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A City of Kpop

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Seoul, Korea is a no stranger city to the entire world. Its quirky dance and catchy song gather all K-pop fans all around the world. A visit to this city is a must if you are a fan of K-pop. But if you are not fancy with all K-pop craze like me, a visit to this city still worth it. 

During my visit to Seoul last time, there are things that capture my attention and which are unique and trademark to Seoul. In this post, I will highlight all the things that made ‘Seoul’ so you can experience your trips to the fullest.

i) Food 

Mark Kurlansky, ‘Choice Cuts’ (2002) once said “Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture.” Hence, understanding Korean food is the first step into understanding Korea itself.  

We know Korean food usually spicy and flavorful. At first, when I try Korean food, I despise it. Really. The food tastes bizarre and too spicy for me to handle. But upon trying a few more times and different Korean food, I grow my liking towards Korean food. Here are my top picks of food you must try when you are in Seoul. 

  • Kimchi 

This is like the most Korean food you can get. Every time you hear the word Kimchi; your mind will immediately be reminded to Korea. Kimchi usually is made from fermented cabbage or radish. And because it is fermented, the taste will usually be sour and a bit spicy.  

This dish is eaten as a side dish. So, Korean normally would add Kimchi with their main course to add a kick to the overall taste.  

  • Bibimbap 

Bibimbap typically comprises rice that is topped with minced beef, a variety of vegetables and topped with a fried egg. To properly eat this dish, first mix all the ingredients together with gochujang (a special Korean chili paste) based on your preferences. Mixed them well before you enjoy Bibimbap.

  • Tteokbokki 

The most common food you will find if you stroll down the street at Seoul. These rice cakes are sold everywhere in Seoul and you will not have a difficult time to find and try this.

  • Kimbap 

Also, sometimes spell as Gimbap and known as Korean Sushi. Kimbap and sushi is a two different dishes that people commonly mistook for. Two mains different between these two is; the rice and the filling. Rice in Sushi will always be seasoned with vinegar first while Kimbap typically cut with sesame oil and sweetener. And secondly, as for the fillings, Sushi will mostly be filled with raw fish while Kimbap is filled with cooked or preserve foods. 

  • Korean Fried Chicken 

No, it’s not the same as Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Korean Fried Chicken or KFC are gaining its popularity and insanely being craved lately. Why? Because it’s delicious. The tenderness and the taste mix really well. Nowadays, there are tons of different taste and variety of KFC you can try. 

ii) Main Attractions  

  • Gyeongbokgung Palace 

If you are keen to learn more about Korean culture and architecture, a visit to Gyeongbokgung is a must. This palace is the grandest and beautiful palace compared to any other palace in Seoul. And because of this, most tourists will definitely flock to this place. 

When you drop your visit here, usually there will be an event happening every hour from 10 am to 4 pm called Royal Grand Changing Ceremony or the Gwanghuamun Gate Guard On—Duty Performance. You could also wear their costumes for free if you want to. But please take note that this place close on Tuesday.

  • Namsan Seoul Tower 

This is another a must place to visit if you are in Seoul. At Mount Namsan, this tower has been a symbol of Seoul since 1980. From the top, you can witness the whole Seoul lays upon your eyes. A cable car is also available. You can enjoy various performances and exhibitions here.  

It has been a norm for a couple who visit Namsan Seoul Tower to buy a lock, write of their names and throw away the keys. This tradition is called ‘Love Lock’. This is to symbolize their love has been locked away forever. So, don’t be surprised when you go up here and you see tons of padlocks are locks along the Namsan Seoul Tower. 

Namsan Seoul Tower
  • Nami Island 

Ah! The ‘Winter Sonata’. Honestly, when I first arrive at Nami Island, I know nothing about Winter Sonata. Only when I arrive here, then I only knew about the internationally famous Korean Drama, Winter Sonata. My intentions of coming here are because many people talks about it and I do not want to miss it out. Over here I see a lot of drama reference of Winter Sonata on display all around the small island. And since I did not watch the drama, I knew nothing about all the references. There are also a few statues over here and there scattered around the island. A few souvenirs shops and restaurants are also available here for you to buy souvenirs and to refill your thirst and hunger.   

  • Cheonggyecheon Stream 

This 11km streams start from Cheongye Plaza and passes under 22 total bridges before flowing into Hangang River. They did an impressive job to keep this stream clear and clean although this stream passes through the hectic city of Seoul with thousands of people in it. Something that needs to be learned by lots of other major cities especially in my city (Kuala Lumpur).   

