Daiso

Aren’t I just on a roll with these posts **pats self on back.** Well, I’ll let you into a little secret – I’ve actually been in London since my post about going to the cinema and have pre-written and scheduled several posts to publish on set dates. I love discovering new things about WordPress that make it easier for me to see this blogging thing through.

Anyway, I actually can’t believe that I have been in Korea for 22 months and I still haven’t told you about the little slice of heaven that is Daiso. I think that it might have been to do with the fact that I believed my infatuation with the store was overrated, but time has led me to understand that everyone adores this chain of shops as much as I do, and it isn’t in fact unreasonable for me to include it on my ‘things to do in Songdo’ list when we have guests.

Daiso is actually a Japanese Store and I understand that there are branches in a few different Australasian countries – so far I’ve spied (and shopped in) those in Korea and Australia and the best way I can describe it is a Pound/Dollar store, but better. It’s a one stop shop for pretty much everything – whenever I’m in doubt as to where I can get something, the first place I will check is Daiso. Sitting at my dining table and looking around the apartment, I can see cookware, cleaning products, whiteboards, a banana stand, canvas bags… and the list goes on, that I’ve found there. It actually is a great place when setting up your home in Songdo to find all those little bits and pieces that you didn’t think to include in your container but suddenly just cannot live without.

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When I decided I was going to do a spot of crafting and make a tea light holder, everything (except the glue – this was before I found the stationery store) came from Daiso.

 

I also love to get weird and wonderful little Korean gifts for friends and family from here. Well, I say I like to get, we’ve sort of gifted everyone to the max already but on that first trip to London last year, it was where I bought things like Korean sheet-masks, creams, spoons (yes, you read right – these are my favourite things from Daiso) and other random things.

One more great thing (haven’t I sold the store enough already?) about the store is the price. Most things are between 1,000 and 5,000KRW, although I have once or twice paid up to 10,000 KRW for something I really really really needed. (Probably didn’t need at all. But, you know, Daiso.) I usually pop in for one or two things and leave having bought a new reusable bag that I have filled and still only spent about 25,000KRW. It’s one of my shopping habits that doesn’t give Raj a minor heart attack every time he gets the text about what I’ve just spent, so win-win really.

A few weeks ago, I was perturbed to find that my regular Daiso was closed. Now, it isn’t uncommon for stores and restaurants here to shut up shop quite suddenly and be replaced by something equally wonderful or even more so. But the thing is, I can’t think of anything that I would prefer to do than stroll through Daiso but lo and behold, what returned was an EVEN BIGGER (and therefore better) Daiso. Happy Ish. We can stay in Songdo.

Right, so where can you find this wonder-place. My favourite store is on Sinsong-Ro but there are Daiso concessions to be found in Lotte, GS25 Supermarket and Homeplus Songdo (Technopark Station). Further standalone stores can be found at Incheon Bus Terminal Station, right by the ticket gates, and I’ve heard that the newly opened Daiso at Triple Street is one of the largest in Korea – I’m yet to go there, but I’ve told Raj that I’m expecting a Daiso / PF Chang Date Night once I’m back home… Last but not least, earlier this year, an EIGHT STOREY Daiso opened in Myeongdong in Seoul. A piece of advice – don’t go on a weekend, it is mental. The recommendation is to take the lift up to the 8th floor and then walk down the stairs checking out each floor on the way. When we went, the queue for the lift was out the door and even the 1st floor (Western ground floor) was so rammed with people perusing the wares was not possible. I did get a free fan with directions to get back there though… score?! (Ps. even the socks you can spy in the picture of the fan are impulse-Daiso-buys. I actually couldn’t exist without this place.)

Daiso Locations

So off you go and Daiso to your heart’s content. ♥

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Eating Out in Songdo

If you are regular reader of this blog, one thing you know about me for sure is that my life is very Food Centric. Mostly because I love to eat good food, especially when someone else will make it, but also because I live with a vegetarian in Korea – otherwise known as the land of meat, meat and some BBQ for good measure.

