A Tour Around Deoksugung Palace (덕수궁) in Seoul’s Busiest Downtown

After a less strenuous day of sightseeing in Suwon, a lovely reunion dinner with my Korean classmate & visit to our alumni – Sogang University to reminisce about the good old days, I woke up refreshed & energised for a brand new day in Seoul.  As I surfed the social media apps while having my breakfast in the apartment, the Deoksugung Palace (덕수궁) post on seoul_official instagram account that morning caught my attention. The post was a beautiful picture of a willowy cherry blossom tree in front of the Seokjojeon (석조전), publicising the Spring outdoor concert happening every Friday from 12.20 to 1.10 pm till 22 April. That was a Friday, so it meant I could check it out!😉

OK folks, as you know, I’m not really a history person, & Deoksugung Palace wasn’t on my original plan at all. But, the picture looked beautiful & a quick research showed me that this palace is famous for its artistic stone-wall road. It is also the only palace that sits alongside a series of western style buildings, located at a corner of Seoul’s busiest downtown intersection. So hmm… that sounds like a place with some unique scenery for photos? Hence I decided to tweak my itinerary slightly to accommodate this, since it’s conveniently located near City Hall Station (시청역, Seoul Subway Line 1 or 2) exit 2.

Chanced upon the changing of royal guards ceremony at Daehanmun

Well, the palace isn’t far from my apartment, but I took my own sweet time & only arrived at the tail end of the Changing of Royal Guards Ceremony (the ceremony started at 11 am) at the palace main gate – Daehanmun (대한문).😛 It was quite interesting to see the royal guards marched from the ancient palace & past the modern buildings surrounding it. After the ceremony, I walked to the left side of Daehanmun & was delighted to find a long row of flea market stalls. There were many people crowding around the stalls & I also joined in (hey, I haven’t really shopped after 1 week in Korea you know! Hehe). Probably because of the central location of this flea market by the palace, most looked like office employees who were out for lunch break.

Deoksugung Palace 2

I couldn’t effectively multi-task: take more photos of what the stalls were selling & shop at the same time. Apologies!😛 Not sure if you can read the text on the plaque above, it’s actually an interesting writeup on why the artist of the Jangdockdae (장독대 in top left photo) created these deflated 3-generation family figures. The Jangdockdae is a place where different sizes of traditional ferment sauce jars are stored together. Taking care of these traditional sauce jars – Jangdock (장독), & making sure they are handed down to the next generation, is a very important job of the women in the family. So the artist was inspired to create these deflated figures after seeing the Jangdockdae covered in snow.

After a little shopping therapy along this street, I found myself craving for some warm Korean food, & so stepped into this cosy-looking restaurant, on the left of the stone-wall street, called 명동할머니국수 – 시청점 (Myeongdong Grandma’s Noodles – City Hall shop) for lunch.

Tasty kimchi fried rice for lunch!

Tasty kimchi fried rice for lunch!

Guess this restaurant is popular for its noodles since it’s already spelt out in its name, but at that point in time, I was craving for piping hot rice – the likes of dolsot bibimbap. Sad to see only bibimbap on its menu, not in a dolsot (돌솥) aka hot pot, so I ordered the kimchi fried rice (김치볶음밥, KRW5,000/ S$6) instead. Gosh, I was a bit shocked to see a big bowl of fried rice served, but it was so savoury that I finished the whole bowl! Oops.😛 The ingredients were fresh & I loved the taste of its kimchi. Although it was fried, it didn’t feel overly greasy. I also sampled a small bowl of its famous noodles soup that came with my fried rice. Very smooth & chewy noodles, no wonder this restaurant chain has been going strong since it was established in 1958 with numerous shops all over Korea. Great accidental find!😉

After a yummy lunch, I returned to Daehanmun, the palace main gate, pondering whether to purchase an admission ticket (KRW1,000 / S$1.20) to enter the palace so that I could go & check out the outdoor concert. Finally, I decided against entering because the concert had started (oops I forgot to keep track of time)… I tried my luck walking round the palace stone-wall borders instead, in the hope of hearing the music of the concert hahaha. Below are sightings of my walking tour around the charming Deoksugung Palace nestled within the modern city for your viewing pleasure.:)

Excited to see cherry blossoms just beyond the Daehanmun main gate

Excited to see cherry blossoms just beyond the Daehanmun main gate

Deoksugung Palace 5Alas, I didn’t get to hear even a teeny weeny bit of the concert in front of the palace treasure exhibition building – Seokjojeon despite a long stroll of about an hour. Nonetheless, it was a lovely stroll around Deoksugung. Indeed its surroundings of modern sky-high buildings makes this an elegant site not to miss, especially if you have been to the other more popular grand palaces in Seoul such as Gyeongbokgung Palace & Changdeokgung Palace. Come experience the difference for yourself!:)

A Cosy Homestay Right in the Centre of Seoul

After a short 33-min ride on the Mugunghwa train (무궁화호) from Suwon in Gyeonggi-do, I arrived at Seoul Station for the last leg of my spring holidays in South Korea. Returning back to Seoul after 5 days of adventure out of the capital city felt good as I regained my sense of familiarity.😉

