2019 is all about my spiritual revelation. My birthday was on 1st June 2019 and that marked my 35th years of age (Gasp! Haha!). So, I wanted it to be a very spiritual event and coincidentally, it was during Ramadhan and school holidays. Initially, I was aiming for Perth but being an eleventh-hour person, I was hesitated took my own sweet time to deliberate the decision. But the price kept increased and finally circa 2-3 weeks prior to the date, I make the decision to book the ticket and saw that the price was more or less the same with South Korea’s. Since entering Australia is quite tedious with its rigid documentation and all, I decided to go for Seoul (although I wasn’t particularly horny about it!) and since Kat is now based there, perhaps I could also pay her a visit, no?
From Alor Setar’s ETS Station to KLIA2 Tune Hotel on the 30th May 2019.
The journey wasn’t the typical tourist-y; it was just a brief spiritual one. I also had that thought of spending my Eid there but Kakak wasn’t keen on the idea. She told me that Ayah and Mak would definitely feigned the nonchalant reaction but they would definitely not be happy if I wasn’t there especially since Kakak and her family would spend the 1st Eid at Pahang. So in the end, I opted to go for 3 days 2 nights.
The Incheon Airport, Korea. Futuristic-styled of architecture.
School holidays commenced 5 days prior to 31st May 2019. I went back to Jitra, Kedah first to spend Ramadhan with Mak and Ayah. Then on 30th May 2019, I took the ETS from Alor Star to KL and spent night at KLIA2 Tune Hotel as my flight was scheduled at 6.30 a.m. so I needed to be at the airport approximately 3 hours earlier (to be on the safe side!). On whole, Tune Hotel was a comfortable lodging recommended for travellers! It was a 6 hours journey and I arrived at Incheon Airport circa 3.30 p.m. Initially I was contemplated to rent the pocket WIFI but after finding out that I needed to pay US200 as deposit (RM1000) from various blogs, I thought I would simply rely on the public internet WIFI – after all, it was only for 2 nights! Haha!
My lodging for 2 nights at Seoul, The Hamilton Hotel. Cozy, comfortable and strategically-located at Itaewon.
The best thing about Seoul in comparison to Perth is that the former is hassle-free in terms of documentation than the latter. A Malaysian simply need to fill in the visa-upon-arrival (make sure all the particulars and the address of your lodging at Korea is accurately stated!). Being the klutzy me, I am prone to be reckless in all these stuffs but apparently, the experiences of travelling with Kakak all these times and seeing her managed the documentations somehow rang some senses in me to prepare at least a legible itinerary prior coming to Seoul, Korea. Once I passed through the immigration, I purchased the T-Card which is more or less like our Malaysian Touch ‘N’ Go card – it can be used in every transportation; so it is advisable for a tourist to get it. The T-Card is around 4,000 won (RM20) and you then, you can top up the card according to your need. Since I was going to rely heavily on the card, I put approximately 60,000 won (RM200) for the card and I could refund the money back once I am to leave Seoul.
I’ve been waiting for the right weather to wear this Brook Brother’s coat. Well, although it was summer in South Korea, fortunately it was 21 Celsius on the day I arrived. So, I had legit reason to wear this. LOL!
Since it was during Ramadhan and a spiritual journey, I decided to lavish myself so the lodging was not really a cheapskate accommodation (unless if it was for a tourism mission, being cheapskate is a must! Haha!). I booked 2 nights at Hamilton Hotel due to its strategic location; just a stone-throw away from Itaewon Metro Station and not that far from the Mosque – which is my main reason of visiting Seoul. So, from Incheon Airport, I took :-
- Airport Express (There are two types; I took the All Stops, coloured in blue) from Incheon to Gongdeok (approximately 5,000 won or RM21);
- Seoul Metro Station Line 6 from Gongdeok to Itaewon (approximately 2,000 won or RM7).
I arrived at Hamilton Hotel circa 5.30 p.m. It was really a comfortable place with good WIFI – but of course quite pricey for a budget traveler like me; approximately RM350 per night. But it was all worthy! I received WhatsApps message from Kat that the Malaysian community there was having an Iftar and an invitation was extended to me. Initially I was a bit hesitated but in the end, I thought why not, right? At least I could see how the Malaysian community in Seoul interacted and witnessing the lives of our Malaysian diaspora abroad somehow is intriguing – this would be the second time I am to experience such interaction – the first one was at Leeds, United Kingdom when I visited Kakak during her one year stint of Master’s Degree in 2014 and also during her convocation in 2016.
