Seoul, South Korea

South Korea is in every traveller’s bucket list and not to mention, K-drama and K-pop avid fans. It’s amazing how they are able to preserve its rich culture and tradition while on the hype of modern era. South Korea has more to offer and that is why I feel ecstatic to see and witness it myself in its very own soil.

To be honest, South Korea was not part in any of my plans this 2016. I am just used to checking airfares randomly until I stumbled in to Cebu Pacific’s flight which is only going to cost me P1,999 from Manila to Incheon. Very cheap, right? So I took it! This is my first out of country trip which requires visa, that is the reason why I did not buy a return ticket because I was unsure if am going to be approved by the Korean Embassy. I got my Korean Visa 2 weeks prior my flight and I immediately look for a return flight to Manila, which is very expensive! My return ticket is around P8,000 including baggage allowance.

The day has finally come! I was undecided as to what I should wear since it’s hot and humid here in Manila but it’s winter in Seoul. Upon arrival, we felt the chills big time! At first, we thought it was bearable until we went outside the airport to go to the airport limousine waiting area. It’s real! You can actually see your breath because it’s too cold outside. It’s like you can form a cloud in the air.

We booked i-House via AirBnB and stayed there for 6 nights. Its location is perfect, well, almost. They are situated at Myeongdong which is the centre of everything in Seoul. Plus they have free breakfast, though you get to prepare it yourself and wash the dishes after. They have eggs, toasts, cereals, milk, butter and jam. You can cook whatever you want as the kitchen is open for everyone. Just note to clean your mess after.

Day 1

  • Gwanghwamun Square
  • Gyeongbokgung Palace
  • Bukchon Hanok Village
  • Insadong Street Market
  • Tagpol Park
  • Cheonggyecheon Stream

On our first day, we headed first to 7-Eleven just downhill from where we were staying and bought T-Money card which can be used on train stations, buses, taxis and even on convenience stores. We loaded it with W20,000 since we will be using it for a week. Our first stop is Gyeongbokgung Palace. We took the subway from Myeongdong station to Gwanghwamun station then while walking, we saw Starbucks and without a hesitation, we made a quick stop and get ourselves a coffee. (Starbucks in Korea is very pricey! Its price is almost twice here in Manila.) Starbucks is just across Gwanghwamun Square but we did not take photos as there were protesters from last night. Upon arrival at Gyeongbokgung Palace, the Changing of Royal Guards is taking place so we took advantage of the moment and watched it.

From Gyeongbokgung Palace, we headed to Bukchon Hanok Village by foot. We were a bit lost but we managed to find our way since it was just around the area. We had lunch on a nearby local restaurant and from there, we walked our way to Insadong Street Market. This is definitely the go-to place if you want to go on a shopping splurge.

From Insadong, we were then headed to Cheonggyecheon Stream but we made a stop at Tagpol Park. According to Google, Cheonggyecheon Stream is 11km long and with that being said, we obviously did not reach the end. HAHAHA!! From the stream, we had early dinner and again, walked our way back to i-House. So much walking on our first day! It’s cool though because we did not seem tired at all due to the negative degree temperature that we braved the whole day. Winter makes you look fresh all day.

Imagine how happy are we when we got back to the i-House!

Day 2

  • Everland Theme Park

We asked one of the staff in i-House to help us contact and speak with Daesung Tour. I looked for cheap packages for Everland Theme Park. Daesung Tour offers package for only W47,000 inclusive of entrance fee and round-trip bus transfers. It saved us a lot! Not just money but also time.

It feels good to be like a kid again! There were a lot of people in Everland like it was a peak season. We roam around and spent most of our time taking photos, but we made sure not to miss the T-Express. That is undoubtedly one of the craziest things I have ever done. HAHAHA!! We were there all day but it was still lacking because we were not able to visit some parts of the theme park. We had to return to the rendezvous because of the bus schedule or else, we will have to commute back to the city.

Day 3

  • Nami Island
  • Petite France

We were all looking forward to this day! A fellow Filipino we met yesterday told us that according to his tour guide, it will snow today at Nami Island.

From Myeongdong, we took the subway to Yongsan. Upon arrival, we headed to the ticket booth where we could purchase a round-trip ticket to Gapyeong Station via ITX. (You can also purchase online.) It’s easier to take the ITX since it’s express and hassle-free. Only note that it has a schedule and follow the schedule! Because we almost rode the wrong train which was bound for Incheon airport. Oops! HAHAHA!!

While on the train and after several stations, we saw it was already snowing. Imagine how we looked like after we got off the train? Our reactions were priceless. It was a dream come true for all of us: to experience the snow. From Gapyeong station, we waited for a bus bound for Nami Island port. From the port, you will have to purchase a ticket for the entrance fee and the boat which will take you to the island in around 5-10 minutes. It was just amazing. We were all genuinely happy and cannot stop taking photos. Every bit of Nami Island is perfection in the eyes of its beholder.

