10 days of getting lost in South Korea

SK Trip 2013

It did push through, the dream South Korea trip. Ten days of wandering and getting lost,  surviving on sign language and some English. The trip was a journey worth taking. From missing bus stops to exploring the Seoul subway to being stuck in a train for a day of sightseeing around the country to hopping on bus rides we had no idea would take long hours to get to the destination to conquering stairs in a green tea plantation to hitching a ride back to the bus station to getting tutorials for cooking noodles to standing during long subway rides (because at some stop, an elderly would definitely enter and you’ll probably just offer your seat) to overspending because you converted the price wrong 😀 I’m just happy to have provided amusement to the people I have met during the trip 😀

This trip would be one of the highlights of my life. It was one of the best memories I have so far. Despite my tendency to forget things, I know this trip will be difficult to forget.

The ten-day stay was not my choice, mind you. If I had found a promo ticket nearer to the arrival date, I would have cut the trip short. Then again, as with most of the things that happened on this trip, it must have been meant to be.

This was my first trip overseas, going through the arrival and departure processes solo. It definitely wasn’t the most relaxing trip but I developed great appreciation for efficiently designed processes. It was also the most expensive trip I’ve taken, given the length and the location. Until now, I worry about how I’d manage in the next months but I just remind the self that every won spent was all worth it.

I don’t know how exactly but I know something changed – for the better. Somehow, one gains confidence that one can manage most of the things he/she has been so worried about before the trip. One learns to not let small inconveniences affect the fun one can get from something. There’s the acceptance of the things one cannot do anything about and instead, focus on the how to make the most of the situations one finds oneself in. Being clueless and lost does not always mean being stupid – and being stupid isn’t always a bad thing. The more situations of stupidity one may find oneself in, the greater the lessons one can take home from one’s journey.

There’s that slight feeling of enlightenment and then greater discontent. Where to get lost in next?

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South Korea: Day 10/10 (Incheon Airport)

IMG_2644Checked out at 11 am. By noontime, I was already at Incheon Airport. My  flight’s at midnight. That’s a long wait but I was prepared. I had two books from Paju City just for this purpose. Found an area near the comfort room and settled for a read. A long read.

Every other hour, I would try iced coffee at the different stalls. There was a lot of stalls and shops. Dunkin Donuts remain to be a favorite because of their relatively cheaper coffee and their green tea smoothie.

It is a beautiful and efficient airport. Everything well-designed that it’d be hard to get lost. I approached the elderly information officer stationed at the entrance to inquire about my midnight flight when I arrived at noon. She smiled, checked her folder, informed where I’d check in upon, directed me to the counter, and politely reminded me to check in three hours before my flight.

There’s a entertainment area. One could listen to the band, stay at a cafe, or find a comfortable spot in the waiting area near the charging station. I love this place. Spacious waiting area, free wifi and charging stations, clean comfort rooms, friendly and efficient staff, and most importantly, no terminal fee.

By the time I was halfway through the second novel, it was time for check in.

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This may just be the farthest gates in the airport. No complaints there. At least it was quiet. The plane was delayed for about an hour. It’s not really something new.

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South Korea: Day 9/10 (Food Trip)

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Stayed at the inn to enjoy the (really) fast internet connection watching Korean movies on Youtube. I know, I can do this in the Philippines but I just had to experience watching a movie without waiting for the video to load. When I pressed play, the movie starts playing. It was only when I had about nine tabs of movies when I saw the familiar loading text.

Was too scared to overspend in the last two days of my stay. Without Cla, I have greater tendency to overspend. So I just dealt with my laundry during my movie break, tried student meals (our inn was near Sungkyunkwan University), then went back to the inn for more movies.

At Day 9, I longed for home. I didn’t want to go out. There’s no doubt that this trip has been way more than what I expected. I have yet to use my running shoes. Planned for a morning run but I woke up late 😀 So I settled for movies. I did consider touring more palaces. In the end, the movies – with the fast internet connection – proved more appealing.

I was looking forward to going home. I realized ten days is too long for a vacation – even for South Korea. I guess a week would be enough. Although, it would be nice to come back in a different season 😀

I will come back but perhaps after a year or more. I’ll have to save up  for that.

