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Posts Tagged ‘seoul’

Last weekend, my girlfriends and I decided to escape to the big city for two whirlwind days of shopping, foreign food and live music.

I awoke early on Saturday morning to catch a bus to Seoul with my friends Rachel and Jenny Ryan. We headed straight for Hongdae upon our arrival, and dropped our bags at our crash pad for the night, Backpacker’s Space. The hostel, which was roughly 90% occupied by our posse, was adorable, clean and comfortable. It featured three rooms with bunks and fresh linen, one (western-style) bathroom with countless toiletries, and a vanity corner with a hair dryer and a straightener. I died, since I hadn’t straightened my hair in 10 months — I was waaaaay too excited.

The owner was pleasant and helpful, and a water cooler with cups was a welcome amenity during the wee, hungover hours of the morning. Plus, it was located in the heart of the bustling University district, so we were just a hop, skip and jump away from the clubs where we spent our night bobbing and dancing to jams.

So we ditched our packs and headed to Dos Tacos for some food. It was the same restaurant that we visited in Gangnam with my ‘cuz last summer, but the Hongdae location. Meat and avocado burrito, yummers. Just per-fec-tion.

Afterward, we took the train to Myeongdong to do some serious retail damage. I couldn’t get out of Forever 21 without a necessary top… or five. Oooops!

We also ran into a grungy, creepy Garfield in the midst of our shopping spree, nbd.

On our way home, we got wrapped up into a conversation and missed our subway transfer (whoops) but eventually made it back to the hostel! We grabbed some beer, dolled up and got ready for our night on the town. I chose one of my new tops from F21 and paired with with a black skirt, black tights, black boots and my Lady Gaga ring. Faboosh!

The crew, about 15 women deep, rolled to T Bell to grab some more Mexican grub before going out to Club FF. I ate a taco, and a burrito… and part of Sasia’s quesadilla… and Priscilla’s nachos. Yeah. Bad move leaving me around available food.

Club FF was awesome! The event was the 7 year anniversary of the hot spot, and had a bunch of great bands to celebrate the occasion. The first act we saw was Kingston Rudieska, an awesome ska band. At 11 PM, the bar started serving FREE cocktails that we enjoyed for an hour. Needless to say, I only bought one beer during our stay.

Later in the night, I decided to meet up with Alyssa at Shake! a mile-a-minute underground dance party. Alyssa popped into Club FF to tell me her location after her phone went missing, and we realized we were wearing the exact. same. outfit.

We had both purchased the same shirt that day without realizing it, and went on to dress ourselves in the same threads. It was hilariously mortifying — we looked like a Korean couple on their honeymoon.

We stayed at Shake for hours, went back to Club FF and shook it til the wee hours of morning.

I scraped myself out of bed in the morning, showered and enjoyed a picturesque cup of coffee while I waited for my ladies to get ready.

I also enjoyed the view of Hello Kitty cafe across the street. So cuuuuuute — where was Candace when I needed her? ^_-

After everyone was awake, we cabbed it to Itaewon to get some pub grub at Wolfhound. Rachel was sooo very excited to get her Bloody Mary. I skipped my own Mary for a pint of strong cider, and went crazy for their menu. In the end, I opted for a shepherd’s pie and a side salad with ranch. RANCH DRESSING! The second time I’ve enjoyed the creamy, fatty goodness in ten months. Yum!

Evan probably would have guessed that my eyes won a competition over my stomach during this meal, but I ate every last bite. Nom nom.

Being the wonderful girlfriends that we are, Rachel and I popped into Quizno’s on our way home to pick up sandwiches for us and boyfs to eat for dinner, which I enjoyed with Ev after a sleepy bus ride home.

Successful, wonderful weekend getaway!

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In addition to our excursion to Taco Bell, we noshed on flavors that have been dearly missed from my palette. From Middle Eastern and Mexican to sandwiches and burgers, the food was so delectably different than the fare offered in Jeonju.

