Saturday, November 9, 2013

Bracing the Coldness of Late Winter Rain in Jeju Island

When I planned my first solitary travel mid of Year 2012, I specifically chose Jeju Island as the only place to spend my birthday week with the theme "Tour Around the World" literally in its miniature theme park, Soingook.  I can't afford yet to make that dream into reality in the actual places so I'd rather fulfill it in a miniature theme park first.  After all, small steps make big dreams happen.

Jeju Island was my second stop of the 10-day-solitary travel and  spent three nights and  and three days in Seogwipo City.  Seogwipo is stragetically the best place to explore  Jeju being the centerpoint to West Course, East Course and Jungmun Tourist District day tours that most travel agencies offer.  Commuter and airport buses pass through Seogwipo and many tourist spots are within the vicinity.  With that I made my own itinerary covering a little of West and East course. 
Jeju Island Map from Visit Korea website
West Course covers Hallim Park, Biyangdo Island, Geumneong Beach, Bunjae Artpia and O'Sulloc Museum for those who are fond of green tea.

West Course from Yeha Tour Website
East Course covers Manjanggul Cave, Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, Seongeup Folk Village, Sangumburi Crater and Trick Art Museum.

photo from yeha tour website
Jungmun Tourist Complex basically covers a lot of tourist destinations.  This is also the area where  many of the Korean dramas are set.  Initially, I made my own themed solitary itinerary in Jeju.  But the rain when I arrived in Jeju messed up my itinerary and overnight, I had to change it.

I should have spent my first day in Jeju in Soingok Theme Park to celebrate my birthday which I personally named as, "Birthday Tour Around the World", but it was an impossible to wander around an open park with the pouring rain.  I attempted to see the famous windmill and had my coffee at the pool of Lotte World but neither the weather gave me that opportunity.  Not to feel down on my birthday, instead I spent it  in Teddy Bear Museum, another place to see from the Korean Drama, Princess Hours.  A piece of my second theme, "Tour of K-Dramas Location in Jeju", was realized.

On my second day, the weather got better.  I started with a morning walk in Seogwipo and in just two hours before lunch, I visited Cheonjiyeon Falls and the famous Saeyeongyo Bridge on foot.  Three things off my bucketlist right away.

After my brunch, I went around in nearby spots in Jungmun Tourist District like the Chocolate Land, Ripley's Believe It or Not and Yeomji Botanical Garden before I finally headed to Soingook Theme Park. 

Ripley's Believe It or Not

Teddy Bear Museum

Chocolate Land
Looking at the map, I thought it's much nearer going to Soingook Theme Park by cab from Jungmun Tourist District than in Seogwipo.  I did not able to find any references of going to the miniature park via commuter bus so I decided to take a cab instead.  But it was farther than I expected. One way took me KRW8,500 and going back to Jungmun, the taxi fare was KRW10,000.  Anyhow, I enjoyed the place amidst the coldest winter air after the rain. 

The Statue of Libery, United States of America
Mount Rushmore Memorial, USA

Eiffel Tower, Paris
On my third day in Jeju, I initially had three destinations to go. First, to catch the sunrise at Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, then to take the ferry and ride an ATV to tour around Udo Island, and, finally to wrap up my day at Manjanggul Cave  and the Gimnyeong Maze Garden that most tourists akin with the maze in Harry Potter Movie Goblet of Fire.  However, the bus ride from Seogwipo to Seongsan already took almost three hours.  When I arrived at Seongsan at around nine in the morning,  the sky wasn't that bright and too late for sunrise already.  It was a bit foggy and impossible to see the sunrise at that state so I decided to head off to Udo Island until the sky was much clearer to climb the peak of Seonsan.

Driving around Udo Island is one of the highlights of my Solitary Travel. Not only that I was touring around on my own but was also able to record my trip around by just tying my camera to the tripod and wrapped it tightly in front of the ATV.  I was both fun and amazing! And I told myself, I should come back again.
The Welcome Banner upon arrival at the port of Udo Island

my toy in the island

After my driving experience, I went back to Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak.  This time it was not climbing the peak to see the sunrise but rather grateful for the cool afternoon air while catching up my breath as I made it to the top of the crater.   It was exhilaratingly satisfying to finally had my time looking at the crater that measures 600m in diameter and 90m high  and actually looked like a salad bowl. 

UNESCO Heritage landmark of Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak

at the bottom of the peak and the start of the trail with the STAR as the peak of Seongsan Ilchulbong

the view from the top after XXX meters high

at the other side down the peak where the Women of Jeju share with the tourists how they dive and catch seafoods without any equipment
I went down the peak past four in the afternoon already and was already too late to see the Manjanggul Cave and the Gimyeong Maze Garden.  It will take me three more hours to get there and might be nightime to get back to Seogwipo.  I was also getting tired for such a physical activity for the day so I decided to finally end my trip in Jeju.