South Korea: Day 8/10 (T.um, Hongdae, SeMA, Deoksugung Palace, Gwanghwamun Square)

SK Telecom Ubiquitous Museum (T.um), Hongdae, Seoul Museum of Art, Deoksugung Palace, and Gwanghwamun Square. This itinerary was far from planned. One area just happened to be near the other so we walked our way from one place to the next.

The tour at the SK Telecom Ubiquitous Museum is free. Just make sure to make reservations at their website.

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We were early for the tour so we spent a lot of time at the lobby of the SK Telecom Building. Mesmerized by the big screen by the window despite the rather violent content of the material being shown. Gave in to iced coffee indulgence after minutes of budget contemplation.
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We were each given handsets that would be our museum guide.
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The green one inside the purple circle my virtual guide. These guides accompanied us throughout the tour.
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An amazing demo of what the future walls would be like. This reminded me of the scene in Cloud Atlas where one could set the wall/window images.
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With the screen this size, it’s like watching the life size version of the girl group perform in front of you.

We had half a day to wander around and we started with Hongdae area. It was noontime when we went to the area. We checked the booths bearing accessories and clothing. The clothes were still a bit expensive for me. The price of accessories were okay though. Trying the quirky shades were fun – even though we didn’t purchase any.

Cla suggested we visit the Seoul Museum of Art. Thanks to a Tourist Information Officer in Hongdae and Cla’s patience, we managed to get to Seoul Museum of Art.

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Passed by this on our way to the museum. Made me doubt my eyesight. Got a headache and a laugh from realizing that the statues were distorted.

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IMG_2527We were lucky. All the museum exhibits that day are open to the public.IMG_2540

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Heard drums as we exited the museum. It turned out that there’s a change of guards taking place in Deoksugung Palace. 

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IMG_2573 One of our regrets for this palace visit was not trying the traditional clothing at booth by the palace entrance. Visitors can actually wear traditional clothing (not sure if it’s rented or borrowed) while touring the palace grounds.

We passed by a flute player in one of the tree shaded sitting areas in the palace grounds. Too bad a palace attendant asked him to stop. So we went back to taking photos.

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That’s Cla (left) and me (right). Thanks to Cla’s amazing selfie skills and her Galaxy Note 2.0’s camera.
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The sign says “Closed”. Lucky, lucky.  
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It took a while before Cla convinced me to give this one a try. Have to try this one at least once in your 20s. It’s free and it was fun 😀

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Day 8 has got to be the one with the most number of places we visited during this trip.

 

South Korea: Day 7/10 (Hangang River Cruise and Insadong)

The sky was clear today and we took it as a good sign to take the Hangang River cruise.

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Loving the details on these tiles. I initially thought the animal faces were painted on the posts. Identifying the animal faces in the tiles is a good way to pass time.

Took photos with Cla as we waited for the boarding time. 20130520_161158

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The one-hour cruise passes through several bridges in the Hangang River, none of which I could remember (because I never really asked or paid much attention to the the narration during the boat ride.) All I know is that there’s a red bridge, and a green one, and a couple of grays.

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Will definitely have to try another river cruise next time 😀

We went to Insadong to have that evening walk in the market and to purchase some souvenirs.

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Had I not splurged in Paju City on notebooks yesterday, I could have taken one of these notebooks home 😐
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Was really interested in this stall but the owner/attendant wasn’t anywhere to be found. Oh well, another reason to come back.

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South Korea: Day 6/10 (Paju City)

Paju City was one of the places I enjoyed the most during this trip. It was a great break from the crowds that one would encounter in other tourist sites. We went to Paju Book City and Heyri Artist Village. Paju Book City On a Sunday, the place felt like a ghost town. It was a great contrast to the yesterday’s experience at Nami. It can also be a bit scary. Then again, one can always go back to the main avenue and there’d be people setting up their stalls at the mall. This place is like a large architectural showroom. Aside from being a hub for publishers and printing press, the place also has several bookstores and book cafes as well as museums. We contented ourselves with browsing the book illustrations as most of the books on sale were in Korean. I managed to get two English books from the discounted rack. These books would keep me busy during the long wait at the airport during the flight back to Manila. Reading books is highly encouraged among young Koreans to the point that bookstores look more like a playroom – a very large one – with books and arts materials as the central activity. By bookstore, I am referring to up to three-storey charmingly themed establishments with activity areas ranging from painting and drawing, running around, free reading, and even wall (and ceiling) climbing. These bookstores serve a the showroom for publishers new releases and book lines. There are also several book cafes, galleries, and museums in the area. Even on a Sunday, there’s still a lot of places to visit. We did miss some interesting places as they are closed during weekends. We did managed to chance upon great shops and a museum for that notebook obsession. Paju Book City combines architecture, books, notebooks, cafes, and galleries with the peace of a weekend.

