Archive for May 2011

LAST day in South Korea 😦 Time flied by so fast but we wouldn’t forget the fun that we had!

Songdo area is very close to Incheon airport. It is relatively a new area because none of my guide books and the tourism Korea website mentioned this area. There are a lot of development in this area, especially tall buildings for offices and apartments. Our hotel, Best Western Songdo Premier Park, is located across Songdo Central Park. The subway station is just a block behind the hotel and a couple block from here, there is a complex where you can find small cafes and convenience stores.

We woke up pretty early that day, so that we could walk around the area and checked out some interesting attractions along the way. During breakfast, we saw that a lot of foreigners had breakfast there ~ maybe because it’s near the airport. We also checked out the sauna facilities at the hotel which we found out later that it was the spot where Smile You drama was shot 😛

The hotel has underground underpass that connects it to the subway station. We went to the underpass and it was like ghost town! There were supposed to be cafee and small shops but they were still under construction. The underpass also connects to another building behind the hotel (I’m not sure which one). The lobby of this building had a small display of miniature Korean houses. However, the security scooted us out since the building was still closed 😦

Maps of Songdo made of Lego – at the underpass

Songdo is planned to be a “Tomorrow City” ; They claimed it would be the tallest building in South Korea

Afterwards, we went to Songdo Central Park. As I said before, this park is HUGE! There are a man-made river across the park and you can ride a boat. When we were there, there was a Bible Exhibition since it was a week after Easter. We saw replicas of bible stories, such as Noah’s Ark, the Ten Commandments, Adam and Eve, etc. Later we found out that couple blocks from there, there’s a Christian Church and Museum. On the other side of the park , there are more tall buildings but this area seemed to be more alive than the hotel we were in.

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Day 6 was the most tiring day. It was non-stop walking around different places! In the morning, we visited Presidential Blue House, National Folk Museum, and Gyeongbok Palace in the morning. After having chicken ginseng soup for early dinner, it was all shopping-till-u-drop activities. We were brought to Korean Ginseng Center, Amethyst Factory Outlet, Face Shop Outlet, Duty Free shops, and more shopping at Myeongdong area ~ since we were there couple days ago, we decided to check out Namdaemun Market nearby. At the end of the day, I was really tired and sticked my body to the comfy hotel bed 😛

The Presidential Blue House (Cheongwadae) was located in Jongno, near Insadong. It is called “Blue House” in reference to USA’s White House since South Korea was influenced by USA. In addition, its greenish-blue roof is very distinctive among other buildings in the area. We just passed this since we couldn’t enter the house.

However, we went to Mugunghwa Valley nearby. It’s actually a small park near the house with a Phoenix statue standing tall and elegantly. The view here was spectacular! Far away in the background was a mountain. When we visited the park in the morning, there were some sort of ceremony for young military armies. They lined up in rows and marched together.

Presidential Blue House from afar

Mugunghwa Valley with Phoenix statue


Koreans really appreciate family value


Koreans army

The National Folk Museum is very near to the Presidential Blue House and it is actually inside the Gyeongbok Palace. It only took us less than 5 minutes driving to get there.  When you enter the museum area, one thing you’ll notice is the big pagoda in the middle of the area. The museum has outdoor and indoor display. The outdoor display shows the traditional wood carving, Dol hareubangs (the famous statue from Jeju island), crossbars and guard posts, etc. The tour guide said, many Koreans believe that if you touch the nose of Dol hareubangs, your wife will give birth to a boy. If you touch the ears, you’ll get a baby girl. That’s why they make the statue with big nose ~ since old Koreans folks prefer boy than girl 😛

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Day 5 was gloomy and wet! It was raining ALL DAY! MAJOR Bummer 😦

We were schedule to visit Kimchi School, Strawberry Farm, and spent the rest of the day at Everland – the largest theme park in South Korea. At the end, the tour guide – with our approvals – cut short the visit at Everland and instead drove us to shopping malls, Doota! I wished we could spend at Everland since the park was HUGE! We ended up only shop for souvenirs at Doota! since the mall was kinda pricey – at least for me who always try to keep in budget.