Get yourself this map and you’ll be alright!
My friend Kat is working at the Malaysian Ambassador and the Malaysian community members are mostly housed circa Hannam-dong which is merely two stations away from Itaewon. It was so nice to finally meet her and we had so much to talk about! It was surreal that I finally was at Seoul given the fact that I am not a K-pop fan and Seoul is no where in my Wishlist ever! Haha! It was an experience meeting the Malaysian community and after that hanging out with Kat as we had our night-walk from Hannam-dong to Itaewon! It was a reminiscence of our USM days when we used to have night-walk circa 2.00-3.00 a.m. (after karaokeing! Hahah! wow, life was good back then with less problems to think, no?) from Sungai Dua to Bukit Gambir! I also get to see that as a member of Malaysian ambassador, life is hectic and sometimes could be very stressful. as outsider, we only see the designation as somewhat prestigious and glamorous but the responsibility that comes with it could be overwhelming. Nevertheless with all the commotions, Kat and Francis still make effort to spend time with me and I was very touched by that.
Thanks Chica for spending time with me although you are leading sucha a hectic life at the Embassy! Hugs!
The next morning, I woke up late – right after Subuh, I slept. I was supposed to commence my itinerary at 8.00 a.m. but I woke up at 10 a.m! 2 hours late from the schedule! This was crucial as I wanted to call the day off at 5.00 p.m. so that I could have my iftar at the hotel and performed Tarawikh at Seoul Central Mosque. But anyway since this was my own spiritual free-and-easy trip, I took it as a flexible tour. My first destination was the famous Cheonggyecheon Stream; a supposed 9 km river that flows through the heart of Seoul. Used to be a polluted river, it is now a tourism spot and serves as a mind-rejuvenation haven for the people of Seoul who are definitely leading hectic lives. From Itaewon, you can go to Gongdeok and then from there, you can take Line 5 to Gwanghwamun. It was definitely a tranquil place.
Not far from there, you can see the Gwanghwamun Plaza where the status of the Great King Sejong is located. As I am all interested in history, I was amazed by this. Apparently, he was the one who had popularized the Korean alphabets known as Hangul and is considered as a revolutionist of modern Korea. From Gwanghwamun, you can simply walked to Gyeongbokgung Palace but apparently, I didn’t have the energy to do that so I took the metro train. From Gwanghwanum, I stopped at Jogno 3 (sam) ga and then changed to Line 3 to Gyeongbokgung. As a historical freak, this is my must-go place! If you are wearing the Korean traditional attires, you don’t have to pay the entrance fee but if you don’t, the entrance fee is only 3,000 won (RM11). Growing up, I never knew about Gyeongbokgung Palace or the Joseon Dynasty – I only knew the famous Forbidden City of China! Thus, it is somewhat interesting to discover that Korea also had its own regal dynasty and boasted such beautiful palace. Of course in comparison to China, Korean palace complex is somewhat less grandeur as Chinese influence is eminent but still, one could not help but feeling quite fascinated by the palace. It took me approximately 2 hours to complete the Palace tour.
King Sejong’s statue at Gwanghwamun Plaza. A very respectable king.
Majestic Gyeongbukgung Palace, the landmark of Joseon Dynasty. I love history!
By that time, my head was already throbbing as it was scorching hot and I was fasting. I resumed the journey to the next destination which was Bukchon Hanok Village. From Gyeongbukgung station, I stopped at Anguk Station and then I had to walk circa 1 km up the hill. Since I did not have any internet connection, the Naver application (it is like a Korean Waze) that I downloaded was useless and I had to rely on my instinct, my screenshot snaps and also direction boards! Haha! Very traditional. Apparently Bukchon Hanok Village is somewhat a hidden elevated residence located up the hill. It was tiring but somewhat therapeutic to see the traditional element blended with modernism. After that, I planned to visit the Jogyesa Temple and I had to walk passed the Anguk Station towards an opposite direction. Perhaps I was too tired and forcing myself to walk while fasting wasn’t a good idea – I was lost and before I knew, I was already 1 km away from Anguk Station and nowhere near any of the supposed landmarks of Jogyesa Temple. After wasting time for about 40 minutes, I decided to call it a quit. After all, perhaps visiting a temple during Ramadhan wasn’t a great idea? My head was throbbing and my legs were aching.
