Lazy Sunday at the Hyundai Department Store’s Skygarden

As my time in Seoul is slowly coming to a close, I’ve been making a bucketlist of activities to do before leaving. Now that I’ve been here for a year, it’s almost like doing the whole “tourist in your own town” thing – and what better of a place to be a tourist than Seoul?

With a raging hangover as part of my last Saturday night in Seoul the night prior, I decided to buck up, get on the bus and go to the Hyundai Department Store in Apgujeong. I’d heard that on the rooftop they have a grass lawn and café, and I wanted to check that out.

So, with a pounding headache and a purse packed with the essentials (camera, laptop, cellphone), I went to take the bus from Sinnonhyeon to Apgujeong.

Hyundai Department Store from outside

Hyundai Department Store from outside

After a short 20-minute bus ride, I’d arrived in Apgujeong. While my plan was to go directly to Hyundai Department Store, something else caught my eye. The building right next door said “Gangnam Tourist Information Center Grand Opening” on the front. I didn’t even know that there was a tourist info center in Gangnam, so I decided to make a quick detour and look inside.

The Gangnam Tourist Center; newly-opened on June 26th, 2013

The Gangnam Tourist Center; newly-opened on June 26th, 2013

I knew that the 2013 Seoul Summer Sale was currently underway, so I went inside to ask for a coupon book. The girl at the front desk gave me one, plus a free cosmetic sampler and face mask from Etude House (a popular Korean cosmetic chain store). Then she handed me a free bottle of banana milk, which tasted like heaven on such a hot and humid day.

I decided to take a little browse around. It looks like the main purpose of this tourist info branch is to promote medical tourism. Makes sense, since there are so many high quality clinics around Gangnam, largely popular with Asian tourists from China, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Since it was a Sunday afternoon, the medical consultants and interpreters who would normally be manning these booths were away. Not a huge deterrent to me, since my budget for the week doesn’t exactly include plastic surgery!

Also, there’s a KEB currency exchange booth located next to the in-house Tom ‘n’ Tom’s café.

I decided to look around a bit more…

The medical tourism consultation zone

The medical tourism consultation zone

More info on medical tourism in Gangnam

More info on medical tourism in Gangnam

Computers for visitor use, free of charge

Computers for visitor use, free of charge

Café and seating for visitors

Café and seating for visitors

Brochures on Gangnam attractions, and an ad for Hyundai Department Store's "100-Day Time Letter Service"

Brochures on Gangnam attractions, and an ad for Hyundai Department Store’s “100-Day Time Letter Service”

Map of Gangnam and its various districts

Map of Gangnam and its various districts

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (9 of 49)

My swag: coupon book for the 2013 Seoul Summer Sale, a copy of SEOUL Magazine with Mimsie Ladner of "Seoul Searching" blog on the cover, free cosmetics, and a free banana milk

My swag: coupon book for the 2013 Seoul Summer Sale, a copy of SEOUL Magazine with Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching blog on the cover, free cosmetics, and a free banana milk

I realized after I came home though, that there’s a second floor in the center! The main focus there is “hallyu” (the Korean Wave). You can buy K-drama sets, K-pop CDs, get your makeup done, and buy souvenirs.

Here’s a map for both floors:

Gangnam Tourist Information Center - 1F (Photo: Visit Seoul)

Gangnam Tourist Information Center – 1F (Photo: Visit Seoul)

Gangnam Tourist Information Center - 2F (Photo: Visit Seoul)

Gangnam Tourist Information Center – 2F (Photo: Visit Seoul)

After I’d had enough time looking around at the tourist info center, I made my way next door:

Entrance to Hyundai Department Store

Entrance to Hyundai Department Store

The flagship Hyundai Department Store is directly connected to Apgujeong Station (Line 3). The first floor houses the store’s cosmetic booths. The food court is located on B1. My plan was to grab a snack and head up to the fifth floor Skygarden Café.

