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November 23, 2014

My First Korean Tarot Card Reading

"Oh God," I wince as the card I have just drawn from a well-worn deck is turned over to reveal an ominous image that instantly reminds me of the woman from The Ring. "That can't be good," I note as my eyes take in the oriental ink sketching that surely, in my mind, is indicative of looming death. The man across the table freezes and his eyes meet mine for the briefest of moments. His weathered skin and honest, understanding glance indicate that he's the real deal.



Unlike the fortune tellers of the West, this jeomjaengee, like most in Korea, is well into the later years of his life and is anything but gimmicky. Dressed in a tracksuit and balding, he doesn't exactly exude a mystic aura, but he is no-nonsense and quite knowledgeable about the meaning of the Tarot of Marseilles cards (the ones typically used in tarot readings) laid out before me, ready to reveal the answer to my burning question. If anything, the poster of G-Dragon, a former customer of his, and the autographs of Korea's most popular stars, validate his wisdom, no doubt gained through years of study of Chinese astrology.



Although tarot cards have been used in divination since the 15th century in other parts of the world, they have only been popular in Korea for a couple decades. As using shrinks is still quite taboo here, many Koreans will visit fortune tellers when faced with a certain dilemma or need advice about an important upcoming event. It's not uncommon for a woman to seek the advice of a fortune teller in regard to her compatibility with a romantic interest, or a businessman to ask if a specific deal would be profitable or not. As such, Korea’s fortunetelling industry is outstanding in terms of volume and popularity, in comparison to other nations.



In addition to tarot readers, there are alternative forms of fortune telling, many of which are more traditionally Korean. These include gwansang (fortune telling through facial characteristics), saju (prediction of good or bad luck based on one's birth date), and other forms of revelation of one's future by spirits through a mudang, or shaman.



I was visiting the tarot reader mostly out of sheer curiosity (and blog research, of course), but quickly got wrapped up in the moment and found myself hanging on to every word the gentleman said. He reassured me that my horrific card did not imply death, but that it wasn't necessarily good, either. I had actually fibbed a bit in my question to him and he immediately recognized in the first card that I had told him something inaccurate. He went on to correctly describe in words my exact feelings and worries with each subsequent card I picked. In the end, the answer he gave me was what I suspected but not necessarily what I wanted to hear.



Hoping for a more optimistic outlook, my Korean friend, who had been interpreting the entire time, suggested we try another place. Upon entering, we sat next to a female fortune teller at her table draped in velvet. My friend would later tell me that she felt uneasy around this particular jaemjangee, as her eyes were unable to maintain focus and were darting throughout the room during the entirety of the reading, as if watching passing spirits. Although the cards she used were different and consisted of colors rather than images or icons, her divination was almost exactly the same as the previous one. In addition, she told me shockingly accurate facts about the situation- details so precise that I began to think that maybe there was some validity to tarot after all.



In the end, the answer and advice I received from the two fortune tellers wasn't what I wanted to hear, but was potentially what I needed to hear. In a way, I left feeling more at ease about my problem. I quickly realized why fortune telling is such a big industry in Korea. In a world where the future is hazy and we are forced to make difficult life choices on our own, it's a hell of a lot easier to have someone else make a decision for you. Even if that person is a complete stranger. And at 5,000 won a shuffle, the answers to life's toughest questions are a heck of a deal.

More Information

Tarot card and saju readers can be found near Hyehwa Station, along the walls of Tapgol Park in Insadong, and throughout the streets of Sinchon. The two specific tarot card readers that I visited are located on Parking Street in Hongdae. To get there, walk straight from exit 9 of Hongik University Station (Seoul Subway Line 2) and walk straight for about 5 minutes. Take a left at the first major intersection and walk straight. Once you reach H&M, take a right and cross the street. There are a cluster of saju/tarot readers located in the building that sits in the middle of the fork in the road. Note that most fortune tellers do not speak English so it's best to bring along a Korean friend to interpret.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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November 14, 2014

South Korea's Top 3 Temples

I love sharing my experiences in Korea with you guys, but let's face it... my eyes can only see so much. So, to give you a bit of a wider perspective, I am now accepting guest posts on Seoul Searching. I'm excited to announce that the first contributor is Dale Quarrington, Korean temple aficionado and author of Korean Temples: From Korea’s Southeast Corner, with his top three temples in Korea. Check out his post below.

