Autumn is Here

Next to spring (봄 – bom yes that same name of 2NE1 lead vocal), autumn is my next favorite season in Korea.  Autumn is 가울 (gaeul) in Korean and if you have watched Boys Over Flowers you might have known this as the name of Jandi’s best friend.  The weather starts to get cooler in autumn and this is the perfect time to walk around and enjoy the beauty of Korea.

Autumn in Nami

This year I will get to experience autumn once more and hopefully to see more of the wonderful colors of the season.  When maple leaves changes color from green to yellow to orange or red this called 단풍 물들다 (danpung muldeulda).  Picture above is taken from Nami Island in September of 2015.  Korea Tourism Organization says peak of the changing of colors happens this October.

Autumn is also called fall for the simple reason that this is the season where the leaves of trees start to fall off.  This is described as 낙엽 (nakyeop) or falling of leaves. By winter time, the trees would have lost its leaves.

seoraksan

During fall, Koreans love to go on hiking and Seoraksan is one of the best destinations of the season.  This place, which can be reached by 3 hour bus ride from Seoul, is filled with locals and tourist.  It offers various hiking trail with different levels of difficulty.

I am too excited to experience autumn once more and hoping to see the beautiful Garusogil lined up with trees in yellow or red.

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The Charm of Spring

It has been my fourth spring in Korea and I am still loving it.  I am mesmerized by the beauty of cherry blossoms and the cool weather that goes along with the surroundings. Just like how the first snow can be romantic, looking at cherry blossoms while the wind gently let the petals fall brings the same lovely feeling.

Cherry blossoms has started in Nami when we visited April 9.  It was a Saturday but it was not so crowded compared to April 2015 visit when it was so jam packed that the queue to take the ferry reached the line of pine trees.  That day was a perfect day to enjoy Nami.  No matter how many times you have been to Nami you will always be enchanted by its beauty.

Nami

A closer look at those beautiful cherry blossoms.  I guess all the trees will be in full bloom by April 12 or 13.

Cherry Blossoms

There are so many places to check for cherry blossoms when in Seoul and the National Assembly road parallel to the Han River is a good place to enjoy it within the city. From experience, the full blossoms in this area happens somewhere between April 12-15.  We visited April 11 and some trees are yet to bloom, nevertheless about 60% of trees are in bloom.  Strolling around while having some street food made me forget the time.

National Assembly

By this time, I guess cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Yeouido.  Enjoying the cool breeze of Han river at the Hangang Park while having some picnic would be something worth doing.

The queen of all the cherry blossoms in Korea is right at Jinhae in the province of Gyeongsangnam-do. The Cherry Blossoms in this town happens between April 1-10.  This year we visited on the last day.  The cherry blossoms is almost over.  There were still a lot but it was not as full as when I visited March 31 of 2014.  You can spot the difference below.

Yeojwacheon
Yeojwacheon April 2016
Yeojwacheon March 2014
Yeojwacheon March 2014

I realized that taking the earliest KTX from Seoul to Masan is the fastest and most convenient way to visit Jinhae for a day tour.  Last time we took the bus from Seoul Nambu terminal.  The bus was comfortable but taking the train cuts the travel time but at least an hour.  From Masan, taking a cab was no problem at all going to Jinhae.  It just cost 15,000KRW.  The KTX is more expensive than bus but time is more important for us who were just spending day in Jinhae.

Gyeonghwa

Visit to Jinhae is not complete without checking out the Gyeonghwa station.  The railroad is lined with trees that almost turned the place pink.  This is an old station its no longer operating, the government left one of the old KORAIL train in display.

Petals

A lot of people were taking video on this place, the wind is blowing and it was creating something like ‘petal rain’.  I can almost see my self visiting this place in the next Spring time.  I am yet to see another autumn to replace spring as the best season to enjoy South Korea.

벚꽃 (beokkott) means cherry blossoms in Korea.

