May 2011: Wrapping Up My Seoul Adventure (My own observation, tips, budget, places to visit)

Well, to wrap up all of my experiences in Seoul, I wanna say that Seoul is really a nice city to visit. I’m saying this in an unbiased way (even if I’m a korean series addict). I can see that it is way better than Hong Kong or Singapore in terms of things you can do, places to visit, and performances that you can watch. You have a lot to choose from if you visit Seoul….

Anyway, here are my observations:

1. South Koreans love coffee…

In Seoul, you can’t see a corner without a coffeeshop. Kyo (Korean friend and volunteer tour guide) told us that only few of the coffee shop there goes bankrupt.

Moreover, Seoul is not invaded by Starbucks or Coffeebean franchises instead locals make their own brands and own shop. So, you can see a lot of coffeeshops with an unknown name or brand. And you can see that each of the coffee shops have their own themes. So, next time I’ll visit Seoul, I will go coffeeshop–hopping!

2. South Koreans can walk alot— with high heels!

I noticed that they are not that tired walking around the city…. Moreover, they walk using some high powered heels! When I say powered it means totally high. I stated this in my previous post.

3. Seoul is a safe place

Unlike Manila, if you leave your things unattended for some time, you will never see those things again… I tried not attending to my things while in Seoul, and when I look back “Chada! My things are still there” Unbelievable but true! But, for your own safety, don’t be too lax since bad guys are all over the planet

Moreover, we are ladies who strolled in the city streets during the darkest hour of the night… but nothing happened to us. We even enjoyed ourselves without worrying that something might happen to us

4. Some South Koreans are helpful

Well, if without the language barrier, they will really love to help. My friends and I were in trouble looking for the bus to go to the airport, and we didn’t know where the bus stop is. We really looked worried. Maybe that guy also waiting for his bus noticed our dilemma, so he helped us and pointed us the bus stop. I really thank him for that!

5. In Seoul, water is cheap

Unlike Singapore, the water in Seoul is really cheap. So, you have no worries on buying bottled water there

6. Seoul is cheap if you come by 3s or 4s

Food in Seoul is expensive if you eat alone, but if you eat in groups, it would not make your wallet cry that much. The serving size in Seoul is big… It is good for 2 or 3 persons, so food cost is not that big if you have someone to go together

Taxis are also expensive if you come alone (I’m comparing here using Philippine standards)    (But Singapore taxis are more expensive) since the cost will not be shared by the others. If you are traveling in 3s or 4s, taxi is a good option in traveling Seoul but walking in the city is better since you can see the sights and get acquainted with the city without spending any money.

Almost all wonderful sights are free or with a small charge (Cheongyecheon Stream, Banpo Bridge) only 10,000 KRW to all of the palaces or 1,000 KRW for each of the palace.

Airport bus is a good option, you will pay only 10,000 KRW and you are in Seoul already.

TIPS: (Especially for budget travelers)

  1.  Get discount coupons in the internet (through South Korea official website, click here)
  2. When you arrive in the airport, don’t forget to grab the map of Seoul in the information counters. You can also find some discount coupons there
  3. if your phone is not 3G, you can rent a phone in the airport
  4. Always bring a copy of your hostel or the place you wanna visit in Korean
  5. Buy a TMoney card. It is like an octopus card in Hong Kong, it is a rechargeable card where you can use for your transportation (even in taxis) and buy some stuff. When you pay using TMoney, it gives you discounted fares and you can also get some cool coupons if you buy one. You can buy one of these in any Convenience store
  6. If you wanna buy souvenirs, do it in Nandaemun Market
  7. If you wanna buy clothes do it in Dongdaemun Market (much cheaper)
Places to Visit (Things to do)
  1. North Tower (Namsan Tower)
  2. Palaces (Gyeongbokgung, Changdaekgung, Deoksukgung)
  3. Cheongyecheon Stream
  4. Nami Island -unfortunately, we are unable to visit
  5. either Lotte World or Everland –> these are theme parks, and kids will love them. Everland is bigger than Lotte World but the latter is nearer if you are staying in Seoul
  6. Watch JUMP or NANTA
  7. Eat Korean street food, they are good! Then say to the seller “mahjisso” ma-ji-so which means yummy

