Saturday, June 29, 2013

Driving Around Udo Island in Jeju

It was around Christmas holidays in Year 2011 when I took a handful of guts and finally conquered the commuters' jungle in Metro Manila - EDSA.  At that time, it had only been months since I learned the basic lesson of manual driving with an instructor or my brother in the passenger's seat but haven't tried driving alone yet.  The culprit who left me no choice but to gather much bravery to drive was the crazy traffic in the metro that got heavier than ever even beyond midnight, when going home after a mid-shift was getting more difficult.

Moving forward first quarter of Year 2012,  I took driving in full force! I live in the eastern part of General Manila Area where main roads are on uphill and where having your own car is much cheaper and more convenient than coming to work on public transport.  Every day, I mumble a prayer as I drive up Batasan Hills on manual transmission - when I need to perfectly work on clutch, gas and brake trying not to bump the car ahead of me or hit the one behind me.  I've always wished the traffic lights are always green!

Those were stressful driving days for me but was indeed a perfect training for me.  I've proven that you only need enough bravery in driving! It's like making quick decision to step on brakes when the car ahead takes an abrupt halt or makes an unwarned left or right turn.

By the time I scheduled my solitary trip to South Korea, I had much confidence that I can drive in Jeju Island too. I read from many travel tips and blogs that Jeju can be best explored via self-driving. I was about to take it but found out it was a bit expensive for a solo traveler like me. On top of that, I may not able to see the best places as I pass them because I need to focus on the road. So I scrapped if off from my list.

Then, I learned about Udo Island.

the ferry to Udo Island

Welcome to Udo Island
Udo Island is one of the islets surrounding Jeju Island.  From Seongsan Port, it is accessible in a 15-minute-ferry ride.  A day is enough to go around the Cow Island on bikes, ATVs or even on foot.  So I nailed it down in my itinerary in Jeju Island.

The island is as charming as its name. Upon arrival, we were welcomed with lots of rental booths for bikes, ATV and bus tours. Fees vary as well. Bikes can be rented for KRW10,ooo, ATV and scooter for KRW20,000 and Bus Tour for KRW5,000. I could join the bus tour but I wanted to drive on my own. Having seen the landscape of the island from afar, there are lots of uphills too so I gave up biking and went for ATV. After all, it's still a driving experience.

After I paid KRW20,000 for my two-hour-ATV rental, the guy gave me a quick orientation on how to use the ATV -which to push, to start, to break and how to open the engine of the machine. It's quite easy as I've driven a scooter and ATV before.

Udo Maritime Park offers a lot of places to go around the "Lying Cow Island" such as Udo Peak, Geommeolle Beach, Dongangyeonggul Cave & Sebin White Sand Beach. But living in a beautiful tropical country, Philippines,I have easy access to these so I just spent my half-day driving around Udo Island with my camera in a tripod, tied to my backpack that was safely trapped onto the net. (i needed a gopro!)

It's time to take that camera rolling!

I went first to the area where I saw houses - to the neighborhood and villages. It was perfectly serene and seemed like a normal neighborhood for me. The houses were separated with piles of stones that served as fences. I just drove everywhere for more than half an hour until I decided to go around the route encircling the island. I stopped in any places I thought best for photoshoot - the yellow wild flowers, the Jeju women from afar, the scenery.

From the island shores, you can see the women scuba divers of Jeju Island, their pride, who've known to catch the creatures from the sea as their means of living. Fresh from their catch, there are kiosks along the shore that serve food. I wish I tried but it was difficult to order without any menu to refer to.

Udo Light House

the many sights of Udo Island

One of the women of Jeju - they're strong to scuba diving everyday
in front of one of the cafes in Udo Island - South Korea seemed like cheesy in love. I've seen a lot of this kind for a photo.  For the time being, I sat on my own. Will see in the future if I can have somebody beside me.

South Korea as haven of coffeeshops, Udo Island is also surrounded with many cafes.  It was so relaxing to take a sip of coffee while looking at the calmness of the ocean, the sounds of the waves and chirping of the birds.  They're of different themes too.  I wish I could have stayed overnight in the island and just enjoy all the time in the world to just sit back and relax...and allow for the time to just go by.

various stops for food fresh from the sea
After two hours, I went back to the rental booth and returned the ATV.  By that time, it was 12NN already and the next schedule of ferry back to Seongsan Harbour was at 12:30. 

But then, I remembered one thing! I have to taste it's famous peanut ice cream!