진해의 벚꽃 아름다운이에요

Fall In Love with Fall

Late October and Early November is the best time to experience Autumn in South Korea. Next to spring, autumn is my favorite season to be in South Korea.  This is when the leaves turn red.  The weather is not to hot and not to cold and for some reasons the surroundings warms the heart.  Maybe its the mix of yellow and read leaves which brings that feeling.  How I love this season.

Autumn Leaves. Photo courtesy of the Visit Korea Website.

Autumn in Korea is 가을 (gaeul). Just like 봄 (bom) or spring, 가을 is used as given name for girls.  Other than being born on autumn, the warmth of this season and the good weather are common inspiration to give such name to a pretty little one.

During this season a visit to a park is truly a wonderful experience.  Imagine walking with trees painted in yellow and red.  The falling leaves is the autumn’s version of cherry blossoms.

Fall in Munsu along Gochang Road. Picture courtesy of Visit Korea website.

So how do you say the weather is good today (because it is usually during autumn)?

  • 날씨가 좋네요. (Nalshiga choneyo – The weather is good)
  • 가을의 날씨가 좋다! (Gaeuri nalshiga choda! – The weather during autumn is good)

I feel like going to South Korea Now! If only I have Harry Potter’s floo powder, I’d be there on an instant and fall in love with autumn leaves *sigh*

A Day in Jinhae

It been almost a month since I came back from a short visit to South Korea.  I am writing about our day trip to the country side which led us to this wonderful place called Jinhae.

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March 31, 2014 was a perfect day to be in Jinhae in South Korea.  As the Koreans would say 대박! We were so lucky to be in this place the right time. I made our booking as early as October 2013 with little hope that we will get to see cherry blossoms.  Heavens conspired with our earnest desire to see this wonderful event.  Our flight back is April 1, a day before we go back to homeland we spent the whole day in Jinhae walking.  Yes…after getting off the bus terminal we never took a bus or taxi and roamed around walking.

Everywhere we set our eyes, there was cherry blossoms. Jinhae is hometown to the biggest cherry blossoms in South Korea. It was a good decision to be there a day before the festival. Almost all the trees are in full bloom.

Streets of Jinhae

Since this is a day before the actual festival, there were no direct Korail routes yet.  During the actual festival a special train schedule is made available by Korail that takes passenger from Seoul direct to Jinhae.  However, on ordinary days, the express bus is the fastest and most convenient way to go to Jinhae.  From Seoul, the Nambu Bus Terminal has regular bus trips to Jinhae.

Nambu Bus Terminal

The terminal is right outside Nambu Bus Terminal subway station of the green line. It was convenient to take this line as our hostel is in Hongdae.  This bus terminal is pretty organized.  We were able to buy our ticket in advance and the bus left on time as scheduled.

The cherry blossoms appears to be the main attraction but in the festival is to commemorate Korean Admiral Yi who led a successful battle with Japanese.  This festival is called 군항제 (Gunhangje).

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The streets were getting ready for the first day of festival when we arrived.  There were food stalls line just before the main rotunda. We had a taste of Korean street food  from this lane.

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There were lots of  choices for the food and seems like roasted pork is one of the speciality being offered.  In the Philippines we call this lechon.  Having these stalls around gave me a taste of what the festival could be minus the crowd.  That day, there were many people but it was manageable.

Tents set-up for the festival featuring Korean food

Finally, a day in Jinhae will not be complete without seeing this wonderful place–the Yeojwacheon.  It’s like the Cheonggye stream in Seoul, it was a long path walk but this one is lined up with cherry blossoms.

The most famous spot in Jinhae

The place was breath taking. This made me realize that what I saw last 2013 was too little compared to this.  It felt like an endless walk.  I told my self, this is what 벚꽃 (beotkkot) is. The sakura of Korea.

Families and Couples enjoy this path walk with the trees in full bloom.

The weather was perfect for walking. It was not too cold nor hot.  This is what one perfect spring day should be.  This was one of the most memorable day I had in South Korea.

Cherry Blossoms

The trip to Jinhae was the culminating part in of our visit to South Korea this year.  The cherry blossoms brought happiness and energy to us.  This is something that I would definitely want to do again.

Spring! Spring! Spring!

