Tosokchon Samgyetang

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Day 2 in Seoul: Gyeongbokgung Palace --> Tosokchon Samgyetang --> Bukchon Hanok Village

This is another one where practically almost everyone (in person and online) tells you that it is a MUST-GO. Legit. EVERY SINGLE PERSON. Even if they couldn't recall the name of the restaurant, its "You MUST GO to this famous ginseng chicken place!"

Ok, got the message. And since it is only a walking distance from Gyeongbokgung Palace, that's where we headed for lunch after touring the palace. I had initially wanted to visit the museums within Gyeongbokgung but mom said she was way too hungry for museums.

Less than 10 minutes later, we arrived at the famous Tosokchon Samgyetang restaurant. I was actually quite surprised that there was no queue even though we arrived during lunch hour. Yay! Hurry for us!

We were very promptly ushered into the spacious Hanok-styled restaurant. There are options for the traditional sit-on-floor or table-and-chair arrangement. I believe the staff's usual habit is to sit people on the floor, so do make the request upfront if you want the table-and-chairs option. Else you might get the same annoyed face we got when we later realised that there were chairs which my mom preferred for her mobility issues.

Excuse my less than stellar shots of the menu. We were shoved into a pretty tight corner and this was the best I could manage in that cramped space with the iPhone.

My parents and I ordered 2 versions, their signature Ginseng Chicken Soup and the other one with the Wild Ginseng Adventitious Roots. My advice, just stick to the signature one. The roots added a slight punch to the herbal taste but otherwise, there really isn't much difference in taste between the two.

We also added the Haemul Pajeon when we realised that almost every other table also had a plate of it. Unfortunately, we couldn't finish it. Not because it was awful. On the contrary, I enjoyed the savory pancake thoroughly. However, we were just too full from our individual bowls of the ginseng chicken soup.

You know those situations where you anticipate something so much, or the hype has been built so high, that when you actually get to it, you come off slightly disappointed?

Well, that's what happened to us at Tosokchon.

And here's the second "Don't get me wrong". It's not that the food was terrible. Each bowl came with a whole chicken stuffed with a ginseng root, glutinous rice, chestnuts, jujube and ginko nuts. The chicken was tender and the meat easily fell off the bones with each tug of our chopsticks. The milky broth was piping hot and soothed our tummies on a chilly day. The soup also had just the right amount of oil from boiling the chicken that leaves you with that lip smacking feel of a well-boiled soup. I also enjoyed the small cup of Insamju (ginseng liquor) provided and (as my mom has an alcohol allergy) gladly poured my mom's cup into my soup to enhance the taste.

The kimchi was also one of the best I had during my time in Seoul. I considered hauling some of the ginseng liquor and kimchi home but eventually decided against it.

But that's about it. With all that hype, I had actually anticipated something earth-shattering, you know, food so yummy it sends a punch to your gut. Well, the food is good but not the gut-punching good I was looking for. I think I probably would have enjoyed it more if I didn't learn of the hype around it. But it really just wasn't the same unlike when I visited Ichiran or Ippudo in Japan. 

Yummy, worth a visit. But go without expectations. Oh and don't expect great service.

Tourist Information

Tosokchon Samgyetang
Address: 5, Jahamun-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul 03041
DID: +82 2-737-7444

Week in Seoul: Gyeongbokgung Palace

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Sometimes, even the best-laid plans can come to naught. And, to be honest, my original Seoul itinerary wasn't the most detailed in plan, but had just enough research done prior that when adjustments had to be made, it was simple enough. That said, I really had to make quite a bit of adjustments since something came up almost every other day. 

So, where I can, I'd indicate the day's itinerary, else I'd just write about the places that we visited.

Day 2 in Seoul: Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁; Han: 景福宮) --> Tosokchon Samgyetang --> Bukchon Hanok Village

Gyeongbokgung Palace seemed a MUST when almost all travel sites online listed or wrote about it. And with everyone also indicating that the changing of the guards parade was not to be missed, it was highlighted on my itinerary as well. Unfortunately, therein marked the start of my itinerary that went awry.

All because I forgot to change the time on my watch. Neither did I tell my parents about the time, just that we needed to be there for a parade. And we completely missed it. Sigh. A completely silly and avoidable mistake.