Tiffany & Co inside the Hyundai Department Store

Tiffany & Co inside the Hyundai Department Store

Various international and Korean-brand cosmetics on the first floor

Various international and Korean-brand cosmetics on the first floor

Take the escalators down to B1, where you'll find the food court

Take the escalators down to B1, where you’ll find the food court

Department store shopping is a popular activity in Korea. Every store has its own food floor, which I’ve noticed is essentially divided up into three sections: the “market” area, made up of different stalls selling fresh food and drinks; the food court, made up of a variety of restaurants (sushi, Japanese curry, noodle soup, Western, etc) where customers order and pay at a centralized cashier booth, then sit down and wait for their number to be called; and the grocery store.

Admittedly, I’ve always been a bit scared of intimidated of ordering up there (yet I will get on a motorcycle sans-helmet with a stranger in a developing country, eat live squid, or fly across the world to live with a family I’ve never met before – yep, weird logic!). So, I just stuck to the food court.

I must say BEWARE: if you are indecisive like me, choosing something from the food court will not be a quick task! From French blueberry cheesecake, to Chinese fried prawns, to traditional Korean snacks, there is truly something for everyone here.

Candied apples at the food court

Candied apples at the food court

One of the bakery stalls - the crêpe cake looked pretty good!

One of the bakery stalls – the crêpe cake looked pretty good!

Gourmet Korean rice cakes - much more colourful and detailed than average ones!

Gourmet Korean rice cakes – much more colourful and detailed than average ones!

A more "traditional" stall - they sell different varieties of kimchi, and are a little more loud/agressive in their sales techniques ^^

A more “traditional” stall – they sell different varieties of kimchi, and are a little more loud/agressive in their sales techniques ^^

Gift packs for any occasion. I like the meat one!

Gift packs for any occasion. I like the meat one!

Another traditional stall - these guys were selling one of my favourite Korean foods, sweet, chewy rice cakes (tteok).

Another traditional stall – these guys were selling one of my favourite Korean foods, sweet, chewy rice cakes (tteok).

Making the rice cakes

Making the rice cakes

The sit-down/restaurant area of the food court

The sit-down/restaurant area of the food court

More gourmet rice cakes (tteok), with prices to match! This box was about $40, whereas at an average store, they'd probably be about $15-$20

More gourmet rice cakes (tteok), with prices to match! This box was about $40, whereas at an average store, they’d probably be about $15-$20

More gourmet rice cakes (tteok). I like the rose one!

More gourmet rice cakes (tteok). I like the rose one!

Women browsing the international and domestic cheeses section

Women browsing the international and domestic cheeses section

French cheese!

French cheese!

French cheese!

French cheese!

Gourmet chocolates

Gourmet chocolates

Gourmet cooking vineggars

Gourmet cooking vinegars

Kitchenwares for sale on the same floor as the food court. To the left are traditional Korean serving bowls. Quite smart, actually - the metal keeps cold food cold, and hot food hot.

Kitchenwares for sale on the same floor as the food court. To the left are traditional Korean serving bowls. Quite smart, actually – the metal keeps cold food cold, and hot food hot.

Finally, I made a decision: I wanted something sweet, refreshing and preferably a bit cool. Gelato seemed like a good fit, so I chose the mint flavour and made my way up to the fifth floor.

I didn’t take any photos, but the fifth floor actually houses a number of sit-down style restaurants indoors. I thought the Skygarden was the only place on that floor, and was a bit surprised to see otherwise when I got there. It took a while to find too, since the place is set up like a maze and there wasn’t a huge sign saying “SKYGARDEN THIS WAY”.

I found it, though!

Pure bliss! If only it hadn't been so humid and hot.

Pure bliss! If only it hadn’t been so humid and hot.

I chose a table and went to go buy a coffee from the café. At 4,000w ($4) for an ice coffee, it wasn’t exactly cheap. Although these are Gangnam prices, I suppose.

My mint gelato - so nice!

My mint gelato – so nice!

My little gelato cone

My little gelato cone

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (36 of 49)

I’m not really sure what these tree things were supposed to be!

