Birthdays are a perfect excuse to get special treatment from everyone. It is those days when it feels like everything literally goes my way. How I want to spend it. Who I want to spend it with. Where I want to eat. And a lot more! And it is not everyday that I get to have that privilege. So, when that day comes every year, I celebrate in the best way possible.
For the past couple of years, a fancy dinner with family and unlimited booze with few friends were my usual celebration. This year, since I was turning 30, I wanted something more than just dinner and drinks. I wanted a trip to one of my dream destinations: KOREA!
Guess what? I got what I wanted! After a couple of weeks of convincing Ralph, he finally agreed to go to Korea with me! Imagine how happy I was then when all of my plans for my 30th birthday went perfectly well: 1) I got my dream vacation, 2) I was able to celebrate with family and friends before Ralph and I left for Korea, and 3) we were able to go to most of the places that were on our itinerary (see DAY 1, DAY 2 and DAYS 4 and 5).
On DAY 3, the exact day of my birthday, we visited Changdeokgung Palace and N Seoul Tower. Then we capped off the day with a romantic dinner at a Michelin-rated French fine-dining restaurant in Seoul, Pierre Gagnaire! Here’s how it went…
Address: 99 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu
Station: ANGUK STATION – red line, exit 3
Entrance Fee: ₩8,000 (₩3,000 entrance fee + ₩5,000 Secret Garden tour)
If only we had longer days we would have visited all of the 5 grand palaces – Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, and Gyeonghuigung. But since time wasn’t on our side, we only picked the most famous ones namely Gyeongbokgung Palace, which we visited on our first day, and Changdeokgung Palace.
Being the most well-preserved among the 5 palaces, Changdeokgung was nominated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1997 as the buildings and natural elements of the palace have sustained their original forms even after it was burned down and have undergone successive reconstructions. Hence, it became a place of great interest to many tourists.
In my personal view though, Changdeokgung Palace has become even more popular these days because of Huwon Garden (Secret Garden). It was actually the main reason I wanted to visit Changdeok. And it was also the reason we didn’t get to explore too much of the palace grounds as we were in a hurry to catch the schedule for the tour.
Yes. The Secret Garden is accessible only if you are on a guided tour. They won’t let you in by yourself (see schedule here). Also, they only allow a number of people in a group per schedule. It’s either you book in advance or be at the palace early as slots fill up quite fast.
As soon as we entered the barricades that divide the palace public grounds and the secret garden, our tour guide started talking about the history of Korea and the palace. He also talked about how the royal families lived their lives and how they made use of the palace for centuries. It was fascinating! I didn’t expect I would be that interested to learn such things when I simply planned to go there for a garden photoshoot!
However, when we got to this spot that Huwon Garden is famous for, all my photo shoot ideas…gone. I was a bit disappointed. It looked different from what I have seen on the internet. Perhaps the best time to visit it is during autumn or spring when its peculiar kind of beauty is at its peak.
It was a good thing I got pretty hooked with the tour guide’s storytelling! It kept my mind off negative things (i.e. my disappointment and frustration of not getting any decent photos). But only for a while.
When I realized the tour was nearly at end, I thought to myself, “No, no, no! I seriously am not leaving this place without getting at least one perfect couple shot!” I told Ralph about it and we both decided to sneak out for a bit.
That’s when we found this spot and voilà! Perfect couple shot achieved! HAHA!
The tour lasted an hour and a half with breaks in between to allow the group to rest and take pictures. I put emphasis on “rest” because the tour involved a strenuous walk. And it wasn’t just a long walk. It was a walk in the hills! We quite did not expect that actually. Nonetheless, it was an amazing experience!
We went back to our hotel to freshen up a bit then headed to our next destination.
N SEOUL TOWER
Address: 105, Namsangongwon-gil, Yongsan-gu
Entrance Fee: NONE
We took a cab going there from our hotel as Ralph and I were really tired. Besides, there’s no nearest station to Namsan that I knew. The only way to get there is via bus or taxi.
We then took the cable car going up the tower. Roundtrip ticket costs ₩8,500 per adult.
When we got out of the cable car, the first thing that greeted us was this stairway. I cringed upon seeing it that long and steep. Goodness! People are crazy to even think about using the stairs to get to the top of the highest tower in Seoul! But hands down to people who did! You guys are awesome!
After taking our let’s-pretend-we-took-the-stairs picture, we went straight to the roof terrace. And… Ahhh…
I zoned out of the world for a moment when we were greeted by this panoramic view of the city that Namsan Seoul Tower or popularly known as N Seoul Tower offers. It was breathtakingly beautiful! We were totally flabbergasted! No wonder it is one of the most visited places in Seoul.
Not only does N Seoul Tower offer magnificent views. It also offers a romantic date place for lovers who plan to declare their undying love to each other through the Locks of Love, believing their love will last forever.
Of course, we did what every couple does. We attached a lock we bought there for ₩8,000 with our names on it.