My Budget

In the Philippines, the package tours going to Seoul is $1,000 (USD) for only 4 days and 3 nights stay. But if you go there without having to apply for package tours, you can save a lot more money. I only spent in Seoul P20,000.00 (Philippine peso) with some souvenir shopping. So, overall, I spent 25,300 Pesos for the entire trip including the airfare.

My budget was $1500 USD but I only spent less than $600

RECORDED EXPENSES: (Next Time I travel I will record everything.. sorry 😦 )

Hostel –> 75000 KRW per night x 4 nights / 3 persons == 100,000 KRW or P 3950 or $91.86 USD

Air Ticket –> we chanced upon a sale: 134 177 KRW or P5300 or $123.25 USD

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HAPPY WANDERING!

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May 2011: Seoul: The Wonderful Banpo Bridge and its surroundings

Well, after we went shopping in Myeongdong and Nandaemun Market, we went to the Banpo Bridge not only to see the bridge itself but to see the fountain show.

Banpo Bridge

Kyo (tour guide and friend) told us to meet her in one of the subway station in Seoul. After that, she brought us to the Banpo Bridge. It was cold when we went there, the sky also sprinkled us with water… But the walk is worth it.

On the Way to Banpo Bridge!!

If you watched some Korean dramas before, this bridge is really a popular spot for the lead roles to cry or to have their romantic scenes taken. From my previous posts, I already said that I’m a Korean series addict.. so, I think you already know the reason why I chose this place. But even if you don’t watch Korean series or movies… do not worry since its beauty and peacefulness will surely captivate you!

I also said in my previous posts that Seoul is somehow a City of Lovers. There are a lot of lovers out there and a lot of romantic places to explore. Banpo Bridge is one of those romantic places.

a very peaceful and romantic place

Strolling at night in this wonderful place is really something that will make you yearn for a boyfriend or a girlfriend. I even promised that when I come back to that place I should have a boyfriend!

Here, you can also witness the Musical Fountain Show. They call this show, Moonlight Rainbow Show, the show times are:

Weekdays: 12:00, 16:00, 20:00, 20:30, 21:00 (20min)
Weekends: 12:00, 14:00, 16:00, 18:00, 20:00, 20:30, 21:00, 21:30 (20min)

However, I suggest that you come here during the evening so that you can really see the colorful lights. And also, you should also alot more time for walking  (if you are planning to use the subway) since you need to walk a distance to get to the bridge, the subway station is quite far.

The fountain show

The  Banpo bridge fountain was said to be part of the Guiness Book of Records for world’s longest bridge fountain. It has 10,000 LED Nozzles.

Here, you can also see a night view of the city of Seoul.

Seoul from afar

Here, we also ate Korean ramen noodles. We bought some instant ramen in a convenience store in the area and brought it to the benches near the river (which has a good view of Seoul city lights).

Eating a hot and spicy ramen in a very peaceful and beautiful environment amid the cold weather was a very nice experience. You can feel the cold weather slipping to your neck and hands yet while eating the hot ramen, you can feel the hotness in your mouth.

The view also adds a relaxing touch…  It just made me feel very happy 🙂 It made me feel as if I’m eating a bowl of expensive noodles in a very expensive restaurant!

The feeling and the experience is just MAGIC!

May 2011: Seoul: Bukchon Hanok Village and the Hello Kitty Paradise

We went here during our third day in Seoul.

