SOUTH KOREA: Winter in Kimchi Republic

Winter is coming! I never thought I would land in this country of K-dramas, colorful palaces, and tourist spots we only see on TV. With my (former) housemates, we planned roughly a year before our intended flight to make this happen. The day finally came when I saw a promo fare from Cebu Pacific and I immediately informed my housemate who had credit card to book for us 4. The roundtrip airfare summed up PHP6592.81 with seat, 20kg baggage papunta, 30kg pabalik)! That’s a great deal that time considering that regular one-way base fare usually costs 5K up.

Airfare booked! We shared ideas for our must-visit sites and finally went to Korean embassy one month before our flight for Visa application. I only have Php21000 show money from my payroll account but I took the risk. Booking an airfare prior to visa application was already a great risk. What if we get denied? We’re all nervous as first-timers but managed to submit complete requirements without any questions asked! A week after, we received our passports with visa! Can’t imagine the feeling that we’re good to go! Yehey! See you soon, Republic of Korea (대한민국 Daehan Minguk)!

Since we’ll go there on a winter season, we made sure to gear up on freezing temperature. Actually, I have no idea how cold is below zero temp so as a budgetarian (kuripot backpacker), I read blogs on what to wear and where to snag cheap, second-hand bubble jackets and coats. I’ve gone to Cartimar, Cubao, St. Francis Square and Marikina to search but the I’ve bought from the last two. Also, I bought Uniqlo Heattech innerwear and long johns. For the winter boots (actually mountaineering shoes for below zero temp), I borrowed from my brother. For travel suitcase, I availed one at SM Quiapo clearance outlet, where every items are on SALE!

Finally, with a year of preparation (of saving money for travel expenses..hehe) here’s how our Korean trip went:

DAY 1:
Manila to Incheon, South Korea
Incheon to Myeongdong, Seoul

15:00 – ETD Manila (PHP1620 Travel Tax)
22:10 – Touchdown Incheon (KRW4750 Single Journey Card Incheon to Myeongdong)
00:00 – Touchdown Namsan Guesthouse
00:30 – Late Dinner at Two-Two Chicken with Beer (KRW12600)

We’re going to Korea! Now boarding!
Korean Won Bills and Coins (1KRW≈0.043PHP)
The start of 4-hour flight at 3pm PST
The ‘Land of the Morning Calm’: Arrival at Incheon, South Korea at 8pm KST (Korea is one hour ahead of the Philippines)
Incheon Airport
Upon arrival at Incheon Airport, you need to ride a train to passenger terminal
Discount coupons you can tear from Gyeonggi-do Coupon book available at Incheon airport or print from online.

Our arrival was delayed so our pickup service (KRW65000 one way for 4 pax) went already back to Seoul (they were super on-time as in Korean Time). I thought we’re doomed but we relied on an alternative that is to commute. We borrowed phone from airport concierge to inform the guesthouse that we had delayed arrival. They advised us instead to take the subway so we carried our baggage and bought Single journey tickets each at KRW4750.

Incheon to Myeongdong Route
Screenshot of Route using Korea Subway App

When we alighted at Myeongdong station, we saw the subway keeper closing the gates as it was already 12am (lesson learned). It was already an adventure climbing and descending stairs with heavy luggages. Finally, we came out of the subway and took a taste of freezing temperature outdoors. Para akong naglalakad sa freezer….Brrrrrr!!!

We took a 4-pax room at Namsan Guesthouse (KRW118750 per pax for 5 nights) located few meters away from Myeongdong station. Reservation is by email only. No deposit needed. They’ll inform you a month before if the desired room is available. With free breakfast, wifi and other amenities fit for backpackers alike, you get the service. It was recommended by a friend and truly, a home within the Seoul. As late night guests, they even posted directions for our check-in.

Because we’re famished, we had out late dinner/midnight lunch at Two-Two Chicken. We ordered 2 sets each for soy chicken and classic fried chicken with Cass beer. Chimaek=chicken+maekju (beer), a combination Koreans love as we see them often in K-dramas.