Udo's peanut ice cream.
I took the ferry back to Seongsan Harbour for my next stop, Seongsang Ilchulbong.  It was a bit difficult for me to leave the island.  For some reason, I left my heart in there.  I always love the sea, especially the island.  It's my dream to have a resthouse in an island or at the top of the mountain where I can see the ocean.  As I sat down inside the ferry, I told myself I will go back and stay for the night.
My driving experience via ATV in Udo Island is making another dream happen! Watch it here! :-)

Additional Tips:
Getting to Udo Island
Take an intercity bus from Seogwipo or Jeju City or direct buses (Dongilju bound for Seongsan) to Seongsangri Port. Get off at Seongsalliipgu bus stop .  From Seogwipo, I actually took the intercity bus at Jungmun Rotary and just asked the driver if going Seongsan Ilchulbong.  You can see anyways the peak of Seongsan Ilchulbong for the Seongsalliipgu bus stop.  Estimated travel time is 2.5 hrs.  From there, take the taxi for a quick 10-minutes drive to Seongsan Harbour. Then, take the ferry to Udo Island.  You may get one-way or return ticket.  It takes only 15-minutes to get to Udo Island.
1. Bus tour via Udo Shuttle Bus when 30 minutes intervals for every designated stops.  If you neither want to sweat biking around the island that will take much longer and have a driver license to rent ATV or scooter, this is the only option to go around Udo Island.
2. ATV or Scooter Rental - KRW20,000 for two hours
3. Biking KRW10,000 for two hours
There are a lot of inns and hostel around (some are on-going construction) but if you just wish to take a quick round and glimpse of the island, half of the day is enough and then spend the half of the day hiking up UNESCO Heritage, Seongsan Ilchulbong.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Not An Ordinary Eater in South Korea

Korean's Banchan (Side Dishes)
My Traditional Restaurant Experience in Jeju Island
I've read many times from different K-bloggers how unusual it is for Koreans to eat alone in a restaurant.  It's seldom to see a loner in a fast food either. If one has to eat alone, it's either in a coffee shop or tea houses. 

Honestly, it was my concern when I decided for my first solitary travel.  It's not about dining alone but more of how much I can eat.  I know how food servings per order can be much bigger and more than enough for one and the cost might be higher too.  It means my choices from the menu can be limited as well.  I am used of ordering two or three menus and to eat alone may cost me higher.   Indeed, after computing my travel expenses, big chunk of which was spent on food.

I didn't have a good experience with Korean food from my last vacation in Year 2010 and coming again alone, I have to be prepared.  Otherwise, I'd be eating noodles and bread for ten days.  Prior to my trip, I've researched a lot on Korean cuisine, it's name in Korean and it's description, the ingredients and all.  I was thankful to Christine of  GrrrlTraveler for sharing with me some Ipad apps on Korean cuisine. I've read a lot and save photos in my Ipad of the possible dishes that I can order.  Should I failed to pronounce correctly, I can show the photos instead. :-)

Some of the dishes that I should try are:

Samgyeopsal (pork belly cut in thin pieces and grilled on a smokeless grill)

 Japchae (noodle dish mixed with marinated beef & vegetables in soy sauce, it's like Filipino pansit bihon)

Bibimbap (basically mixed of different dishes and food), and

Samgyetang (chicken stuffed with rice and boiled in ginseng, it's like Filipino's arroz caldo).

In my ten days in South Korea, I found cafes and pastry shops as my comfort place.  South Korea is a haven of coffee shops, of all sort (they have dog cafe, cat cafe, art cafe and more themed-cafes).  I am planning to put up my own coffee shop five years from now.  This is one of the reasons that I travelled to the province of Paju, South Korea on my second day and spent half of my day in Heyri Art Village.

My trip was not all about coffee shops and traditional restaurants.  I had my moments of joining the crowd in streets queuing for the  food.  If the queue is much longer, I thought it must be good! But at times, I just chose randomly.  And it was, I think the most memorable ones.

So here I'm sharing my solitary gastronomic adventures in South Korea.

Coffee & Pastry Shops

My comfort places where I just stopped for awhile and just looked around and did my favorite pasttime - people watching.

I was a coffee drinker since the age of five, when kids should still be drinking milk. Since grade school, I had coffee with me when I reviewed my lessons at night. I usually stayed very late at night during exam days and coffee kept me awake. It evolved from a lighter one (where dash of coffee is enough for me as long as there's caffeine in there), then with milk or creamer until I liked drinking brewed. It's very common in the province that I even joined my grandfather at early mornings during summer to drink coffee from their favorite "kapehan".

