I have been lucky enough to visit Korea in both the spring and the summer but with Singapore’s eternal summer I so wanted to get out and cool off and my most recent trip to Seoul was the perfect antidote for this trip.
It starts to get cold in November but it you want to have full on hats, scarf and gloves weather (and a little shopping indulgence pre-trip) and possible snow, visiting from mid December to late Feb is the best period to time your trip (more about the snow in my next post…)
If like me you want to experience Seoul at it coolest here are my must do’s:(apart from getting your super cheap flight from Singapore to Seoul at CheapTickets.sg)
Get your skates on: Seoul Plaza Ice Skating Rink
Open from 17 December to 9 February (in 2016) this is one of the best value winter activities in Korea! For only 1000W including skate rental you can zoom around the ice pirouetting and showing off your skills in the midst of downtown Seoul. If you are more realistic about your skills, like me, you can rent a helmet and elbow pads for free, just ask. Be sure to wear bring your own gloves or you will need to pay 500W as every skater needs to wear them.
How to time your skate: Sunday to Thursday- 10:00-21:30 / Friday to Saturday & national holidays – 10:00-23:00. Skate time is one hour. Ice cleaning for 30 minutes between each session.
Cheonggyecheon Digital Garden @ Cheonggyecheon Stream
Straight after your skate take the 400 metre walk along Sejong-Daero north towards Heungyemun gate. On your right you will see a large opening at the first main intersection, this is the entrance to the Cheonggyecheon Stream, home to the Cheonggyecheon digital garden. This year-round art light installation gets an added glow in the winter months with a special Christmas feature. The stream, which is more of a river can be followed for 8.4km but if its really cold you can get a good feel from the first 800 metres and do a loop around the stream (carefully) crossing the stream over one of the stepping stones and heading back to the start on the other side.
The times of the light up vary by month but from Dec- Feb you can view them from 18:00-20:00. We were lucky enough that they left the lights on until 20:40 the day we were there.
Too Cool: Charles H Bar at The Four Seasons Hotel
Want to warm your fingers and find out where all the other cool kids have been hiding? Just 200 metres walk away from the entrance to the Cheonggyecheon stream is this little gem of an old school ‘speakeasy’. Hidden at the basement level of the luxury Four Seasons Hotel (which I had the pleasure of staying 2 nights in and highly recommend) is the Charles H Bar. A little challenging to find since when you head down the stairs from the hotel lobby into the basement the bar is not signed posted anywhere (its part of the theme). Turn to your left and take the first left turn, yes it looks like a dead ended corridor but push the wall on your left and all will be revealed. My experience started with a small glass of champagne in a red curtained waiting area whilst I waited for my host to guide me into 1920’s New York and to a table. The staff are fantastic and along with the creative cocktail menu with stories behind each creation the bartenders are eager to show off their craft. A short chat revealed that some of the team are friends with the staff at Singapore local 10 Hong Kong Street- so if you have been there too your expectations will be high, and you won’t be disappointed. I went off menu and had a Cosmo followed by an Amaretto sour. Be warned this place is happening, be sure to make a reservation if you plan on coming after 8.30pm when the city workers descend into this secret spot.
Ginseng Chicken Soup
After all the cool it’s time to warm up and refresh yourself for your next adventure. Whilst there are now many places that claim to have been the founding restaurant of the famed Ginseng soup, Korea Samgyetang (고려삼계탕) restaurant claims to be the oldest and most established and who am I to argue now I have tasted their delicacy? Just around the corner from the Four Seasons is the second and smaller outlet of this family restaurant (why go far when you don’t have to?). The delicious soup was delivered very soon after ordering and was still bubbling away with its dates and garlic on top. Pour in your ginseng wine to the dish and get ready to feast. Whilst I found it a little troublesome to navigate around all the little chicken bones the tender meat was more than rewarding, and the surprise of the beautiful glutinous rice when you tore open the meat was such a delight. The meal with the usual array of Korean side dishes cost 15,000W. The restaurant closes at 9pm each day so don’t leave your meal too late.
After reading more about the Ginseng Chicken soup I discovered that it is actually a dish that Koreans like to enjoy in the summer when the country is at its hottest. They believe the soup can help to replace nutrients lost through sweating.
Ever wondered why metal chopsticks are used in Korea?
I am intrigued why metal chopsticks are used more commonly in Korea as opposed to wood or plastic. I don’t have the exact answer, but here are a few reasons why; apart from the fact that they are considered more hygienic as they are easily washed and sanitized they also prove less wasteful then throwing away wooden chopsticks as they are more durable. There is also the view that their use stems from social aspiration where brass and silver chopsticks were used by Korean royalty and aristocrats making it a desirable option. Some theories suggest that the king used metal chopsticks in ancient times to be able to test if poison had been added to their food by monitoring corrosion to the metal once it made contact with their meal before they ate it.
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