When searching for my accommodation in Seoul before the trip, I had narrowed the location to around Seoul Station as I wanted the convenience of being central to almost anywhere in the capital city. Thus, when I saw this room in Liga Apartment Blk 101 on Airbnb, I thought it was too good a deal to miss at S$199 for 4 nights, as it advertised that it was really close to Seoul Station. The host, Aunt Myounghee (명희 아주머니) responded very promptly to my queries & so, I delightfully booked the room without hesitation. Throughout the few weeks before I was supposed to “check in” to my accommodation, she kept in contact with me, advising me on whether my itinerary was workable or not & so on. But gosh, just 1 week before I was supposed to depart for the trip, she messaged me a “bomb”, because she realised she had double-booked me for the 4 nights I was supposed to stay at her apartment! If you had followed my trip posts right from the beginning about my last-minute 1 night stay in Seoul, you would have recalled that the booking was done just 1 week before my trip too!😦 Anyway, that was a week full of surprises (the more appropriate word is “shock”), as if I wasn’t already busy enough with project deadline then. -_-

Aunt Myounghee was very apologetic about it, but she acted promptly for damage recovery too. She had already found a neighbour in the same Liga Apartment compounds, just a different block, who had agreed to help to host me, provided I’m fine with the alternative arrangement. Otherwise, I’m free to cancel the booking & get a full refund if I prefer to book some other accommodation. Upon hearing her suggestion & confirming that the room in the other block has similar amenities at the same price, I agreed to be accommodated at Liga Apartment Blk 104. Afterall, she had been providing me with excellent customer service, & within the same Liga Apartment meant that the location is still centralised. Furthermore, I already had headache trying to find a last-minute 1-night accommodation within my tight budget in Seoul, let alone 4 nights? All I could hope for in this alternative arrangement is, it would be at least of the same standard as the pictures I saw on Airbnb Aunt Myounghee’s original posting (before I stayed, Blk 104 room wasn’t listed on Airbnb).

The night when I was still in Suwon, Aunt Myounghee had already initiated a message to check the time I would arrive at Seoul Station so that she would arrange to pick me up. Technically speaking, as claimed on her Airbnb posting, the apartment is very near to Seoul Station, but because she learnt that I would be travelling for about 1 week before I arrived at her place, she thought that my luggage would be quite bulky & heavy, so she said she’d come pick me up in her car. I only realised that her apartment is actually so close to my 1st night accommodation when in her car! In fact, Liga is slightly nearer to Seoul Station & if you walk out from its basement carpark, turn left & walk straight out to the main road Jungnim-ro (종림로), Silloam Sauna (실로암불가마사우나) is just across the road.:)

The entrance of the popular Silloam Sauna

The entrance of the popular Silloam Sauna

Upon entering the apartment of her neighbour at Blk 104, the host – a friendly granny, gave me a warm welcome. Fortunately, after 6 days of conversing in (broken) Korean (out of no choice, haha), I was able to strike simple conversation with granny. Initially, Aunt Myounghee tried to speak to me in Mandarin, but later, she thought it was better to converse in Korean with the presence of granny. Glad I could understand it all, although my replies were short.😛 I was given a piece of paper with the apartment address written on it, contact details of aunty & granny, & even instructions in Korean to the taxi driver if I need one. So thoughtful of aunty! As granny lives alone & doesn’t use internet, Aunt Myounghee also provided me with a mobile Wi-Fi (yipee!) to “compensate” me for the loss of free Wi-Fi. Granny offered to do my laundry after I asked if I could use the washing machine as I had so many days of soiled clothes! I could do it myself but granny insisted on doing it for me.:)

So much for the long stories. Show you how my cosy homestay looks like.:)

Liga Apartment 1

This room is more spacious than the one at Samsung Cyber Village Apartment, though some may not like because it’s an ondol room with just a thin mattress, but I’m fine with it. The CRT TV you see in the picture above is a white elephant though, it doesn’t work, but it’s alright. Because granny just let me watch whatever TV channels I wished to watch (not that I spent so much time in the apartment) on the huge flat TV screen in the airy living room, even late at night when she was already asleep, as she claimed she wouldn’t be able to hear.😛

The other advantage of staying here was, I had the bathroom entirely to myself, & not had to share it with other flatmates if I were to stay at Aunt Myounghee’s. Granny uses the bathroom in her own master bedroom. So I didn’t have to worry about hogging the bathroom haha. There was an array of toiletries as well as a newly installed hair-dryer in the bathroom. If I had to pick on something, I guess it had to be the small towels in the bathroom. I miss those big bath towels in Hotel Foret Busan Station. Why did all the other accommodations I booked only provide small towels?😦

Granny really treated me so well like her family, that it made me feel so at home. Upon learning that I used to study Korean & stayed in Seoul for 3 months, she was really excited & started asking me questions about where I studied, what did I do then etc, as well as shared her personal stories with me. It was a good opportunity for me to be able to practise my rusty Korean too since she was so chatty. She even prepared a scrumptious Korean breakfast for me on the 2nd morning, after I commented that what she was eating looked very tasty on my 1st morning (I had toast then) there. On my last morning, she made a special egg sandwich for me too.:)

A scrumptious homecooked breakfast of brown rice with bulgogi, kimchi soup & spicy tofu soup (not in pic) as well as lots of kimchi side dshes!

