Sunday, July 10, 2011

South Korea Itinerary 101

for travelers like us who make our own travel plan, prior to our trip, there are things that you need to check first!


i did a research for good location to stay considering the three c's - comfort, cheap and clean.  there are a lot to check in the net based on the travel blogs, tripadvisor, etc. best is to ask from colleagues and friends who had been to South Korea already.

i first inquired with friend's house but they were fully booked already. but it was a blessing in disguise that we booked at hongdae guesthouse instead. it was very convenient from the airport to its location - airport bus stop is located just across the building!

what's good with hongdae:
1. convenient location - bus stop at the front of the building and with elevator access to seoul mtr hongdae stn
2. safe area with lots of nearby food chains and restos
3. walking distance to other tourist zones like hongdae walk and coffee prince
4. affordable price - best for group travelers or family
5. decent place - ours is a 6-bed dormitory type room with free wifi, computer, drinking water, blower, washing machine. they offer breakfast of jam, bread and coffee but we did not avail for it as it was only available @9am and we usually left as early as 6am with our amazing race like itinerary. =)
6. friendly owner - mary even waited for us till 11pm when we checked in and allowed a little extension when we checked out

on our last day in Seoul, we transfered to bukchon village and checked in @ bukchon guesthouse to experience a hanok stay (korean's traditional house). 

what about bukchon:
1. a few meters walk to subway station but quite far from the airport bus stop- not ideal though if you have lots to carry but with trolleys could be fine. overall - it is still manageable!
2. surrounded with restos, coffeeshops, noodlehouses and special artcrafts stores
3. nearby tourist zones like the Changdeokgoong (palace).
4. free breakfast (cook what you want from the ref!)
5. reasonable price too and comfy and homey

places of interest:

next is a list of what you want to see and visit in south korea! for us, i consider the following:
1. hangang river park where we can see cherry blossoms (but unfortunately, it was way past the season already!)
2. drama setgrounds (full house, nami island, 63 building, coffee prince)
3. museums, palaces (seoul has five palaces!) and appointed unesco heritage sites
4. themeparks (everland)
5. shopping! (flea markets and malls!)

so if not all, we tried to squeeze these must-see! places in our itinerary.

Day 1: 
11:00PM- Arrival (korea's streetfood and soju experience)

Day 2: 
AM - Yeouido Park, COEX, Kimchi Museum
PM - Everland

Day 3:
AM - Insadong, Gyeongbokgung Palace
PM - Dondaemun, Myeongdong, Namsam Park, N. Seoult Tower

Day 4:
whole day - Nami Island
night - Dondaemun Night Market (Doota, Migliore)

Day 5:
AM - Si-do/Shindo Island (Full House Setground)
PM - Bukchon

Day 6:
whole day - Nandaemun Market
7PM - Departure

seoul mrt subway and transpo system

being a DIY traveler, you need to understand the country/city's subway and transporatation system. south korea has the most complicated subways for me with seoul's 9 lines connected to subway stations of major cities like incheon, bundang, jungang, airport road and gyeongui. but if you have tried hongkong and singapore's subways, i think you can manage seoul's too.

my advice if you will make your own itinerary is to check first the direction via subway going to a certain place and take note of the exit #s. you might be going out to a different street/road.

from there, use seoul mrt site and input the "departure station" and then the "arrival station" and the website will show you if there's any transfers or which line to take, the estimated travel time and most of all, the fare.

an example, if you're going to gyeongbokgung palace and you're staying in hongdae hostel. the nearest station from the hostel is hongik university which in line 2 and gyeongbokgung is in line 3.

Options in going to gyeongbokgung palace:
1. gyeongbokgung station, exit 5 (line 3)
2. gwanghwamun station, exit 2 (line 5)

so if you'll take option 1 above, that is, from hongik station to gyeongbokgung station, the smrt website will show you this:

copy and paste this in your detailed itinerary. i tell you, this is more helpful and reliable than figuring the subway map on your own.

an important key in traveling is to enjoy the trip - it doesn't matter if you get lost along the way or ordered a wrong food or missed out one place in your list. remember, there's always time to come back! what matter more is the experience, the fun and the adventure. loosen up a bit when travelling - you'll never have a perfect itinerary and on the dot travel time! so just enjoy every minute and every place!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Celebrate Life

i am very thankful for my birthday celebration this year. i am blessed with family and friends who love me dearly. i never thought i am treasured by a lot of people even with those who i haven't met in person yet.