With this in mind, it is both surprising and unsurprising that I haven’t written about local eateries of note sooner. Well one reason is that the restaurant landscape is ever-changing in Sondo. Apparently high rates often make foodie ventures untenable for owners to maintain so where there was once a Cheese Melt (Cheese Toasties for the Brits amongst us) Shop, has also been a Tiramisu Place and now is, I think, a Sushi restaurant. Secondly, not all the restuarants offer veggie options and I don’t like to sit and eat while Raj watches (except when it comes to Ribs. I can eat Ribs all day long. Yum.) and even when they do, there is usually only one item on the menu that is veggie, so it can get a bit boring. Another is defamation laws in Korea. Woah boy are those strict. So strict that you basically can’t post a bad review whilst naming an establishment online, for fear of being sued. And even if you don’t overtly name the establishment, but allude to it in such a way that it can prove your review was responsible for losing it buisness, you can still get in trouble. Bearing this in mind, I’m only writing about the resturants that I like to go to in Songdo. I have by no means been to all the restuarants so feel free to add your favourites in the comments but there are certain ones I’ve left out on purpose.

Oh, and from your time in Korea you might have also noticed that the way the locals number their floors is different too. What we in Europe (not for long for the UK…sob!) call the ground floor is the first floor here, and then it carries on from there: European First Floor = Korean Second Floor and so on. On my map, I’ve given the Korean floors so that if you have to go up you know what button to hit on the lifts!

Banes Taco

Located on Central-Ro nearer to the Convensia-Daero end is a little Mexican joint that is perfect for a quick lunch or some after work beers and tacos while watching the sun go down. My favourite thing to eat here are the chimichangas (incidentally, also the name of the first Mexican restaurant I ever went to and the first Mexican dish I ever ate) and they do cater reasonably well for veggies. Try the Guava Soda too – it’s a hit of sugary deliciousness 🙂 I believe the owner speaks English as well, so they may also be able to cater to any trickier dietary requirements.

Burgerroom

Only the chips are veggie friendly here, but I often send Raj to get me a takeout and make veggie burgers for him at home, so we can eat same-same-but-different. The burgers here are big and meaty and juicy and yes, I feel really fat after demolishing one of these bad boys. Always with Bacon and Avocado. Always.

Café Hilo

A tiny cute little lunch spot that is perfect for paninis, salads and even some pizza.

Café Jarb

On the second floor of the G-Tower, this is the easiest option for GCF Staff. Aeran, the owner is super friendly and depending on how busy they are, she is willing to accommodate particular sandwich or salad requests. In fact, her latest menu has a sandwich named after one particular person in the G-Tower (not GCF I think) who always asked for a combination that others would copy!

Cave Beer

The best pizza in Songdo, albeit a bit on the pricier side. They do take out as well and is a tried and tested option for movie night!

Dominos 

Everybody needs some Dominoes goodness once in a while. If you speak Korean, you can order delivery, but we tend to turn up and take out – it’s just as easy!

Gianni Napoli

Located on the first floor on NC Cube – I think it is in winter, but if you walk along the Arts Centre Daero Side of NC Cube eventually you’ll come across it. Or you could just check the store guide at the start, whatever. Yummy pizzas and lasagne, with a limited wine list. They also do take away pizzas too. If you are a large group, you are recommended to book as the restaurant, much like many others in Songdo, isn’t huge but you’ll likely need a Korean speaking colleague to help you with the booking! Either that of get off your ass at lunchtime and take a walk – it’s good for you after all!

Impasto

Possibly our favourite Italian in Songdo with a chef who was trained oversees. Their steak, pastas and salads are all yum and in line with restaurant pricing in Korea generally. They don’t do takeaways unfortunately but service is quick and friendly so it’s no hardship to eat here!! 1st Floor, near Awesome International Mart.