A scrumptious homecooked breakfast of multigrain rice with bulgogi, kimchi soup & spicy tofu soup (not in pic) as well as lots of kimchi side dishes!

Too bad she served the yummy spicy tofu soup (순두부찌개) later & I forgot to take a picture of it. The breakfast may be a simple standard fare to granny, but it was a scrumptious one for me! I especially loved the multigrain rice (잡곡밥) made with barley, black sweet rice,brown sweet rice, green peas, short grain rice, so nutritious & delicious.😉

The apartment also has a mini park & children’s playground on its ground floor for residents to gather & relax. I went down 1 morning to check them out as well as to see the cherry blossom trees.:) In addition, Blk 104 of Liga Apartment is strategically located with no obstructions by other blocks, & I could see N Seoul Tower right from my room & the living room on clear days. Everyday I explored & walked for long periods in the city, so when I returned to the apartment, I could sit back & relax on the large massage chair in the living room to cure my aching feet, while soaking in the beautiful views of the city centre.😉 At night, if the tower lights are blue in colour, it means the weather is good for a walk that day. If it’s red in colour, it means the air condition isn’t so good. Not sure how true as this was the 1st time I’m hearing this, but that was what Aunt Myounghee told me.:) I did see varied colours being lit up at N Seoul Tower for my 4 nights there.😉

Liga Apartment 2

Overall, this was a really great homestay for 4 lovely nights in Seoul. In fact, I thought it was a blessing in disguise that Aunt Myounghee accidentally double-booked me, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy such a cosy & hospitable stay with granny. It may not be a hotel with modern state of the art amenities, or large comfortable bed & real bath towels like my favourite Busan stay, but it made me feel so at ease in Seoul.

After a pleasant & satisfied first guest experience for both parties, granny’s apartment is now officially on Airbnb too as she has decided to join forces with aunty (though my review is tagged to aunty’s apartment)! If you are looking for a central location with a super hospitable host to make you feel at home + you are yearning to practise speaking in Korean, I would highly recommend you to stay here!:)

Visiting the Handicraft Street & Traditional Markets in Suwon

Besides the Hwaseong Fortress, which is the most prominent attraction that draws tourists to Suwon city, it is also worthwhile to spend some time to explore the city’s traditions & historical culture. In case you didn’t know, Suwon is the only remaining completely walled city in South Korea. Thanks to King Jeongjo who called for the construction of the fortified wall of Hwaseong Fortress, partially intended to guard his father’s tomb that was located in the city, as well as an ultimately unsuccessful intention to make Suwon the nation’s capital in 1796.

I recall from the Gyeonggi-do Travel Workshop which I attended at KTO earlier this year, that there are 2 notable traditional markets to visit in Suwon – the Paldalmun Market (팔달문시장) & the Jidong Market (지동시장). Both boast extensive areas with a wide variety of shops selling food, poultry, household goods, clothing etc. They are located around the neighbourhood of the south gate, or Paldalmun as the locals call it, together with Yeongdo Market (영도시장). Collectively, this area serves as the main business district of Suwon, where more than 300 stores & stalls are joined to make a large market place, with an interesting mix of traditional & modern shops.

Suwon Paldalmun Market

Suwon Jidong Market

Guess I entered the market from the poultry section, all the stalls were selling poultry…

Quaint neighbourhood lined with both traditional & modern shops with the Paldalmun in the background

Quaint neighbourhood lined with both traditional & modern shops with the Paldalmun in the background

I didn’t have much time to shop in this quaint neighbourhood, only less than 1.5 hours before the marketplace closes at 9 pm. In fact, the markets were pretty quiet when I arrived after 7.30 pm, although it was still quite “happening” on the road where I could find modern shops. So I think it’s better to explore these traditional markets in the day if possible! In fact, if you are the type who loves visiting markets everywhere, you’re spoilt for choice in Suwon. Because there are a total of 22 markets of large sizes in the city, waiting for you to explore.:)

The next day, after visiting the famous Hwaseong Haenggung (화성행궁), I walked along Haenggung-gil to explore the mini-Insadong of Suwon – the Gongbang Street (공방거리), which means “crafts shop street” in Korean. This street is lined with little crafts shops, galleries, cafes & restaurants.

Suwon Gongbang Street 1

Look up to the beautiful cherry blossoms on Paldalsan from Gongbang Street

Some of the crafts shops will conduct classes to teach you how to make ceramics & accessories such as bracelets on your own so that you can personalise your own gifts. Or just buy the ready-made handicrafts home, if you are time-strapped like me hehe. Scattered along this street are a number of beautiful murals of the Hwaseong Haenggung, the legendary dragon & traditional culture etc.