DAY 2:
Namiseom Island 남이섬 종합휴양지
Petite France 쁘띠프랑스
05:00 – Free breakfast self-service (noodles, butter toast, coffee, or tea)
07:00 – Start subway ride to Gapyeong Station (KRW3000 T-Money card + KRW20000 load)
09:00 – ETA Gapyeong (KRW4000 one way taxi to Nami Island Ferry Terminal; Nami island entrance is KRW8000)
12:00 – Lunch at Nami island (KRW12000 Beef Brisket Meal)
14:00 – Gapyeong Tour Bus at KRW6000 (Unli ride but with timetable)
15:00 – Petite France KRW6000 (Originally KRW8000 but we used KRW2000 discount coupons from airport coupon book)
17:00 – Gapyeong bus back to Gapyeong train station
19:00 – ETA Myeongdong Station
20:00 – Dinner at Tong Galbi in Myeongdong (KRW14000 per pax)

T-Money load is KRW20000 for whole stay in Korea which you can refund a most convenience stores before leaving Korea. You can also keep T-Money card (like our own BEEP Card) for future use, if you’ll go back to Korea or a friend will visit soon.

T-Money card comes with leaflet instruction guide and discount coupons for tourist spots and some food chains.

In Myeongdong station, there are various stalls selling food and fashion items. There are money changer shops with good exchange rates than airport’s. I exchanged my USD and PHP bills here for extra pocket money. Buy earmuffs for as low as KRW5000 if your ears are sensitive to tolerate cold. Parang nakaheadphones ka…hahaha

We initially planned using ITX train for faster ride (Myeongdong Station (Line No.4)->Seoul Station (Line No. 1/4)-> Yongsan Station take ITX go to Gapyeong station) but we didn’t make it. Instead, we opted for subway since were already at Yongsan station.

From Yongsan station (G-J line), take subway to Mangu (G-J/G-C) -> Gapyeong (G-C line).

Arriving at Gapyeong, walk directly to waiting shed then flag a taxi to Nami terminal. Alternatively, you can ride a Gapyeong bus if you can wait. In less than 15 minutes, we arrived at Nami ferry terminal. I opted to buy tickets for us so we can queue already for ferry ride. I paid at cashier with their passports because discounted rate for foreigners is 8K Won only. Expect the long queue.

Boarding Nami ferry. Look for a spot where you can sit. Otherwise, stand outside to see the river. We did the latter.
Welcome to Nami Island!

We spent most of our time exploring the island and searching for picture-worthy spots. Tiring but worth the walk at midst of freezing temperature of -5 degrees Celsius! You can see the water in a fountain is already frozen. Tiis ganda as they say para may pampost sa social media…lol

The reason why this place is famous
Statue of lovers of Winter Sonata the drama that brought Korean fever all over the world
Expect tourists to flock on every picture-worthy spot. I love this shot anyway. Never mind the people behind…lol

Restaurants are concentrated in the center of the island. Meals are expensive but we felt numb and hungry already so we went inside. We had budget anyway.


KRW12000 Beef Brisket Meal (Rice and side dishes not shown)

We left Nami in the afternoon then queue in line at Gapyeong Tour Bus pickup point. We prepared for exact amount as the bus driver issues the tickets himself.15400552_1487857874560956_7840478089414065619_n

Bus Ticket with seat number and Route Guide Map

Arriving at Petite France, I bought tickets for our group with discount coupons torn from coupon book. We saved KRW2000 each!

Entrance to Petite France
Scenic view of Petite France
Looking-far-away pose (n_n)

After Petite France, we didn’t push going to Garden of Morning Calm as it was getting darker and we’re already exhausted! We waited in less than an hour  to ride Gapyeong Bus back to train station.


Waiting shed across Petite France
From Gapyeong station (G-C line), take subway to Sangbong (G-C/G-J) -> Hoegi (G-J/ Line 1) -> Dongdaemun (Line 1/Line 4) -> Myeongdong (Line 4)
Myeongdong alive at night! Do your cosmetics shopping here. The more you buy, the more freebies you receive. Grab your Oppa’s posters as much as possible.

