charge admission or parking fees. It is popular with dating couples and families with children because of the stunning beauty of the scenery there. The 364,000 square meters of land (approximately 90 acres), is filled with wide open fields on which about 100 horses freely graze.

Freshly painted white fences run along dirt trails and visitors can follow around the farm. Thick woods surround the ranch from afar, and there are plenty of big trees on the farm to provide a cool shade for a picnic or a rest. The ranch also lends picnic mats at its entrance. It was only in 1997 that the farm was opened to the public. Because it was not initially designed for outside visitors, it has no street lamps. It remains open only during daylight hours, closing about 5 p.m. We will probably take a lot of photos there of us with the horses and the beautiful scenery. From there, we will take the taxi back to our hotel. That should be an hour later which should be lunch time. We will probably look for lunch when we get back.

We will then return to Somerset Serviced Apartment to collect our baggage and take a train from Anguk Station along Line 3 to the Seoul National University of Education stop where we will transfer to Line 2 and alight at Samseong Station which is within walking distance to our accommodation for the remainder of our stay in Seoul – Seoul Park Hyatt hotel. This hotel would be a more strategic location for us as we are planning to explore the Gangnam area and shopping malls like the COEX etc.

(Above)The Park Hyatt Seoul hotel

We will be staying at the luxurious Park Hyatt Seoul for 3 nights and by booking 3 months in advance, we were able to get advance best internet rates of 905,850W (SGD$1153.19) inclusive of 10% VAT taxes, as compared to the normal room rates of 1,590,435.80W (SGD$1900.00) for 3 nights. That is a savings of about SGD$750.00 . We know that people may question why we want to splurge so much on a hotel but well, we guess isn’t that part of travelling overseas, to live and get away from our normal lives and to just have a wonderful experience and pamper ourselves. Besides we will usually crave more comfort towards the end of the trip since after so much shopping and visiting, our bodies and legs especially deserve something extra.

(Above) Our luxurious deluxe room at the Park Hyatt Seoul. We have booked one with a city view and requested for high floor.

(Above and Below) A washroom to die for !

After we have checked ourselves in and have a hour plus good rest while also admiring the view of Seoul city from our room, we will head for the COEX Mall Seoul nearby our hotel.

(Above) Facade of the COEX complex

COEX Mall, Seoul is a well known shopping mall which lies just beneath the Samsung-dong Trade Center in Gangnam-gu of Seoul. The underground shopping mall of COEX Mall is the largest shopping center in Seoul and also Asia's largest underground mall. The sprawling shopping arcade of COEX Mall is spread across an area that accounts for 85,000 square meters of space housing some 260 shops and restaurants within. The location of COEX Mall is at a convenient position. It is near the Samseong Station on Seoul Metro Line 2. COEX Mall of Seoul offers locals and tourists from different corners of the globe with an extensive range of shopping options. The mall specializes in selling clothing materials and dress items, interesting range of quality makeup, fashion and accessories, and items for decoration of the interiors. COEX Mall of Seoul is home to about hundred shops that offer shoppers a variety of items and products. This place is a favorite hangout of teenagers and young couples.
The Hyundai Department Store and COEX SKM Duty Free shop are also directly connected to COEX Mall. Shoppers can compare and shop for affordable non-branded goods as well as high-end luxury goods. Also nestled amidst the myriad shops are the COEX Aquarium, Megabox Cineplex, and the Kimchi Museum - a popular destination among international visitors to enjoy some sightseeing between shopping sprees.

(Above) COEX Shops

There are many local brand boutiques offering various brands such as ENTER6 or MILLE21 which are recommended and are quite reasonably priced. If luxury brands or high-end goods are desired, one can try the Hyundai Department Store or SKM Duty Free shop for an impressive selection of internationally recognized brands.

While shopping at COEX Mall, we will also look out for the shops that specializes in stationery, household accessories, and toys. We heard that specialty shops like ARTBOX and Barunson are a must. There are also Aniland for animation characters, Puzzle Zone offering a wide range of puzzle products, and Asem Hobby for figurines. As these items feature unique designs, they would make excellent gift ideas for early Christmas shopping. Gayle will be interested in the many Low-cost jewellery shops there, including Lloyd and Clue, and other accessory shops are located in the COEX Mall. They offer a very wide range of items including hats, hair bands, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and hairpins. Since many of these shops target their products at young shoppers, prices are also comparatively lower.

