South Korea, Travel Diaries

Seoul on a Budget Day 03: Palaces, Secret Gardens and Shopping

On our third day in Seoul, we decided to travel back in time and learn more about South Korea’s rich history. We woke up on the third day to a rainy, cold weather — the kind of cold that creeps up to your bones, forcing you to consider hibernating on the warm room (courtesy of the ondol heating). But we were in Seoul and just outside the door, if we attempt to go beyond the bone-chilling rain, awaited another day of adventure.

So, after layering and procrastinating — we were finally out the door and into the ticket booth of Changdeokggung Palace. If you plan on spending a day palace-hopping in Seoul, I would suggest that you get the Integrated Admission ticket (4 palaces: Changdeokgung with entrance to Huwon (or the Secret Garden), Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace and Gyeongbokgung Palace) only for KRW10,000. This is a steal already, considering entrance to Palaces is usually pegged as KRW3,000 each plus a separate entrance fee for the Secret Garden at KRW5,000.  Since, we’re really not sure if we can visit all palaces during our stay due to the maddening rain and I really don’t want to commit myself, we ended buying the separate entrance rates (KRW3,000 + 5,000). We also availed of the English tour, which was offered at no extra cost.

I know I mentioned in one of my post that I am the type who shun away tours but I think for historical places like the palaces, it’s important to see the place through the eyes of someone who knew its history. If I were to go around the palace on my own, a bed room is just a bedroom, but joining the tour gave me perspective of how, one bedroom was used by the Widow Queen when her husband the King died. When he died, she moved out of her shared bedroom and went to another house nearest the Secret Garden because she can no longer stay in the room she once shared with her husband. Our tour guide was also kind and interacted well with her group so the tour was never boring.

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At the end of the tour, we were asked if we have separate tickets to the Huwon (Secret Garden) tour. We were then ushered to another part of the palace where another tour guide was waiting for us. Note — you can’t go on a tour of Huwon on your own. You have to be in a group in order to navigate the winding areas of the garden.

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A visit to the Secret Garden is a must-do for me. If you are in the Garden at the height of Autumn and Spring, expect a riot of colors out of the many flowers and trees inside the 78-hectare property. Originally conceived and developed for the pleasures of the Royal Family and the Palace courtiers, the Garden was originally off-limits to the public.

“The garden incorporates a lotus pond, pavilions, and landscaped lawns, trees, and flowers. There are over 26,000 specimens of a hundred different species of trees in the garden and some of the trees behind the palace are over 300 years old. The garden for the private use of the king had been called ‘Geumwon’ (금원, 禁苑, Forbidden garden) because even high officials were not allowed to enter without the king’s permission. It had also been called ‘Naewon’ (내원, 內苑, ‘Inner garden’). Today Koreans often call it ‘Biwon’ (비원, 秘院, Secret garden) which derived from the office of same name in the late 19th century. Though the garden had many other names, the one most frequently used through Joseon dynasty period was ‘Huwon’.” (WIKIPEDIA)

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The tour throughout selected areas of the garden can be a bit punishing, especially if you are like me who had bad knees and is an incurable klutz. Didn’t help that it was raining and some areas of the trail was slippery, but it was worth hiking through the forest.

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Because we were soaking wet by the end of the tour, we went back to Stay-in-GAM to change clothes and have a quick cup of coffee. The fact that their waffle, coupled with Matcha ice cream was delicious also helped replenish our energy.

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Re-energized and refreshed, we walked to Gyeongbukgung Palace where we decided to explore the palace grounds on our own. We were momentarily distracted by a cute guard who was dressed up in ancient warrior garb.

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We then went on a tour of Gwangwahmun Square and the King Sejong statue then raced to Myeongdong where we had hoped to have our pictures taken wearing Hanbok at the Seoul Culture and Tourism Office. Unfortunately, unlike my 2012 visit where I just dropped by and immediately accommodated, we were told that we had to set an appointment before we can have our pictures taken. We ended up hearing the 6PM Korean mass at the Myeongdong Cathedral and having early dinner at one of the chicken places in Myeongdong.

And then, we went shopping:

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I ended spending around KRW40,000 (about PHP1,600), including tons of beauty products, candies, socks and even a really cool bag which was on sale for just KRW10,000. If you plan on shopping in Myeongdong, it can be a bit of a stretch for your wallet, but again the trick is to know what you want and stick to a budget (if you have any). The numerous beauty shops lining the streets were offering a lot of good deals (70% from Nature Republic and about 50% off on selected Innisfree products).

Expenses: Palace Tours:
Tickets to Changdeokgung Palace + Hawon = KRW3,000 + KRW 5,000 = KRW8,000 (PHP322.00)
Ticket to Gyeongbukgung Palace = KRW3,000 (PHP120.00)
Waffle + Coffee = KRW8,000 (PHP322.00)
Dinner – KRW10,000 each (PHP403.00)
Pasalubong shopping = KRW40,000 (PHP1,600)

Day 3 total = KRW69,000 (PHP2,781.00)

Get more information about Changdeokgung Palace here

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Inside the palace courtyard

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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.

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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.

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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!

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