South Korea, Travel Diaries

Seoul on a Budget Day 02: Nami + Petit France

This is the part 2 of the our budget breakdown for my Seoul trip last number (for part 1, go here).

Day 2: Nami Island, Petit France and Nandaemun Market
We woke up really early for our second day in Seoul because we decided to avail of the Nami Island Limousine, instead of embarking on a grand adventure like before (by taking the train). We decided to get a one-way ticket since we are planning to take advantage of Nami’s Proximity to Petit France and visit that as well.

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How to go to Nami through the Namiseom Limousine Bus
1. Go to http://www.namisum.com and look for the transportation information. Click “Online reservation” at the bottom of the page. This will direct you to a page that you have to fill out. Round trip fare, including entrance to Namiseom Island cost KRW23,000 for foreigners. Since we opted to take the Shuttle Bus for one way only, we paid KRW15,000 (PHP639) each — this already includes our entrance.

2. In our case, the bus departs in front of Tapgol Pagoda Park in Insa-dong, a 10-minute walk from our hotel. Since we were disoriented by the direction, we started walking in the opposite direction going to the park. Good thing we were able to realize the mistake immediately and had to run to Tapgol Park where we found the bus driver already checking passengers from his list. Note that the drivers are very strict when it comes to reservations, so it is recommended that you reserve a slot. We saw some people trying to buy ticket on the spot to no avail. You will pay on the spot, to the driver after you have checked your name on the list her carried with him.

3. After going onboard, you can start relaxing. Travel time going to Namiseom is about one and a half hours.

Since we already have tickets, we didn’t need to line up along with the other tourists who were all cramming to get to the approaching boat from Nami. (Note: if you are adventurous, you can cross the lake going to Nami by taking their infamous zipline).

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One thing we love doing while in Nami is buying instant coffee or ice cream in the convenience store and consuming it while sitting in the fireplace. Coffee is about KRW1,000. As indicated in my earlier blog post, Nami is the location for the famous Korean drama “Winter Sonata”, so there are a lot of attractions in Nami that is based or used in the drama.

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Before leaving, we decided to have a quick lunch at the newly-constructed food hall located at the middle of the Island. We chose a vendor selling udon noodles and literally had a hearty lunch that warmed our stomachs amidst the very cold weather.

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After enjoying the sights of Nami and playing with the many squirrels that were feeding on the dried nuts in the island, we decided to wing it and go to Petit France, one of the locations for the hot Korean drama, “My Love From the Star (You Who Came from the Stars”.” Jun Ji-hyun has always been a favorite since I first saw her in “My Sassy Girl” and her role as the bratty, clueless actress with a heart of gold, Cheon Song-Yi opposite the charming Kim Soo-hyun (Do Min-Joon) resulted to too many nights trying cramming episode after episode of the drama.

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After realizing (after tons and tons of research) that Petit France is located also in the city of Gapyeong, we made sure to make it part of the itinerary. The initial plan was to go to Petit France via the Gapyeong City Tour Bus, which picks up and disembarks passengers near the waiting shed just outside the outer gates of Nami. Fare for the whole trip is just KRW5,000 and you can hop in, hop off as you see sights of the city of Gapyeong. The initial plan was to go to Nami then to Petit France and then to The Garden of Morning Calm (another location for one of my favorite K-Drama, the kitschy, “so-bad-it’s-good” Full House 2) but since we were running out of time and we had no idea how far Petit France was from Nami, we decided to wing in and take one of the numerous cabs lined outside Nami.

I read somewhere that the two attractions are near each other, I guess I read wrong. We were traversing mountain sides, zigzagging across crooked roads as we go farther away from Namisum. Sometimes, there was barely another vehicle in sight (take note, this was only at 2PM) and clusters of houses are farther and farther in between. My over-active imagination, the one who watched too many slasher flicks started playing into overdrive – the driver was silent as he navigated the quiet, winding roads while my friend and I tried to fill the tiny cab space with nervous laughter. At first, I was curious if we were lost but the driver seemed to know the way by heart. I guess we were just another bunch of foreign fans who trekked to Gapyeong on a K-Drama pilgrimage. After what seemed like forever and with almost KRW30,000 registered at the meter, our driver finally stopped in front of a somewhat non-descript attraction betrayed only by the large tarpaulin in the entrance.

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Petit France is a little village constructed to look like a charming, little French village. The houses and the entertainment available are all French-inspired, carrying the timeless classic, “The Little Prince (Petit Prince)” as the central theme. Recently, this little attraction had a resurgence of visitors after it was used as one of the filming locations of “My Love from the Star.” It was also a filming location for another K-drama, Beethoven’s Virus. Entrance to the village is KRW8,000 for adults, KRW6,000 for teenagers and KRW5,000 for kids.