By the way, we were on time having taken a local taxi there. Just thought that we had too much time to spare and wasted the opportunity. And I know quite a number of sites write that they took the subway to Gyeongbokgung. However, if you are travelling in a group of about 3 to 4 pax, you may wish to consider taking the local taxi at times. Our trip from Ibis Myeongdong to Gyeongbokgung Palace was just under 5000 Korean won. I understand using T-money on the subway helps you save, but given that the price difference isn't huge, we chose to save on time instead.

Sigh. The irony of it all.

Ok, we did manage to catch a mini version of the guard change when we left, but that's all. I guess I'd just have to include this part again when I return to Seoul in future.

Heh. That is, if I ever want to come back again to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Don't get me wrong. The palace can provide for some Instagram-worthy shots and is worth a good 2 to 3 hour stroll (depending on how fast you walk and how interested you are). But man, the place was just super packed with people, hanbok wearing and non-hanbok wearing. With the main halls and gates, there was absolutely no way I could get any shots in that didn't feature at least a person.

Entrance to Gyeongbokgung Palace is free if you enter wearing the Korean traditional costume. Given that there's an entire line of hanbok-rental stores from across the road, it makes sense to play dress-up, gain free entry, pretend you're in some historical K-drama and get some period era Insta-worthy shots in a palace. I think that's basically what almost everyone thought. Makes economic sense for the operator too if you're in a tour group, which I guess is why most tour agencies would advertise the hanbok experience if their itinerary includes Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Gyeongbokgung Palace is reputed to be the first and largest of the 5 Grand Palaces built in the Joseon dynasty, hence it should not surprise that Gyeongbokgung was designated as the main royal palace then. However, it was destroyed twice in Japanese invasions and restoration efforts have been ongoing since 1990.

Gotta say this, whatever that's been done is pretty darn awesome. My parents and I stopped many times for pictures as we marvelled at the reconstruction.

There are free guided tours at various timings for different languages (English, Mandarin, Japanese and Korean). Unfortunately, I don't think some of the slots work well if you intend to also catch the morning changing of guards parade (which starts at 10 am). You'd definitely need to work out your schedule as to how you want to deal with this if the guided tour is what you are gunning for. 

I think the guided tours probably would have provided additional interesting, detailed snippets of history (we happened to overhear a couple on our stroll), but personally, I think you can still get by without. There were enough signages around to provide a short explanation as to where you are and what you are looking at. Or else pick up a brochure at the ticketing booths.

I've included my quick iPhone shot of the tickets as advertised at the booth (if you don't intend to wear the hanbok). There is an option for a combination ticket if you're intending to go for 4 palaces and Jongmyo Shrine. You may also wish to check Klook or KKday for discounted tickets or hanbok rental deals.

In addition, the National Folk Museum of Korea and the National Palace Museum of Korea are both sited within Gyeongbokgung Palace. If you purchase tickets, it grants you free entry to the museum.

Please do note that the Gyeongbokgung Palace is is closed on Tuedays.

Tourist Information

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Address: 161 Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul

Week in Seoul: Myeongdong Night Market and Shopping Street

Monday, 28 October 2019

Myeongdong is the perfect starting point for someone's first time to Seoul, and I can now completely appreciate why it's one of the most popular tourist spots. The area is famous for its shopping with not one but two major departmental stores (Lotte and Shinsegae) and its myriad of clothing and cosmetics stores. To say that its bustling is an understatement. The place was practically swarming with tourists and locals whenever we were there.

On our first night in Seoul, after checking into our room at the Ibis Ambassador Seoul Myeongdong, my parents and I headed out to look for dinner and chanced upon the night market. To be honest, it was a "let's just head out and see what appeals to us" deal that night. I knew the night market was close by but I honestly didn't figure for it to be THAT close to the hotel. We exited the hotel lobby, turned left, barely walked for even a minute before we were hit by the hustle and bustle that is the  Myeongdong nigh
t market.

And the very first thing that we saw that got us all excited? Tornado potato! The minute my mom and I saw people holding that stick of potato in their hands, we immediately made a beeline for the first stall that we saw selling it. 