The views are very relaxing and one of the favorite leisure spots for the locals in the evening.

iii) Shopping Places 

  • Myeongdong 

Myeongdong is packed with fashion and skin care products. This alone made Myeondong as the most prominent shopping district in Seoul. If you are looking for Korean cosmetic brands like Skin Food, Laneige, Nature Republic, Missha, and others, this place is the one you need to go. All their top skin care products are superb in quality with a very low price. No wonder all Korean skins are flawless. 

On that day while I’m walking down at Myeongdong street, I stumbled upon a person wearing a costumed cat. He promotes their Cat Café in Myeongdong. As a feline lover, I can’t say no to this. And the visit to the café is worth it. Their cleanliness, friendliness of the staff and tons of cat’s breed really impress me. Some cat breeds that I’m able to spot is; Exotic Persians, Norwegian Forest, Siamese, American Shorthair, etc. If you are a cat person like me, please do not forget to stop here.  

  • Dongdaemun 

Dongdaemun is known for its largest wholesale and retail shopping district. This area boasts several 26 shopping malls, 30,000 specialty shops, and around 50,000 manufacturers. The clothing and fabric are the most updated fashion trends in Korea. Opening from 10 am to 5 am except for Monday and public holiday, you can literally shop all night long.

And if you need a rest from the heavy shopping session, you can feed your eyes with thousands of the white rose garden at Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). A total of 22,550 LED roses light up when nightfall creating an impressive wave of white roses. The number of roses on display corresponds to the number of days since South Korea had a liberation.

  • Insadong 

Insadong is the Seoul attractions for Korean traditional culture and crafts. All items in Insadong mostly specialize in a wide variety of goods that can only be purchased in Korea like their traditional clothing, Hanbok.  

Plus, Insadong also holds about 100 galleries and you can see every example of traditional Korean fine art from paintings to sculptures.

The Serene Water in Lombok

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Ray of sunlight shower your whole body. The touch of soft wind bathing your skin. A sound of waves hitting the shore. All this easily rushes through you when you are in Lombok. Unlike in Bali where the beach is like 5 minutes away from Kuta beach, in Lombok, you get to venture to get what you wish for.

After safely landed in Lombok International Airport, you will be overwhelmed by hundreds of locals offering taxi, transportation, and travel packages. They will most likely to approach you especially when you are obviously non-local there. Some offers are good and some are not. Go through several offers that are given to you and does research to avoid being scammed. Since the offer I got was good, I choose one of the transportations to go to Bangsal Harbour (Pelabuhan Bangsal) from Lombok Airport. The base price you should look is around IDR250K to IDR300k for the whole van or car. A one-way trip will take you around 1 ½ hour to 2 hours.

While on your way to Bangsal Harbour, please do not forget to turn on your Google Maps to know your location since the driver who supposed to take me to Bangsal Harbor purposely drop me at another harbor and ask me to take a speedboat. My guess is that the driver might get a commission if you take this speedboat. The reason I want to skip speedboat is that the price ranges differently. Speedboat cost around IDR85k per person while public ferry at Bangsal Harbour cost you only IDR15k per person to Gili Trawangan.

The difference between them; speedboat is faster and leaves on time while the public ferry is a little slower and leave only when it is full. However, I found out that the public ferry fills up very quickly. Although I have to squeeze in with the locals, I like it as it is part of the experience. I also know many reviews said to avoid Bangsal Harbour as it fills with scams. But, my advice is to buy tickets from the office and pay no advance to anyone. Just give a simple smile and walk away.

Oh, and before I forget, Gili Islands are divided into three separate islands;

  • Gili Trawangan

The largest and the most visited islands between the three islands. Popular as a party island since most of the tourists come and stay here.

  • Gili Air

The closest islands between the three islands from Bangsal Harbour. The scene on this island is quite laid back with its local community.

  • Gili Meno

The middle island between Gili Trawangan and Gili Air. This island is the most peaceful between the three other islands. It is popular among couples to relax and have a perfect time together.

Gili Islands Map

And so, choose wisely on which island suits your taste.

During my time in Lombok, I choose to stay in Gili Trawangan. You can just walk-in to any hotels or you can book in advance before your arrival. Getting around in this island is easy as the island is actually not that big. Main transportation here is either by Cidomo (horse cart) or bicycle. Or else you can just walk around the whole island which is not that difficult.