On Thursday, I was finally able to peel myself out of bed to meet up with friends for a delicious Arabic meal. We headed to Alyssa’s ‘hood, near Hongdae, to feast at Petra.

We started with a trio of hummus, baba ghanoush (eggplant dip) and labaneh cheese, with a side of warm pita bread (real pita, not the flour tortillas we so enjoy at Aladdin’s Lamb).

I barely got this picture before it was devoured.

We ordered another round of the dips for when Rachel and Greg joined us at the table.  I also ordered delicious falafel, tabbouleh and pita to mix with the tasty round of condiments. Oh em gee… the best falafel I have had in such a long time. I couldn’t stop myself from shoveling food into my mouth.

Ev got the lamb and cous cous. There was a lot of serious nom nom going on at the table.

The next day, we traveled around the city to shop and see the sights. After Evan got fitted for a custom-made suit (so handsome) in Itaewon, we stayed in the foreigner-friendly area to get a taste of a more “authentic” Mexican restaurant. Vamos comemos!


We ended up at a place called Los Amigos, and while it wasn’t Baja Sonora, it certainly touched on my unsatisfied desire for So Cal Mexican food. We ordered chips and guacamole to start, then a combination platter to share. The plate came with plenty of food, and allowed us to try a variety of entrees instead of having to choose just one or two. We ate a taco, a burrito, a tostada and an enchilada complete with beans and rice.

It. Was. So. Good. They even had sour cream! Imagine me shoveling chips into this mess of a plate, then dunking them in guacamole and sour cream before taking a huge bite. I’m telling you, pure nirvana.

Ev was particularly stoked on the American-sized soda, which is about four times the size of the cups you get at Korean restaurants. No joke, I’m actually used to drinking 8 ounces at a time.

I keep thinking of that cheese/beans/sour cream combination, and it’s seriously depressing me when I have broccoli soup staring back from the fridge. Le sigh.

That night, we set out to find perfect, juicy American pub food to put us into food comas so we could fall asleep easily into our heavenly bed at the Astoria. Sam Ryan’s, the pub we visited our last time in Itaewon, fit the bill perfectly.

Evan’s order was a no-brainer — basically, if there is something that combines beef, cheese and bacon on a menu, you best believe that will be his choice.

I opted for the steak sandwich with chutney, cheddar and caramelized onions. Oh my. The juicy steak melding with the tangy cheddar, a touch of sweetness from the chutney and the onions melting when they hit your tongue… and the bread! The bread was fresh and soft. I die. This picture does this wonderful, amazing concoction no justice. It’s actually a terrible photo, but I was exhausted and impatient to eat. Be happy I snapped anything!

There are no words to tell you how much I dig sandwiches. The combination of textures, temperatures and flavors have always done wonders for my palette. Subway was a regular fixture on days I would eat out when I was working in L.A. How I took fast, cheap and flavorful sammies for granted!

In Jeonju, there are slim pickins’ for fixins’ and you end up with a sliver of meat, tired veggies and sub-par bread, all totally over-priced. It wasn’t hard to decide that on our last morning, we would get another sandwich after upping our temptation with the pub grub.

At Quizno’s, I ordered an Italian sub and relished in every single bite. Hot pepperoni, salami, crisp lettuce and tomato, gooey mozzarella, pepperoncinis with a kick. YUM!

Now I’m home, drooling over my memories and trying not to scarf down more snacks because I’m salivating.

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So after our successful Taco Bell stop in Seoul, Evan and I met up with my college friend, who lives in the city. One of her pals threw a soiree, so we grabbed some wine and headed out toward Hongdae.

