Seoul Day 2 – T-Money, Deoksugung Palace, Myeongdong and Bibimbap!

Posted on September 8, 2010


The rain that would accompany me and my sister throughout our holiday in Seoul had begun from 7a.m, when we woke up for our first hotel breakfast. Despite waking up so early, we were still jetlagged and didn’t even leave the hotel until 9a.m, which meant we missed the highlight “Changing of the guards,” show from our first sightseeing spot- Deoksugung Palace.

T-Money Card

T-Money card

But before we could even entertain the thought of walking through the palace grounds we had to tackle our 1st metro/subway ride using our newly purchased T-Money cards; the whole process is a simple affair, especially if you come from London and have experience of using an oyster card, where you swipe the card over the scanner when you enter and exit the tube station;-it’s pretty much that, except your oyster card can take the form of a Hello Kitty keyring or any other Seoulite T-Money card on offer. Inside all the underground stations they will have machines where you can top up your T-Money, a process that is so simple once you’ve selected “English” from language menu. The simple process of topping up your card is this:

Select your language= choose to top up your T-Money card= choose the amount you want to top up= place your T-Money card in the scanning tray= insert money= wait for the money to load= Finished, remove your card!

Now in the past post I spoke about the hotel (Doulos) we were staying at, and one of the key reasons why I chose this hotel was because of it’s location- particular it’s station (Jongno 3 ga) location, which links you to pretty much everywhere you want to get to in Seoul, and for Deoksugung Palace, it was just 2 tube stops away at “City Hall”!

Deoksugung Palace

Colourful roof at Deoksugung Palace

At every single one of the palaces in Seoul, you’ll be able to pick up a cool mini brochure explaining the palace’s history, it’s buildings and even a bit of info about the other palaces in Seoul- I highly recommend you pick these up for the information they offer and maybe to even keep as a souvenir of your trip?

Out of all the palaces in Seoul, I think that this and Jongmyo Shrine were some of the smaller ones I had visited but I may be wrong about Deoksugung because a big part of the palace grounds were closed off for refurbishment  so there were a few buildings on the brochure which I couldn’t actually go see myself. However, for only 1,000 won entry (approx 56 pence!) it is well worth a visit!

Upon entering the palace there is a choice of 2 paths you can take to begin your tour- we took the one on the right as it was preceded by some lovely looking, very Asian, trees and we could see one of the first few buildings in the distance and were keen to explore.

Taking this path was abit of a pain and here’s a TIP for all you future visitors to Deoksugung and any of the other palaces; if it’s raining on the day you plan to visit, then definitely wear boots or some sort of footwear that reaches higher than your ankles because most palaces will have gravelly paths, and the annoying sort of gravel which is really tiny and easily jumps into your shoes whenever you take a step- we learnt the hard way when we had to find a quiet place to take off our shoes and wipe all the gravel we had accumulated away- icky!

Walking through the large doors of this walled, compound on the right side of the palace grounds you are immediately hit by the sight of 2 beautiful buildings- both built on concrete plinths and both with vivid coloured roofs, as you might have seen in pictures about Seoul! Wow! As this was our 1st palace visit, it was a great sight to see.

Behind these 2 buildings was as small wooded area with a path leading up to “Jeonggwan-Heon” building- walking up the steps of this open sided, pillared building we could take a little respite away from the constant rain; if you want, you can take off your shoes and walk into the carpeted area of the building and sit on one of the wooden chairs which ‘re-enact’ the scene of meetings which used to take place around the large wooden table.

Walking around the palace grounds there were so many more similar buildings, and then surprisingly a pond set infront of a very modern looking (kind of like the White House) building where a museum is housed- we didn’t enter the museum because I was being cheap and didn’t want to pay more for entry LOL.

Junghwamun Gate

Finally, your trip around the palace will end at the famous “Junghwamun” gate- a gate which had become ingrained in my mind before my trip to Seoul, because it was included in so many tourism websites- in reality, the gate is undeniably grand and when you stand before the gate, with “Junghwa-Jeoang” building framed behind it, you really begin to feel like you’re in Seoul… I don’t know why?

Myeongdong – Beauty Shopping Heaven!

It would be a LONG if I try to explain all the things about Myeongdong in one post so, I’ll dedicate one indiviudal post about shopping in the area HERE, so you can read it without getting eye-ache? hehe.