(Above) Overview of the COEX complex.

COEX Mall is quite complex and huge. If one walks around without any specific plan in mind, one may end up circling exhaustively around the same route again and again. It is advised that visitors pick up a guide map at the Tourist Information Center in Millennium Plaza to better plan their route and alleviate any confusion. COEX Mall has four Tourist Information Centers where you can pick up a guide map (Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese). If you require information in any number of foreign languages – English, Korean, Mandarin and Japanese, you will need to go to the Tourist Information Center in Millennium Plaza. International tourists are strongly recommended to pick up a guide map to efficiently find their way through the COEX Mall. Opening hours are from 10am to 8pm. One tip is to pen down on the maps the areas you have shopped at to keep track of where you are, where you are heading for and what you want to look for. A professional shopper must always know their location. The theme of the COEX Mall is “flow of water.” The main entrance leads to Forest Walk, Waterfall Walk, Canyon Walk, Tropic Walk, and Ocean Walk where the shops and restaurants are located.

For dinner, choices are ample for us. COEX Mall has no shortage of eateries and restaurants and is nicknamed the “Heaven to Gourmets” . COEX Mall has a broad selection of restaurants ranging from well-known family establishments like Marche, Bennigans, T.G.I FRIDAY'S, and Todai to fast food chains including McDonalds, Mr. Pizza, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and KFC. There are also restaurants specialized in spaghetti, omelette rice, and Korean food. There are so many excellent choices such that it will be hard picking just one. There is also the Lake Food Court or ASEM Food Court, offer a huge variety of eateries all clustered together.We will just continue our shopping after dinner until we are running on empty and filled with bags of shopping.

(Above) Nice nice pool at the Hyatt

We will then proceed back to our comfortable hotel for a good night’s rest and consolidating the day’s shopping conquests. We may head to the hotel’s famed swimming pool for gorgeous views of the city skyline and a cool relaxing swim to freshen our tired muscles.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


(Above) Seorae Village

Day 6 after breakfast, we will head for our destination for that morning - Seorae Village. To get there, we will take the subway via Line 3 from Anguk Station to the 10th stop at the Express Bus Terminal Station. We will get out of the station from exit 5 and walk down the road towards Jamwon Primary school for about 10 minutes where we will come to an overpass called Yisu. We will use the overpass to reach Seorae Village.

Seorae Village is Seoul’s French district where there lives a community of French nationals who work and commute within Seoul. There are also Koreans who are admirers of French culture who live there too. This is the place to get a slice of French stuff within Seoul. We read that in the morning, Seorae Village looks just like any French town where people cycle to the local bakery to buy freshly baked croissants and baguettes.

About 800 French people, which are about a half of French population in Korea, live in Seorae. Therefore, it is called as a "little France" - or more perhaps more appropriately "petite France." French people began living around here because the French Embassy School in Korea moved there in 1985. As the French corporations such as Carrefour, TGV, CLSA, and Bank Renault began to enter the Korean market after 1990, Seorae grew as the staff of these companies populated Seorae. Thus, the village became what it is known as the French district of Seoul.

The tip is to just take a walk through the town and imagine that you are in a little village in France. We will walk through Seorae Park where there has a winding stream with a footpath covered by a canopy of roses. The path, with its red rose petals on the ground, will provide a good photo opportunity with it’s alluring red carpet so one can picture oneself walking like a star at the Cannes Festival. From this place, we will go straight about 500 meters passing the Seoul Palace Hotel, where an alley appears on the left. This is the "Seorae road" and the adjacent area is the "Seorae Village." The first thing that tells you that you are in a French town are the three coloured pedestrian sidewalk that stretches 300m from the entry of Seorae road until the Banggae Middle School. This sidewalk is painted in red, white and blue which are the colors of the French flag.

(Above) French styled chateau along the street

(Above) Signs in French and Korean tell you that you are in some place unique!

Road signs are written in both French and Korean which shows the harmony of the French and Korean communities living in Seorae Village together. Examples of such signs are "Attention ecole (Attention School District)" and "Hospital Ste-Marie" .Many roads here are also named after places in Paris such as Montmartre. There are luxurious Villas lining both sides of the sloping main Seorae road and going further up this sloping road will bring us to a row of wine shops, bakeries and food stores that sell French fare. To get a further immersion of being in France, go to Ecole Francaise de Seoul ( Seoul French School ) at 4pm and witness hordes of children bantering in French pouring out. French housewives are also waiting there, engaging in conversation while waiting for their children.

