South Korea: Baring the Seoul

I was quite hesitant to write about our travel in Seoul as this was a family vacation and quite personal I must say, but my friends would always mention “I hope to read it in your blog soon”.

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So here it is, not the ultimate travel guide but more of a personal story and experience – the kind that bares the soul and all. If we’re really close, you’ll know what I mean.

Imagine growing up looking so different from everyone and people asking “Are you Chinese?” It would have been easier if I am, but I’m not – so I had to shake my head and answer, “Korean”. I’ve always dreaded the next question, “Have you been in Korea?” My mind would go in panic and would choose between saying yes (then I’d be lying) or no (then they would mock me) — and I would always choose the latter. I was a kid and my young heart could only take enough.


I’ve hated being a half-Korean while growing up for the most part. I barely knew other kids who were half-Korean and people didn’t know much about Korea. The first time I ate kimchi, I hated it to my guts and swore I would never eat such disgusting food ever again.

I never really thought much about Korea being a dream destination. Instead of patronizing the race running through my veins, I diverted my interest to its number one competitor – Japan. I remembered my top three destinations were Japan, Greece and Egypt. I never bothered adding Korea to it and I could die without seeing it at all.


When I started working, friends would always ask me to travel to Korea with them. I’ve always declined knowing I wanted to see the place for the first time in my life with my family. I wouldn’t be able to be at peace knowing that there are people sulking over the fact that I’ve gone there without them. That was how special Korea was to my family. Mom always dreamed of seeing it with us her kids and it was a dream come true for her when we flew last January.


I’d like to think that our trip to Korea was actually a “Mom’s Trip” and everyone was telling me that my mom looked as if she really enjoyed the recent vacation we took. She did, that she keeps bugging me to go back during fall because we were totally chillin‘ – literally – in the cold during winter in January. I wanted so bad to stay on my bed and just sleep because the cold was slowly killing me but I couldn’t spoil it for everyone, could I? Though my brother had the guts to.


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We took the cab from the airport to our hotel. There were four of us so we thought if we would take the airport limousine bus and pay the same, then let’s just take the cab at least we won’t have to walk in the cold while dragging our luggage. Do take the cab if there are four people and always confirm the total fee (you shouldn’t pay for tolls whatsoever). Stick with the price you agreed with. It’s nice that Koreans are honest people so it’s not really a worry getting scammed or what.

Where to Stay

We stayed at Artview Hotel after scouring the Internet of the best deals. I wanted to choose a place that’s near the airport bus drop off point and train station as I had to consider the deathly cold of winter and our luggage. We could’ve gone for guesthouses but I realized the guesthouses and this hotel got the same price-range, guesthouses are more expensive! This is just a small hotel so the price was just right and I didn’t have a lot of expectation so I was really surprised and pleased of the facility.

I suggest you find a hotel near DongDaemun as most tourist spots are around that area. Myeongdong is for “tourist” tourists. The restaurants are overpriced and the shops don’t give out a lot of freebies! In terms of accessibility and convenience to transportation, Myeongdong definitely wins because as what I’ve said, it’s a place for tourists and most of the buses stop over at Myeongdong.

The cab dropped us off at the very front of our booked hotel, saved us a lot of hassle! We stayed at Artview Hotel for 4N5D and chose the triple room. Location is in Myeongdong, but it’s actually in Chungmu-ro which is a 10 minute walk to Myeongdong.

I only have good words for this hotel – cheap, clean, comfortable and the staffs were amazing and friendly. They speak English so well, so that’s a plus! The place was also around a foodie neighborhood where a lot of “corporate people” take their lunch. I was really happy that there were a variety of restaurants to choose from. We were also upgraded from the triple room to family room with balcony as the staff “misbooked” our room and thought we booked for a twin sharing and there wasn’t any available triple room so she got us a family room instead — which was a lot bigger and our cousin (who’s living in Korea) got to sleep with us during our stay without additional fee.

Where to Eat

We spent our first night looking for a restaurant so we could eat dinner. We were famished and the cold didn’t help at all. It was 11PM and it was a bit late that most restos were already closed. We found one in one of the alleys in Myeongdong and thought their food was great.

I don’t really have specifics when it comes to places where to eat. I mean, it’s Korean food. It tastes the same (though after 20 meals of samgyeopsal in different places, we learned to identify which tasted better), so scratch my previous statement. It doesn’t taste the same, but they all have the same menu.

