A weekend full of Seoul
Our anniversary was coming up and we really wanted to go for a nice meal to celebrate. Korean food is mostly delicious but we fancied going out for a special western meal and unfortunately Daegu doesn’t have a great deal of choice in that area. Also a trip to Seoul was well overdue, so we decided to go there for a weekend of posh nosh. Any excuse – Seoul is one of my favourite places in South Korea.
We caught the slow cheaper mugunghwa train on Friday after school, grabbing tuna gimbab and seafood mandu on the way. The train took 4+ hours and was then delayed for another hour (we got a 12.5% refund because of this) so we arrived late. Because we were treating ourselves to a fancy meal we opted to stay in Jimjilbangs both nights.
Friday night we stopped at Siloam Spa which is just behind Seoul station so really convenient. You can’t book Jimjilbangs beforehand, you just turn up. You pay between 10,000-12,000 korean won for 12 hours. As I’ve mentioned before, there are various facilities but all jimjilbangs have gender separated public bathrooms with no clothes or swimsuits allowed! They also have sleeping areas. You wear the provided pyjamas in these areas, with different colours for male and female. Siloam is really nice and has 5 floors with different facilities. We were hungry so first things first we went to the restaurant for some doenjang jjigae – soy bean stew with tofu, served with rice and dolsot bab – mixed rice and vegetables with a fried egg. Ash and I then went our separate ways for a little while, and went to use the public bathing facilities.
Before coming to Korea I didn’t have experience with being nude in public (obvs!) but after numerous sauna and jimjilbang experiences I’m used to walking around in the buff by now. It was a bit weird at first but to be honest although people still look at me, it’s no more than they do when I am fully dressed. There were 7 different pools, each with a unique feature and temperature. There was a hot jade bath which was green, a hot mugwort bath which was brown (sounds a bit gross but it was really soothing), a charcoal bath with bits of charcoal positioned at the back, a cold pool and three massage baths. As well as this there are steam rooms, but I can never hack those for very long. If you go to a jimjilbang you’ll probably notice when in the sauna area, that lots of families or friends are scrubbing each other’s backs like there is no tomorrow. As well as helping each other get super clean this is a socialising and bonding exercise. You can also pay to have a full body scrub by an old woman in nothing but a pair of lacy pants and a bra. I’m saving this experience for my first day back in Korea after my UK trip in February. One thing I was very envious of was the lack of cellulite on everyone but me! I wish I’d always had a healthy Korean diet!
I chilled in the baths for a bit then got showered and went to meet Ash. In the communal areas there were more facilities, with a salt, jade and an ice room. We investigated them and then tried to sleep. We had slept right next to a hot room which meant it was too stuffy to relax, so Ash went to get us both a drink to cool down and came back with beers that had been bought by some random guy. We then had to spend the next 30 minutes (this was at 4am) having a slightly awkward conversation with this dude which included him calling Ash a playboy and saying I was too cute. I really wasn’t up for this and thankfully after a while we were able to go back to sleep.
We got up and had breakfast but I wasn’t happy as I’d accidentally ordered a huge bowl of seaweed soup and was not feeling it. Afterwards the bathing ritual was repeated before we headed out to see some sights. I know I have said this before but I think going to a jimjilbang is one of my favourite Korean experiences. The sauna makes you feel great, even if hungover.
The first place we visited on Saturday was Namsan Tower. We’d been once before when we first arrived in Korea but haven’t been back since. It was a walkable distance from Seoul Station so we took another wander over. Last time we got the cable car but this time we walked up ourselves. I personally think this is the best way to do it. As you walk up Seoul’s impressive skyline comes in to view, covered in sky scrapers with small hills jutting up here and there, it goes on for miles and miles. At the top we had another look around, bought postcards and tried to find our next destination.
By keeping up to date with a Seoul expat website called Chincha, I’d found out there was an Anish exhibition happening not too far from Namsan park, so that was our next destination. We got a bit lost and it took a while but eventually after walking through some very exclusive neighbourhoods we found it. The exhibition was good but expensive. It cost 8,000kw just to see the Anish Kapoor section and would have been an extra 10,000kw to see others. I think that’s quite expensive really. After that we strolled aimlessly around the area and found the river Han. We were due to eat in a restaurant in Gangnam which was on the other side so decided we would walk along the river and try to get across one of the bridges.