Hello Kitty Cafe

Hello Kitty Cafe in Hongdae, Seoul
Preferably the famous cafe in Seoul, I came to this coffe shop dedicated to the famous feline character in the world!  My sister liked Hello Kitty so much and so with some of my friends and colleagues so I decided to see this place as well.  The interior is full of pink and of course, all about Hello Kitty that her fans would be all over her.  
Sneaking with people on dates
In Hello Kitty Cafe, it made obvious to me that I was there alone.  Tourists and locals came either in group or in two.  I hurriedly finished my chocolate and waffles and then took most of my time taking pictures.  I was  more excited to wander around Hongdae than staying inside the cafe.

Paris de Baguette in Hapjeong, Seoul and Busan Terminal

It was a "stop and go" pastry shop for me. When there's nothing to eat and I don't want to think what to eat anymore, I just went to any Paris de Baguette shops for some pastries.  It was my first stop in Seoul when I arrived.  It was too early and I had to eat first before I kick-off my itinerary for the day.  It's not all about bread but they have varieties of cakes and sweet treats too.  I bought Tiramisu cake for my midnight snack at their branch in Busan Terminal too when I was in Busan.

The best-seller sweets on White Day in Seoul

I arrived Seoul on March 14, which was a White Day in South Korea.  This is the day when boys give flowers/candies to girls in return for the Valentines Day where girls give boys some chocolates. I thought the shop was always that busy. Later, I just found out that it was for a White Day celebration in South Korea.  They're such sweet folks! :-)

Cafe Rose in Heyri Art Village
Cafe Rose, one of the coffee museums in Heyri Art Village
Being in South Korea where coffee shops are just everywhere was a hurdle for me.  Weeks before my trip, I was advised by my doctor to refrain from drinking any with caffeine due gastro pains.  Coming to Heyri Art Village, which I just found out when I got there was actually a village of coffee shops or known to them as "Coffee Museum" , was like coming to Hell instead of Heaven. 

I went inside Cafe Rose because of the signage "Coffee Museum" at the second floor but I restrained myself from further pain of not getting the "hand-grip coffee" that so famous being great in South Korea.  Instead, I went around Cafe Rose as the interior was so beautiful, so homey, cozy and has the perfect ambiance to just chill and enjoy your coffee.  It would be one of my inspirations for my coffee shop in the future.

Coffee Story in Sasang Terminal, Busan

Coffee Story in Sasang Terminal, Busan

This is the cozy coffee shop inside Sasang Bus Terminal in Busan.  I was supposed to go to the nearby Mcdo but the interior of the coffee shop was more appealing to me.  So I bought my hot chocolate and some cookies from there before I get on the bus to Jinhae.

A Twosome Place in Busan

A Twosome Place for a OneSome me :-)

A coffeeshop that is famous because of K-dramas, I decided to give this coffeeshop a try in Busan before I took the KTX train to Seoul.

Culcom, just random coffee shop in Jongno

I was just killing some time before I left Seoul to Incheon for my flight back to my Manila and I was looking for somewhere to just chill and eat.  As I walked along Jongno, I passed this coffee shop with inviting caption on their store, "Free Ipad".  I checked it myself and found out they have actually Mac PCs for free of use and not for give-aways.  The place is a combination of coffeeshop and a study center.  They also serve buffet salad bar but it's more of a buffet of food which I labeled as main course rather than a salad.  I went for it and for just KRW9,000, I had the best buffet in Seoul.


I really like pizza - the four cheese and margarita! Having read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, it is my dream to try the Naples' pizza.  So even in Korea, I looked it for myself.

Pizzeta at Bukchon Traditional Village
For some reasons, I was craving for Pizza days before I went to South Korea.  On my first day, I tried a lot to try the pizza parlor that I saw but there's no solo order.  After having my bibimbap at Insadong, my first ever attempt to try Korean cuisine (which I was not happy at all, unfortunately), I had my pizza in Seoul.

Coming from Bukchon Traditional Village, it was amazing how I sniffed the smell of pizza from somewhere.  Going dowm from the uphill Bukchon, I was like a kid running down when I saw this Pizza house in the main road.

The place was owned by a couple who can speak good English.  I ordered  four-cheese-pizza and carbonara.  They thought the pizza was for take out but I told them it was both for dine-in! They told me the pizza was a much bigger and seemed worried I was ordering too much for myself.  I told them I can take out for some.  It was a full day for me.  I travelled to the province of Paju, two-hours from Seoul and then spent walking in Insadong where I had my bibimbap but  not so happy with it.  I spent more walking up and down the hilly Bukchon Village that I thought I deserved a PIZZA!  Indeed, it was my first expensive meal of my trip.  I paid KRW 29,000 (roughly around Php1,200).