Three days in Jeju was not enough.  But it was enough for me to spend my birthday week in the Island that is also proclaimed as one of the New Wonders of Nature.  I missed to see the other places that I plotted in my itinerary - Odolgae Rock, Jeongbang Falls, Jeju City Hall, Love Land,  Jusanggeolli Cliffs, Cheonjeyeon Falls, and, Seonimgryo Bridge.  I also missed to do the other "Things to Do" in my list: - Olle Trail, Jeju Mandarin Orange picking, try the famous black pork barbeque, among others. 

As always, I left some places to see when I get back again.

And I ended my last night in Jeju Island with a sumptuous Korean meal at the Korean traditional meal.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

My Solitary Travel Dessert 2: Chasing Mr. Cherry Blossom in Jinhae in South Korea

Born and raised in a tropical country, Philippines, the different experience of Spring never fails to fascinate me. If people from the other side of the world make plans to explore the tropical charm of the pristine beaches in my country, Spring is also something that I look forward to in the other side of the world .  I am such a fan of Spring!  I heart it so much that only the presence of the blooming silky buds of Cherry Blossom can raise my heartbeat uphigh just like a teeny happens to bump upon his crush.  It doesn't matter whereelse in the world but it seems all throughout my existence in the universe, a year of Cherry Blossom experience will always be in my diary.   

a blooming flower in Jinhae
I started chasing Spring in South Korea in May 2010 but barely made it.  That was late Spring and the blooming flowers (not particulary Cherry Blossom) were still around radiating the place with different vibrant and pastel colors and various shapes a flower can describe of  (though I can't seem to smell the fragrance).  The sights of those flowers had served as a backdrop of my photo memories.  That introduction to Spring has left a spot in my mind and heart that I won't stop until I hold a cherry blossom tree.  A year after, I met Mr. Cherry Blossom in Beijing.  It was a short, three-day affair that forever hold a precious space in my heart.

I thought I would never see Mr. Cherry Blossom again  I planned my 10-day solitary travel with main reason of chasing Mr. Snowman and play with him personally.  I fulfilled that dream but as I travelled around South Korea, Mr. Cherry Blossom kept on peeping.  

When I was Jeju on the 6th day of my 10-Day-Solitary Travel, the arrays of Cherry Blossom trees were starting to bloom everywhere.  It was an early signs of Spring for me and  wonder would there'll be more in Jinhae.  I was set to fly to Busan on my 7th day and Jinhae is just more than an hour bus trip.  I put that thought aside until I saw the blooming trees in Busan.

Indeed, only Mr. Cherry Blossom can change my meticulously organized itinerary.

The arrays of Cherry Blossom trees in Busan

the early signs of Spring in Jeju Island

On my 8th day in South Korea and my 2nd day in Busan, I woke up early to take a glimpse of the Cherry Blossom in Jinhae District in Changwon City located in Gyeongsangnam Province.  Jinhae or Chinhae is known at the Cherry Blossom country in South Korea with its emblem proudly and literally represents as the Cherry Blossom country in South Korea.

From the hostel, I took the train from Busan Station to Sasang Station, took Exit 5 and searched to most obvious landmark - buses!  Turning left from the exit is the Busan Seobu Intercity Bus Terminal.  I walked towards the ticket counter immediately and showed my ipad with "Jinhae and in Korean words". I paid KRW5,100 for a one-way-trip, took note of the Platform number, bought my breakfast from the nearby coffeshop and then went to the departure area.  The terminal is so efficient with different entrance and exits for the Departing and Arriving passengers. 

Busan Seobu Intercity Terminal

Ticket counters and trip schedules

With my ticket on hand, I looked for platform 17 as indicated in my ticket and took the first row seat at the back of the driver.  All throughout my trip in South Korea, I seemed to find my exclusive seat.

The trip took an hour with a traffic-free highway and Jinhae's streets were unexpectedly empty with few vehicles and people passing-by.  It was either I was too early of a peak hour of the morning on a Thursday or business just really starts late in Jinhae with it seemed a slow-pace-way-of-living.  I read in many blogs that traffic can be so terrible during Cherry Blossom Festival.  Well, the downside of my trip was I was a week early the festival. Cherry Blossom blooms in certain period only and reaches its peak for a week only.  It's like chasing the sand bar when its low tide.

I arrived at the very ordinary and typical town-ish terminal in Jinhae at nine in the morning.  With map on hand, I searched first for Jehwangsan Park where I can take the monorail to reach the Jinhae Observatory and where I can see the panoramic view of Jinhae. It is also the nearest one from the terminal. I read from some blogs that during the festival, people flocked the area like bees.  With long queues, many preferred to walk going up the observatory following the trail that covered with cherry blossom and other flowers that until now I can't seem to remember.