I am often asked what my favourite Korean temple might be. And being a bit of a Korean Buddhist temple aficionado, this question is a lot harder than it may seem with thousands of temples and various Orders located throughout the Korean peninsula. I have visited every single province in Korea, including a temple in North Korea, which certainly doesn’t make the decision any easier. If I think really hard about it, I can narrow the list down to a top twenty or twenty-five. But when I attempt to narrow the list any further, the list becomes highly subjective. With this in mind, my top three Korean Buddhist temples would be, in no particular order: Tongdosa Temple, Bulguksa Temple and Haeinsa Temple. So what makes them so special?



Tongdosa Temple is located in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do, and it’s one of the Three Jewel Temples of Korea. The temple represents the Buddha aspect of the Three Jewels of Buddhism (the dharma, the Buddha and the Buddhist community). Tongdosa Temple, which means “Transmission of the Way Temple,” in English, dates all the way back to 643 C.E., when it was first established by the famed monk Jajang-yulsa.

Tongdosa Temple is beautifully situated on the slopes of Mt. Chiseosan. But what truly makes Tongdosa Temple stand out, besides its numerous and colourful temple halls, is that it houses the partial remains of the Buddha. In fact, it was the first temple in Korea to house the partial earthly remains of Seokgamoni-bul. These remains include the Buddha’s sari (crystallized remains), a portion of his jaw, his begging bowl, and his abbot. It also just so happens to be the first place I dated my wife way back in 2003.



Another on the list is the famed Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. Bulguksa Temple, which means “Buddhist Country Temple,” was first established in 751 C.E. (even though a smaller temple on the very same grounds dated back to 528 C.E.). Bulguksa Temple is located at the base of Mt. Tohamsan. And the temple is the culmination and zenith of Buddhist artistry in Korea. In total, the temple houses six Korean national treasures, the most at any one temple throughout the peninsula. It was also designated, alongside neighbouring Seokguram Hermitage, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of this awe-inspiring temple is the front façade of the temple. With its outstretched stairways known as Cheongungyo (Blue Cloud Bridge) and Baekungyo (White Cloud Bridge) to the right and Yeonhwagyo (Lotus Flower Bridge) and Chilbogyo (Seven Treasures Bridge) to the left, they probably make Bulguksa Temple the most recognizable temple in all of Korea. These bridges act as a symbolic gateway from the worldly to the spiritual. But perhaps the most recognizable aspect of the temple are the twin pagodas, Dabotap and Seokgatap; their intricate artistry truly make Bulguksa Temple a must-see. But then again, there is so much about this amazing temple that makes it a must-see.



The final temple, in my top three, is Haeinsa Temple located in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do. Like Tongdosa Temple, Haeinsa Temple is one of the Three Jewel Temples in Korea; but unlike Tongdosa Temple, Haeinsa Temple represents the dharma aspect of the Three Jewels in Buddhism. Haeinsa Temple, which means “Ocean Mudra Temple,” was first established in 802 C.E. by the monks Suneung and Ijeong, after their return from China.

Haeinsa Temple’s true claim to fame is the housing of Tripitaka Koreana’s 81,258 wooden blocks of Buddhist scriptures. It’s the oldest intact version of the text, which dates back to 1251, when they were completed. They are housed inside the Janggyeong-panjeon library, which dates back to 1398, when the blocks first arrived at the temple. The temple, like Bulguksa Temple, is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Having visited over 400 Buddhist temples throughout Korean throughout the years, there certainly is no lack of beauty at these amazing houses of worship. And while I could name another twenty or thirty of them, I’ll confidently stick to these three. These temples claim the top three spots for both similar and different reasons; but there you have it, my favorites.


For more information on Korea's temples, check out Dale's newly released book – Korean Temples: From Korea’s Southeast Corner. And for even more regularly updated insight and photos, have a look at his website, Dale's Korean Temple Adventures.


Want to share YOUR Korea on Seoul Searching? Submit a guest post!

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November 9, 2014

Comfort and Cuisine with a View at Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel

They say location is everything. But is it really?

Situated on the western edge of the Korean capital, Sheraton Seoul D Cube City may not be the most conveniently located hotel for tourists and travelers in Korea, but it is not without its charms. I was able to experience its superb amenities, culinary specialties and unrivaled views firsthand when I was invited to stay for an evening last month.

