Having a local to make our travel arrangements makes all the difference. Our friend EY did the perfect job in ensuring that our short vacation went without a hitch. Married to a Singapore man, she shuttles between Korea and Singapore because of work.
To give us a sample of the old Korean life, she booked a Hanok (traditional Korean house) called Pine Suites for two nights.
The ideal hanok is built with a mountain in the back and a river in the front, with the ondol heated rock system for heating during cold winters and a wide front porch for keeping the house cool during hot summers.
Indeed Pine Suites has several hills at the back, and it overlooks the Changdeok Palace. I think the location is auspicious.
Pine Suites is designed by space designer Gyeong Soo Kim who has put in much thought into the space planning, marrying antique furniture with modern facilities to provide guests with a most comfortable experience. We slept very well the cosy warm beds at night, completely oblivious to the hostile weather outside.
We woke up to bright sunshine and soft snow drifting down slowly from the sky. The walk around the neighbourhood was most pleasant. Most of the Hanoks have become museums and galleries showcasing traditional arts. The arts scene is vibrant and the local youths really show an interest in the arts.
From our Hanok, we walked in the direction of Samcheong-Dong. If you like quirky designs, you'll enjoy the stroll around Bukchon village like us.
With an eclectic mix of the new and the old, you'll never feel bored in this vibrant city.
All of a sudden, we came upon some shops selling movie star posters. As it turns out, some popular Korean dramas have been filmed at the school nearby. Tourists from around the world loiter outside the school gates just to have a peek at the premises.
Lucky for us, it was opened to the public on Christmas Day. True enough, we spotted people wandering around the school yard.
I must say it is a charming place, quite unlike the typical Korean buildings.
Being Christmas Day, we didn't have to look very hard for Christmas trees and decorations around the city.
Soon, we were wandering through the alleys in Bukchon, ending up in Samcheong Dong. During winter, the area offers a different sight compared to my last visit in July.
Due to the cold, we couldn't stay outside for too long. It was then I realised that ice cream palours offer hot desserts in winter.
We joined the line at The Second Best Dessert Shop just to savour our favourite red bean dessert again.
The piping hot red bean paste that is chockful of chestnut, red bean, ginkgo nut and glutinous rice dumpling was perfect for a wintry day.
When we arrived at Insadong, the smell of hoddeok was too irresistible.
We joined the line for this popular winter snack - fried pancake filled with cinnamon sugar.
Then we took a taxi to the Art museum where we joined yet another longer queue to buy tickets for the Tim Burton exhibition. Looking back at the photos, I realised we did our fair share of queuing during this holiday! When it comes to lining up, the Koreans are very orderly and patient even at sub-zero temperatures!