The Grand Hotel Myeongdong, Seoul

I shall continue with the Seoul trip! Now that I am done with the food proper, I will move on to the hotel. When it comes to hotels, I don’t necessarily need to stay in luxury 5-star hotels but I still like to pamper myself, even if it means having to pay a little bit more. To some, it’s extravagant because hotel is purely a place of rest for them for a short period of time at the end of a long shopping day. But for me, I want to have a nice, comfortable place of rest too! So on this trip, I decided to book a stay with the Grand Hotel Myeongdong, after reading through some good reviews online and also because of its good location. There were other similar options at lower costs, but because my trip was relatively last minute, I was left with few choices. So perhaps it is a reminder for me to confirm my travel plans earlier so that I don’t have to pay exhorbitant prices for hotels! Having said that, except for feeling the pain in parting with the money, I don’t regret staying with them, because this is really quite a good place to stay at.

The Grand Hotel Myeongdong is a very new hotel, completed only in the last couple of years so everything about it is still new and well-maintained. Let’s hope they upkeep the maintenance of the place, or in future, look out for newer hotels? It is located on the fringe of Myeongdong, so you get the benefit of being at Myeongdong but not caught within the bustle of the place. The hotel is a few minutes’ walk away from Exit 9/10 of the Myeongdong subway station, so when it comes to transport, there is little problem as well. It isn’t as well-situated as Hotel Sejong where subway or the airport limousine bus is concerned, but it is really just a 2 minute walk from Sejong, and it is much newer, unless you are able to get Sejong at much lower rates, then go for it!20140806-074053-27653369.jpgI booked a room with Expedia, and requested for an early check-in since my flight was due to arrive in Seoul really early. By the time I got to the hotel, it was perhaps only about 10+ in the morning, and most hotels have a check-in policy that they could adhere pretty strictly to, especially when they are fully-booked, or those that are booked on restrictive rates. I seldom had that problem on my past business trips, perhaps due to the hotels not being located in popular tourist areas or the city centres, but when I travel on holidays, I frequently have to make do with depositing my luggage at the hotel, freshen up at the hotel’s common restrooms, and then head out looking a little dishevelled. However, I was able to check-in upon arrival at the hotel, which I was really thankful for, so that I could get a quick freshen up and change of clothes before I headed out to explore the place!20140806-074053-27653223.jpgMy room is comfortable, nice and clean, and I liked that the room decor was accompanied with ambient lighting that further accentuated its comfort level. Dim lighting in hotel rooms somehow makes for a higher level of comfort somehow, to me at least, and in this case, it didn’t give it an uncomfortable eerie feel. Perhaps in some hotels, dim lighting exudes a slight creepy feeling, when the room is too big with dark corners that lend themselves to shadows from dim lighting, so there is probably a benefit to having rooms that economise on space. Not that I don’t enjoy larger hotel rooms, but I suppose you get the drift.

And the bathroom! One of my common gripes about some hotels that I stayed at previously, where luxury hotels have luxurious rooms without a matching luxury-level bathroom. I don’t expect too much from hotels that I book on a slightly lower budget (i.e. not your 5-stars) but I think in general, I am pretty ok, and in fact, quite like, the Japanese hotel-type of bathrooms. The ones in the Grand Hotel are similar in a way, though not as completely ‘plastic-mould’ as the Japanese ones. It was not too crammed where space is concerned, so I don’t have any complains about it.20140806-074053-27653282.jpg

One of the things I wanted to rave about the bathroom is the complimentary toiletries provided. Typically, we only see brand-name toiletries offered in expensive hotels. In this case, the Grand Hotel has managed to outdo many other hotels by stocking their bathroom with Innisfree items! This is a Korean brand that hails from Jeju, and although I have heard of them and seen them around, even in Singapore, I have never tried them. This range of bath products had a refreshing, green tea scent to it that I really liked. I only used the shampoo and conditioner a couple of times so I can’t know if they are good, but at least they didn’t make my hair feel dry and stringy after use, like how some other hotel-provided shampoos and conditioners do. Only gripe was that the bottles used should have been softer, because the conditioner wasn’t exactly fluid like the other three items, and with a hard plastic bottle, it made it virtually impossible to get the conditioner out.  

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So there is my review of the room. The hotel staff were all very friendly, helpful and could speak decent, good English. I didn’t check out the roof-top where supposedly there is a pretty good night view, neither did I try the hotel’s buffet breakfast (because it was quite costly at 18,000 KRW per head and also because I was more keen to check out the various cafes around for breakfast options), so I can’t really comment on those. But I will definitely put this hotel on my list of recommended places to stay in Seoul!

