Friday, February 14, 2014

Gyeongbok Palace

Hyanggwonjeong Hexagonal Pavillion. Built in 1873 by King Gogong
Got a chance to visit Gyeongbokgung (Gung means Palace). It’s was fantastic to see. Gyeongbokgung is the biggest palace in Seoul. It's a beautiful place while still in the heart of the city. Very cold in Winter though.

Palace Walls
Gyeongbokgung is a very interesting Palace because there's so much to see and everything is so well maintained and restored. It's a long walk, so wear comfortable shoes and dress warmly, it's cold outside in the winter. The Reflection Pond and Pavilion was absolutely a favorite place, so beautiful and quiet.

Jibokjae is the Private Library used by King Gogong
The main royal palace is Gyeongbokgung and located in north central Seoul. First constructed in 1395, it later was burned and abandoned for almost three centuries, and reconstructed in 1867. It was the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. The name means Greatly Blessed by Heaven (Gyeongbok) and Palace [Gung).

Gyeonghoeru. Joseon Royal Banquet Hall
Gyeongbok Palace was built three years after the Joseon Dynasty was founded and it served as its main palace. With Mount Bugaksan as a backdrop, the main entrance to the palace, is situated in the heart of the Korean capital city. 

Gyotaejeon Hall was the Queens Quarters. Begun in 1440 by King Sejong
The Palace was demolished during the Japanese occupation of the early 20th century and restoration efforts have been ongoing since 1990. Restorations are largely completed.

It’s a large place for being in central Seoul and it was a great palace to see and get a some exercise. To repeat, it’s cold in the winter though.

Highly recommended!

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pierre Gagnaire à séoul

Pierre Gagnaire à séoul Dining Room
On our last night in Seoul we went to the wonderful french restaurant Pierre Gagnaire à séoul. Awesome location, decor and view. It is a fantastic locale on the top floor of the New Wing of The Lotte Hotel in Seoul. Classic French fine dining with great champagne and wine list. Food all very good and very well balanced.  It was beautifully presented and cooked to bring out the best in the food. Excellent and attentive service added to making the meal memorable.

You walk into the restaurant and you are no longer in Seoul. You could be at Pierre’s restaurant in Paris. With the high ceilings and European antique furniture with lovely table settings. The restaurant is a treat, of course, but the food and wine quality was very high. This is the best current French restaurant in Seoul and the 8th in all of Asia.

Delicious Bread
The dining room was extravagant, the views of the city were awesome and the service was great. We had the view table that allowed us to overlook Seoul while eating the most wonderful food and wine. 

Pierre Gagnaire’s souffleé and éclair
The meal  consisted of a series of small plates. Actually, each entree had 5 different dishes. We had the 6 rue Balzac menu and every course was fantastic. Among other things, the Balzac menu appetizers included langoustine quenelle and royal foie gras. The main was sautéed lobster claw, tuna and cauliflower purée along with baked potato ice cream along with many other dishes. It ended with a wonderful Pierre Gagnaire’s souffle. Unbelievable.

The main dish was some of the best food we’ve have ever eaten! The lobster was complemented beautifully by mango and the most delicious lobster bisque you could imagine! They also made their own bread products which were very, very good.

Pierre Gagnaire Gift Box
Eating at Pierre Gagnaire was very expensive, but very worthwhile. It is a meal that we will remember for a long time! Pierre Gagnaire Seoul is very true to the fine dining experience you would expect to find in Paris. You feel like you have been transported to a fancy parisian restaurant with its Versailles-like setting. The service is attentive and the staff know when you need something. And of course the food is just superb.

Highly recommended!

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Changing of the Royal Guard

Changing of the Royal Guard Ceremony Begins
Down the street from the Lotte hotel in Seoul is one of the most interesting old Korean Palaces, the Deoksugung Palace. It’s really A bit of historical drama mixes with Seoul’s modernity each day in downtown Seoul with the Changing of the Royal Guards at Deoksugung Palace.  

