Road Trip: Seoul, South Korea

03.03 to 03.06

Annyeong haseyo!

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.

A trip on the train costs about 1650 won for a single trip but you can collect a deposit of 500 won after.

Seoul-Searching

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.

Another good place to shop is COEX Mall, located at Seongsam. Its Seoul’s biggest underground mall and hosts many activities like the Teddy Bear Museum, Kimchi Museum and an Aquarium.

  • View Seoul atop N Seoul Tower

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.

  • Visit Nami Island

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.

Visitors can walk the many paths, ride bikes or take the train around the island. It is also friendly for children as the park also boasts many playgrounds for the kids.

  • 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.

  • Look for art along Insa-dong

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.

  • Have coffee in one of the numerous coffee shops

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.

We went there on our last day during the afternoon but most restaurants were already closed.

  • 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!

And there you have it, our weekend Korean adventure! I am still having a severe Korean hangover.

I would definitely love to go back here again!

Nang san hami da!

 

Road Trip: Seoul, South Korea

03.03 to 03.06

Annyeong haseyo!

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.

A trip on the train costs about 1650 won for a single trip but you can collect a deposit of 500 won after.

Seoul-Searching

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.

Another good place to shop is COEX Mall, located at Seongsam. Its Seoul’s biggest underground mall and hosts many activities like the Teddy Bear Museum, Kimchi Museum and an Aquarium.

  • View Seoul atop N Seoul Tower

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.

  • Visit Nami Island

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.

Visitors can walk the many paths, ride bikes or take the train around the island. It is also friendly for children as the park also boasts many playgrounds for the kids.

  • 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.

  • Look for art along Insa-dong

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.

  • Have coffee in one of the numerous coffee shops

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.

We went there on our last day during the afternoon but most restaurants were already closed.

  • 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!

And there you have it, our weekend Korean adventure! I am still having a severe Korean hangover.

I would definitely love to go back here again!

Nang san hami da!

 

Project 365: I <3 Seoul! (Day 63 to 66)

Hi all!

I am back from my weekend trip to Seoul, Korea! And here are some photo teasers to mark day 63 to 65 🙂

Will post separate entries of my trip 🙂

Day 63: I ❤ Seoul!

Day 64: I still ❤ Seoul!

Day 65: I will always ❤ Seoul!

Day 64: I thank and ❤ Seoul!

Off AGAIN for the Weekend!

Hello Readers,

I am off again on another adventure this weekend 🙂

Guess where I am going:

See you all soon!

Road Trip (The CDO Edition): Macahambus Adverture Park

02.19.12

As mentioned in my Cagayan de Oro entry, the city is famous for its adventure and nature sports. One of the activities that can be done in the area is ziplining.

Macahambus Adventure Park is natural gataway and a haven for the sporty and adventurous individual. It is nestled among canopies of century old trees about 20-30 minutes away from the city.

It was the first stop on our adventure trip and included in our package. Macahambus offers the following activities:

  • Crossing the Sky Bridge
  • Ziplining
  • Rappeling
  • Cave Exploring

Our package was inclusive of crossing the sky bridge and ziplining, at P300 per trip (around $8).

We were first strapped into our safety gear by helpful park operators which includes a helmet and harness before crossing the Sky Bridge to get to the Zipline.

The Sky Bridge runs across park and offers a thrilling experience of looking down a view of a gorge from a height of 150 feet.

You can also rapel down the gorge itself for a thrilling experience but we didn’t do that as it would entail an additional P200 (around $3, making the total experience roughly about $10).

At the end of the bridge is the start of a 120-meter zipline. Each of us took turns soaring through the air at a height of 150 ft from the ground.

It was an amazing experience soaring through the air suspended at 150 feet on cable. It was a thrilling 15 second experience.

However it seemed so short and pricey at P300 for just 15 seconds.

A definite must try next time is the Dahilyan Adventure Park in Bukidnon for an even wilder experience as they have Asia’s longest zipline and is about 2 hours away from Cagayan de Oro.

Food Trip (The CDO Edition): Bigby’s

02.18.12

Upon our arrival in Cagayan de Oro, we were eager to sample the local food places, as CDO is known for its yummy food. After our fruitless search for an open spa in the area, we ended up having an early lunch in one of CDO’s popular restaurants – Bigby’s.

Bigby’s is located at Velez-Fernandez St, Cagayan De Oro City just outside LimKetKai Mall and now has a branch in SM Megamall in Ortigas, close to where I live. Its mostly South American cuisine, and famous for their baby back ribs.