Although it was my first time to the hotel, I had visited the D-Cube City shopping complex a number of times since its opening in 2011. Attached to Sindorim Station, it is easily accessed and it boasts a fantastic variety of international brands that cater to all budgets. Additionally, the food court, decorated to resemble a traditional Korean restaurant- complete with floor seating and lots of wooden accents- allows visitors to experience an authentic taste of the country's cuisine. Complete with a movie theater and performance hall, there's plenty of entertainment facilities for those staying at the hotel, which is connected by the mall's elevator.



Unlike most hotels, the lobby is located on the 41st floor. A separate elevator must be taken to access guest rooms and facilities, which is no doubt to ensure security, but is quite confusing, to say the least. The benefit of the lobby's location, though, is an incredible panoramic view of the sprawling Seoul metropolis unlike any other I have ever seen in Seoul. I was immediately stunned by the spectacular scenery, which is visible through most of the hotel thanks to its floor-to-ceiling glass windows. In addition to the reception area, the lobby consists of a small business center and Lobby Lounge.Bar, a stunning bar which has great drink specials in the evening, including the current promotion of a glass of Moët for only ₩15,000.







Check-in was a breeze and although they had me down for the wrong type of bed, they were quick to correct the error and wished me a pleasant stay.

I arrived at my room on the 32nd floor to be greeted by more views of the city. Of course the scenery was the real highlight, but the rest of the room was nice, too. Although the amenities were average, the room was clean and quiet and the beds, draped with fluffy duvets, were very comfortable. Seeing as the majority of the hotel's guests are business travelers, there's a great work area with a spacious desk and plenty of electrical outlets. The marble bathroom was memorable, complete with an over-sized tub and separate shower and toilet. A large window looked into the room and could easily be covered with an electric blind.







I had reserved the room as part of the "Autumn Refresh Package" which included access to the swimming pool and fitness center, coupons for spa services, and the hotel's signature afternoon tea set, delivered straight to my room. It didn't take long for my sweet tooth to get the best of me and I dialed up room service to have the tea set to be sent up.



Bringing in the set, the attendant was all smiles and manners, explaining that he brought along extra tea leaves in case we wanted to make more tea later. My eyes took in the tower of colorful tea snacks, seemingly straight out of Candy Land and I struggled in figuring out where to start. Lemon scones, caramel macarons, Foie-gras mousse with pistachio brioche, port wine jelly, chocolate truffles and dragon fruit tarts paired perfectly with the pot of earl gray I slowly sipped as I took in the incredible city panorama that only grew more impressive as evening settled over the city.







I had brought along my swimsuit but opted not to take advantage of the pool or spa, considering my sugar high and stuffed belly. If you didn't guess already, I didn't make it to the fitness center, either. But, both looked superior, with state-of-the-art equipment and lots of windows for even more views. No matter where you find yourself in Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel, it seems, you'll feel as if you're on the top of the world.



This proves to be particularly true at Feast, the hotel's restaurant located just next to the lobby. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and brunch on the weekends), the restaurant provides guests with an array of dishes (quite literally a feast) from all corners of the world. Considering it's a buffet, it is only open for a small time frame at each meal to ensure freshness.

My friend and I reserved a spot for lunch and were seated at a great table with views of nearby Yeouido and the National Assembly Building. Like with the tea set the previous day, I didn't know where to begin... the salad bar, which was loaded up with fresh veggies and unique salad toppings, the noodle station or the sushi bar? I also hovered over the condiment and bread bar, which was unlike anything I had ever seen at a buffet: varieties of bread and cheese sat alongside a number of oils and about 15 different kinds of artisanal salts.





I had the privilege of meeting Chef Paul Dodd, former sous chef at Conrad Tokyo's Gordon Ramsay. Fortunately, he eased my decision-making stress and recommended where to start. After loading up on slices of tender galbi, colorful grilled veggies, polenta, salad and tandoori chicken, I returned to the table to find a test tube of what seemed to be green slime waiting for me. The server explained that the beverage, made from wahsong, a type of Korean cactus, is a digestive which was surprisingly tasty.



Next, I was treated to an off-the-menu item that I'll be unlikely to forget anytime soon. Perched on a smooth stone encircled by crushed ice and edible flowers was an exquisite tuna roll stuffed with cream cheese and topped with caviar and gold flecks. It tasted as indulgent as it looked and I found myself in a moment of bliss. The euphoria returned with the next dish of a delectably nutty foie gras, served with fig compote. I didn't think I could be spoiled anymore until a slab of beautifully prepared sushi was placed in front of me. It was noted that, thanks to the hotel's close proximity to Seoul's Noryangjin Fisheries Market, the seafood is extremely fresh, which I noticed immediately with the first bite.