Due to exhaustion, we hadn’t thought where to take dinner. One old man approached us leading to a narrow alley within Myeongdong. We were lead at Tong Galbi Restaurant, ordered Budae Jjigae (spicy stew with noddles and spam) served with banchan (side dishes) and Tteokbokki (rice cakes) good for sharing and added soju for each. At winter, I never felt the alcoholic kick of soju. Wala palang tama sa sobrang lamig. Parang tubig lang…lol We were already full and very satisfied with our meal. We’re also overwhelmed with freebies like snack, yogurt drinks, etc. Tanggap lang ng tanggap! We didn’t mind the KRW14000 per pax for the dining experience we had. Korean hospitality it is!

Tteokbokki 떡볶이, banchan 반찬 and Budae Jjigae 부대 찌개 on stove. They will gladly refill side dishes for you. I like kimchi김치 and anchovies (myeolchi-bokkeum 멸치볶음) the most.
Soju 소주 Parang tubig lang…lol

DAY 3:
Sumunjang (Royal Guard) Changing Ceremony
Gyeongbokgung Palace 경복궁  

Bukchon Hanok Village 북촌한옥마을
Changdeokgung Palace 창덕궁과 후원 [UNESCO World Heritage]
Namsan Cable Car 남산 케이블카
Namsan Observatory/Namsan Seoul Tower 남산서울타워
Cheonggyecheon Stream 청계천
Insadong (인사동) Souvenir Shopping
07:00 – Free Breakfast again!
09:00 – Subway Myeongdong to Gyeongbokgung
10:00 – Changing of Guards Ceremony
11:00 – Roam around Gyeongbokgung Palace (KRW3000 entrance)
12:00 – Walk from Gyeongbokgung to Seoul City Hall
13:00 – Lunch at Myeongdong Kalguksu (resto underground near City Hall) Mandu Soup at KRW7500
14:00 – Subway City Hall to Anguk station
14:30 – Picture taking at Bukchon Hanok Village
15:00 – Taxi to Changdeokgung Palace (KRW4000 one way divided by 4pax)
15:10 – Changdeokgung Palace (KRW3000 entrance)
16:00 – Taxi to Namsan Cable Car (KRW5200 one way divided by 4pax)
16:20 – Namsan Cable Car Roundtrip ticket at KRW8500
17:00 – Namsan Observatory (Used 10% discount coupons from bought T-Money cards)
19:00 – Back to Namsan Cable Car
19:30 – Taxi to Jongno (KRW4200 one way divided by 4pax)
20:00 – Walk along Cheonggyecheon stream
21:00 – Dinner at YOOGANE DAKGALBI (KRW4625 per pax)
22:00 – Taxi back to Myeongdong (KRW3500 one way divided by 4pax)

We woke up late due to exhaustion from yesterday’s activities. We gave ourselves time to chill. Ansarap kasi matulog pag mainit ang higaan (Heater is life). After breakfast, we prepped up for our next adventure. This time, within Seoul only. From Myeongdong Station, we alighted at Gyeongbokgung station to catch the 10am Sumunjang (Royal Guard) Changing Ceremony.

The Opening and Closing of the Royal Palace Gates and Royal Guard Changing Ceremonies 수문장 교대의식
10:00, 14:00 / 20 minutes per ceremony  at Gyeongbokgung Palace
Heungnyemun (The Second Inner Gate)
Geunjeongjeon 근전전 (The Throne Hall)
This the main palace hall within palace complex.
Gwanghwamun 광화문 (The Main and South Gate)

We saw a flock of tourists and young Koreans wearing hanbok (Korean traditional costumes). It turned out that wearing them will grant you FREE ENTRANCE to all 4 palaces within Seoul (Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Deoksugung, Changgyeonggung). Maybe next time I’ll try…lol Walking down south from Gwanghwamun, we saw protesters occupying the square and nearby monuments of King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sun Shin. I opted not to take pictures to avoid conflict. We just walked directly to Seoul City Hall then looked for restaurant at subway station for lunch.