The Streetfood

Korean streetfood is part of their culinary tradition.  In every K-drama, rich or poor always try their streetfood! I tried a lot of them when I first came to Korea and it had sustained me and was my surviving food when I was not into Kimchi then. 

In PIFF Square in Busan,
the famous streetfood in PIFF Squre, Busan
It was colder in Busan or my immune system just went low from previous trip from Seoul to Jeju! Yet, I went around Busan and braved the cold - so with their street food that is famous in PIFF Square.  I tried the kebab which I thought will be grilled.  But it was served with a spicy soup that made it spicier when it was sprinkled with chili powder.  I coughed a lot when I took a sip that I was almost in tears. And it made me buy an ice cream amidst the 2C weather.

it was too much for the cold but i have to eat to lessen the hot spicy taste left in my tongue
Korean Cuisine

I've been curious about Korean cuisine! Watching it over K-dramas how the actors and actresses are satiating over their meal, I become more interested.

Bibimbap in Insadong

Gigimbap, still not my favorite

After my trip in Heyri Art Village in Paju, South Korea, I went back to Seoul and arrived Insadong past 1pm.  I read from lots of K-bloggers that there are a many traditional restaurants to choose from for authentic Korean cuisine.  I was so hungry from just having my free bread and coffee at Four Seasons House, so I decided to have some Korean cuisine for lunch. I stopped at "Good Restaurant" and ordered Gigimbap.  I tried a little to mix first just to get comfortable with it but I found my mixture tastes weird.  Instead, I opted to eat the  rice with some side dishes along with the soup. 

Gimbap in Busan Terminal

It was my Day 7 in South Korea - I was so tired with little sleep and it was cold! I arrived Busan from Jeju Island and did not have a good appetite at all.  But I forced myself to eat, otherwise, I'd get sick.  Thankfully, I saw a food chain in Busan Terminal where I was located nearby. There, I tried Gimbap, and it never failed being my survival food in South Korea.

Ramen in Seoraksan National Park

Soothing after the hike at Snow Mountain

I've never liked Korean noodles, especially the cup noodles.  But I don't why, after I went down from my experience with snow at Gwonggeumseong Fortress, I had in mind to eat noodles already.  Perhaps, it was the coldness of the snow that I wanted to soothe my tummy with hot, spicy soup.  It was indeed a good choice!

Black Seafood Noodles at Udo Island, Jeju

the "pointed" noodles in Udo Island

On my third day in Jeju Island, I took a ferry to Udo Island for a half-day trip.  There I rented an ATV for two-hours and drove around the cow-head-shaped island.  It was lunch time already when I finished my tour and I decided to eat  the nearby restaurant near the ATV booth.  The menu was all in Korean and there were no pictures to choose from.  Looking around the other customers, I saw this black noodle where a man in military uniform was eating so good and he looked satiating with.  I ordered the same thing by just pointing at the man's plate. :-)

Jeonbok TTukbaegi in Seogwipo Port

I can say this is the best brunch I ever had in South Korea.  A day after my birthday in Jeju Island, I took my early morning walk along Seogwipo Harbour.  Fresh catch from the sea, I ordered the Abalone soup in hot pot. 

Griller Mackerel with Banchan in Korean Traditional Restaurant in Seogwipo in Jeju

Mackerel complete with bancha (side dishes)

It's brushing off my bucket list - to eat a full Korean meal!  I had the most tiring yet fulfilling day in Jeju Island that I gave myself a treat.   When I entered the traditional restaurant, I was ushered to the table but I asked if I can have in the traditional table instead.  There are couple in the other side with their Soju and a group of families at my back but it didn't bother me at all.  I was too busy taking pictures, adjusting my foot until I got comfortable in indian-sit and looked more happy when the food came.  It was such a big serving just for me! 

I had spent much on food but I loved everything about it!
I never thought I would like Kimchi that much that I even bought one from Duty Free.  Back in the Philippines, I'd occasionally eat in a Korean restaurant.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Hi Seoul: It Was Like Coming Back To A Place I've Always Known

I'm in South Korea! This it It!

I uttered these words to myself as I got out of the exit door of the arrival hall of Incheon International Airport.  The sting of cool air into my skin woke me up that I was indeed breathing Winter, the season that I chose to chase this time after I barely chased Spring three years ago. 

