Seoul Food: Fly to Korea (Day 0 - 1)

7:30:00 AM

Sleep? Who needs that?

Five days. four nights. 22 hours on a plane. 95 hours in South Korea. When you put it that way, it sounds even crazier than when I described it to my friends and family. First and foremost, I have to thank Visit Seoul for giving me the opportunity to visit South Korea. Trust me, South Korea has been on my travel bucket list for a while, but it never occurred to me I was going to be going so soon.

It all started with a seemingly harmless questionnaire to a link my friend sent me. It was a simple survey that, depending on your choices, the answer will tell you what type of tour would be most suitable for you when coming to Korea. After completing the survey, they ask for your name and email and enter you into a drawing to go to South Korea.

Pretty simple, right? After all, this wasn’t the first I applied for a “win-a-trip-to-so-and-so” sweepstakes. What are the odds that I would win? I never pegged myself as someone with Lady Luck on my side. Nor did I happen to have ‘Felix Felicis’ on hand.  

But ‘lo and behold, I woke up groggily one morning, checked my email and saw that I won a trip to Korea. SAY WHAT? After confirming that it was not a scam and continuously reassuring my parents that this was a legit operation, I packed my bags, grabbed my best friend (you heard right! I could bring along a guest) and flew to Korea. 

The flight to Korea from San Francisco International Airport to Incheon International Airport was about 12 hours on Korean Air. They have a reputation of having great airplane food, so I was expecting a lot when I boarded. 

Last Chai Tea before leaving for Korea
Essentially twelve long hours bored out of my mind. I’m a notoriously horrible sleeper, so seeing as though I can’t fall asleep normally on my bed, in the dark, it was impossible to do so in a moving aircraft. So I watched a lot of the in-flight entertainment (49 Ronin, Secretly Greatly) and I even watched The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring…

I believe we were near Russia.
I was served two meals during my flight to Korea. The first, I chose the Bibimbap, that came with a side of seaweed soup along with some pickles and orange slices. Everything was hot and I have to agree with the reviews online. Korean Air serves a pretty tasty Bibimbap.

For my second meal, I chose the chicken option and it was a thick slice of chicken breast served over a tomato sauce, assorted vegetables and mashed potatoes. Along with that, we have carrot cake (too sweet for me), a cherry tomato & mozzarella salad with a bread roll (that oddly resembles a shitake mushroom). While the meal paled in comparison to the bibimbap served previously, I’d say it was still pretty good for airplane food’s standards. 
After landing in Seoul, what was the first thing we consumed? 
Banana Milk. Yup, delicious and nutritious (brownie points if you get the reference! Heh.) banana milk from one of the convenience stores inside the airport. 

Lost in Translation: Kongrish & Hand Gestures

Instead of taking the bus from the airport to the hotel, we decided to take the subway. So we exchanged money, filled up our T-card and made our way to the subway station. Overall, the journey and transfer between subway stations was pretty easy. The real problem we ran into after getting off of the subway was figuring out which was the closest exit to get out of to reach our hotel. Google Map estimated that it was only an 8 minute walk from our subway station to the hotel. Problem was... it didn’t tell us the exit. Good Riddance Google! By that time, it was already 9 PM and out of all the chaos, we decided to exit randomly and go from there. 

After exiting, the next problem we ran into was the communication barrier. I had an address and they had their phones, but I could neither read nor understand Korean that well. With their rudimentary English and my rudimentary Korean, I managed to deduct the general direction we needed to head to reach the hotel after talking to a worker inside a phone store.

Turns out, we got out of the wrong exit. There was a much closer exit that would put us as Google described, 8 minutes away from the hotel. It would have also saved us the trouble of maneuvering through the stop lights above ground while dragging our suitcases.

With heavy feet, heavy luggage and heavy eyelids, we finally reached the front lobby of Seoul Palace Hotel where I would stay for the course of this trip. 

Hotel Room Switch-a-roo

That was when… the second problem hit us in the face. When I asked to check in with the front desk, it seems as those all the rooms reserved for the trip was already given away, which didn’t make sense because there were a total of three winners + three guests = three rooms. It turns out instead of giving one room per winner and guest, they mistakenly gave two rooms out for one of the winners and his guest. So, to sort out the mess, the front desk concierge had to call the other winner down and ask him to return the keys. They asked whether they used both of the rooms or just one of them and they had the nerve to say that they did not touch the other room.

Well… when we got to the room, it was a different story. The beds looked like somebody clearly slept on it. The towels in the bathroom were laid out and the shower was used and one of them laid their wet towel over the coffee table in the room.  Untouched? Right

So we called the front desk and told them about the situation regarding our room and they graciously told us that they will simply switch us out and give us a new room. +1 for Seoul Palace Hotel’s customer service. Not only that, they gave us complimentary breakfast vouchers for the entirety of our style. Another +1! Do I look like the type to turn down free food? 

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing... for some Korean Food

With our room dilemma resolved, there was just one small problem left. It’s nearly 10 PM and we haven’t eaten dinner yet. Leaving our luggage in the room, we left to explore our options. The first thing that came to mind was the KFC we spotted when we came out of the subway exit. However, by the time we made it over to KFC, entered the restaurant, it turns out the kitchen was closed because the restaurant closes at 10.

Now what were our options? There was a Paris Baguette and a café near our hotel that was still opened along with a convenience store (if all fails, instant noodle will never let me down), but my best friend and I wanted something hot and hearty. After spending some time wandering around, we decided to go back down into the subway station. Luckily our subway station (Express Bus Terminal Station) was a large terminal that included an underground shopping mall (but more on that later).

Most of the food court in that area was already closed for the night, but there was a small stand that was still open. We took a gamble and ordered the first combo on the menu. I say a gamble because it was written all in Korean. For 10,000 won ($10), we got a bowl of piping hot udon, two small kimbap roll, a plate of very spicy (I have low tolerance) dukbokki and a huge platter of sundae (blood intestines) and two side dishes.

TIP:  Don’t be fooled by all the banchans they give you over here in America. In Korea, it’s usually just the one-two combo (kimchi and pickled daikon). They don't give out fish cakes, seaweed, tofu, bean sprouts, japchae and etc.

Being our first meal in Korea, you would think we stuffed ourselves full and finished off the entire thing. It was actually… the opposite. I don’t know if it was the time difference, the airplane trip, the lack of sleep or just the fact that I hadn’t eaten for so long that my stomach did the reverse and shut down. Overall, I felt bloated and didn’t have much of an appetite. The udon was tasty and pleasing to my stomach while the dukbokki, unfortunately was too spicy for me. And for the first time in my life, I tried sundae (blood sausage). I’ve tried the blood tofu/pudding before that goes into Chinese-styled porridge, but I’ve never tried sundae before.

It’s an… interesting taste. I don’t think everybody would like the taste of blood sausage. To be honest, to this day, I’m not sure if I liked it. It has a gel-like texture that reminded me of gelatin and glutinous rice. There wasn’t a coppery taste that you might associate normally with blood, but it’s definitely only suitable for certain palates.

That concludes our first night in Korea. It was extremely eventful and left a deep impression on me. You might say, there was a first for everything.

And this was only Thursday night. The line of ‘first’ continued on.

Coming up Day 2: Entertainment Companies. Finding Wi-Fi. Express Bus Terminal Shopping.

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