Going around the vicinity, crossing from one street to another looking up where I can see the monorail, I managed to enjoy the presence of few cherry blossom buds.  Indeed, it's not the week yet where they will be in full bloom.  The weather was just right, not too cold unlike Busan.  I liked being alone in the streets.

the array of cherry blossom trees along the street of Jinhae

Signs of Cherry Blossom Festival to bloom the week after trip
Looking around the blooming buds of Cherry Blossom tree, I accepted the fact that Spring isn't there yet.  But the fact that I was able to find Jinhae through a commuter bus from Busan was enough for me.  I planned another trip soon with more time in Busan and the nearby provinces like Changwon.  With that in mind, I decided to spend the next hour at Jehwangsan Park.

At past nine in the morning, I was the first visitor of the monorail. I thought they were closed with nobody around but after sometime the man came out of the door.  I asked him if I can take the monorail car to the observatory.  He was friendly enough to went inside and took the seat at the counter.  He asked if for a round trip, I answered for one way only.  I wanted to take the trail down and see how far the distance would be.  After paying KRW2,000, the same man ushered me to the monorail platform at the 3rd floor.  I thought we would be waiting for more visitors to come before we take off but he maneuvered the car and there I had the monorail car exclusively for me only!

my one-way ticket to the park

my first ever exclusive experience of a monorail - ah so that's what it feels like!

the accommodating Korea at the park
Before getting off, he mentioned some of the sights at the park and the directions of the trail down. I thanked him for being so accommodating and he went back to the monorail car.

I looked around the park.  The observatory is nestled at the center where everything else surrounding the historical structure.  Turning back, I can see the panoramic view of Jinhae.  The landscape are naturally beautiful.  It was so close to nature at the top where you can only hear the birds chipping. 

the monorail track and the stairways - two options to climb up and down the park
I went around and saw few people, mostly the older ones, doing their morning stretching and walking.  I was the only foreigner.  I went on taking pictures and setting up my tripod.  They were looking at me but I was happy providing some entertainment.  After some picture taking, there's nothing else to do so I looked for the trail going down the entrance of the park.  It was a nice walk but could be nicer if the place is fully-covered with Cherry blossoms.

Here are some of the photos of Jehwangsan Park.

the scuptured garden that welcome the passengers alighting the monorail

the observatory tower

the landmark that indeed exudes "HARMONY" at the park

with some audience watching me as I took the photo with timed camera

the trail that I chose to walk rather than taking the stairway down to the entrance of the park

the panoramic view of Jinhae at the top of the park
Before ten, I reached the entrance already.  I should have looked further the Bridge of Romance but looking at the number of cherry blossoms that I saw, I whisked the idea off and save that when I return maybe next year.

the Bridge of Romance that serves as the perfect backdrop during the Cherry Blossom Festival
From the park, I found my way back to the terminal and waited for the 10AM trip back to Busan.  My trip to Jinhae was very short but enough for me to somehow have a glimpse for another itineary to make. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

My Solitary Travel Dessert 1: Side Trip to Gyeonggi Province in South Korea

I specifically chose Seoul, Jeju and Busan as my three major stops of my 10-day-solitary travel in South Korea - 4 days in Seoul (3 days from arrival and one last day before departure), 3 days in Jeju and another 3 days in Busan.  These major stops were basically my main entry and exit points to the nearby provinces and to the main places of accommodation. 

Having side trips to the nearby provinces in Seoul, Jeju and Busan were like a dessert while I fulfilled my 10-day-solitary travel in South Korea.  I wanted to to see more of the country, experience the provincial buses (or what they call as the express bus) and for specific reasons that I thought prior to the trip.

Seoul was my first major stop for the main reason that I'm familiar with the place having been there in Year 2010 and for me to get a feel of the city again, and the weather of course.  It was my way of unveiling the very thought of my first solitary travel - that should have sinked in to my inner core - my mind and soul and should not think of anything else but only this trip!  I've prepared for this for the last 9 months and I was more than prepared to DO IT and fulfill that DREAM!

I spent the first day just going around Seoul to places that I haven't seen yet and to the same old places that I'd gone to already. It was a good warm-up  as I prepared for my trip to the nearby province the next day - Paju,  Gyeonggi-do.