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Movie-magic has a way of making Petite France looks huge and spacious. Well, in reality it is not. You can see the whole village in less than 45 minutes tops, 30 minutes tops if you are the type who gets easily bored with gaily colored buildings. The site offers many “European” attractions like puppet and entertainment shows, there’s also a doll museum plus exhibitions dedicated to Antoine Saint Exupery, the author of The Little Prince. Images of the Little Prince and all the other characters in the book was scattered and depicted in every nook and cranny of Petit France. For K-Drama addicts, there’s a photo studio where you can pose with cut outs of Do Min-Joon and Cheon Song-Yi.

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While Petit France is a nice item to tick off your travel list while in Korea, it’s not exactly something that will blow your socks off. As someone who easily gets bored, even while traveling, there’s really not much to see in Petit France after you have visited the exhibits, oggled the houses, posed yourself silly to the many nooks and locations, had your fill of the Little Prince and K-Popped yourself to death. In our case, we decided to pass time in one of the little cafes near the entrance and sampled their strawberry waffle with a scoop of ice cream (KRW4,000).

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Honestly, if we were to rate the Petit France experience, it’ll be a 6 out of 10. Something nice to experience, but definitely something that can also be placed on the second tier of “must-visit” places in Gapyeong City. Since it was already close to 4PM, we had no choice but to miss “Garden of Morning Calm” and save it for another South Korea trip someday.

Going back, we decided to take the Gapyeong City Tour Bus which stops on the waiting shed just across Petit France. We paid KRW5,000 directly to the driver who kindly informed us that bus direction is going to Nami then to the Gapyeong train station where we hope to catch a train going back to Seoul. The driver, a kind elderly uncle quipped that we should have gone to Gapyeong at an earlier time so we could maximize the KRW5,000 hop on, hop off bus fare. He seemed to be worried that we were paying the full price for just partial of the trip. We assured him that we don’t mind and that we enjoyed looking at the country side.

We missed the ITX train headed to Seoul so we decided to take the regular trains and paid about KRW2,000 as part of the regular fare. At Seoul, we stopped at Nandaemun to window shop, then moved to Dongdaemun Design Plaza to hang out and people watch. We ended the night traversing the 10 kilometer Cheonggyecheon Stream, which cuts across Dongdaemun Fashion Town, Cheonggyecheon Stream Culture Center, up to the Gwangwahmun Square, and covers almost 10 subway stations.

Maybe we were crazy, or we were enjoying the cold Seoul weather so we didn’t mind the long walk or the many couples on full PDA-mode along the stream (can be a bit lonely if you’re walking on your own and you are broken-hearted). There are some parts of the stream that are a bit dark due to the foliage and bridges covering the area, but we felt safe and secure the whole time. Even if the stream is in the middle of busy industrial area, the water is clear and there was no unpleasant smell all throughout the 10-kilometer path. We ended the walking tour at the Cheonggyecheon Stream Plaza, a few meters away from the Statue of King Sejong. By this time , our hands were numb with cold and our feet were killing us, so we hightailed it back to our hotel.

Expenses (per person):

Nami Limousine Bus with entrance to Nami Island: KRW15,000
Lunch at Nami Island: KRW5,000 (Udon with a side of kimchi – best for cold weather!)
Coffee: KRW1,000
Taxi Fare Petite France: KRW15,000
Entrance to Petite France: KRW8,000
Snack (waffle + ice cream): KRW4,000
Bus to Gapyeong station: KRW5,000
Fare going back to Seoul: KRW2,000
Dinner/Snacking at Dongdaemun: KRW5,000 (we indulged in tteokboki, fish cakes and snow cones)
TOTAL: KRW60,000 (PHP2,405.00)

* We also went omiyage shopping at Daiso – I bought little bottles of Argan oil hand creams, aat KRW1,000 each. Spent about KRW10,000. This brings total expenses for Day 2 at KRW70,000 (PHP2,806.00)

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South Korea, Travel Diaries

Seoul on Budget Day 1: Mt Namsan, NSeoul Tower, Myeongdong

Finally had a chance to review my itinerary during my five day-four night stay in Seoul. We spent a total of PHP20,000 covering hostel stay, tours, food and beverage, sight seeing and even a bit of shopping in Myeongdong. What’s not included is the PHP8,000 RT air fare we got from AirAsia. At the Manila airport, we already paid about PHp2,200 for our travel tax and terminal fee.

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Photo above was one of our favorites. We are lucky to have caught the end of Autumn as Winter was just about to start.

Here’s the low-down of the Great Seoul Searching Trip, Part Deux:

Arrivals

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Our Air Asia flight Z2884 left Manila at exactly 7AM and arrived a bit ahead of schedule at Icheon International Airport shortly before 12NN. Flying time from Manila to Seoul is about 4 hours. Seoul is an hour ahead from Manila. From the passenger concourse of the Incheon International Airport, we were transferred to the Main Terminal which houses Immigration and Baggage Claim via the IATs (Intra Airport Transit). We were caught in a wide influx of passengers, all who arrived at the same time as ours — so train was crowded and lines to Immigration a bit long. However, the efficient management of lines, and quick arrival of the IATs made sure that we are out of the airport in less than 45 minutes.

