Dreaming of Christmas ― where best to spend the dayLet it snow
An outdoor ice rink at the Grand Hyatt Seoul, (02) 799-8112, on Mount Namsan, which overlooks downtown Seoul, has always been a favorite date spot for love birds each Christmas. The snack bar sells hot chocolate and light meals. Every Monday, the ice rink offers a 50-percent discount on admission and skate rentals for all couples; On Wednesdays, the rink gives away Polaroid pictures and roses. Admission is 18,000 won on weekdays and 20,000 won on weekends.
Other skating options include an indoor ice rink at Lotte World, (02) 411-4592, which charges 7,000 won for admission and 4,000 won for skate rentals for the first three hours; Seoul Plaza Ice Rink, (02) 3210-1267, at City Hall, which opens today, charges 1,000 won for two hours on weekdays or one hour on weekends, including rental fees for a helmet and skates.
All That Jazz, (02) 795-5701, an eclectic jazz club in Itaewon that once hosted famous musicians such as jazz organist Jimmy Smith and Kenny Garrett, features Dody Electric, a fusion jazz band, on Christmas and the Jeong Seong-jo Band on Christmas Eve. The bar is open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. on weekdays, and to 3 a.m. on weekends. Once in a Blue Moon, (02) 549-5490, a more formal and expensive venue in Cheongdam-dong, offers a package of a five-course meal, a compilation CD and a live performance by two groups for 90,000 won. Jazz Story, (02) 725-6547, a club in Samcheong-dong with a more casual atmosphere, features house bands, who play a mix of folk and old pop.
You can enjoy Christmas night views of Seoul from unusual attractions. Check out Naksan Park, a quiet park surrounded by fortress walls near Changsin-dong. Naksan, a hidden excursion for many, has been dubbed “Seoul’s Montmartre,” and offers amazing views of the city. From Dongdaemun subway station, lines No. 1 or 4, exit 5, take village bus number 3 and disembark at the last stop.
You could also ride a cable car to the top of Namsan Park to view the night scenery from N Seoul Tower’s observatory. N Grill, (02) 3455-9297, a rotating restaurant in the tower, offers wine and course meals. The cable car operates until 11 p.m. on Christmas Day. Other options include a bus tour of major attractions on the Seoul City Tour Bus, (02) 777-6090, or a ferry ride on the Han River, (02) 3271-6900. On Christmas Eve, the ferry offers a special package that includes a buffet meal, a salsa dance competition and a magic show for 100,000 won, leaving from Yeouido at 7 p.m. A regular ferry ride is also available from Yeouido Dock for 9,900 won for an hour-long trip.
* THEME PARKS:
If heavy crowds don’t disturb your holiday peace, theme parks are a popular place during the Christmas holidays. Everland Resort, (031) 320-5000, in Yongin presents “Christmas Scandal,” a grand parade that features a team of 125 characters, and a slide slope opens on the 23rd.
Lotte World presents a Christmas parade, a carol concert and a magic show. On Dec. 24 and 31 at its Magic Island’s Magic Castle starting from 8:15 p.m., there will be a fireworks show.
Bearing gifts, we travel afar
* RAIL TRAVEL:
Korea Railroad offers a number of organized tours during the Christmas week, including snowflake trains to various mountains across the country. A one-day package to Mount Deokyusan includes a return trip on a KTX train from Seoul to Muju ski resort, which overlooks the mountain, bus fees and lunch for 57,000 won (61,000 won on weekends). Another package to Mount Naejangsan includes a return trip by KTX to the mountain, a visit to hot springs and lunch for 65,000 won (74,000 won on weekends).
On New Year’s Eve, there is a sunrise train leaving Seoul for Mokpo, a port city. The trip includes a local tour, a short stay-over at a dry sauna, a ferry ride out to sea to watch the sunrise and meals for 120,000 won. (For more information call 1577-7788); A “Wine Train,” (043) 744-3211, to Yeongdong, North Chungcheong province, includes a visit to Chateau Mani, a local winery, tasting events and lunch for 59,000 won.