Group playing Trumpets
The Guard Changing Ceremony, with colorful period costumes and a swirl of music, royal flags and a giant drum, is reenacted three times a day at 11:00, 14:00 and 15:30. in front of Daehanmun Gate at The Deoksugung Palace. The performance lasts about 30 minutes and attendance is free. 

Exchanged Palace Key is in Wooden Box on Red Table
Royal Guard Soldiers
During the Joseon era, there was a military unit stationed at the royal palace  called the Sumungun. It was responsible for opening and closing the palace gates, as well as guarding and patrolling the area around the gate. The Ceremony is a re-enactment of those days. It also shows the exchange of palace keys.

Giant Drum is Hit Three Times During Ceremony
Deoksugung is centrally located by Seoul City Hall in a large City Square next to the modern City Hall. This was the first of two palaces we visited. Enjoyed this one much better than Gyeongbokgung. The Palace entrance price was only KRW 1,000 ($1.00 USD), the grounds were beautiful, and as an extra benefit there’s the changing of the Royal Guards. We really enjoyed this place. Deoksugung Palace and Changing of the Royal Guards are must-see's in downtown Seoul.
Highly recommended!

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Deoksu Palace

Daehanmum gate
Down the street from the Lotte hotel in Seoul is one of the most interesting of the old Korean Palaces, the Deoksugung (gung means palace). It’s really beautiful and peaceful in the somewhat chaotic area of central downtown Seoul. It's charming and easy to visit.
Deoksu Palace is one of the five great palaces from the Joseon Dynasty which lasted over 500 years. Deoksugung was originally built as a residence for Prince Wolsan in the 15th century. After all the other palace buildings were destroyed by fire during the Japanese invasion of 1592, King Seonjo established a temporary residence here. Successive Korean Kings resided here until, in 1897 King Gojong proclaimed to the nation and the world the establishment of the “Great Han Empire”. The palace was renamed Deoksugung in 1907, when King Sunjong ascended the throne and it has been known by that name to this day.
Although located in the busy centre of Seoul, Deoksugung is very tranquil. On first arriving there you’ll see Daehanmun Gate. This is the main entrance gate to Deoksugung Palace. A daily show of the changing of the guards takes place here at 11:00, 14:00 and 15:30. 
Geumcheongyo Bridge
After entering Daehanmum Gate you will pass over Geumcheongyo Bridge. It was built over the stream that comes from the north and encircled "Oedang" which means the outer buildings of the palace. The bridge, 12.9m/42.3 ft long and 12.5m/41 ft wide, was constructed in 1411. Geumcheongyo is one of the oldest stone bridges that remain in Seoul today.
Junghwajeon, the Main Throne Room
Ahead you will come to Junghwa Gate and Junghwajeon, the Main Throne Room. All of the official affairs took place in this building and meetings with foreign envoys. This is the main building in Deoksugung Palace. Originally it was two stories high and a wall was built around it. Now it stands at one story and the wall is gone, leaving the Junghwa Gate pointless.
Junghwajeon Throne
Perfect for travelers with limited time, Deoksugung Palace gives a good idea of the architecture and style architecture during the days of Korea as the Japanese were taking over. This place shows an impressive juxtaposition of the Palace’s spacious grounds surrounded by the icons of modern life, shopping malls and skyscrapers which shows the value Korea places on its history and its future. Deoksugung Palace is a must in downtown Seoul.
Highly recommended!

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Lotte Hotel

Lotte Hotel, Jung-gu, Seoul
We stayed at the Lotte Hotel on the way back to the US from SE Asia. The Lotte is one of the oldest large hotels in Seoul, S Korea. It has been known to be one of the best hotels in town for more than 75 years. With some very nice upgrades and benefits, this hotel provides the most nicest stay for all every type of traveler.