Hongdae, for those of you non-Koreans readers, is a university area in central Seoul that goes off and has quite the reputation as a hoppin’ party spot for young locals and expats. After wining and dining with our new friends, we hopped on the subway and rode a classy little wine bar where we sipped on flavorful reds and reminisced. It turned out to be quite the late (and messy) evening, the typical sort when you meet up with University friends…

After recovering on Thursday and sightseeing on Friday and Saturday, we were ready to brave the town again. This time, Evan and I met up with our co-workers, Greg and Rachel, for an early Middle Eastern dinner. The company was delightful but the cuisine was simply too sub-par to, as I announced after our meal, make it into the blog. We left Itaewon after eating, grabbed brewskies and soju for the subway, and headed to Hongdae to get a bit more partying in.

We met up with Tim and his friend near Hongik University, and all headed to a fascinating little hot spot.

Vinyl in Hongdae, a hip hole-in-the-wall that was rocking a walk-thru window, a funky robot sign and Cold War Kids on the jukebox, was a dimly lit, bohemian closet nestled on the edge of the college town. The drinks were strong, cheap, and made to go! Who needs glasses when you can have your drink in a sturdy, plastic bag complete with a straw? On Rachel’s recommendation, I ordered two Woo Woo cocktails — a lethally delicious combination of vodka and various fruit juices. We loitered on the animal print seats, sipping and taking in the artsy decor, before getting a drink to go and heading to the next party stop.

After securing our zip-lock cocktails, we moseyed over to Oi in Hongdae, which was a bar that pulled you straight down the rabbit hole and into another dimension. Oi (pronounced oh eye) is a bar, lounge and hookah bar that my cousin’s friend told him about. It is quite literally hidden from view, with only a small sign indicating it was on the third floor of an unassuming building. There were no edibles labeled “eat me,” but we had definitely entered a complex labyrinth complete with mushroom-shaped caves, white wash, giant fringe hanging from the ceiling, glittering lights, and lots of tunnels and bridges to make us feel like we were tip-toeing around a maze all evening.

We grabbed ourselves a cave, grabbed some beers then hit the dance floor! The deejay played old school hip-hop mixed with modern electronic, and it was the perfect combination to get everyone moving on the multi-tiered floor. Expats and locals swarmed the club, swaying under the lights and grinding in the fringe “cages.” This inevitably led to a photo shoot (don’t they always?) and we had fun being silly with the camera and a few prop drums nearby.

I, of course, got overly excited running to the dance floor and have a lovely, purple and green souvenir on my knee to remind me of the sinuous (almost river-like) architecture Oi is so fond of. Ouch.

We stayed at the club so long that the bartender sent us over a few free drinks — we shut the place down!

It’s just how we roll.

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No, Kim Jong Il hasn’t recruited me to do any work for the North Koreans — I’m staying as far away from that border as possible. I’m talking TB baby, the one run I could never resist, whether it be early in the morning or late night in Long Beach, zooming through the drive-thru to get my fix.

Oh, Taco Bell.

This pseudo-Mexican eatery was our first stop during our five-day trip to Seoul last week to celebrate Solnal 설날, or the lunar new year. The holiday fell on a Wednesday — Friday this year (woo hoo) so we packed our bags, hopped aboard a bus and spent the better part of a week in the north.

While Koreans around the country dined on tteokguk 떡국 (rice cake soup) and bowed to their eldest family members, Evan and I headed straight for Itaewon (aka foreigner’s heaven) for five days of non-Korean cuisine. Starting with the Mexican fast food joint everyone loves as it’s going down.

You see, T. Bell is right up there with Ice Cream Snickers as a debilitating weakness of mine — I know it’s bad for me, I know its going to beat up my tummy for a few hours, but I just can’t resist the ooey-gooey refried beans, orange cheese and all the fixins’. Disgusting but true.

We arrived in Itaewon around 2:30 PM, just as the lunch rush came through. I was shocked to see how popular the eatery was with not only foreigners, but Koreans as well. The fact that Taco Bell closed their original Korea locations in the early 1990s due to lack of interest, and now they have lunch lines that stretch out the door, really speaks to how the demographic of this peninsula has changed. Not only are there hordes of waygooks from all around the world that call Korea home now, but the locals have embraced culture from the west more wholeheartedly — including the greasy, deliciously fatty food.

