Cycling the northern Han River

A friend asked about cycling from Seoul to Busan and although I haven’t done that, I’ve been to the starting point. The Bukhangang (northern Han River) cycling track is an incredibly scenic getaway east of the congested Gangnam/Jamsil area. It’s the first leg of the 700km Seoul-Busan route, but it’s also a perfectly good destination in itself, suitable for those of us who can only peddle for an hour before our butt hurts too much.

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360 views of Seoul at Naksan Park

I’ve been watching one of those old dramas called “The King 2 Hearts” which is about a handsome South Korean prince falling in love with a North Korean commando. The plot isn’t that great but there’s this amazing scene where the minor characters get up on the old city wall in Seoul and have a heart to heart.

Naksan Park as featured in the drama 'The King 2 Hearts'

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Royal azaleas of Goryeo mountain

I recently heard about a lesser-known spring flower destination: the Goryeo Mountain Azalea Festival (고려산진달래축제). A little tired of the crowds at the Yeoido Cherry Blossom Festival, I decided to check out this alternative flower fix, which is located on Ganghwa Island near to Incheon. Another plus point is that the azaleas bloom a week or two after the cherry blossoms, so you can still visit them in mid or late April, when the weather is slightly warmer (say 15 degrees in the afternoon?).

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Sangam MBC studio, ice skating and more

Here’s a place not listed in any tourist brochures – the Sangam MBC Ice Skating Rink and Digital Media City. If you want to be where the locals hang out, this is the place for you.

We took subway Line 6 to Digital Media City station Exit 2 before making a 10-minute walk (northwest) to the cluster of TV broadcasting studios that make up the Sangam complex. More directions here. It’s pretty artsy with a big egg in the middle:

The futuristic-looking Digital Media City at sunset.

The first thing we tried was to buy ice skating tickets but we arrived late in the afternoon and they were sold out for the timeslot that we wanted.

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Baseball cage!!!

Fancy yourself a champion batter? Or just wanna let loose some pent-up angst? The batting cage is your answer!

Thanks to the long-term American presence in Korea, baseball has become the hottest sport over the past 50 years and most neighbourhoods have a batting cage where you can step up to the plate and pit yourself against a robotic pitcher firing at 90km/h or 100km/h.

It usually costs 1,000 won or 2,000 won. At Insadong, for example, it’s 2,000 won for 20 balls. There’s usually a note-changing machine, but in case there isn’t, bring some loose change (1,000 notes and 500 coins).

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Tombs of the Kings and a 500-year-old gingko tree

Here’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that you can visit for just 1,000 won ($1). It’s called Seolleung-Jeongneung and is the final resting place of two kings and one queen from the Joseon dynasty.

The verdant green hill tombs and little red shrines are a quiet getaway from the hustle and bustle of the Gangnam financial district that surrounds the area. There are also some cool stone statues in the shape of zodiac animals that guard the tombs.

Don’t miss the giant gingko tree that has stood watch over the tombs ever since King Jungjong was buried here in the 16th century. Magnificent in summer, watch out for fallen gingko nuts that quickly turn smelly in autumn.

How to get there:
5-minute walk from Seolleung Station (Line 2) Exit 8. You can’t miss the fluttering flags on the wall.

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Best Korean BBQ (Samgyeopsal) in Seoul

I discovered this restaurant 4 years ago when I was out in the rain one day at Hapjeong Station and I saw some locals queuing on a street corner despite the weather. In other words, this place is pretty popular, so turn up early or prepare to wait!

Kimchi Fresh Samgyeopsal restaurant at Hapjeong station.

The speciality here is the samgyeopsal (BBQ pork) cooked with generous helpings of kimchi. There’s also “moksal” which is a different cut of pork. Don’t forget to try their mushrooms and also the steamed egg soup, which is a fantastic way to wash down all the meaty stuff. After all the meat is gone, you can order kimchi fried rice that is made in front of you on the hot plate.

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Half price movies with the CGV app

One of my favourite activities in Korea is to watch half price movies in the morning at CGV cinemas. Tickets are usually 5,000 won instead of 10,000 won, and if you choose to indulge yourself at the ultra-sized Starium cinema, it’s 8,000 won instead of 12,000 won.

So how do you find out which movies are half price? Download the CGV app (below left) and search by cinema or movie (below right). The app is in Korean, but you’ll get the hang of it after a bit. =) If you have trouble reading the movie titles, just swipe right through the movie posters until you find the one you want.

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If you hate soju, try cheongju

Soju may be the classic alcohol for a Korean BBQ dinner, but let’s be honest, it tastes like chemicals and leaves you with a terrible hangover.

Still, soju is a must-have when there’s samgyupsal (BBQ Pork) on the table, right?

Well my Korean friends recently introduced me to another liquor, cheongju, that looks like soju but is sweeter and cleaner of taste. If soju is compared to vodka, then cheongju might be closer to sake.

Cheongju at the beer can chicken restaurant.

Here’s a place where you can try cheongju: The beer can chicken restaurant in Mapo-gu.

Image credit: lotteliquor.com

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