Best free souvenir: Movie posters

It’s time to leave Korea and you’re scratching your head over what to buy for your friends, colleagues and loved ones. In the old days, Korean snacks, cosmetics and fashion were legendary items exclusive to those who’ve actually been to Korea. But nowadays everything from Pepero to Tony Moly can found in malls in Singapore, Malaysia, Taipei etc. In many cases you don’t even gain significant savings buying in Korea.

Well there’s still one thing that can prove you’ve actually been to Korea and that’s a Korean movie poster. Korean cinemas release posters for every new release, so it’s a unique souvenir that can’t be replicated if someone went to Korea 3 months later. Posters are free so just saunter over to the nearest CGV / Lotte Cinema / Megabox and have your fill.

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Why Incheon is the world’s best airport

On my first trip to Korea, I flew budget airline AirAsia and ended up arriving at 11pm in winter. Heading into Seoul to look for accommodation in the freezing cold was not a good idea, so I opted to sleep over in the airport.

I’ve slept in many airports and even in most first-world countries (eg. Australia, Spain etc) the best you can expect is a nap on a row of chairs and maybe a wipe-down in the toilet. Unless you want to fork out big money for the posh airport hotel.

To my surprise, Incheon Airport actually has a Spa on Air where you get a nice hot shower and sauna in luxurious clubhouse-style facilities, clean clothes to sleep in and a warm sleeping area, all for 20,000won or US$20. Read more here.

Then of course there are the live performances. It seems that you can always find a classical quintet or folk song duo somewhere around the corner. How charming!

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Hiking at Namhan Sanseong

Want to catch a breath of nature’s fresh air without breaking a sweat? Namhan Sanseong is one of the easiest hiking areas in Seoul, as it’s possible to take a bus up the mountain and save your strength for exploring the fortress wall and other attractions.

First, get yourself to Sanseong Station (Line 8) in Seoul’s southeastern quarter. Leave by Exit 2, walk straight and catch bus 52 that brings you up the windy mountain road and into the fortress. Alternatively, you can hike from the train station all the way up the mountain (it took me about an hour) along a quiet wooded path.

Once you’re inside the fortress, there are lots of things to see as well as restaurants and snack shops. Here’s my route in red (click on the map for high resolution):

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Yongpyong Ski Resort

This is my second time skiing at Yongpyong, so I thought I’d write a guide for all of you who are thinking of going.

How to get there
The cheapest way to get to Yongpyong from Seoul is to head to the DongSeoul Bus Terminal (Gangbyeon station, Line 2) and buy the 14,500 won bus ticket to Hoenggye (pronounced Hweng-gay). Buses run a few times every hour and the ride takes about 2.5 or 3 hours, depending on the personality of the driver. The bus stops at two other towns before reaching Hoenggye.

At Hoenggye, you can shop for groceries at the supermarket next to the bus terminal before grabbing a taxi to your accomodation. There is also a free shuttle bus to the resort. Alternatively hook up with one of the private rental shops and they will likely pick you up for no extra charge.

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Studio Ghibli comes to Seoul

Are you a fan of Princess Mononoke, Totoro, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and other Hayao Miyazaki favourites?

There’s a special exhibition at Seoul’s Yongsan I’Park Mall that runs till the end of Feb 2015. It’s rather pricey at 15,000 won and it was disappointingly small, so I wouldn’t recommend it to casual visitors. But if you’re a big fan (like me) then you absolutely have to visit it anyway, haha. There’s also a gift shop with cards, folders, jigsaws, soft toys and more.

Howl's Moving Castle. It really moves.

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Nature’s paradise in Jeju

When I posted on why NOT to visit Jeju some months back, some of you disagreed with me, so for the record, here’s what I do like about Jeju.

Jeju Island was voted as one of the new Seven Wonders of Nature a few years ago, and you can probably guess that it wasn’t for the Teddy Bear Museum or Loveland Sex Park. Formed by violent volcanic eruptions 2 million years ago, Jeju is a true geological marvel with natural attractions found nowhere else on earth. So if you’re not heading to Jeju prepared for some outdoor exploration (at bare minimum, comfortable walking shoes, rain protection and clothes suitable for the season) then you’re missing out on the best Jeju has to offer.

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Shopping for sportswear

I’m not a crazy shopper but one thing I do find Korea good for (besides cosmetics, alcohol and choco-pie) is sportswear.

While outdoor sports are pretty hot in Korea, outdoor sporting fashion is even hotter. Get on the subway and you won’t be hard pressed to find a few ahjummas and ahjosshis (middle-aged men and women) decked out in the latest waterproof, breathable, sweat-wicking hiking suits complete with boots and sticks. Even for a little stroll around the neighbourhood park, it’s not uncommon for Koreans to don five hundred dollars’ worth of gear.

With such a massive market, it’s not surprising that Korea is overflowing with sports stores. The intense competition between local names like Kolon Sport, Redface and Blackface (haha) as well as foreign brands Northface, K2 and Black Yak means you won’t be short of choice.

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Fresh, wriggling seafood at Busan’s Jagalchi market

If you want to shock your friends with huge, squirmy octopuses and giant crabs, Jagalchi market in western Busan is the place to be. Forget Seoul’s Noryangjin market, Busan is Korea’s biggest port city and has far fresher (and cheaper) bounty straight from the Pacific ocean.

This is where you can try the infamous “san-nakji” or live octopus. If you’re not sure how to swallow it, it could be dangerous to eat it whole, so do ask the stallholder to slice it up for you. Even sliced into small bits, the wriggling pieces will try to avoid your chopsticks or stick their suckers to your teeth – anything to escape being eaten!

Crabs at Busan’s Jagalchi market

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Hot stars at Busan Film Fest

Guess who we saw at Busan Film Festival 2013? None other than Han Hyo-joo and Jung Woo-sung!

Stargazing isn’t the only attraction at Asia’s top film festival, there are also interview and “Open Talk” events with the actors and directors, not to mention 100s of movies to watch!

Uhm Tae Woong and So Yi Hyun at an Open Talk event at Busan Film Festival 2013

Be sure to check the location carefully when buying tickets, as there are different screening locations that you will have to travel to. The most convenient are those near Centum City station.

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