I ordered their Rack a Bye Ribs (Lite) with mashed potatoes as their side dish. Their ribs are tender and tasty, with equally yummy barbecue sauce on the side. Their mashed potatoes are homemade but nothing fancy about it. The plating was simple and I kind of wished it was more appetizing.

Since it was light, I was only given 2 ribs (their normal size is 4 ribs), which was a bit short on my end but I remembered to watch what I was eating so the ribs were just right portioned. I wasn’t too full and my tummy was satisfied.

Happy customers!

At about P300 a meal ($6-$7) we were quite happy as this was relatively cheaper than other rib places in Manila. Its one place I’d go back again to satisfy my rib craving.

Road Trip: Cagayan De Oro

02.18-02.20.12

This is my first out of the island trip for the year, and I was once again joined by my blockmates Davis, Ria and Ria’s friend Char for an adventure in the Philippines. This Cagayan de Oro trip sprung out of a free 1-way ticket to any local destination in the Philippines after our Cebu Pacific disaster on our return flight last year from Boracay.

We chose Cagayan de Oro mainly for its tourist attractions. Ria and Davis have only been there previously on business trips and its Char’s first time. I have already experienced a CDO tourist adventure but was more than happy to go back after 5 years. In this era of groupons and travel packages, we also were able to score a good deal that came with hotel accomodations and tour packages.

Cagayan de Oro is the capital city of Misamis Oriental, located in the island of Mindanao, in southern Philippines. It is one of the largest cities and serves as the gateway to Mindanao from the nearby islands in the Visayas. It is also one of the largest Catholic cities in a predominantly Muslim region, making it relatively safe for travel. Cagayan de Oro is dubbed as the City of Golden Friendship.

Just a few weeks after we booked our trip, tragedy struck this beautiful city as it was hit hard by Typhoon Sendong on December 16, 2011. Non-stop rains brought floods into the city from the nearby mountains and into the river which flooded the city and its neighbor Iligan City causing thousands of deaths and affected many families as they were displaced.

As apprehensive as we were, we still pushed through with the trip and found the city back to normal, but the stains from the flood can be seen.

Cagayan de Oro (CDO) is a one and a half flight away from Manila, and being a popular destination, has a lot of flights going in an out of the city every day on various airlines. It can also be reached via boat, but it takes much longer.

Our plane left Manila and arrived in CDO right on schedule. Since we didn’t arrange for transfers, we took a cab to the hotel which was about 20-30s minutes away from the airport. Cab fare costs around P400 (roughly around $10).

Our Hotel for this trip is Hotel Conchita located in the area of Cogon, in the heart of the city. I do not have any pictures of the hotel as I thought it wasn’t as picturesque to do so. It was comparable to a low-end budget hotel in Manila. It costs around $30-$120 a dollars a night per room, which is pretty cheap. But it was clean, and had good service. It is also located close to the places in the city and is easily accessible by taxi/pedicab/jeepney to go around the city.

My trip roomie Davis

There are two things I love about Cagayan de Oro – the food and the adventure sports. Our first day was a food trip, trying different foods in the city.

The best place to find the best restaurants in CDO is LimKetKai Center. Our hotel was just a 5-10 minute taxi ride to the Center. Here there are rows of CDO’s best places to eat and two malls for you to go shopping.

LimKetKai Mall

Off to have brunch

I will be posting different entries on the different places we have eaten and experienced on different blog entries, but here are some teasers on what we did for day one.

For the first day, we had brunch at Bigby’s where they serve the best ribs, gelato for dessert at Missy Bon Bon, tried one of CDO’s numerous spa places at Touch and Heal Spa (5 minute walk from the Hotel along Limketkai Drive), and dinner at Kagay-anon in Limketkai.

With our tummies happy and our bodies refreshed, we turned in for the night ready for Day 2.

Cagayan de Oro is well known around the Philippines for its adventure sports and trails. The most popular being white water rafting along the Cagayan River and Ziplining, which is about 30-45 minutes away from the city. For Day 2, we tried out ziplining in Macahabus Park and white water rafting with Kagay tours as part of our tourist package. Details on other blog entries.

The Ziplining took only a few minutes to do, but it costs around P300 (around $7) for ziplining and crossing the skybridge. The white water rafting took about 2-3 hours through 14 rapids as we did the beginner’s course which costs around P700 (around $16).

After that we further went on our food trip in the following places all located in LimKetKai Center:

We only had half a day for our third day before our flight back to Manila so we made most of the morning shopping for goodies to bring home:

CDO is home to popular goodies that have been favorites also for people n Manila. Their most most popular goodie is the Pastel, which actually comes from the nearby island of Camiguin, another popular beach destination. We were lucky to have one of their shops conveniently located across the hotel.