Yeongwonhi means forever while Sarangahae means I love you. Too much cheese, eh? 😅
We put the lock next to the post at the middle of the bridge so we can easily find it when we plan to visit Korea again. I just hope the locks don’t pile up that fast in that area.
While we were attaching the lock I realized… No one was around! So, we hurriedly took advantage of it to get this shot. Ahhhh… It came out as romantic as I imagined it would be! I must say it’s my favorite among all the pictures we had so far! ❤️
We wanted to stay a bit longer to check the observatory and for the sunset but we didn’t have much time. We needed to catch our 7:00 PM dinner reservation. So, we just took a picture with the observatory on the background on the way down to the cable car.
Can you spot the photobombers?
The cable car view… It was kind of a scary experience but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it.
At this point, I didn’t know exactly where we were headed to since Ralph wanted it to be a surprise. The only thing he told me was that it was just a few minutes walk from where we were. Although I was (and always am) aware that his “few minutes walk” really meant a looong walk for me, I just followed. I just told myself… This got to be good! Wine and steak please! Please! Please! 😂
10 minutes had past and we were still walking. I was starting to feel tired again. Good thing there were sceneries like this on the way. If you are wondering what this is… It was an escalator in the form of an elevator. Or elevator-like escalator. Or whatever! I don’t know how to describe it haha! Basta! It wasn’t the standard building elevator that everyone knows.
15 minutes. 25 minutes. And voilà! We were in the famous shopping district in Seoul, Myeong-dong! (I told you. His few minutes walk was a big lie! Though that 25-min walk already included getting lost for a bit. Still, diba. Tsss.)
I will tell more about Myeong-dong on my next post.
From Myeong-dong, we walked a little more until we finally arrived at Lotte Hotel. Aha!
PIERRE GAGNAIRE À SÉOUL
Address: 35th Floor (top floor) , Lotte Hotel – 30, Eulji-ro, Jung-gu
The very exact words I uttered when I saw the Pierre Gagnaire sign on the elevator panel were, “Bebe!!! Mukhang mahal dyan ah! Seryoso ka ba?!” (Babe! That looks expensive! Are you serious?!). He just laughed it off and told me he really wanted my 30th birthday to be a memorable one. In my mind I was like, “Bakit, magp-propose ka na ba dito?” (Why, are you going to propose here?). HAHAHA! But of course, I knew he wouldn’t. We’re still young, ya know. 😂
When we got there, we were greeted with elegance. They then took our coats and belongings and escorted us to our table.
…which was by the window, overlooking the city! It was a sight to behold! ❤️ We haven’t even started yet I was already feeling it! (What do you think it was? 😂)
We were attended to by 3 of their staff (1 Korean guy, 1 Korean girl, 1 French guy). They were literally watching our every movement! They knew exactly what we needed that we didn’t have to ask for it, like they can read our minds! It really felt like we have our own butlers! We were even escorted to the bathroom and back to the table every single time we had to pee. Haha! Sosyal talaga! But as much as we loved attention, it kinda made us a little uneasy because it was a different kind of a fine dining experience.
Anyway, for our dinner, their 4-course meal sounded perfect at that time. I wasn’t able to take a picture of all the dishes though as I was really uncomfortable with them around all the time. But here’s a sneak peek of the first dish served to each of us. I couldn’t tell exactly what those little delicacies were but they definitely stimulated our palates.
While waiting for the next dish, I was browsing their wine list to look for the perfect wine to pair with our steak. I cringed at the prices, which ranges from ₩120,000 to ₩350,000. Crazy! But I (we) needed wine. So, what do we care. Besides, it’s my birthdayyy!
Again, I wasn’t able to take a picture of the wine bottle but I do remember its name: Lange Pinot Noir Three Hills, something like that. It was really good! We actually wanted to get another one but we might get into trouble on the way to our hotel.
Oh well. After about 5 dishes, our much-awaited dish of the night has finally arrived: STEAK! I know I have said this a lot but this thin strip of steak was the juiciest and the most perfectly cooked medium-rare steak I have had so far! Grabe, solid talaga! I swear! Sooo damn good!
By the time our dessert was being served, we were already starting to feel full. Good thing their servings were almost bite-sized. We managed to finish our plates. However, what we didn’t expect was that, there was another set of desserts after the first one!
And that did not end there, we were then served this tea and cookies. My goodness!
And I thought that was finally the end to my “Best Birthday Dinner Ever”. There was more! Ralph surprised me with a cake with edible gold on top. But where’s the ring? Haha kidding!
If I remember correctly, we were served 10 dishes each, more or less. Imagine how full we were.
We stayed for a couple of minutes to enjoy the amazing view of the city before we headed back to our hotel…
Thank you, Ralph, for always making my birthday extra special! I did not expect I would get pampered that much when I only asked for a good wine and steak dinner. Again, thank you! ❤️ Can we do this again next time? Hihi.
So… That was how I celebrated my 30th year of existence! How do you plan to celebrate yours? 😊
March 17, 2017
For our detailed itinerary and actual expenses, see Seoul: 5 Days Itinerary & Estimated Expenses.