South Korea: A Love Affair

I didn’t think my post about the trip will be this long. But since I can still recall the details, why not to put as much as I can.

Day 3

Place visited: Pyeongchang, Hongdae Area

Accommodation: Sis N Bro Guesthouse

Method of Transport to guesthouse from Pyeongchang: taxi to Japngpyeong, then bus to Dong Seoul Terminal (Gangbyeon), and subway to Hongik University.

The bed was so comfortable. In fact, all of us had a hard time waking up early. When we looked out from the balcony, I was amazed that we made it Pyeongchang despite the we had to face. The view was all white because of the fresh snow. My parents were excited as it was their first time seeing and experiencing snow that they could only imagine or see on TV before. We did not have sufficient time to try skiing, and my dad was too old for sledding (the upper age limit is 55). So, we just enjoyed what we could: Snow ball fight!

View from hotel room

View from hotel room

Photo Feb 07, 6 33 43 PM Photo Feb 07, 7 09 55 PM

It was heaps of fun and we were quite geared up for the snow, so no complain at all regarding the weather. I guess snow has its own magic that makes all of us young at hearts. Saying that, have you watched Frozen yet? You should if you haven’t :)

After having lunch, we had to leave Pyeongchang for Seoul. It was short, but sweet. I’m just grateful for time we as family could spend together and for the good memories we made.

Bibimbap

Bibimbap

When we arrived in Seoul, it was snowing! Since the temperature in Seoul was higher, the snow just melted as it touched the ground, giving an impression as rain rather than snow. We had to go get our luggages that we left at Banana Backpackers and moved to Sis N Bro guesthouse located in Hongik University (Hongdae) area. Maybe you are wondering why we had to stay in that area. The next day all of us had to fly,  I just came across Hongdae when researching the most convenient place to stay to catch the train to the airports.

Sis N Bro Guesthouse is quite unique. It also has a heated floor, something that is apparently very common in South Korea. Even when it was during the old times, the palace, for example, already had heated flooring. At that time, the building was built on top of  a stove. To make sure they were not burning themselves, the floor was supported by stones, rather than wood. By burning firewood, the heat was transferred to floor, and the smoke was exhausted through chimneys. In the modern days, they use heated water pipes instead of flow of heat generated from burning wood. My younger brother thought the concept was awesome, and he might incorporate this idea in his future home. If that’s the case, I shall visit you often, brother!

Korean traditional fireplace to heat the floor

Korean traditional fireplace to heat the floor

The chimney to exhaust the smoke from the underground passage.

The chimney to exhaust the smoke from the underground passage.

We had some take-out food for dinner. Yep, don’t say take-away or food to-go because people there may not understand you. The word ‘take-out’ will save your night. I think we bought some fried rice and some pizza from a local shop. The pizza was so good, but from the standpoint of people who had rice continuously for three days. Rice is just everywhere in South Korea.

Spicy Chicken Pizza

Spicy Chicken Pizza

 

Day 4

Place visited: Gimpo International Airport, Jeju Island

Accommodation: Sum Guesthouse

Method of Transport in Jeju: rental car

A new day was dawning; we were set to a much awaited adventure – Jeju Island. My youngest brother had to bid goodbye first to South Korea as he had to start school. The rest of us headed to Gimpo for our flight to Jeju. We used T’way Airlines, which is a budget airlines that offers domestic route from Seoul to Jeju. We booked our tickets online and got the promotion price. The website was only in Korean, but with the help of Google translate, we somehow could manage the reservation. Jeju Air has a website in English, making the booking easier. However, at the time of the reservation, we couldn’t find any flights.

My brother also booked a car equipped with a GPS in Jeju. I forgot the company’s name, but it was affiliated with Hertz. After arriving, we were transported using a shuttle to pick up the car. For your information, you will need international driver’s license to drive in Korea. It also employs right-hand traffic just like in the US.