It’s nice to walk beneath the noisy highways but we went too far after being unable to get back on to the road, and then realised we probably couldn’t walk over the traffic congested bridges. We finally found our way out from under the highways and hailed a taxi. This is where the drama begins. With my co-teachers help I’d booked us in to a restaurant called Bien Etre for a fancy but affordable French meal, two weeks before going to Seoul. First off, we were stuck in the taxi for over forty minutes in traffic just getting across the bridge, then the taxi driver couldn’t find the restaurant and after another twenty minutes of driving around in circles ended up taking us to a different French restaurant. Because we’d specifically booked Bien Etre we walked back ourselves and managed by a miracle to find it in a secluded alleyway, to then discover it was closed and no one was answering the phone. We’d booked this restaurant after reading rave reviews online and it had been the basis for our trip so to say we were pissed off is an understatement! With no other ideas we walked back to the French restaurant the taxi driver had taken us to (and had booked for us) an hour late for our booking. This restaurant was called Palais du Garamond and was the poshest restaurant we’ve ever been too. Both of us looked dishevelled messes after wandering around all day, getting stuck under the highway, stuck in a taxi, legging it around Gangnam and then turning up really late, so hadn’t made a great first impression. We ordered the cheaper set menu (115,000kw – about £70) but couldn’t afford wine because the cheapest bottle was 115,000! The food was blooming expensive but worth every penny! This is what we had:
• Oyster (bleurgh Ash had mine)
• Fois Gras – we both had an issue eating this and have never had it before but as it was part of the set we didn’t want to waste it, I know its naughty but I have to say it was bloody gorgeous
• Walnut soup.
• Scallops with crushed almond topping in a truffle foam with pureed peas.
• Crabcakes – That is, cake made totally from succulent crab meat covered in tomato and caviar.
• Lobster with mini squids – Heaven
• Rare Tenderloin beef with vegetables and creamy mash.
• Pink grapefruit sorbet
• Hot chocolate fondant, some form of fruit with caramel ice cream and honeycomb.
• A macaroon, tasty fudge and a dark chocolate truffle.
It was probably the tastiest western meal I’ve ever had, expensive but delicious and I think it would have been more expensive in England to enjoy that level of restaurant. I kept forgetting to take pictures so here are just a few:
After dinner we hurried across Gangnam on foot (the IPhone map does not clearly show scale! Gangnam is huge) to go to another place I’d read about. A bar called Platoon had a gig with Brandt Brauer Frick, a group from Berlin who play techno! I had checked them out on Youtube and really liked what I’d heard, so we both got really excited at the chance to hear really good live music.
Platoon is a cool venue and I’ll definitely go back. The gig had an intimate atmosphere with the group and the audience on the same level. However, due to the style of the artists it would have been better if they were on a risen platform as I think an important part of their gig would be seeing them creating the music, because they play instruments as well as mixing. All the same I had a lovely time and this good music experience was well overdue.
We were totally pooped, still sober after the gig and hadn’t had a great sleep the night before, so called it a day and went to find that evening’s jimjilbang. Again we didn’t realise how far away it was, so walked for almost an hour to a jimjilbang close to Gangnam Station. For anyone wanting to go here are some directions. Leave exit 5 or 7 of the subway. Walk straight until you get to the next big junction, turn right and walk straight for about 300 metres and you will see the lights of the jimjilbang at the top of the building. This one had screen golf and those little fish that nip your feet as well as the other usual facilities. Sleeping was not a problem this night as we were totally pooped!
Next morning, with a few hours to spare we caught the subway to Noksapyeong near Itaewon to have some lovely sandwiches at the Bakers Table. Since finding this gem we have been back every time we’ve been to Seoul. They make European style tasty bread there and the sandwiches are well nice. There wasn’t a piece of sweet Korean bread in sight! Afterwards we had a quick beer at Craftworks bar, which sells ale, before legging it to get our train home.
I really love Seoul and a big part of me wishes I lived there because there’s so much going on, but it is more expensive than Daegu and I wouldn’t save much money for travelling if I was constantly going out! We had a great weekend though and it ended up being a perfect way to celebrate, even if it means we’re skint for the rest of the month!