Although I was dining on a weekday, those that visit Feast on Saturday nights will be treated to a seafood buffet of abundant quantities of king prawns, abalone, snow crabs, scallops, salmon, octopus, lobster, whelk and seasonal fish. A tuna station is also operated to present guests with fresh tuna sashimi, served alongside cooked dishes such as lobster tail, seafood pasta with shrimp and abalone, and seafood chowder.



Also not to be missed at Feast is the restaurant's acclaimed dessert bar. Displayed in refrigerated cases, guests can pick and choose from an endless selection of tarts, cakes and pastries that are guaranteed to be fresh and delicious. There's also a fondue dipping station, a selection of Italian-style gelato and for those watching their figures, a variety of fruit. But where's the fun in that? The pastry chef was happy to recommend a nice persimmon crème brûlée which I barely had room for after all that food.



I somehow managed to waddle out the restaurant to reception, where the staff had been holding my bags. They wished me well, making sure that I knew how to get to my next destination. I hopped the subway and twenty minutes later, I was in central Seoul, an easy and quick ride.

Apparently, location isn't everything when it comes to choosing one's travel accommodations, which was made clear during my stay at Sheraton Seoul D Cube City. In fact, the hotel's quality service, stellar views and incredible food make it the ideal place to stay during a trip to Seoul, or even for a weekend splurge.

More Information: Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel

Address: 360-51, Sindorim-dong, Guro-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Phone: +82 2-2211-2000

Price: Autumn Refresh Package Promotion Starts at ₩250,000 (*exclusive of 10% VAT). Includes one night stay in a deluxe room, two afternoon tea sets in room, Aequalis Spa body massage ₩30,000 discount coupon, facial treatment ₩10,000 discount coupon, complimentary use of Sheraton Fitness and swimming pool (until Nov. 30, 2014); Feast Seafood Buffet ₩89,000 per person.

Feast Hours: 6:30am-10pm; Breakfast 6:30am-10:30pm; Lunch (Mon-Sat) 12-2:30pm; Sinnder (Sun-Fri) 6:00-10:00pm; Seafood @ Feast (Sat) 1st setting: 5:30-7:30pm; 2nd setting: 8-10pm; Brunch (Sun) 11:30am-2:30pm

Lobby Lounge. Bar Hours: 8:00am-1:00am

Reservations: 02-2211-2100 or Website

Disclaimer: Although this post is partially sponsored, the opinions are, of course, my own.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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November 3, 2014

A Taste of Home at Two Broz Burgers

Seoul has most certainly come a long way in the past few years in terms of serving up tasty international cuisine. Burger aficionados, in particular, no longer have to suffer their way through bites of patties smothered in mystery sauce or trek across the capital in search of the real deal. There are a number of burger joints in Seoul nowadays, but perhaps the biggest concentration is in the multicultural district of Itaewon. Here, diners have endless options, but for those craving a no-nonsense, unpretentious burger before a night out on the town or a quick bite during lunch, Two Broz is a great option.



Opened four years ago by clothing designer Evan Seo and named after his brotherly relationship with the burger, Two Broz is situated on the main strip of Itaewon, just a few minutes' walk from the station. The restaurant, reminiscent of a 1950s diner, is unassuming to passersby and quite small for Itaewon standards, but manages to continuously stay filled with expats and locals alike. This is no doubt the result of its consistently tasty, fresh and affordable fare.





Craving a taste of my homeland, I stopped by for an early dinner recently, in hopes to avoid the dinner rush. (I will get back on that healthy eating thing next week...) My friend and I placed our order at the counter and ordered the Bacon Egg (₩9,800) and the Mushroom Cheese (₩9,300) burgers, two of the most popular items on Two Broz's menu. We opted to make our meals sets, which includes fries and a soft drink or beer for an additional ₩4,500. To top off our order, we got a side of chili to share.

Two Broz runs on a self-service concept, so customers pick up their orders when completed. The restaurant also boasts a convenient self-service corner which has all the condiments and cutlery you might need. Oh, and there's a soda fountain where diners can get free refills. Yes, free refills! Didn't realize this existed in Korea outside buffets and select fast food joints. Despite this, we still received friendly service with a smile.



