*this post is dedicated to Jim, who couldn't join us in this trip*
With our Korean Visas in hand, we landed in Incheon Airport with the pilot saying: "...the temperature outside is 1 degree below zero and there is a light snow...." We were going to see Korea at the tail end of fall and start of winter.
As soon as we left our things in our room, we went straight to Gyeongbogkung Palace. It is the largest palace that can be found in Seoul, the grounds were so spacious and the details on restoring how the palace looked like before was astonishing.
Ticket price: KRW 10,000 (around Php375)
|The Main Gate at Gyeongbokgung Palace
|A Beautiful Hall atop a Pond
Outside, we got to watch the changing of the guards ceremony.
|Changing of the Guards
|Palace Guard in Full Costume
Just beside the palace was the National Palace Museum. Inside were different Korean artifacts from the past.
|Old Cars used by the Royal King
We made our way to the exit and waited at a booth that would served as the pick up point for the Cheong Wa Dae Tour. Cheong Wa Dae or Blue House is the official office and residence of the President of Korea. It is known as such because of the blue tiled roof that covered the grand and majestic palace like structure. We started the tour by watching a video and continued the tour on foot. Taking pictures were not allowed in most areas. We were given free mug each as a souvenir for the tour.
|Cheong Wa Dae
Important Note: Make sure to submit an application for the tour a week before the planned date. The application and the tour is for free. Go to the Website to book: http://english.president.go.kr
We made our way to Gwanghamun Square as the temperature drops further more. We were in dire need of warmth that we accidentally discovered The Story of King Sejong and Admiral Yi Exhibition Halls which was literally under the square.
|Story of King Sejong Exhibition Hall
|Admiral Yi Exhibition Hall
Inside were different interactive audio video displays as well as replicas of statues, weapons and artifacts from King Sejong and Admiral Yi's time. We were impressed on how modern and fascinating the displays were. And the best thing about it, the entrance was for free.
|Interactive Audio-Video Displays
|Different Old Weapons Used
On our first night, we decided to head for one of Seoul's famous shopping district, Myeongdong. Myeongdong was so alive, different shops and street stalls light up the street as crowds of locals and tourists were strolling around. This place would be a haven for fashionistas as there were big western brand boutiques as well as 'tiangge' type stalls to shop from.
There were different animal cartoon characters in full costume inviting people and their pets to go to their pet grooming salons.
Luckily for us, we made it to Nanta's last show for that day. Nanta is a comedy 'cooking' musical where they used different kitchen utensils as musical instruments to come up with rhythmic beats. It started during the late 90's and still is on-going. The show was really entertaining but I would suggest to those who plan to watch not to expect it to be Stomp-like.
Address: 3rd Floor, UNESCO Building, 50-14 Myeong-dong 2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul
Schedule: Daily (2pm, 5pm and 8pm running time: 90mins)
Ticket Prices: KRW 40K, 50K and 60K (around Php 1,500 to 2300)
The next day we headed to look at another palace, The Changdeokgung Palace. The palace and gazebos looked like the ones we saw in Gyeongbukgong.
Ticket Price: KRW3,000 (around Php120)
After going around, we lined up at the entrance to join the English guided tour at the Huwon Garden or Secret Garden. The garden was huge, it was more like a mini-forest. There were huge trees, a lotus pond, lawns and numerous pavilions. During spring different species of flowers can be found but at the time of our visit the leaves have fallen, everything looked brown and bare. Best visited during Spring where flowers are in full bloom or during Winter where the whole place looks white and sparkling.