Right after we went to Gyeongbokgung Palace, we went to the Hanok Village. We only walked from Gyeongbokgung towards the Village. As a Filipino who is not acquainted with the word “walking” I ended up very tired. (in the Philippines, there’s a lot of pedicab (trishaw) or tricycles which will take you from one place to another) … Luckily, I’m not the only one who is tired.. my friends too… However, I think that Kyo (our Korean friend and tour guide) was not even close to the word tired. So my friends and I made a conclusion that these lovely Koreans have a high stamina for walking.

I also noticed that some of them are wearing 2-3 inches high heels (even if they took the subway). I am really amazed how agile they are… and how they are not tired or scared of walking with those high powered heels! Oh! God! here in the Philippines I won’t be able to move if I will be using those shoes, and most Filipinas (including me) have their “havaianas” or any brand of flip-flops on their bag if they wore those painstaking heels. They always change to their flops once they needed to walk or when office or school hours are over.

I miss this while I’m in Korea!!!     (pedicabs)                                
from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Inner_Manila_Pedicab.jpg
This one too! (tricycle)

Anyway,we went to the Hanok Village. We were able to visit the one in Bukchon.  It was really beautiful… It was said to be part of the UNESCO World Heritage. It was clean and well preserved.

This place is the counterpart of the Spanish houses in Vigan, Philippines. It was really cool to see preserved houses such as that. Moreover, since I’m a Korean series addict, I can feel that some of the dramas were filmed there. And Kyo told us that That’s my Preference held its shooting in one of the houses there.

Hanok Village consists of traditional old houses with a 600 year old history.  It is preserved to let you get a peek on what houses look like during the Joseon Dynasty. It is interesting since it is a blast from the past.

Hanok Village (picture taken by my Friend (L.O)
Hanok Village (taken by L.O)

After having to walk and hike and be enchanted by the Hanok Houses, we went to the Hello Kitty Cafe. The Cafe is quite far from the Hanok village so we used the subway. Kyo, showed us the way and we happily followed her… we are like chicks patiently following the hen. After that we found the coffee shop and I found my feet cheering with bliss. I was the first one to sat neatly in one of the cute and comfy chairs. It was really a Hello Kitty World! I love it! (although I’m not a big Hello Kitty fan since I like Tweety better than a mouthless cat) Anyway, I still loved the place, it was really cute! Hello Kitty fans or not… one will definitely enjoy in this wonderful place.

Hello Kitty Cafe entrance
Interior (So Cute!)

Anyway, the drinks they serve are also delicious.. I tried their Green tea latte, and the others tried vanilla and sweet potato latte. I tasted the sweet potato latte and it was really good! The taste of which haunts me even when I’m back here in Manila (thankfully, there is a Korean brand coffee shop opened near my school, so I can taste the sweet potato latte anytime I want!)

My Green tea latte (Yum!)
Latte (look at the Hello Kitty garnish… Cute isn’t it?

Everything you see in the Hello Kitty Cafe is Hello Kitty and her ribbons! (Cute!!!) This is surely a Hello Kitty Paradise!

decorations

Well, if I go back to Korea, I can still go back here and enjoy the Hello Kitty Ambiance.

Directions going to Hello Kitty Cafe: (I got the directions from: lovekimhyunjoong blog)

Hello Kitty Café – 헬로키티 카페
Address : 서울시 마포구 서교동 358-112
Tel : 02-334-6570
Opening Hours : 11:00~24:00 (Friday & Saturday)~2:00

  • Alight at Subway Line 2 Hongik University Station
  • Exit from No.5 exit and walk straight.
  • After walking for about 100m, after crossing the pedestrian crossing, turn to the left and walk straight.
  • As you walk along, on your right side, there would be a TONYMOLY shop at the corner.
  • Turn right and walk straight along the main street.
  • On the left side of the main street, enter the first turn in you see and you should be able to see the shop.

After having some chitchat with Kyo in this Paradise, we retired to our hotel and had some good night sleep..

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HAPPY WANDERING!

