03.03 to 03.06
I just spent the weekend on my first out of the country trip this year. Destination: Seoul, South Korea.
My officemates and I have been raring to go to this city since Cebu Pacific opened a new route to Seoul. Other officemates have raved non-stop about this place and so this became on of our must-see places on our travel lists.
For 2012, my office friends and I made this our destination for our annual out of the country trip. As soon as Cebu Pacific announced a seat sale to Seoul last October, we immediately booked our flights for March. Only three of us were able to make the bookings – so the Feb, March and April birthday girls decided to celebrate our birthdays in Seoul.
Fast forward to March 2012 and we are finally set!
Preparing to Seoul-Search
Unlike our other out of the country trips, our trip to Korea required some major preparations beforehand.
- We had to secure a Korean Visa. For those from the Philippines planning to go to Korea, you would need to apply for a visa. It usually takes 3-5 working days to process. You can either visit the embassy personally or go through a travel agent for a fee. Please note that not all are immediately granted visas (I’ve heard of some people who were denied) and usually those with US Visas have higher chances of getting a visa.
- March is usually end of winter, going towards spring. We’ve been monitoring the weather and the temperature ranges from -1 to 11 degrees Celsius, much colder than the Philippines, who is on its way to summer months. We had to pack winter outfits like sweaters, coats, hats, gloves, scarves and boots to keep warm.
- Koreans speak a very different language and not all speak English. We had to stock up our iphones with Korean language translation apps to help break the language barrier.
- Since it was our first time, we had to prepare a detailed IT to help us navigate the city. Websites like Visit Korea and apps like iTourSeoul were great help for directing us exactly where to go and how to get there.
Touch down Seoul!
We arrived in Seoul at 6.15am, right on schedule at the Incheon International Airport. From the airport, we took an airport bus (10,000 won) to the city. The airport is about an hour away from the city.
We went down the Myeong-dong station, the closest station to our guest house. For this trip we opted to stay at a guest house instead of a hotel as it was cheaper and the place we got was very accessible to the train station and the shopping area.
We were picked up by Mr. Chong, the manager of the guest house, Alps Seoul, and immediately checked in our room.
Guests houses are often used by people who stay longer in Korea, like those who study. Our room came with its own bathroom and private kitchenette at the price of a standard room of a hotel. And it was only a five minutes walk from the main shopping area – Myeong-dong!
Riding the Seoul train
Getting from one place to another is very convenient in Seoul, with their elaborate subway system, with 17 lines crisscrossing the city’s underground. Their stations are clean and well-lit, and the tracks have gates to protect passengers from falling into the tracks.
For foreign tourists, it is very easy to navigate the system as the signs and maps have English translations, and the voice over inside the trains and at the stations also have English. Their trains are also not very crowded even during rush hour that even crazy tourists like us can conveniently take a picture.
So now we have arrived, what are the best things to do in Seoul? I’ve named the top 10 things to do while in the city:
- Shop. Shop. Shop.
Being a bustling city, Korea is well updated with the latest fashions and brands like H&M, Forever 21, Uniqlo have all made its way there. The best place to go shopping is Myeong-dong, located at the heart of the city. It can be comparable to Times Square of New York, Tsim Tsat Tsui of Hong Kong or Orchard Road of Singapore. Rows of boutiques, restaurants and specialty shops line the area, and at night, stalls selling goods and food line the streets.
You can also try the Ehwa Women’s University area for boutiques and knick-knacks to tickle a girl’s fantasy. Since these stores cater to university students, their prices are cheaper and their items cater more to the younger crowd.
To get the best view of the city, you can ride on a cable car up to N Seoul Tower to see the beauty that is Seoul. This is just walking distance from our guest house and Myeong-dong. After taking in the view, you can go down and affix a locket in the museum in Namsan Park.
Nami Island is a small park just two hours outside Seoul. You can take the bus via the Nami Island Shuttle located in Insadong. The bus leaves at 9.30am and comes back at 4pm.To enter Nami Island, you can either take a 10 minute ferry ride or zipline your way inside.
Nami Island is a beautiful park with tree-lined paths. Its the setting for one of Korea’s most popular drama, Winter Sonata.
- Visit a palace
Seoul is home to many palaces from the olden times and you can visit as many as five in the city. We chose to go to one, Changdeokgung Palace located in Jongno-gu. Its one of the biggest palaces and has a secret garden. There are tours around the place in Korean, Chinese and English, but tourists can explore the palace freely.
This is a strip of art galleries and little boutiques where you can walk around to admire artwork and shop for little trinkets. Galleries usually open new exhibitions on Wednesdays between 5pm-7pm.
Coffee shops have lined the streets of Seoul, ranging from the regular Starbucks and Coffee Bean to home grown stores like Caffe Bene and other quaint places, especially around the Hongdae area.
Our favorite thing to do in hangout in one of these places in the afternoons to get away from the bitingly cold air.
- Shop for Cosmetics
Koreans regard skin care as high priorities on their list, and so the city is littered with hundred of beauty care shops featuring Korean beauty products. These shops boasts of using natural ingredients like snail, snake essence and mineralized water.
Its no wonder that the Korean girls have such flawless faces.
- Visit Everland/Lotte World
For those bringing their families, you can spend a day at either Everland or Lotte World, Korea’s top amusement parks. We didn’t get to go on this trip because we had enough of the cold when we were in Nam Island.
- Drink and be merry!
Korea, being a bustling city, also has a vivid night life. Popular places to go clubbing are in the GangNam area, while a popular drinking place is Hongdae located near Hongik University, where rows of bars and restaurants are along the streets to serve yummy Korean barbecue, chicken and beer to students and guests.
- Eat, eat, and eat!
I will be putting out a separate entry on Korean food, but this is a definitely must do in Seoul. Korean food is so good, even their street food is yummy!
I would definitely love to go back here again!
Nang san hami da!