I am officially a fan of 봄 (bom)! Not just the lead vocal of the very famous Korean girl group 2NE1 박봄 (Park Bom)  but the season itself.  A lot of K-Pop fans would probably know that 봄 means spring in Korea.  This year I am fortunate enough to travel again to South Korea.  It is my 6th time to visit South Korea and March 2014 marks my 3rd time to experience spring.

What makes me more excited now is that I will be traveling down to 진해 (Jinhae), a small town in the province of 경상남도 (Gyeongsangnamdo).  Just a bit of information on naming places in Korea,  도 (do) is province in Korean. In the name 경상남도, 남 (nam) means south and so Gyeongsangnamdo is Province of South Gyeongsang.  If there is south, the likelihood of having a north version is almost always there and north is 북 (buk).  With that, North Province of Gyeongsang would be– 경상북도 (Gyeongsangbukdo) where the booming city of 대구 (Daegu) is located.

The town of Jinhae is where the biggest cherry blossom festival is held every year.  For this year, the festival is happening from April 1-10, 2014.  Based from the research I made, this is one of the most sought after festival in Korea.  Now I realize what my long lost language exchange partner had been talking about.  He was so proud of their province Gyeongsangnamdo, he mentioned that the biggest cherry blossom happens in their place. The traffic can be very heavy during this period but the good thing is the KTX makes a special direct route to Jinhae during festival period.  We will be a day earlier from the festival  and hopefully we see the cherry trees in almost its full bloom.

The weather forecast kept on changing for the past weeks but as of today, the forecast during our stay shows a no rain during our period of stay.  According to the people I talked to last year when we visited Jeju, cherry blossoms disappears as soon as it rains.  This is why experiencing cherry blossom would be a bit tricky if you are a foreigner like me who will need to book in advance to travel to Korea.  The cherry blossom festival is usually announced within the month of March which is relatively near the actual date of the festival. The spring festivals is announced by the Korean Tourism through their website.  During spring there are several other places in Korea that is worth a visit.

Spring here I come!

Fifth and Cheap in South Korea

After missing a year of traveling to South Korea, this 2013, I made sure I get reconnected to this country that fascinates me a lot.  Although I  never really splurged in my visits before, 2008, the first year I visited Seoul was definitely costly than my 2011 visit.  These days traveling to South Korea for a Filipino citizen is made affordable with budget airlines.  The plane fare in 2008 was around PHP31,000  or about 620USD however these days watching over budget airline sale will only cost you as low as PHP11,000 to a very low PHP7,500 about 175-255USD.  Thanks to the stronger peso, a dollar is just PHP43.00 compared to PHP55.00 5 years ago.

I also did get to try a business hotel from financial district in Jong-no to a 3-star hotel  in the same area.  My overall expenses went down as I learned how to move around Seoul.  This year I went from a high of PHP150,000 in 2008 to PHP30,000 in total expenses.  It’s not that prices went down but rather being wise about expenses.  Since I love traveling to South Korea, I enjoyed every walks and adventure I had from getting lost to finding cheap eats.

Sounds unbelievable but I only spent about 700USD for my 5-day trip to South Korea last April and that includes a side trip to Jeju already.  My expenses are broken down as follows:

  • MNL-ICN-MNL via Cebu Pacific (PHP11,000)
  • 3 days stay at Twin Rabbit Hostel near Hongdae in Mapo-gu shared with a friend (PHP3,750)
  • Gimpo-Jeju-Gimpo via Eastarjet make sure you book early for that low low rate (PHP3,400)
  • Overnight stay in Minbak Hyangnamu Ongpori -Hallim side of Jeju (PHP1,250)
  • Overnight stay in You and I Guesthouse in Jeju City (PHP1,250)
  • Food averaging 6,000KRW or PHP300 per meal not to mention all the free breakfast and water were (PHP3,500)
  • Rest of the budget for transportation such as subway metro, bus and few taxi rides

Our day 1 is supposedly a trip to Nami Island but it rained steadily through out the day so we ended up with a Plan B. Spring came late this year and all our clothes were suited for spring it was so cold temperature dropped at 1~3 degrees celsius.  We arrived late night of previous day and took the Airport Express from Incheon to Hongdae so we woke up late and had brunch on this restaurant which we saw  on our way to  Hongdae Subway station.