If you are in the mood for leaving the country for some winter fun, try Sapporo, a city in Hokkaido, Japan, known for its snow and tasty beers. The city attracts a flock of tourists every winter for amazing views of the snow-covered roads from Otaru to Sapporo. The next Sapporo Snow Festival, which is one of Japan’s largest festivals, featuring snow art on the town’s main streets, will be held from Feb, 6 through 12, 2007. Check out the Sapporo Tourist Information Center at www.welcome.city. sapporo.jp/english.
Also as an option, try a ryokan (a traditional Japanese hotel) trip near hot spring towns of Japan, which are hugely popular in winter. There are literally hundreds of hot springs in Japan, the most famous being Beppu Bay in Kyushu and Hakone. For information on Japanese tours check out www.welcometojapan.or.kr, which is run by the Japan National Tourist Organization.
For a getaway from the cold, Mode Tour, (02) 752-0774, offers package tours to China’s Hainan Resort starting at 890,000 won; Web Tour is offering a four-day package tour to Cebu’s Shangrila Resort for 1,449,000 won; J Travel, (02) 2037-5100, is offering a trip to Okinawa, Japan’s Hawaii, starting from 580,000 won. Club Rich Tour, (02) 776-2727, is also offering a three-day tour to Thailand’s Novotel Tipviman Resort & Spa starting from 720,000 won.
Myeongdong Cathedral, (02) 774-1784, in downtown Seoul offers midnight Mass on Christmas Eve; Seoul Anglican Church, (02) 730-6611, offers Mass at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and midnight; and Onnuri Church, (02) 793-9686, offers English services at 7 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
’Twas the night ...
* STAYOVERS: It’s a booming trend among urban trendsetters in Korea to rent a hotel suite-room to spend Christmas with their friends and family. The Sheraton Grande Walkerhill, (02) 2022-0000, offers a “Cozy Christmas” package, which includes a night in a deluxe room, wine and breakfast for 320,000 won; a “Trunk and Friends” package for women only at the Westin Chosun, (02) 317-0404, offers a stay in an executive room, a pair of ladies’ shorts, breakfast, snacks and a spa product from Dec. 22 through Jan. 7 for 260,000 won. The Imperial Palace Hotel, (02) 3440-8010, also offers a “Girl’s Night Out” package, which includes breakfast for three, cakes, a bottle of house wine and four sets of cosmetics in a double-story “duplex suite” for 400,000 won. For a cheaper option, you might also want to try the “Bon Weekend Package” at the Ibis Seoul, a business hotel in the city’s downtown, which includes one night, breakfast and movie tickets for two for 84,000 won.
God rest ye merry gentlemen
Though the idea seems a bit dull, there’s also the option of staying home and watching winter movies. Check out some classic Christmas DVD collections: “Christmas in August,” a debut feature by Hur Jin Ho (“One Fine Spring Day”), a melodrama about a meter reader and a photographer in a small suburban studio who is suffering from an incurable disease; “Happy Ero Christmas,” a light holiday movie set in a small hot spring town; “Love Letter,” a film by Iwai Shunji about a woman longing for her dead boyfriend from high school, set in winter in the beautiful town of Otaru; and “Winter Sonata” a TV mini series about a tragic love story between two orphans that drew millions of Japanese tourists to Korea.
* DRY SAUNA:
Gangbyeon Spa Land, (02) 455-3737, one of the most popular dry saunas in Seoul, has a spacious public bathhouse on top of exotic themed rooms (a salt room, clay room and charcoal room, etc). It’s open 24 hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Admission is 9,000 won, including clothes rental. Take subway line No. 2 to Gangbyeon station, exit 4.
Harimgak, (02) 396-8080, is open from 9 a.m. through 7 p.m., and charges 10,000 won and provides a bath gown and towel. Various massage services are available for an additional fee.
Handok Spa Valley, (02) 971-7000, which includes a movie theater, a concert hall, a gym and manicure shop, charges 7,000 won for admission.
* STAY HOME:
Do your laundry, change your snow tires, change your car oil, give yourself a pedicure or rearrange your furniture. You could also surf the Net. Check out MOMA’s online store, which just opened in Korea, at www.momaonlinestore.co.kr. And if all plans fail, why not simply lay back and take a long Christmas nap.
by Park Soo-mee