Afternoon tea at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, Seattle

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If you’re feeling fancy or are in the mood for a nice cup of tea, The Georgian Restaurant at Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle offers a great backdrop for afternoon tea with friends and family.

Like all afternoon tea sets, you select your tea and enjoy it with pastries, sandwiches, and sweets. This set also included a refreshing berry starter.

Attire is smart casual, and reservations are recommended. You can give them a call at (206) 621-7889.

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Museums of Seoul

A quick Google search will show you that Seoul alone has dozens of beautiful, interesting museums. I’m willing to go on a month-long trip to Seoul just to explore the history that’s captured there. Unfortunately, we were only able to stop by one museum on this trip, but I list a few other museums I’d like to visit on my trip  back.

Note: Amazingly, museums in Korea don’t have an entrance fee (unless it’s a special exhibit). Most museums, palaces, and other historical sites are closed on Mondays. The museum we went to is open 7 days a week.

National Museum of Korea

The National Museum of Korea has three floors of artifacts and stories, so wear your walking shoes. There are plenty of cafes scattered throughout where you can take a break, and the museum has free WiFi for when you want to enjoy afternoon tea and reconnect with the world.

In addition to the main museum, they have a special exhibit and children’s museum. If you want to see the current exhibit in particular, I recommend going there first, or you may find yourself too exhausted after making your way through everything else.

When you’re done exploring the exhibits, head outside to the nearby Yongsan Family Park and go for a walk.

Other Museums of Seoul

Seoul has so many amazing museums I doubt I could visit them all (comfortably) in less than 2 months. When I return, here are the top 3 on my list that I’d like to visit.

  1. The War Memorial of Korea – It’s fascinating to see how different countries’ museums depict wars. I love the soberness of it all.
  2. Dongdaemun History & Culture Park – I caught a quick glimpse of this on our last night, but sadly the museums had already closed.
  3. Cheonggyecheon Museum – We took a free walking tour along the stream, where we learned a little about its history, but we ran out of time for the museum. I recommend taking a walk along the stream after your visit.

Seoraksan and a New Shabu-Shabu Experience

Seoraksan National Park is a beautiful place if you love mountain views. It has multiple hikes to choose from, but we decided on the one that included a cable car ride.

After the cable car, we climbed a few steps up the rest of the way to Gwongeumseong Fortess, where a castle used to stand. Wear shoes with good traction, because once you get to the mountain itself there are no more stairs. We visited on a dry winter day, so the ground was rough and had good grip.

After the mountain, we stopped for lunch at Chaesundang Shabu-Shabu, where they served amazing veggies and a new experience for me.

After our meal, they added rice and later an egg, then made congee! It was delicious, and everyone should do it.

Go on a hike, grab some hotpot, ask them to make porridge (jook).

Cheonggyecheon (Cheonggye Stream)

cheonggyecheon

Cheonggyecheon was a natural stream that was polluted, covered up, and restored too quickly to go back to its natural process. Today, it’s a man-made stream and a lovely place to go for a walk.

We took a walking tour provided by VisitSeoul.net, a great resource to anyone who is planing their trip to Seoul.

The stream itself is beautiful, the seasonal decorations are cute, but the history of the stream was the most interesting part of the day.

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The stream started out as a center for people to do things like gather water, do laundry, and the like. Eventually, as the city and surrounding areas urbanized, it got so polluted that the government decided to cover it up with an elevated highway. Eventually, as the highway got older it became unsafe to travel across.

In 2003, the mayor of Seoul, Lee Myung-bak undertook a giant restoration project that was initially met with public criticism. Many said he was doing it too quickly, and the stream would go from a natural stream to a man-made one. Even today, the maintenance fees of the stream are high–the water must be pumped from the bottom of the stream back to the top to start the flow again. There’s also a section of the stream that must be restored after every flood season.

Waterfall in Cheonggyecheon

There are generators under this waterfall

Today, the stream is much-loved, and a popular place for tourists and locals alike. It’s also a popular date place, so beware of this area in the evenings if you’re PDA-averse.

A little further down from the bridge that we stopped at (with the market nearby) is a museum and palace you can explore.