I LOVE GWANGJANG MARKET! A must go-to place when in Korea! Do drop by when you have time. It’s as authentic as it can be!
Of course, you shouldn’t miss out the street food as well. Most of the areas have street food and I personally liked the fish cake! Fish cake all the way!
This is Gangwondo province’s specialty dish, the spicy chicken. We were supposed to order more because they said it’s only good for two. But when they served it, it was more than enough for the four of us. And we were damn hungry that time!

Where to Go

We didn’t really have a strict itinerary as I told Mama to just go with the flow and enjoy. She wanted to get a tour but I insisted that we don’t so we could enjoy Korea and not spoil it by hurrying and jumping from one place to another without actually soaking in everything.

We were lucky that on our first day, there was snow. The whole point of our winter vacation was to experience snow. There wasn’t any forecast of snow until the next Friday, so we got so excited and happy that there was snow when we woke up in the morning and Seoul was covered in white!

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First stop, Gyeongbokgung Palace and King Sejong monument.

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King Sejong chillin’ literally!

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Why are they so tall?

We then decided to rent hanboks (Korean traditional clothes) and paid almost 40K Won for each (mom and I) and rent duration is only 30mins! We get to enter all the palaces for free – but still quite expensive as the entrance fee is a bit cheap, charge to experience.

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After awhile, we got tired of taking photos so we decided to move on to the next spot. I’m not sure what this is called but I’ve seen this in a lot of movies and dramas.

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Gwangjang Market

Probably my most favorite place in Seoul. You haven’t eaten authentic Korean food yet if you haven’t been here. It was so fun getting to experience Gwangjang Market. Fish cakes, blood sausage, all sort of Kimchi, octopuses, pajeons (pancakes)… in a very cheap price!

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Nami Island

We woke up quite late, so we found ourselves in the train station at around 10:30 AM and still needed to travel one more hour to go to Nami Island. I do recommend that you book your tickets early on. We were lucky we found empty seats.

From the train station, buy a one-day pass to their tourist bus and get off at the wharf.

 

It was honestly freezing cold plus the wind didn’t make it any better. We stayed for only 30 minutes and didn’t get to walk around the whole island.

 

We skipped Le Petit France as we needed to go to our relatives in Cheunchon City which took another 20 minutes of train ride and 45 minutes of bus ride. We were back at Seoul at around 8PM and was dead tired.


We spent the next day in Itaewon and Gangnam walking around and just trying to kill time.

Fans waiting for a halyu star!

 

We decided to spend the afternoon in Namsan Tower. Shoutout to the Filipino lady who gave us hot packs. We appreciate you so much! There was just enough for all of us, you are such a blessing!

I AM PROBABLY THE WORST PHOTOGRAPHER EVER. I SWEAR IT’S THE COLD, AND NOT ME. I USUALLY TAKE NICE PHOTOS BUT AGHHH I JUST COULDN’T STAND THE COLD!

View from the cable car ride from Namsan to Myeongdong.

 

Myeongdong area

We spent our last day going around Myeongdong and buying last-minute pasalubongs and beauty products – masks, lotions, toners and getting a lot of freebies!

We had our last lunch near our hotel. Since they don’t offer samgyeopsal, we had bosam with spicy octopus. Loved how polite and generous the owners were! They kept on giving us soup, side dishes and even rice!

We hailed a cab from our hotel to the airport instead of taking the airport limousine bus. It was just really freezing cold to wait out the bus.

4 days but look at our luggage! HAHAHA

 

If you haven’t had time to complete your shopping, there are beauty shops inside the airport. There’s also an Olive Young at the basement.

A BIG BIG NOTE (but not needed to constant travelers), make sure to put your beauty products purchase inside your checked-in luggage. 

I got so lucky to remember that while waiting for check-in as I bought products in Olive Young as a last-minute panic buying. Then at the airport security, we saw this family with ALMOST all of their products being taken and emptied out from their carry-on. Most of those products came in sets, just imagine how expensive those were! I feel so bad for her. 😦

So we were quite early and went around the airport. I was looking for reasons why Incheon International Airport was hailed the best….

I wonder if they have an entertainment lounge, or a pool, or a mini theater like Changi’s.

Well, they have a museum….

No mini theaters… or arcade computers… or ps4… or a pool… or a shower area… but a friend of mine did mention he enjoyed Incheon International Airport.

And that was the end of our Korea trip. It was so foreign, and didn’t feel like home even though the Korean blood runs through us and I like Korean food and dramas. But overall, it wasn’t the best experience. The cold was just freezing the hell out of my soul and I guess it played a big part of why I wasn’t so enchanted.

But Mom was happy. When she’s happy, I’m happy. And that’s all that matters in the world!

Maybe on my next visit, I’ll come find appa. 😉

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