Traveling to the City
There are numerous ways to get out of Incheon and to the city center (Seoul) but we will just discuss the Limo Bus since it’s the one we used to get out of the airport. Stay-In-GAM (our hostel) gave us directions on how to go to their hotel based near Insadong through the 6011 bus. Also included in the email is a voucher which was to be used to get a KRW1,000 discount out of the KRW10,000 bus fare from Incheon International Airport to the Changdeukgong Bus Stop which was just a few steps away from our hostel. However, as mentioned in my earlier post, this became irrelevant since the uncle bus drivers did not honor the voucher. We paid our fare the usual way, by dropping our crisp KRW10,000, fresh from one of the international ATMs using my BPI ATM card. Note that you can withdraw money direct from any international ATMs in Korea, this is way more convenient and with bigger exchange rate compared to changing money at the airport. In our case, we got our KRWs from one of the many ATMs lining the area near the Waiting Area (where people wait for their arriving families/friends).

Note: You may need to have the international withdrawal capability of your ATM activated at your local bank prior to departure. For BPI, we dropped by the branch nearest my office and informed the officer that we will be using my ATM abroad. You will be asked by the bank officer to fill up a form and voila — ATM is activated within 24 hours.

The 6011 Limo Bus is perfect for those staying the “palace row” – basically what we call the area which has the nearest cluster of palaces like the Gyeongbukgung Palace near Gwangwahmun Square, Changdeokgung, Unhyeongung and Changgyeongung. Deoksugung meanwhile was the lone hold-out, being located near the City Hall instead. 6011 will also take you to Insadong as well as the university area closest to the Gyeongbukgung Palace.

Expenses: KRW10,000 (PHP408.00) for bus fare

Accommodations

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We stayed at the amazing Stay-In-GAM Hostel for five days and four nights. Total bill is KRW248,000 or PHP10,118 for a twin room, includes TAX and breakfast. Individually, we each paid PHP5,059 (my friend and I split the cost of stay) or about PHP1,265 per night. Not bad for a room in a safe and secure hotel with comfortable amenities thrown in as well as free breakfast for all 5 days. Hostel is about 10 to 15 minute walk to the nearest subway.

Read more of my review of Stay-In-GAM here.

Expenses: PHP5,059.00 per person (5D, 4N stay)

Sight-seeing/Attractions

Day 1: Mt. Namsan, NSeoul Tower and Myeongdong.
After a bit of freshening up, my friend and I began our day by walking again to the Gyeongbukgung Palace to hang around for a bit near the palace gates, then took the trains going to Myeongdong. We opted to skip the T-Money and instead used the card dispensers everytime. Card dispensers in Seoul are very easy to use as there is both an English, Japanese and Chinese instructions. Once you get the hang of it as well as identifying destinations and transfers, the Seoul Metro will be your new best friend.

At Mt. Namsan, we took the cable car to the viewing deck nearest the tower. Fare for the cable car is KRW8,500 which you can purchase at the ticketing office located near the base of the mountain. If you are coming from Myeongdong area, you will have to take the sidewalk elevator located near the Namsan-3 tunnel. For K-drama fanatics, yes — this is the way to go up the cable cars where Gu Jun-Pyo and Geum Jan-Di got stuck during their supposed first date in “Boys Over Flowers” and to the same viewing deck where they had the KRW30,000 coffee.

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The elevator ride is free but you have to pay KRW8,500 for a RT ride to the cable car and another KRW9,000 as payment for entrance to the Nseoul Tower observatory. We paid KRW20,000 because we opted to get the Entrance + Drinks + large tub of popcorn for 2 package.

The viewing deck which you will see after alighting from the cable car houses the famed “Locks of Love” wall. The locks were actually located in different areas along the viewing deck. You can buy your heart-shaped locks from any of the vendors located within the viewing deck or from the NSeoul Tower Souvenir Shop. Locks usually retail from KRW5,000 to KRW10,000 — a usual design is a heart-shaped lock which sometimes came with a small frame (in case you want to include you and your beloved’s face – hehe!).

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At the Sky Observatory, you will be treated to a magnificent, 360 degree view of Seoul. Of course, it goes without saying that the best time to visit NSeoul Tower is at night or during sunset where you can see the changing colors of the sky as well as the night lights of Seoul coming to life.

Since it was almost winter, it was very cold when we went up Mt. Namsan. I mentioned before that I lost my jacket somewhere in Myeongdong on my way to the elevator. Yes, I was the only person that night crazy enough to stay on top of Mt. Namsan wearing nothing but a flimsy Joker-printed shirt, jeans, Chucks and my trusty beanie.