Bukchon Hanok Village. The traditional Korean settlement. I like how Korean government utilized its culture as part of the tourism attraction in the midst of the Hallyu (Korean Wave) craze!
It was already 3.00 p.m. and I also planned to visit the Myeong-dong Cathedral and Starfield Coex Mall Library. I only have two hours to spend so that I could visit the Seoul Mosque before Maghrib/Iftar as I want to make sure I know the way to the mosque to perform Tarawikh on that night itself. It was apparent that I have to ditch the cathedral (It was a shame; I am such a cultural aficionado. Perhaps, some other time?) and opted for the big library at Coex Mall. The journey itself was quite long as both locations were separated by the Han River and took approximately 1 hour to arrive :-
- From Anguk Station to Chungmuro;
- Changed to Line 3 to Seoul University of Education;
- Changed to Line 2 to Samseong.
The ridiculously enormous library at Starfield Coex Mall! Geeks and bookworms like me simply adore this view.
I arrived at the sophisticated shopping mall around 4.15 p.m. and found the amazing big library! It was surreal seeing Koreans spending time with their books in the middle of the shopping mall. Splendid! Anyway, heading back to Itaewon took me around another hour so by 6 p.m., I’ve arrived at Itaewon Station. I make my way towards the Seoul Central Mosque and after a few try-and-error, I found the mosque. It was isolated but once I entered the arch and climbed the hill, it was beautiful and a serene sight to the eyes. Located at an elevated terrace, one can see an aerial view of Seoul. Alhamdulillah, I have the opportunity to perform Asr there and I could see preparations made for the Iftar. I wanted to join but seemed like the tables prepared were quite limited and I saw a lot of Muslims were thronging the mosque – perhaps were counting on that iftar. So I thought it would be best for me to have my own iftar at the hotel because I had my own financial mean in comparison to these people who were perhaps menial workers forking their lives for meager salary. I bought a Tandoori-and-rice takeaway at a Halal shop and then back to Hamilton Hotel.
The Seoul Central Mosque, Itaewon. Alhamdulillah, I made it there on my 4th solo trip. The 1st trip to Singapore (The Sultan Mosque); 2nd trip to Brunei (The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque); and the 3rd trip to Bangkok, Thailand (The Foundation of the Islamic Centre of Thailand). Yeay!
The view of the mosque during Tarawikh. Amazing sight to see Muslims performing the prayers together. After Tarawikh, there were drinks and sweetened desserts a.k.a. “kuih-muih” prepared by the Muslimahs. Alhamdulillah!
It was a great experience to perform Tarawikh at the mosque. It was a clear-cut prayers of 8 Rakaat without any lengthy Doa(s). Seeing Muslims in Korea performing Tarawikh was amazing; most of them are of South Asian descents and then they were also the Nusantara people (Malaysia and Indonesia) and I also noticed some of the Eastern European features. The commotion at the mosque was festive. Children were playing while the adults were mingling with each other after Tarawikh. I went back to the hotel around 10.30 p.m. Kat and Francis came around 11.30 p.m. and they even brought the Laksa Sarawak they made for the Iftar Carnival at the Malaysian Embassy that I couldn’t attend. So nice of them, really. We chatted until 2.30 a.m. They must be exhausted selling the Laksa Sarawak but they came to me and brought me food for my Sahur? Amazing friends, they are.
Iftar prepared by Seoul Central Mosque. But I didn’t join because I thought there were other brothers who really needed them. I didn’t feel good about that because I had my own financial means for my iftar. Let the ones who need the most savoured the food.
The next morning on the 2nd June 2019, I was scheduled to fly home. Initially I thought of taking the trains but Kat and Francis were adamant to drive me to Incheon Airport by car so that I could have some landed views of Seoul. The immigration was such a breeze and hassle-free. Honestly although it was a brief stint and a solo spiritual trip, I was so touched by Kat and Francis’s effort amidst their hectic schedules. Love you both! And perhaps I would be there again with Effy, who knows? Haha! I am also happy that I make the decision to do this solo spiritual trip. This is my 4th solo trip after Singapore, Brunei and Thailand. I am looking forward for another solo adventure! Amin!
There was a Robotic Helper at Incheon Airport where you could take photo and it will be sent to your email. So we used it to take our photo! Haha! Thanks guys! Appreciate your thoughts and efforts to spend time with me albeit your hectic schedules. Hugs!