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (37 of 49) Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (38 of 49)

Tree decorations

Tree decorations

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (40 of 49) Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (41 of 49)

The garden seemed to be really popular with families. Parks, or just general community green spaces are very hard to come by in Seoul. This place is a bit of a hidden oasis.

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (42 of 49)

Art on one of the walls

Art on one of the walls

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (44 of 49)

Lots of chairs to hang out in

Lots of chairs to hang out in

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (46 of 49)

My little work station

My little work station

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (48 of 49)

Father and son kicking a soccer ball

Father and son kicking a soccer ball

The Skygarden at the Apgujeong Hyundai Department Store is definitely worth a quick visit.

Here are the details:

  • Directions: Apgujeong station, line #3 (orange line), exit 6. Hyundai Department Store is directly connected to the station. Skygarden is on the 5th floor; food court is in B1.
  • Hours: 10:30am to 8:00pm; closed one Monday a month (chosen randomly)
  • Website: http://www.ehyundai.com/newPortal/eng/dp_main_01.jsp?swfseq=0
Map to Hyundai Department Store (Photo: Vist Korea)

Map of Apgujeong area – Hyundai Department store is at the top left (Photo: Vist Korea)

Advertisements

Exploring the Beauty of Yongjusa Temple

Yongjusa – in Korean, it means “temple of the dragon with a magic ball”.

With a history as rich as its name and stretching back to the 10th century AD, Yongjusa is a major temple in the Jogye order of Korean Buddhism.

I had the chance to visit Yongjusa (located in the city of Hwaseong) on a recent trip with Invest Korea / KOTRA (Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency). During our trip, we visited a couple foreign-invested companies in Korea’s Gyeonggi region, before grabbing lunch in the countryside.

Needless to say, the fresh air, nature, and calm atmosphere was a welcome change from the usual hustle-and-bustle of Seoul.

The restaurant sign reads "sangroksu"

The restaurant sign reads “sangroksu”

Taking the dirt path to 상록수

Taking the dirt path to 상록수

A rice field on the way to the restaurant

A rice field on the way to the restaurant

Chickens outside the restaurant/house!

Chickens outside the restaurant/house!

Typical Korean-style table setting: tons of small side-dishes surround the main dish, which hadn't arrived at this point.

Typical Korean-style table setting: tons of small side-dishes surround the main dish, which hadn’t arrived at this point.

Marinated crab side dish

Marinated crab side dish

My favourite! Tteok (sweet, chewy rice cake)

My favourite! Tteok (sweet, chewy rice cake)

Yummy tteok (pronounced "dock")

Yummy tteok (pronounced “dock”)

A poster in the restaurant

A poster in the restaurant

Looks like 상록수 (Sanroksu) had been featured on TV a few times

Looks like 상록수 (Sanroksu) had been featured on TV a few times

After wrapping up lunch, we were back on the bus and on our way to Yongjusa.

Yongjusa was built after a previous temple standing in its place burnt down in the late 800s. Its name, “temple of the dragon with a magic ball”, was chosen after the King who built it had a dream before the construction began. In it, a dragon descended from the heavens holding a magic ball in its mouth.

The King Jeongju of Korea’s Joseon dynasty built the temple as a memorial and tomb to his late father.

Now, it’s a major cultural and historic site located in the city of Hwaseong, just south of Seoul…

Entering the temple grounds..

Entering the temple grounds..

Statues near the entrance

Statues near the entrance

InvestKorea - Trip #3 (34 of 62) InvestKorea - Trip #3 (35 of 62)

Our tour guide

Our tour guide

InvestKorea - Trip #3 (37 of 62) InvestKorea - Trip #3 (38 of 62) InvestKorea - Trip #3 (39 of 62)

A lion statue

A lion statue

InvestKorea - Trip #3 (41 of 62) InvestKorea - Trip #3 (42 of 62) InvestKorea - Trip #3 (43 of 62)

Upcoming celebration?

Upcoming celebration?

InvestKorea - Trip #3 (45 of 62)

Another tour group - maybe Templestay participants?

Another tour group – maybe Templestay participants?