The menu had all of the cheapo staples on it (burritos, tacos, nachos, etc.) and the “lite” menu was much more extensive, but I was more fascinated with the items I didn’t recognize. Nacho fries? Oh em gee.

Thank goodness I have spent the better part of my year in Jeonju, where foreign food is relatively hard to find, expensive and the choices are limited. Basically, Korean food is always your best bet here. But despite my Asian-inspired diet, better understanding of reasonable portions and the recent controversy over the legitimacy of T. Bell’s “beef product,” I not only ordered multiple items from the TB menu, but ate them all until I was beyond full — and enjoyed every last calorie-laden, nutritionally-devoid bite. I literally fulfilled dreams I’ve had about Taco Bell in the past few months.

After inhaling my taco supreme, nacho “bell grande” (nacho supreme) and bean burrito, it took approximately 20 minutes for my stomach to begin feeling like a rusty meat grinder, but it was worth it. So worth it. Honestly, I considered ordering more food before Evan gently reminded me that, at times, my eyes can be a tad bigger than my stomach — and by a tad, I mean I order enough food to feed an army.


On our last day in Seoul, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that we returned to Taco Bell directly after eating lunch to buy more food for the ride home.

Oh, and I tried to steal a bunch of hot sauce to take back home with me, only to realize that the bins of condiments next to the soda machine were ketchup! Barf. The Koreans must be on to the American way of hording packets from fast food, so we got a designated amount of sauce — from behind the counter — with our meal.

I justified these fatty excursions, along with the rest of my gluttony during Solnal, with the fact that I was on vacation!

Only nine more weeks until I fulfill the rest of my foodie fantasies in America…

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Let me preface this post by saying that not even the approximate 26 hours we spent in various methods of transportation en route to our final destination in Thailand could mar my feelings about this amazing, exotic, tropical and laid-back country. I loved every second of it, even — and especially, at times — the journey.

Evan and I began our adventure on Tuesday night at 7:30 PM, when we bundled up, grabbed some kimbap and chicken strips and braved the snow to hop on a three-hour bus to Seoul, from where we would depart to Thailand early Wednesday morning. Bus travel in Korea is extremely comfortable, so as soon as we hit our seats I snuggled in and tore into our food.

Evan thought it was hilarious that I ate my chicken with chopsticks, but what was I supposed to do? My hands were filthy and not acceptable vehicles to shovel food into my mouth. I’m sure the germaphobes in my family can appreciate that.

Kimbap is a Korean dish that is similar to sushi, but instead of fresh fish wrapped in the rice and seaweed, the roll is filled with egg, various vegetables (typically carrot, spinach and pickled radish) and usually ham. It is delicious and and staple in our diet. We eat it at least two or three times a week. NOM!

Thanks to family visits, my desire for a piping bowl of chili and Evan’s competitive urge to play FIFA, we got only a few hours of sleep before it was 4 AM, and time to catch a bus to the airport. Thankfully, my cousin Tim told us about a bus straight to Incheon that took an hour, which was such a relief because the subway wasn’t running yet and besides, it’s a pain to get to the airport by train.

We waited for our 9 AM flight, watching the sunrise from the gorgeous wall/windows at Seoul Incheon. It is literally the prettiest and most efficient airport I’ve ever been to.

Our first stop was in Shanghai at around 10 AM. The airport was alright, but what really made me uncomfortable was the utter curtness of the airport employees. Everyone seemed beyond annoyed, short and like I was being a total pain in the ass. Hmph.

I feared that this may have been simply the Chinese way, but that was before I had a completely different experience in Beijing. More on that later. We killed time during our 2-hour layover with spicy chicken, onion rings and Asahi (we’ve been on a chicken kick since Christmas Eve). Hee hee.