The sizzle of the grill had us getting hungrier by the minute. While we waited, we learned that Two Broz is now using a new, healthier charcoal to cut down on harmful gases and chemicals in the food. We were also told that all of their ingredients are fresh and local, with the exception of the beef, which is imported from Australia. The buns, we were excited to learn, are made at the famous Baker's Table in Gyeongnidan, my go-to for pastries and breads.


Egg Bacon Burger and fries

Our meal was out in a record-breaking ten minutes and we wasted no time in digging in. I went first for the fries and was instantly obsessed. Fantastically seasoned, they were of the perfect thickness, slightly bigger than your average shoestring fry. They were also great for dipping in the chili, which was not really spicy, as we had been told it would be. Rather sweet, it was a nice balance of ground beef, beans, onions, shredded cheese and spices.


Chili

I'm a big fan of mushrooms and the ones on the Mushroom Cheese burger were tender, sauteed perfectly, and stuck to the gooey (REAL) cheese. The Egg Bacon was also good, albeit a bit messy, as a well-made burger should be. Both burgers were medium sized, filling for us, and were grilled to perfection and had that charcoaly, smoky flavor that I adore and associate with backyard barbecues at home in the States. The buns sealed the deal, buttery and dense and topped with sesame seeds.


Mushroom Cheese Burger Set

Considering the high quality of the food, I was a bit surprised at the relatively inexpensive prices, considering Two Broz's location and the average cost for a burger at neighboring restaurants. Overall, Two Broz's menu and atmosphere may not be as creative as some of its "artisanal" competitors but the value of their food can't be beat in terms of quality, taste, consistency and convenience.







More Information: Two Broz

Address: 736-8 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul / 용산구 한남동736-8
Phone: 02-790-0610
Hours: 11am-10pm
Facebook: Click Here
Get There: From exit 3 of Itaewon Station (Seoul Subway Line 6), walk straight for about 5 minutes. Two Broz will be on your right.
Map: Click Here

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.
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October 28, 2014

Night Views and City Lights on the Han River Fireworks Cruise

Few places in Seoul are as soothing as the Han River, also known as the Hangang. Stretching 319 miles (514 km) through the city and beyond, the river has played an important role in the Korean capital's history. Although still utilized for economic and industrial purposes, the average Seoulite views the Han River as a source of recreation and entertainment.

Tracing the entirety of the river are a variety of parks, bicycle paths, basketball courts and riverside cafes. It's my favorite place to hang out on a pretty day- perfect for picnicking, soaking up some sun or just going for a walk to enjoy the spectacular skyline of the city I've called home for the past five years.



What many visitors don't realize, however, is that there are a number of cruises that navigate the river and provide an entirely different perspective of the city's lights, landmarks and architectural feats. Recently, I was made aware of just how many cruise options there are. From dinner cruises to cruises that feature live performances, there's something for all tastes.

Funtastic Korea, an online ticket booking and tour service for foreigners makes it easy to reserve tickets for said cruises. Intrigued by the fireworks cruise, a ride that promises both beautiful night views and a show of lights, I reserved two tickets for my roommate, Marie, and I through the user-friendly site. I quickly received a confirmation via e-mail and printed my voucher- though its possible to save the image on one's smartphone- to receive our tickets on the day of our cruise.



We arrived at the Yeouido dock on the day of our cruise a half hour early, though 15 minutes is more than enough time to claim your tickets at the ticket booth. We had no problem getting our tickets using the voucher provided by Funtastic Korea. Marie and I then picked up some Hangang convenient store goodies (refreshments are not sold on all the boats), boarded at the terminal and headed up to the upper, uncovered deck for better views.



We regretted not getting in line earlier, as there are a limited number of seats on the top deck and missed out on the better ones. We didn't mind, though, as the entirety of the Seoul skyline could be seen from just about every part of the boat, including the lower, enclosed deck which is no doubt the preferred riding spot in the winter.



Soon enough, we were off. As we passed impressive buildings and under bridges, we were given an explanation in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese about the history of each major place we passed. It was informative and not overdone, as a good selection of contemporary, relaxing music played over the speakers in between explanations. Passengers consisted of mostly couples and families, creating a calm environment- there was no pushing or shouting and everyone seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.