Since this street isn’t that long & crowded with tourists, I could take my own sweet time to recee before deciding which cafe to go to for a breather, which shops to patronise for exquisite souvenirs, & which mural paintings to take shots of.😛 If you enjoy cultural shopping streets like Insadong in Seoul, then I think you will enjoy Gongbang Street in Suwon too, because it’s not so packed with visitors, & more importantly, not as commercialised yet.😉 Check out some photos I took of Suwon’s mini-Insadong for your viewing pleasure.:)

Suwon Gongbang Street 2Cafe Aboong (아붕) is a ice cream cafe from Seoul that combines the 3 favourite desserts of Koreans – Fish Bun, Yoghurt Ice Cream & Chocolate Fondue into the yummy ice cream fish-shaped bread known as Boongeo-bbang (붕어빵). Actually I didn’t know about this popular ice cream joint that has successfully set up many stores in Korea & other parts of Asia, & entered for a snack, only because I love fish buns & thought it’d a good idea to have this dessert to cool myself down from the walk under the sun. A piece of this refreshing dessert costs KRW3,000 (S$3.60), & it came with chocolate fondue with 3 slices of seasonal fruits on a skewer, premium yoghurt ice cream, & either red bean or custard filling in a fish-shaped waffle. I chose the custard filling & it was really good, loved the crispy waffle with the smooth & slightly tangy yoghurt ice cream!

Suwon Gongbang Street 3

Suwon Gongbang Street 4

I’d love to chill out longer in at least 1 more cafe or tea house here to soak in the arty atmosphere of this cultural street, but too bad, had to give up the idea due to time constraint. If you are the type who are into such arty & cultural stuff, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the place too! Maybe you can even try making some traditional Korean craft with your own hands in 1 of the crafts shops! Have fun!:)

Suwon’s Hwaseong Haenggung (화성행궁) – Joseon Dynasty’s Largest Temporary Palace

Located in the centre of Suwon’s Hwaseong Fortress is the Hwaseong Haenggung (화성행궁), the largest temporary palace largest amongst many others located outside of Seoul. It was used by the Joseon kings since the time of King Jeongjo (r. 1776-1800). This is the palace where King Jeongjo used to stay when he paid respects at his father’s tomb. In addition, it was the location of a splendid feast held on his mother, Hyegyeonggung Hong’s 60th birthday, as well as award ceremonies for successful candidates of special national exams.

Just like other palaces in Korea, there is an admission fee if you wish to visit Hwaseong Haenggung – KRW1,500 (S$1.80). It is open from 9 am to 6 pm daily from March to October, & the rest of the year, it is open at the same time but closes 1 hour earlier at 5 pm.

Before the trip, I was kinda looking forward to visiting the temporary palace as it seems like the best in terms of scale (576 rooms!)  & significance. Hwaseong was like a 2nd hometown to King Jeongjo. I could even picture the grand sight of it being surrounded by the fortress in my head. So I happily made my way down to the temporary palace from Seojangdae, the highest point of Paldalsan where I was at that morning.

Hwaseong Haenggung 1

Yes, the entrance does look quite grand, just like the major palaces we see in Seoul. I even happened to meet a Singapore couple who had just finished their tour, & helped me to take a “I’ve been here” photo.😛 But I was a bit disappointed when I bought my ticket & asked about the free guided tour. For some reason, that day seemed to be an excursion day where many schools brought the students here for some outdoor lesson, so tour groups for the afternoon were fully booked. Furthermore, it was almost noon when I reached Haenggung = lunch break for the guides as well. Arrghh, that meant I had to just roam around on my own in the historical site, so I would miss all those interesting insights of the historical temporary palace.😦 No choice, I only had a few more hours left in Suwon before I would return to Seoul, so I just went in to explore on my own. Sad that I wouldn’t be able to share interesting stories that I could have heard, other than those I could read on the information boards…

Hwaseong Haenggung 2

Upon entering this site, the life-size figurines of Daejanggeum (대장금) & Min Jeong-ho (민정호) the outstanding scholar in the famous 2003 Korean drama “Jewel in the Palace” (대장금) will appear before your eyes. It was thanks to this hit drama that Hwaseong Haenggung became a popular tourist attraction, so I guess they’ve to put these here. Another popular Korean reality-variety show 2 Days 1 Night (2박1일) also shot 1 episode here in 2013.

The old Zelkova tree

The sacred Zelkova tree of more than 600 years old

Standing near the other side of the entrance from the celebrity posters of Daejanggeum, is the sacred Zelkova tree (느티나무) that is said to have stood & protected Suwon city at this spot for over 600 years even before the Haenggung was erected. It was believed that there was a God of the tree that would punish anyone who broke one of its leaves or branches. A the plaque near the tree writes: “Make a wish for your family or friends to the tree, which still holds the spirit of King Jeongjo. Write your wish on the paper & tie it to a straw rope around the tree.” The Koreans believe your wish will come true if you make one here. As the saying goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”, so I followed the instructions & did the same.😉

Lanky guards surrounded by elementary students at Jungyangmun

Lanky guards surrounded by elementary students at Jungyangmun (중양문)

Completed in 1790, Jungyangmun comprises a main gate & 2 side gates. This gate was the important marker that defined where the royal family members & ministers would sit, versus the other officials during the time when a feast (Jinchanryei) was held at Bongsudang (the royal audience chamber, located behind the students in the pic above).