Korean BBQ

OK. Obviously there are NO END to the BBQ restaurants you’ll find in Songdo. Seriously, just go for a walk and I dare you not to find one within 10 minutes. But there are two that I have been to and are our go-to restaurants for when visitors arrive. The first is the Beef BBQ restaurant on the corner of our street and Convensia Daero (ish). Order the Wagyu Set and cook away. The second is the BBQ in the Hanok Village in Central Park. Now the beauty of this place is the setting – its super pretty and also, when you call up to book a table, you can (and must) pre-order a hot vegetarian Bibimbap which by all accounts is super tasty. I understand that if you don’t pre-order for veggies, you can only get a cold Bibimbap which, whilst nice, is altogether less satisfying.

La Campagne

Another Italian with a deli counter for when you want to close your eyes and buy real cheese or sausage no matter the cost! Pizzas are big and filling and when the weather is pleasant, it’s nice to sit outside and watch the world pass through the park.

La Casa

Our top choice for Mexican food in Songdo. You WANT a house Margarita to accompany your meal and the owner speaks English, so adjusting to different tastes isn’t a problem. They at getting more and  more popular however, so book in advance for groups or get there early to snag a table!

Old Songdo

I’ve lumped Old Songdo together largely because I don’t know how to show these places on a map. There is (usually) always a logic behind  my actions. I’ve eaten at a fusion Arabian-Indian Restaurant called Arabesque, a Korean BBQ with a red sign and the altogether fancier Nostalgia. The BBQ restaurant can’t cater for vegetarians, so if you have one, feed it in advance of heading there!

PF Changs

I was super thrilled to discover a PF Changs in Seoul last year during Chuseok and even ore so when I found out that a branch has been opened in Triple Street. Whilst we are yet to eat at the local branch, I have no doubt that it will be every bit as delicious as the fake-Chinese-food I have come to love over the years. Mmmmm #beefwithbroccoli

Saint Augustine

Apparently this wonderful little restaurant has been in Songdo longer than us yet I only discovered it recently. Simon, the owner, speaks English and is great at suggesting dishes that can be vegetarianised. The sticky thai fish is my favourite and if you go with me, it is likely I won’t share. Unless you order something equally delicious in which case the more the merrier! Located in Dream City on the 1st floor, there is parking in the basement – apparently you have to pay for the parking but we haven’t figured out how to do that yet (I think the pay to park stops after 8pm. I think.)

Swagat

The only Indian restaurant in Songdo that we like to eat at. Located on the 3rd floor, near the drive through Macdonalds. Parking in the basement can be a little tricky but persevere and you will triumph and be able to gorge yourself on Lamb Saag and Mango Lassi. They also deliver (Over 30,000won – so I order extra food and don’t cook for two days!) or you can go and pick up.

Toulon 

A French restaurants vetted and approved of by actual French people (Hi AnaMatt!) On the 1st floor of the same building as Swagat, I had the duck and the crème brulee, which I would totally have again. Nothing for veggies except dessert and like a lot of restaurants here, closed on Monday.

I’m sure I’m missing a couple of places but equally sure that when he reads it, Raj (hello!) will point out my omissions. He’ll probably also have a lot to say about my attempt at marking places on a map, but I know that I’m broadly in the right areas at least and anyway, it’s good for you to discover these places for yourself, so actually, I’m just being helpful! Where more than one restaurant is marked by a cross it is because they are super close to each other and I can’t fit enough Xs on the map! (ed. It’s possible that all this writing about food has left our blogger in a state of delirium, so don’t mind her and we’ll pack her off for some lunch now!)

Bon Aproveché!

Restaurants

Update 18/10/2017: Here’s a Brucey-Bonus for you (Sidebar: How long until that catchphrase dies out? RIP Mr Forsyth!) Opposite Central Park. on the Korean 2nd floor, on the Burgerroom side of the street is a new Indian restaurant BombayBrau. A chain (we’ve seen them in both Busan and Seoul) the food is tasty and the home-brewed beers complement it well. Definitely one for the revisiting list but a word of caution: If you don’t do well with spice, it is worth asking them to tone it done when ordering!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silver Screen

Recently, there have been a lot of new arrivals in Songdo and I’m realising that things I have taken for granted are things that they would still like to know about. One of these things is how and where to go to watch a movie in Songdo.