At 4 PM, we finally arrived in Bangkok! It took 30 minutes to get through security, which was a miracle since everyone and their mother from all around the world decided that was the place to be that afternoon. Before we knew it, we were in a cab to the Bangkok train station. Once at the station, we bought tickets for an overnight train/bus/ferry ride to the island of Koh Samui, where we’d be spending our time. We were sweltering when we got there (it was in the 80s) and had peeled off layers during our trip. After all, it was about 15 degrees when we left Seoul that morning!

We celebrated our arrival with Thai beer and fresh fruit. The sleeper train was amazingly space efficient. We ate more vendor food, chatted, and people watched all the backpackers interacting until a man came around to help us assemble our bunk. As soon as my bed was ready, I crawled in and passed out.

We awoke (well I awoke) at 4 AM, because our ticket said that’s when we’d be transferring to a bus. Well that was before I knew everything ran on “Thai time,” which is roughly 1-1.5 hours late. Eventually we bussed to the pier in Champong, where we boarded a ferry that would take us to Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and finally Koh Samui. We caught a gorgeous sunrise at the dock :)

We got to our destination around 1 PM, and were able to relax until more travel excursions the following day. On NYE, we had joined up with Mimi and Matt and made our way to a ferry back to Koh Phangan, where we would celebrate the new year. The ferry was so rocky, the water was choppy and the boat was full of drinking 20-year-olds. You do the math. Eesh.

We took cabs (and I use that term loosely, considering it was a pickup filled with people) to and from the party once on Koh Phangan, which was uneventful until the cab we were leaving in broke down on our way home. Everyone had to get out and push, during which I (of course) ran right out of my flip flop. I had to run back and get it, while the cab started to speed away. I screamed, ran with Mimi, and we barely made it back on. I lept for it, while a guy just swooped Meems on. It was nuts! Oh and when we were ready to leave Koh Phangan, we were at the ferry station before we realized we had 2 hours to wait before the first one. FAIL.

On the island, we got around on little motorbikes. It seemed like the preferred method of transportation for everyone, and it was awesome seeing everything from place to place, and doing activities on our own time. Plus, it was much cheaper than cabbing!

At the end of our amazing vacation, Evan and I boarded our plane to fly from Koh Samui to Bangkok around 9 PM. Once in Bangkok, we hopped aboard a 1 AM flight to Beijing, switched planes with the help of very friendly Chinese locals, and landed back in Seoul at 12 PM. A much shorter ride than the way out. I would have more to say about the seamless trip, but I literally slept for the majority of it. WIN!

In Seoul, we got tickets for the 1 PM bus to Jeonju, grabbed Dunkin Donuts and lamented that our island vacation was over. Evan: Goodbye white beaches, hello white snow. Goodbye 30 degrees celsius, hello 30 degrees farenheit. Me: Wah, waaaaaaahhh. All in all, we were really lucky that no hiccups occured on any planes, trains, buses, cabs, or motorbikes. It was a lot more travel time than the Japan trip, but ran much more smoothly.

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This weekend, Evan, Greg, Rachel and I went on a mission up to Seoul for Global Gathering 2010 — a huge electronic music festival held at Hanji Park next to the river in Seoul. The all-night event, in a matter of words, was epic. The first time I have really danced my pants off since coming to Korea!

We hopped aboard a bus from Jeonju around 10:45, which put us in Seoul around 1:45. Since we weren’t planning on going to the venue right when the music started (since, who does that?) we had some time to kill in the big city. We joined a party crew of my college friend Alyssa, who is living in Seoul, for the weekend.

Since Alyssa got stuck with an incompetent cab driver who got lost en route to meet us at the bus station, our new friend Lydia saved the day by taking us back to her apartment. She is totally hospitable and fabulous, with extra cool points for being a fellow gaucho.

After downing multiple drinks and burgers from a joint near Lydia’s place, we made our way to the subway, en route to the festival! We danced, sang, shouted, sipped soju and stomped our way through the subway stations, missing one of our stops on the way.