InvestKorea - Trip #3 (47 of 62) InvestKorea - Trip #3 (48 of 62)

A pond on the temple grounds

A pond on the temple grounds

InvestKorea - Trip #3 (50 of 62) InvestKorea - Trip #3 (51 of 62)

So many Buddhas!

So many Buddhas!

InvestKorea - Trip #3 (53 of 62) InvestKorea - Trip #3 (54 of 62) InvestKorea - Trip #3 (55 of 62)InvestKorea - Trip #3 (57 of 62)

Interesting tidbit - the artwork here was inspired by the painter's visits to Europe, where he saw Orthodox Christian paintings of saints. Can  you see the similarities? (mainly the halos)

Interesting tidbit – the artwork here was inspired by the painter’s visits to Europe, where he saw Orthodox Christian paintings of saints. Can you see the similarities? (mainly the halos)

InvestKorea - Trip #3 (60 of 62) InvestKorea - Trip #3 (61 of 62)

A map to Yongjusa

A map to Yongjusa

You can get to Yongjusa through taking subway line #1 to Byeongjeom Station; about an hour and ten minute’s ride from Seoul.

Also, those interested in doing a Templestay at Yongjusa can find out more on their website here.

Visiting the DMZ: Imjingak and Cheol Won

On Sunday, I went with some friends to the DMZ. We went with a tour company called “WinK” (When in Korea), which I’d heard great things about. The thing that was so attractive about this tour was that it covered double the sites that most DMZ tours cover – we went to the Imjingak and Cheolwon areas of the DMZ, while most other companies just visit one or the other. The price was 47,000w (about $43 CAD), which was a very good deal.

At the crack of dawn Sunday morning, I headed over to the the subway. First off, grabbed some breaky at McDonald’s (as those who know me well understand that I’m a grumpy you-know-what without fuel in the morning!). It was 6:00am, and most people were just coming back from the bar. I ran into a few guy friends from CAU and then headed to the subway to meet my friends Janna (from Finland) and Kristina (from Lithuania) before departing to the tour meeting spot.

We made it there on 10 minutes early – perfect timing. The bus rolled up and we were on our way!

Sadly, once I was at the subway station I realized that I’d forgotten my passport – a REQUIRED item if you intend to enter the DMZ area! It would be too late to run back to the dorms now. I frantically called William, the tour leader and explained my situation. He seemed a bit uneasy but reassured me that he would figure something out. Thank god he did!

——–

Part 1 of the DMZ Tour: Imjingak

First Stop: Freedom Bridge

The Freedom Bridge is so significant because it connects South and North Korea.

Hyundai’s late founder, Chung Ju-yung, is widely loved in Korea. He was a North Korean defector who stole a cow from his father to help finance his escape to the south. After gaining incredible success in the South, Chung sent 1,001 cows over the border via the Freedom Bridge as interest on the cow, and as an act of aid that the North Koreans could truly appreciate.

Image

A bronze relief depicting the Korean War near the Freedom Bridge.

Image

A very powerful memorial… Stones from war zones around the world were gathered and made into a monument here

Image

The Peace Wall

Image

DMZ “guards” on the bridge near the Freedom Bridge

Image

Ribbons with prayers for peace and unification between the two Koreas.

Image

I liked the contrast between the ribbons and barbed wire in this  photo.

Image

Ribbons symbolizing a unified Korea.

Image

Me with the bridge in the background.

Image

Photos with images of the war that lined the bridge

Image

I have no idea what this says!

Image

One of the many ribbons on the bridge

Image

With Janna (left) and Kristina (right).

Image

It was so cold! But nice and sunny.

Image

Painting of a unified Korea

Image

Doing the tacky tourist pose with the little guard!

Third stop: Tunnel #3

Next up was Tunnel #3. The North Koreans dug a series of tunnels to the south with the intention of secretly invading Seoul. A defector tipped the South Koreans off, et voilà, the North Koreans’ secret was out. Several tunnels were found and are now tourist sites (although photography is forbidden, which is why you won’t find any pictures here on my blog).