Ticket Price: KRW 8,000 (around Php300) guided tour and includes entrance to Changdeokgung Palace
|A Gazebo in Huwon Garden
|Leaves have Fallen
|The Small Lotus Pond
We saw this unique looking tree on our way out. It seemed to be growing horizontally.
|Unique Looking Tree
That night, we visited another shopping district, among all the shopping districts that we went to in Seoul, our favorite was Insadong. An area which is known for souvenirs, antique galleries, tea stores and shops, traditional arts and crafts and everything local. The place radiated a local culture vibe which we likened so much.
|Different Souvenir Items
|Free Tea Tasting at One of the Tea Store
|Ugly Doll Shop with 'model''
While walking, we saw this candy vendor clanking his cleavers while singing. We didn't understand what he was singing about but we assume that he was calling out people to buy his candy.
|Jon with Candy Vendor
Do stop by at one of the numerous Kultarae Stall and watch how they make honey candies.You can ask for free samples too.
Towards the end of the street, we tried out hitting balls in the batting cages.
|Baseball Batting Cages
One thing we noticed around the shopping areas are the numerous pictures, posters, standees and souvenirs of Korean artist and pop stars.
|"Cut posters anyone?"
|Collectible K-Pop Cards found in Chewing Gum Boxes
The next morning we were supposed go hiking in one of Korea's numerous mountain tops. It is said that it's considered one of the favorite past time of Koreans but with temperatures dropping below zero again, we decided to slash it off our itinerary. We just headed for the N Seoul Tower in Mount Namsan.
Ticket Price: Observatory - KRW 9,000 (around Php350)
|N Seoul Tower
We chose the best way to get to the tower and that was by Cable car.
Ticket Price: Round Trip - KRW 6,300 (around Php240) One Way - KRW 4,800 (around Php185)
Upon reaching the top, we walked around the area.
|N Seoul Tower
There was a flock of pigeons around, we had a blast feeding them with crumbled crackers.
|Pigeon Feeding Time
There were 'couple padlocks' that were shaped into Christmas Trees. The padlocks are one of the reasons why couples go to Mt. Namsan, couples would locked the 'couple padlocks' to each other to symbolize that they are forever locked to each other.
We wanted to check out two ticket attractions, we got the Observatory and Teddy Bear Museum ticket that cost KRW 14,000 (around Php540)
|Teddy Bear Museum Shop
While waiting for the elevator to take us up the observation deck, the whole wall was projected with pictures of the view of Korea at night.
|'While waiting for the elevator..."
The weather was kind of cloudy and hazy that morning, we didn't get to see much of the views around.
|View from the Observatory
|Far Away From Home
Be sure to drop by the sky restroom, the restroom also gives a nice view.
|Relieving and Freshening Up.. ..In Style
After getting down from the observation deck, we made our way to the Teddy Bear Museum.
Ticket Price: KRW 8,000 (around Php300)
|Teddy Bear Museum
The museum shows the history of Korea from past to present using cute and adorable teddy bears. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the bears actually moves.
|From the Old Times...
|...to the Present
|Life sized Teddy Bears
It also showcased antique Steiff Teddy Bears, these teddy bears were made during the early 1900s and from what I know these cute little things can cost as much US $1000 or even more.
We headed to Hongdae, an area which is known as an university area. It is also known for the local indie music culture and the numerous clubs.
|The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince
As soon as we entered the gates, a barista came out and told us to order first before taking pictures. It was an actual coffee shop that was used to shoot the series.
|Picture of the Cast hangs on the Wall
|A Huge Picture of Go Eun-Chan hangs by the Entrance of the Shop
We walked around the Hongdae area and the people around were mostly the youths, it exuded a very lively vibe to which we really enjoyed.
Along one street, there were buskers who were students playing the guitar and singing different Korean and English songs. We came across these two performers who we end up watching song after song. They were just awesome and from all the buskers around, they were the most watched.
|The Two Amazing Student Buskers
Every night before going home, we would unwind at Bong Bar. We would chat with the locals and tourists and shoot some pool as we chugged down our free beer. We got a free bottle every night because we chose to stay at Bong House. Bong House was located near a university, the street was alive til the wee hours of the morning.
The street was filled with Arcade Machine Shops and Win a Prize Vendo Machines.
|Jon playing Bishi Bashi
|"Look at What I WON...Earmuffs!!!"