Hwaseong Haenggung 5

In the Haenggak (servants’ quarters), located behind Bongsudang (봉수당) & Jangnakdang (장락당), there were life-size statues illustrating the common activities of the court ladies & eunuchs, such as getting dressed up (top left pic in collage), performing needlework (top right pic), getting ready for an outing (bottom left pic) & reading a book (bottom right pic).

Deukjungjeong

Deukjungjeong (득중정) – an archery site for King Jeongjo, so-named after he hit four bulls’ eyes in a row

Three Ways (삼도)

Three Ways (삼도)

The way to Bongsudang is split into 3 roads, with the middle one being the widest on a raised platform, which only the King could walk on. It is called Eodo or King’s Road (어도), while the side ones were for subjects. The right road is for civil officers & the left one is for military officers. Collectively this is known as Three Ways. So if you visit Haenggung, remember to walk on the middle road, so that you can be the King for the time you walk on this road.😛

With this, I ended my 45-min short tour in this historical monument, feeling somewhat bored & disappointed with the lack of a guided tour. Furthermore, guess I came at the wrong time when the temporary palace was filled with rowdy elementary school students who ran around like monkeys trying to complete their assignments within the compounds. I presumed they were doing some quiz as all were searching for answers anxiously all over… -_-

It’s a pity I didn’t enjoy as much as I had hoped for. I hope you’d have a better experience if you visit Hwaseong Haenggung!😉

A Chicken Feast at the Famous Suwon Chicken Street (수원 통닭거리)

Ask any Korean what is their favourite snack to eat while drinking beer, & you will probably hear “fried chicken” many times. Although Korean fried chicken (KFC) has been a popular snack to the locals for as long as they can remember, I think the surge in popularity of KFC to foreigners became such a phenomenon after the Korean hit drama “My Love From the Star” (별에서 온 그대) was aired from December 2013 to February 2014.

Restaurants selling Chi-Maek (치맥), i.e. the combination of fried chicken and beer, are located everywhere in Korea. But special mention must be made to Suwon in Gyeonggi-do, because there is a special Chicken Street (통닭거리) here dedicated to chicken restaurants with more than 30 years of tradition. Instead of frying chicken in a frying pan, the traditional restaurants here prefer to fry or roast the chicken in an iron pot (가마솥).

Prior to arriving in Suwon, I was advised by my Korean friends to try the unique chicken here at least once, although I’ve been warned I may not be able to finish it alone. Their recommendation was the same as the Korea Tourism Organisation personnel (whose hometown is in Suwon), that I should give either Jinmi Chicken (진미통닭) or Yongsung Chicken (용성통닭) a try. Since I only had a light lunch (or should I say it’s a snack – only 4 pieces of Samjin fish cakes + a piece of Gyeongju bread bought at Busan Station :P) before taking the almost-3-hour KTX journey to Suwon, I was famished when I checked in to hotel. The friendly hotel female staff advised me to give Jinmi a miss but instead visit either Maehyang Chicken or Yongsung Chicken. As a local born & bred in Suwon, she felt that Jinmi was over-hyped by online reviews & hence the constant long queues by visitors to Suwon.

Following the directions provided by the staff, upon exiting the hotel, just turn right & go straight ahead on Paldal-ro (팔달로) for about 5 min before reaching a traffic junction. At this junction, you will find Haeggung Square (행궁광장) on your right. Make a left turn along this street & Maehyang Chicken (매향친킨)  will be right before you.

Maehyang Chicken restaurant

Maehyang Chicken restaurant

Established in 1970, Maehyang Chicken has been around for 46 years, & they are proud to display banners of the restaurant being featured in popular local TV programs such as VJ 특공대, 생생정보통 etc on SBS, KBS & MBC. But I believe their banner as seen in above collage was prepared 3 years ago, since it indicated their 43 years of tradition of using the iron pot to roast their chickens.😛

It was just after 5pm & the restaurant wasn’t very crowded. Only a few tables were occupied. But there was a constant stream of customers for the entire duration I was in the restaurant. As soon as I stepped in, I was asked “how many pax (몇분이세요)?” then ushered to a table. I didn’t even have to order my dish, except to order the drink I wanted! Within a couple of minutes, I was served my bottle of soda (칠성, KRW1,000/ S$1.20), together with the 3 types of sauces (mustard, tomato & pepper salt sauces) & side dishes (popcorn & pickled radish). The popcorn snack was quite addictive, especially with the 3 types of sauces till I couldn’t seem to stop popping them into my mouth. Oops! Or maybe I was really hungry. But I made a conscious effort to slow down the munching otherwise I wouldn’t be able to finish the chicken later. It was a good 15 min before my main dish was served:

매향 가마솥통닭

매향 가마솥통닭

Gosh, such a big plate of roast chicken for 1 pax (KRW14,000/ S$16.70), & I already popped half a bowl of popcorn into my stomach… I thought to myself: “don’t think too much 1st, just focus on how delicious the feast is” haha. The chicken was piping hot & even after some time, it was still piping hot with smoke & I had to eat with caution. The chicken was really crispy & flavourful, & I guess that’s the merit of cooking it in an iron pot. There was also a small plate of chicken intestines being served. Not knowing what it was at 1st, I just popped a few pieces into my mouth & surprisingly, they weren’t as smelly as I had imagined! In fact the chicken intestines were crunchy & delicious too.😉 I spent about an hour trying my best to stuff myself with as much chicken as I could, until I felt so bloated. But there was still about a third of the chicken left! Not wanting to waste the yummy food, I asked to pack the remaining meat for takeout, before I left to explore the Hwaseong Fortress. The takeout became my supper for the night haha.

I didn’t just have 1 chicken feast in Suwon, I had 2, because I really wanted to try the famous Yongsung Chicken (용성통닭) as well! So the next day, I went to Yongsung Chicken, located in the middle of the Chicken Street for a late lunch at almost 2pm. Maybe it was too early for Chimaek, or the lunch crowd had already dispersed, there was no queue at Yongsung. Opposite Yongsung is the other famous restaurant – Jinmi Chicken, which also didn’t have a long queue like the night before. Here’s a photo collage of the 2 famous restaurants:

Suwon Chicken Alley famous restaurants

I took photo of Jinmi the night before after a feast at Maehyang & witnessed the horrible queue. Yongsung is closed every Wednesday so I couldn’t really compare which restaurant is more popular.😛 Anyway, at Yongsung, there is a menu, albeit a limited one. ㅊustomers can choose from Fried Chicken (후라이드 – KRW14,000), Roast Chicken (통닭 – KRW14,000), Spicy Chicken (양념 – KRW15,000/ S$17.90), & Half Fried + Half Spicy Chicken (반반 후라이드/양념 – KRW15,000). NB: Prices indicated are for 1 pax.

For a fair comparison with Maehyang, I ordered the 통닭, & it also took about 15 min before my food arrived.

용성통닭

용성통닭

No, I didn’t order beer to accompany my chicken, although my collage said so.😛 Too early to be drinking beer in bright daylight! Again, the food was served piping hot & it remained hot throughout. The sauces served at Yongsung differed slightly from Maehyang, because instead of pepper salt, they only provided salt. Chicken feet were found together with the chicken innards on the side plate too. My personal opinion of the dish? Yongsung is better than Maehyang! The chicken was equally fragrant, crispy & tasty, but compared to Maehyang, Yongsung’s chicken was somewhat more juicy & better marinated! It was so good that I finished more than two-thirds of the generous serving! I asked to pack the remainder to takeout again, but this time, I didn’t have it for supper. Instead, I gave it to the nice female hotel staff who was on duty in the day, since she was the one who recommended me to such great food.:) She was delighted when I passed it to her, claiming that it’s her favourite chicken too.

If you are planning a visit to Suwon, be sure to put Suwon Chicken Street on your itinerary. Fried chicken may be so common that it’s found all around the world, but try some here & you will be glad to have tried this unique fried or roasted chicken cooked in the traditional method with special sauces to complement the taste!

For easy reference, here’s a map of the Suwon Chicken Street, which shows the names & locations of the 14 traditional chicken restaurants along this 200m long street. For your easy navigation, I started my chicken feast from the red circle location on the map where Maehyang is, & beside Maehyang Chicken is the Maehyang Bridge (매향교) by the stream. At the other end of the street, you will be able to see Paldalmun (팔달문, South Gate) of Hwaseong Fortress. Enjoy your feast!:)

Map of the famous Suwon Chicken Street

Map of the famous Suwon Chicken Street

Revisiting Hwaseong Fortress (수원 화성), a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Suwon

Located in Suwon, the capital city of Gyeonggi-do that surrounds Seoul, is the impressive Hwaseong Fortress (수원 화성), representing the Joseon Dynasty of the 18th century. The construction of the fortress commenced in January 1794, & was completed 2.5 years later in September 1796. The main reason for constructing this magnificent structure was a show of the King’s filial piety towards his father Jangheonseja, as well as to build a new pioneer city with its own economic power. As the world’s first planned city, its thorough & systematic designs compared with other structures of the time has been widely praised by experts even today. It is little wonder then that the fortress was designated as Historical Monument No. 3 in January 1963, & a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in December 1997.

I remember my 1st visit to this grand structure more than a decade ago, back in summer 2005 when I was a student on a Korean language exchange program at Sogang University. Not sure why my friend & I decided to make a day trip to Suwon then, but I recalled it was an interesting experience climbing the fortress walls & feeling victorious as we reached the peak of Paldalsan (팔달산), despite the hot summer sun.😛 Although I had never climbed the Great Wall of China, at that point in time, climbing up the fortress is akin to conquering Great Wall of China. At least that was what I thought to myself then haha.