I looked for the bus ticket booth for the Airport Bus to my hostel  in Seoul - the very first thing that I cannot remember doing when I was here with some friends in Year 2010.  We were issued tickets upon boarding the bus.  On my way to Seoul, I hardly kept my eyes open as I was swayed from the tiredness of getting my reports done and directly heading to the airport without any sleep and even bath from all day's work.  It was a bit uncomfortable not being able to freshen up and there I was traveling in this cold country on my own.

Ticket Booth outside Arrival Hall 12
 But then, as the bus getting nearer Seoul, I saw some familiar streets and signs (either from my vacation in South Korea three years back or from my meticulous research).  I felt like I'm coming back to a place seemed familiar to me - the transportation, the street signs, the establishments. The familiarity may either came from the Korean dramas that I love to watch or again, from my meticulous research.  I missed my bus stop at Hapjeong but it was a great miss! I was obliged to take a cab and had my first conversation with a Korean.

After I finally found my way to Four Seasons House, the warmest  hostel I've experienced for my first three days in Seoul, I got back my confidence in going around Seoul once more, this time on my own.  I dropped my bags in the reception area (with check-in time at 2PM) and with a bit of excitement, I looked  forward to this different experience, wanting to get off things from my bucketlist.  I braced  myself to kick-off my solitary travel.

KBS Station Main Road
I spent my first morning in Seoul just idly sipping my hot chocolate and ham and sausage turn-over from Paris de Baguette near Hapjeong Station while having fun watching people passing by.  It was eight in the morning, the rush hour in one of the ordinary Thursdays in Seoul, and, I found it fascinating just watching people walking fast on their stilettos, boots and rubber, walking shoes, wearing in different styles and colors of bubble jackets, stylish trenchcoats and winter jackets and presence of BB creams.  They were heading towards Hapjeong and Hongdae - either those were professionals or students.  At most, I can distinguish who are working in posh offices - through their stylish bags, trenchcoats and stilettos. Students have backpacks at their back that I found it too trendy that I bought one for myself. (Which I haven't found the same style here in the Philippines, yet)

Paris de Baguette

The sun was up but the temperature of 1C made me hesitant to join the bandwagon of Koreans and expats on their way to work, school or anywhere.  
As I ate slowly just killing some time before the clock hits nine, I browsed my self-made travel guide to my first destination in the list - KBS Exhibition Hall .  Having worked in a broadcasting company, I was curious how KBS conduct their studio tours. From my research, the hall opens at 9:30AM.  However, with stamina getting down from the lack of sleep and having difficulty embracing the sudden change of weather (from Summer in the Philippines to late Winter in Seoul), I decided to change my plans and went a bit slower - meaning not to go around but rather stay in one place until 1PM.

My Day 1 Planned Itinerary (and it was changed, of course!)

 I just realized now that I should have stayed in  Jjimjilbang (찜질방) and have taken a nap and moreso, a bath! I could have been re-charged and gotten off that one in my bucket list.

But my first day was like getting a feel of the South Korea again.  Amidst the difficulty coping up with weather and sleepiness, things started getting familiar.

The Subway - Reading the Map and Knowing the Exits and the Transfers

Seoul Subway and the key cities Incheon and Busan have the most sophisticated yet tourist-friendly subways - it's easy to transfer from one place to another but transfers can be tiring sometimes.  It's like walking through streets and intersections underway.

The Traditional Houses and the Familiar ClayPots

Korean architecture always fascinates me - from those stylish wall-in cabinets to wooden chairs, from the dressers to the charming decorations in any part of the house, and even the half-rounded bed that I saw from the Korean series, "He's Beautiful".  The unique features of Hanok are always charming for me.  It was always one of the most memorable memories in Korea - my Hanok stay.   I even thought of having it as an inspiration for one of the themed rooms in my bed and breakfast hostel years from now.

.. and more of these that I finally said, "Annyeong Korea! It felt great to be back!"

The Korean StreetFood

in one of the streets in Hongdae Area

The Cute and Cheesy Pairs of Socks

I regret much that I haven't got one pair for myself.

K-Pop Idols and Drama Actors/Actresses Souvenirs EVERYWHERE!

Can you guess who they are?

The Electronic Door Access
I happened to scramble the number combination on my 2nd night and I thought I'd be waiting outside for somebody to come. :-(
The Artsy, Homey, Comfy, CoffeeShop

So after I checked-in and had my quick nap, I took my most yearning bath and found my steps along the road in Hongdae and had my late afternoon snacks at the coffeeshop of the famous feline in the planet earth, Hello Kitty.