Cidomo aka horse cart

Gili Islands offers an attraction you can do. Some attractions are;

i) Swing above the ocean

Well, what else can I say? This is the most popular spot to take pictures during your stay in Gili Islands and it is popping in all social media. What you can imagine is to have a beautiful picture of you hanging just above the water with a perfect sunset as a background. But, to get this, expect a line to be queued as others are expecting to do the same too.

Swing above the ocean

ii) Water / Land activities

There is quite a number of water or land activities you can choose to do here. If you love hiking, you can hike to Mount Rinjani as the mountain is nearby from Gili Islands. Water activities like surfing, horseback riding along the beach and all sort of watersports are all available in the Gili Islands. If you like to explore all the three islands, you can also do an island hopping for either one whole day or half day. To do island hopping, you can choose a public ferry which will take you from one island to another. Or else, you can rent a private boat. This private boat will definitely recommend places they could bring you plus snorkeling at the best places which public ferry definitely cannot offer.

Snorkeling at Gili Islands

iii) Snorkeling / Diving

The water in the Gili Islands are much clearer and I can say is the best among the best. The coral, the water and the habitat living in the sea are among the best I had experienced if you compared it to Phuket, Krabi or Bali. 

While I snorkel here in Gili Islands (since I don’t dive), hundreds of fish surround me as I feed them with bread. The best part is when I snorkel and getting occupied watching all the vibrant colors of coral reef, one big turtle pass by me casually. The encounter with this reptile is very fascinating. And I can tell you this encounter is not even rare when you are in the Gili Islands.

An encounter with the turtle

After spending a whole day doing island hopping, it always a great idea to have a full body massage. All your stress and sore muscles will suddenly go away after having this wonderful massage. Massage in Lombok is common although it is not as good as in Bali. Various massage does available here with price ranges with each shop.

Lombok or Gili Islands specifically is surely the best places to go if your ideas of vacation are to relax and to lay down surrounded with a beautiful view of a beach. Snorkeling or diving, while you are here, is also highly recommended as it is among the best. And I believe because the beauty of its island and their water, Lombok attracts thousands of tourists to come here every year.

[Update December 2018]

After major several earthquakes hit Lombok in August 2018, some places of attraction are badly affected. Lombok is still in a recovering state. Gili Islands are reported to be affected by it too. Please expect several infrastructure damages if you intend to visit Lombok.  

Of Peace & Serenity; Krabi

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A lot of misconception by people thinking Krabi is an island. It is not, people. Nevertheless, Krabi is the perfect place if you wanted to clear off your mind from your work or from your hectic city.

I wanted to share you all the stuff that makes Krabi so famous so the next time you visit Krabi, you can straight away try it.

Beach

Krabi have 2 famous beaches you can stay. Both is almost the same. Ao Nang is the main tourist attractions and Railay beach is its sister and has an island feel. It is entirely up to your preference on which beach you like to stay. Or if you prefer to stay at both places why not spend one night in Ao Nang and another night at Railay Beach?

Railay Beach

Activities

For this part I will enlist all the top activities you can try when you are in Krabi;

i) Phi Phi Island tour

If you are visiting Krabi for the first time, Phi Phi island tour is a must place for you to go. This island is the most visited place for tourists when they come to visit Krabi or Phuket. Mostly when you come here, you can either spend a night on this island or just to take a one-day tour to this island. Most of the time, the place you will cover when doing Phi Phi Island tour is like sightseeing, swimming or snorkeling at Maya Bay, Loh Samah Bay, Pileh Cove, Viking Cave, and Monkey Beach.

Phi Phi Island

ii) Krabi Island tour

Krabi surrounded by many small islands and it is not surprising to see tours offering various kind of island hopping around Krabi. An example of island tour you could take is like Krabi 4 island tour, Koh Hong day tour, James Bond island tour and Krabi 7 island sunset tour.

I still remember ended up taking Krabi 7 island sunset tour. Well, it is not 7 islands but instead of 7 places. The whole package is good since you could go to lots of places in one day. However, the activities in each place rushed as you need to cover 7 places. The time allocated in each place is only around 30 minutes only.

The highlight of the activity is when after getting our dinner, they will bring you to the middle of the sea to see bioluminescent plankton. The light of the boat will be switched off and we are at total darkness. Then they told us to snorkel around the boat surrounded by darkness. At first, I hesitate to jump out of the boat as it is pitch black out there. But the moment I entering the water, I could see the light of the plankton. It is quite a nice scene to see.

iii) Emerald Pool & Hot Springs

If you want something that is not related to the beach, you can definitely try to soak yourself at the famous emerald pool in Krabi. This emerald pool can be found if you go to the Khao Phra Bang Khram Nature Reserve. If you are not taking a tour and decide to drive, you need to pay THB200 at the entrance for both hot springs and the emerald pool.