Anyway, this time, I thought of revisiting Suwon, because of a few reasons: 1) I attended a Gyeonggi-do free & easy travel workshop before my holidays & it sort of inspired me to explore part of the province since it is close to Seoul; 2) pleasant memories of the Suwon day trip back in 2005 made me want to spend more time here this time to revisit the site; & 3) since the focus of my Korea spring holidays is to immerse in its culture, check out noteworthy sights & particularly awesome cherry blossoms, there’s no harm in going to yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site! So that’s how Suwon became part of my itinerary.:)

But I guess I overestimated my stamina & leg power, lol. When I arrived in Suwon, it was already day 6, i.e. middle of my 11-day holidays & I had already been “abusing” my legs for the past 5 days. After checking in to hotel & taking my “Teanner” (Tea + Dinner), the moment Namsumun (남수문, 南水门) appeared before my eyes, my knees went feeble, because of the tall & steep steps I saw.😛 The “trauma” I experienced the past few days “hiking” in Andong, Gyeongju & Busan brought me back to reality & I didn’t know how I could climb 4 to 6m up to the mountain with such aching feet. Furthermore, I was somewhat fighting against time as it was already 6.30pm, the sky was getting dark with a slight drizzle.😦 I psyched myself to at least make my way to the cherry trees near Seona Gaknu (Hwayangnu) Pavilion in the southwestern side of Paldalsan. At least I wouldn’t leave with regrets that I only admired the fortress from the foot of the mountain hehe.

The famous Paldamun (팔다문)

Passing by the famous Paldalmun (팔다문) during weekday evening peak hour

Paldalmun, designated as National Treasure No. 402, is the southern gate of Hwaseong Fortress. This gate is a major attraction in Suwon for its unique design, as it is detached from the rest of the gates (Hwaseomun – west gate, Janganmun – north gate & Changyongmun – east gate), & is located in the middle of the busy city. It becomes an alluring structure at night with the lights are lit up. Arrghh, forgot to take photo at night when I passed by to return to hotel as I was very tired by then. -_- Consolation is I still managed to climb up & take some photos of the evening view at Paldalsan peak, as below!

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress 1

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress 3

Just a little pity that the weather wasn’t great that evening & I only reached the peak around 7pm. Hwaseong Fortress official operating hours are from 9am to 6pm daily, maybe that’s why no street lamps were installed on the Paldalsan pavement so it’s kind of difficult to take beautiful photos of the cherry blossoms in the dark.😦 But there were still quite a handful of visitors like me. I wasn’t really mesmerized by the cherry blossom street atop Paldalsan, because there were too few blossoming cherry trees, not spectacular enough like in Gyeongju! Coincidentally, the friendly female hotel staff at Benikea New Suwon Tourist Hotel who recommended me this place for lovely cherry blossoms also visited this area that evening, & she was disappointed too. I could only console myself to hope for a better sighting the next day in bright daylight.

The next morning, I heeded the advice of that hotel staff to take a ride on the Hwaseong Trolley (화성열차) – a tourist train that travels between Paldalsan & Yeonmudae (연무대). My legs were definitely grateful that I decided not to hike haha. From the hotel, it was a leisurely 7-min stroll to the Yeonmudae Tourist Information Centre where the Hwaseong Trolley platform is, & I bought 1 adult ticket for the 30-min train ride of 3.2km up to Paldalsan for KRW1,500 (S$1.80). It runs 12 times a day from 9.50am to 5.50pm, except when it snows. From November to February every year, it only runs 11 times a day till 4.35pm. No reservations required & only same-day ticket purchase are allowed.

The Hwaseong Train journey

The Hwaseong Trolley & view along the 30-min ride

The front of the train is in the shape of a powerful dragon that signifies King Jeongjo, & the passenger cars resemble palanquins that once carried the king during his excursions. In the train, commentary service is provided in English, Chinese & Japanese as & when the train passed by significant landmarks & attractions. 1 downside to riding in the train was, ventilation wasn’t too good & it was stuffy sitting inside for 30 min. Imagine my happiness when the train arrived at Paldalsan & we could alight! Haha… on another note, it was also good to alight for it was a great day, perfect for basking in the sun on a scenic mountain overlooking the city!

Lovely sight near Yeonmudae

Lovely sight near Yeonmudae

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress 7

The view atop Paldalsan in the day was much better than in the evening. With clear blue sky complementing the lovely white & pink colours of cherry blossoms, it’s hard not to like the pretty scenery! I may have played cheat this time by making use of modern technology to climb up the mountain, but what matters more is the heritage site is still as fascinating with its 5.52km long stretch of fortress wall surrounding the city.:) Since it’s easily accessible via the Seoul Subway Line 1’s Suwon Station, plan a trip to explore this historical monument of over 200 years old the next time you visit Korea! Then you can admire its beauty with your own eyes too.😉

Benikea New Suwon Tourist Hotel

After 4 days of adventure in the southeastern part of South Korea (Andong, Gyeongju & Busan), I moved back towards Seoul in the north. But before that, I decided to stop over 1 night in Suwon-si. It lies about 30 km south of Seoul, & is the capital of South Korea’s most populous Gyeonggi province that surrounds Seoul.

