Sunday, June 12, 2011

[SEOUL] Long Day at Lotte World

I liked Lotte World better than CoEx, as a mall that is, but this is a very biased opinion. Lotte World obviously has the advantage. Both are linked to a couple of hotels but Lotte has its own amusement park and Seokchon Lake to back it up. CoEx cries unfair. Well, whoever said that life is not unfair lied, CoEx. Anyway, the two malls are located in the neighboring districts of Gangnam and Songpa in Southern Seoul. To get to Lotte World you just have to hop on a Seoul Metro train and figure out the connections yourself. Just remember that you are headed to Jamsil station. It won’t take you an hour to get there from Seoul Station. If it takes longer than that then you might be going the wrong way. Perhaps you boarded the train headed to Incheon, hahaha. Bon voyage!

It was a holiday last Monday, which was the original Lotte day as stated in my itinerary. No problem, I changed it to Tuesday. Why? Long queues, of course. My itinerary gained one free day because I canceled the DMZ tour which was expensive, long, and of no interest to me to say the least. So, I woke up late and arrived at Jamsil station at 11:00 in the morning. The mall has a direct connection to that station. The exit I took led me straight to the mall’s version of La Fontana di Trevi. There are more Roman inspired designs inside. This mall seems to be aiming for a European kind of vibe.

The queues were still long. Nice. I just went one floor down to check the Skating Rink, whose claim to fame is its appearance in the K-Drama Stairway to Heaven. I couldn't say if it is actually bigger than the Olympic sized rink we have at the Mall of Asia. The thing about ice skating rinks is that they all look the same in size when you look at them. Or maybe it’s just me. I had to get in there of course! However, I had to observe first.

What I found amusing was the presence of speed skaters. They are easy to spot because of the skates they wear that you won’t find at the MoA ice skating rink. The boots are considerably smaller but the blades are evidently longer, attributes that give them a peculiar appearance. I almost forgot that if you take Kim Yu Na out of the equation, South Korea is actually more of a speed skating country than a figure skating one.

The rather expensive 13,000 won entrance fee is only valid for three hours, and the rental skates have baby toe picks. Wait, I think “fetus” is the appropriate term. It was the first time in three or four years that I was wearing rental skates once again. I did not bring my own skates because I did not come to Seoul for this purpose. Still, it was bound to get messy had I not been careful.

A bad habit I haven’t unlearned all these years is being toe pick dependent. That’s what caused me to constantly dive along Macapagal Avenue at five in the morning on my roller blades. Luckily I was able to avoid that here, in exchange for not doing any tricks. Doing no tricks inside a rink is boring. I couldn’t even pack in more speed because I wasn’t in the mood to dive face first that day. I decided to cut it short after two hours and went out for lunch. Gloves are sort of mandatory by the way. You can buy a pair for 600 won in your color of choice.

Next was a short lunch at Pizza Hut followed by a leisurely stroll at Seokchon Lake. The exterior part of the amusement park is located on an island on the eastern side of the lake. Yes, the lake has two sides. The western portion is more peaceful (no screaming) and offers a nice view of Songpa's skyline. The park is fully-equipped with restrooms and vending machines for drinks. One feature I found entertaining was the outdoor “gym” next to the play area with wooden park installations for kids. Anyway, the lake is large and a leisure walk around the eastern side would probably take half an hour. The other side is just as large and easily accessible through a bridge.

Since I arrived late I thought it would be best to just get an After 4 pass, which I did. Surprisingly, there were discounts for various credit cards. My HSBC got me a ticket for only 22,000 won as opposed to the regular 31,000 won price. Big discount! Entrance to the Lotte Folk Museum is included in the special pass by the way. You also get a 2,000 won discount at the ice skating rink if you present the ticket, a piece of information that would have been useful had I known it five hours earlier.

The Lotte World Folk Museum was probably the highlight of my entire trip at Songpa. I just couldn’t get enough of the diorama of the mini Korean Village. I left that museum with more than 200 photos, which I reduced to just 95 when I uploaded them online. Choosing which not to include was a very difficult decision. I have a 95-photo per album quota, one of the disadvantages of my being OC. Aside from the diorama (which comes at the end of the tour) you also get a lot of astounding information regarding Korean History. The tour actually starts with a statue of a dinosaur followed by cavemen evolving to a Korean man. What follows is a series of exhibitions of clothes, artifacts, weapons, and life-size depictions of palace and ordinary life during the time of the Korean dynasties. Cool and awesome.

I have always overlooked this aspect of Korean culture. I always thought that K-Pop and K-Dramas are all they have to offer. Well, you would be surprised to know how their society has evolved from warring imperial dynasties to danceable K-pop beats. Moving forward, it was already 6 PM when I got to the theme park. I think those three hours I spent in there sufficed since most of the attractions cater to kids. The lines were long depending on the rides. The Waikiki Wave, for example, has around 48 seats. So, even when the lines were long the turnover was fast. It wasn’t the same case with the roller coasters, though. I was able to ride two: Comet Express and Atlantis.

Comet Express is an indoor coaster which will make you puke out of motion sickness because the seats rotate. You are better off stretching first before riding that thing. On the other hand, it took me 45 minutes to board Atlantis because of the long line. The wait was worth it because I enjoyed the ride, even though my back vehemently disagrees. It takes the crown as the prime roller coaster of the park if you are after the thrill.

There are also two “drop” rides: Gyro Drop and Bungy something. You know the drill. The Gyro Drop brings you to dizzying heights with a wonderful view of the city before it drops you like a hot potato after counting 1 to 4. It’s not that thrilling because only the initial drop is stomach-lurching. The Bungy ride is probably more exciting because it lifts and drops you repetitively, although it doesn’t go as high as the Gyro does.

Kids will really enjoy Lotte World. Adults also would since there’s a large shopping mall with a floor full of luxury brands. The layout of the mall is similar to Rustans’ in Makati. It has 12 floors, each featuring a different section for your various needs. If you need some fresh air, you can cross the street to Seokchon Lake and just pause for a break. The Charlotte Theater is also linked to the mall, although it seems to be open only on weekends. Jekyll and Hyde is currently in production, in Korean obviously.

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