In order to reach the emerald pool, you need to walk for around 20 minutes from the entrance to the pool. On your way to the emerald pool, you will witness a hot spring available for you to soak yourself into. At the emerald pool, you also could swim over there and enjoy the scenery. And if you walk for another 20 minutes further up from the emerald pool, you can enjoy seeing the blue pool. This place is unfortunately not open for swimming and only for taking pictures.

Emerald Pool
Blue Pool

If you wanted to experience something else, there are tons of activities you can do. Some of them are rock climbing, riding ATV, kayaking, riding a horse along a beach and many more.

There are like over 50+ activities you could do in Krabi. All of it you can mix and match based on what your budget and your time. There is a lot of a travel agent setting up a booth along Ao Nang and Railay beach. Just walk a few of them and search for the best price. They will bargain the price since the competition is high among them. If you found the best deal, grab it and make a booking. Whether you like it or not, I believe if you want to do any activities here in Krabi, it will always a better choice to pick a travel agent as they really control the majority of activities in Krabi. But there is always an alternative if you want to do it yourself without hiring any travel agent. This is entirely up to you to make up the choices.  

Banana Pancake

I read a lot of bloggers who recommend trying banana pancake in Krabi. To me honestly, I cannot find why it is so famous and craving by so many people. I detest none of the Thai food, in fact, I love them! I bet there are many other Thai foods in Krabi that is better and taste good. But for me banana pancake is like the normal ‘roti canai’ that I could find back in my town; Kuala Lumpur which is cheaper and taste exactly the same. One banana pancake in Krabi cost almost THB50 (USD1.5) based on what flavor you want to add while in Kuala Lumpur you can get the same pancake with only THB20 (USD 0.5).

Banana ‘Roti Canai’ Malaysia version
Fried Banana Pancake Krabi version

The resemblance is uncanny, isn’t it? Okay. Enough ranting about this pancake. My advice just does not skip this signature food in Krabi. Try this banana pancake once to taste it. If you like it, good, buy another one. But, if you did not like it, then you can try other Thai food like Pad Thai or Mango Sticky Rice which are way better.

Pubs & Bars

Unlike its neighbor, Phuket which has its famous Bangla Road where most people spend their nightlife by either partying and drinking until morning surrounded by a loud noise and crowded people. Here in Krabi, such night is rare to be seen. Krabi is a much quieter town with not so much entertainment available at night. For me, its good news. After spending a whole day snorkeling, swimming or doing island hopping for the whole day; what would be more relaxing other than chilling at the bar drinking and feasting your ears with good music.  

Krabi is crawling with pubs and bars. Almost every corner has one. You need to search for which one that suits your taste and preferences and pay them a visit. They will surely welcome you with an open heart.

And so, Krabi is really a perfect place for you to go if you want to take your mind off and to take your body to rest. Enjoy every moment you spend in Krabi and have fun with it. 

A city of magical, Bangkok

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Food 

A trip to Bangkok will never be the same. Every time you visit Bangkok, you will surely experience different thing between them. It’s a city full of culture, foods, and experiences. I’ve been to Bangkok before and wanted to tell you what I love about Bangkok.  

This is a no-brainer. Who doesn’t love food, right? And food in Thailand? Heaven. I love it! Food hunting in Bangkok is a must. I use Google search and apps like Foursquare to read the reviews from locals and foreigners on where to hunt for my next meal. If I’m not using them, I will use my instinct instead. The more crowd I see in that’s will be my next meal. Some food you must hunt when you visit Bangkok is; 

i) Pad Thai (Thai Style Friend Noodle)

ii) Gaeng Keow Wan Kai (Green Chicken Curry)

iii) Som Tam (Papaya Salad) 

iv) Tom Yum Goong

v) Khao Niao Mamuang (Mango Sticky Rice)

These foods, for example, are easy to hunt. Even kids can do it. Street food in Bangkok is available 24 hours. But the problem here is to search for the best. That is entirely up to your taste and creativity to hunt for them.  