After an hour or so bus ride, we arrived at Kimchi School (sorry, I have no idea where it was since our itinerary was arranged by the travel agent and they didn’t write down the name). The weather seemed to hate us that day and it was pouring rain when we arrived 😦 The kimchi school looked like a favorite tourist destination. There were 4 tour buses when we were there.

We then went to small ‘classroom’ with a plate of cabbage & red pepper paste on the table. First thing first, we must wear apron to protect our clothes from red pepper paste splatter. The ‘teacher’ will then give an overview of the ingredients to make red pepper paste. There are about 12 ingredients: water, sea salt, garlic, anchovies paste, red chili, scallion, soy sauce, ginger, a bit of ginseng, etc. He said the best cabbages for kimchi come from Gangwon-do area. Since South Korea’s soil is mainly very poor in minerals and was formed from granite rocks, it is hard to grow vegetables. Thus, they build green houses to grow them. He then explained how to rub the paste to the cabbage. Since cabbage has many layers, you rub the paste generously from the outer leaf (the biggest one) and work toward the inner leaf (the smaller one). In order to keep the paste within the layer, take the biggest leaf at the outer layer to wrap the whole bunch. Then fold the ‘limpy’ leaves toward the inner leaves and it’s ready to be fermented.

At the end of the class, we were able to taste the finished kimchi along with kimchi pancake, some Korean sweets, and delicious honey milk. Thinking about it now makes my stomach growling 😛


Mountains of cabbages for kimchi making inside the kimchi factory 😛


Making kimchi 🙂 – fun and educational

Kimchi, kimchi pancake, korean sweets, and delicious honey-milk

Our tour guide said that kimchi has many health benefits. She mentioned that a famous university did some research about kimchi because they wondered why Koreans was little affected by SARS – while lots of people from Hong Kong and Japan got infected. The scientists found that there was a bacteria as the fermentation by-product that helps to boost immune system of Koreans. Also, Koreans believed that eating kimchi can prolong your age. Well, this one I might believe since I saw there were a lot of Koreans seniors who still walk straight without any aid! And some of them even jogged in the park! Believe it or not, you can try yourself 😛

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We began our day with breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast was a combination of western and asian dishes – and yes, it had kimchi too! It seemed like Seorak Daemyong Resort is a very popular resort for tourists. The hotel restaurant was pretty cramped and we didn’t even get fruits for dessert 😦

Oh yeah, for you with hi-tech gadget, the Wi-Fi is only available at the lobby. The room doesn’t provide LAN internet neither, so you have to go down to the lobby to browse with your laptop/ iPad/ iPhone – which was a bit hassle for us.

Since we arrived at the hotel around 9 pm the day before, we didn’t really realize that the hotel was actually pretty close to Mt. Seorak. The view was pretty breathtaking. Near the hotel, there is another Teddy Bear Museum! I didn’t know this until I noticed the sign when we exited the hotel gate :S Maybe that’s why there were 2 stuffed bears at the lobby.


View of mountains from the hotel; The stuffed teddy bear at the lobby

Mt. Seorak (Seoraksan) is one of the highest mountains in South Korea. The perfect time to visit Seorak is actually during fall/ autum when the leaves turn red and yellow. Perfect for pictures! Its famous granite peaks, Ulsanbawi, is a popular hiking site for tourists and even locals.  Ulsanbawi is a pretty tough trail, i.e. for advance hikers. But no worries, there are several other trails ranging from beginner to advance.

It only took us about 30 minutes from the hotel to Mt. Seorak. The tour guide said that couple days prior, it was snowing at Mt. Seorak, so it might be chilly when we visited. I prepared myself with sweater, jeans, and sneakers. It turned out that the weather wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was perfect for hiking and taking picture of course! 😛 The cherry trees were still blossoming at that time and again, we saw a lot of students having field trip in the park.