Club Room
When we arrived, we were ushered to the club floor for check in. So Nice. The Lotte  has much to offer. The location is prime! Right in the middle of Myeong dong and at Lotte Department Store.It’s in the center of the town and well connected to the entire city via the Metro. Hotel intakes up the whole block with the Lotte Mall, Lotte Market and Food court on the lower Level. It is in the Myeong dong area (UNESCO heritage) which is the happening shopping district of Seoul. It is in walking distance to city hall, the Cheonggyecheon river project and many historic, old Korean palaces and museums.

Lotte Club Lounge on 31st Floor
Our Club Room was cozy and very close to  the club lounge, which offered delicious food and drink from 6am to 9pm. The room was well equipped with the most modern Bathroom ever. The Toto Neorest toilet was an unbelievable model. Completely automated. The seat opened and closed by a button along with a warmed seat and a warm water cleansing feature that was fantastic. The shower was wonderful too. Powerful and hot with many water jets all over the place. Every thing in the room itself was mechanized from the curtains, lighting, temperature etc, including free fast Wi-Fi. What a super place to stay.

$90.00USD Musk Melons
The entire Lotte staff was always ready to assist and help with any issue or need. Loved the Sauna, Gym, lounge, etc, It was well equipped and they even had warm clean gym clothes and bathing suits for guests to use. Designed very well.

Downstairs Lounge Drinks and Classical Music
The restaurants at the Lotte ranged from very high quality Korean and Japanese food to the Michelin starred Pierre Gagnaire à séoul for rich french food which was very tasty.  Another benefit of a club room is 20% off any of the restaurants at the Lotte. That’s not even mentioning the unrivaled food court in the basement. Very good and very expensive food market too. This hotel is very, very good.

Drinks at the Lounge
This was a beautiful hotel. Wonderful accommodations. Great restaurants. Lounges with entertainment. Great location for shopping! Nonstop shopping! Close to the subway and all amenities. We would definitely stay here again. Wonderful hotel.

Highly recommended!

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Seoul S Korea

Temple on Gwanghwamun Square Seoul
Had a 3 day layover in Seoul S Korea on the way back to the US from  Asia. Seoul is a great city and it’s a cool, very busy happening place. It’s considered a megacity and has the world’s second largest metropolitan area with over 25.6 million people. It’s home to over half of South Koreans. It took us an hour to drive into the city center from Incheon International Airport (ICN). 

Cheonggyecheon River Connects to Han River
Sited on the Han River, Seoul's history stretches back more than 2,000 years when it was founded in 18 BCE by Baekje, the first  of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. Seoul has continued to be the capital of Korea under the later Joseon Dynasty and the Korean Empire. 

Today, Seoul is considered a leading and rapidly growing global city stemming from an economic boom and growth known as the Miracle on the Han River. The world has witnessed Seoul’s transformation from the ashes and ruins of the brutal Korean war to becoming world’s the fourth largest economy after Tokyo, New York City and Las Angeles. It’s also one of the world’s leading technology hubs.

Downtown Seoul at Night
We stayed at the Lotte Hotel is in the center of town. A very cool location right near the far out architecture of the modern new wave shaped Seoul City Hall. It’s part of the Jung-gu district. Didn’t get to the famed Gangnam district but we did see the old style Korean homes of the Bukchon Hanok Village.

Bukchon Hanok Village
Bukchon Hanok Village is a Korean traditional village. Hanok is a term to describe Korean traditional houses. The Bukchon Hanok traditional village is composed of lots of alleys, hanoks, and is preserved to show a 600-year-old urban environment. Bukchon is a traditional cultural center and allows visitors to experience the atmosphere of the Joseon Dynasty. 

King Segong at Gwanghwamun Square 
Seoul is an incredible city..Wonderful accommodations. Great restaurants. Interesting entertainment. Great locations for shopping. Nonstop shopping! We will definitely come here again. Seoul is a wonderful city.

Highly recommended!

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

L'Elephant LPG

Restaurant L’Elephant Near Wat Nong Sikhounmuang
L’Elephant is a very good french restaurant that has a Lao dishes on the menu that are quite good also. Urban, who is the proprietor of the Mekong Riverview Hotel, insisted that we try the restaurant. We weren’t let down. It has fantastic french food that comes with wonderful fresh french bread.