at the eve of my birthday, my SOC/SEEUS team greeted me at the office. mhelie gave me a guess shirt and joy a lucky red girbaud wallet. it was also my first time that i reported to work on my birthday. but i didn't know it would be a blast!

at lunch, i met my friends marinette, generie and mangie who gave me a buffet lunch treat at cafe havana. i told them i should have gotten a zara outfit than that food trip! but kidding aside, i was really happy! i am used of giving birthday treat than receiving one. =)

reporting on midshift, i asked joan to order 6 boxes of pizza hut and kfc bucket meal for my IG team. it was a change from the traditional aling tonya's treat that i & rona used to give them. =)

dinner time. i asked my ecp team to a dinner at tempura only to find out that they prepared a dinner surprise for me at the pantry! it was my first time to receive such a surprise. i hate surprises because i don't know how to handle it - i always feel awkward.

and the highlight of them all, is a video birthday message from simon and edward from london!! i felt like in cloud 9. woot!woot!

and my special day ended with an e-card from mangie!

then, straight from work, i went to the airport for my early flight to bacolod. on the next day, my bffs from la salle and a highschool classmate were there to spend the day with me at the orphanage. it was the time in my life that i thought i need to give back to people that are less fortunate. this was also the first outreach program that i experienced from my religious studies class during my first year in la salle. since then, it is my dream to help the kids!

there were a lot of important people that i am very grateful for:
1) my former company, sca hygiene products, for sending 3 boxes of drypers diapers from manila to bacolod. special thanks to ms pinky, also a native of bacolod who arranged for this.
2) my bffs since la salle days, guia, grace and irene for giving me their time and efforts. guia who arranged everything from coordinating with holy infant, to birthday goodies up to jollibee. =) grace, for providing the transpo. irene, for helping out that day.
3) for vibes, my classmate in high school who brought her family to join the event too.

so on that sunny saturday, with our give-aways, pinata, balloons and other stuffs that the kids will like, we went to holy infant orphanage. the orphanage is run by private individuals and the home of the kids from a few weeks-old to 6 years old. they more cater for adoption and many of the kids are with their new parents abroad or here in philippines. the orphanage are also posting pictures in their bulletin board of the kids who are abroad with their adopted parents. this is to show updates of the kids and to assure the orphanage that they are in good hands.

it was a happy celebration with jollibee as our main attraction. bunch of thanks to guia for arranging it. we were surprised though because when jollibee came out, the kids went cried out lout and wails and shouts ruled all over the place. i was a bit worried because i might have traumatized the kids but dr. villanueva, the chairwoman, told me not to worry at all. it was just the kids are not used to see a mascott. but as the celebration went on, the kids gradually liked jollibee. =)

it was indeed a worthwhile experience. from the caretakers of the orphanage, we learned that they need more of diapers and pillows. so i hope i can continue to support them in my own little way.

i was very thankful for the time and effort that grace, guia and irene gave me so to the end that day, i treat them to Be Well Massage with their daughters. it was a girl bonding on the spot!

i am very thankful to our dear Lord for a very wonderful life!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Day 6 in South Korea: Best Buys at Nandaemun Market

Day 6: Last Day in South Korea

08:00         Wake-up call
09:00 - 10:00 Breakfast in Bukchon Guesthouse
10:00 - 15:00 Off to Nandaemun and Lotte World for last day shopping
15:00 - 17:00 Check-out and final wrap-up
17:00         Leave Seoul thru Airbus
18:00         Arrival Incheon International Airport/Check-In
21:35         ETD IIA via Cebupacific
00:35         ETA NAIA 3

After breakfast, we packed our luggages ready for our departure to Manila that night. But we still had last one thing to do in our list- flea shopping! The rain could not stop us in going to the flea market. So armed with our jackets and umbrellas, and some shopping bags, we walked down the street to the nearby Anguk Station. 

     Our destination - NANDAEMUN MARKET
     To Do - S.H.O.P.P.I.N.G

We woke up late than our usual wake-up call due to the drizzling weather and the comfortable sleep that Ondol mat gave us.