May 2011: Seoul: Palaces and Jongmyo Shrine

We visited 3 palaces in Seoul…  and the Jongmyo Shrine….

My friends and I actually envy South Korea of having beautiful and grand palaces for their king and queens. I drooled on the grandeur of the palaces and their rich history. I also hope that the Philippines have such beautiful palaces —- 😦

For our first day in Seoul, I was really amazed on how big and grand the Deoksukgung Palace is.. and I also loved the fact that I can have my picture taken anywhere without other person sneaking in…. I can have the whole palace alone or only with my friends… It was really peaceful and beautiful…

Tips:

  1.  Buy the package worth 10,000 KRW which include the entrance fee for 5 palaces + entrance to the Secret Garden and the Jongmyo Shrine
  2. Recharge your camera batteries
  3. Sleep Well because you will do a lot of walking
  4. If you think that palaces are boring…. you can visit either Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, or Daeksukgung… any of these places are wonderful…

1. Deoksukgung Palace

This is the first palace we visited in Seoul. We are amazed on how big it is… although this is really small compared to Gyeongbokgung but it has few visitors than the other palaces… It is also colorful and is also well preserved.

Daeksukgung palace with the guards

One of the things you should not miss during your visit in any of the Palaces is the Changing of the Guards Ceremony… Gyeongbokgung and Deoksukgung Palaces have this kind of ceremony. In Deoksukgung, we had witnessed the ceremony by 3:30 pm. The performance schedule is 11:00am / 2:00pm / 3:30pm.

throne hall
throne of the Emperor

2. Gyeongbokgung Palace

This is the 2nd palace we visited in Seoul. It is really huge! I was really tired after visiting this Palace.

In my own opinion, I prefer Deoksukgung palace than Gyeongbokgung since you can also see in the former the things you can see in the latter.  There is also more visitors in Gyeongbokgung than in Deoksukgung, which means that Gyeongbokgung is more crowded than Deoksukgung. However, there is no beautiful lake in Deoksukgung… So, if you wanna see the lake then visit Gyeongbokgung.

It is good if you have a local to accompany you… since this is really a big place and you might get lost easily and it’s better if there is someone to tour you around the area and to explain to you the importance of the places in the palace.

the lake

3. Changdeokgung Palace

The last palace we visited in Seoul. We only had 30 minutes to spend on this place, and we weren’t able to go to the Secret garden within this palace.

This palace is part of the UNESCO World Heritage, which is a really must-see in Seoul. What is also wonderful in this place is that they have interactive activities, such as you can see some employees wearing “hanbok” (Korean Traditional dress) and can give you coffee or snacks for free.

Moreover, once you bought the ticket for the Secret Garden, you can have a tour inside and they will provide you with a guide. However, they have tour times. The English speaking tour starts by 1pm (which we unfortunately missed)

Anyway, here are the pictures

4. Jongmyo Shrine

This is like the Temple of Heaven in China where they praise their gods and their elders. This is really a peaceful and a very beautiful place to visit. It is near Changdeokgung, so you can plan your itinerary for this place and the Changdeokgung in one day.

This place is also very peaceful.. however, this is more peaceful than Deoksukgung. But this place is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage, so it is a must-see.

Unlike palaces, which have mostly buildings which cover the area, this place have a lot of trees, which covers the whole area. It is a good place if you are asking for serenity.

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HAPPY WANDERING!

May 2011: Seoul: Meteor Youth Organization

Meteor Youth organization or sometimes called as Meteor teens is an organization composed of various student volunteers. Their main tasks is to accommodate visitors or tourists in Seoul. They provide tour around the city for free. They can also provide homestay accommodation upon request.

logo of Meteor Youth

I found the Meteor teens website in the internet when I was searching for volunteer tour guides in Seoul. I was suprised that there are a lot of people booking their tours with them. So, I decided to try it.

