Summer Sonata in South Korea

WEDDING REPRISED: The writer and her husband Leonard posing for wedding shots, this time in the Jeju countryside.
Summer Sonata in South Korea

SAY CHEESE: The cobalt-blue beaches in the Jeju countryside, an hour's flight from Seoul, make for a colourful backdrop.
Summer Sonata in South Korea

BRIDAL BLOOMS: A field of buttercups in the Jeju countryside lends colour to the writer's wedding shots.
Summer Sonata in South Korea

YUMMY: Savoury beancurd, a staple dish, served in a beancurd restaurant on the O'ngo food-tour route.
Summer Sonata in South Korea

KOREAN TAKE: The Korean version of steak tartare is savoury Yukhoe, infused with sesame oil and thin pear slices.


    Dec 04, 2013

    Summer Sonata in South Korea

    LET'S face it: We've known that South Korea is cool for a while now - arguably overtaking Japan in the pop-culture stakes.

    But apart from its music and entertainment scene (I include its talented plastic surgeons in this category as well), there are more subtle ways to experience South Korea enjoyably.

    In fact, the city of Seoul combined with the island landscape of Jeju make for a wonderful honeymoon-type getaway.

    Here are our recommendations for what to do in South Korea if your idea of a vacation is a little romance and a whole lot of urban-style downtime.


    If you've always dreamt of being a fashion model or celebrity on a photo shoot for a day, there's no better way to experience that than with Korean Wedding Photos (

    While most of the couples who do a Korean-style photo shoot are the soon-to-wed, there's no rule saying that those who have already tied the knot can't have the same experience.

    We had ours with a company that is an expert organiser in fabulous destination-wedding couple shots that have all the cinematic quality of carefully prepped hair and make-up (at Wedding Ever studio, and which takes no less than three hours), terrific photography and stunning scenery.

    The shots we took were in the Jeju countryside an hour's flight from Seoul, so we had the added enjoyment of lush fields of buttercups, long cherry-blossom-lined streets and cobalt-blue beaches.

    The whole works include having an assistant to carry the train of your dress and have your coat at the ready - it was a brisk spring morning - and a photographer who captures your best angles and knows all the best locations to snap a pic.

    FASHION 101

    Back in the city, we soaked up the atmosphere from about mid-morning to almost dawn.

    Step aside, New York, because Seoul is the new city that never sleeps - special thanks to the fact that it boasts the highest concentration of coffee places than any other city in the world, with a per capita consumption of coffee five times greater than the rest of the entire Asia-Pacific.

    So, yes, coffee snobs, rejoice!

    While wide awake and after a cuppa at any one of the local joints, such as Tom N Toms, Beans Bins or Caffe Bene (try their famous Misugaru Latte!), check out the night stalls around Dongdaemun or go all upmarket at Doota mall, which is open until three in the morning.

    Tip: If you want flash for less cash, Pyounghwa Fashion Market right opposite Doota is teeming with cutesy clothing and random fashion items like sunglasses, suspenders and sunhats going at wholesale prices.

    Beware though: Some shops will sell only in bulk, so if you want 10 of everything, this is for you.

    Elsewhere and during saner hours, stroll the pretty shops in neighbourhoods such as Samcheongdong, Hongdae and Garosugil for some refined boutique shopping.

    For something truly different, embark on a vintage buying spree at the wonderful Gwangjang Market in Jongno-gu.

    Have a bite of sumptuous street fare on the ground level before heading up to the maze of stalls on the second floor where you can find anything from original rock-concert tees to US$10 (S$12.60) maxi skirts from the 1970s.

    FOOD 101

    Sure, you can stumble around in the hope of finding the city's best eats, but if you're on a tight schedule, why not let the experts do the hard work?

    Book a walking food tour through back alleys and little lanes with O'ngo Food Communications (

    Founded by food connoisseur Daniel Gray, the tour features an array of specially curated toothsome treats of the local variety and also lots of fun and entertainment - from drinking games to street hawkers with stories to tell or raps to recite.

    If on the Night Dining tour of local eats, wear sturdy shoes and be prepared for some unusual flavour combinations. The Koreans seem especially fond of combining spicy kimchi base with a starch base topped with melting cheese.

    It started at about 6pm and lasted about four hours. We had appetisers at a dinky but delicious little barbecue place, followed by a visit to a local Dragon's Beard candy shop in Insadong, where we marvelled at the candy-maker's goofy chatter and deft fingers.

    Another star find was the "drug kimbap" on the street level of Gwangjang Market.

    So named because of its addictive quality, the kimbap is basically a rice roll wrapped in seafood, much like sushi.

    Pancakes are also a staple hot snack - it's more of the yam-cake variety rather than a crepe, though.

    The food tour will just about bust your gut, but if you're still somehow peckish after that, grab some fried chicken at one of the myriad chains that are spawning all the way out of the country and into our local malls.

    We like the Frypan, which piles its gigantic chicken atop a mountain of potato chips.