Wed. Sept. 14 2016. Day 1 in Korea.
Last night, we took a red eye flight (getting to the airport at 10 p.m.) departing at 12:40 a.m. to go to Incheon International Airport for 6 days of self-guided travel in Korea. Woohoo! It was the first time that I’ve been to Korea without a tour — I’ve visited previously two other times, both times through a tour agency :).
The Asiana flight was about four hours and I passed out immediately except to receive the in-flight meal since I was still so tired and jetlagged from arriving in Hong Kong just 48 hours beforehand.
The chicken and rice in-flight meal was quite good and the mushroom porridge was decent.
We got to Incheon International Airport at 5:30 a.m. ish, collected our bags without having to wait at all, and then proceeded to the airport bus counter to buy our bus tickets to Gangneung as well as our T-Money cards.
Our bus ride wasn’t until 7:30 a.m. so we had some time to grab a dry breakfast or charge our devices at the charging stations at the airport. I’ve been to this airport three times now and it’s funny that I recognized everything so easily.
We got onto our coach bus by 7:30 promptly. We were pleasantly surprised with how spacious the seats were and how you could recline back a lot in your seat AND have your legs sit up. It was going to be a very comfortable 3-hour ride. (The only qualm I had was that there weren’t built-in power outlets at every seat — that would have made the ride even sweeter than it already was.)
Unfortunately, there was a traffic jam and it caused a 2-hour delay in our trip. Thus, instead of arriving at the Gangneung Express Bus Terminal at 11:30 as indicated, we didn’t get there until 2:45 p.m. That was one of the longest bus trips I’ve had while travelling.. Good thing I was drifting in and out of sleep and wasn’t hungry or in need of the bathroom.
Once at the Gangneung bus terminal, we took a taxi to Gangneung Seongyojang where we would be staying for the next two nights. It was still early and check-in wasn’t available so we decided to leave our luggage at the front reception and go to lunch.
Unfortunately, it turned out that the spot we wanted to go to for a soft tofu lunch (what Gangneung is famous for) was closed and so was our dinner spot. We had arrived during the midst of the Korean Thanksgiving holiday (called Chuseok ) and thus a lot of restaurants were closed.
The lady working at the front reception of the Seongyojang was extremely kind and took us under her wing (since we knew little Korean and didn’t know our way around the area). She let us check into the village house earlier than expected and then helped us reach a taxi to go to lunch in the same tofu restaurant surrounding area.
We lucked out and the taxi driver actually dropped us off at the soft tofu place that we had intended to visit (so turns out it wasn’t closed).
We had a great late lunch of a set menu with soft tofu. Yum!! The soft tofu came in a bowl with tofu water and it was really fresh and good. It was definitely authentic, no doubt about that. The banchan were great too.
We noticed the tofu ice cream shop outside the restaurant and ordered some to try. I got the original flavour tofu ice cream. It came with a crystallized lemon slice.
The Chosang tofu soft ice cream was quite good and did taste of tofu. After a while, when it started to melt because I wasn’t eating it fast enough, its consistency was similar to broken-up tofu.
The Triple Berry version tasted as it sounded with some blueberries and syrup on it.
After our lunch, we headed back to Gangneung Seongyojang to explore the village since we didn’t do so when we first arrived. It was typical of other hanok village houses I’ve seen but it was so picturesque and beautiful with a wide open lawn and landscaped greenery. The weather had died down too and was cool, cloudy, and comfortable.
At 6:20 p.m., after settling in a bit and finding out that our hanok house had wifi, we met up with the lady at the front reception who was incredibly kind to go out of her way to drive us to downtown Gangneung where we would be having a traditional Korean dinner.
We couldn’t thank her enough for doing so much for us and extending a much appreciated hand in helping us get to our destinations.
When we arrived at Yehyang, we were placed in a private dining rooms with a Korean style of dining: low table, chair backs, and sitting on the floor. It was amazing!
Shortly, dishes of banchan arrived at our table. There were so many types!! I couldn’t stop taking photos of everything. Each plate was placed strategically on the table and bigger plates of food started arriving on the table to fill up the space. It was incredible how much food we had on the table!!
There was banchan of all types, green salad, fried fish, tempura vegetables, soft tofu, sweet and sour miso soup, gingseng stone pot rice, stewed pork, preserved ginseng, flat noodles, and so much more! It was a Korean feast! 🙂
When we were all beyond full, we walked around the streets of downtown Gangneung and visited the local H-Marts and GS shops to buy some sustenance for the next day.
The restaurant staff helped us to wave down a vehicle to get back to residence too. All the Korean staff we met today absolutely went above and beyond to help us get to our destinations and didn’t seem annoyed or unhelpful at all. We were given guardian angels throughout the day. 🙂
Back at “home” at 10 p.m., we figured out how to set up the beds on the floor for our first night sleeping in Gangneung Seongyojang. There is no “real” shower save for a bathroom with a sink, toilet, two handheld showerheads, and a drain in the middle of the floor. I was expecting this and wasn’t surprised at all to see it. 🙂 I was grateful for the free wifi, the extra extension cord that the lady lent us, and how we were all able to coordinate our shower times and sleeping spots in the small village house.
Tomorrow is mid-autumn festival and also the start of the all-important Korean Thanksgiving Holiday. I’m curious to see where we will end up dining tomorrow since almost all shops are supposed to be closed. Let’s see! Hoping for a great second day in Korea. 🙂