Myeongdong Kalguksu at City Hall Station
Manduguk 만두국 Mandu Soup at KRW7500

Before we exit Anguk station, we saw a thrift shop selling FLEECE JACKETS at KRW10000 only! My friends bought each for their OOTD. What a great steal! After quick shopping, we walked up to Bukchon Hanok Village for some photoshoot…lol

View 5: Gahoe-dong Alley (Harmony) downhill looking up
Channelling your inner model…lol

After roaming around Bukchon, we flagged a taxi bound to Changdeokgung palace and paid KRW4000 one way divided by 4pax.

UNESCO World Heritage Marker within Changdeokgung Palace
Injeongjeon Hall (National Treasure)
This is the throne hall of Changdeokgung Palace
28Nakseonjae Hall
Nakseonjae Complex within Changdeokgung Palace

If for a wholeday, you want to visit those four Palaces (Changdeokgung Palace (including Huwon, Secret Garden), Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Gyeongbokgung Palace) and Jongmyo Shrine, ticket is KRW10000 won and is valid for use for three month after purchase. Secret Garden Tour is separate at KRW8000 with specific schedule so if you have time, grab it.

Along tourist spots like in Bukchon, there are Seoul tour guides in red with ‘i’ symbol scattered. They can help you flag a taxi like we did. We took again taxi bound to Namsan cable car minimize long walks. Korean taxis are great! Di ka tatagain…lol

Love Padlock Trees
N Seoul Tower also called Namsan Tower with Observatory at upper floors
Northern Seoul Skyline from Namsan observatory
Mongmyeoksan Beacon Hill Site was constructed to warn the city of incoming enemy invasions and to transmit news of emergencies to the government in Seoul. The name means “beacon hill in the capital.”

Descending from Namsan using the same cable car, we took a taxi to Jongno for a night walk at Cheonggyecheon stream. At a tourist center nearby, I hoarded guide maps for future use.

Cheonggyecheon stream at night

We walked until we reached Yoogane restaurant famous for their Dak-Galbi (Spicy Stir-fried Chicken with rice). It rained hard when we get there.

Getting banchan (side dishes) is Self-service at Yoogane so I picked kimchi many time. Sarap! The staff willingly cooked our dak-galbi for us. Happy Dinner!

Insadong is just few meters away so we checked one shop to buy some souvenirs. It was raining hard so we took a cab. We dropped off at Myeongdong station because we don’t know our guesthouse’s address in Korean hangul (lesson learned). Before going to sleep, I asked our innkeeper to write it so for next time that we’ll take a cab, I’ll show it to them.

DAY 4:
Everland 에버랜드
06:00 – Free Breakfast!
SEOUL (Myeongdong Exit 2) – EVERLAND (ROUNDTRIP)
Line 4 SkyBlue = Myeongdong to Dongdaemun History & Culture Park
Transfer to Line 2 Green = Dongdaemun History & Culture Park to Wangsimni
Transfer to Bundang Line Yellow = Wangsimni to Giheung
Transfer to Yongin Ever Line YellowGreen = Giheung to Jeondae Everland
Alight from subway station then take the shuttle bus (free of charge) from Yongin Ever Line and go to Everland
09:00 – Everland ticket at KRW36000 (Used 30% discount coupon for 4 pax from visitKorea site)
18:30 – Back at guesthouse then bought noodles, egg and banana milk at 7-11 convenience store (KRW3600)
20:00 – Subway from Myeongdong to Seoul Station for Lotte Mart Shopping
24:00 – UBER limousine of 4pax at KRW20000 back to guesthouse

Line 4 SkyBlue = Myeongdong to Dongdaemun History & Culture Park
Transfer to Line 2 Green = Dongdaemun History & Culture Park to Wangsimni
Transfer to Bundang Line Yellow = Wangsimni to Giheung
Transfer to Yongin Ever Line YellowGreen = Giheung to Jeondae Everland

Good to see the countryside from train as almost no one is outside due to extreme cold weather. Once you arrived at Jeondae Everland station, descent from the platform and follow the directions to Everland shuttle bus.