Gyeonggi Province is the nearest province surrounding the Capital Seoul, located North West of South Korea and can be reached from the City Capital via 2-hour bus trip.  Its political history originated from the time Korea was divided into three nations during the period of Three Kingdoms and eventually as a separate government from Seoul after their liberation from Japanese colony and the foundation of two Korean goverments.  Some parts of Gyeonggi Province are geographically and politically part of the Capital Seoul while the northernmost part, Gaesong, became part of the North Korean territory after the countries were divided following the 38th Parallel

Soldiers on their morning routine along the main road of Paju in Gyeonggi-do
This is precisely the reason why I saw some Korean soldiers in the area when I arrived in Paju.  Technically, I was already near the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) that separates South and North Korea (at the time of my travel, the tension was such a media fuss that presence of Civil Defense boxes are physically everywhere in the public places such as subways and terminals) but didn't have any thought of including it in my itinerary.  What's the use of being in the place just to witness two soldiers facing across each other between just a thin line of border with nothing but hatred in their eyes. It could be too hard for me and I just wanted all the positiveness in my trip.  After all, it's more for myself. :-)

I originally planned to spend the whole day in Paju to hop on and off at Paju Premium Outlet, English Village,  Heyri Village, Province Village (European style buildings) and Lotte Premium Outlet.  But after realizing that reaching Heyri Village alone will take 2-3 hours from Seoul, I decided to spend the first half of the day in Heyri and the rest of the afternoon back in Seoul mainly in Insadong.

Heyri Art Village was constructed by Korean artists to house their artwork.  There are residences, art galleries and museum within the vicinity.  I personally described it as Haven of Coffee Shops in South Korea.  It was my first to see a "Coffee Museum", I'd say only in Korea, where various artsy, themed-coffee shops can be found.  Accidentally, I found the place to get my inspiration for a concept of the coffee shop/bed and breakfast-type that I plan to put up five years from now.

various themed coffeeshops in Heyri Art Village
I arrived at Heyri Art Village in Paju from Hapjeong Station in Seoul at ten in the morning with travel time of approx. 2.5 hours.  From Seoul, I travelled with the working locals who got off the bus in different stops that seemed like commercial and business districts. It was new to me as I thought the business districts only reside in Seoul.

Along the way, I attentively listened to the bus stop announcements.  Unfortunately, it was in Korean and I thought of picking up key words like Paju. Without a map on hand and only my personalized travel guide, I relied to my instinct and some guts to ask the remaining passengers on the bus.  Fortunately, after the bus driver announced the bus stop, I saw the "Heyri Art Village" signage from afar and unlike the other day where I missed to push the Stop button, this time, I pressed it.

the drop off and the empty highway
The place was so quiet and the weather was much colder.  As I entered the main gate, I thought I was going to a subdivision still under construction.   Constructions were everywhere and there was a lone tourist like me geared with a tripod in one hand and camera on the other.  What's there to see?  The location map in a large board was not of a help neither - its written in Korean.  My face lit up when I saw a coffee shop nearby.  I had the time to connect to wi-fi (Korea seemed like a Wifi country) and made a quick research of Heyri Art Village. 

one of the many artsy structures in Heyri Art Village
I continued walking around, just anywhere my footsteps led me.   After some time, I saw some people in the area which seemed like tourists like me (with their travel brochures on hand).   I continued going around and saw many structures of different shapes and designs.  Indeed, the architectural piece of art of the Koreans can be found there.

I continued going around looking for one place - Artinus Farmer's Table.  This is the location of the K-drama Boys Over Flowers, set-up as Shinhwa High School posh cafeteria.  There's a fancy restaurant on the ground floor and sort of a bookstore on the second floor.  After looking around for some minutes, I checked my watch and it was nearing lunch time already.  I decided to finish my own tour in Heyri Art Village and walked towards Gate 2 to exit.  

The place was still quite, just like when I arrived.   But I brought with me a lot of solitary memories - the intricate and charming feel of Cafe Rose, the artistic designs of shops and art galleries, a newly learned concept of coffee museum, a lot of themes as an inspiration for my own coffee shop in the future and of course, visiting another K-drama location.

That first attempt to travel outside Seoul gave me a bunch of confidence that I can explore more of South Korea on my own.  On my 3N/4D in Jeju Island, I took more bunch of courage to find my way and took a side trip to Udo Island and experienced going around the island by driving an ATV.

And finally, when I was in Busan, I took a morning trip to Chanwoon Province and glimpsed at the early signs of Spring in Jinhae.

Travel Tips:

Getting to Paju City

- Take Bus 2200 from Hapjeong Station Exit 2.  The bus will go through the following route and its corresponding bus stop:
Bus Stop 8. Lotte Premium Outlet - new premium outlet in Paju (est. 60 mins from Hapjeong)
Bus Stop 11. Province Village - Europe style buildings (est. 70mins from Hapjeong)
Bus Stop 12. Heyri Art Village Gate 1 (est. 80mins from Hapjeong)
- In going back to Seoul, cross the main road opposite Heyri Art Village Gate 1 towards the flower shop.  That is the bus stop to Seoul.

- Use T-money to pay, it's convenient.

Helpful Links:

Visit Korea
Getting to English Village