About twenty minutes into the one hour ride, we stopped at Banpo Bridge to watch the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain show. Although I had seen this show before from the parks along the river, it was my first time seeing it on the river and being on the boat provided a unique perspective. There were a lot of oohs and ahhs as hundreds of tons of water spurted from the bridge, falling 65 feet into the Han, illuminated by colorful LED lights.



After the show, the boat made a U-turn and after passing the recently opened Floating Islands, the cruise attendant gave us a countdown. At zero, a boom sounded and blossoming fireworks appeared in the sky, their firey glow reflected in the water below. The show continued for about ten minutes and although it wasn't nearly as impressive as other fireworks shows I've seen in Seoul, it created a nice atmosphere and was definitely a highlight of the trip.





For the remainder of the ride, passengers were entertained by a humorous musician whose songs catered to all ages. Marie and I decided to stay on the top deck and were able to get better seats for the ride back. Although we are both long-term expats and have lived in Korea for quite some time, we both agreed that the ride only reminded us of what a beautiful city we live in and we both enjoyed seeing Seoul from the river that runs through it.





More Information: Hangang Firework Cruise

Time: Saturdays, 7:30p.m.

Price: 22,000 won/person ($22 USD)

Reservations: Book your tickets using Funtastic Korea's English ticketing service. Click here to reserve your tickets for this cruise, as well as many more.

Departure: From Yeouinaru Station (Seoul Subway Line 5), walk straight out of Exit 3 until you reach Yeouido Middle School. Turn left into the riverside park. Continue walking until you reach the water side. You should see the ticketing booth.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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October 24, 2014

A Luxurious Staycation at Conrad Seoul

In recent years, Seoul has seen a dramatic increase in the number of accommodations offered throughout the city. With so many choices, finding the right place to stay can seem daunting to tourists, business travelers and even expats. For those seeking opulence without compromising location, Conrad Seoul, the luxury brand of Hilton Worldwide, is the perfect choice.

Although not a tourist, I occasionally treat myself to a staycation in the city- an opportunity to escape the monotony of everyday life and to recharge my batteries. After a recent chaotic week of work and ridiculously long hours, I knew one was in order and the rave reviews of the Conrad had me curious. As I took the short drive from the center of the city toward the Yeouido business district, the mere sight of the hotel's gleaming black exterior towering over the Han River put me at ease.

Upon entering the lobby, it was easy to see that even after two years, the Conrad had maintained that just-opened feel. The first thing I noticed was the ginkgo leaf motif- a symbol I've come to associate with autumn in Korea. I would continue to notice the leaf integrated into the hotel's design, from the golden sculptures hanging from the lobby's high ceilings to the embossed designs of the restaurants' menus to the subtle patterns in the carpet. This delicate incorporation of nature into a very modern structure with impressive views of the sprawling Seoul metropolis was a nice balance.



I was greeted kindly by the hospitable receptionist and after checking in, took the elevator to my deluxe room on the 17th floor. And deluxe it was. I was greeted by a great view of the Han River, which looked stunning even under a gray sky. The room, with its warm earth tones and soft lighting, created an atmosphere of undeniable comfort, certain to ease the minds of the weariest of guests.

What really struck me as impressive was the technological flair the room possessed. My favorite object was the touchpad control within arm's reach from the two queen beds on either side of it. Here, guests can change the room's temperature, adjust the lighting and control the blinds with a touch of a button. Which worked in my favor, considering how much effort it took me to pull myself up from the lavish bed and 300 thread count sheets.





The bathroom was just as smart, with magic glass that allows guests to make the window that looks into the bedroom opaque with the flip of a switch. Another cool feature was the small TV installed in the bathroom mirror; unfortunately, it's not positioned well enough to watch while taking a hot bath, as I would later learn.



I had reservations to visit the Conrad's acclaimed Italian restaurant, Atrio, and as is usually the case when feeding time is involved, I wasn't a minute late. Again, I was greeted with the utmost of cordiality and was taken to a table that overlooked the streets of Yeouido, which had slowed down significantly since the afternoon. The restaurant was spacious and dimly lit by a contemporary chandelier.

I ordered the restaurant's Olive Set, a four-course dinner of Atrio's best dishes. The meal began with a basket of scrumptious breads, made fresh at the brick oven near Atrio's entrance. Bread is always my weakness but I managed to keep myself from inhaling it all at once, which ended up being a good idea, considering the portion sizes of the following courses.



