Monday, July 19, 2010

Korea - The Final Part

Seoul-Ho Chi Mink City-Kuala Lumpur

This was the final night we are spending in Seoul, Korea. The hotel Stay 7 where we are putting up is located on an island which bears many similarities with Manhattan Island in USA. One similarity is it being the business district of Seoul and thus it is also known as Manhattan and there is even Manhattan hotel beside our Stay 7 Hotel.
Since we checked in at almost 9 PM at the hotel and we will be checking out very early the next day, I didn't really have much time to explore the area around the hotel and thus couldn't write much about the area.
The next day we checked out at 7 AM without any breakfast at the hotel as we usually do. Breakfast was arranged at another restaurant en route to the airport. This quite convenient it seems.

Early morning pose infront of the hotel.

Then we rode the bus to the place breakfast. Since we have collected some money among us to tip the helper Mr. Jeung, Tuan haji Shafie was elected to present the gift. I doubt anyone knows how much was collected as we just passed the plastic bag around.

It was a Korean breakfast for us mainly comprising of kimchi and seaweed which I managed to down them all. A half boiled egg and some bread brought by Lucy the tourist guide helped those who can't take the Korean original dish.

On the shelves inside the restaurants are some souvenir samples that can be bought at the shop below. Now I know why we were made to stop at this restaurant. It was the last stop where we could finish our Korean Won or US dollars that we had on us. For those who still need a few more souvenirs to take home, this is the last chance though the price marked were definitely highly marked up. This is a good tactic and Malaysia should emulate it to extract the last bit of money from travellers before they depart for their next destination.
I found this beautiful kitchen knife which was priced at a hefty USD 35.00 an amount I could easily pay for a Victorinox. Well since we have quite a bit of unspent budget, we bought it. The knife is beautiful to look at as well as very sharp.

We bought a 24 carat plated plate with the Korean symbol.

It has found a place among our collection of plates.

We landed at Ho Chi Minh City airport.

A local tourist guide took us in a bus to our hotel.

A beautiful Pagoda along the way.

Poster of what is showing at the movies. This shows the film industry in Vietnam is still thriving.

Instead of taking us direct to the hotel, we were taken to a shop selling all sort of food. The main item was coffee. I recalled reading somewhere that not all Vietnam coffee is halal because some people roasted the bean in lard. I told my other half about it but she seemed to pooh pooh what I said. I abstained from drinking the coffee and had tea instead. She loves coffee and tasted her Vietnam coffee and fortunately she did not buy any to take home seeing that I wasn't drinking it despite my love for coffee.
Later somebody told her that Vietnam coffee are like the 'kopi musang' in Indonesia where the best coffee comes through the backside of the musang. That I concurred and made her angry that i did not tell her earlier. Hey didn't I try to caution her?

There were all sort of things they tried to sell to our group but not many of us were interested as many of us had already decided on what things to buy at Ben Than market.
We checked in into our hotel.
Tan hai Long Hotel is quite close to Ben Than Market and all we need is to walk to it.
The hotel room is cosy and the internet connection is good and free.
Some of the ladies wanted to buy 'telekong' (prayer robefor ladies). For that we were taken on a very short unnecessary bus ride. I guess the tour guide wanted to mislead into thinking that the place was far from the hotel and thus we would not be able to go on our own. Going on our own will mean cutting off his commission, a real necessity for him in this business.
While waiting for the wife to buy the 'telekung', there was a sudden electrical outage in the area. Then suddenly we saw some outlets bringing out standby generators. Such power failures seems to be a normal thing in Vietnam or at leat in Ho Chi Minh City.
A 14 year old girl was accosting me to buy some beautiful fans. She was selling them at USD10 for 10. Though I didn't want to buy them, she was persistent and hang around me like a lost cat. I tried to get her to go by taking a picture of her which she avoided by opening the fan across her face.

Sensing that she could make me buy her items by letting me take her picture, she brought the fan down. Ain't she pretty?

We walked back to the hotel. on the way we stopped at Ben Than market. There are lots of things you can buy in the market. make sure you stop there when you are in Saigon. This is how the market look from afar.

Dinner that night was again at the 4 Season restaurant, a restaurant operated by the Champa Malays. Told you the food there was so so.

That night it was another round of shopping at the street market around the Ben Than market close to the hotel. Some of the stalls were at the doorsteps of the hotel at the back entrance.

Here the other half is buying some T shirts for the male family members. price are cheap and the quality acceptable though the brands are obviously fake.

Initially we bought the yellow wooden container. Later when it was almost closing time, your truly was made to rush down to buy the more colorful one to make a pair.

This is how the city look at night near the hotel.

Pretty paintings on hotel walls. How I wish I could explore the city for such art work. Saigon is city with many talented artists, only one must know where to go.