It’s worth noting here that most international movies here are screened in the original language, with Korean subtitles. However most animated movies are dubbed into Korean, so try to do your research before you book just in case!

Following a couple of new malls being opened in the local area there are a few different choices of cinemas. When we first arrived, somehow we managed to use the cinema websites to reserve tickets online. After that first experience, the ability so-to-do has vanished. Now, one of the easiest ways to book tickets, other than making the trip to the Cinema in person, is using www.cineinkorea.com

Through this website, you can book tickets at one of the following chains:

CGV

There are CGV cinemas at Square One (Incheon Yeonsu) Incheon Bus Terminal (Incheon Terminal) and even the airport for a pre-flight film. They have a helpful FAQs page and an online survey-form if you want to double-check that you are booking at the cinema nearest to you as well. If you want to look at the maps they have linked to, as with many things here in Korea, you need to open the site in Internet Explorer only – the maps won’t even work with Edge.

CGV

Lotte

This is a slightly nicer chain than the CGV usually and the closest one is in the Lotte Department Store by Incheon Arts Centre Subway Station (Incheon on the website).

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Now our most recent discovery for those important movies (Star Wars, Marvel and I will grudgingly add DC Comic but only because Wonder Woman rocked my world) is the Charlotte Theatre within the Lotte Cinema. The Charlotte Theatre is a screen within the cinema that has its own ticketing desk and is FANCY AF (sorry Amma. That’s the only way to suitable describe it.) We went to one in Myeongdong (Seoul) to see the most recent Spider-Man and it was an experience. The softest leather seats with a full recline, a free drink (well at 35,000 a ticket, it’s the least they can do) and the seats are sectioned off in pairs so that you don’t have to see other punters at all!

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Megabox 

Last but not least is The Megabox Cinema (Songdo), at the Triple Street Mall (behind the Hyundai Outlet Mall at Technopark on the subway). Megabox.png

The easiest way to pay for the tickets is to pop along to the G-Tower and make a bank transfer. You can pay with an international PayPal account, but following a recent change in Korean Legislation, you can no longer use a domestic PayPal account to pay for goods or services within Korea. (This was particularly annoying, as it took me 10 months to set up my Gmarket account and be able to use it, but now I rely on doing wire transfers from the ATM for most online things.)

Now if you don’t want to take the easy option to satisfy your movie-viewing desires, you can go to the individual websites and they all have an English Option. Just open the site in Internet Explorer on your PC (I wouldn’t try it on a phone or tablet for the first time) and hunt around for the “English” button at the top right or middle-bottom of the page and away you go.

Happy Viewing Folks!

 

Passport Photos in Songdo

Anyone else always find themselves ready to leave for the airport about 3 hours before they need to be? Just me? Ok then. Well, it gives me time to write a quick post about getting passport photos taken in Songdo. You’ll need photos taken in the last six months when you get here for your Alien Registration Card, your Ministry of Foreign Affairs Card and your Korean Driving Licence if you are getting one. We came with a few from home but have since needed to get more done for visas / general use so I thought I would share the two places that I go to when I need photos pronto:

(1) June Studio in Millennium City: 준 스튜디오

Located right next to Daiso (more on this later) they take good standard size passport photos. I haven’t had to get any awkward size photos taken but I am sure they could do it here. Been a while since I went here but I have a feeling it is on the 2nd floor, so keep your eyes trained upwards!

Address in Korean: 인천광역시 연수구 신송로 122 송도프라자 2층

Phone: 032-851-8263

Price: KRW 12000 (for four. May have increased since I was last here)

Opening hours: Mon-Fri 09:30 – 20:30, Sat-Sun 10:00-18:00

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(2) Kodak Stand in Homeplus Songdo (Technopark Station) 

If you hop on the subway at Central Park, three stops later you’ll be at Technopark. When you come out of the subway, you can either walk straight into the Hyundai Shopping Outlet or take the escalators to the right and you’ll be in front of Homeplus. Go down to the main shopping floor (B1) and as you step off the escalator, you’ll find a Kodak concession on your left. As well as passport photos, you can also get photos printed if you take them in on a memory stick. Depending on how busy they are, I’ve had photos printed within 30 minutes – or as long as it takes for me to get my grocery shopping done!  One thing I noticed about the passport photos here vs June Studios is that at Kodak, they’ll automatically do a spot of photoshopping / touching up…

Well there you have it, that should cover all your ID needs!

