Best Places for Cherry Blossoms in South Korea

I know I am just one of the many people out there who is looking forward to see cherry blossoms in South Korea.  벚꽃or beot kkott is sakura in Korea.  This is one of the reasons why I love spring.  Aside from the mellowed down cold weather, the flowers are blooming.   The Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) has finally released a portion of the cherry blossoms forecast and flower festivals for 2015.

  • Jeju – Cherry Blossoms in Jeju is a bit earlier, March 27 to 29.  If you happen to book late March to South Korea consider going to Jeju. The Seogwipo downtown area and Jeju sports complex is the place to be.  Jeju is home to King Cherry Tree, the full blossoms last for only 2 to 3 days and when it rains the petals are gone.  The last time we went to see cherry blossoms in Jeju, we were late.   There were traces of petals on trees but most are washed out by the rain.  Coming from Seoul, hourly flights are available at the Gimpo Airport.
  • Jinhae – is home to the biggest cherry blossoms in Korea.  The whole town as I enjoyed last year is covered with cherry blossoms.  This year  the진해군항제 (Jinhae  Gunhangje) is set btween April 1-10.  Almost the same as last year.  Within this period the cherry trees are in full bloom.  In fact a day before the festival last year we get to enjoy the scenery minus the overwhelming crowd.
  • Yeouido – is a place in Seoul where cherry blossoms can be observed as well.  As of today, there is no date yet on when the trees along the National Assembly building will be in full blossoms.  Based on historical records, cherry blossoms in Yeouido is mid April.   If you think you have limited time in South Korea and would be spending most of the time in Seoul, Yeouido is a good place to enjoy the cherry blossoms in the Metro.  Taking subway Line 5 and getting off Yeouinaru Station Exit 1.  The scene in Yeouido is breath taking.  Whether its day or night, the scene is just lovely, one can enjoy the cool breeze of Han River while sitting down the park looking at Mapo Bridge.

This year I am going back to Jinhae.  Knowing that the festival is April 1 to 10 our day 2 in South Korea is definitely in Jinhae.  It’s the last day of the festival but if given a choice, I would plan on a March 30 or 31 visit (just like in 2014) because during the festival, people are all over the place.  I read that people who spent cherry blossoms during the festival period had some difficulties going around as the traffic can be very heavy.  However, during this period there is a special route of KTX from Seoul Station going directly to Jinhae.  Outside the festival period, there is no direct route to Jinhae.  Masan is the nearest town to go to and one needs to take a bus from Masan to Jinhae.

If you plan on going to Jinhae within April 1 to 10, check out the KTX schedule.  There is a special route directly to Jinhae during this period as a way of providing more options to reach this special destination and to help ease the traffic going to Jinhae.  Going around Jinhae takes a lot of walking especially during festival where streets are closed to give way to events.  I personally don’t mind walking around because everywhere you set your eyes the beautiful cherry blossoms can be seen.  Outside the festival period Jinhae can be reached via the following means coming from Seoul, coming from Busan, Jinhae would be more accessible via Bus:

  • KTX Train Masan (Seoul-Masan-Seoul) – a transfer to Mungunhwa is needed.  As mentioned there is no direct route to Jinhae on a regular day.  There are just about 2 to 3 schedules a day so planning for a round trip could be a problem via KTX.  I think there is just one train schedule going back to Seoul in the afternoon.  Do check out the KTX website for a full schedule.  Foreigners get a special pass rate if reserved on line.
  • Bus – take the Orange Line and alight at Nambu Bus Terminal in Seocho (Station No. 341) and take exit number 5.  The exit is the entry to the terminal which operates 6 am to 12 am  There is bus leaving almost every hour going to and from Jinhae.  The ride would be a total of about 4.5 hours.  I find this more convenient than taking the KTX as you only save around 1 hour of travel time but there are more options in terms of the time when taking the bus.  This will allow you to do round trip to Jinhae from Seoul.  Worry not because there is a short stop over along the highway for some bladder break and snack time.  It is recommended to buy return tickets upon reaching the Jinhae Terminal.  This way you secure your seat going back if you are just there round trip.  Tickets are available online but the website is in Korean only.

I think the best way to enjoy spring and cherry blossoms would be to go to Seoul last week of March to early April.  Which ever time you get for your flight  booking, never miss going to Yeouido whether the cherry trees are in full bloom or not.  The sight of Han River and Mapo-go bridge at night is beautiful and the park conducive for enjoying some chit chat and snacks.  You would be surprised on the amount of people receiving deliveries from the park .  There are also street side vendors offering Korean snacks. Just make sure to bring jacket to be ready for the chill that the wind brings.,

 

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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.