South Korea, Traveling on a Budget

Seoul on Budget: DMZ + Final Expense Tally at 20,000plus!

I was able to check one of the items off my bucket list during my last Seoul trip: be in two places at the same time by having one feet in North Korea and the other at the South — thanks to the wonderful DMZ Panmunjeom (JSA) Tour I booked online.

This is when I was standing and looking at the boundary of the two countries:
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For our final day, we didn’t schedule anything anymore since we are certain that the whole day will be spent at the DMZ. The itinerary given to us also indicated that we will be returning to Seoul around 4PM, due to the hour and half drive from the border.

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I’ve written a more detailed description of our fourth day here.

For souvenir items, our guide told us about North Korean wines, BB and CC Creams, North Korean won, mugs and shirts being sold at the Panmunjeom Visitors Center. The waivers we signed prior to the tour was also handed back to us, with our guides noting that it would make a good souvenir for the visit — personally, I think it’s because the signed waivers really didn’t have any use at all at that point. After all, we emerged unscathed from the experience. So, aside from the DMZ shirt (for KRW10,000) which I bought my dad (who loves to collect shirts from the places we visit), the DMZ magnet currently in the fridge (KRW5,000) and a pair of Korean wooden wedding dolls (KRW5,000) I also bought a DPRK 100 won for KRW5,000. Both items I intend to frame one of the these days, but right now — still currently stuck somewhere on the top drawer in my room.


Our total expenses for the DMZ visit (day 4) include:
Payment for the tour (pre-paid): KRW95,000 per pax (PHP3,800.00) NOTE: This includes free lunch
Breakfast from convenience store: KRW10,000 per pax (PHP408)
Souvenir items: KRW25,000 (PHP996)
TOTAL KRW130,000 (PHP5,177.00)

After we were dropped off along the vicinity of City Hall, we just decided to pass time at Dukseogong Palace which is just right across the street and have an early dinner at the nearby Dunkin Donuts (KRW5,000). Then, we decided to hang out at Insadong, the artsy district in Jongno-Gu, with the intention to walk home and retire to bed early in time for our 12NN flight back to Manila the next day.

A famous hang-out place in Insadong is the Ssamzie-gil Mall Complex, composed of rows and rows of shops selling artisal crafts and products, organic cosmetics and food materials as well as artworks. I read somewhere that it’s one of the cool places to hang out in Seoul — where you can indulge in a bit of shopping (if you are the artistic type) or hang out in one of its many cafes. Maybe I’ve had too many coffees already while in Seoul or maybe I just found the items on the pricey side so I didn’t enjoy window shopping at Ssamzie-gil. What I did enjoy though was people watching and taking photos of the art works displayed.

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The next day, we checked out of Stay-In-GAM at 8AM in the midst of pouring rain. Kevin, ever the gentleman, gave me one of the umbrellas at the stand amidst our protestations and declarations of “we’ll be fine”. We walked to the opposite side of the road to catch the same bus (6011) heading to the airport.

We arrived at the airport by 1030AM, just in time to go through the whole check in process and grab a quick bite to eat at the Dunkin Donuts nearest the waiting lounge for the Air Asia flight back to Manila. I also made sure to drop by Starbucks to buy the requisite Seoul City mug.

Expenses (Day 5):
Bus fare – KRW10,000 (PHP408)
Dunkin Donuts – KRW5,000 (PHP204)
Starbucks mug – KRW10,000 (PHP408)
Total Expense – KRW25,000 (PHP996)

Here’s the final tally of all my expenses during the five day, four night trip:

final expense tally SK 2014

As you can see, we really didn’t pass up on the souvenir shopping and the endless eating. We know that we are on a strict budget but we also managed to maximize our expenses during the trip. Minus the air fare, the trip cost me only about PHP20,000 — quite a bargain already considering I went to a lot of places, had fun shopping and even fulfilled my long-time dream of seeing the DMZ. If you want to follow this itinerary, feel free to use the itinerary and information for booking the Nami Island tour bus as well as the DMZ Tour agency. Who know? You might be able to spend less than I did! I look forward to reading your itinerary.

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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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