Due to the strong French community who enjoy eating out after work, there are many good restaurants in Seorae Village. Since they have to meet the expectations of the French, who are known for their particular taste in food and demanding reasonable prices, a valley of excellent restaurants have sprung up here, where only restaurants with good food at cheap prices survive. There are freshly baked baguettes with French ingredients made by a French pastry chef, steak sauce invented by a chef from New York, and pizza baked in an oakwood stove, among others. There are also other French and Italian restaurants.

Wine lovers can visit Winenara VINIWINI where they can enjoy pastries and wine at the same time and view the 400 types of wine in stock. Customers can select their wine according to various smells and tastes of wines from different countries and can also select wine, upon a sommelier's recommendation. How French can one get here, sitting in a wine shop, drinking wine while enjoying the distinctive tastes of different cheeses surrounded by fellow French customers. This place has a warm interior, and it is recommended to get a table at the terrace on the deck where there is a good lighting. One can drink the wine one buys at the shop's bar at no extra charge. The opening hours are from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. The wine shop & bar "Tour du Vin (02-533-1846)" also has wines from France, Australia, Chile and Italy as well as cheese, pasta, salami, olive oil, and capers. They are open from 10:30 a.m. until 1 a.m. next day. Another recommendation that we saw for a meal is at the Italian restaurant Popolarita which is considered one of the more well-regarded restaurants here. They are open from 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. (Lunch time from 11:30 a.m. until 3 p.m.).

We will also drop by La Plante which takes such pride in its beautiful interior that one cannot tell whether it is a cafe or a flower shop with an array of both Western flowers including roses and traditional Korean flowers such as crape-myrtle and peony. Another place to rest and have a drink is Mariposa where one can see the entire Seorae Village from the 5th floor. A beautiful night view unfolds after the sunset in Seorae. We will also stop by Paris Croissant, a local bakery restaurant which sells about 10 different types of baguettes. It is known for importing French flour and bread making is under the strict supervision of a French chef. The restaurant is decorated with a modern and refreshing interior, and we can enjoy sandwich and various beverages including coffee at the restaurant. The opening hours are from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. If we have time, we will visit Montemarte Park which is at the top of the neighbourhood and offers great views of Seorae and the surrounding Gangnam district in general. Gangnam district is where the affluent people stay in Seoul and is where our hotel –Seoul Park Hyatt and the classy shopping streets like Apgujeong are located in. In June, this village plays host to the Banpo Seorae Korea/France Music Festival which sees about 2000 people coming together with residents and artists to indulge in French and Korean musical exchanges. So that would also be a good time to visit this village and join in the festivities.

(Above)Stylish Shops in Seorae

We will probably stay there for lunch and then head back to the Express Bus Terminal Station. From there, we will take the subway to the our stop at Anguk Station to take an hour’s rest and put down any shopping we may have had at Seorae. We will then head out at about 3pm to Ilsan. Ilsan, is apparently touted to be Seoul’s secret suburb where shopping is just as plentiful, varied and cheaper than in the main city central. From Anguk Station, we will take Line 3 upwards to stop no 16 where we will alight at Jeongbalsan Station to reach Ilsan. Ilsan is a recently developed area of the Goyang district and thus has been described as being more organized and planned than the rest of the other districts here.
From the station, we will exit into a giant plaza and be faced with three choices. We will start with the left side first. The left side will bring us to the Western Dom. This is a outdoor mall built in 2006. It boasts hundreds of stores with all manner of goods for sale including clothing (from cheap off-the-rack styles to designer lines), Japanese toys, Italian gelatos, or anything else shoppers may want or need.

There is also a wide array of restaurants from traditional Korean cuisine and fusion styles to any foreign food. They have Thai, Japanese, Chinese, American chains such as Pizzeria Uno known as Chicago Grill in Seoul.

From the subway station plaza, if we turn right, we will enter La Festa Shopping complex that hosts hundreds of stores, restaurants, entertainment venues, and bars.