Chicken ginseng soup best enjoyed with my two time Seoul companion.
Chicken ginseng soup best enjoyed with my two time Seoul companion.

Our Plan B  destination is no other than the shopping district of Myeongdong.  Accomplishing the task of  buying bucket  of make-ups that my friends back in Manila had requested me to get for them.  Despite the trickling rain and the cold we braved the streets of Myeongdong hopping from Skin Food, Etude,  Nature Republic, Faceshop to Missha.  Going inside each shop was such a big comfort, if it was aircon back in my hometown heater it was for South Korea during that time.

Cafe serving coffee are scattered all over Seoul from international brands to local.  Starbucks was not a top choice in Seoul simply because there are so many options available.  Coffee was perfect for the weather and we got to try Hollys.

Beats the cold spring weather.
Beats the cold spring weather.

We wrapped up our Day 1 with a HOF couple of blocks away from our hostel.  I forgot the name of the HOF,  the only thing I can remember is the friend chicken and pickled radish that we had best enjoyed with beer and cider.   This was our dinner for the night.  How I wish there was rice on the side but it may be weird to eat the chicken with rice as HOFs are place for beers and chicken.

Day 2 was still gloomy, from the free wifi in our hostel, the weather forecast said the chances of rain was 30%.  We are determined to go to Nami otherwise our itinerary will be ruined completely.   From our hostel we took the Green Line up to Wangshimni and then transferred to Sangbong (Jugang Line) and alighted at Gapyeong Station.  We took a short taxi ride from the station to the Nami Island port for another short ride, this time via boat.

Funny as it may seem I have been to Seoul 4 times already but it was only on this visit that I saw the beauty of Nami Island.  The place is actually a must see, the Winter Sonata drama made this place famous to every tourist who watched Choi Ji Woo and Bae Yong Joon.  Nami Island is simply breath taking.

The famous line of trees will make you fall in love in this place.
The famous line of trees will make you fall in love in this place.

We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the island and returned back to Seoul late in the afternoon. Just in time for dinner with a good Korean friend.   Felt so lucky to enjoy another good authentic Korean treat.

Grill it the Korean way!
Grill it the Korean way!

I met my Korean friend who brought us to this restaurant that served 삼겹살 (samgyeopsal).  The place is called 구이마을 (Guimaeul) in 신촌 (Sinchon).  True to their culture,  dongsaengs  grilled the food and served their noonas .  To me those experiences were priceless,  the warmth of friendship and cultural exchange through food.  Another good memories to bring back home .

Day 3 we had to check out and leave our baggage from Twin Rabbit Hostel.  We headed to Gimpo airport for a plane ride to Jeju.  That was the first time I took a flight from Gimpo, the airport that is mostly used in Korean dramas.  We had brunch in Lotteria, a local food chain similar to Mc Donalds.

Our first day in Jeju is spent looking for the guesthouse we had chosen that offers traditional accommodation similar to those Hanoks in Bukchon.  The place is called 민박 향나무 (Minbak Hyangnamu) which was located in  Hallim-Ongpori.  We spent hours looking for the place, the street signs  drove us crazy.  But it was all worth it, sleeping on a traditional ondol room is one of the activities that I had in my South Korea bucket list.

A guesthouse that looks traditional but modern inside.
A guesthouse that looks traditional but modern inside.

From Ongpori we headed to the Teddy Bear Museum the next day.  I had always been to the teddy bear museum in N Seoul Tower.  Now it’s time to see the bigger one, the Teddy Bear Museum in Jeju.  The place where one of the scenes from the popular drama 궁 (Goong – Palace) was taken.

The characters from the popular drama 궁
The characters from the popular drama 궁

The place is not as big as you may have thought but there were lots of teddy bears on display.  There could never be just one or two that will amuse you.  Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum was just opposite the Teddy Bear Museum but we did not bother enter.   Because of the limited time, we needed to head back to Jeju City and find the last quest from our list…cherry blossoms.

