Seoul was selected to be our destination on a whim!
Some time late last year, I (along with office friends) decided to go to Singapore using reward points on my credit card. Exciting, right? Who doesn’t want to go on a free flight to another country? Well, for some reason, our flight got screwed up and had to get delayed for almost eight hours (on top of being rerouted to a connecting flight instead of direct. I don’t have to tell you which airline it is but lately they’re in hot water for canceling flights). Of course, everyone was mad and others were already making a scene. Thing is, I’m not in a hurry so I didn’t mind. Eventually the airline caved to the angry passengers and gave everyone vouchers for any round trip international flight. Yay!
Fast forward five months, I reviewed the terms and found out that I had to book the flight within six months from getting the voucher, and the booked flight must also be within said six months! F*K! (There is more to this that may or may not have involved a customer service rep of the airline giving wrong information, and then someone calling me back to correct the first one.) Now I have less than a month to prepare!
The original plan was Japan. But then days passed and procrastination kicked in and one thing led to another and then I got only a couple of months when I realized I had to renew my passport because It’s going to expire within six months if I take that trip. You know how the border police frowns on that. So then I renewed my passport, and after about three weeks, got the new one. So now it’s April, and we only got three weeks to book that book that flight! I looked at climates of nearby countries and concluded that Seoul would make good sense because (1) currently it is middle of spring so temperature is nice and cool, (2) you can get a Visa for Korea fairly easily, and (3) it is relatively easy on the budget there, or so I heard.
Perhaps it’s the fact that Japan is so darn expensive that I subconsciously exerted less effort to prepare for it. My other options were Taiwan, Bali, Hong Kong, and the neighboring Southeast Asian countries, but then I checked the weather there, and they’re already peaking summer, so not the best idea. I like the cold in spring!
The short story is, I don’t do plans, at least when it comes to trips. I was with a friend, so she did all the planning. She did the Singapore trip, so this one’s easy peasy for her (Diba Cha? Hahaha! Thanks by the way for setting everything up for the trip).
This is what she had planned –
Day 1 – Changdeokgung Palace and friends (Cheonggyecheon Stream, Myeongdong Cathedral), Unplanned – Lotus Lantern Festival
Day 2 – (I think the whole day 2 was unplanned, but I could be wrong) Seoul Forest Park, Namsan Tower
Day 3 – Nami Island and friends (Petite France and Garden of the Morning Calm)
Day 4 – Everland Resort
Day 5 – Just anywhere before heading to the airport to fly home.
The Palaces, Temples and Other Historical Sites
It is clear that Koreans love their heritage. In the palaces you will see people wearing the traditional Hanbok for a total immersion of their culture.
You will also notice their temples and villages are well-preserved right in the heart of the concrete jungle. Notice the intricacies of the art that is incorporated into the walls, roofs, and even ceilings of these historic landmarks. Details which the simple minimalist designs of our modern architecture so severely lack.
Koreans Love Nature
Seoul is almost like Singapore in that there’s green almost everywhere. And then they have the parks and the gardens that flourish in the spring. To be honest, I had no expectations for this trip, so I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the places we went to.
Let’s talk about the flowers!
It’s obvious that Koreans love to flaunt their flowers in spring (I mean literal flowers). You can see blooms everywhere you go. I’ve seen beautiful spring blooms when I visited Tennessee in spring, but that did not even come close to this! Check out the gallery below.
Now I don’t know the names of those flowers, so you can look them up if you need to find out. I just like to see nature in its high color saturation.
Of course let’s talk about the food
Korean food is mostly spicy, as clearly demonstrated by their famous Kimchi and Samyang. If you’ve tried Korean dishes in your place (I am from Cebu City, and Koreans are everywhere, so there’s also plenty of Korean food places), then that’s basically it. One thing that gets me unsettled about the way they eat is the amount of side dish they serve. There’s just too much, and I usually feel obliged to finish everything served, so this is a bummer for me to be leaving them behind.