From Nami Island, we rode the boat back to the port and waited for a bus bound for Petite France. It was snowing and snowing and snowing! We can’t get over it and tried making a snow man and even played a snow fight. We have few hours to maximize since we have to get back to Gapyeong station and catch the last train schedule of ITX train back to Seoul.

Day 4

  • Namsan Cable Car
  • N Seoul Tower
  • Love Locks in N Seoul
  • Nandaemun Market
  • Lotte Mart

After our first snow encounter yesterday, we were satisfied already with our trip. We were just slacking off a bit as we no longer have a schedule to follow. It’s basically a free day for us up until our last day.

Namsan Cable Car is just a few steps uphill from i-House. It’s just around the neighborhood. We took the cable car since it is the easiest way to get to N Seoul Tower. We stopped by at the Love Locks. I was honestly wondering during that time how many couples, who declared their eternal love in this place, are still together? (Do I sound weird?) HAHAHA!!

From N Seoul Tower, we took the bus going to Nandaemun Market. This is like the ‘Divisoria’ of Korea. So many cheap finds and we did a little splurge, or probably more than a little! Our last stop today is Lotte Mart. This is where we spent a lot for the pasalubong. It’s so delighting to grocery shop abroad for some reasons. Agree?

Day 5

  • Unhyeongung Palace
  • Insadong Street Market
  • Bau House
  • Myeongdong Street Market

It breaks my heart to know for a fact that it’s our last whole day here in Seoul. So we better make the most out of it! This trip won’t be complete without putting on and trying Korea’s traditional dress, the Hanbok.

Unhyeongung Palace offers Hanbok rental for only W3,000, if I recall it correctly. This is the cheapest you can find around Seoul. The catch is that you only get to enjoy it for 20 minutes, which for me is fine.

Insadong was just few blocks away so we went there the second time around, and as I mentioned earlier, it’s a heaven for people who love to shop. I bought 5 bags. Yes, 5 bags! It was that cheap that I was able to afford to buy 5 fashionable and cheap but sturdy bags. We were very tired and decided to visit Bau House, a dog cafe. We stayed there for a couple of hours. It was very relaxing to be just around a lot of dogs and of different sizes and breeds.

Our last stop today is Myeongdong street market. Actually, it is our last stop every single day. HAHAHA!! Perks of getting a cool AirBnB situated in the shopping district of Seoul. Now the only problem is, how are we supposed to fit all of our things in our luggages?

Tips:

  1. Make an itinerary. It’s quite challenging to just fly to Korea without any plan at all. Make sure to maximize your time and while making your itinerary, make sure to look for nearby tourist spots which you can visit along the way.
  2. Seoul is a very big city. Getting by around can get a little bit confusing. You can download these very useful applications in App Store, since I’m an iPhone user, that will help you figure your way around the city: Transit KR and Korea Tour.
  3. Walk. That’s how we managed to survive our stay. Seoul will require you to do a little more exercise than you think.
  4. Food, even street foods, is quite pricey. Make sure to check out their menus before ordering. Surely, you’d want to spend more on shopping and not eating, correct?
  5. Bring extra money. Trust me when I say that I told myself am not going to shop, it became a lie when I started seeing cheap finds in the street markets.
  6. If you plan on going to Everland Theme Park, you might want to consider taking Daesung tour. We met one fellow Filipino and they told us they paid W100,000 for Everland tour package, while we only paid W47,000 for the package inclusive of round-trip transfers. See the price difference?
  7. If you plan on going to Nami Island, it would be best if you leave early because getting there is time-consuming. You will have to transfer several train stations just to reach Gapyeong station. And from there, you will take a bus then a boat bound for Nami Island. You might also want to consider riding the ITX. It’s the express train going to Gapyeong. The ticket is a little more expensive than the regular but at least you have your own comfortable seat.
  8. Bring lots of winter of clothes. It’s your choice if you want to reuse clothes like what I did. I bought 2 heat tech clothes at Uniqlo, one top and one bottom. I used it the entire trip and I am confident to say it didn’t smell awful even after several use. HAHAHA!! It’s almost impossible to sweat during winter in Korea.
  9. i-House is almost the perfect place to stay in Seoul, Location-wise and budget-wise. The only thing I hate about it is that you have to walk uphill. Imagine us on our day of arrival, we were freezing cold and have these heavy luggages and we were looking for i-House. Note that it’s impossible to travel light if you are going to Korea during its winter season.
  10. Learn basic Korean words such as Annyeong, Kamsahamnida etc… It’s fun to be like one of them.
  11. Enjoy. There’s no such thing as a perfect trip, it has its own pros and cons. But remember that you are in full control, you are out there for so many reasons but the most important thing is to ENJOY!

There you have it. It’s the end of my trip but not the end of my journey. Thank you for taking your time to read my very first blog post. More to come very soon! – Ian Tapang

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