Mt. Seorak entrance ; Maps of area in Korean 😦


Cherry blossom Mt. Seorak

Beside hiking trails, there are other attractions inside the park: Sinheungsa Temple with its bronze Buddha statue, Baekdamsa Temple, Gwongeumseong Fortress on top of the mountain, and beautiful waterfalls.

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So, day 3 began by waking up very early in the morning at 5 am! We had to meet with the tour group from Indonesia who was scheduled to land at 8.30 am. Since the trip from Myeongdong back to Incheon Airport was about 1.5 hours, we had to catch the 6 am bus. We bought some breads and milk the night before for the breakfast, so I wouldn’t get cranky hahhaa… Hey, to make me happy, just feed my stomach 😛

We arrived at Incheon Airport at about 8 am. We then had to wait for an hour to meet with the rest of the group since the immigration took quite some time. Once we met with the group, we got to the tour bus to begin our next journey 🙂

The first stop was Nami Island (Namiseom). Nami Island got its name from General Nami, one of the bravest soldiers in Korean history who died at a very young age of 28 years old. His tomb can be found in the island. Nami Island got famous because of Korean drama called Winter Sonata that was pretty popular in 2002. Some romantic & memorable scenes were shot here, so that’s why many young couples in love go to Nami Island for a date or picnic. When we went there, a lot of families also had a picnic in the park.

General Nami’s tomb

In order to get to the island, you have to take 5 minutes ferry ride. From the sign, the entry ticket & ferry ride were about 10000 won (since I was in a tour group, the tour leader took care all the ticketing & I just had to follow her… Hassle free! YAY!). One thing that was pretty confusing was that the sign said that Nami Island is a Republic and you need a visa to enter. However, it seems just another term for entry ticket and ferry ride fees. So, don’t get tricked by it. I’m sure you don’t need a ‘special’ visa to get to the island. Another way to get to the island (only IF you are adventurous enough) is by Ziptrek! And it’s gonna be a long trip to the island :S

Nami Island map


Nami Island operational hour & ticket fee


Many tour buses; vending machine; the ZIPTREK!

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Apparently, me and my boyfriend were too excited about the holiday 😛 We planned to go to bed early, so that we could get up very early (like maybe 6 am) and started exploring early in the morning. In fact, we woke up almost 8 o’clock hahaha… I set my alarm but forgot to change the time zone, so my phone was still in Singapore time 😛

When we got back to the hotel the night before, we noticed that the hotel provided free shuttle to Insadong & Namsan area. Since we planned to go to Namsan, we registered ourselves for the shuttle. So, it worths to check any free services in your hotel since they usually do have something. Fortunately enough, we didn’t miss the shuttle and had about an hour to have breakfast. For the breakfast, we walked around Myeongdong area behind our hotel and found a restaurant that was pretty crowded. Since most of the customers ordered a bowl of porridge, we ordered the same. And yes, it came with kimchi and it was tasty! Learning from previous traveling by ordering too much food, we already decided that we were going to order only one meal item and shared it, except in the case where we were really hungry or the food was really good 😛


The brunch: chicken porridge with kimchi; Cool resto display

N SEOUL TOWER at Namsan.
The reason I wanted to go to Namsan because it was recommended by my boyfriend’s friend who we met the day before. She said since it was Cherry Blossom time, it would be a great idea to enjoy the view at Namsan. Moreover, it wasn’t that far from our hotel. During my research about N Seoul Tower,  Korea Toursim website gave a lot of useful information on how to get there by subway and a bit walking up the mountain to get to the cable car station. Since we took free shuttle from the bus, my worry was gone in a blink of my eyes 🙂 It took about 8-10 minutes drive from our hotel in Myeongdong to Namsan. Well, Namsan is only couple blocks North of Myeongdong. In fact, we could see the Tower from our hotel the night before when we window-shopped.