Inside L’Elephant
The stylish L’Elephant is definitely where it's at for fine french dining in LPG. Run by French expats, it is very french. There is a laid-back, retro-french atmosphere inside the high-ceilinged colonial building. There are daily and weekly specials, and just about everything is good. Tasty french cheeses and wines are also imported and are quite good also, although a bit expensive for Luang Prabang. The wine list could hold its own in a much larger city, and there’s a highly trained staff.

Delicious Lambchops with Pommes Frites
Daily set menus explore the best of what's available in the kitchen. A range of tasty dishes, from coq au vin to Creme Brûlée. They have delicious lamb chops, fish and poultry and a wonderful Lao menu. 

Creme Brûlée
The cavernous interior makes it quite popular and seem very french. One could be in Paris or Lyon. As already mentioned, L’Elephant is quite expensive for Luang Prabang, but more than worth it. Be sure to make a reservation, as with most high quality restaurants in Luang Prabang, it's often fully booked.

Fresh French Bread
L’Elephant is among the best restaurants in Luang Prabang and it is well worth the price (not that much). Service is excellent, the menu is varied, the portions are generous with fantastic french food. The bread is particularly good.

This place is an institution among visitors and residents alike, and if you eat here you will get very good food in charming surroundings. The atmosphere is animated and fun, and the service is excellent.

Highly recommended! 

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Tamarind

Tamarind Restaurant on Kingkitsalat Road
The Tamarind restaurant in Luang Prabang is a delicious, authentic destination and presents the best in Lao food. Rudy, the Dutch-American maitre d' is thoroughly charming, with a relaxed vibe that makes everyone instantly comfortable. The food they serve is the perfect introduction to Lao food. We found their rendition of the dishes to be superior to the versions we tasted at the other top-rated restaurants.
Lao Sausage, Dips (Jeouw), Buffalo Skin, Fried River Leaves
The Tamarind was simply amazing. We got the set menu ($15 USD each) which provided us with a great variety of food. The staff also explained the history, ingredients and how to eat each dish. Very interesting.

Fried Pumpkin, Lemongrass with Chicken, Fish in Banana Leaf
This restaurant is bustling and has a great vibe - you will need a reservation though. We watched many people try to walk in and were turned away at the door. The  set dinner was very tasty and served well. Remember, bookings are required well in advance as their reputation has made it nearly impossible as walk in for dinner. Lunch maybe.

Sticky Black Rice Dessert in Coconut Milk with Tamarind Sauce
Fabulous dining - went twice. Once for lunch, once for dinner. Both were wonderful. Each meal had fresh gourmet ingredients and presentation like you would get in a fancy restaurant back home. The Tamarind is easy walking distance from all hotels in old town. It has a nice location along the Nam Khan river.

Across the Nam Khan from the Tamarind
This is among the best restaurants in Luang Prabang and it is well worth the price (not that much). Service is excellent, the menu is varied, the portions are generous and the food was superb. The sticky Black Rice Dessert was particularly good.

Highly recommended! 

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon Near the Royal Palace
The Blue Lagoon Restaurant clearly stands out of the huge group of dining options in Luang Prabang. It's one of the more expensive places but for a good reason. Very good food and the staff is very friendly and exceptionally well trained. 

Prawn and Fish with Scallops and Rice
Parma Cheese Raviolis
Can see why this restaurant is rated so highly. We had dinner at this restaurant  and ordered the local soup, delicious Prawn/Fish with Scallops and wonderful Parma Cheese Raviolis. The service was very good and bread and butter was brought to the table right away. First we had soup that was served piping hot and was perfect.

The Prawns, Fish plus Scallops with rice and the Ravioli were served next. Excellent and just spicy enough without being over-powering. For dessert we had their fresh mango with mango ice-cream. It was every bit as tasty as it sounds.