Oh and yes, they’re apparently crazy about coffee that they needed to have a coffee-flavored Coke. Like the regular Coke isn’t coffee enough. If you taste it, you will first say “it’s just the usual Coke”, and then a couple of seconds later “oh, yes that’s coffee right there”. Koreans love coffee, and you’ll notice it right away because you’ll immediately see a Starbucks, or a CBTL around the corner, and they are three stories tall. Also, it seems they love cold coffee more than hot, even in the cold climate. Strange.
Some Tips for first timers
This is not my first time visiting South Korea, but then my first time was a layover tour for five hours, so it essentially does not count. If you are planning to visit Korea, I have a few tips that would possibly help you out.
(1) Google Maps does not work in Korea. We used Naver Maps to get around, and to be honest, I find it very helpful, and even better than Google Maps in some cases. It will tell you which bus and train to take, and it will even tell you the exact amount you need on your T-Money card for that trip. Speaking of which, you need to buy
(2) T-Money card as soon as you arrive in the airport. It can be used for the bus and subway fare, and more, so it is essentially the key to getting you downtown.
(3) You can get around with their bus and train system for cheap. No need to take the cab. Just use Naver maps like I said before. You can even go to Nami Island without getting on a tour bus or the express train.
(4) Nami Island is a nice place, and apparently famous for some TV shows or films that were shot there, as I learned. You will see some blogs telling you how to get there, but their instructions do not exactly inspire confidence to those who want to go there. So here’s a simple tip to get you there. Use Naver Maps and set Gapyeong Station as your destination. It will tell you exactly which trains to take, which lines to transfer, and how much it would cost (Hint: Very cheap compared to taking the express train or the tour bus). Once you’re in Gapyeong station, you’ll see a stop for the Gapyeong City Tour Bus. Just get on one and pay the tour fare which will get you to Nami Island Ferry, Petite France and Garden of the Morning Calm. But you don’t have to go to all of them, just get off on the Nami Island Ferry stop. And when it’s time to go home, you can take the same bus for free as long as you kept your ticket.
(5) Use Google Translate if you are having a hard time communicating with the locals. Download the Korean language so you can use it offline or to translate signs or posters.
(6) When dining, they will usually put the tab on your table right after you order. If that is the case, just bring it to the cashier on your way out and pay. Also, if you don’t see utensils anywhere when they serve the food, there is usually a drawer on the side of the table where they are all stashed.
(7) Free Wifi is everywhere, so you need not worry about not being able to access the internet. You can get a local sim if you like, but not necessary. What I advise though is if you are a heavy phone user, make sure you don’t run out of juice in the middle of your tour, so bring a power bank.
Some quirks I noticed
I am an absolute car nerd, so I had my eye on the cars they drive there. Obviously, Hyundai and Kia to Korea is what Ford and Chevy is to the US. They are basically everywhere. And then there are other Korean brands like Renault-Samsung, Ssangyong, Daewoo, and so on. There are also German brands like Audi and Mercedes Benz, and then some Japanese like Toyota and Honda, but not very many. It is a good mix of vehicles in this city.
Buses. One thing I noticed about their bus lanes is that they are in the middle most of the time. It is odd because I don’t see that very often. The bus stops are also in the middle, and I think it makes good sense so that the buses will not conflict with vehicles that are turning right or pulling over. Genius.
They have public free wifi, and then they have public free wifi secure. The secure connection, they just give you the username and password outright, and it’s the same for everyone. I’m not sure exactly how it would be any more secure.
Koreans love to put stuff on their faces, you know, to look better. Beauty products are through the roof, and I even thought this one product was food, because, well they come in food variants, like egg, watermelon, celery and other foods. I wonder how they taste.
Seoul is a beautiful place that you should check out at least once in your life. I may have to visit it on another season so as to experience it in a different light.
Note: We skipped Petite France and Garden of the Morning Calm. I’m a cheap bastard 😛
Some more pics
All images are taken by the Poco F1 using Google Camera. It’s just freaking awesome!