Merong Forever sa Everland!
Meet EverBear!
We went first in T-express, the high-speed wooden roller coaster in Korea. I expect a long line so we waited for less than an hour. Adrenaline rush indeed! The feeling of your guts getting out of your stomach was unforgettable! Buwis buhay pero enjoy!
European-inspired architecture around!
One of the attractions is the virtual reality presentation of Korea’s history.

If you have time left, do check Hologram show at Everland varies per day at any given time. Nakaka-amaze talaga!

Feel the Christmas in the air
Romantic Illumination

After going back to guesthouse from Everland, we decided to have dinner of noodles bought from 7-11. Then since we have time to spare before midnight, we went to Lotte Mart for pasalubong shopping.

C360_2016-12-09-21-42-52-049Lotte Mart Shopping 롯데마트 at Seoul Station was super enjoy! Andaming items on sale! From Pepero to cookies, candies, noodles, cosmetics, etc! There’s automatic tax refund when your reach KRW30000! Always bring your passport mo, as they scan it then automatically reflects discounted amount in your transaction. Laking tipid!
Take note that packaging of your bought items is self-service. Just get box that will fit your goods then arrange them and secure using packaging tapes on tables around. Boxes and tapes are FREE of charge. Make sure your packaging is good enough for your check-in baggage at airport. Keep in mind of your limit. In our case, 30KG per person.

We had problem going back to guesthouse because there was no taxi to flag at midnight. Then we each had big boxes to bring with. Suddenly, a black limousine passed before us! The driver wore an American suit. He opened his window and talked to our friend. The deal was KRW20000 and we’re skeptic if he’ll take us with our big boxes and said, “Ok! Ok!” We happily agreed and showed to him the piece of paper with our guesthouse address in Korean Hangul. Di na kami choosy sa bigat at pagod ng pamimili. He helped us carry the heavy boxes in the limousine. It was our first time riding on a luxury car so we’re overwhelmed! Sa Korea pa talaga namin maexperience. 20K Won lng naman at hati-hati pa kming apat. Sulit na sulit uber!

DAY 5:
Heunginjimun Gate 흥인지문
Dongdaemun Design Plaza 동대문디자인플라자 DDP
Ewha Womans University 이화여자대학교
Insadong 인사동
Cheongdamdong Fashion Street 청담패션거리
Hallyu K-Star Road 한류스타거리 K-STAR ROAD
07:00 – Free Breakfast!
08:00 – Myeongdong (Line 4) -> Dongdaemun (Line 4)
09:00 – Dongdaemun History & Culture Park station (Line 2)
-Dongdaemun History & Culture Park (Line 2) -> Ehwa Women’s Univ. (Line 2)
11:00 – Lunch Pork Bone soup at Onedang Sinchon
13:00 – Bus ride from Sinchon to Insadong (free ride from our friend’s sister)
14:00 – Shopping souvenirs at Insadong
16:00 – Subway from Jongno 3-ga to Apgujeong Rodeo Station
16:30 – Walk along Cheongdam Hallyu Street
17:00 – Chill at Starbucks Dosan-daero
17:30 – Bus ride from Cheongdam Bus Station back to Namsan Tunnel 3 station
18:00 – Walk back to Namsan guesthouse

Heunginjimun commonly known as Dongdaemun 동대문 (Great East Gate)
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
OOTD for the day
Ewha University

We had few places to visit this day because we’re meeting our sister’s friend who came from Cheonan. Took some pictures at Dongdaemun then rode subway to Ewha University. Upon meeting her, we had lunch at Onedang then accompanied us to Insadong.

Ppyeohaejangguk 뼈해장국 (Pork Bone Soup) at Onedang Sinchon
Souvenir shopping at Insadong. Traditional stores abound here especially fans, home decors and tea sets. Haggle if you can. We dropped at a store selling Korean bags and backpacks worth KRW10000 each! I even bought one for myself.
Walk along K-Star road. You can see the bear statues of your favorite K-pop icons!

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Also, this was our last night in Seoul and need ample time to pack our things so we went back to guesthouse.  After chilling at Starbucks, we decided to ride on a bus and used this Korea Transit Guide app.
Using our T-Money, we tapped it on the reader and rode Bus143. We dropped off at Namsan Tunnel 3 Station and walked few meters back to Myeongdong.