Ondol mat - traditional Korean sleeping mat
Two of my friends (who can cook unlike me) were already preparing our breakfast. In bukchon guesthouse, everything in the fridge is yours! From ham to egg, up to tea or coffee on the table,you can eat as much as you want for breakfast. 
the chef and the eaters

Nandaemun Market is the famous flea market in Seoul (like our own Divi in Manila). It was designated as a tourist zone by Seoul City Government after a statistics of 46.5% foreign visits in 2008. The market is famous for garments especially for ladies but we bought a lot of souvenir items like korean dolls, key chains, magnets and other display items. Also, imagine having faceshop in 168 or primeblock! haha!

along one of the market alleyways in Nandaemun Market
When we got there, we split the group so everyone can go around and buy things they wanted. We agreed to meet at a certain time in a certain place. This is my advice for those traveling in group. In shopping, we do have different tastes and preferences so rather than tagging everyone, split into groups and go around the market/mall on your own but just strictly stick to the agreed time. that's the rule! =)

how to get to nandaemun:
Nandaemun Market Gate 6 : Line 4 to Hoehyeon Station (Nandaemun Market) and take Exit #5

Nandaemun Map from Visit Korea Tourism website

A quick tip that I got from VKT website

After our quick but fulfilling (literally means overflowing souvenirs and emptied wallets!hehehe) shopping in Nandaemun, we then decided to continue our shopping spree. Anna and Joan went back to dongdaemun market while Vian, Lea, Ai and I went to Lotte Mart to buy some korean noodles and chocolates.

how to get to dongdaemun market:
exit 9 of dongdaemun station on subway line 1 & 4.

how to get to lotte:
connected to exit 4 of jamsil station on subway line 2

Unfortunately, that day was like a "mall holiday" and the department store was closed so we spent more in the supermarket instead. but the mall had this venetian themed display so we took another picture like we're in macau. =)
at Lotte Mart

For more shopping must-see in South Korea, check out Visit Korea Tourism website.

It was nearly 3PM when we went back to Bukchon Guesthouse so we hurriedly packed our shopped items.  Before we left, we had our photo taken with the owner. Will post this in their wall when I see Korea again.

with the owner
We then marched down the street to the bus stop pullling our trolleys with shopping bags on the other hand and waited for airport bus 6011 to Incheon International Airport.

that ends our trip in seoul!

More than the cherry blossoms and maple trees, i learned to love the city not because of their movie dramas or k-idols but because of the parks, their crafts, how they preserve their tradition and culture (maintaining the palaces in the center of the city), their truly being nationalistic (you can't see other brand of cars than their own manufactured vehicles only) and skinfood, of course =)

..and at the airport, we met some kababayans and Olyssa, of course, whom I still have contact with via Facebook.

Monday, July 4, 2011

My Traditional Dwelling Experience in Bukchon Village

In every travel that I plan, I always make sure that I can experience the locals' dwelling place.  

We decided to spend our last night in Seoul in Bukchon Village so from our Full House experience, we transferred to Bukchon Guesthouse via subway and as mentioned, it was excruciating lifting our trolleys from the stairs and pulling up in the subway under drizzling weather. 

a little uphill to Bukchon Guesthouse
Coming out of Anguk Station, we met Jay, the owner of Bukchon Guesthouse at the famous landmark, Mister Donut.  Going there is quite an uphill. It was like going back to the past and how a typical neighborhood of yesterday's Korea looked like. I loved it! It was so charming, so calm and so humbling.  I can compare it to our own Intramuros or Vigan during Spanish Era. Along the streets are a mixture of artsy and fancy stores from bookstores to souvenir shops, handicrafts to vintage decors, from noodles to pizza houses and one coffee shops to another. I really loved it - my old soul!
the street uphill

To stay in Hanok is one of our South Korea bucketlists. Described by Wikipedia as Korea's traditional houses which interior structure planned accordingly.  

Description copied from Wikipedia: This principle is also calledBaesanimsu (배산임수), literally meaning that the ideal house is built with a mountain in the back and a river in the front, with the ondol heated rock system for heating during cold winters and a wide daecheong (대청) front porch for keeping the house cool during hot summers.

Typical Hanok House is very homey and cozy. With jars (sometimes of fermented kimchi) in the garden

Koreans are very particular of leaving your shoes outside the house. This is also a gesture of courtesy to the owner of the house.
We occupied three twin-rooms and had our own ondol (heated floor map). Breakfast is free from 7am to 9am and computer/washing machine, iron and other facilities are free. 
Scene from "Personal Taste"
Photo credits:
Am I in "Personal Taste"? another Korean drama starring Lee Min Ho.

One more thing I liked about staying in Bukchon was that we cooked our own breakfast.  The common area was very welcoming that we felt like we're just home away from home.

Dining area decorated with pictures and notes from guests all around the world.
The place is very cozy and homey. We had a good sleep that night. If you don't mind sleeping on the floor, then experience Ondol, the sleeping pad on the floor with heater. 

After a whole day of island tour, pulling and lifting of our luggages in the subway and walking on the streets under drizzling weather, we bought some soju and had our own drinking session to warm the cold night and celebrate our last night in seoul.