April 4, 2016
We woke up this morning to blue skies and sun, the total opposite of Sunday! Since our plans of going to Yeouido Island fell through yesterday, we planned on spending the afternoon there.
Yeouido Island is on the south side of the Han River. It is Seoul’s finance and investment banking centre, home to the National Assembly, Full Gospel Church (the church with 800,000+ members) and the majority of Seoul’s modern skyscrapers. Every year, Yeouido Island hosts a Cherry Blossom Festival in April. We were lucky enough to be able to catch the beginning of the blossoms around the island.
We walked along the waterfront and soaked in the sun. Food vendors were starting to line the streets leading up to the actual Cherry Blossom Festival grounds. After walking around the waterfront for a bit, we decided to have lunch in the business district. We figured that there would be good lunch specials in the area since there are so many office towers. To our surprise, restaurants in the business area were a bit sparse. We tried to see where groups of businessmen and women were headed – some were going towards the water where we first came from and the majority of them were going into the IFC (International Financial Centre) mall. We followed suit and went into one of the IFC towers. There were three towers all next to each other and they were probably around 50 stories each.
The basement level of the mall is all food. They have all different types of restaurants to pick from: Korean, American, Mexican, Vietnamese, etc. A lot of restaurants had long lines ups outside of them; the longest line was an expensive Pho place. I had been craving Korean BBQ since we got to Seoul and since it was our last day, we decided to have it for lunch. We figured that since most restaurant’s lunch menus are often cheaper, this would be a good opportunity to have BBQ (finally). We saw a long line up in front of “Sariwon Bulgogi” so we quickly looked up reviews online (all reviews were good), browsed the menu and lined up.
Sariwon is famous for its sweet marinade because unlike most bulgogi marinades which use sugar to make it sweet, Sariwon’s contains only fruits and vegetables.
In looking at the menu, we decided to get their marinated grilled beef ribs set menu, which included salad and a rice or noodle and looked like it was 35,000 KRW =$39 CAD. However, after we ordered and got the bill (they put the bill on your table when they put in the order in Korea) we saw that it was 35,000 KRW per person! We flagged down our waitress to try to explain to her we only wanted one order (since most portions we’d been getting in Seoul had been very large). She wasn’t able to communicate with us so she brought over another waitress who spoke a little bit of English. She explained that you can’t just order one set to share (which I think is silly because it’s not all you can eat) and that we couldn’t order two different things. We looked at each other and hesitantly agreed since we had been waiting for BBQ for a while and it seemed like a good place (they claim they’re a “legendary” Korean restaurant).
With the set, each person gets two beef ribs, a side salad and either cold noodles or rice with a tofu hot pot (we ordered one of each). The waitress cooks and cuts the meat for you, which is nice but I think I would have liked to cook it myself. But I guess since this place was fancier, you’re paying for her to do it. An interesting note is that Sariwon’s table BBQs suck the air in and doesn’t need a fan over top so you don’t smell like BBQ when you leave the restaurant (genius!).
The beef was delicious and we both agreed it was among the best beef we’ve ever had before. Every piece was tender and melted in your mouth even though they were cooked well done. If the beef wasn’t good, I think it would have been very upsetting for both of us.
After lunch we walked towards Yeouido’s Cherry Blossom Festival area, which was almost back to where we first got out of the train station. The festival was basically just the cherry blossom lined walkway around the island with a few vendors (not very good ones) and some live music. For a Monday afternoon, there was a surprising number of people there.
After walking through the festival, we ended up at the Korea National Assembly building. While sitting by the fountain for about half an hour we noticed four helicopters circling the city and dipping very low towards the buildings, we thought it was weird but no one else seemed to notice. I don’t think I’ve been to another country with so much visible military and police presence like South Korea. I feel like we see large groups of police officers almost every where we go, military vehicles driving up and down city streets, or in this case, multiple military helicopters flying low in the air doing loops around small areas.
South Korea has mandatory military service for all its male citizens, 18-35 for a 21 month period, so you see a lot of young men dressed up in military uniforms around the city (even going on dates at night, as you’ll see later on in the post).
After giving our feet a bit of a rest and getting some sun (my forehead got darker from yesterday, not the best tan), we headed for the train station to take us to the Gangnam District of Seoul. Gangnam is an expensive area to live and is known for their concentration of high end stores, trend setting fashions and PSY’s “Gangnam Style” song.
Gangnam is also known for being home to the World Taekwondo Headquarters. Set on top of a hill in Gangnam is Kukkiwon, the World Taekwondo Academy. Tim used to do Taekwondo when he was younger so he was interested in visiting. It’s about a 10 minute walk uphill from the shopping area. They have prime real estate in a very expensive area and what we learned while there was that when the facility was built in the 1970’s, there were no houses or anything around. Now, the headquarters is surrounded by nice Korean style houses.
After visiting Kukkiwon, we did a bit of browsing/shopping around Gangnam and then planned on staying around the area to watch the Rainbow Fountain Show at Banpo Bridge. The bridge has a light and water show three times a day and two shows at night in April. We planned to watch the 8pm show.
We had a couple of hours to kill so we walked to the bridge from the main Gangnam area. It was a long walk.
We finally made our way to Banpo Bridge as it got dark. We walked around some of the buildings close by that were lit up. The water show did not live up to the hype of the guide book, it was pretty disappointing. The show lasted for about 15 minutes but we left a little earlier because it was really cold and windy (Tim: and boring).
I was looking forward to getting back inside and defrosting. It was extra windy right by the bridge and we didn’t have as many layers as we should have. We took the subway back to our area (it felt like a really long train ride back) and decided our last dinner in Seoul would be fried chicken.
We went back to the street by our hotel (the businessmen street) and went to Kkanbu Chicken. As with every week night, businessmen lined the streets smoking outside restaurants. When we went to Kkanbu, we got seated next to two businessmen taking shots of soju, drinking beer and eating chicken. I decided to order the spicy soy glazed chicken instead of just regular fried chicken. I didn’t taste too much sweetness, but I sure did taste the spice. Tim and I struggled to finish that plate of chicken. We can’t handle Korean heat.
It was a long last day in Seoul. We headed back to the hotel to pack everything. My backpack is pretty full now with all those Korean socks and face masks.
It’s our last night at Hotel Shin Shin. I’ll miss the comfortable beds and heated toilet seat.
Total steps for today: 39,000