When we arrived at Namsan, the cable car was still closed (they open at 10 am). So, we crossed the street to check out an area by the stairs. Luckily, the stairs led us to a beautiful spot with the cherry trees and many colorful flowers blossoming at that time. Judge for yourself from my pictures below.


Namsan Cable Car; Cherry Blossom! VERY PRETTY!

After posing for pictures, we went down back to the cable car station. By that time, there were a bit line up already for the ticket. The round trip ticket was 6300 won. If you want to have a bit of exercise, you can walk up to the tower like many Koreans did when we were there. When we arrived at the top of the mountain, I immediately recognized the cable car and the vending machines like those in the Korean drama 🙂 There was also a booth where you can wear traditional Korea clothes (hanbok) for foreigners. There were a lot of elementary students with their teacher having field trip when we were there.

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“YAY! Finally, our long awaited holiday in Seoul starts now!” that was my thought when we first landed at Incheon Airport. Before I go further, for those who wondering how to get Korea visa, go to Korea Immigration Service website. For me, since I technically just had a ‘transit’ in Seoul, I didn’t have to apply for visa. What I mean by ‘transit’ is that I flew from Singapore to South Korea to Canada. So, in their terms, I was ‘bound to another country’. If you have the same situation (a.k.a you visit South Korea prior leaving to another country within 30 days), you might not have to apply for visa. But, it’s only my case, for your 100% assurance, please check out their website in “Visa free Entry of foreigners” section- do NOT blame me if you only use my word as your guide!!! Every person traveling to another country MUST check if they need visa or not, regardless your nationality!

So, now DAY ONE!
Honestly, I got a bit worried since we had to be able to survive the first 2 days by ourselves. I did a LOT of research on getting around Seoul and found that Korea Tourism did a VERY good job to help any tourists. I must say, their website is very very informative! For getting around Seoul, go to Visit Korea. As I said before, Seoul has NINE subway lines with 291 stations connecting airport to city centre to sub-urban area to universities. However, if you’ve never been riding subway before, it can be a challenge since you have to familiarize yourself with the naming, ticketing, and getting to the right exit gate. Every station has English and Korean character on the sign, so it’s pretty straight forward. For the ticket, you have couple options: Single Journey ticket, T-money card, and Seoul City Pass. We bought the single journey ticket every time we rode the subway. The machine has English language option and you have to know your final destination by choosing the station name. Also, you are required to pay 500 won deposit on top of your ticket (usually the price already includes the deposit) which you’ll get back at your final destination by inserting the card to a special machine.

So, how to get out from the airport to the hotel? There are several options according to the Korea Tourism website. Korea is now building a subway line that directly connects Incheon airport to the downtown area called Airport Railroad Express (AREX). However, as in March 2011, they haven’t finish the project, so you have to take an express bus from Incheon to Gimpo Airport (old airport) then take subway to the downtown area. This takes about an hour or so and you have to change subway lines depending on your final destination. Since we carried 2 big and 2 small luggages, we decided that we took airport bus to our hotel in Myeongdong. Again, depending on your final destination, you’ll be using different buses (for information on bus number, click here). As soon as you get out from arrival gate, find the orange counter with “Airport Bus” sign. Here, the reception speaks good English. Just say your destination and they’ll help you decide the correct bus.


Airport Bus Counter

We took 6015 bus from exit 5B (or you can catch the bus from 12A). The bus one-way ticket was 10,000 won which is reasonable since it was about 1.5 hours trip. Our hotel was Ibis Ambassador Myeongdong that has a 6015 bus stop right in front of the hotel! Again, VERY VERY convenient if you have to carry big suitcases! Another reason I chose this hotel was that we have to meet with the tour group at Incheon early morning on the third day. By having the bus stop in front of our hotel door, we could easily run in case we woke up late hehehe… (the first bus from Myeongdong to Incheon is at 4.50 am!).

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