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


Aithne said...

Hi. How much did you save up for the 10-day trip? I want to know because I really want to go to South Korea in the future and I need to save up big time. Thank you very much for answering my question.

Wanderer Claire said...

Hi Aithne,

I spent approximately $1,500 - that includes my airfares (frm Manila-Incheon-Manila, Incheon-Jeju, Jeju-Busan), KTX fares, accommodation, food and tour fees.
The trip really worth the money. Goodluck! :-)


Ceejay Ojano said...

Wow!That's cool. How did you manage to do all those in a budget and in just a very short time? To include Jeju trip, galing! I'm also doing my 10day Korean Tour for next month and Jeju is not included. Daegu, Gyoengju, Busan, Seoul, Gyeonggi Gangwon and Suwon are on it. It's my 2nd time and I must say that it is indeed a beautiful place to explore and worth every penny. Great infos and tips, thanks! ;)

Wanderer Claire said...

Hi Ceejay!
Thanks for the nice comments. :-)
Worth it ang thorough planning plus i subscribed to domestic airlines in South Korea for promo advisory. Actually KTX is more expensive than airfare from Busan to Seoul but for the sake of experience, I went for it. Next time, I'll take the much slower train to enjoy the countryside. Hopefully next year, I'll explore more of the other provinces.Goodluck on your prep! :-)