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

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

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

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

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

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Winter Sonata scenes

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

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

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

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

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Subway to Nami Island

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

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

Directions for bus travel going to Nami Island from Insadong

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

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

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

Namiseom Ferry

This is the gateway to the Namirara Experience!

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

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

A great welcome to Namirara!

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

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

Nami Map

Nami Island

Just like a painting…

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The perfect place to reflect and just be in awe.

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

Feeling “Winter Sonata-fied”?

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

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The site of Winter Sonata’s first kiss!

Of course we had to take pictures!

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

Nami Bike Lane

The “famous” Bike Lane

Yongha Tribute Nami Island

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

Nami Island Winter Sonata

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

Life-sized statue of the two leads

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

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

For more information, visit: www.namisum.com

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