Check-in: InterContinental Grand Seoul Parnas (Gangnam Style)

- Meg Nesterov, Guest Blogger

I’ve had many flight delays in my travel experience, but this was the first delay due to typhoon. The storm was really only a category 1, not as catastrophic as it sounds, but it delayed our flight from Auckland for several hours, and greeted us with pelting rain on the runway in Seoul for an additional two hours once we landed. At least the storm extended the service hours of the airport “limousine” bus, though it was only able to get us as far as the InterContinental COEX Hotel around the corner from the Grand Seoul Parnas. What is an easy walk during the day seemed rather arduous in heavy rain with suitcases and a sleeping baby in the middle of the night. We quickly forgot all about the storm as we were checked in and ushered to the elevator upstairs.

Even at the late hour, the Blush bar was still hopping, with multiple languages and accents mingling. Up in our room, we dried off and warmed up in the huge bathroom, one of the biggest I’ve seen in a hotel room in Asia, with separate bathtub and shower (ideal when you have a small wriggly child to wash!).

The next day dawned as if there had been no rain the day before, all the better weather for exploring the city. I asked the concierge for the closest supermarket to get baby supplies and was directed to the Hyundai department store next door. It turns out Hyundai doesn’t just make cars, it’s also one of the largest retailers in the country, selling nearly everything under the sun. In case you didn’t find it there, the COEX mall is also steps away. I understood why millions of Japanese ladies plan weekend shopping trips to Seoul; the city is full of tempting shops, often with lower prices than Tokyo or Hong Kong. It was a quick taxi ride to Garosu-gil, the tree-lined street, with boutiques and cafes comparable to New York’s West Village, but we walked to see more of the city. The sprawling Namdaemun Market has junk and treasures, knock-offs and one-offs at every price point, while steps away are some of the most upmarket designer department stores in which you’ll ever set foot. After being dazzled by the neon signs and cutesy cosmetic shops in Myeong-dong, we too a subway back to the relative calm and peace of Gangnam.

Gangnam in particular is a shopper’s paradise, filled each afternoon with posh ladies-who-lunch and snazzy-suited office workers. It’s not unusual to see ladies with poodles dyed to match their handbags, or shop girls in uniforms and make-up so perfect you’d think they walked out of an advertisement. We heard the catchy tune in Korea, but it wasn’t until we returned to the US that the PSY video Gangnam Style went viral, and while we speak no Korean, we understood it immediately. Gangnam has its own distinctive style, a mix of haute couture, tradition, and whimsy, dipped in a bit of ridiculousness. We saw it on the streets, people-watching in the hotel lobby, and the plazas outside, but especially in the shops. After a long day of shopping and exploring, the InterContinental is a fine place to rest your feet and your credit cards.

Meg Nesterov has been an Istanbul expat for two years, writing about travel for Gadling and about traveling with a baby on KnockedUpAbroadTravels.com.

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