The next day, we made our way to Bonguensa Temple. A Buddhist temple where people can actually spend a whole day or go overnight to have a feel of the temple life for a fee. Though Koreans are predominantly protestants, a lot of locals would come here to seek peace and quiet time.
Ticket Price: FreeAdmission
What surprise us was the temple is situated with what we think is a busy business district in Korea. People were walking around in their suits and business dresses with cups of coffee in hand. While heading towards the temple, we saw very interesting looking buildings and structures.
|Unique Looking Building
|A Wooden Sculpture
The temple was spacious with lots of trees that surround the area. It was indeed calming and peaceful.
|A Large Open Area to Pray and Meditate
|Colorful Lanterns Covered an Area
After visiting the temple, we headed to Korea's indoor theme park, Lotte World.
Ticket Price: there are different ticket packages. for more details: Lotte World Ticket Prices
|At Lotte World's Entrance
There were different rides inside and outside, the outdoor area offered the bigger adult rides. We were shocked to find long lines on the different rides, it was a weekday afternoon but still local students in uniform flocked the theme park.
|Inside the Indoor Theme Park
|Some of the Rides and Attractions
|The Outdoor Area in the Afternoon and at Night
To get away from the crowd, we went inside the Folk Museum. It tells the story about the history and traditions of Korea.
|Mural at the Folk Museum's Entrance
We enjoyed looking at the figurines and miniature model of the palaces, it made us appreciate the real thing more.
|Different Life Size Display
|A Miniature Model of a Palace
After a tiring day from walking around, we headed to a Jimjilbang. It is basically a public bathhouse with tubs and saunas of varying temperatures. Most Jimjilbangs would have a unisex area where there are TVs, computers, snack bar, massage chairs and sleeping mats. Locals love to come here to clean up and relax. Also male clients would come after having a drinking session and needs to have a place to sleep and spend the night at.
Price: Varies (we paid KRW8,000. around Php300)
As soon as we entered, we were given a key and a set of shorts and shirt. We didn't have any clue what to do first, luckily a client came out the shower area and instructed us on what to do. We took a shower and took a dip on the tubs. There were three hot tubs, two that were nice and warm and another which was freezing cold. There were also sauna rooms which has different temperatures.
Important note: Before entering the shower/tub/sauna area, you have to go full monty!
|Our Set of Shirt and Shorts
We put on our 'uniform' and went up to the unisex area to lounge around and have a massage on the massage chairs. After the experience, we really felt relaxed and refreshed.
The next day we were so glad that we went to a place that wasn't part of our itinerary. After lunch at Noryangjin Market, we headed to the World Cup Stadium. There was a train station named after the stadium and the train stop was filled with world cup pictures.
Ticket Price: KRW 1,000 (around Php40)
|World Cup Pictures at The Train Station
The stadium was built into a shaped of a traditional Korean Kite.
|A Model of The Stadium
|Inside The Stadium
|At the Entrance Gates
We had no idea on what to expect about the place, while walking around the stadium we were elated to find out that we can actually go inside. There were different world cup memorabilia that we saw.
|Different Memorabilia of the World Cup
Even though there were only two of us at that time, the staff invited us to watch Korea's National Football Team's story during the 2002 World Cup.
|The Viewing Room
The best surprise about the World Cup Stadium was people can actually go inside the locker rooms, crowd area and the field itself. It was such a blast!
|What's Happening Inside the Locker Room
|The Crowd Goes Wild as the....
|.....The Star Footballer enters the Field
|Stepping on the Field
As we packed our bags to head for home, both of us wished to stay for a day, a week or two more. We can't pinpoint a specific thing why we loved South Korea... was it the cool weather, the warm and respectful people, the delicious food, the culture or the places we visited? We really can't tell. There are people I know who has visited this country over and over again, there was something in South Korea that makes tourists go back. So I guess we became one of the many who were also bewitched by South Korea's inexplicable Charm. And yes, We'll definitely be back!!! (next time around Jim will join us)
|"Annyeong Haseyo Korea!!!"