First was a dish of 12 month-aged prosciutto with sliced fresh figs, rucola and triangles of provolone, a perfectly balanced combination that was an instant winner in my book. It went especially well with the vintage Italian red recommended by the waiter at my request. Next up was a buttery linguine mixed with clams, broccoli and garlic that had a nice kick to it.



Guests can chose between sirloin or sea bass as an entree and my friend and I ordered differently so we could try both. I wished I had ordered the sirloin medium rare instead of medium, as it was a bit dry for my taste but the flavor, enhanced by a Chianti jus, was great. I preferred the sea bass, which was served over a bed of Sardinian fregola, clam, squid and black olives. It was the first time I had tried fregola, which are essentially tiny balls of chewy pasta, and loved the texture. It was a great match for the tender sea bass which was cooked with saffron and onion.



Dessert was a beautifully plated lime and coconut panna cotta topped with a scoop of tangy raspberry sorbet and coconut chips. The flavors reminded me of the key lime pie I often ate as a kid on vacations in Florida and the playful shapes and colors used in the dish only enhanced these feelings of childhood. Overall, the meal was excellent and though a bit pricier than the majority of Seoul's Italian restaurants, the atmosphere and portion sizes made it a good value. I left comfortably full and remain eager to return for the happy hour specials in the near future.

Despite my bulging belly, I wanted to take advantage of the Conrad's pool before it closed so I donned a swim cap (an annoying must in most swimming pools in Korea), and hopped into the illuminated waters. It was a bit chilly but enclosed in glass, making it swimmable throughout the year. Divided into lanes, it functions more so as an exercise facility rather than one for leisure but there was almost no one in the pool so it wasn't a problem.



My friend and I then headed back up to our room, too exhausted to check out the gigantic IFC mall in the basement or the parlor-esque bar on the 37th floor, and instead opted for drinking beer (the mini-bar is well stocked and gorgeous) and Walking Dead. The TV had a good selection of channels to accommodate a number of languages, on-demand movies and even video games.





When getting ready for bed, we realized that we had forgotten our toothbrushes and with a simple phone call, two of them were delivered on a tray right to our door. Attendants were just as accommodating when my friend needed her phone charged. By now it had become apparent just how incredible the service at Conrad was. Not once did I see an attendant or server without a smile and each spoke impeccable English.

Maybe it was because we were both exhausted, but my friend and I agreed that we had one of the better night's sleep in a long time.

Not wanting to get out of the super comfy beds, but not wanting to miss breakfast, we packed our bags and made our way to the buffet at Zest. The seating was spacious and modern but the real draw was the incredible variety of food options available. The Conrad has really gone out of its way to ensure that every guest- no matter his or her nationality or breakfast preferences- is catered to. There was a Western style breakfast bar, complete with an omelette station, a pastry section, a dim sum bar, a stir-fry station, a kimchi bar, a salad bar and juice bar to cater to all tastes. Our meal was incredible, especially for a buffet, and I ended up not being hungry until late that night as a result.



Sadly, it was time for work and after printing a few documents at the hotel's small but convenient business center, my staycation came to an end, as did my visit to Conrad Seoul. Still, the top-notch service, excellent food, comfortable rooms, subtle luxury and endless amenities were just what I needed to recharge.

I imagine the luxury offered by the Conrad does even more for couples looking to celebrate a special occasion or for the first time traveler to Seoul looking to experience new things but in a comfortable setting. Fortunately for those wanting to give it a try, the Conrad Seoul is offering a number of deals until December 19, 2014 in honor of their two year anniversary. The "Design Your Smart Luxury Package" includes a one night stay, and a choice of two of the following options: breakfast at Zest, a ₩20,000 dining credit at Conrad Seoul or a room upgrade to the next available room type. Prices start at ₩275,000 (single occupancy, exclusive of tax).

More Information: Conrad Seoul

Address: 23-1 Yeouido-dong Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul, 150-945, South Korea
Phone Number: +82-2-6137-7000
Price: 2 queen beds deluxe room ₩335,000/ night (includes breakfast); Olive Set at Atrio ₩78,000
Reservations: Via Conrad Seoul's website
How To Get There: From the airport, take bus number 6030 to IFC Seoul Conrad Hotel. OR From Exit 3 of Yeouido Station (Subway Line 5 or 9), follow the signs to the hotel.
Current Specials: Check out their Facebook page for more current specials.

Disclaimer: Although Conrad Seoul provided accommodations in exchange for this post, the opinions above are strictly my own.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.
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