We had to have reservations when we arrived for dinner as the Blue Lagoon was completely full when we arrived. We had a lovely outdoor dining table. There are head waiters who speak some English and explain the dishes to you. The chef spent 6 years in Switzerland, so besides some Swiss twists to the menu there is a standard of service and restaurant appearance that is quite good. Food was high quality and the wine list reasonable.

Blue Lagoon Interior
This is among the more expensive restaurants in Luang Prabang but it is well worth it as it’s one of the tops in town. Service is excellent, the menu is varied, the portions are good and the food was superb.

Highly recommended! 

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Mount Phou Si

View from Mount Phou Si
Mount Phou Si is a 100m high hill in the centre of old town Luang Prabang. It lies in the heart of the peninsula and is bordered on one side by the Mekong River and on the other side by the Nam Khan River. The hill is a local religious site, and houses several Buddhist shrines. At the top of the hill, overlooking the town and surrounding countryside, is Wat Chom Si, which is also a Buddhist temple and is a tourist highlight of Luang Prabang.

Stairs up the Hill
It’s really an interesting exercise climbing Phou Si to the top. It was fun. There’s a good view of most of town from the top, especially the newer south side. It's a pretty steep stairway from the bottom and sunrise is the most sensible and rewarding times to go up. It is packed there at sunset, it’s such a zoo I hesitate giving a recommendation for seeing the sunset from there. Sunrise is best because not so many people get up for the hike up the hill.

The Mekong River
To climb Phou Si Hill there are two entrances on either side of the hill. One is on the NW side of the hill, along Sisavangvong Road, across from the Royal Palace. The other entrance is on the SW side of the hill on Ratsavong Road. The Palace entrance has about 130 stairs up to the ticket counter, and another 190 steps to the top. That’s what we took. Even people  with low fitness levels should be able to complete the climb to the top, although it can be tiring. The SW entrance is longer than the northern by a little, but is less steep and has more points of interest along the way, which are perfect excuses for stopping on the climb. Entrance fee 20,000 kip ($2.50 USD).

Wat Chom Si
All in all, Phou Si is a rewarding experience for all ages and if one is in Luang Prabang it should not be missed.

Highly recommended! 

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Dyen Sabai & The Bamboo Bridge

Dyen Sabai
Dyen Sabai is a wonderful restaurant that the overlooks the Nam Khan river in Luang Prabang. The restaurant is made up of balconies that extend into the trees and forest that overlooks the river. We went in the afternoon and there were no mosquitoes/insects despite the dense vegetation and forest around. It’s a very beautiful and serene location.

Waiting for French Wine
Japanese Friends
The Restaurant captures the peace and tranquility of the rainforest, while still being close to the bustle of happening Luang Prabang. The setting is fabulous, nestled among lush green vegetation. Seating is housed in bamboo huts on wide open decking overlooking the river, beautifully decorated with colorful cushions and lanterns. There’s also a choice of a western style table or comfortable Lao pillows.

Bamboo Bridge across the Nam Khan
Bamboo Bridge
There is a bamboo bridge that connects to the restaurant from the main area of Luang Prabang on the other side of the Nam Khan river. During the rainy season the bamboo bridge often collapses into the river so the restaurant organizes a small row boat to take you there and back. Luckily for us the bridge was in fine shape and it cost 20,000 Kip ($2.50 USD)to cross the bridge round trip. 

It’s really fun to hang out and lounge while laying about on pillows and cushions. It’s easy to meet and talk with the other people there since were all just laying around and eating great Lao food with a slightly modern twist.

Traditional Lao food
The food is very special, authentic Lao style food. Half of the menu is fondue/barbecue, that means you cook yourself. In the middle of the table they put pots full of hot coals. Then you barbecue the ingredients you choose (meat or fish) with a lot of vegetables and fresh herbs. The Dyen Sabai was fantastic place to experience Lao food and hang out talking with fellow travelers and drinking french wine. 

Highly recommended! 

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