In 2005, I had the opportunity to go to Jeju Island, South Korea for a conference, which was paid by my former employer. So I took the opportunity to extend my stay for sightseeing.
Jeju Island is known to a lot of people as a romantic island and a perfect spot for honeymoon. Back in 2005, Korean drama frenzy had been ongoing for awhile in Malaysia, such as Winter Sonata, Dae Jang Geum, Stairways to Heaven, etc. I am not an avid fan of Korean drama as I found them a bit too long-winded and slow in pace. Therefore, unlike Hong Kong, I do not have any prior knowledge about South Korea and this trip was more of an excitement for holidays rather than reliving some of the drama scenes.
Perhaps I did not put any expectation on this trip, the outcome was pleasantly surprise. In fact a really pleasing experience and perhaps the most memorable and longing one.
First of all, my biggest excitement was I saw my idol in Jeju Island. Hacken Lee, a canto-pop singer from Hong Kong, was recording his album Concert Hall in Jeju and he stayed at the hotel where I had the conference. My husband spotted him first while I was in the conference during day time. So at the very same night, we waited for him to go back to the hotel. The first attempt was futile and we decided to go and explore the vicinity. After all, it was still a holiday for us and we should not waste our time on this. But deep down in my heart, I wasn’t giving up. And so after an hour to two of exploration, we called it a night and went back to the hotel to try our luck again. After 30 mins of wait or so, I was really giving up hope and ready to leave. But then my husband alerted me that he has just walked in into the hotel. I was really chuffed and speechless. Luckily Hacken recognised my husband as he had hassled him earlier in the afternoon. I did a “taking a photo” gesture, and Hacken nodded his head. Voila, I have my picture taken with him! 🙂
The hotel where I saw and took picture with Hacken was Lotte Hotel. This is also where I had conference. Beautiful hotel but expensive. Lotte is a South Korean company, which initially I thought is just a brand of food products. But after this trip, I realised that it is more than that. It has hotels, amusement parks, eateries, and even shopping malls.
This picture was taken after we decided to give up “stalking” Hacken. I thought that even if I didn’t manage to take a picture with him, I would posed outside the hotel where my husband saw him.
Obviously outside of Hackenation’s world, there are a lot of interesting and memorable incidents in Jeju Island.
From breathtaking scenery to exploring the local food and markets, Jeju Island has it all! The first 2 pictures were taken by my husband, a beach and waterfall he explored on his own while I was in the conference. He told me that there were a lot of divers catching fresh seafood, which they then ate them fresh and alive there and there. My apology as I didn’t know the name of this place he went to, and he has also forgotten as well.
The 3rd picture is me enjoying local food at a night market in Seogwipo. That was right after the conference and we moved out from the hotel to a local guesthouse in Seogwipo.
Hallasan or Mount Halla, is a National Park which we hiked up with the intention to see the volcano crate. However we didn’t manage to, as the trail to the crate was temporarily closed. It was more than 3 hours to hike up and we were lucky that a very kind couple offered to send us to the nearest bus station when they saw us limping down the mountain. We did not speak a common language yet we magically could understand each other. The couple was really kind and did not ask for anything in return of the favour they gave us. They even taught us how to speak and recognise Korean alphabets for beef, chicken, fish, pork, etc. Which we communicated by drawing pictures of the animals and of which they replied in Korean language. That was a brief encounter, but will be in my memory forever. Kind-hearted Korean couple in Jeju Island!
After spending 3-4 nights in Jeju Island, we reluctantly left the beautiful island to Seoul. We spent the first night in a guesthouse in Seoul but we spent our next night on a bus to go to another national park, Seoraksan. Luckily we did not have to hike this time as there is a cable car service. Scenic view and breathtaking.
After a day at Seoraksan, we went back to Seoul. Seoul is a big city, and we did struggle a bit manoeuvring ourselves, especially finding the guesthouse that we booked online. The best guesthouse that we stayed at was Tea Guesthouse. It was rather pricey but it was for the experience. We slept in a traditional Korean way, i.e. on a tatami (or in another word, on a mat placed on the wooden floor) and paper-pasted windows. That one night stay also included a free session of tea ceremony and a try-on on Korean traditional costumes, hanbok, which could be charged up to 20K won.
The first picture was taken outside of the guesthouse and the 2nd picture was taken at the courtyard inside the guesthouse.
The 3rd and 4th pictures are David and me in hanbok after the tea ceremony. The hanbok was actually belonged to the owners and they wore the very same costumes on their wedding night. We felt really honored to be able to try them.
I can’t not comment about the food in Korea. Korean pickled vegetables, including kimchi, to me is the best dishes I had in Korea, and it is served free and topped up however much you like to. It is definitely one thing I enjoyed most but alas, in London each plate of pickled vegetable is charged exorbitantly at £2!
Besides pickled vegetables, we also tried a lot of other food in Korea, such as BBQ meat with delicious marinade, rice cakes served in sweet and savoury, fried rice and noodles. But my favourite is stew tofu, which we had it twice at an eatery (which I only knew it by the name of Sik Dang), near Ewha Women University.
Gyeongbok palace – where we learnt about the history of Joseon dynasty, and how 4th king of Joseon dynasty, simplified Chinese characters to current Korean alphabets. The first picture was taken outside of the entrance to the palace and the 2nd picture was with a guard at the gate. There was also a guard changing ceremony at the courtyard of the palace.
This is one trip that I always long to go back again.