Festive shopping!

The year-end is always a time when the shopping malls are thronged with crowds, whether they are people out shopping for Christmas presents for friends and family, or simply people out to snare a good bargain or two due to the slew of year-end/season-end/whatever-else sales. For me, I shop throughout the year, but generally towards the year-end and of course carrying forward into January (an excuse for CNY shopping then), shopping seems like an inevitable, must-do activity. Even though the malls are packed with annoying crowds and the cashier and gift-wrap queues are horrendous, if I exercise a little patience, they can actually be bearable and in some cases I even enjoy all that buzz that adds up to the festive mood.

But this year, I have not really done much Christmas shopping. Well, before I went to Shanghai, while I was milling around the shops at the airport, I’d actually bought myself a Christmas gift of sorts, but other than that, I have yet to really go to the shops to get anything. Maybe this year, there isn’t really a pressing need to get gifts but we’ll see. Due to some unexpected twist of events in the last couple of days, a trip that I’d planned got postponed so it means that I have a few days to head to town and perhaps get myself into the yuletide mood, see whatever there is of the Christmas light-up and buy some gifts.

It is also different this year because I didn’t get anything yet from Crabtree & Evelyn. In past years, I’d join my friend for the Members Preview/Sale and get some toiletries and also their delicious cookies. This year I didn’t because apparently, a toiletries set I bought last year has not been opened yet. I got a travel set consisting of some items from the Pomegranate range last Christmas and I’d only just taken out the Hand Therapy for use when I went to Shanghai recently.

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I am really glad that this item, which I first discovered a couple of years back, made a return last year, or is it now part of the permanent range, but anyway I really love the scent, even more than my original favourite that was La Source. It contains argan and grapeseed, but in general what I like about this scent is that it has a tinge of sweetness in its smell, yet it is not too strong, and still provides a fairly refreshing feel. The hand therapy isn’t the best of hand creams that I’ve used, but it suffices to a certain extent although it does leave a little greasy trail for a short while. Nevertheless, this is my new favourite from C&E!20131204-153902.jpg

gifts!

In addition to this cheerful vase of flowers, I got some other well-meaning gifts for my birthday too! Maybe the biggest presents these days come from myself since I would know best what I want right? Gone are those days when you receive tonnes of gifts from the groups of friends and from the beginning my family don’t have the practice of gifting. But I did get a small red packet from mum though, for well wishes and good luck.

One of my friends know that I love toiletries, in the form of bath toiletries or body lotions, and got me this new item from Crabtree & Evelyn. I haven’t used Crabtree’s products for a while because recently I have been using shower gels from the BodyShop and Dove (drugstore brand that works fine too!) so when I am done with those I will move on to give this a try! 🙂20130808-082552.jpgThe steamboat dinner at my bro’s place was also some sort of a gift-ceremony because July sees birthdays of three members of the family, myself included. So my sister-in-law and brother were so kind to not just host us for dinner, but also got each of us gifts. These were the ones I received, and each comes personalised with a handwritten message within, one by my sister-in-law and another by my brother. 🙂

20130808-082604.jpgI haven’t read them yet, as with some other books I have, but for sure I will get down to them soon enough, I hope!

The Body Shop

Years ago, I think I did patronise Body Shop, but I am not a big consumer of their products, even though the products all look really nice and appealing. I guess where toiletries are concerned, I either opt for drug store usuals like Dove (in the past and also recently) or Essensuals (up until recently), etc., I wouldn’t really buy shampoo and conditioner from these specialty stores, whether it’s Body Shop, Crabtree & Evelyn, L’Occitane, and so on. There are many of these shops in town these days and truth be told, I don’t know how great their products are but if I were to consider something that I am using on a daily basis, it is definitely more economical to stick to the drug store brands, because I can’t sustain for a long while to splurge on daily necessities. Mostly, I go to these shops to buy gifts for friends during Christmas time, because what we don’t use for ourselves daily, we can buy them for someone else and let them choose the frequency of usage. Besides, during the festive gifting season, these shops do an excellent job of marketing their gift ideas to consumers. 20130307-102543.jpg