We grabbed dinner at Myeongdong where I introduced my friend to the wonders of Yoogane, which serves a mean combo of spicy chicken, rice and melted cheese.

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A single serve of Marinated Chicken Galbi, with fried rice is KRW6,000, add KRW2,000 for the Mozzarella Cheese. Yoogane offers unlimited servings of shredded cabbage salad, pickled radish and kimchi as sides. Plus, refillable pitchers of water which you will badly need especially if you have low tolerance to spicy food. When I first ate at Yoogane in 2012, I remembered requesting the server to temper the spice level. This time, I forgot to request to make it less spicy so you can just imagine the tears and the amount of sweat we had while trying to finish everything.

DAY 1 TOTAL EXPENSES:

Pre-departure expenses: PHP2,200
Limo Bus 6011 fare: KRW10,000 (PHP408)
Accommodations: KRW124,000 (PHp5,059) per pax
Sightseeing
Cable car ride KRW8,500 (PHP347)
Entrance + Food KRW10,000 (PHP408) each (Observatory)
Dinner at Yoogane KRW8,000 (PHP326)

TOTAL: KRW160,500 (PHP6,548) + PHP2,200 (pre-departure expense) = PHP8,748
Note: Based on latest exchange rates. Prices are rounded off.

This post is too lengthy already, to be continued for days 2-4


DISCLAIMER:
Prices indicated are based on the quoted price during my visit to Seoul last November 2014. Prices are subject to change, depending on merchant policies.

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South Korea, Travel Diaries

The Great Seoul Searching Trip for less than PHP20K

Sorry for the long absence, but as usual, life gets in the way of a good wandering.
I still owe you my dispatches from my Seoul – Part Deux trip.

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But here’s a quick summary:

Air Transportation: AirAsia
I don’t know how to write this without being offensive or insensitive, given the light of the current tragedy involving the airline. But I have nothing but fond memories of my MNL-SEOUL-MNL trip aboard AirAsia. Our flight was without any hassle, and the crew was attentive and efficient all throughout the four-hour trip. We left Manila and arrived in Seoul ahead of schedule, while our return flight was a bit delayed due to airport congestion at the NAIA.

This very positive experience is what I carry with me as I send prayers to the the families and friends of the passengers and crew lost onboard the QZ8501 flight from Indonesia to Singapore.Thus, I pray that AirAsia will be able to bounce back from this tragic incident and may all those lost on board be reunited with their their loved-ones.

Accommodations: Stay-in-GAM Hostel

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Read my full review here
Bottomline? Worth it!

Itinerary
Since I am accompanying a good friend who is a first-time in Seoul, I made sure to show her the best of the city without breaking her and my budget.

UPDATE: Here is now the detailed breakdown of cost of the trip. With the plane fare included, total expense is almost PHP29K. Hotel stay, itinerary and places to visit, transpo, food and souvenir shopping all achieved at just PHP20,000.

final expense tally SK 2014

UPDATED: Itinerary list now updated to include links to complete travel report, with expense breakdown

Day One – Mt. Namsan, NSeoul Tower and Myeongdong
Or to be remembered as the day where I roamed atop Mt. Namsam in just my flimsy t-shirt, jeans and beanie because I lost my jacket along the way. I was able to stay there roughly for about 4 hours tops before finally begging for mercy and descending away from the Mt. Namsan fog and the biting cold.

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Day Two – Nami Island, Petite Prince, Dondaemun and the long walk along the Cheonggyecheon Stream
I mean, whoever goes to Seoul without seeing Nami Island. The island, regardless of the fact that some trees have been laid bare and wilting already due to the incoming winter, were still magical. Because of the fact that I spent sleepless nights watching “You Who Came from the Stars”, my friend and I threw caution to the wind and rode a cab across winding mountain roads just to see Petite France (my review to be posted later). In the evening, we stayed at Dondaemun for a bit before traversing the length of the Cheonggyecheon Stream, from Dondaemun to Gwanghwamun Square. A word of warning: if you are broken hearted, do not by any means walk the whole 10.7km length of the stream — your heart will be further broken by the sight of young (and not-so-young) lovers whispering sweet nothings along the strategic nooks and crannies along the stream. However, if you are in that situation, save your aggression and release it by throwing a coin on the wishing well located at Cheonggye Plaza.

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Day Three: Palace Tour: Changdeokgung Palace, The Secret Garden, Gyeongbukgung Palace, Gwanghwamun Square, Monument of King Sejong, City Hall, Changing of the Guards at the Deoksugung Palace, Myeongdong

What I loved best about our third day was the opportunity to Tour the Secret Garden located inside the Changdeokgung Palace. I know I said before that I hated taking tours when I travel but for some weird reason, I took the opportunity to avail of the English-language tour being offered by the palace and we were matched with a very graceful and kind lady who showed us the different attractions inside the palace. I learned of the sad love story of its occupant and the presence of “Biwon” or the Secret Garden especially commissioned for the enjoyment of the King and Queen. We visited Biwon at the tail end of Autumn, leading to Winter and the sights were just too beautiful, the colors of nature were just too much. Yes, even if at one point, it was raining like crazy.