Image

At the 3rd Tunnel

Image

This was a film we got to watch before entering the tunnel

Image

A very powerful image of a man who was presumably separated from someone across the DMZ

Image

 

The “Axe Incident”

Image

DMZ model

Image

Some SK Soldiers…

Image

Janna and Kristina pushing together the globe for peace & unification!

Image

One of the observatories we visited

Image

Off to Dorosan Station, one of the places I’d been most looking forward to!

Image

Dorosan Station

Image

It was built as a symbolic gesture. The hope is that one day, after unification, a railway will be created to go across the peninsula and thereby connect Korea with the rest of Asia and Europe.

Image

A map explaining this concept in detail

Image

To Pyeongyang!

Image

I was a little hesitant about taking this photo, but at the last minute I changed my mind (YOIKO!).

Image

A description outside the station.

After Imjingak, we were off to the Cheolwan area!

Image

Here is a statue of a Korean figure comparable to Robin Hood. This area was the place he hung out most in. We decided to eat lunch fast and then visit the canyon he relaxed in.

Image

This was the restaurant our guide reccomended, and he even called in ahead to take pre-orders. Within a few minutes of sitting down, our meals were delivered to us piping hot. We had the choice between bulgogi (Korean marinated beef) or doslot bibimbap (mixed veggies + raw egg on top of rice, served in a hot clay bowl). I’d had the cold version of bibimbap before and sort of liked it, but this hot version blew my mind! The hot bowl makes the rice all warm and a little crispy on the outside, while also cooking the raw egg.

With bimbimbap, you need to take a spoon and mash up all the ingredients together…

Image

Before…

Image

…And after! The result was a warm, delicious bowl of irresistible comfort food. I know I’ll be having that dish again sometime!

Image

This was the beautiful canyon area where the Korean Robin Hood would find solace in…

Image

Gorgeous!

Image

A ferry boat was doing tours, but our time was rather limited.

Image

Getting a bit mischievous….

Image

Image

Nothing says “trip to the DMZ” like a ride on a carousal! This place was eeeeeerie, and just seemed out of place at such a solemn area. You should note that PSY’s “Gangnam Style” was playing in the background.

After the canyon, we were off to the next observatory….

Image

Staring out into North Korea! The faint white triangle in the middle of the landscape is a North Korean propaganda village. The area next to the DMZ has very few (if any) NK civilians living there, so the village just serves as storage, training, and the occasionally housing facility for the NK military stationed there. You may be able to see a very small rectangle in front the of the triangle. Through the binoculars I was using, I could actually see what was on it. It was a propaganda poster, featuring a woman in hanbok (traditional Korean dress) holding a child. The writing in Korean was too hard to read, and  I can barely understand the language anyways ^^

Image

South Korean outpost?

Image

On top of that mountain to the right is a North Korean outpost. Apparently, you can sometimes see a NK guard on duty, walking back and forth. I guess he was on his lunch break (lol), because I didn’t see him.

Image

Next, we were off to a monument commemorating a famous battle at “White Horse Hill”. It was a pretty similar story to Vimy Ridge.

Image

Our guide, an enthusiastic young SK soldier.

Image

A really cool relief made with the bullet shells of the battle.

Image

The sculpture at the top of the hill (again very similar to Vimy)

Image

The battle was so intense that some of the soldiers’ guns even melted from the heat of firing too much.

Image

Another bronze relief; made the same way (melted bullet shells)

Image

A pavilion at the top of the mountain

Image

The tour guide’s dog! So cute and well-behaved!

———————

Overall an AWESOME experience. I would recommend WiNK for any future tours. They were well-organized, efficient, and our guide (William Cho) taught us a lot about Korean history and the DMZ situation. As someone who has a minor obsession with North Korea, I went into this tour thinking I wouldn’t learn more than I already knew, but I was wrong. William gave some great insight into Korean and international politics. It was the perfect balance of being taught history and actually experiencing it. AWESOME tour.

Photos of NK souvenirs to come!