Culture 

Sawadikap (with my palms pressed together in a prayer-like manner) is how you say hello in Thailand. I feel so captivated on how cultural they are. Whenever I do the gesture of slightly bowing and my palms pressed together while saying ‘Sawadikap’, they will respond the same. I do this to my taxi driver, to a cashier when I finish shopping and some even stop eating and do the gesture and reply when I do this to them. That is how cultural they are with their tradition. I am truly impressed by this small gesture from them.  

If you a fan of architecture and buildings, here in Bangkok you can find tons of unique temples and museums for your liking.  

Nightlife 

*cough* *cough* 

It is undeniable that Thailand is well—known for its sex industry. Yes, you heard it right. There are tons of brothels, massage parlor, go-go bars especially scattered around the city of Bangkok in the red district (Patpong area). Do not be surprised if you are being approached by someone offers you a list of girls (prostitute/service worker) you could hire with only as low as THB 1000. There are ladyboys (drag queen/transgender) & gay activities available to be hired if you are looking for that one too.  

Apart from its sex industry, Bangkok is also known for its nightlife. There are tons of clubs and bars that open until morning. You could search for any event they organize which might trigger your interest to pay them a visit. Be bold and courageous to explore Bangkok and have fun with your new experience.  

Places to Visit 

There are plenty of places you could visit in Bangkok. First, ask yourself what you wanted to experience for your visit to Bangkok. If you wish for something historical, you can visit Grand Palace, Wat Prakeaw & Wat Pho (Giant Reclining Buddha) and If you wanted to experience their floating market, just head to Damnoean Saduak, but be warned the place is located 2 hours away from the city at Bangkok. While if you are more into modern stuff you definitely can try its theme park, Dusit Zoo, and its unique puppet show. 

Grand Palace Bangkok
Wat Prakeaw
Wat Pho
Floating Market Bangkok

Shopping Haven 

It is a shopping spree. Although honestly, I’m the person who is not a fan of shopping. But I can tell you there are many places you could try to shop. For higher quality items, you could try a mall. Some of them are Platinum Fashion Mall, Central World, MBK Center and Siam Paragon. If you are looking for cheaper options but with less quality, you could try night market like Chatuchak Night Market, Khao San, Talad Roi Fai which open every night.  

What interesting is when you are out shopping in this night market place, your bargaining skill will be put into a test.  

My shopping experience buying from Chak Tu Chak Night Market is not great. I strike a deal to buy a knock-off Birkenstock sandals with only RM35 (USD 8/THB 275). The price they offered is RM45 and I bargain for RM10 off. I wore the sandals for the next day to the airport for my flight back to Kuala Lumpur. Just only a few steps from the hotel to the airport, the sandals snapped. Not even a day.   

That is quite frustrating. So, folks please be extra cautious when buying from the night market and do a simple inspection before you buy.

i) Chatuchak Night Market.

One of the popular night market among tourists and locals. This market only opens during the weekend. On a Friday evening, they will open but the crowd will be amazing after 9 pm as people will always avoid the heat and prefer to enjoy walking at night. The market here is vast and impossible for you to see all in one trip. One thing I like about Chatuchak Market is that you can find almost anything here. From clothes, shoes, artwork, merchandise—and everything in between.

Operating hours:
Weekend only (Saturday & Sunday)
On Friday will be operating from 1800 onward

Chatuchak Night Market

ii) Rod Fai Market

Rod Fai Market has two different locations you can go to. One is Rod Fai Srinakarin and the other one is Rod Fai Ratchada. For easy access by transportation, I would hand down to Rod Fai Ratchada as its near to Thai Cultural Center MRT while Rod Fai Srinakarin near to Seacon Square Shopping Mall where you need to take a taxi ride for around 30—40 minutes. However, for the night market size, Rod Fai Srinakarin wins big time.
One of the unique things about Rod Fai is you will definitely recognize it by the sight of its rainbow-colored tents. The shopping section here is also very organized. You will find one concentrated area selling food and the other area selling fashion items and other stuff.

Operating hours:
Thursday – Sunday (From 1800 to 2400)

Rod Fai Night Market

iii) Khao San Night Market

This is another famous night market at Khao San road. As this market opens daily, you will find a lot of tourists chilling in the pubs and bars. This area is also packed with hostels and budget hotels hence the crowd will be vivacious every night. Here you can do some quick shopping or just relaxing and drinking at a pub.

Khao San Night Market

There you go. From its food, unique culture, a never-ending nightlife, tons of places to visit and a shopping spree are all the top reason I love to visit Bangkok. It’s a city worth to visit and explore. So, grab your flight ticket and fly to Bangkok today.

 

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