It was also during the last Christmas season that I stepped into Body Shop again to take a closer look at their toiletries. Typically I have only bought their combs, nail buffers or shower lilies, but for presents we tend to be a bit less conservative in thinking that a bottle of shower gel can cost that much. From that visit, I got to know about their loyalty program, where every $30 spent earns you a stamp and based on the number of stamps accumulated, you can get some free gifts, i.e. at every 3rd stamp earned. In addition, being part of this loyalty program also gives entitles you to a 10% discount!20130307-102601.jpg

As you can see from my card above, I have only achieved 2 stamps to-date, so I have not yet redeemed any freebies from them yet, but I still have time because this loyalty program goes on for a year so I have several more months to buy more things from Body Shop! I am not a make-up junkie so where cosmetics are concerned I am also not exploratory like many of my friends are, so I have never taken any proper look at their cosmetics range. And skincare is something rather out-of-bounds for me due to sensitive skin, meaning that I am also not adventurous in trying out skincare for fear of the dreaded breakouts thereafter. Perhaps I can consider trying their body care range, or even hair care, who knows maybe I will just discover something I like. 20130307-102616.jpg

While I was shopping for gifts during Christmas, I came across the Japanese cherry blossom series of body care items and I remembered it being rather nice-smelling. I think this is not an uncommon scent because L’Occitane has something similar which I think is not too bad, and last April I bought a huge bottle of Japanese Cherry Blossom shower gel from Bath & Body Works in the US that I really liked but have unfortunately already finished. To my surprise a couple of days ago, I found something in my office cabinets while doing some housekeeping: 20130307-102628.jpg

This was something I got from a Christmas gift exchange in 2011 which I had left in the office and forgotten about. I guess it should still be usable, but in any case cheers to unexpected discoveries!

L’Occitane and Crabtree also have their own loyalty programs, but I’m not on either since a friend of mine is a member of both so generally I just tag along with her when they are having member events during Christmas. I don’t buy enough to really justify or warrant having a membership in any case. Unless I start to switch out from the drug store brands to these. But that would mean increasing my toiletries budget significantly, which at the moment is already pretty high due to my reguarl visits to the dermatologist. Oh well, let’s see how things go. I shall probably start with Body Shop, since in terms of pricing they tend to be a little friendlier to the pocket!

Hands of Hope

The best thing to do at the airport is to shop. I don’t shop much actually, but as I usually go to the airport fairly early ahead of my flight out of Singapore, I have some time to spare which I spend along the aisles of the Duty Free shops. I check out other shops too, but since I am on an austerity drive, sort of, I can’t afford luxurious big-ticket items. Skincare and toiletries are necessities that I try to get from Duty Free shops because they are slightly cheaper, and this is a good time to buy and save time in Singapore for other things.

On my trip to Tokyo in December, I got these from Duty Free, a 30 ml tube of hand and cuticle cream from Philosophy, a special Karl Lagerfeld-edition eyelash curler from Shu Uemura, and Bobbi Brown Sheer Finish Loose Powder. The last item was a replenishment of something that I am already using, the eyelash curler is more of a purchase-on-a-wimp item because of the cute-looking doll charm attached to it, and the hand cream, well, it is something that I am quite open to trying different types and brands. Skincare is not something that I am adventurous with because of my sensitive acne-prone skin condition, and also because I use mainly products from my dermatologist, but where body lotions and hand lotions are concerned, I like checking out new stuff when I can. 20130123-153331.jpg

Philosophy is a brand that hails from the US, which made its way to our shores only last year. The “Hope” series is a moisturising range of products, and I picked this up actually because I had heard of this brand, and mainly because it comes in a very handy 30ml size that I can bring around all the time, whether for travel or even in Singapore. Besides, this was priced affordably at $12 at Duty Free, so I think it’s quite a good price. 20130123-153521.jpg

Based on the SG website, this hand and cuticle cream is said to “provide long-lasting moisture for softer hands”, “soften and help protect hands and cuticles” and is a “non-greasy formula that absorbs quickly”. So I have used this for a while since December, in Tokyo (forgot to bring it to Istanbul), then in Helsinki recently and now in Singapore.

It is kind of fragrance-free, but it does have a smell to it, as my friend described it, “plasticky”, if there is such a word. Other brands of hand creams tend to have a fragrance, whether it’s lavender, rose, or something, but this doesn’t have such scents, it just has a lotion smell to it. It absorbs fairly well, but I wouldn’t say that it is non-greasy. Compared to some other brands I have used before, it is definitely less greasy, but it still leaves traces of grease-like marks when my hands/fingers touch surfaces like my phone’s screen, my laptop, etc. Other than that, my hands don’t retain the general greasy-feel that I get with some other brands.