We were up quite early the next day. We were checking out after having breakfast at the hotel. While waiting for our bus to coma, we spent sometime at the free internet station available at the hotel lobby. Below Aizat and his mum were using the internet too. They almost missed the flight home as his father Mohamad Yusoff had ofted to use the safety deposit box provided in our room to keep their passport. The box refused to open up and the hotel could not assist them despite calling for an expert. They had to wait for the supplier in Bangkok to come into office to give further instruction. Later a master password was received from Bangkok and they managed to open the box. They had to take a taxi to the airport as the bus could not wait for them. Luckily they were still in time to catch the flight home.

As usual the roads in saigon is teeming with motorbikes.

The wearing of safety helmets is now mandatory in Vietnam. hence you can see them being sold by the roadside.
Coffee corners are available around the city for breakfast. locals have their breakfast there before going to work.
The parks are used for recreation and exercise by the locals.
Finally our Tour Leader Norma representing POTO Travel and Tours Sdn Bhd, thanked the group for travelling wiith the company.

Pak Zawi slouching on a bench while waiting for the flight home. Though tiring, we did enjoy this trip to Korea which included stop overs in Saigon.

Korea Part 2

I haven't mentioned the mosque in Seoul. This mosque is the centre for the Moslem enclave in Seoul. For the whole of Korea there are about 35,000 Moslems. This mosque in Seoul is located near another Moslem retaurant where we came for our dinner. The mosque is perched on a small hill and we had to walk slowly past it to reach the restaurant.

For the second day our itinerary was the much waited visit to Nami Island in Gangwon Province. The island was made famous by the television series Winter Sonata. It is popular even among Malasysians.
Before the departure we had breakfast at the hotel. For the first time I tasted Korean food and I fell in love with kimchi, which is cabbage pickled with chilli. I had some cerals and toasts too for good measure.

Beside kimchi, sea weeds and mushrooms are the other ingredient that I could identify.

Tuan Haji Shafie was caught buttering his toast.

Some of the ladies will not leave the hotel without having their photograph taken in front of it.
The ride to Nami Island was a good ride. There wasn't much incline for the bus to negotiate as many tunnels were built where hills were involved.
Though subways are available at about 12 meters underground, Korea is set to be underground highways at 60 meters deep. Did you hear that?
We reached the jetty at Nami Island. Since we were on a package tour, we did not need to buy the ticket which be considered as the Visa to enter the Republic of Nami.

Since you need a Visa to get there, you have to pass the immigration checkpoint where you have to show your ticket to the staff on duty.

The ferry to Nami Island has standing room only since the ride is only less than 10 minutes. Fortunately the idea to build a bridge to the island was scrapped as it would only lead to pollution. The only vehicle allowed on the islands are electric powered vehicles or mechanical contraption that require leg muscles to propel it.

A briefing about Nami Island upon arrival. We were told that the grave of General Nami after whom the island is named, is found on the island.

Not far from the jetty we saw a group of people in traditional costumes making offerings to the dead.

They were singging while accompanied to drum beats and a few other traditional instruments.

Lucy has decided that those couples in the group must make some form of proposal to their spouse. There were 5 couples in the group but only two couples were game enough to do it. One of the two couples is of course Pak Zawi and his wife Fatthiyah. The rest of the group were witnesses to the proposal. In Pak Zawi's proposal he gave Nami Island to his wife.

There is a 6 star hotel on Nai Island. It is the only 6 star hotel without any television in the hotel. After waiting foralmost a year for it's rating from the Korean Tourism Authority without any response, the hotel management decided to award itself with a 6 star rating.

The hotel reception is set some distance away from the hotel thus guests staying at the hotel will not be bothered by people making room enquiries or when checking in.

The hotel from a distance.

There were lots of sculptures on the island. My guess is that these works of art were made from whatever remnants of construction left on it.
This one is made of wood.
While this one is made of steel plates.

The most photograph picture on the island is of course of the actor Bae Yong Jun and actress Choi Ji Woo. Most people would sit on the bench and be photographed against the backdrop of the actor and actresses.
In real life Bae Yong Jun was once a little Mafia terrorising the neighbourhood children. He changed his ways after gaining popularity as an actor. As a form of repentece, he employed the very people that he had bullied during his youth.

If you can't afford the 6 star hotel on Nami Island, you can always sleep in this thached igloo like huts available not far from Nami Island Hotel.

Beside electric bicycles and tri cycles available for hire on the island, there are also quadcycles available. See how eco friendly is tourism in this Republic.

By noon we were done with Nami Island. While waiting for the ferry ride to the mainland, we did or Zohor and Asar prayers near the jetty.
A short bus ride took us to a Korean Restaurant for lunch. It was authentic Korean lunch and instead of grilled chicken we were served grilled fish with rice to ensure a truly halal meal. The restaurant owner and our local guide was so happy since we enjoyed the food served there. The restaurant owner was overjoyed when I mentioned in Korean 'Ma Sit Sum Ni Da' meaning 'It is delicious' some Korean words I picked up from the travel phamplets.
After another long bus ride, we reached our hotel The Songtan Tourist Hotel loacated in Gyonggi-do Pyeongtaek City.