But in short, to tie up this post nicely, I found that Myeongdong was a fab area to buy all the Korean beauty products you crave, because just off the main crossroads of the streets you’ll be able to find Nature Republic, Tony Moly, Skin Food, The Face Shop, Etude House and SO many other stores all in this area! Also, a nice touch is a that outside of these stores there will always be a salesperson tempting you into the store with a freebie (eg, I got cotton pads, ice cream, drinks etc) and then you get more freebies thrown in if you’ve made a purchase at the store!

Despite it being a beauty shopping haven, I found that shopping for clothes in the area was a bit more of a struggle because of the haggling needed and the generally tense environment of the stalls and stall owners! But you can read a bit more about that on my other individual post about shopping in Myeongdong (link at the top).

Gogung’s Bibimbap!

Gogung restaurant

In, the only decent guide book about Seoul, “Lonely Planet” and through tourism websites online, there was a restaurant whose name and fame constantly popped up and recommended for it’s offerings of the traditional dish Bibimbap; at “Gogungs” I was told to expect to find the best and most popular place to eat this hot stone pot of rice- where patrons would crowd and queue up to wait and get in to taste the dish. On the day I went, there was no queue, but the fame of the restaurant meant that there were a few patrons there.

To locate the restaurant you really have to keep your eyes peeled, and I happened to stumble upon it by chance! Upon entering the main parade of Myeongdong (the end where there is Migliore at the entrance), you walk down the parade until you reach the first crossroad of shops, here you turn right and then (keeping to the left hand side) you walk down for about 10 minutes until you find Gogungs. The restaurant’s facade is simply painted and pretty unoticeable, nestled between the other more brightly lit restaurants, but you’ll know you’ve reached the right place when you see the fake plastic dishes of food in the window, which represent the Bibimbap dishes they sell.

Inside the restaurant we were sat on the 1st floor, beside some nuns- which always makes me feel tense, because I’m afraid I’d offend them in some weird way.

Thankfully the menu has English translations and the waitress spoke some English- if not the case, simply pointing to the pictures would suffice really! We chose to buy one of their Hot Bibimbap (the cold version had raw egg and beef in it and came in a gold colour bowl instead of the sizzling stone pot bowl) and a Squid Pajeon (pancake). This would be my 1st and only time experiencing a true Korean meal which came with side dishes and all (as you can see in the picture).

Gogung's Bibimbap

Never have I seen so many side dishes! Unfortunately my palette can’t really handle spicy food (as you will see if/when you read my post about Day 7 in Seoul!) and so the side dishes were wasted on me, because they were mostly spicy. However, I did like the beansprout/spring onion soup, mini mixed leaf salad and (not in the picture) the sweet tea they gave us in the end… damn, I wanted to buy that tea but I didn’t know what it was!

The Squid Pancake, especially the batter, was lovely. It came out on a very large dish and was hot as we ate it- the squid content was a bit much at times and made it difficult to bite through a slice of the pancake, so you had to sometimes stuff the whole lot in your mouth! Also, the pancake wasn’t naturally spicy (it didn’t have peppers mixed into it), instead there were red peppers sprinkled in it, which you could easily pick out if you couldn’t handle the taste. Definitely a must try!

Now, the famous Bibimbap was brought over to us, all sizzling and hot! To eat Bibimbap you have to mix all of the contents together so that they can be further cooked (especially the raw egg on top) and the rice can become crispy at the bottom! Whilst I loved the flavorings of the Bibambap with each distinct flavor slowly revealing itself whilst you chew through each bite, I struggled with the spiciness of the dish! Yes, the Bibimbap was naturally spicy- I should’ve figured because on the plane ride over to Seoul, the bibimbap we were served on board came with a whole tube of pepper which you could mix in- so I’m guessing they probably mixed in more than a tube full of pepper paste for this dish. If you can handle the hot stuff then definitely order the hot bibimbap- the flavors are so nice and when you reach the crispy rice at the bottom it’s sooo good!

In all, including 2 drinks- our meal came to 33,000 won, which is about £18, and not a bad price for 2 people considering the size of the squid pancake, the side dishes you get and just for the whole authenticity of the experience! After visiting Gogung I can understand why it comes so highly recommended- and I continue by passing on my recommendations as well! It was a nice way to create memories and end our 2nd day in Seoul 🙂

Posted in: Seoul