Starstruck by Seoul

I never thought that it was even possible to get starstruck by a country.  But the Hallyu wave has become very popular that almost every stop I made and meals that I ate in Korea reminded of a drama, sitcom and variety show that I’ve seen.

Our Cebu Pacific flight to Incheon left Manila on time. The 436-seater Airbus A330 flies daily to Incheon.  The four-hour flight can leave you hungry.  You can bring your own food for the flight.  But if you prefer an in-flight hot meal, it’s better to makeup your mind early and preorder your meals when you book your ticket to get a free drink.   Hot meals can also be purchased during the flight.

There is the complimentary Smile magazine onboard to help kill time. However, I rely heavily on the two latest episodes of “While You Were Sleeping” for entertainment.  I have downloaded it on my phone for free from Viu.  The promise of breathing the same air as Lee Jung Suk and Suzy Bae is enough to keep me awake with excitement on the remainder of the flight.

We were 12 in total in the group.  And we were all women.  The official name of the tour we were in was Ladies’ Special, but we jokingly referred to it as #OplanOppa.

The colors of Korea during fall are brown, red, yellow and green.

Korea requires visa for Filipino citizens. It is recommended that you apply for one before you purchase a flight ticket.  A single-entry visa is valid for three months and up to 59 days since issue date.  Visa application is free! However, you must submit all the required documents including bank statements and Income Tax Return.

We go to Everland Resort on our first day.  The theme park is operated by Samsung. Yes, the same brand as your Android device. The conglomerate also owns the mountain where the resort stands.  The brand is found everywhere in Seoul including on the road.  I found out that the unfamiliar car brand used frequently in K-dramas is Samsung.

Autumn is a popular period for the locals to go to the resort because the 10-16°Celsius makes the perfect day to stand in line for the rides. You go to the theme park not just for the ride but also for its landscape.  It is gorgeous during fall.  The mountains and foliage in shades of yellow, green, orange and brown are breathtaking.

The theme park has served as set for many dramas.  In fact, greeting me at the entrance is the carriage where the two lead characters of “Kill Me, Heal Me” kissed for the first time.  It’s been reincarnated as a pumpkin carriage for Halloween.

Even an ordinary street in Gangnam looks picturesque.

The Venus Garden at Everland

I also find the spot where Nam Joo Hyuk and Shin Se Kyung sat on in “The Bride of Habaek.”  It’s in the Venus Garden where you can find the roses and the Grecian statues.  The roller coaster that made Habaek feel defeated can also be found there but due to time constraint (and yes, a little chicken factor) I was not able to try.

Suwon Hwaseong is near Everland.  It can be squeezed in as a quick detour from the theme park to Seoul.  The walled city makes a nice spot for bird watching enthusiasts.  There are plenty of persimmon trees beyond the wall and it is laden with fruit in autumn.  They make the perfect hangout place for kkachi or Korean magpie.  The black and white kkachi is a symbol of good luck in Korea.

We end the night with a stroll to the futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP).  Several dramas including “My Love From the Star” and “She Was Pretty” have used the site as set locations. The iconic stairs in the building is favorite spot for photoshoots.

The iconic stairs in Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a favorite site for photo shoots.

What made DDP exciting for me is the SUM Celebrity Shop found inside the building.  SUM shops sell merchandise from SM Entertainment artists including SHINee, EXO, Super Junior, Red Velvet and Girls Generation. The pop-up store will suffice if you lack the time to go to Coex Artium.

We head to Bukchon Hanok Village the next morning.  The village is one of the places in Seoul where you can still find traditional houses.  Tourists often flock the streets in rented hanbok for photos.

For us, it is a day when we play chemists.  Aromind is a perfumery that offers workshop on how to make your very own scent.  It is run by certified aromatherapist Hyun Mi-choi.  The shop looks like a hanok or traditional Korean house on the outside and spa slash science lab on the inside.  Each session costs $60 per person. They will hold the workshop even when there’s only one participant.  A session can last to up to two hours.

Perfume oils in dropper bottles line the table while each person is provided with a beaker, stirrer, glass funnel, weighing scale, bottle of alcohol and worksheet. There are also wooden jars of coffee beans to give our nostrils a break.  These are our tools to make our own eau de parfum.

We are each given 30 paper strips with different scents.  We choose our top three scents to make the top, middle and base notes.  I go for cotton, rose and grapefruit.  Hyun Mi and her assistant individually computes the amount of perfume oils that will go to the 12ml sample perfume and then to the 50 ml final perfume.

Our bottles of perfume are ready to use after the session, but Hyun Mi recommends that we store it inside the refrigerator for two weeks.

We pay a visit to K-StyleHub. You might be wondering why anyone would want to go the tourist center when there’s an entire city to explore.  But the hub is unlike any other tourist centers you know.  It is almost like a free interactive museum that you can spend an entire afternoon in.

The hub has plenty of activities offered for free to visitors.  There are virtual reality rides, hanbok fittings, workshops on traditional handicrafts, and even a cooking class.

