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.