Inner Circle

A New Seoul Experience

Yeoh Siew Hoon on the cutting-edge Korean capital

A New Seoul Experience
This is the trendy part of Seoul – lots of wine bars, cafes, boutiques and plastic surgery clinics.

One of the things I like about visiting Seoul is that I don’t have to worry about data roaming charges because this city’s Wi-Fi connection is among the best in the world. I know Wi-Fi shouldn’t be a priority, but it’s amazing how much peace of mind an easy connection provides travellers these days.  

While Korea does not have the highest average Internet speed in the world (it is fourth after Hong Kong, Japan and Romania), it does have the highest broadband adoption rates (above 10mbps), according to the latest quarterly report from Akamai Technologies. From the airport to hotels, shopping malls, cafes and restaurants, you can check emails and post updates on your social networks while enjoying the city.

Smart destinations and organisations make it easy for travellers to share their experiences on social networks, and Taiwan recently announced free Wi-Fi for travellers in designated areas. Shangri-La was the first hotel group globally to offer free Wi-Fi – a truly enlightened move considering many hotel brands have only begun thinking about implementing it. 

With the growing interest in Korean celebrity culture, thanks to Kpop singer Psy and Korean drama, Seoul has become one of the most desired places to visit for many young Asian travellers. When my 20-something-year-old niece heard I was going to Seoul, she gave me a shopping list of cosmetics, banana milk and sweet potato bread – the new “must-haves” from Seoul. It’s no longer kimchi and ginseng. 

Beauty is big business in Seoul – with plastic surgery clinics and cosmetics shops around every street corner. I was completely overwhelmed by the choice of local cosmetic brands – thank goodness I had a list and knew exactly what to buy. For the banana milk and sweet potato bread, I had to queue at a pastry shop at Incheon Airport, surrounded by fellow Asians buying the items in bulk – obviously they had the same shopping list. When it came to my turn, the sweet potato bread had run out, but the Malaysian woman ahead of me, who had an armful of them, felt sorry for me and offered me two from her loot.

Amazing. Who would have thought sweet potato bread would be the new kimchi? Kimchi, however, still hasn’t lost its appeal among locals, as I found out when I went to a local restaurant one evening. Owned by Kim Jong Gyeol, a famous TV drama actor, the restaurant is tucked away and packed with local patrons, so much so that you have to choose between sitting at a table or on the floor. 

We opted for the floor seating to get into the mood for a typical Korean barbeque meal. Beef, vegetables and sauces are brought to the table and you cook it yourself, which is part of the fun. The dinner and accompanying shoju (Korean rice wine) was excellent. Evidence of Kim Jong Gyeol’s popularity is plastered all over the restaurant walls. He doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, greeting customers and clearing tables. Even though it was a Thursday night, the turnover of customers was constant. I struck up a conversation on the way out and he told me that his son ran three outlets in Singapore. Fortunately, I didn’t even have to travel to Seoul to try Ju Shin Jong

After dinner, I fancied something sweet, so my friends drove me to the Gangnam area, where young people were crowded around a shop front. Famous for its organic ice cream with honey chips, the place seemed almost as famous as the sweet potato bread. It was pretty good – the crunchiness of the honey chips goes well with the soft, rich ice cream. Standing on the street eating with young Koreans made me feel young again.

This is the trendy part of Seoul – lots of wine bars, cafes, boutiques and plastic surgery clinics. We ended up at a rooftop champagne bar called Sparkle, where music videos were shown on a massive wall and flashing lamps added to the ambience.

The problem with Wi-Fi being available everywhere was that once seated, we immediately brought out our devices and spent the first 10 minutes ignoring each other. A friend’s device needed charging. When the waiter came, we ordered some champagne and requested an iPhone charger. “iPhone 4 or iPhone 5?” asked the waiter. All part of the new Seoul experience these days…

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Showing 1 comment

  1. Jean-Pierre Pardo: 5 years, 3 months ago

    My favorite Korean Pop Singers are the girlie group of Sandara Park & Big Bang :D they are the greatest among their peers because they' ve got cool fashion & style plus they are young-youth really stand out :P

    Thank you for posting nice travel stories.. I can' t go to those places for I am not allowed to travel-it' s pretty to learn about such places.

    I thank God for Shangri-la Website: really cool!!

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