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

Busan: More Than Just A City Tour Bus

My first experience of a tour bus in Busan just proved me right that there's not much of fun for a traveller like me to wander around a place in a tour bus - it's boring, it puts limit to MY curiosity and most of all, it makes ME a prisoner of time (as I have to hop on/off every 30mins).  One good point is the built-in video tour that sort of providing information about the place - can be amazing with its high technology media visuals but at times I found it boring as well.  

Note that I'm speaking for my preferred way of going around the place but nevertheless, Busan City Tour is a tourist-friendly and the most convenient (the right description I may say) to see Busan in a day.

Amidst the fact that I literally tour around Busan through Hauendae Loop where I described this part of Busan as a place where sophistication of the corporate districts and shopping malls collide with the serenity and calmness of the sea,  AND,  Taejongdae Loop  that depicts the ordinary daily life of local folks while preserving their culture and heritage -

I felt I did not wander Busan as it deserves for its worth.  

Nothing can stop me from exploring Busan on my own - my usual way, that is, riding the subways and taking public buses; not even the stinging coldness of early Spring and my deteriorating energy and aching body from literally going around South Korea for the last seven days.

So on the following day and technically my last full day in Busan, I purposely squeezed a quick side trip to the province of Jinhae  in the morning just to take a glimpse of Spring - an impulsiveness that I just thought on my first day in Busan because of the blooming arrays of Cherry Blossoms trees along the streets of Busan, I thought there could be more in Jinhae.  And then spent the rest of the day exploring Busan via subway and public buses.

On the spot itinerary while riding the bus from Jinhae to Busan
On my way back to Busan, I wrote down on the Subway Map the places that I'd see and took notes of the exits:
1. Shinsegae Department Store
2. Namcheon Cathedral
3. BIFF Square
4. Yongdusan Park
5. Taejongdae Beach

Named as the Guinness World Records' Largest Department Store,  I found myself facing the fear of heights for the first time when I entered Shinsegae  Centum City.  It's ironic as I already tried the 800m zipline in Bukidnon, Philippines but not scared of it.  Prominently standing with 14 floors, I did not dare to look down as I was going up to the 8th floor.  It was a bit scary that I only stopped at 8th floor where the Fashion Street is located, then went down at 4th floor spent most of my time at H&M shop.  I stopped myself from splurging on shopping so I strictly spent only an hour in the mall. 
Shinsegae Centum City

Next stop is Namcheon Cathedral which is also known as the Archdiocese of Pusan.   In every places that I chose to explore in South Korea, I always searched for a Catholic Church where I can pay visit and thank God for guiding me safely throughout my journey.  I read from my research that Namcheon Cathedral has it's unique architectural and interior design, uncommon for the usual Catholic Church.
Namcheon Cathedral
Following the directions, from Centum City, I got off in Namcheon Station and walked towards Exit 2.  There I gasped some air as I looked up at the highest stairways I've ever seen in South Korea's subways.  The light that came from the top were like a beam of strenght that told me to keep going as I was on the right direction.

From the subway exit, I kept on following the street signs, turning left until I saw this sign:
 Jesus Loves You

It was heartwarming feeling that I felt a pinch in my skin  - goosebumps!  It has always been amazing how I am always guided while looking for the church.  I had experienced the same in Beijing while looking for St. John's Church in Wanfujing on a Palm Sunday.

Still unsure if that was the church, I opened the gate and walked further until I saw the uniquely angular-designed structure with KBS stations as it's backdrop.  From my view, it looked like a lego puzzle piece attached to its perpendicular stand.

As I walked towards the entrance, I noticed the door is closed and seemed like the mass was going on and I was not sure if I can still enter.  I decided to wait for the mass to finish and went around the vicinity.  At the side of the church is a garden with a grotto and mini-chapel with stoned benches along the pathway.  I took my seat at the front of the grotto and uttered my prayer.

As I waited, I looked in awe at the angular wall designed with stained glass in squares from the bottom to the top. The rays of sunlight strikes against it that make it looked like skylight roof creating a beam light that resembles the star when Christ is born. 

After more than 30 minutes, I heard people coming out of the door.  I then went inside.  It was more beautiful in there!  The light that I imagined outside creating the beam of light are actually providing the natural light.  The spaces without the pillars are illuminating as if providing a spotlight to the altar.

It was so serene with some old folks gathering inside.  I found my little space where I said my thanksgiving prayers.  I was about to end my first solitary travel and I was blessed to have this dream fulfilled.

As the sun sets and so with my trip to Busan, I went on and took the subway to Jagalchi Station.  In my list was to walk around the BIFF Square or famously known as the Pusan International Film Festival that hosted for several years since it was inaugurated many international film festivals.

More than just an establishment, the BIFF Square served as the lifetime memorabilia of the handprints of the actresses and actors. It is lively from day to night with its street market and variety of stores in every blocks.  Anyone will enjoy just looking at various trinkets sold along the streets while munching some streetfood that are usually part of the scene in every K-dramas.

At some time, I joined the locals as they enjoy their  food on the streets.  The more people falling in line in a food stall, the more it was enticing to take a bite.  But as the daylight went off, so with my body from being too tired, I decided to call it a day.  That means, I have the reason to come again with my List of To Dos and Places to See that are not completely off yet of my bucketlist - to walk along the trail of Yongdusan Park, seafood dining at Jagalchi Market, splurge on best buys at Nampo-dong Underground Shopping and stay for a night and experience public bath (jjimjilbang) at Haeundae Spa.  

Nonetheless, the on the spot itinerary on my last day in Busan made my solitary travel more fulfilling.

Travel Tips:

Getting to the places via subway:

Shinsegae Department Store (Line 206 Centum City Station Exit 1, 5 minute walk)
Namcheon Cathedral (Line 211 Namcheon Station, Exit 2 by taking the long stairs and keep walking and turn left at the intersection.  It's beside the KBS Building
BIFF Square (Line110 Jagalchi Station Exit 7, 5 minute walk)
Jagalchi Market (Line 110 Jagalchi Station Exit 1o, 5minute walk)
Yongdusan Park (Line 111 Nampodong Exit 1, 10min walk and then take the escalator)

* Take the One-Day Subway Pass for a unlimited rides during the day of purchase for only KRW4,000.00