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Fun fact: there are rocks along the stream, which serve three purposes. 1) to slow down the water current; 2) to serve as stepping stones if you must get across; and 3) to increase oxygen levels in the water.

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Our tour guide mentioned that there are plans for a series of small projects aimed at turning the stream into a natural, self-sustaining stream once again.

 

Old City Walls and Samcheong Park

Nearby the cafe-lined streets of Bukhon Hanok Village is Samcheong Park.

Whenever you go to a new place, it’s always a good idea to visit a museum and a park to get a glimpse into the past and present life of the place you’re visiting. Plus, parks are awesome.

Samcheong Park is a great place to go with kids, pets, or alone. They have a library/cafe, mulitple playgrounds and hikes, and an awesome place for people to work out. Most of the people who came to exercise were “ajumas” (grandmas), but I guarantee they were more capable than I was.

There’s a mountain trail that will bring you to a section of the old wall that used to surround the city.

The climb up to Bugaksan Seoul Seonggwak-ro had a lot of steps, but the view was worth it. It takes you up to a section of the wall, past tall trees through old sentinel lookouts. By the time I was out of breath, multiple older couples passed me, and we met a couple who were 70+ and did the hike every week! Putting me to shame.

From the top of the mountain, you can continue on Waryong Park, or continue on yet another hike.

It could take weeks to explore the entire place, and was an awesome find just strolling past. If you’re in Seoul, the park is a simple pleasure but a must-do for my list.

Hanging out at Incheon International Airport

As far as airports go, Incheon int’l is probably one of the best in the world. We rode Asiana, and it was smooth sailing from the time I did our mobile check-in.

Right after immigration, check out the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation. They make a great effort to introduce the local culture to foreigners. We stopped in and painted our own personalized magnets based on traditional temple patterns called Dancheong.

They also have a ton of other free cultural experiences, like picture taking with the royal family. They rolled out right behind me as I was painting, so I’m positive my backside photobombed a few tourists’ photos.

We also spent more than $100 shopping at the Duty Free in the terminal, so I was able to enter a game, and I won the most adorable passport holder!

I recommend saving any leftover paper momey for your next trip, but if you have any coins left, you can donate them with one if many convenient boxes around. Here’s the one we chose.

Myeong-Dong Shopping Street

If you ever visit Seoul, the Myeong-Dong area is a must-see for foodies and anyone who likes skincare products. The streets are lined with shops, and at night (around 6 p.m.) the food stalls open up and it turns into a gastronomic dream. There are so many things to do, places to stay, and shows to see you could easily spend a month in this area alone and still have plenty to discover.

Where to stay

We stayed at Hotel Creto, close to the well-known Sejong Hotel (named after the Korean king who created the Korean alphabet). Shout-out to the friendly staff, who helped us get a lost phone back–and even charged it and cleaned it while it was waiting for us at the front desk!

Street food

More than one person has told me about the street food in Korea, so of course I had to check it out.

Once offices get out, colorful, interesting food can be found on the streets of Seoul. Myeong-dong and Insadong, are excellent streets for street food and shopping.

Go for dinner, enjoy the lights (Seoul is a city to see once it gets dark), and let your taste buds wander.

My favorites: Tteok-galbi meatballs, pomegranate juice, and the cheese butter baked scallops.

Warning: The snails made my niece sick. I spit them out after I took a bite.

Restaurants

The Myeong-Dong area has plenty of awesome restaurants to choose from. Three of my favorites were a dumpling and noodle shop, a Korean barbecue restaurant, and a local hangout with awesome kimbap (pickled radish, carrots, meat, and cucumber rolled in rice and seaweed).

Myeongdong Kyoja

Myeongdong Kyoja was established in 1966 and is still going strong until now. It’s known for knife-cut hand-made noodles, and delicious broth. I was a huge fan of their dumplings (akin to a meatier xiao long bao) and noodles. The soup was savory, flavorful, filling, and perfect in the cold weather.

Ouga

We were drawn to Ouga because of three large ceramic pots outside that sparked our curiosity.