We settled for free noodles and bread from guesthouse for dinner as we had snacks earlier. We packed our things before sleep.

DAY 6:
Myeongdong Cathedral 천주교 서울대교구 주교좌 명동대성당
Myeongdong 명동 Shopping District
Myeongdong Tourist Information Center 명동관광정보센터
Namdaemun Market 남대문시장
Flight back to Manila
06:00 – Free Breakfast (Last na ‘to!)
07:00 – Walk towards cathedral to attend mass
09:00 – Cosmetics shopping at Myeongdong streets
10:00 – Souvenir photo shoot at tourist center
12:00 – Lunch at Onedang (Bibimbap for KRW7000)
13:00 – Long walk to Namdaemun (Divisoria-like shopping)
16:00 – Long walk back to Namsan guesthouse
17:00 – Airport shuttle service to Incheon Airport
19:00 – Dinner at the airport then check-in
21:00 – Boarding gate
00:40 – Arrival at Manila

The Cathedral Church of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, also known as Myeongdong Cathedral
Myeongdong Tourist Center is the largest in Seoul. Here, you have all the maps and guides needed. Huwag mahihiyang magtanong! 
Joseon King for a day! We availed of FREE Picture taking with Hanbok. They’ll assist you on how to wear costumes of king, queen, princess, noble, etc. The catch is, you only have 20-minute limit. There’s a touchscreen where you can choose different backgrounds then every shot, send it to you personal email. We first did solo shots then group pic. It was so amazing and interactive! If you want to print the picture, pay KRW1000. Choose your best photo to print. May soft copies ka na, may best photo hardcopy ka pa.
Lunch at Onedang: Dolsot-bibimbap 돌솥 비빔밥 (hot stone pot mixed rice) for KRW7000
Tteokbokki (Spicy rice cakes) and Mandu (Korean dumpling)
Fish cakes anyone?
Namdaemun Market. We realized that we should have done souvenir shopping here first before Insadong because prices are cheaper here! Somehow we managed to buy more souvenirs like shirts, Kpop notebooks, keychains, etc. When Koreans know that the buyers are Filipinos, they’ll shout: “Mura lang dito! Bili na!”
Find you Oppa here!
We availed the Airport shuttle service of KRW65000 from the guesthouse. We weighed first our baggages to avoid excess fees. In our case, since  we had combined check-in baggage of 120kg. At airport, total weight = 118kg. Whoah! Muntik na. Thank goodness.
Last dinner at airport: Vegetable Bibimbap for KRW7000

ACTUAL EXPENSES (excluding airfare and souvenirs/pasalubong)
D1 7472.3
D2 3010
D3 1713.55
D4 2468.2
D5 301
D6 1343.75
TOTAL (1KRW = PHP0.043) PHP16308.80


Additional Notes:
* You can refund your T-Money load at subway stations and convenience stores like 7-11. As much as possible, spend all your coins to buy souvenir, foods, etc.
* My friend had tax refund at airport so she followed the directions how to claim it. You can have extra money to spend or save.
* Take advantage of DISCOVER SEOUL PASS for attractions within Seoul.  There’s also KLOOK app and discount coupons from T-Money and Gyeonggi-do Coupon book.
* You have MANY WAYS to save costs for trips, transpo, atractions, food, etc. Just choose what’s convenient for you. In our case, we splurged a bit on dining because we had times we wanted not to skimp and enjoy Korean food. You have the chance to eat delicious dishes so why not spend a little more? It’s up to you anyway. (n_n)
* Web check-in at least a day before flight. Even with no printed copy, as long as you have electronic copy of boarding pass in your smartphone mo, it will work!
* Download apps available now like KLOOK (for promos), VisitKorea (for guides), MAPS.ME (offline map), Korea subway (trains) and Korea Transit Guide (bus route) to not get lost. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if needed. Koreans can speak English (sometimes broken English) but understandable. Don’t forget to say “Kamsahamnida!” as sign of gratitude.
* Most importantly, Enjoy your Korean trip!

Kamsahamnida Daehan Minguk!

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