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Day Four and the highlight of the trip: Journey to the Joint Security Area/DMZ and the Imjigak Peace Park.
The best part of the trip so far. I am leaving you with just some photos because I want to write more about this as part of a longer dispatch.

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We didn’t do anything on the fifth day because we had to catch an earlier flight going back to Manila. However, the four days in Seoul again made me miss the city more. Someday, when I finally had kids, I will bring them back to Seoul and finally experience Winter in Korea with them and the Hubby.

The best part? I spent less than PHP30,000 only for the whole trip, including air fare, hotel accommodations, entrance to sights, lots and lots of eating and a bit of shopping. I can’t wait to go back.

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Review: Stay-in-GAM Hostel, Jongno-Gu, Korea

I always say that I am the kind of “no-fuss” traveler. I am not choosy when it comes to hotel accommodations and actually prefer staying in B&Bs and hostels if that would mean I will be able to save more money. I am the type who loves discovering cheap accommodations offering superb services, like the amazing CityInn Plus Ximending in Taipei, Taiwan and the quaint K’s House Tokyo Oasis Asakusa in Tokyo, Japan.

So, imagine my pleasant surprise to discover another amazing (and affordable!!!) accommodation in Seoul, South Korea during my second time in the city last November. I found Stay-In-GAM Hostel after a random search at Booking.com which has become my go-to place for quick hostel bookings. After reading a lot of wonderful reviews onsite and on Facebook (because I can be a stealthy tracker like that), I decided to throw caution to the wind and book Stay-In-GAM maybe about 2 months prior to the trip. After getting confirmation from Booking.com, Stay-in-GAM almost immediately got in touch with me through my email to confirm the booking and to send additional info on what limousine bus number to take and where to get off going to the hotel.

We were charged KRW248,000 or about PHP10,118 for a 5 days, 4 nights stay for a twin accommodations room — a steal when you think about it, considering we only paid about PHP5,059 per person for four nights, or about PHp1,265 per person per night for the room stay. And we are staying in central Seoul, a stone’s throw away from Insadong and two MRT rides away from Myeongdong.

“Yes, my WanderingGirl — your hostel stay is cheap, but is it worth it?” you ask. You have no idea.

But first, let me give you the basics:

1. Directions and how to go there

If you are landing at the Incheon International Airport, the easiest and most convenient way to go to Stay-in-GAM is to take the 6011 Limousine Bus stationed just outside the airport. Stay-in-GAM gave us vouchers for a KRW1,000 discount, but it was really of no use for us since the drivers did not honor it. When you find the 6011 bus, just hop in and don’t forget to drop KRW10,000 on the payment counter right beside the driver’s seat. There is room for luggage on the front of the bus, but if you are carrying the equivalent of a small house, the efficient bus driver will store it in the bus luggage compartment. I wish I can say that the drivers are friendly, but they are a bit grouchy.

The email from Kevin (of Stay-in-GAM) indicated that we are to get off the Changdeokgung Palace bus stop, which is just a block away from the hostel, but maybe I was too sleepy or too excited that me and my friend got off the bus not at Changdeokgung (as instructed) but at Gyeongbukgung Palace drop off which is still a 20-minute walk away from the hostel. While it was a bit inconvenient walking the whole way, it was also an opportunity to soak the sights of Seoul and people watch while dragging my heavy luggage with me.

The email from Stay-In-GAM indicated that we are to turn right on the next street after the Nescafe Cafe just right past the Changdukgung Palace–and true enough, there is Stay-In-GAM all warm and cozy as expected!

2. Our Stay

The room is cozy for two people, and comprised of two single-sized beds, outfitted with the most comfortable and softest comforter, aircon, mirror, a bed table, lampshade and a hair dryer. Our room is a part of a three room grouping, located in one corner of the hotel where we shared a common area, toilet & bath, a bench and a cabinet to keep our shoes. Yes, shoes are not allowed inside the room, instead the hostel will issue a standard home sandal for your use.

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The best thing about Stay-In-GAM is that the rooms will look exactly like the pictures on its website. In short, you won’t have the experience of expecting a really nice room only to find something below what you are expecting. Outside our corner is the hallway leading to the elevator and where the common PC, lockers and a phone that can make international phone calls are located.Right across from the elevator is the common kitchen, outfitted with a water dispenser, ref, microwave, stove, sink, table and chairs as well as cooking utensils are located. You are welcome to use them, provided you will clean after yourself after use.

