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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Cherry Blossoms 2015

Are you planning on a trip to South Korea this Spring? It was almost a year after my last visit and it still feels like yesterday.  Last 2014 I was in South Korea in the month of April which is spring.  I am officially in love with Korean Spring time.

2015 Cherry Blossoms Jinhae
2015 Cherry Blossoms Jinhae

This year I am definitely going back to Jinhae with my kids so they can see how beautiful the place is.  There is no update yet on the expected cherry blossom in Jinhae but I hope it would come first week of April because we are already booked!

In any case, I would have the option to check Yeouido as well and enjoy the view of Han River.  Last year cherry blossoms in Seoul was a bit late it came mid April.  So if this is the same case for 2015 I think we will see cherry blossoms in full from Seoul.

2014 Yeouido Spring
2014 Yeouido Spring

If you are planning on a Spring trip to South Korea this year feel free to comment so we can exchange plans.  I am so excited with this travel plan.  I will strive to share more information for those who are also planning to go on tour this spring.

 

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!

Freezing in Seoul

Just arrived in Seoul for a short vacation. It’s freezing here at -3 degrees celsius. I just love how efficient the transport system is going to and from Incheon Airport. As usual it’s Bus No. 6002 at Bus Stop 5B.

I might not be able to answer some question for now. The laptop I brought has no Korean IME installed in it.

Thank for all the greetings!

So beautiful in Seoul =)

Seoul…Seoul…Seoul

I am unable to post meantime after the US trip i have been busy preparing for my trip to Korea.  I must say this is the culminating out of country vacation for the year.  This is my 3rd time and I am still excited like its the first time.  I am currently enjoying winter in Seoul and I am super loving it.

The weather for the past two days is ranging from 5 to 12 degrees. It’s colder at night and early morning but walking outside the streets of Myeongdong and Jongno is like seeing my self in one of those movies and dramas.  This year I am lucky I will be able to watch Wheesung perform and YG Family Concert.   I am so excited.

I was likewise able to buy Wheesung’s album and 2NE1 plus i get to buy this new book on understanding some Korean idioms =)

저는 서울에 재미 하고 있어요!