We checked-in at You and I Guesthouse located in downtown Jeju.  It was adjacent to Jeju City hall.  The place is near airport bus stop which was one of the reasons we chose this guesthouse.  This way we will never be worried of missing our flight the following day.  It was a good decision we made because traveling in Jeju was totally different from Seoul.

Cherry Blossoms at the National Folklore Museum in Jeju City.
Cherry Blossoms at the National Folklore Museum in Jeju City.

The cherry blossoms were almost gone because of the rains.  Fortunately there were still some left for us to have picture with.  After seeing this, we began to slow down and enjoyed walking around Jeju.   The place was laid back compared to Seoul.  It is said that Jeju is a crime free place.  No wonder gates of houses are left open, I noticed that several times in Hallim.  People for some reason is distinct from those in Seoul, I can’t say how but one thing is for sure they are warm and helpful.  Despite the language barrier, Koreans in Jeju helped us when we needed directions and even to some extent accompanied us.

As I am writing this entry, I am missing South Korea already.  It’s really a place that I wanted to go back again and again.

Seoul the Fourth Time

Last December 27 was my fourth time to visit Seoul. I love the cool weather having been from a tropical country so I decided to go back during winter.  One thing that I have not experienced is summer in Seoul, i just had too much of the heat in the Philippines to go vacationing in another country during its summer period.

Though I have been in Seoul four times I have not explored the other areas in this big bright city but maybe on my next visit I would probably pay attention to other areas within Seoul and see perhaps Daegu or Busan.

Every time I touch down the Incheon airport, I can just see how things are improving each visit,  even metro Seoul kept on changing.  Incheon is definitely one of the best airports I have ever been too.  It’s becoming more and more tourist friendly.  You can’t help but appreciate those little booth set up before stepping out of the airport to go to your destination.  They have English speaking personnel ready to help you on which mode of transportation to use to get to your destination.  They will even be writing it in Hangul to ensure that the ‘captain’ of the bus understands it.  Compared to Taiwan (where there are also few who speaks English) i think Incheon is more prepared for tourists.  Not to undermine the Taoyuan which is undergoing improvements, it’s just that Incheon is ready even for the most late arrival.  The airport remains accessible to various mode of transportation not just the expensive taxis or rent a car.

I always prefer staying at the Seoul central district specifically the 종로(Jongno – yes the r becomes n when romanized or pronounced) area.  During my first stay I stayed at Best Western New Seoul Hotel.  The location of this hotel is pretty good as it is within the financial district of Seoul.  However upon discovering Doulos Hotel, I have decided to make this my home when in Seoul. I have so many reason to like this little hotel at the heart of Jongno.  This is a good hotel choice when staying in Seoul.  So I am sharing why this can be a good place to stay especially if you are a mindful of costs and expenses.

Doulos is near Jongno 3-ga (Jongno samga as Koreans would say it).  From Incheon the hotel is accessible via bus or train.  Taxi, unless you are staying within Incheon or within near radius, would be expensive. You might be surprised with the exchange rate but 1 USD is nearly 1000KRW (Korean Won).  So taxi from Incheon to Seoul or vice versa would be 70,000KRW without traffic but a bus ride would only cost 10,000KRW.

Taking Bus No. 6002 at bus station marked 5B outside arrival area, you just need to get off bus stop Jongno 3-ga MTR station.  Tickets can be bought at the Airport Bus Transportation booth right before going outside the airport but when it’s late, you can pay directly to the bus just make sure you have 10,000KRW at hand.  Money Exchange is available in the airport and if you don’t have enough cash on hand you can withdraw from International ATMs located within the airport marked with Visa or MasterCard. There is a transaction fee for the withdrawal.

You can also take the Airport Railroad Express (AREX) which takes you to Seoul Station where the transport hub if Seoul is, then transfer to Line 1 of the MTR to reach Jongno 3-ga.  The Seoul Metro (subway transport system in Seoul) is very efficient.  It may look complicated but you can find your way because stations are clearly marked and most information have English translations. Regardless if you take the bus or MTR if you decided to stay at Doulos your stop would be Jongno 3-ga.