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At the first floor is the reception area and the Stay-In-GAM cafe which served probably one of the best waffle and mochi ice cream combinations. The reception area/coffee shop is also where the free breakfast spread is served every morning. Breakfast is usually bread (with strawberry and butter spread options), steamed egg, steamed ham, bean sprout salad, OJ, milk and coffee. I read some reviews bemoaning the fact that it is the same breakfast over and over again (it is) but I kinda think it’s ungrateful to bitch about something that is given for free, considering the affordable cost of staying in Stay-In-GAM. If you’d like to have some variety during breakfast, I recommend you pick-up ramen, egg or cheese from any of the neighboring convenience stores.

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Decorating the walls of the reception area were messages from the people who stayed there before. Before we left, the friendly and efficient manager, Kevin asked us to also write our messages along with the photo he took of us. Reading through the many messages, to say that Stay-in-GAM has a lot of satisfied customers is an understatement.

The hostel will also issue you your own key for the room (no key card yet) as well as they key code to punch in for the main door. There are no curfews and you can come in anytime you like. The neighborhood is also relatively quiet and very peaceful. In fact, we actually tried walking around the neighborhood at 12MN just to see how it feels like and I swear there’s literally no one there to disturb the peace, except us two crazy Filipinas who probably scared the neighborhood.

3. Any Rants?

None really, well — maybe except the fact that our room has no TV inside. There’s also no television in the common area or even at the reception area. But this is very minor actually, I mean — who would go to Seoul just to watch TV?

Our verdict?
If you are planning to go to Seoul and would like to save a few bucks, consider booking a room at Stay-In-GAM. The place is really nice and Kevin, the manager, is very efficient and accommodating. It is also located just right across Changdeokgung Palace where you can also tour the Secret Garden (do not miss this!), plus walking distance to the Subway, the Bukchon Hanok Village as well as the trendy area of Insadong.

Read more reviews, including mine, on Trip Advisor.

Hotel Details:

Stay-in-GAM Hostel
21 Waryong-dong
Jongno-Gu, Seoul 110-360
South Korea
+822 7642052
www.stayingam.com

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Travel Diaries

Hi! I’m Your Wandering Girl

Let me reintroduce myself. This blog used to be called “The Places You Will Go”, yes — after that famous children’s book. It was a nice name, nostalgic and easy to recall…but definitely not unique. And definitely doesn’t give you an idea of who I am and why I am here.

Well, my first ever blog post for this site briefly explained why I am starting the blog. See it here. But here’s a summary: I am in love with going to different places and will not hesitate to find ways to go on a trip — in spite my meager budget. You see, in spite of my fondest dream of leaving everything and seeing the world on a whim, I don’t exactly have the money of a Hilton or a Vanderbilt. At best, I have a bank account where I keep all money for travel. I balance my bank account according to three items: every day expenses, emergency and savings fund and my travel fund.

This is the same reason why I decided to rename this blog, who has enjoyed your generosity for quite a while now. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on travel. I know that I have been too quiet for a long time–I can assure you, my fellow travel fiends, that each and every time was spent plotting various forms of escape from our mundane day-to-day life.

Still cheaply, and with less expenses as possible, of course. Show me the way to the free attraction and I will gladly try it out for you.

Hopefully, I will get to have more opportunities to travel or in Filipino street slang language, “Lakwatsa” this year. I have come to realize that I have spent much of my time plotting my trips on foreign countries, but less on local destinations. I wish to correct this oversight. You see, the Philippines have a lot of great places to offer. Though in all honesty, I can flat out tell you that the rest of Manila is a jungle. Please, get out of the capital and see the rest of our country if you can. It is marvelous, I promise you. Yes, not only the usual haunts like Boracay, Puerto Princesa or Cebu City. Discover unknown places like the nice beaches of Coron in Palawan, the Bantayan Island in Northern Cebu and the off the beaten track that is abundant in any of our 7,100 islands. You will find something you will truly enjoy, I assure you.

So, yes — nice meeting you again. Here’s wishing for more miles covered, for you and for me.

WANDERING GIRL

July 2007, on board a Sentosa Bus, Singapore

July 2007, on board a Sentosa Bus, Singapore

July 2008 -- With my baby brother and my baby sister, at Hong Kong Disneyland

July 2008 — With my baby brother and my baby sister, at Hong Kong Disneyland

January 2010. A belated honeymoon and first anniversary trip with the Hubby. At the steps of Hong Kong Museum of Modern Art, TST.

January 2010. A belated honeymoon and first anniversary trip with the Hubby. At the steps of Hong Kong Museum of Modern Art, TST.

July 2011... with the siblings and Hubby at the boardwalk going to Sentosa, Singapore

July 2011… with the siblings and Hubby at the boardwalk going to Sentosa, Singapore

March 2012 - In front of the Main Train Station. Busan, South Korea

March 2012 – In front of the Main Train Station. Busan, South Korea

March 2012 - Walking the winding path going to the N Seoul Tower. Mt. Namsan, Seoul, South Korea.