Even though in their website it states that the tour guides are responsible for their own food and ticket fee, which means that everything is free… I told my friends that as a sign of gratitude, we should give back to our tour guide by paying for their entrance tickets and buying food for them.

Although the meteor teens didn’t reply to our message promptly, they still contacted us on the third day of our trip… Our tour guide/friend was Dakyo Chung. She is very friendly and helpful…She made our stay much more interesting. we learned a lot from her. It is good to get a tour guide (free or not) since having one will save you a lot of time and brain cells (first, because it will lessen the time from stopping and looking at your map, and second, it will help you not to get lost) Moreover,  when you come home you will have another friend in Facebook!

The delay in their reply was deeply explained to us by Kyo, she said that it was really hard to get a volunteer guide during that time since our travel date are in the midst of their midterm exams. I really understand the Meteor teens and I’m still glad that I booked my holiday with them.

Anyway, to book your tour, you can visit their website here. You can fill up the form in that page and you should wait for their reply. You should book your tour at least 2 weeks before your arrival date, so that they will have enough time to find you a guide.

Kyo, our tour guide is really friendly and can speak English very well… I adore you Kyo! See you soon! And I thank Meteor Youth for having such a good cause… it really helps! Mabuhay ang Meteor Youth!

Kyo: Our Friend… we miss you!!!

  
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May 2011: JUMP and Cheongyecheon Stream

After doing some “shopping” , we went to watch the well known JUMP martial arts performance. We got some discount vouchers for this performance.

We were planning on riding the taxi to get there but 3 taxis refused us saying that they don’t know the place… but one taxi took us but suddenly stopped and said “You!” I was shocked because he said that in a loud voice. He is pointing to me since I was the one in the front seat) and in a loud voice said “Walk! Walk! Walk!” I really thought that he wanted to kick me out! Anyway,  even though his English is not that good he said that the theater is really near our place and we should walk… So, we just laughed it out and stubbornly started to walk.

I noticed that we passed by the Cheongyecheon stream when we are looking for (or when we are currently getting lost) the JUMP Theater. Cheongyecheon stream is considered as one of the tourist spots in Seoul, so it become part of our itinerary. However, I found that  in reality it is not a tourist place since most of the people who goes there are locals, you can only see few tourists there. However, what makes this place, a lot more interesting is that it is a LOVERS’ paradise.. (that time… I really envied those women with boyfriends.. I wanted a handsome man to pop out from nowhere and be with me that day!). I noticed that there’s really alot of lovers that are dating there, so Singles beware! Strolling there alone will just make you yearn for a love one! However, this is not the only place where you can see a lot of lovers, THEY are all around Seoul. You can easily spot them since 1.) they are walking hand in hand 2.) they are wearing couple shirts which is very popular there 3.) They kiss in public.

Cheongyecheon Stream during Sunset

I also saw a mother and son strolling in Cheongyecheon… and this is the cute little one:

Cute Little Boy strolling in the Cheongyecheon Stream

JUMP on the other hand is really good! Here is my review from tripadvisor:

JUMP

This comic-martial art performance or theater act is really interesting. At first, we are hesitant to go since there are still a lot of places to visit Seoul instead of staying and watching this but after we watched the real deal, I suggest that anyone going to Seoul should watch this. It is really funny… I can’t stop laughing throughout the whole show!

If you want to laugh and be happy, then try this. I assure you that this is not a waste of time! we are picky travelers with a very limited time but we opt to watch this, it proved us that our choices were correct. I’m so glad I watched this performance.