Ouga is a Korean barbecue restaurant that has delicious pork and beef dishes. I love the vegetables in Korea. Wrapping the meat in different types of leaves made a huge difference in the flavor–bigger than I expected. My favorite was the kale + beef short ribs.

Korean Style Pancake

Right in front of our hotel was a local hangout spot. I know this because as we were looking at the menu a Korean man came out for a smoke and told us it’s delicious in there.

I couldn’t get the English name, but it was just to the right of the street in front of Creto. It also had red tarp that advertised “Korean Style Pancake.”

They had amazing kimbap, bibimbap and Korean pancakes. Basically everything we ordered there was a hit, right down to the kimchi side dishes.

Reminders

The norm for restaurants in Korea is one menu per table, not per person. It isn’t a tipping culture (although I’ve noticed people are grateful if you do tip, especially if they can tell you’re foreign), and if you don’t see utensils anywhere check the sides of your tables for hidden drawers. It’s also customary to have one order per person, ie. they don’t like it if three people share two orders.

Nanta

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Nanta is a non-verbal cooking-themed comedy show that’s right in the Myeong-dong area. We got our tickets, did a bit of shopping/eating, and then hung out in the theater cafe before the show.

I recommend seeing the show. It’s hilarious, the actors of the night were awesome, and they’re good with audience participation.

Cat Cafe

Last but not least, if you’re into animals or want to try something interesting, grab a cup of coffee at the cat cafe. I didn’t know what to expect at first, but the cafe was overflowing with cats (usually hanging out in boxes) and they were unusually calm. My favorite thing to do was hold their paws while they napped. The coffee wasn’t bad either.

My favorite one was a little cross-eyed, but that just made me like him/her more.

Nearby: Insadong

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A 20 minute walk away from Myeong-dong is InsaDong, a street that has cool street food, old fashioned houses-turned-restaurants, and cute boutiques to shop at. I also found a gallery to explore. Don’t forget to explore all the side streets you can turn off into, since that’s where we found some awesome tiny cacti.

Insadong is where to go if you want Korean-made products. I found things a little more affordable than Myeong-dong, plus it’s close to the SaChoom Theater, where you can catch some cool shows.

Tugu Kungstring Palais

Tugu Kungstring Palais is a culturally rich restaurant that combines Oriental, Dutch, and Indonesian art and architecture elegantly. I wasn’t impressed by their food, but the atmosphere and details were spectacular. They also have a great gift shop–I bought beautiful handmade cards from a local orphanage.

Our meal at Tugu Kungstring Palais

  • Beef rendang
  • Tofu and tempek
  • Genjer (veggies)

In addition to the main dining room, which features a beautiful panting depicting the last drink of a national hero, there’s also a Oriental-inspired bar that’s a lovely place to have a drink.

Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa

Taman Sari is a charming spa in Central Jakarta. It has locally inspired decor, and a great menu of services. We were welcomed with hot ginger tea, got papaya milk scrubs (I recommend it), and ended with local orange juice and tropical fruit; today was watermelon, papaya, and green melons. I find their price and service really good, and I was happy with the treatment.

Tips: If you get a scrub, ask them to heat it up. They put their scrub mixture above a candle so it’s warm when they apply it.

Seribu Rasa in Plaza Indonesia

Seribu Rasa is a seafood & grill chain across Indonesia that serves amazing Indonesian food.  We visited the one in Plaza Indonesia, which is a nice place to go shopping.

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Here’s what we got (I took the names from our order form);

  • Orange juice – a blend of local Indonesian oranges, served hot
  • Deep fried tofu kinabalu – tofu that’s mixed with vegetables, then deep fried
  • Oxtail soup peranakan (Sop buntut) – a famous dish that I’ve seen all over Jakarta
  • Nasi lemak beef rdng – a rice platter with an assortment of food around it

Indonesian flavors strike me as savory without being too spicy. Whereas Philippine dishes run sweet and Singaporean runs spicy, Indonesian food is savory with just enough spice to give it a kick. (I can’t handle that much spice, so if you enjoy highly spicy food you may want to ask for chili pepper.)