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

stay in gam

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

stay in gam

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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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.

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