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Early afternoon lull. The entrance to the museum included free americano from the lobby cafe plus a chance to look back at how enjoyable the day has been.
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That shelf drained my travel budget. Went crazy over notebooks!
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I loved this piece the most. I could stare at it all day.
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The museum wasn’t part of the itinerary. We chanced upon the sign in the building facade. Looking for the entrance was a bit tricky but we did find it eventually 😀
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We were looking for a place to rest after hours of walking. I just couldn’t remember the name of this cafe. Will have to come back.

20130519_14114920130519_14111120130519_134519 Thanks to Cla, I have these photos 😀

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Notebooks 🙂 notebooks 😀 notebooooks!
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The woman minding the cafe was kind enough to offer to take our photo.

20130519_122431 20130519_122204 20130519_112337 From Paju Book City, we took the bus to Heyri Artist Village. I was a bit underwhelmed to find that the place was a compound of galleries with an amusement park vibe. Usually, when I think of an artists village, I expect a bit of quiet and peace. It was anything but quiet. Well, inside some galleries, it was peaceful. I guess, the trip to Heyri Artists Village was okay. IMG_2283 IMG_2280 IMG_2273And as usual, we slept most of the bus ride back to Seoul.

South Korea: Day 5/10 (Naminara Republic)

We had an early start for Nami Island. Cla made reservations for us to join the buses bound for Nami Island. These buses are stationed in front of Lotte Mart off Jamsil Station.  KW23,000 per person covers round trip bus tickets and the ferry ride. The bus goes back to Seoul at four in the afternoon.

We encountered heavy traffic on the way to Nami. We made good use of the time by catching some sleep. We have been spending a lot of time sleeping during bus rides.

When we arrived at the port, we found the place packed with tourists, both foreign and local. Seeing local tourists flocking the place was a surprise for me. The greater surprise was the number of people in the area. I never realized the place was this popular.

Once the ferry docked on the island, we quickly separated from the throng of tourists and followed the dirt path outlining the island. Coming from a densely populated developing country, I shouldn’t be complaining about the number of people. There was just something about seeing that large of a crowd that can be overwhelming at times. Perhaps, it’s because I imagined the island to be a relaxing place for a stroll. If you get far enough from the crowded places, it can be peaceful and you can better enjoy the scenery.

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There are several gardens one can visit.
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They have a peacock on the loose – and even ostriches! Some of the ostriches were tormented by kids running after them.
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Scenic places for a break from all the walking -if you wouldn’t mind annoying some tourists attempting to get their photos taken. From this spot, you can watch people taking photos with the statue of the Winter Sonata lead characters. Makes me wonder if they disinfect those statues regularly from all that hugging and kissing courtesy of the tourists.
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I thought they were balloons. Realized that they’re lights. I bet they look great in the evening.
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You can take your pick from several tree lined paths in the area
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This one’s the famous tree-lines path in the Winter Sonata drama. It’s more beautiful in autumn with yellow leaves.
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To take a photo of this road without any tourist would be such a challenge.
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Art installations of varying sizes are scattered in the island.

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Details on the wall of the female comfort room.

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This is actually an entrance to the male comfort room.
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There was a International Children’s Book Festival that week. There were cultural performances, exhibits, and there was an art fair. Found this booth interesting with its posts made of piled books.
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They used piles of packed soda can blocks to hide the back of the stage.
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We were back on the ferry at a little past three. We waited for quite some time for our bus to start boarding (which was a little after 4 pm). We waited for some passengers who seem to have forgotten the time. We departed for Seoul at about 4:15  pm.