March 2012 – Walking the winding path going to the N Seoul Tower. Mt. Namsan, Seoul, South Korea.

October 2012 - Celebrating mum's birthday in Hong Kong

October 2012 – Celebrating mum’s birthday in Hong Kong

March 2013. Buying tickets for two to the Observation Deck, Taipei 101. Taipei, Taiwan

March 2013. Buying tickets for two to the Observation Deck, Taipei 101. Taipei, Taiwan

September 2013. Wandering through Gardens by the Bay and back in Singapore.

September 2013. Wandering through Gardens by the Bay and back in Singapore.

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Japan, Travel Diaries

Cramming for Japan

Hello, sorry for being out of touch for the longest time. As mentioned in my other blog “KamikazeeGirl’s Guide to…,” December has been quite tiring and draining for me. A relative got sick and the task of taking care of him (both physically and financially) fell on our family’s shoulders. Add to the fact that I was working myself sick until the last day of the year and now, I am paying dearly for it (writing this blog while on my sick bed — coughs and a bad bout with flu has finally caught up with me).

This planned Japan trip for my birthday is making me crazy. It’s just five months to go before the planned trip and I still don’t have tickets. Mostly because the money for the tickets (bonus money and all the other savings I have socked off) went to helping the relative. I know, it’s a bummer — part of me was still mourning losing all that cash, but I knew that I used the money to help save a life. The end part makes me feel better, but nonetheless still bummed because all I could think of is how I will get to Japan on my birthday.

I already checked the ticket costs and it’s about PHP25,000 (about 600USD). Right now, I have about USD300 saved up but I know it’s not enough. My only hope is the forthcoming TravelTour Expo happening in February where tickets will be selling for less than USD600. I gotta buy my tickets on that day otherwise, the latest I’ll be able to go will be in November — waaaay past my birthday.

For those in Manila and interested to buy cheap travel tickets, packages or hotel stays, The PTAA Travel Tour Expo is scheduled from February 14 to 16, 2014 and is usually held at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City (the trade hall right beside the behemoth that is the Mall of Asia). Tickets usually go for PHP50 or about USD1.20. I have attended its last two events (2012 and 2013) but didn’t purchased anything. But lines usually for airlines are the longest and most chaotic probably because every one is trying to snap a deal.

More information can be found at their Facebook page.

Hopefully, I’ll have my tickets available by mid-February, please keep your fingers crossed for me. For now, all I can do is build up my nest egg and hope to have enough money to show the embassy when I apply for my tourist visa.

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Taiwan, Travel Diaries

Taipei: Lasting First Impressions

It was hard to provide our first impression of Taipei — it was dark and quiet when we arrived on a a humid Sunday morning. It was 1AM to be exact and we just wanted to check in at our hotel and sleep. Good thing that our driver sent by CityInn Hotel Plus was already there carrying a sign that spelled my first name wrong. She was quick, agile as she led us out of the airport and into the parking lot where her spacious car was located. She typed something on her smart phone and showed it to us, it read: “airport to hotel is 45 minutes away. I hope it’s okay…” we nodded and she smiled, then reached for our luggage before stuffing it on the trunk. The trip was a bit long and it’s hard to see what Taipei has to offer.

It was way past midnight and we can barely make out buildings and houses. All we know is that we were already in Taipei: the land of Meteor Garden, of Jay Chou, of shaved ice, milk tea and Taipei 101. At midnight, the lights of the city blaze freely in spite the fact that only a few people remained on the streets. We were in the middle of the city, but it was quiet and peaceful.

Our limo driver parked in front of City Inn Hotel Main Station, but we were supposed to stay at the nearby Keyman’s Hotel. After a bit of explanation, sign language and a few back story in between, the kind and amiable night manager of City Inn Main Station brought us to the hotel next door. Before he left, he gave us ideas on how to go to their Ximending Branch the next morning.

We spent our first night trying to sleep — we were both wired from the long flight, giddy with excitement being in Taipei and the beds at Keyman’s were effing hard. It was like trying to rearrange your spine, only not for the better. By 3AM, we finally closed your eyes, anticipating our long day ahead the next morning. The next morning, we woke up early, availed our free breakfast and checked out. We need to go to Ximending to check in at CityInn Plus Hotel, our home away from home while in the city. We were advised to take the cab but I had our itinerary and our maps down pat. The easiest and cheapest way was to try the train stations. After all, Ximending wasn’t too far from the Main Station — just one station away. Something we can easily wing. Plus, we have to buy our “Easy Card”.

the main highway in front of the Taipei Main Train Station and the Taipei Bus Station

the main highway in front of the Taipei Main Train Station and the Taipei Bus Station

The streets of Taipei were both busy and calm at the same time — buses whizz by, people walk a busy pace yet there’s a certain kind of calmness, especially in the areas near the City Hall. Well, except in Ximending which was pulsating in a steady, addicting pace. My sister and I agreed that we will spend our first day in Taipei hearing mass then discovering the tried and tested tourist attractions of the city — Taipei 101, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall then spend the rest of our night chilling out at Ximending. As usual, we were armed with a trusty map, my travel journal where I took copious notes about Taipei and an MRT guide map given by the kind people of City Inn Plus Hotel.