And it was just street food thereafter for dinner. And boy, there was just so much food to choose from! Seafood was plenty to be found; pan seared squid, grilled cheese lobster, abalone on sticks and my favourite seared prawns. OMG! The seared prawns from the stall called Shrimp King was so yummy, we went back for a second order. We had to wait quite a bit for our prawns but so damn worth it.

Not to worry if you have seafood allergies, there are other fun and yummy options as well. Heh. Yeah, you read that right. Fun. Primarily because I was so excited thinking of myself reprising K-drama characters having tteokbokki, gimbap, mandu or hotteok! My parents were actually impressed that I learnt and could identify and recite the Korean names of most foods just from my K-dramas alone. 

Ok, the one in the picture above, I didn't know the name until I came back and googled for it. Well, at least I think its the right one, a Korean egg bread called gyeranbbang. My dad bought one for himself as he thought it looked really interesting and he declared it good. My mom and I opted to forgo the carbo as we were almost full by then. Plus, we still had a bag of japchae and fresh orange juice with us to bring back to the hotel room. Oh and strawberry-red bean mochi.

Seriously good strawberry-red bean mochi. The seared squid, prawns and this mochi are my absolute favourites from the night market. I highly recommend those if you're visiting. On that note, if there was something I would dissuade you from, it would be the roasted chestnuts. The bag I bought, was completely dry and hard. We couldn't even finish the small bag that we bought.

Food aside, there was also tons to shop for. I bought a lot of pretty earrings and other accessories for myself and friends, mobile phone accessories too. My mom browsed a couple of stalls selling scarves but couldn't really find one she liked while my dad and I bought so many pairs of cheap, gimmicky socks. 

And its not just the night market stalls that would capture your attention. All your Korean cosmetics brands have outlets there, Innisfree, Nature Republic, Tony Moly, The Face Shop, etc. And at the promotional rates being offered for all those face masks, I can see why everyone I know returned from Seoul with packs of them. Even my mom and I caved and bought some.

International brands like Vans, H&M also have outlets there. I skipped those though and focused more on the local brands. And you know the bubble tea craze is indeed a huge trend when you spot boba from Gong Cha around. 

There are also a couple of stores selling local snacks. Great if you need to do some last minute shopping for souvenirs to bring back for people. Else, I would recommend buying from Gwang Jang market if that's on your itinerary.

Unfortunately, I only had a short time in Seoul, else I would have loved to visit the other night markets like the Dongdaemun night market. Well, at least it's excuse for me to find another time to return to Seoul again!

Tourist Information

Myeongdong Night Market
Address: Jung-gu, Seoul
Use the Ibis Ambassador Seoul Myeongdong hotel or Lotte store as a landmark if unable to locate.

Week in Seoul: KAL Limousine Bus

Saturday, 26 October 2019

My parents and I were on the 8 am Singapore Airlines flight from Singapore to Seoul. The flight was uneventful and in spite of a poor night's sleep, I managed to get through 3 in-flight movies. Hence by the time we arrived in Incheon Airport, I was so glad I had settled our transport to the hotel as I was exhausted.

There are several options available from Incheon Airport to Seoul; the obvious taxi to various airport buses and private car hires. If specifically from Incheon to my hotel, Ibis Ambassador Seoul Myeongdong, which I reviewed in the earlier post, the following are your options:
  1. Bus no 6015 - Stop at Ibis Myeongdong. Click here for more information on how to get tickets for bus no 6015
  2. Subway to Euljiro 1(IL) Ga station. Click here for details about the train route. An alternative is to stop at Myeongdong station, that's the subway line line 4 (blue) 6.
  3.  KAL Limousine Bus: City Hall Line 1 to Sogongdong.
I eventually decided to go for the KAL Limousine Bus. The bus timing suited my estimated arrival time at Incheon, plus I found I could purchase discounted tickets from Klook at just about $15 per pax.

As planned, our SQ flight arrived promptly at Incheon Terminal 1 and after collecting our luggage, my parents followed me at a leisurely pace to the KAL kiosk located near Gate 4. I was too tired and hence forgot to take a picture of the kiosk but honestly, its not difficult to locate it. Easy matter thereafter to exchange my vouchers for the bus tickets. We were also given clear instructions in English as to where to wait and what time our bus is, which was a less than 10-minute wait for us. Like I mentioned earlier, the scheduled bus timing suited our needs.