I can’t yet comment if it really does protect and provide long-lasting moisture, because probably I wash my hands too much to determine if it lasts long enough, but I looked at my hands after I applied the cream to one hand, and compared it to the other, and it really does look softer and even fairer. Sorry, no pictures of this because I forgot, but if I can get a picture of it next time, I will try to post it here. It does feel softer too, of course. For the price, I think it’s pretty worth it, although maybe if you intend to use it regularly on a daily basis then a larger-sized tube (i.e. 120ml) would make more economical sense. For me, I like travel-sized products because it also mean that I can try more different items within a shorter period of time!

The “Hope” series have several other items that make the “Fan Favourites” list per their website. My friend has tried their Hope in a jar oil-free gel and posted a review here, so you can check out what her comments are. I might consider trying out some of their products in this range too in future, to see if they would work for my skin condition, or at least the other next thing that I am always open to try would be eye creams/gels, because dark circles, puffy eyes and fine lines… that’s another problem that I would like to tackle, the woes of ageing and how best to do so gracefully.

mistaken identity

This was what the hotel provided for a body lotion. Initially I thought it was a rose scent since it said “rose magnifique”, although it seemed odd if it indeed was rose and then the packaging is blue – seemed contradictory no?

So anyhow I tried it, the entire suite of the toiletries from shampoo to conditioner, bath gel and body lotion… and well… the first thought that came to my mind. Crabtree & Evelyn La Source.

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The colour and texture of the gels and whatever are exactly what I recalled from La Source. I also had a tube of La Source handcream in my luggage on this trip and the scent of this ‘rose magnifique’ bears an uncanny similarity to La Source.

Again the shampoo and conditioner were like the La Source ones that I’ve tried – blah. But I have used the products for the last few days and thankfully no side effects appearing yet. Anyhow it’s just a few days and I will be travelling to Shanghai this evening so no more ‘fake’ La Source!

(mini) battle of the hand creams

I am not very diligent when it comes to hand creams, although I have started using them, albeit on a very on-and-off basis, since a few years ago.

Of the first hand creams that I recall using was L’Occitane’s Happy Hands series that I bought from Duty Free. There were 6 tubes of 3 different types of miniature-sized (about 30ml) hand creams/lotions in a box. If I remember correctly, it was verbena, lavender, and something else, maybe cooling hand gel? Aside from the three types contained in the (then) Happy Hands kit, I have tried some other L’Occitane hand creams that were usually Christmas gifts that I received from friends, like the festive edition type. I’ve tried Shea Butter too and it isn’t too bad, moisturising without being too greasy but it has a smell that perhaps not everyone may be accustomed to.

Then there is the other well-known toiletries brand, Crabtree & Evelyn. They also have various lines of fragrances with hand cream being one of the items. I haven’t tried many of their hand creams as opposed to body lotions, which I tend to use a lot of when I travel to dryer climates, but most recently I used and finished the La Source Hand Therapy 25ml tube, which was also a gift!

Other than these, there is Jurlique’s Rose hand cream that I bought on a trip to Australia and happened to pop into the Jurlique shop to pick up some toiletries then. It was sometime back since I bought that but I figured that as long as it wasn’t opened it should be safe to use. I just opened it today and it still smells fine.

Honestly, I would be one of the last persons to compare hand creams because I don’t use them consistently enough to comment if they actually work. Now, I use them in the office because the air-conditioning makes my hands really dry and I apply them to the elbows too because that’s another spot of dry skin on me.

Of the ones that I have used, I think I like C&E’s La Source Hand Therapy best. It is no secret that I am a huge fan of the La Source scent so that is a major contributing factor. Besides, I like the light texture of the cream as it doesn’t leave your hand feeling sticky after applying it. It glides on easily and gets absorbed into the skin promptly after applying, and after that it makes my skin feel and look softer. As compared to L’Occitane’s hand creams that tend to be rather thick and therefore sticky, this was a godsend for me. I also think that some of L’Occitane’s hand creams tend to be a bit too slick without actually doing the work of a hand cream even if it smells rather nice.

I have just started using Jurlique today and already I am comparing it with C&E. The Rose hand cream is stickier and as I type I think I’m leaving some residue on my laptop. It’s not as easily absorbed which means I have to spend more time rubbing the cream into my skin, and to be frank I don’t really fancy the rose water scent. Perhaps hand creams that are creamier works better for dry skin but to me, how it feels like after application is very important too.