Evan and I passed time on the train by rocking out to — and occasionally singing aloud — jams from my ipod. Robyn S “Show Me Love” is always a good song to get pumped to! After getting out at the World Cup Stadium, it was another hike to get to the park. Travel time was three hours, but we had fun and didn’t miss Justice, so it was all good.

We pushed our way to the front of the crowd as the French deejays played, swaying and shaking it with the crowd. Alyssa lost her cell phone briefly, but it was found by a nice group of guys next to us.

Lydia gave them a proper thank you.

Fatboy Slim took the stage next, and he killed it. The best thing about the performances is that they were hours longer than I had ever seen any of these artists play. We danced nonstop, as the seemingly endless stream of music flowed out over the crowd.

Armin Van Buren ended our evening (er, morning) with a trance mix. Evan, Alyssa and I got a second wind as we bounced and pumped our fists to the Dutch spinner’s tracks.

We decided to head straight to the bus station after the concert, since it was nearly 5 AM and the first bus to Jeonju was at 5:30. By 8:30 AM, we had stumbled home safely, exhausted and happy, and were able to curl up in our own bed.

The sheer length of the deejay sets made this experience a real stand-out. That, and the food and drinks at the venue were a steal — the quality of the grub didn’t compare to the fare at Fuji Rock, but it was still fairly impressive.

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Of course, we didn’t spend our whole time in Seoul partying the night away.

After Thursday’s tequila party, we took our time waking up on Friday. When we finally dragged ourselves out of Tim’s apartment, the only thing on my mind was Mexican food.

Mexican food is the bane of my existence. It is my weakness — and Tim said there was a little restaurant nearby! My gluttony and addiction lead me to order a burrito AND a tostada — total fatty move — but I didn’t regret it. It was so yummy. And to have avocado again was magical.

After lunch we hopped aboard a bus that took us Seoul’s Han River, where we ended up hanging out and cat-napping, overlooking the water.

When we hopped off of the bus, we walked down a flight of stairs and under the bridge that connects northern and southern Seoul. This is the view from under the bridge, across the water. Under the bridge and on the grass near the water were the perfect hang outs for lots of daydreamers, frisbee-throwers, couples looking for romance, dog-walkers and even one ecstatic — and scared — little boy learning how to ride a bike.

Saturday we went to Insa-dong, an artsy neighborhood full of  local artist love. Painters, sculpters, and artists from every medium in between flock here to sell their goods to people looking for authentic Korean merchandise. It is definitely a repeat mission — one of my goals is to find something exquisite to remind us of our fleeting time here.

Ssamziegil was one area that had four floors of shops, carts, and merchants selling their works of art. This great flower art installment wrapped around a four-story high cutout next to the stairs. It was pretty awesome. I think Insa-dong was my favorite neighborhood in Seoul. After shopping a bit, we grabbed an authentic Korean galbi lunch, and had these cinnamon-walnut donuts from a street vendor for dessert. Yummy!

While we trekked to Myeongdong for our next shopping excursion, we passed the Cheonggyecheon river. The river, which was a stream 50 years ago, was restored in 2002 to generate a tourist interest and beautify the city. It is a stunning breath of fresh air — nature and tranquility in the heart of the hectic city.

It even has waterfalls!

I only wish we could have seen the river at night. Rocks were strategically placed throughout the river, allowing people to cross on stepping stones. On many of the rocks, these statues below, and buried in the shallow water were different colored lights, which created a spectacular light display when the sun went down.

We finally made it to Myeongdong, just as the rain picked up a bit. The streets were FULL of westerners, gabbing and popping into lots of western-brand stores. The overcrowded, overwhelming street was definitely something new. We poked around in H&M for a bit, before the sheer amount of people got to me. I felt bombarded, so I took a breather. This is a great place to come, though, if I ever need to buy anything western.

Sunday, our final day, we ate lunch at CPK. It was delicious, expensive and worth it. Korean sauces tend to be on the sweet side — including on pizza — but there was no sweet sauce here. The pie tasted just like home.

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