A Beijing Mini Break: 3 Day Itinerary

Having sorted out the admin pretrip, we were ready for our 3.5 day sojourn in Beijing. First thing to get used to pretty much every flight to China from Incheon gets delayed. It’s boring but it is part of the experience. Also, a lot of passengers will have an INSANE amount of hand-baggage, so you kind want to get on the plane quickly to make sure you get some of that precious overhead storage space (this is where you want loyalty points for some essential pre- boarding.)

We landed in PEK and jostled our way through immigration. The airport is HUGE! You have to get a fairly lengthy train shuttle from just outside immigration to luggage collection and from getting off the plane to getting into a taxi, it took about an hour.

People talk about the traffic in Beijing, and the drivers there, and it sounds horrendous. Knowing our propensity to hire cars and do things ourselves, several friends warned us off driving in Beijing and said we’d be scared enough in taxis. I don’t get it personally. The traffic, although plentiful, wasn’t the worst and because there was plenty of traffic, it really felt like everything was happening in slow motion. Yes, there were plenty of cars that zipped in and out of traffic, super close to a car we were in but because of the speed every one is travelling at, it isn’t an insurmountable feat. Anyway, I digress.

We arrived in Dongzhimen around 7 and spent the evening wandering around the local area – ostensibly to find the subway station, but really just to orient ourselves as we knew we would be taxi people this trip. During the wandering, we came across the Raffles City Mall, across the road from Dongzhimen station and lo and behold, dinner was solved – Pizza Express in China (although it’s called Pizza Marzano there!)

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Day 1 in Beijing was a very rainy Friday morning not conducive to sightseeing, so we spent the day roaming (in taxis) around different areas, stopping for food as needed. I was particularly excited to find a place to get my eyebrows threaded in the CBD. Browhaus has two locations pretty close to each other, and the staff spoke enough English to make me feel comfortable. It was 98RMB for eyebrows and 50RMB for upper lip which is a bit pricey but I wasn’t so sure that I’d walk away with my face intact from some of the definitely cheaper in-mall threading places.

I went to the location in the Kerry Centre, and while I was doing my thing, Raj was busy finding a lunch stop in the same building: Din Tai Fung for world-renowned dumplings – including a veggie selection for him!

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After lunch, we headed over to the Bodhi Spa, as recommended to us, for some blissful massages which helped to while away the afternoon. http://www.bodhi.com.cn We paid 348RMB for a 1hr aromatherapy massage and you’ll find the spa just North of the workers stadium, across the road.

We spent the evening strolling through Sanlitun – known for its bars and restaurants. The food prices are pretty amazing when compared to Korea and the choice available is huge! Apparently Sanlitun used to be the soft red light district of Beijing and to this end, you still see women dancing on poles in an establishment which is right next door to a more family friendly environment. We had a nice drink at the Hacienda Rooftop bar, followed by a stroll home. One strange thing we found everywhere is that as soon as your food / order has been brought to your table, the servers expect payment immediately. If you hand over a card, they often ask for the password (pin) but we’d say no and mime signing instead. It’s almost like they expect you to do a runner so they avoid that by getting paid upfront, which is weird in the police-state that is China but you get used to it.