The tickets are sold in the theater itself, I suggest that you come early as tickets tend to sold out immediately since there are a lot of reservations and such. Waiting for the ticket-counter to open, since it open exactly at the time it is stated in the brochures, is no problem at all since there is a big coffeebean, a coffeeshop, outside the theater itself, or you can go strolling in cheongyecheon stream ‘one of the romantic places in Seoul’, The stream is nearby, so you can easily go there first before the opening time of the ticket-counters

The Coffebean in the theater is big… and what it made me interested are the buzzers which I thought is a saucer where you put your drink. My friends and I were really confused on what it was… then it suddenly vibrated which tells us that it is a kind of an alarm… it will vibrate if your order is ready and signals you to go to the pick-up counter to get it…

The “Alien” Buzzer

Moreover, if you arrive South korea in their international airport, don’t forget to get discount coupons, we got one and we got 10%discount and seat upgrades (much nearer to the screens), check their customer service or counters.

And if you are planning to take a taxi, always make sure that you have the address written in Hanggul or in Korean… since most of the taxi drivers (orange and gray taxis cannot speak english— except for the black painted taxis or the luxury taxis)

So, after the Jump experience, we went to find some place to eat… we thought that the restaurant we went to is a place for eating hot soups or what they call as “hot pots” but instead it is for samgyupsal or pork belly which are cut into strips and is eaten like a lettuce wrap.

Here are some pictures along the way, I really don’t know what this place is…

Seoul at night

After that, we went back to our hostel and slept….

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May 2011: Lotte Department Store: A very different department store experience

After having to hike Namsan Mountain and its surroundings, we went directly to our hostel since I really cannot stand the cold (Just imagine Seoul is already cold, what more being in a high mountain like Namsan?!!) As a Filipino who is not used in such kind of climate, it made my knees literally locked which made me unable to move anymore (I’m like an old lady who cannot walk… I thought that time that it was arthritis!)  Anyway, when we got back to the hotel, I told my friend to leave me in the room and told them to eat their dinner instead on staying with me. I was really feeling under the weather during that time, so I opted not to eat dinner.

When they came back, they realized that I’m really red, and I also felt very cold which gave me chills. I realized that I’m feeling cold even though I’m wearing my sweater and jacket, and I’m already covered with a thick comforter. Afterwards, I felt that my heart was beating so fast… I just don’t know what to do..  Then suddenly I can’t breathe anymore… and there’s a pain in my chest that I do not understand. I was praying to God not to let me die in a foreign place! I was thinking that my parents will be really sad… I was missing Manila during that time! Then, my friends calmed me down, and told me to drink medicine. After knowing that hospital is not an option (It was said to be really expensive) I fell asleep…

The next morning, I was feeling much better, and I have no fever anymore. So, instead of going to Everland theme park, as stated in our itinerary, we opted to have this day as our shopping day… we went to the nearby lotte department store and we watched a comic martial arts theater act which is entitled as JUMP.

Well, the Lotte department store is really —> expensive…. Well, here in the Philippines, the ones inside the department store are not branded goods… only designer “not well known ones” but a lot cheaper goods than those bought in mall boutiques. Well, it was really funny because we thought we can buy a lot of things there…. but…….. I will say nothing anymore.. since I only bought a Guess bag..

Well, here in the Philippines, Guess is quite an expensive brand and it has also its own boutique shop here, while in Seoul, it is only a small stand there just like Secosana stands in department stores here. While doing some eye-shopping, I saw the stand stating that Guess has a 50% sale, my eyes immediately widened and then I excitedly leap forward to buy a bag. The tag says 90,000 KRW. Well, I used my remaining math skills and knew that I will buy the bag for only 45,000 KRW which is only around P1,800.00… Well, I decided to buy it but suddenly when I’m about to buy it… when I’m already in the cashier (which is really– a-no-turning back point) the saleslady told me that the discounted price was the 90,000 KRW…  So it is around $100 USD. “Oh, what the heck! I thought it was the original price! It is really different here in the Philippines, which the regular price is still the one in the tag, or there will be orange or red colored tag which indicates that it was the discounted price…. Anyway, I bought it with a heavy heart! *tears… if only I knew earlier

We saw a lot of branded goods in the department store, it is like a shopping haven to those who really have money… It is not a department store.. It is like a mall and boutique shops here in the Philippines…

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