From Busan Station, it takes 2 hrs 44 min to arrive at Suwon Station by KTX (KRW 46,300/ S$55.30 for an adult standard ticket). It took me quite some time before I decided to book Benikea New Suwon Tourist Hotel (베니키아 뉴수원 관광호텔). The main reason for visiting the “City of Filial Piety” is because I wanted to revisit the UNESCO World Heritage Site Hwaseong Fortress after 11 years, so I wanted to stay in an accommodation which I could get there conveniently. Based on online reviews, this hotel is strategically located within the Hwaseong Fortress vicinity, just renovated last year (2015) & fits my budget. Furthermore, Benikea is a Korean Business Hotel chain brand supported by the Korean Tourism Organisation & ranked as the most popular business hotel chain in 2015.

I took a taxi from Suwon Station to get to the hotel, which by right shouldn’t be too far away & about a 10-min drive. However, the taxi driver just couldn’t seem to find the directions to the hotel on his in-vehicle GPS, so we took about double the time before I reached Benikea New Suwon.😦 It is nestled in a quiet neighbourhood, located along a small alley with some shops surrounding it.

Upon arrival at the lobby, I was warmly welcomed by a bubbly short-hair Korean staff. The moment I mentioned I was there to check in, she immediately confirmed my name. What a pleasant surprise to have someone greeting me by my name!:) My check-in process was swift & soon, she took my luggage & provided a brief introduction of the hotel facilities on the way to my standard double room at level 7. Her English was quite good, in fact the best 1 compared to the others I met during the trip. The other male staff that was on night shift wasn’t so conversant in English so I had lots of problems communicating with him, regardless of which language we used. As I entered my room, I became quite disappointed.

Benikea Hotel New Suwon Room

The room was much smaller than I thought. I remember reading that the size of the standard double room is 16 sqm, but it definitely didn’t look this size to me. The room I booked in Hotel Foret Busan Station is also about the same size as this, but it is much more spacious in reality! I wonder which room size is the correct one? -_-

There wasn’t much walking space in the room as you can see, & so I had to put my big 26-inch luggage in between the doorway & the double bed. That meant I either had to walk sideways along the limited space between the flat-screen TV & the bed, or I had to “jump” over my luggage from the doorway to get to the bed. I could only place my stuff, either on the lean tabletop below the TV, or on a small stand beside the bed. A small stool lied in a corner of the room near the entrance, so I used that to put my bag.

Fortunately the bathroom size was still OK & not too cramped, just sad that the towels provided are the small ones, more like face towels I use back home.😦 Glad that I was travelling alone so I could use both towels to “combine” it into a big one… The hotel website said toiletries are provided, but they actually came in a welcome bag together with the bathrobe (see the top right pic in my collage above) which the staff gave me on the way up to my room. The toiletries were an assortment of Korean skincare & bath brands that I had never heard before.

Thankfully, the room may be very cramped, but it was clean & well-maintained, guess it’s because they just renovated last year. The free Wi-Fi connection was also strong & stable. At first, I thought the room was stuffy & had to open the small window for fresh air, but later I realised I could actually turn on the aircon.😛

I had an unpleasant episode late at night while sleeping in my room though. Not sure the exact time it happened, but it was after midnight when the phone in my room suddenly rang loudly & woke me up. I was shocked at such a late call, & wondered who would have known my hotel phone + room number when I didn’t inform anyone? It was some Chinese man who spoke loudly & quickly as I picked up the call, asking how come I wasn’t “there” yet. I had to tell him he had called the wrong number twice before he gave up & apologise before hanging up.😦 Never mind, I thought I could go back to sleep, but about 5 or 10 min later, I heard someone trying to open my door! Obviously the attempt failed because I had locked the room from inside so that person kept pressing the doorbell… No choice, I had to get up to open the door (no door hole to see who’s outside) to check what’s happening. I guess my sleepy look made the guy outside (a Chinese middle aged man) embarrassed that he had knocked on the wrong door, & he apologised before hurrying off. I could start hear his loud voice talking along the corridor with his other travel mates in Mandarin… arrghhh! Thanks to this China man (& his rowdy group), I became scared & paranoid & couldn’t sleep well that night.😦

The room size, above unpleasant episode + the communication breakdown I had with the male staff somewhat made me regret my decision of coming to Suwon + to stay here. I could have just continued 1 more day in Busan, since there are other activities I could do e.g. day trip to Jinhae for the Cherry Blossom Festival, before heading back to Seoul. -_-

Guess the only merits I found here were the friendly female staff I mentioned earlier + its location. The hotel may be located in a quiet neighbourhood (which got me worried at 1st), but it’s really quite convenient & easy to walk to famous attractions & restaurants like the Hwaseong Fortress, Temporary Palace & the Suwon Chicken Alley, after some guidance from the friendly female staff.

Should you visit Suwon in future, think about what is more important to you 1st prior to booking your accommodation, so that you know whether you want to book Benikea New Suwon after reading my review. Ending this post with a photo of the hotel building for your reference.:)

Benikea

Benikea New Suwon Tourist Hotel