The digital photobooth is where I enjoyed my time the most because this is where you can take photos with members of idol groups of Big Bang, 2NE1, Rainbow and AOA.    There are four booths to choose from that offers different scenarios.

We have our snacks at Tongin Market.  You can exchange your won for “old money” that you can use to purchase goods in the market.  The market is known for its oil tteokbokki. It is cooked in chili oil instead of the usual gojuchang or red chilli paste.

Traditional coins are used to purchase goods in Tongin Market. But the market is famous for its stir-fried spicy “tteokbokki.”

We head to Innisfree flagship store in Myeongdong to shop for some quintessential Korean beauty products.  The store has a green café on its second floor.  The café has the most addicting green tea tiramisu.  Its green tea has been sourced from Jeju Island.  It’s surprisingly light.  The café also offers the perfect spot for people-watching from its window.

Ladies in search for the perfect leading man will especially enjoy the café.  They have virtual reality chairs that let you enter a fantasy world that involves Innisfree spokesperson Lee Minho.  You are given an eye mask treatment while you are in another plane. I, on the other hand, am contented to just run away with the tiramisu.

I skipped dinner with the girls to visit the mothership of  SM Entertainment. I took the subway from Myeongdong to Samseong Station to go to SM Coex Artium.  I took Exit 6 and walk toward the building.

SM Coex Atrium is K-pop heaven.

There’s a reason why you should take the train instead of the cab to get there.  Samseong station is a full on K-pop station.  It is the only station with billboards that greets idols on their birthday month.  I saw billboards for Seventeen’s Woozi and NCT’s Chen Le when I visited.  They both celebrated their birthdays on Nov. 22. I also saw billboards of SHINee’s Taemin because he is promoting his second album “Move.”

I arrive 10 minutes before the SUM shop closed, thus, limiting my time to explore.  Shopkeepers allow visitors to take photos but not of videos.  Each floor showcases the achievements of SM talents including their awards and trophies.

They have a café, which unfortunately, was already closed.  But the shopkeepers allowed me to purchase a few eggs from the gashapon machine before they turned the lights off.   The gashapons had washi tapes, pins and key rings  of different groups.   SHINee’s washi tapes are the only thing sold out, so I contented myself to the pins.

I return to L7 Lotte, our hotel in  Myeongdong to leave my purchases before heading out.  It’s amazing how after 11 p.m., the district would almost be free of people. I walk to Shinsegae Mall to look for its fountain that served as backdrop for some of the scenes of the dramas “Legend of the Blue Sea” and “Goblin.”

Beauty products and street food are two things you can buy in Myeongdong.

I was trying to figure out how to cross the street when the lights on the mall started to move and change.  As luck would have it, the mall was doing test runs for its Holiday season funfare.  I missed exploring the busy and crazy Myeongdong, but I was rewarded with a preview of Shinsegae’s light show. It was a great tradeoff.

We started our last day in Seoul right by meeting a few drama stars and idols.  Well, their wax version, that is.  Grevin Museum is home to several wax figures of international personalities.  But I really was after the Korean celebrities.

We started on top and work our way down the building.  The first figure that caught my eye was Bae Yong Joon of “Winter Sonata.” Figure skating fairy Kim Yuna was also featured. “Running Man” mainstay Yoo Jae Suk, Psy, Rain and Big Bang’s G-Dragon were all sharing the same room.

Lee Minho sits comfortably on his own couch facing his leading lady in the drama “The Heirs” Park Shin Hye. Kim Soo Hyun’s character in “My love from the star” stands tall in one corner. I enjoy holding Hyun Bin’s hand as I pretend to answer questions from reporters.  Filipinos know him as the male lead of “My name is Kim Sam Soon.”   On the bar is Jang Keun Suk, leading man of Shin Hye in “You’re Beautiful.”

After taking so many photos, we head to Maison de Beaute (@mdbkorea on Instagram) to get our nails done. It is my first time in two years. I am also a nail-biter. I prove to be a challenge and four people work on my nails. I sit comfortably on a massage chair while they put on gel polish.

A nail technician in Maison de Beaute explains that their gel polish is less harmful to nails.

We head to Sulwhasoo Flagship after. The flagship store offers products exclusively sold there. Visitors can enjoy the luxurious spa at the basement. Before you get your treatment, you will have to answer a series of question about your lifestyle, your diet, your exercise routine to match the products that will be used on you.

But what I love about the building is its architecture.  Inspired by lantern, the space is divided by brass frames. It is open but still manage to give a sense of privacy.

The Sulwhasoo building has given me a better understanding why dramas always include a rooftop scene. There is something very romantic about having a view of Seoul’s skyline, the colorful leaves of trees and the sunlight.

Our final stop for the trip is the Seoul Tower. We bid our farewell to the wonderful city while we enjoy the view of the Han River and Seoul at night.

We head back to the airport to get on our Cebu Pacific flight to Manila.  The plane that took us to our adventure is the same plane that will take us to the warmth of our home.

This trip was sponsored by Korean Tourism Organization.


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