After settling the logistics, we headed out for lunch. Jeju is famous for its seafood and black pork. I’m not sure which place to try, but using the GPS to find the closest restaurant, we came across a place serving hotpot and BBQ with black pork. The place was called Jejujangteo Pork Restaurant (제주 장 터). When I saw the menu, I thought the price was reasonable. What I meant to order was two servings of black pork hotpot and one serving of beef BBQ for my brother. I wasn’t sure about the portion, so it was better order a bit first and we could add more later. Our demographics consisted of some young women, tons of older people who have many health concerns, and one young man. You see why now I didn’t want to go all out with food. However, the restaurant people misunderstood me. We were divided into three tables. Two tables have the hotpot, and the other has the BBQ. Then, came the food. Two huge plates of thinly sliced black pork, ready to be dipped in the boiling soup, tons of fresh veggies, and complete set of condiments. The beef plate for the BBQ was also huge. I forgot which beef part it was, but it has couple-of-centimeter-width of fat part. Sure, it’d be good, but who could finish it.

I finally understood why we had so much food. They just served us 6 servings of black pork and 3 servings of BBQ beef. The food was really good; I can’t argue with that. But I felt bad not being able to finish it. They almost served us some noodle with the hotpot, but we just declined saying we couldn’t take it anymore. The beef BBQ had a strong impression on me. Grill it, wrap it using lettuce together with some sauce and other side dishes. Super tasty, but fatty.

Black pork hotpot

Black pork hotpot

The veggies

The veggies

Fatty bbq beef

Fatty bbq beef

After very satisfying lunch, we started our adventure in Jeju with the Mysterious Road (Dokkaebi Road). We had a hard time pinpointing the exact location in the GPS, but if you are going to the right direction, you’ll find brown road signs, indicating common tourist spots. Just follow the sign, and you’ll be fine. The portion of the road that appears mysterious is only 100-meter long. Do not expect too much, because even when you walk along the road, you may not find anything special about it. OK, I’ll tell you then. The road just appears slightly inclined. So, suppose if we let a bottle roll by giving it a bit of push to start with, we will expect it to roll up a little bit, and then roll back to us. Interestingly, that is not case. The bottle keeps rolling up. Is there no  gravity there? According to the law of energy, this doesn’t make any sense.

Mysterious Road

Mysterious Road

Actually we failed with the bottle experiment. We tried using the car by shifting the gear to neutral. The car was supposed to stop if the road is inclined, but it kept going albeit very slowly. Ta-da, that was the ‘mystery’ part of the road. If you wonder why, it is caused by optical illusion. The road is actually  not inclined, but the high surroundings make it look like that. According to Wikipedia, there are apparently many places around the world that exhibit similar illusion. If you are into this kind of thing, you can start a list.

Along the road, there is only one shop selling food, putting signs in English, Chinese, and surprisingly Indonesian. One of the shop attendants can even converse in basic Indonesian. I was impressed, but that just means that the road is often visited by Indonesian tour groups.

Since it was getting colder, we opted for an indoor activity at the Trick Art Museum. There are actually many museums to visit, but I was not sure which we all would enjoy. We just ended up with that one. The admission ticket was quite pricey comparing to that for visiting palaces. If you are into taking ‘cool’ pictures, it will be a great place to visit.

Trick Art Museum

Trick Art Museum

Finishing with the museum, we then visited Jeju Folk Village. It was really windy, so nobody tried to take any pictures. We just did a quick walking around, led by a friendly Korean lady who spoke to us in Korean just because she could not speak English or Indonesian. Jeju Folk Village was used as the filming site for Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the Palace). I didn’t know that before until the Korean lady mentioned it. Jeju island is covered in volcanic rock, so the traditional houses made use of what was abundant for the their materials. The lady ended up taking us into one room where she tried selling some cactus flower jam and some kind of tea that tasted sweet. We ended up buying the tea as a way to say ‘thank you’ for giving us the tour.

After saying good bye to the lady, we headed back to the guesthouse as the day turned dark.