By the way, printed vouchers is A MUST if you purchase from Klook! So please remember to print them out before your flight. I've read online that they do not accept mobile versions. 

Our bus rolled around promptly at about 4:37 pm as indicated and after tickets were checked, the staff assisted us in loading our luggage before we boarded. The interior of the bus was clean and the seats were comfortable with sufficient leg space. In fact, good enough that I fell asleep mid-way through the journey. However, I was surprised the journey took a while though. On one travel planning site, it indicated that my ride should take about 50 minutes. However, by the time we reached our destination, it was slightly past 6 pm.

To get to Ibis Ambassador Seoul Myeongdong, we alighted at Westin Chosun hotel. From there it was a short 3-minute walk; facing out from the Westin Chosun's lobby, turn to the left and round the corner of the building. Continue straight until the main intersection and you should be able to see the Lotte departmental stores. The Ibis hotel is directly across the street from the Lotte stores. 

The only unfortunate thing during this short walk, was that we had to use the underpass to get to our hotel. And in Korea, elevators and lifts ain't a common thing with the underpasses. Dear daughter (me) ended up having to carry 3 bulky pieces of luggage up and down the flights of stairs to get through the underpass. Thankfully on the last flight up, there were 2 kind oppas who took pity and helped us with the luggage. Thank you kind souls!

All in, apart from the weight exercise through the underpass, the KAL Limousine bus transfer was fuss-free, budget friendly and comfortable. Definitely something I would reconsider in future if I only had my own luggage to deal with.

Tourist Information

KAL Limousine

Week in Seoul: Ibis Ambassador Seoul Myeongdong 이비스 앰배서더 서울 명동

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

I just returned from a short break to Seoul, South Korea with my parents. Given how often I travelled and how much I enjoyed my K-dramas, it's actually amazing that I waited this long to visit Seoul. Not surprisingly, when I asked around for suggestions as to what I should do, the most common reply I got was to go shopping. Heh. And some were even quite specific, that I should go and get my year's supply of face masks or Korean cosmetics.

Unfortunately, shopping isn't just the only one I wanted. So I did my research and here's documenting what my parents and I did during our R&R in wonderful Seoul, starting with a review of 1 of the 2 hotels we stayed in: the Ibis Ambassador Seoul Myeongdong.

The main deciding factor in choosing Ibis was its accessibility. There were other factors as well, such as its mid-point price range and the consistent good reviews on various platforms, but nothing beats its location. Right in front of the hotel is a subway station and the airport bus also stops here. If you choose the KAL Limousine bus as I did, it stops at another hotel (the Westin Chosun) just across the street, about a 3 min walk away. Ibis is surrounded by a myriad of eateries, the Myeongdong shopping streets just a corner's turn and the Lotte departmental stores across the street. Several attractions are also located nearby. Basically, even with their old-age mobility issues, my parents and I were able to move around to and fro the hotel with relative ease.

Hence, I booked us a triple room for 4 nights. The main reception and lobby is located on the 19th floor, same level as where the hotel's breakfast is located. Nevertheless, there is an express counter on the first floor for easy check out. There was also a gym but I didn't go check out so I'm unable to comment on that. Some would also be glad to know that laundry can be easily taken care of since there are coin washing machines available on the guest floors. We also found a ice machine tucked away at a corner on our floor. It probably would have seen a lot of action in the summer.

As advertised by reviewers, our room was clean and well-maintained. Although on our first night checking in, there was a stale cigarette smoke smell, which was surprising given that ours was a non-smoking room. It was promptly rectified and we had no further issues thereafter. Wi-Fi was also readily available and didn't require a password either. Signal was strong enough that I could easily surf the Internet and even watch a couple of shows on my phone.

Space was a luxury though; just enough for 3 beds, a wardrobe, a table and chair by the window plus a corridor of a walkway enough for us to unpack from our luggage. Toilet was a compact, efficient affair as well. Having said that, it was still good enough that I didn't bang myself as I would have been prone to if I was in a tiny Tokyo version.

