Saturday, October 25, 2008

Visiting Seoul & Chuncheon (Part 1)

Day 1 = Seoul (Fri)

I enjoyed running overseas marathons, especially those which were held in cool temperature ranging from 5 degree Celsius to 12 degree Celsius. The cooler the temperature, the better for me. So I was looking forward to running in Korea as the temperature was projected to be between 12 to 17 degree Celsius. On top of that, I would be traveling with a good friend. Chui Chin so it would be a different experience as compared to when I travelled alone. We took an overnight flight from Changi International Airport and arriving in Seoul's Incheon International Airport at around 610am. The staff at the Airport Information Service were very helpful. The first staff gave us the exact instructions on how we could reach our hotel. To be safe, we went to another counter further away to confirm with a second staff. She was not sure but was clever enough to call up the hotel. :) With the instructions on hand, we went to the bus line to queue for the Airport Shuttle Bus.

The bus ride into Seoul took slightly more than an hour. We arrived at the Best Western Hotel, which was one of the designated stop for the Airport Shuttle Bus. Then, we took a general direction towards our hotel. It was easy to find the main street where our hotel was supposed to be located. We walked and walked and walked but couldn't see any building that resembled a hotel, although the number of the address was getting closer. We decided to check with someone and approached a shop. Two women were manning the shop but both of them were not familiar with the hotel. One of them called the hotel (they were indeed very smart) and after calling, one of them offered to walk with us to the hotel. I guessed its easier to show us the way then to tell us since we didn't understand Korean and they didn't speak a word of English. It was not far from their shop and we were grateful to the ladies. As it was only 8am and too early to check-in, we left our luggage with the hotel and went straight for sight-seeing!

First stop we made was at Unhyungung Palace. Unhyungung was a personal residence of Ha Eung Lee, also known as Heungsundaewongun, who was the father of Gojong at the end of the Joseon Dynasty, where Gojong lived until the age of 12 before he ascended to the throne. After Gojong's ascension to the throne, people began calling it, Unhyungung after Gureumjae nearby since December 1863. Unhyungung was drastically extended by orders of Jodaebi, Norakdang and Noandang were completed in 1864. Irodang was rebuilt after Norakdang was used for Gojong's special ceremonies. It is said that the grandeur of Unhyungung at that time was as solemn as one of the palaces with its long perimeter of walls and majestic four gates. Currently Unhyungung Palace was assigned as No. 257 Historical Landmark of Seoul. It was also historic as a base for the political actions of Heungsundaewongun among all remains in Korean modern history.

We visited the Changdeokgung Palace in the second stop. It was a much much bigger palace and was extremely crowded. There were guided tours in Japanese, Mandarin and English. We decided to join in the Japanese guided tour. Otherwise, we had to wait 30 minutes for the Mandarin guided tour. The Changdeokgung Palace is a unique case in the history of palace architecture in East Asia, as it retains remarkable asymmetric beauty in terms of layout, and is exceptional for the way in which the buildings are integrated into and harmonized with the natural setting. Thus, the palace was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997. Besides the numerous buildings in the palace compound, there was also a beautiful park with lots of trees, ponds, etc.

After Changdeokgung Palace we went for lunch nearby. The set lunch, which cost us 6,000 Korean Won, had many interesting dishes. Some of the dishes were not to our liking but we enjoyed it nonetheless. While on our way back to the hotel, we saw riot police in action, trying their best to contain a small scale demonstration. Once back at the hotel, we were shown to our room with our luggage already brought in earlier by the staff. It was a nice surprised! The bed was invitingly interesting and both of us decided to take a short nap, although we slept for almost 2 hours!

We woke up at around 300pm and took the metro to Donguk University stop to see the statue of Great Buddha at the Jangchungdan Park. The monument of Jangchungdan was situated there to commemorate the many officers and men who died while driving back the Japanese after Empress Myeongseong was killed in the Eulmi Tragedy of 1895. However, there was no Great Buddha to be seen in the park's vicinity. Next stop was Namsankol - which was also known as the village of traditional houses. The village has restored five traditional Korean houses, with a pavilion, a pond and a time capsule which makes it a perfect spot to take a walk. These houses were rebuilt after the traditional houses of Joseon Dynasty. The houses belong to various social ranks of the society from peasant to king. The furniture in the house are situated to help guests understand the daily life of the past. The clean traditional houses and used home equipments are great to take pictures. When we finished walking round the houses, it was time for dinner. We went to the nearby Namdaemun Night Market. Inside, there were many roadside stall selling food and other daily items and souvenirs. Unfortunately, we did not understand a word of Korean, until one of the women spoke to us in Mandarin! She explained the dishes available and we stopped at the stall to have our dinner. We thanked her after dinner and went for some shopping at the night market before going back to rest. By then, Chui Chin expressed that her tiredness from walking almost the whole day and that it would affect her race on Sunday, if we were to continue to walk for the next day. I reassured her that we would not walk as far as we did on today although she didn't quite buy my idea. :p

Day 2 = Chuncheon (Sat)

We woke up feeling refreshed. But our legs were still tired. Quickly packed our luggage before leaving for the bus-station to catch the bus to Chuncheon. The entire bus journey lasted about 2 hours and it was close to 100pm when we reached Chuncheon. As we did not have a map of the location, we hailed a cab to the hotel, put our luggage and out again for lunch. Just after lunch, while we were about to step out of the restaurant, I saw Vincent aka Mr Brokie and Ambrose approaching the restaurant! I was so happy to finally meet someone I know! We left Vincent and Ambrose at the restaurant and went shopping in the vicinity. Saw a lot of sports shops like NIKE, FILA, PUMA, HEAD, NORTH FACE, ASICS, and ADIDAS!!! Although there were a variety, most gears were not suitable for use in Singapore. Chui Chin then bought a pancake at a street stall as she was still hungry while we were walking back to the restaurant to see if Vincent and Ambrose were ready to collect the race pack. As they were still eating, we decided to go ahead first.

The stadium was approximately 2km from the restaurant, just like what Vincent said. The staff working out side the stadium was very helpful and directed us to the information office where we collected out race packet. Before we left the place, saw Vincent and Ambrose so we went back to the stadium to wait for them. Inside the information office, we also met Half Timer, DreamRunner and family, as well as DO. I took some photos for them, before taking more photos, posing at the start line banner. Chui Chin and I decided to follow Vincent, who seemed to know exactly where he wanted to visit for the rest of the day, a boat trip to a nearby island and back. Along the way, Ambrose was quiet as usual and didn't find any of my effort to start a conversation amusing. :p Unfortunately, the last boat trip was at 600pm and if we were to make that trip, we won't be spending anytime on the island. We decided to abandon the plan and went back to hotel to rest early. Met the rest of the gang at the hotel's lobby and I decided to join them for carbo-loading while Chui Chin was too tired and too shy to join me. She ended up ordering food through room service. Slept early for the night although the race start was at 1000am instead of the usual 600am if it was held in Singapore's type of weather. :)

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