South Korea: Let the Journey Begin

Continuing from my previous post, organizing our itinerary took a bit of time. I used the itineraries of paid tours, blogs, and visitkorea.or.kr. Thanks to my brother, we had a copy of the travel guide which came in handy when we traveled using subway in Seoul. I recommend getting it, which is free of charge once you register to the site to familiarize yourself with places you are planning to visit.

Still, we could not visit all places we wanted due to our limited time and resources. But, for your info, here is the list of the places we went and things we did:

Day 1

Place visited: Gyeongbokgung Palace

Accommodation: Banana Backpackers, Jongno-gu

Closest subway station: Jongno-3-ga and Anguk

We arrived in Seoul in the morning. Taking the subway from the Airport to Jongno-3-ga took us more than one hour. Make sure to buy T-money card at the Airport (I think it’s available in the convenience stores), which is a convenient and cheaper payment method if you will use public transports extensively. I forgot to do this, so we just bought individual tickets every time we got on the subway. And believe me, it took some time if you are traveling with a large number of people. With T-money,  you can just scan your card and go.

Riding subway from the international airport is quite convenient although you are with a luggage as elevators and escalators are available. However, when we had to transfer to a different line to get to Jongno-3-ga station, it was a different story. Perhaps we missed the elevator, but what in front of us were only stairs. So, we had no choice but to carry our own luggage. Some Koreans were nice enough to help us with carrying part.

Finding Banana Backpackers was not that easy as well because it was not located on the main street. After we got there, we were exhausted and took some time to rest.

After replenishing our energy, we walked to Gyeongbokgung Palace. It is well known as the largest of five palaces built during Joseon Dynasty. The admission costs 3000 won, but if you have time and are planning to visit several palaces, it will be better to get the combination ticket that costs 10,000 won and is valid at 5 palaces within one month of purchase. We made use of the free English guided tour offered at the Palace at 15:30. The tour guide was a nice lady with very thick Korean accent. I  had a hard time following her in the beginning, but it was better once I got used to it. If you want to get a glimpse of Gyeongbokgung Palace, I recommend watching The Moon that Embraces the Sun, a historical drama that used Gyeongbokgung Palace as the setting. From the Palace, you can also walk to the National Folk Museum and the Blue House, which is equivalent to the US White House. Unfortunately, by the time we finished the tour, it was close to 5 pm. The guards asked us to leave the premises soon as they were going to close. We wandered a bit in the area and found a street food stall selling fish cakes, hotteok (pancake with brown sugar filling), and dumplings with various fillings. They all tasted so good because we were very hungry and cold.

Gyeongbokgung Palace DSC_2956

Day 2

Place visited: Nami Island, Pyeongchang

Accommodation: Holiday Inn AlpensiaPyeongchang Suite

Method of Transport to Nami Island: Train to Gapyeong Station, then taxi to Namiseom parking lot, and finally ferry to Nami Island. Admission ticket includes the ferry.

Method of Transport to hotel: Bus from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (Gangbyeon subway station) to Jangpyeong and the a free shuttle bus to Phoenix Park from 9 am to 9 pm.

If you have never heard of Nami Island, maybe you at least know the famous Ginkgo tree lane in Winter Sonata. To my disappointment, there was no snow that day. However, we still took a lot of pictures and ate some ice cream and corns on the cobs. We left Nami Island in the afternoon, and we were planning to head back to Banana backpackers to get our luggages before leaving for Pyeongchang.

Boarding the ferry to Nami Island

Boarding the ferry to Nami Island

DSC_3188

After our back experience with carrying luggages the day before, I had an idea to leave them at Banana Backpackers. Fortunately, they agreed to keep them for 1,000 won per piece per day. I thought the price was a great deal, so we only took what we needed for the next day and left the rest in Seoul. We wanted to go to Pyeongchang as part of the Ski resort trip. It’s winter, so snow shouldn’t be missed. Why Pyeongchang? There are many ski resorts to visit in South Korea. I looked it up, and it seemed like a great place with many things to do. Plus, it will be hosting the next Winter Olympics in 2018. Sounds cool, right?