The view from our window was that of the Lotte departmental store opposite the road, a constant reminder of how easy it was for shopping. Heh. Not that I minded the reminder.

Our nights' rest was taken care of and having our breakfast at the hotel was convenient and allowed us to complete the recharging needed for each day. Granted there probably were many alternative breakfast options around the hotel for us, but there were a couple of days where I had planned for early itineraries, hence it would just have been easier for us to settle the meal within the hotel. 

The spread at Ibis was decent, although I must admit, after the 3rd day, I got a little tired of it since the menu didn't change much. There was the usual local and international spreads such as the usual cereal bar, an egg station, breads and pastries plus local porridges and side dishes. 

But I have to say, what I really missed most was the breakfast view we had every morning. On one side was an impressive cityscape while the other wall featured Namsam and the Seoul Tower. Forgot to take the mountain pic though.

All considered, I would say I enjoyed staying at Ibis Ambassador Seoul Myeongdong and would definitely recommend this. Its location is just awesome. Just note that if you're travelling by taxi, some drivers may confuse it with another Ibis hotel located nearby. 

Tourist Information

Ibis Ambassador Seoul Myeongdong 이비스 앰배서더 서울 명동
Address: 78, Namdaemun-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul 04534 South Korea
Local address: (우) 04534중구 남대문로 78
DID: +82263618888

V1 Boutique Hotel

Saturday, 29 September 2018

For this recent road trip to Malaysia, I’m just going to review certain highlights. I didn’t pay much attention to the itinerary when my parents first passed it to me. Plus, there were stops and detours along the way which weren’t in the original plans and I didn’t follow up on those either.

Nevertheless, while I don’t have a full itinerary for you, I still hope to be able to provide some helpful notes if you’re planning on visiting the same spots or staying in the same hotels.

V1 Boutique Hotel

The V1 Boutique Hotel was the first of our hotels in our 4D3N trip. The hotel is situated right next to the main road and was easily visible from our tour bus. I’m pretty sure with the address locked into your GPS, you won’t have an issue finding it.

The hotel is a pretty small one. Heh, my picture of the lobby actually captured almost the entirety of it. So that gives you an indication of its size. Despite that, the staff were able to quite quickly sort through our rooms and check-in seemed pretty fuss-free. The only hassle was for our guide to announce to the entire group of 30 that the hotel had security doors on every floor and we needed to key in a code in order to enter.

As we had started the trip super early in the morning, I was really grateful when I could finally get to our room. By that time, I was starting to pop Panadols to keep an emerging headache at bay. So imagine my joy when I realised that we were given a suite. It was one of the biggest rooms I've ever gotten on a group tour.

Photo above is a sitting area that was immediately to our right when we entered the room.


2 single beds in one room and a queen bed in the next room. Space was definitely more than adequate for my parents and me. The beds were really clean and comfortable too.

Headache temporarily forgotten in all that joy.

Except that joy was a little short-lived.
When we got to the toilet and the bathroom, little cockroaches started popping. I have a morbid fear of cockroaches (almost all flying insects actually). It's the main reason why I religiously clean my home regularly. So imagine my fear when there were at least 10 of them running around. My dad spent a good 10 minutes getting rid of them.
Mom was actually quite surprised to see these roaches since the room was pretty clean. We figured it maybe the suite was hardly in use hence these critters could proliferate.

Critters aside, V1 Boutique Hotel presents itself as a no-frills hotel. I understand from the other uncles and aunties who were in twin rooms, that they didn't even have a fridge. Our bathrooms also didn't come with any of the complimentary soaps or shampoos. Also, the sound-proofing isn't fantastic. The entire night we could hear the traffic, so if you're a light sleeper, you might want to get ear plugs. Wifi was also non-existent in the rooms and could only be accessed from the hotel lobby.

Having said that, V1 Boutique Hotel is listed as a 3-star hotel (i.e. rates are really cheap) so I guess you shouldn't expect too much. If you're intending to stay just for a night or 2, it's decent enough.

Tourist Information

V1 Boutique Hotel
Address: 1 Jalan Penambang, Taman Seri Penambang, Kuala Selangor 45000
DID: +60 3-3281 2219