Day 2 dawned with slightly more friendly weather, so we set off to the Summer Palace, up in the North of the city. The summer palace was exactly the kind of crowded mayhem that you would imagine China to be. Last summer’s desire to be a video-blogger came back for a few moments while I tried  to capture the insanity – but it was a futile attempt. We bought the artists map to try to navigate around the palace, but whilst it is a very pretty representation it isn’t the most useful to get around, so that’s where Lonely Planet comes in. This is also the place that I came round to the idea of using umbrellas as sun protection. It was hot and humid and climbing to the top for some albeit very pretty views was sticky work. I think I’d almost prefer to return to Beijing in the cold months (cold weather doesn’t scare me anymore – I live in Korea after all!) to do the rest of the sightseeing. If you have time, it’s a nice little ferry ride from the main bit of the palace to South Island too. The sun disappeared while we were on the boat but the view were still nice.  Leaving the palace to get a taxi was hard. This seems to be a recurring theme in China, so if you have members of your party who would object to walking around in search of one, make sure you get the DiDi app and have data on your phone! Even with the app, lack of language skills means that it still isn’t the easiest thing, but every little bit helps.

From the Palace, we went to a Duck restaurant – its Beijing, Roast Duck in pancakes is an absolute must – that was recommended and across the road from the hotel. It was a late lunch, so the restaurant had run out of vegetarian food but Raj patiently watched me stuff myself and then went and found some noodles around the corner.

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After a little rest (I really must invest in a hat) we headed to Houhai for dinner and a drink. The name ‘Houhai’ refers to a lake and its surrounding neighbourhood in the Xicheng District of Central Beijing and is a lovely place for a pre-dinner stroll. We ventured away from the lake down some decidedly quiet, and in any other country, dodgy, side streets which are apparently filled with market traders during the day to a quiet and quaint little Italian restaurant, Mercante, which we’ve since learnt is a gem amongst the Beijing Foodie Set. With an Italian owner, the food is impeccable and I was only sorry that I’d eaten so much duck that I didn’t have space for the rack of New Zealand Lamb that was the night’s special. (Yes, I realise most of my holiday posts revolve around food. I can’t help it, I get hungry. I’ve started planning my trip to London in September already – Nandos, Teryiaki Salmon Fishcakes from M&S, Ribs and Greggs make the top food stops). After dinner we went back to the lake for a drink at the ‘No Name Bar.’ For such a gorgeous venue, it was empty, so please do make an effort to find it and offer it your custom when in town! 

Day 3, and our last full day in Beijing. We jumped in a taxi to Tiananmen Square: interestingly, if you Google-search Tiananmen Square without a VPN in China, nothing of note comes up. There is a big ploy to make sure that people know that nothing happened there, but when you get there, security is super tight and there are supposedly plain clothed policemen at every turn. Why would you need all this if nothing happened? We planned to go to the Square first, but somehow found ourselves caught up in the queue for The Forbidden City so we went along with it. That was our first big fail of the trip. There are only 80,000 tickets sold each day for the Forbidden City and most of these are booked by tour operators or online before people arrive at the venue. The crowds to get into FC are HUGE and pushy and shove-y and gross in the heat, but there is no sign on the outside to say there are no tickets left. Once we shoved our way in only to find all the tickets were sold out, we made our way back to the front to get out, only to be turned around with no indication where the exit was. At some point I was wandering through crowds just saying ‘exit’ over and over again in the hope that someone would take pity on me and point me in the right direction!  Turns out you need to walk the length of the FC on the outside in order to get out.

Fast-forward from here to Silk Street. Ah yes, the infamous art of bargaining in a Chinese market. I am SO bad at haggling that I just went down the ‘speak to my husband I don’t have any money route’ and left him to it after I picked out things. There is a nice food court (veggie and non-veggie noodles pleaseandthankyou) for pre-shopping, and lots of great foot massage places for post shopping. All in all, I was happy with my spoils, which included a new pair of glasses for me, prescription sunglasses for him both for less than £100. I think I’ll get prescription sunglasses next time…

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Raj likes to check out the Indian food offering everywhere we go, so that’s what we did for dinner. The menu at Ganges in Sanlitun was HUGE and it definitely gets a thumbs up from us – sadly I ate my food too quickly before I thought of taking pictures, but it’s just an excuse to go back I reckon!! 🙂

All in all, a Beijing Mini Break is thoroughly recommended. I want to go back to see the Great Wall of China (a 70km hike in that weather was not on my list of things to do) and actually enter the Forbidden City so I’ll be applying for a multi-entry visa when I’m in London to make it possible…