The bus stop where airport buses stop is marked with an airplane.  If you are taking the subway you have to take Exit 2 to see this.  When you see this mark you just have to walk straight and turn left on the first corner.  This is actually a little longer route but when you have luggage with you and it’s late, taking the alley to reach the hotel may be a scary option at first, but it’s actually safe.  Once you turn left (the corner has Missha shop) a few step would lead you to this landmark:

You have to turn left again on the first corner which looks like a small street.  Do not be surprised to see motels, if you are not used to seeing one in your country this place is pretty decent and safe even at night.  Doulos Hotel is about 50 meters on the right side from the time you turn left on the said corner.

A welcoming hotel staff who can communicate in English is ready to help you check in. Now once you are ready to explore Seoul, you may try the alley which is a short-cut to and from Hotel to Jongno 3-ga station.  The best alley (there are several) is the bigger one which is a few steps from hotel entrance going to the right.  This is how the alley looks like day time:

At night you will surely be enticed with grilled fish being sold by 식당 (shiktang- restaurant) along the alley.  We have always been tempted to buy one but we ended up just enjoying the delicious scent of the fish because our stomach is full whenever we go out or comeback to the hotel.

The rooms at Doulos Hotel is not that big but it’s bigger than those in Hong Kong.  At least in all our stay, the linens are always clean and fresh.  What’s even good is that this little hotel offers free breakfast.  It may be the same stuff but they try to have variation with the sweets like they alternately serve fruits or mini pastries. The breakfast is filling, having it free for its rate is really super value add.  I remember paying 205USD for a night stay in New Seoul Hotel which is room only, at Doulos price ranges from 60 to 100USD depending on the season.  Some online booking offers good discount.  I used to get good rates at Innostel but they stopped offering Doulos from that online booking site.Since then, I have alternately booked directly from hotel or agoda depending on the situation (it gets fully booked quickly on peak season).

The hotel is generous enough to provide you with free bottled water that is Evian and Soonsoo (Coca Cola brand).  They also have small chocolates as welcome treat. You don’t need to bring towels as this is provided by the hotel already. Toiletries are almost complete including toner.  Unless you have brand  preference their toiletries are good.

At night, the adjacent street on the right side becomes a drinking place, a typical set up in Korean stall that becomes a place for 소주 (soju- korean rice wine)  and street food. This is something worth experiencing too.  I have tried the sausages and kimbap they are all good except for that takoyaki stall (it’s not comparable to the Japanese counterpart).

A lot of spots worth visiting is just walking distance from the Hotel this includes, Tapgol Park, Insadong, Tea Museum, Changdoekgung and Cheonggyecheon (stream). There are also nearby places that are 2 to 3 stations away from Jongno 3-ga via MTR like Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, Seoul Station etc.

When the Seoul Metro started to operate a self service type of dispensing ticket (my 2nd visit) I was too worried but since there is English translation I got used to it.  I remember how hard it is to buy train tickets during my first visit because I was still learning to read Hangul and most train personnel really wouldn’t understand you when you speak English so you have to say the destination correctly.  The vending machine made it so much easy.  Each year the subway map gets a little more complicated due to additional lines but it’s all for a better transportation experience.  I also noticed how Citibank ATMs are made available in key stations like the Seoul City Hall station and Jongno 3-ga to name a few. Earlier times the Citibank and Standard Charter banks are very few.  ATMs marked with Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus are not accepted in local banks ATM despite the availability of the said logo from their machines. Only Citibank and Standard Chartered ATMs accepts international ATM cards.  Good thing is aside from the subway stations I mentioned there is one Standard Chartered bank opposite Jongno 3-ga station.

Reminiscing my stay while writing this post makes me want to go back to Seoul again.  I just can’t get enough of this wonderful city.  I probably would be posting more of these experiences and observations in succeeding days.

서울 너무 좋아요!