I like this hotel as it is quite comfortable with free internet connection. If you have no broadband cable, you can ask from the counter with a 3000 won returnable deposit. From now onward, I will not forget to bring along such a cable when I have my laptop with me on my travel.

For dinner, Lucy Kim the local guide had arranged for us the Japanese seafood restaurant.

This is what we had, some crabs, cuttle fish and whatever else to be shared among the four of us sitting crosslegged around this low table. Noticeably absent is the loctopus tentacles to be swallowed live as an authentic Japanese food.

Since there was ample time before breakfast is served at 7 AM, I took a walk around the hotel area to sample part of Pyeongtaek City.

Sign of the French influence in Korea, a French bakery.

I saw workers cleaning up the streets after a street market the night before. Look, the workers had to run to keep up with the vehicles which moved ahead to the next pick up point. That way no time is lost for the workers to hitch on the vehicle since it was a short distance away.

les Vity taxis waiting for customers. Luxurious Koreans vehicles were used.

This street was a busy street market in the evening.

Hang Ten, the brand that I used to wear when I was living in Labis Johor in the 70's. The material is of a very good quality.

Free newspapers on a lamp pole.

A luxury car parked so close to the railway line. I guess this line is not in use anymore.

Branded goods.
By 7 AM I was back for breakfast at the hotel. Lucy Kim told us that in Korea labour is scarce and we have to send our used dishes after use. Non of us remembered to do that and Lucy reminded us after that.
Labour (cheap labour) is scarce in Korea. In all of Korea only about 30,ooo expatriates are available. Compare that to the millions that we have in Malaysia.

Lucy Kim, our guide and Pae Yun Jun, her assistant cum cameraman, joined us for breakfast. Pae used to work elsewhere before earning about 1.7 million Won (equivalent to RM5,000) a month which is a very low income in Korea and will not be sufficient to make ends meet.

I saw a stair leading up to the hotel rooftop so I sneaked up to shoot some photograph and video of the city from the roof top.

Before boarding the bus for our visit to Everland theme park, I saw these 3 girls from our group posing for the camera. We the elderly were perflexed as to what they were doing. They were making the heart sign as a symbol of love with their hands.
Everland, here we come! This guy was directing our bus to head for the bus parking lot quite a distance away. Only cars were allowed to be parked near the entrance to the park. From the bus parking areas, shuttle busses will take us to the entrance.

Queeing to ride the shuttle bus.

The main entrance to the park.

A huge colorful tree greeted us upon entering the main entrance. Upon checking, the tree was a synthetic tree so the colors will remain throughout the four seasons.

Any way the flowers in the planter box at the base of the tree are real flowers.
The first thing we were shown was the landmark building where we must gather at 1.30 PM at the end of the visit to the park.

We rode the cable cars to get down to the area where the action is.

The highest roller coaster as seen from the cable cars. This roller coaster is of course not recconmended for the faint hearted elderly people like me.
We took another bus ride to visit the zoo within the park compound. Unlike our Zoo Negara, the animals here are not caged up. They have ample space to roam like they do in nature. Only difference is that they are fed.

Some Siberian Tigers.
Beside the tigers we saw some bears, lions, girrafe and elephants. The most exciting was of course the ligers which was a cross between the Lion and the tiger.
Next we were taken on a water ride which simulate the raft ride on a fast flowing river of the Amazon. It was quite fun. Before we were allowed to see the rest of the park on our own, we were taken to see a 3D movie. The characters seemed to come close at us as if they were the real thing and our bodies moved in tune to the movement on the screen.It was an experience that first timers like me enjoyed immensely.

Waiting to enter the 3D cinema hall.
Then we were free to roam on our own. Since no lunch were provided, we had to survive onwhatever we carried in our lunch pack. Most of us brought along instant mee in cups where only hot water need to be added to give us instant noodles.

The cascading water wall.

The Four Seasons Garden in full bloom.
The rose garden near where we had some bread for lunch and did our Zohor and Asar prayers to the stares of passerbys.
There is alot more to see and experience in Everland but being a hot day, we now crave to be back in our air conditioned bus to head back to Seoul City.
We did not head directly to our hotel but instead we were taken to another part of Seoul for abit more shopping while waiting for an early dinner at the restaurant near to the mosque in the top picture above.
It was already dark when we checked in at our hotel. My friend David had come to the hotel earlier and the reception had told him that our group would be checking in at 9.00 PM. By a twist of fate the lift we were in didn't stop at my floor and we somehow were brought back to the lobby and when the lift door opened, there I saw David talking to the receptionist. My one wish to meet David Ritchie in person in Seoul was fullfilled. After sending my wife to our hotel room, David and me adjourned for a cup of coffee at Starbuck not far from hotel Stay Seven where we were to stay for the night.
While surfing for more information about Winter Sonata, I was shocked to learn from the internet that Park Yong-Ha another actor who shot to fame from the TV series Winter Sonata was found dead from an apparent suicide at his mothers home in Seoul some 2 hours ago.