Anyway, it was quite a drama to get there. When we arrived in Dong Seoul Bus Terminal to buy the bus ticket to Jangpyeong, it was already 8.15 pm. The lady at the counter told me the last bus was 8:05 pm, and there was no other way to get there except by taking taxi. Ouch… we were just late by several minutes. I tried asking one taxi driver how much it would cost to go to Pyeongchang. He pressed some buttons on his GPS, probably to find out how far it was, and later replied 200,000 won. Here’s the problem: there were 9 of us, and one taxi can only accommodate up to 4 passengers. If I strictly followed this, then we would need to spend 600,000 won just for the taxi. I was terrified, but did not know what to do as we have already booked the hotel at Pyeongchang that night. I tried to call 1330 – the tourist information center, hoping that they could suggest some possible solutions,  but it did not work. Fortunately, my outgoing brother has a Korean friend, and she helped to arrange a huge taxi that could accommodate all of us at once. At first, we agreed that it would cost us 260,000 won, but later on the taxi driver mentioned there would be heavy snow in Pyeongchang. So, we settled on 300,000 won. By the way, the taxi’s name was Jumbo taxi and I thought it was great that they have a big-capacity taxi. All nine of us squeezed in and left for Pyeongchang.

As we were getting closer to our destination, almost all of us fell asleep except my aunt. She was panicking when she saw some cars in front of us stopped due to the heavy snow. However, we were too tired to respond and let her be. The taxi driver later on said he would have to spend a night there because it was impossible to get back to Seoul that night. Sorry, Ahjussi for involving you in this. But, thank God we arrived in our hotel safe and sound. It was around 1 am already.

When we opened the taxi door, piles of snow welcomed us. I couldn’t imagine if we took our luggages with us. How in the world would we carry them? Maybe put them on top of our heads? And man, it was freezing and dark. We had troubles finding the lobby although we managed at the end. We found comfort in our suites. The floor was heated, and we had a chance in semi-ondol room with futon and traditional pillow. All of us had a hard time waking up the next day. That was how we ended our second day.

 

South Korea: A Prologue

I finally celebrated Chinese New Year with my whole family again after about 7 years or more celebrating it separately. No big drama, but nothing exciting happening in my hometown either. My guess is because our city mayor is not very supportive of the celebration (just a random political opinion).

Anyway, since we were together, we were planning for a trip. Our ( or my dad’s and my) first choice went to China, particularly Beijing area. We were dying to see the Great Wall with our own eyes. And somehow before I went back, I happened to watch some videos taking place there, like thepianoguys and an old episode of running man. I told myself that I was gonna be there soon.

After researching and pondering, going to China during Chinese New Year didn’t seem to a good idea. Not to mention that my family has very little exposure to real winter, except one of my younger brothers who had lived in the upper state before. I was not sure if we could survive and enjoy the trip.

Then other places that popped out in my mind were Japan, South Korea, and Indochina. The best time to visit Japan is when the cherry blossoms are blooming although I know that every season always has different things to offer. But then, my parents are not a big fan of Japanese food. It would be a waste to go there without indulging in delicious, traditional food. So, I had to cross Japan out and save it for a trip with friends with similar minds.

I also then crossed out Indochina very soon because we couldn’t afford to much time spent on the road moving from one place to another. The only thing left now is South Korea. I was never that interested in South Korea until I watched running man when they went to the traditional markets. It’s also a quite popular shopping destination, especially for its cosmetics products. So Mother, I shall not disappoint you. The other determining factor is that it will be snowing there. “Wait, I know I did mention we may not survive harsh winter. But, what if  that’s only for a couple of days? Mom and dad have never seen real snow anyway. When else will they have the opportunity to experience it?” It’s now or never.”

So, Korea, get ready for us!

One of places I visited

One of places I visited

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