(Above) Ilsan shopping

(Above) Ilsan Lake Park

Those who want something to do other than shopping or are there early while waiting for the shops to open can head to Ilsan Lake Park (Bosu Park) which claims to be the largest man-made lake in Asia. A fantastic flower show happens in April to May and is held right in the park. A spectacular musical water fountain and a cascading waterfalls at the other end of the park provide for good photo opporunities. The park is filled with runners, hikers and bikers in summer. There are also lots of sports activities including boats during the summer on the lake. We will spend time exploring the place and having dinner there and more night shopping before heading back to our serviced apartment's stop at Anguk Station.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Study Trip to Beijing

(Above) The Forbidden City - Beijing

Just came back from Beijing where I was on a cultural and industrial study trip with my Management and Leadership course mates. Really cold weather hovering from -7C to 4C. Enjoyed visiting different schools and industrial places like Levono HQ which provided a new perspective into the Chinese people and their thoughts. Really could sense the Chinese peoples' passion, drive for improvement, progress and knowledge, a hunger which I feel is sorely lacking in our youths today in school who are maybe too comfortable with life in Singapore.
Along our learning, we had fun at the Great Wall, Forbidden city, alot of makan and of course the Singapore pastime - lots of shopping.

(Above)Gathering together after arriving at Beijing airport

(Above) Our nice accomodation at the 5 star Joy City Hotel, conveniently located near shopping malls and the subway.

(Above)The hotel room i shared with my course buddy - Joe

(Above)A nice luxurious toilet and shower area in our hotel room to come back for a gd hot shower after a long cold day.

(Above) Our group en route to the Forbidden City near the North Gate.

(Above) Posing by the 10 metres high walls and deep moat outside the forbidden city.

(Above) Me outside the Forbidden City with Chairman Mao's portrait.

(Above)Posing on the grounds of the Forbidden City

(Above)In front of the Gate of Great Harmony where the Emperor used to hold court with his ministers, generals and officials on state affairs.

(Above)A framed picture of the palaces on Jingshan hill from the Forbidden city

Above)Tight security with many army and policemen around since it was the week of the CCP Congress. Beggars and destitutes were seen being picked up by the security people and ferried away in security vehicles.

(Above) Tiananmen across the road.

(Above) At Tiananmen Square - the winds were pretty strong and very chilly to the bones.

(Above)Observing the make-up artists course students at work at the top vocational school in Beijing - student profile similar to our ITE students.

(Above)Pastry students at work. Their teachers are celebrity chefs from both China and overseas and are quite strict with them.

(Above)At the vocational school hairdressing classroom - really modern!

(Above) At the spa classroom in the vocational school.

(Above) Visiting Beijing Sino Bright School No 8 Campus - offering classes from primary to senior high(Pre-university) and combining the best of both the Chinese national curriculum and the Canadian educational curriculum. Students can gain entry to either local university in China, NUS in Singapore or any Canadian/British university.

(Above)Passing by new high rise private apartments in Beijing. This block was going at SGD$5000 per sq feet which means $5.1 million SGD for a 1000 sq HDB 4 room sized apartment.

(Above) At Dr Tea Tea shop observing Chinese tea ceremony where i bought some pu-er tea home.

(Above)We were met with heavy overnight snowfall. Outside our hotel, the snow is coming back! white christmas in march once more!

(Above) With our bus stuck in the snow, we spent time taking photos while waiting for the snow to be dug out.

(Above) Me and the guys clearing snow on the road leading to the Great Wall.

(Above) A cuty doggy watching us as we walked up to Mu Tian Yu.

(Above) Trudging around in the deep snow

(Above) Posing at the Great Wall under the heavy snowfall

(Above) At the plaque declaring the Great Wall of China as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

(Above) The whole group at the entrance to the cable car station.

(Above)Climbing down stairs was tedious with the slippery iced steps so we went down the kiasu method - by our bums!

(Above) My bowl of Ramen for dinner at only 6 yuan (SGD$1.22)at a foodcourt.

(Above) My plate of spinach puree spaghetti with pork and bacon that I had at a restaurant for 23 yuan or about SGD$5. Quite tasty

(Above)Standard fare in Beijing - dumplings.Servings were huge.

(Above) Visiting the Bird Nest Olympic Stadium

(Above) Me and Joe inside the Birdnest stadium. Heard from our guide that the authorities will be converting the VIP galleries at the stadium into hotel rooms.

(Above) Shopping with the guys at Silk City shopping mall - a haven for clothes, shoes and bags afficiandos.

(Above) Jit and Joe bargaining and bantering with the sales girl at the pen shop at Yaxiu market.

(Above)Assorted leather bags that i bought for my wifey.