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

La Perouse

WOW… It’s already 2014. I still need to stop for a second to make myself belief that I should type that 4 instead of 3. I have not really sat down to ponder what my resolutions should be this year, but I know what I did not get to finish last year. So, those will be automatically carried over to this year. I can be a bit pessimistic, sometimes. What’s the use of thinking about resolutions if at the end we will fail, anyway? Just look at a fitness gym that is crowded in the first few weeks of the year, and then it dies out after that. It really does not take long to quit because that’s the direction of the gravity.

But I’ll encourage having your resolutions (and mine) down. It is good to know what we are lacking, and to continuously challenge ourselves to be better. It is also to let some closest people know about the your resolutions so that they can check on you from time to time. Having said that, I’d do mine ASAP.

I finally visited La Perouse in the beginning of this year. It was a sunny, hot day, and the streets were still quite empty. From the CBD to La Perouse, it took about 45 minutes by bus. When I got there, I did not press the STOP button because I thought that the bus would stop because it was its last. Wrong.. The bus driver automatically turned and almost took me back to the city because she did not realize I was there. (Maybe one of my resolutions will be to make myself more visible to others?) Good thing, I shouted ‘Stop, please’ immediately.

2014-01-02 08.08.24 2014-01-02 08.16.00 2014-01-02 08.22.49 2014-01-02 08.25.06 2014-01-02 08.26.58 2014-01-02 08.30.04 2014-01-02 08.34.45 2014-01-02 08.40.49 2014-01-02 08.43.25 2014-01-02 08.47.09

There were not many people around, so I could take time to relax and enjoy the view. I spotted a beach, and some people fishing. Then I walked crossing the bridge to Bare Island, which used to be a military fort and now open for a guided tour. I saw some steps down from the bridge, so I walked down around the island a little bit. Carefully stepping on the rocks to avoid being wet, I was subsequently laughed at by a passing scuba diver. I gave up. Brrrr…. it’s cold but refreshing at the same time. I love the sound of the water hitting the rocks and the view of little flowers spreading out in the field;. It reminds of the passage in the Bible where it mentions that God takes care of every little creation, including us. (Matthew 6: 25-34)

May 2014 be a great year for all of you! May it be a year of more giving and loving. 🙂

%d bloggers like this: