Asia, South Korea, Travel Diaries

Falling in Love with Namiseom Island (The Great Seoul Searching Trip Day 4)

A true-blue K-Drama addict would of course knew about “Winter Sonata”.

Televised in 2002, Winter Sonata is part of the Endless Love installment by director Yoon Seok-Ho and stars Choi Ji Woo and Bae Yoong Joon. This drama, along with its “siblings,” — “Autumn in my Heart” (2000), “Summer Scent” (2003) and my personal favorite, “Spring Waltz” (2006). The “Endless Love” series buoyed the Korean Wave in the 1990s and the 2000s, not only in Asia but also in the West. “Winter Sonata” was also filmed in Namiseom or Nami Island located in Bangha-ri, Namsan-myeon, Chuncheon-si by the Bukhangang River.

Winter Sonata

Winter Sonata scenes

When I was still researching for our itinerary for South Korea, I was immediately drawn to Nami Island, not only because my sister and I were K-Drama buffs but due in part also to the rave reviews of the people who have been there. True, Nami Island is not a theme park where there is always something to do. But if you’re the type of person who wants a temporary respite from the hustle and bustle of Seoul, then Namiseom is for you.

How to go there
Going to Nami Island is not easy. In our case, from Myeongdong — we chose to take the subway, then change to an ITX (a faster train, similar to the KTX, which covers transit to and from Seoul to neighboring provinces). However, truth is we rode the ITX train by mistake as we failed to transfer to a regular train in Sambong Station but got lost along the way. Anyway, the mistake saved us time since the ITX does not stop on all the train stations.

Should this happen to you, do not panic. Inside the ITX are friendly train stewardesses who will issue you a proper ticket. Do not hesitate to approach them and explain the situation.

What we did is from Myeongdong Station, we took the subway going to Seoul Station where we transferred train lines going to Sambong Station. This is where we were supposed to take the regular train going to Gapyeong (the nearest train station to Nami Island).

Nami

Subway to Nami Island

The sign that says we’re in the right station, but we boarded the wrong train! 🙂

You can also take the bus going to Nami Island.
* You may opt to catch the bus on two stops, Insa-dong and at the exit 4 of Jamsil Subway Station. Bus tickets cost KRW7,500 for one-way and KRW 15,000 for round trip.

Directions for bus travel going to Nami Island from Insadong

Outside Gapyeong Station, there’s already a taxi stand in front. Just tell the taxi driver that you are going to the Nami Ferry Station. Fare is between KRW4,000 to KRW5,000 (PHP148-185.00). The driver will bring you exactly to the parking area of the Nami Republic (the name they call Nami Island).

The entrance to the Namirara Republic. You have to present your “visa” at the immigration

Entrance to Namirara is already inclusive of round trip Ferry Ride and costs KRW10,000 per person while foreigners get a KRW2,000 discount. From the immigration, you will line up at the plank to wait for the incoming ferry which will shuttle you to the island. For the adventurous, you may also opt to cross the river via zip line (separate charges apply).

Namiseom Ferry

This is the gateway to the Namirara Experience!

ferry to Namiseom

These guys have finished their tour of Namiseom. We boarded the same ferry after a while

More than a tourist destination, Nami Island is a place which encourages and cultivates the love for the arts and culture. Upon disembarking from the ferry, my sister and I decided to get BingRae ice cream (the one with vanilla ice cream sandwiched in fish shaped waffle and with red bean paste) and sit in a bonfire situated near a make-shift stage where an old gentleman is playing the saxophone. While we have no idea what he was playing, he was really good. Surrounded by seniors clapping enthusiastically on the performance, my sister and I thoroughly enjoyed our fifteen minutes, eating ice cream, getting warmed by the bonfire while enjoying good music.

A great welcome to Namirara!

Then, we started touring the island. <WARNING: PHOTO HEAVY POST!!!)

This place does not deserve long rhetorics. I'll have the pictures do the talking!

Nami Map

Nami Island

Just like a painting…

Nami Island

The perfect place to reflect and just be in awe.

Nami Island

The perfect place to ask for a “piggy back ride”

Feeling “Winter Sonata-fied”?

Truth be told, Nami Island is “Winter Sonata-fied” The places featured in the drama are marked all through out the island. There’s also a small memorabilia wall featuring pictures from the filming, as well as a nice tribute to the director of all four “Endless Love” series.

Winter Sonata first kiss

The site of Winter Sonata’s first kiss!

Of course we had to take pictures!

There is a funny story behind the picture above. My sister and I were still adjusting the tripod when two couples also stopped on the same spot, as if waiting for us to finish. I think they’re looking forward to recreating the “kiss scene”. We can sense that they are getting impatient, but hey–we traveled across the sea to experience this! Bear with us! When we left after three minutes, they were still there, no longer smiling and I can sense that the girls are already annoyed and not feeling Choi Ji-Wooish any longer 🙂

Nami Bike Lane

The “famous” Bike Lane

Yongha Tribute Nami Island

There’s a plaque dedicated to the memory of Winter Sonata second male lead, Park Yong Ha, who took his own life in 2010

Nami Island Winter Sonata

The famous tree-lined road where the lovers kiss… in reality, it’s hard to even take a picture due to the crowd who have the same thing in mind. The empty space here is a rarity

Life-sized statue of the two leads

The place is the perfect location for engagement photos. If you’re the type who loves traveling and would like your engagement photos to have the K-Drama appeal (romantic but not cloyingly sweet), why not plan a trip to Nami Island with your friends and ask them to be your official photographers?

I’d really like to go back in Winter (even if its kills me) because I want to see Nami Island covered in snow, it must have been magical.

For more information, visit: www.namisum.com

Advertisements
Standard
Asia, South Korea, Travel Diaries

Seoul Searching Trip Day 3: Magnificent Korea

If days 1 and 2 got us acquainted with the beauty of Busan and Seoul, then day 3 is our time to get acquainted with the amazing South Korean culture and hospitality.

Day 3 – Magnificent Korea

We woke up late so that as soon as we were ready, my sister and I headed quickly to Myeongdong to look for a place to eat. After walking for a few blocks, we found this restaurant called Yoogane Chicken Galbi, in one of the alleyways near M Plaza. We have no idea what’s the food like inside but the long line of patrons waiting for an available seating surely peaked our interest! (Tip 1: Always eat where the natives eat…or wherever there’s a long line).

We were immediately seated and given the menu. The sister and I opted for the Dak Kalbi Chalpan Bokkeumbap, chicken marinated in a spicy sauce, cooked with a side of veggies and rice in a hot sizzling flat pan while you watch. One order costs around KRW5,000 (PHP184.00 x 2), and we ordered for two. Orders come with three side dishes dishes (electric yellow daikons, kimchi bean sprouts and shredded cabbage), plus a tall pitcher of cold water, maybe in anticipation of the fiery pit that will be your mouth.

Yoogane Seoul

The beginnings of our Yoogane experience!

First, a confession — I have low tolerance for spicy foods that even a sliver of chili is enough to make me cry and shed copious tears. Maybe it’s the “newness” of being in a foreign land, especially in one where Kimchi is a staple diet and the need to prove myself, I immediately said yes when my concerned sister asked me if I can handle our brunch.

Yoogane Seoul

Stirring in the rice for an amazing Kalbi experience!

How can I describe the taste? It’s a wonderful mixture of spicy, savory and awesome goodness of the crunchy vegetables mixed with slightly burnt rice. To temper the heat, I eat cold daikons, the shredded lettuce and drank glasses of water one after another.

The effects of the dish started reeling by the time that I was in my second serving. I actually had a picture showing me about to dispense another spoonful, but my eyes were already red, my cheeks flushed and it looked like I was about to cry. So, I’d rather not post it here.

After brunch, we headed back to M Plaza to have our pictures taken wearing Hanbok. I’ve read in one of the blogs I’ve visited prior to the trip that takes pictures of tourists wearing hanbok for KRW20,000 (PHP738)–that would have been cool too, but after doing a bit of research, I found out that the Seoul Global Culture and Tourism Office located in M Plaza is offering photo ops for FREE! So instead of spending KRW20,000 for our hanbok picture, we got it for nothing and we get to chat with the friendly personnel manning the tourist office.

traditional hanbok

Free hanbok photo ops at the Seoul Global Culture and Tourism Office in M Plaza

The tourism office is also the place to withdraw money (using your international ATM — I used BPI International Card here and it worked just fine), write and send post cards for your loved ones (for free!) and even check out some of the pictures of Hallyu stars.

The staff is very nice and accommodating and they will allow you to take as many pictures as you want wearing the costumes (within a 15-minute allotted time frame, of course). You can also ask them for maps and brochures of places you want to see within Seoul. Before we left, they gave us cellphone charms featuring Haechi, Seoul’s mascot.

Seoul Global Culture and Tourism Center

My sister with the friendly and accommodating staff from Seoul Global Culture and Tourism Center in Myeongdong

Seoul Global Culture & Tourism Office

Messages from around the world!

M Plaza

Hanbok photo ops for free here!

Note: The Seoul Global Culture and Tourism Center is located at 5th Fl. M-Plaza 31-1 Myeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, Korea. Contact Information: (02) 3789-7961~3 / seoulcenter@seoulwelcome.com

Jewels in the Palace
After having our pictures taken, we headed to Deoksugong Palace located near the Seoul City Hall. Entrance to the palace grounds is just at KRW1,000 (PHP36). The palace was considered the smallest of the other palaces within Seoul and is built during the mid-fifteenth century.

The palace courtyard houses a lot of structures including various courts and houses for the King as his palace staff, his Queen and the quarters for the princes and princesses. Also inside was a massive throne room and various antechambers.

Gyeongbokgong

Inside the palace courtyard

Deoksugung Palace

Inside the Palace Walls…

The most exciting part our palace visit is the changing of the guards. It was full of pomp and pageantry which is impressive considering that in the real world, we are just in downtown Seoul. If you will try to ignore the cars and buses whizzing behind you and the ringing cellphone of the person to your right or the flashy DSLR cameras, maybe you can try to imagine that you are in 15th century Seoul as a commoner watching the changing of the guards.

Deoksung Palace

The changing of the guards at Deoksugung Palace

To continue our “Seoul Cultural Day”, we also paid our respects to King Sejong the Great, the founder and father of Korea and the widely regarded as the inventor of the hangul, Korea’s written and spoken language. He is also credited for advancements in military, science and technology and literature during his reign.

King Sejong the Great. Underneath the statue is the entrance to his museum

Behind the base of this great statue is an underground museum dedicated to the life and legacy of the great King. Called “The Story of King Sejong,” the space is a compact representation of the many legacies of this brave and intelligent king. Inside is summary of his life, a replica of his throne and his many contributions to the country. Entrance is FREE so I would recommend that you spend a few minutes getting to acquainted to this wise ruler. The museum is located beneath the Gwanghwamun Square and in front of the Gyeongbukgong Palace (The Northern Palace) near the Seoul Police Department.

Gyeongbukgong Palace

On my way to the Northern Palace gates…

Our third day was definitely the best type of field trip I ever had. It made me appreciate Korean culture more and at the same time, be conscious of my country’s own culture and history. It is truly impressive how Koreans managed to incorporate their history to the continuing modernity of their city.

NEXT: NAMI ISLAND!

Standard
South Korea, Travel Diaries

The Great Seoul Searching Trip (Days 1 and 2)

Last March, I had the great opportunity of going to Seoul (via Busan) and see the many magnificent things that I used to see on TV only. As mentioned in my earlier post, the trip was a pleasant surprise, I was not expecting to go but ended up going after being awarded a visa by the embassy.

Since the trip was unexpected, I ended up spending for the plane ticket whereas my sister was able to get hers at PHP3,500 (all in, round trip), while I spent close to PHP20,000.00 for the round trip ticket to Seoul, with roughly less than two weeks to go. I figured, the opportunity was presenting itself to me, I got a visa, so I might as well get the ticket!

As I’ve said, nothing beats booking your tickets early. But for instances when you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, don’t hesitate and just go!

My sister and I are the type of people who prefer to travel on their own, without a travel agency directing our every move. This preference (and the fact that we don’t want to spend money on tour arrangements) has made me a research hound, exhausting all possible informing online, through forums and blogs about South Korea. I was able to make a solid itinerary, good for six days and booked our lodging online–an overnight stay at Toyoko Inn No. 1 in Busan and a six-day stay on a non-sharing guest house run by Zaza Backpackers located at the busy Myeongdong area (more on this later).

We arrived in Busan just as it was getting colder, after all it was already past nine in the evening when the plane landed in Busan. Clearing immigration is a breeze, the officers are very formal but kind. After verifying our visa and travel details, the officers took our pictures and finger prints before handing us back our passport. We got our luggage, breezed through customs, exchanged our pesos for Korean Won before heading out the door.

Outside, we looked for the airport limousine bus station outside the airport arrival halls where buses mostly converge, and searched for the bus marked Busan Train Station, heading to Nampadong area. The buses collect a flat fare of KRW5,000 which you will insert in the metal slot upon boarding the bus. Please note that the Gimhae International Airport is quite far from downtown Busan and you have the option of taking the airport limousine buses or the taxi (which will cost you from KRW20,000 to KRW30,000).

We almost got lost but was kindly given assistance by an artiste-nerdy type guy who was also taking the same night trip to Busan station area. Our hotel, the Toyoko Inn Hotel is strategically located beside Busan Train Station, where we will take the KTX headed for Seoul the next morning.

Toyoko Inn Busan

Toyoko Inn Busan – Small rooms, but gets the job done!

Toyoko Inn Busan view

Our magnificent view from the tiny but comfortable room

If you are looking for a very cheap but comfortable, efficient and clean place to stay in Busan, I highly recommend the Toyoko Inn. A double room will cost you between KRW71,500 to KRW82,500 (tax inclusive) or roughly PHP2,600 for a night’s stay. This already came with a simple buffet breakfast for two. (read more about my review of Toyoko Inn here.)

Had a quick dinner at the Lotteria across the street (Seoul’s version of McDonald’s, with a more interesting menu line-up), before we retired to our room for an early trip tomorrow going to Seoul. I was also very tired, since I had to report for work prior to jetting off to Busan in the afternoon.

Arriving in Seoul

My sister and I took the 8AM KTX trip going to Seoul. The trip took roughly two hours and 45 minutes, and the legs of the trip end exactly at Seoul Station, the gleaming, high-tech train station located right at the heart of the city. In our third-world trained eyes, the train station looked more like our country’s airport. Immediately, the small wonders never failed to amaze us: how the KTX had train stewardesses dressed in impeccable uniform and cute flower hair clips; how the station seemed to be an endless hum of activity; our jaws dropped seeing office girls with their equally cute boyfriends in tow flaunting gorgeous dresses and shoes-to-die-for!

Welcome to the first world, girls!

one of the many entrance to Mt. Namsan

After our quick check-in at Zaza Backpackers, we headed to Mt. Namsan to try the cable car, to see the N Seoul Tower up close and most importantly, drop my contribution to the Locks of Love perimeter fence below the N Seoul Tower.

Here are some exciting things to do on top Mt. Namsan:

1. Take the trip going up through the Namsan Cable Car. The cable car ride cost KRW6,000 one way and KRW7,500 round trip. We chose to buy a one-way ticket since we wanted to explore a bit going down. Trust me, the trip up through the cable car is worth the experience. You will get to see the surrounding areas around Mt. Namsan. This is breath taking during sunset.

2. Contribute to the “Locks of Love” perimeter fence beside the N Seoul Tower. I bought this miniature lock on my building’s resident 711 for PHP65 (USD2) and carried it from Manila to Seoul. I quickly wrote me and the Hubby’s name on one side and then the name of my whole family (i.e. mom, dad, bro and sis)on the other side. I guess, if I can’t bring my whole family to Seoul…then I am bringing their names with me. The Locks of Love usually contain messages declaring undying love, love wishes (from the single peeps, perhaps?) as well as names of couples with their anniversary dates to boot. There’s a belief (fueled by another K-Drama) that couples who put their locks in the Locks of Love wall will remain together forever. If you happen not to have a lock and key with you, you can purchase from the N Seoul Tower gift shop. This will not cost you anything, well save for the lock and key, but it’s worth the experience. You may opt to keep the key or throw it out.

Locks of Love N Seoul Tower

Can you find my lock?

3. Soak in the sights of Seoul atop the viewing deck. – Admission fee to the viewing deck is only KRW9,000 (PHP331.00) but if you want to also visit the Teddy Bear Museum, you can opt to get their Observation Deck + Teddy Bear Museum package at KRW14,000 (PHP516.00). This is already a steal considering Museum Entrance is already worth KRW8,000 (around PHP300). Here’s what you will see on top:

N Seoul Tower

The view on top is simply breath taking!

4. Unleash your inner child at the Teddy Bear Museum – Ever since my sister and I saw the K-Drama “Princess Hours” starring Yoon Eun-Hye, we’ve been crazy about the bears featured in the drama. Remember how the bears used to represent the important plot points each time an episode ends? So, after learning that there are Princess Hours memorabilia present in the museum, we just had to go!

Princess Hours

How cute!!!

The bears were just too cute, that I just wanted to rip them off the shelves and display areas and take them all home.

Bear Museum N Seoul Tower

The little sis playing with the bears…well, almost.

Teddy Bear Museum

The bears from Princess Hours!

Princess Hours memorabilia

Memorabilia from the drama like the script signed by the director, the headband used by Eun-Hye and pencils (props)

5. Lastly, take lots and lots of pictures and enjoy the experience! Prior to climbing the N Seoul Tower, we were already at the Namsan Park enjoying the view as well as the cold air. When we visited, temperature was between 5 to 0 degrees Celsius so we had fun going up and down and posing on some of the areas within the park.

It was also impressive seeing a lot of elderly people taking their afternoon jog on the winding path of the mountain and giving us two Manila girls a run for our money. While we were wheezing and running out of breathe, the oldies were walking like nothing.

In my next post, I will wrote about Namisan or Nami Island.

Standard
Baguio City, Philippines

A laid-back Baguio Adventure

Baguio, a city located in the Cordillera Administrative Regio (CAR) in Northern Philippines, was labeled as the “Summer Capital of the Philippines.” Maybe it’s because of the cool-weather climate, usually playing between 17-10 degrees celcius during the summer season. The temperature can be attributed to the fact that Baguio City is located 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) above sea-level and is considered Luzon’s tropical pine forests ecoregion conducive to the growth of mossy plants and orchids.

Baguio is a go-to destination of many Filipinos even before the whole cheap-airfare fads began or the ubiquitous “Summer at Bora” became a by-word among Filipinos. Incidentally, I hate it when people call it “Bora”. Geesh, it’s Bo-ra-cay — 3 syllables, one word. As if calling the island “Bora” will make you ten thousand times cooler (and the Aklanons hate it either when people call the island “Bora”). But let’s save the rant for another post.

Usually, fond summer memories among generations of Filipinos are made in Baguio. Whether it’s the pony rides, the trip to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) grounds and eyeing cute cadets or the strawberry and ukay-ukay (flea market) shopping near Burnham Park.

For our family, Baguio has become very synonymous to the Queen (my younger sister) who finished her bachelor studies at the University of the Philippines Baguio a decade ago. That time, we spent a lot of summers and Christmas vacation going up the mountains to spend time with the sister. Now, after ten years, she came back to continue her communications career. She now lives and works in Benguet (a good 45 minutes away from Baguio City).

I decided to spend my last birthday in Baguio, taking the opportunity to get away from work. Since we have been to the city countless of times before, we decided to take our own sweet time and just go to the places we want to go, and have no set itinerary in mind.

If you’re family is like mine — adventurous but a very loud and complaining bunch, up for anything except anything that will cost them too much and easily gets bored with the usual scenery — why don’t you try to adapt our itinerary when we were at the Summer Capital last May? This itinerary applies to those who have been to Baguio at least once and have done their share of doing the usual “touristy” stuff.

1. Always drop by Cafe by the Ruins – to appreciate artworks from Baguio and Cordillera-based artists and enjoy the freshly baked herbed bread!

Freshly baked herbed Basil bread with herb cheese spread/dip, PHP80 per order

The cafe is located at Shuntug Road and can easily be found. Just ask the locals or even the friendly cab drivers and they’d be glad to bring you there. The name Cafe by the Ruins is because the Café was built by the ruins of the gazebo of the 1st American-Governor of Benguet AND the Café is built AROUND the ruined walls of the house of Phelps Whitmarsh, the late American Governor of Benguet. The walls were ruined during World War II, and the remaining walls (with bullet marks and all) was beautifully preserved and incorporated in the place, complimenting the various ornamental plants and the artistically designed interior of the cafe itself.

world war 2 ruins

The remaining walls of the original structure…now part of the cafe interiors

For my birthday lunch, we ordered their Special Kare Kare, Baguio Bagnet and Cheese Lumpia Straws, plus six orders of rice. We haven’t eaten a decent meal after leaving Manila and we were famished!

cheese lumpia

Cheese Lumpia Straw, PHP120 per order

kare-kare

Vegetarian Kare Kare

2. Discover the art of Tam-Awan Village – is located in Pinsao Proper and is quite a long taxi ride from the city proper. The village contains original native houses transported from their original location in Ifugao. You can also find the so-called Garden in the Sky on top of the carved mountain side (it’s a long and slippery trek but the view up in worth it). Tam-awan is also a venue for artists’ exhibits and cultural shows. Entrance to Tam-awan Village is PHP50 for adults and PHP20 for children.

lovers

“I think we’re alone now” – lovers in Tam-awan Village

If you have senior citizens within your group, it might be a bit tricky going up the Garden in the Sky. For folks with really weak legs, I suggest you skip going up and just enjoy the sights offered at ground level or on the lower part of Tam-awan, though it really depends — my dad is 62 years old while my mom is 58, both managed to climb. Going down is another matter all together due the slippery slope. My mom slipped, but it’s all good since she didn’t hurt herself and we managed to have a video of her slipping and hugging a tree. It was funny. Point is, ask the oldies if they’re comfortable going up.

3. Spend time at Burnham Park just chilling out and taking pictures – you don’t have to do everything just because you’re at Burnham Park. When we were there, we spent time sitting on the benches eating various Baguio delicacies and street food (strawberry taho, anyone?). We also took photos and just chatted. You might get tempted to do the time and tested “boat rowing” which is almost synonymous with staying at the Park. You can rent one of the boats (with their animal-shaped Paper Mache heads) for roughly PHP60 for 30 minutes. Tried this when I was younger and it’s a fun activity with friends. Or better yet, ask your crush or girlfriend/boyfriend to ride the boat with you and have your mini “MTV” moment while rowing in the waters of Burnham Park.

Burnham Park

Spending an idyllic afternoon…rowing…(Boats for Rent, Burnham Park)

Instead of going the usual route of restaurants and fast foods, why not try the rows and rows of canteens and food houses inside the park? We did, and it was a pleasurable dining experience. We spent about a PHP 1,000 for a mid-noon meal for a group of six and we had more than enough to fuel us for the trip going to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).

4. Play soldier and remember our nation’s heroes at the place where they were educated and molded, The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) – Entrance to the PMA, the country’s premier military institution, is free but you have to register at the gate. Also, the PMA does not allow its visitors to enter the campus in slippers or sleeveless tops (for women). They follow a strict decorum in terms of the attire and the behavior of its guests. As the training ground for future soldiers and military officers of the country, its visitors are expected to follow the ground rules.

PMA

Welcome to the Philippine Military Academy

I mentioned that this blog is for a “laid-back Baguio adventure” but a trip inside the PMA is a test of endurance because you will have to walk or hike (if you don’t have a private vehicle). This is especially tricky when the sun is shining its brightest. Despite this, I assure you that it’s worth it. Upon entering, you will see many statues like that of the young Filipino general and hero, Gregorio del Pilar as well as the PMA Cadet’s hat which is located in the middle of the road. Worth checking out is the Monument for the Fallen Alumni which contains the names of PMA graduates who went ahead of their “mistahs.”

The best place inside the campus is the Relic’s Point, containing tanks, humvees and canyons that will make any war buff salivate (like the Queen), nearby you will find the Korean War Memorial Monument.

Relics Point Philippine Military Academy

My little brother, acting like he was 10 years old, playing on top of one of the tanks at Relic’s Point, inside the Philippine Military Academy (PMA)

Fallen Alumni

A touching tribute to the Fallen Alumni

Fallen Alumni Monument

Saying a short prayer to the Fallen Alumni

The Philippine Military Academy is located at Fort del Pilar, along Loakan Road. Learn more about the PMA here.

Of course, there’s a lot of things that you can do in Baguio, like visit The Mines View Park, The Mansion, the Lourdes Grotto, hear mass at the Baguio Cathedral, among many others. The above activities are the things we did during my birthday celebration last May. For a more comprehensive list of Baguio attractions, you may go here.

Lastly, I will tell you a secret.

It’s about this awesome Chinese restaurant along Session Avenue, near the Baguio Cathedral and located on the second floor of an old building.

vintage baby chair

A vintage toddler’s chair

Eating at Mandarin Chinese Restaurant

I love the Wong Kar Wai-ness of the picture

Mandarin Chinese Restaurant

empty table at Mandarin Chinese Restaurant, Session Road, Baguio

Mandarin Chinese Restaurant is one of Baguio’s oldest restos serving top-notch, quality Chinese food at affordable prices. The first time we went here, two years ago to be exact, all five of us had no idea what to expect as my brother lead us into the second floor of a really old building. Inside is a chinese restaurant that seemed stuck in the 1950s with its old decor and vintage furniture. The menu was a no-nonsense list of some of our favorite Chinese favorites while the servers looked like they’ve been with the restaurant for the last 30 years.

But if you will go past the old decor and the feeling that you are stuck in an old Wong Kar Wai film, you will notice how the old server (he is also the one who served us when we went back last May) is kind, efficient and very helpful. The food is served warm and fresh. The vegetables were very crisp, the viand tasty and filling.

Inside Mandarin Chinese Restaurant

I didn’t have any food shots because we were very famished when we had our dinner that the food didn’t stand a chance as soon as it was placed in front of us. For a group of six, we paid roughly PHP1,400.00 for a set meal.

* All information indicated in this blog is correct during the time it was written. All photographs are the property of LM Suzon, otherwise, due credit is given to source.

Standard
Asia, South Korea, Travel Tips

Step by step visa application for South Korea

the South Korean Embassy – Manila (from the embassy’s FB page)

After a successful and memorable Busan and Seoul trip last March, I posted a step-by-step South Korean tourist visa application in my other blog. Following the trip, many of my friends have sent me text messages or even asked me personally about getting a tourist visa for South Korea. I am reposting my experience as well as the tips that worked best for me so that other people might use it as they start planning for their own Seoul Searching trip.

First, my trip was completely, right off the bat, unexpected. Only my sister was supposed to go but her travel buddy had an unexpected family tragedy. Prior to the trip, I have been researching her Korea trip for the last four months, realizing that it won’t cost me anything to apply for a 59D visa (single entry). After finding that I have enough in my bank account to risk getting a bank certificate, I decided that I won’t lose anything should I take a chance an apply for a 59D.

First, allow me to address a misconception. No one knows how much money you should have in your bank in order to get approved. To be honest with you, I have less than PHP50,000 in the bank (more on the lower five figures). There are other factors that the consul consider other than your bank account. It can either be your tenure at your current job, your stability or connection in the Philippines or maybe even the money in your bank account. So for those with less money in the bank but is willing to risk it…I say go for it. Applying for a visa is free. No one really knows if you’ll get approved or not.

“Winging it” and “risking it” turned out positive for me. Valentine’s Day 2011 was made extra memorable not because of any undying declarations of love, but because I realized that I am indeed going to Seoul in three weeks time.

As my way of giving back to the unnamed faces whose post in the internet who helped me get through the visa application process, I am sharing what I knew based from my experience and the many researches that I did early this year.

Process explained below is for TOURIST VISA (59D), SINGLE ENTRY.

Here’s the step-by-step process:

1. Make sure all your documents are complete. This includes the following:
– Application form (downloaded file from the South Korean embassy) which you print using A4 paper. On the application form, attach your most recent passport-sized photo (white background). Please have your photo taken on a really good photography shop.

– Photocopy of the first page (the information page) of your passport.

– Certificate of employment from your current employer indicating your tenure in the company, salary and position. It’s important that in your company letterhead, the company’s complete address and telephone number is indicated. For the love of God, do not even ATTEMPT to submit a fake employment certificate. I heard that someone from the embassy really calls our employers to verify. Please do not do anything stupid which will affect the reputation of other Filipino travelers.

– Bank certificate. The certificate usually indicates how much you have in the bank as of date of request. This is easy to request. In BPI for example, you can get your bank certificate for as less than an hour. You will just have to pay PHP100 (USD2) to facilitate your request. For BDO account holders, my friend told me that you will get your bank certificate the next day.

– Income Tax Return (ITR) Form 2306 – this is a non-negotiable requirement. If you don’t have your current ITR, try submitting your old ITR either from the year before. In fact, I used an ITR issued to me by my former company. I stayed for less than six months in that company hence my contribution rate was minuscule. I was most worried about this document, but apparently the one I submitted qualified.

2. As soon as you have all your documents in order, you are ready to take the next step! Go directly to the South Korean Embassy located in McKinley Hill in Taguig. If you are based in Manila and can spare a few hours of your time, you do not need to have your applications coursed through a travel agency. Coursing your visa application through a travel agency will just cost you money. If you don’t have anything else to do, do it yourself. The application process is easy and very fool-proof. The embassy accepts visa applications from 9AM to 12NN from Monday to Friday. Please bring valid ID so that you can go past the kind guards manning the gate.

3. Submit all your documents. As soon as you enter the Visa Application area, you will see a receptionist stationed near the door. She will ask you if you have a visa in any of the OECD countries (like Japan, USA, Australia, Shengen, etc) — she will ask you this in order to identify which window will accept your application. If you are a first time traveler or don’t have visa from any of the countries indicated in the list, you will be referred to Window 1. She will give you a stub indicating your number.

My sister and I was assigned to Window 1 — while waiting for our number to be called, we arranged our documents and made sure they are neat and presentable. We also arranged them based on the order indicated in the embassy website. Make sure that your documents are neat and presentable. It never hurts to give a good impression to the consul.

When your number is called, approach the assigned window and give your papers to the Consul. He may or he may not ask you questions about your trip. Don’t get nervous and answer him as truthfully as possible. Tell him you are going to Seoul so that you can make Lee MinHo realize that he is meant to be your better half. Or that you are there on a mission to stalk Super Junior. RULE OF THUMB: Please do not lie.

4. After submitting your documents, the consul will hand you a piece of paper which will indicate when you can pick-up your passport. Whatever happens, do not lose that paper. Guard it with your life.

Indicated is the date and time when you can come back to get your passport. Do not lose the paper since that is the only requirement in getting your passport.

After you have the paper, you can now go home and hyperventilate in the safety of your room. You have done your share, let the universe (and fate) take over.

PICKING UP THE PASSPORT
First, a word of caution –just because you submitted the documents does not mean that you are automatically granted a visa. No one knows what will get you approved or denied, except the Consul. You can pick-up your passport on the date indicated on the piece of paper (2PM to 4PM ONLY).

Leave your ID at the guard, pass by the receptionist and get a number and wait for your number to be called. The consul will hand you your passport, and you may check if you have been granted a visa before leaving the embassy grounds.

If your passport does not contain anything but a stamp indicating “APPLICATION RECEIVED” and you are handed a piece of paper with procedures for reapplication printed, it means your application was denied. You will have to wait another six months before you can plot your KPOP staking campaign once again.

REMEMBER — These are based on my personal experience only, and should not be taken as hard facts. For a more comprehensive process, go to the embassy website.

So what did I learn?
1.It pays to do your research.
2. Always be nice to people. You will never know when you will be left wanting for their help and assistance.
3. Do not lie. Be honest always.
4. If in doubt, do not be afraid to ask for directions.

getting a SK tourist visa

Our 59D Visa last March 2012

I hope this post will be of help to you. It may look daunting at first, but I am the perfect example that it is not impossible.

Standard
Asia, Singapore, Travel Diaries

Taking the first steps towards a lifelong love of travel

I glanced furtively on the white paper labelled “Disembarkation Sheet” as the pretty yet uptight airline stewardess from JetStar handed two pieces for my sister and I. My sister, sensing my discomfort, said “You will have to fill that out. We will submit it once we enter Singapore immigration”. 

It was June 2007, I was also 27 years old and traveling out of the country for the first time. A few months before, my 24-year old sister scored super cheap tickets from Manila to Singapore, for about PHP6,000 each (that was considered cheap then) and asked me to join her. I was simply elated that I booked a ticket that same night. The same night, we also found a hostel through the internet but were skeptical with the address. Later on, we learned why we were iffy with the accommodations booked for us.

After carefully copying details from my newly minted passport (encased in a yellow, plastic Winnie the Pooh passport cover – don’t ask me why), I leaned on the cramped seat while glancing beyond the airline windows. I couldn’t see anything outside except for rows and rows of fluffy white clouds. I closed my eyes –the pilot just announced that we will be landing in a few minutes.

SINGAPORE! I couldn’t believe it. I have no idea what to expect–except that, based on my research–the country is gloriously clean and that it is a bit hot and humid just like the Philippines. Then it hit me, I was traveling out of the country for the first time, with ten thousand pesos in my pocket and a new suitcase which I had to check through the gate. Inside were clothes and shoes good enough for a two week stay.We were staying for just four days

breeze through immigration

2007 – I was still thin and had black hair. Just breezed through immigration

I breezed through Immigration and was given the 30-day stamp. I was simply elated and couldn’t believe that I was a thousand miles away from the family and the (then) boy friend. My sister and I took the MRT out of the airport and hopped on the cab at the Tanah Merah station for Farrer Park where we booked a room on a local boarding house. Inside the cab, I noticed that credit cards were being accepted for paying the cab. Immediately, I was beyond impressed.

cabs accept travelers cards

no need to worry about cash. these cabs accept cards

I remember that I kept saying to my sister, “Imagine they accept credit cards! And the cabs — the cabs were of the Mercedes Benz variety!” My sister was amused of how I managed to find something to say just about everything. For someone like me who never went anywhere but the familiar streets of Makati and the idyll of the various Philippine provinces I’ve been to, the cleanliness, the clockwork efficiency and the(then) newness of Singapore was simply too much.

We found the boarding house and was surprised that it was a dormitory housing college students. This was our first lesson learned when booking accommodations via the net. The place was a mess, with a smell that seemed to permeate the nose. Rooms open to reveal half-naked college boys eating noodles and playing on their PC. In the room assigned to us, the beds were thrown haphazardly, empty candy wrappers and soda bottles littering the floor. In one corner of the room, someone’s worn underwear was crumpled in a heap. My sister and I looked at each other and plotted redemption. There was no way we are staying in this house.

Redemption came in the form of K, one of my sister’s dearest friends who lived and worked in Singapore. One look on the chaos surrounding my sister and I — and she announced that we will be staying with her on her apartment in Tampines. We spent four days sharing the room with her and her two Filipina room mates.

lost in Singapore

Getting lost in Singapore, circa 2007

We managed to get the money we deposited on that God-forsaken dormitory, but we were also charged for one day’s stay, in spite the fact that they deceived us with the details of the accommodation. This incident made me OC with booking accommodations over the net, to the point of emailing contact persons repeatedly for confirmation, obsessively checking and rechecking room details and reviews over the net and my innate love of TripAdvisor.com.

love of travel

Unniechan, my travel angel — the one who encouraged my love of travel

Four days passed by like a blur. I did the usual touristy things: posed for pictures with the Merlion, had a trip to Sentosa to watch the Pink Dolphins and see the fishes at the Singapore Ocean Park (there was still no Universal Studios back then), prayed on the Fountain of Wealth for abundance, shopped like there’s no tomorrow (or for whatever my minuscule budget afforded me) and simply enjoyed the sights, sounds and taste of Singapore.

traveling young

we were so young

sentosa cable car

On our way to Sentosa onboard the cable car

It was my first time to ride a cable car, and to say I was scared was an understatement. But when the cabin started moving towards the island and I saw the ocean and the huge ships underneath us — the fear vanished. To this day, this is one of my fondest memories when I first traveled.

Singapore Zoo

Do I measure up?

Siloso Beach

Sitting in the famous Siloso Beach Sign

It was my first time to ride a cable car, and to say I was scared was an understatement. But when the cabin started moving towards the island and I saw the ocean and the huge ships underneath us — the fear vanished. To this day, this is one of my fondest memories when I first traveled.

Standard