After checking in at CityInn, we headed out for mass. My research brought me to St. Christopher’s Church which was usually frequented by Filipinos living in Taipei. Mass at St. Christopher’s was bought inspiring and fun — definitely one of the best masses I ever attended both here in Manila or anywhere else in Asia (well, for the countries I’ve been to anyway)

After mass and spending a bit of time at Taipei Expo Park, we took the trains going to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. Going to this attraction is easy. You hop on the train and you alight at…Chiang Kai Shek Train Station. That’s one of the things I love about Taipei — they tend to name their MRT stations after the attractions nearest it. Saves any foreign traveler the hassle of trying to figure out where you should alight. Train stations are also clean and well-lit with a smattering of signs written in Chinese and English. So, getting lost is next to impossible.

MRT signages. The Tamsui line takes you to Beitou.

MRT signages. The Tamsui line takes you to Beitou.

train stations usually serve as galleries or performance space. for this station, they transformed the walk way to an art gallery

train stations usually serve as galleries or performance space. for this station, they transformed the walk way to an art gallery

standing on the edge

standing on the edge

Similar to Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, train stations also serve as mini-hubs of commerce – there are 711s, Family Mart, a nice sushi to-go place, as well as other shops selling from milk tea to medicine. Rest rooms are well-labeled and clean.

Barely 24 hours in the city, and we have already fallen in love with Taipei.

Now, for the first day attractions:
(A quick summary of impressions)

1. Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall – My first impression of Chiang Kai Shek is that it’s…overwhelming and amazing. From the imposing main gates, to the intricate and jaw-dropping architecture of the National Theatre and National Concert Hall flanking the memorial hall, to the gleaming and seamingly mysterious Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall lording it in a safe distance. It was a sensory overload.

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I love this photo of my sister chasing after the fat pigeons...

I love this photo of my sister chasing after the fat pigeons…

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I saw my first cherry blossoms at the park surrounding the memorial hall — I can’t believe I am seeing these beauties up close! They are simply magical and pretty. I have always contemplated on getting a cherry blossom tattoo to remind me of how short and fleeting life is, but my fear of needles and pain and of not finding a job is keeping me from crossing off this item from my bucket list.

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If you’re the type who likes her history and has a thing for architecture, visit CSK Memorial Hall. It’s worth the trip. Entrance on the grounds are for free but the memorial hall has exhibits which may require a fee.

Address:
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
No. 21號中山南路 (Zhongshan S. Rd) Zhongzheng District Taipei City, Taiwan 100
+886 2 2343 1100

2. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall – Went to SYS Memorial Hall after CSK. From the SYS grounds, we first had a glimpse of the Taipei 101 — this brought us to fits of giddiness. In our mind, we were really in Taipei for real. The grounds were full of people, mostly families enjoying their Sunday break. We headed inside the hall to try to catch the Changing of the Guards but ending up seeing a bit of the action amidst the sea of heads.

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If you’re someone who likes her history, then you will enjoy Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. My sister and I did not had the time to get around which was a shame really, considering we love our history (at home, History Channel and National Geographic were on heavy rotation). But the day we were day was so chaotic and busy (due to all the tour groups) we had no chance but to move on to Taipei 101.

3. Taipei 101 – I’ll be really honest. I enjoyed Taipei 101 more when I was outside posing with it on the background, than when I was up the building. Well, a highlight for me is the chance to ride the world’s fastest elevator which took us from the 5th Floor lobby to the viewing deck in less than a minute. Up, it was underwhelming, especially since it was a very cloudy day the day we went up Taipei 101. I kept waiting for my magical moment, the same way I felt when I was up the N Tower, looking down on the twinkling lights of Seoul. Maybe, I’ll blame it on the crappy weather.

Buying tickets to the Observatory

Buying tickets to the Observatory

This is the "Damper" which stabilizes Taipei 101

This is the “Damper” which stabilizes Taipei 101

So, my two cents worth? Go up if you have the budget and loves looking down on cityscapes, but be prepared to be disappointed when it’s cloudy and all you see is nothing but hazy, grayish thing from the wide windows of Taipei 101. Before you go, check the weather but Taipei weather has a tendency to change in a heart beat, one minute it’s cold, then the next thing you know, the sun is shining like crazy.

Address:
No. 7 Hsin Yi Rd. Sec. 5, Taipei 110
Entrance: NTS 500
www.taipei-101.com.tw/en

NEXT: Adventures in Yehliu National Geo Park

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