CDO is also famous for their ham, so I got some packs for the house from Sler’s in Robinson’s Supermarket.

Iligan City (just two hours away) is popular for its roasted nuts and is conveniently sold in CDO. I got a pack for my mom as she loves peanuts.

We also went back to Missy Bon Bon for brunch and to bring home some of its Cheesy Sponge Cake at P140 ($3) for a box of five.

Our trip was more relaxed as compared to my previous trip. There are so many other things you can try in the city, namely:

1) Macahambus Cave – also located in Macahambus Adventure Park, this cave is famous in the war against Americans where the Kagay-anons hid through its secret passage ways and were able to ambush and defeat the Americans. Its a 3 hour journey through its passage ways. I’ve already tried this, but I doubt I will be going back again.

2) Bukidnon – a nearby province 2 hours away from CDO, famous for its Pineapple farms of Dole and Del Monte. Here you can experience Dahilayan Adventure Park where you can see Asia’s longest zipline.

3) Camiguin – The island “Born of Fire” is a popular beach destination a few hours away from CDO known for its white sandbar that disappears at night.

It was pretty much a fun trip and another for the books.

Project 365: i <3 Cagayan De Oro (Day 49 – Day 51)

Hi folks! I am back from my trip to the city of Cagayan De Oro and it was just fantastic! I will post separate blog entries on details of the trip, but for now, I would like to share with all of you some daily pictures that describe the trip in general:

Day 49: I ❤ Cagayan de Oro Food

The food here is just awesome and come pretty cheap, too!

Day 50: I ❤ Cagayan De Oro Adventures!

Cagayan de Oro is home to the most amazing extreme adventure sports in the Philippines!

Day 51: i ❤ Cagayan de Oro Goodies!

Cagayan de Oro is home to a lot of yummy delicacies that you’d just love to bring home 🙂

The Running Diares: Condura Skyway Marathon

02.05.12

A usually sleepy Southern Metro Manila became a buzz of activity as all roads lead to Filinvest Alabang for the Condury Skyway Marathon, the country’s premiere running event. Now on its fifth year, this event has become of one of the biggest and well-attended events for athletes and running enthusiasts.

On the way to Alabang

The event proper begins at 12mn of February 5 for the 42km runners. Since I’m running the 10k event, my guntime is at 5.30am. I was awake at 3.30am and was at the venue by 5pm.

The runners lined up at the foot of the Alabang ramp heading up to the Skyway. For those not familiar, the Skyway is a road above our South Luzon Expressway mainly used by motorists to cut their time in half going south. It is much more expensive than using the regular expressway.

Each races divided the contestants into waves. There are five waves per category. I was fortunate enough to be placed in Wave B along with my co-running enthusiast Ria 🙂

With Ria at the starting line

At the Wave B section

Ria’s all set with her hydration gel

The event was a properly organized one with hundred of marshals deployed, numerous hydrating stations and portalets at the course. Before the race, the runners were invited to do some stretching exercises and a fireworks display was showcased to send-off the runners.

Fireworks

Starting line

Ready with my race bib

At about 5.38am our wave was off to start. It was quite exciting and thrilling as we sped up the ramp and entered the skyway. It was an exhillerating feeling to run again and amid the chilly January dawn. Ria went way ahead of me, but I didn’t worry because she races more that I do. I was there to set my own record.

I was happy to note that my first 5k was at my usually time, about 40minutes. So I relaxed a bit for my 2nd half, but was also surprisingly high spirited and ran almost the whole way home.

I also paused for some time to take some shots during my second half all the way to the finish line.

Breaking Dawn at the Skyway

Last few stretches on the ramp

1km to go

The end is almost near as we approach the ramp going down to Alabang

I finished the race at approximately 1’30”. Why I say approximately is because my Nike+ GPS says I finished at 1:23:52 but the timer at the finish line says 1:30. But anyways, I am very happy with my result as this was my expected time to finish.

The end is in sight!

Finished!

Time Check

The 10k route I just finished

After the race, the runners were invited to the Condura Village to collect our finishers medals and other goodies, and to check out the various sponsors booths.

I got my 10k medal!

There was also a wall where you paint and pledge your support for the cause of the race — the Mangroves. I signed my name in bold lavander letters.

Roxy was here

Overall, it was a very fun and happy race! A good experience for my first 10k and first run for the year. Until the next race!