Where: Seoul, South Korea
Who: The whole fam gang
When: April 2016
What: Little Miss Wanderlust along with the whole fam goes around Seoul
Seoul is the capital city of Republic Of Korea, known as South Korea. Densely populated but still highly urbanized and organized. Another one of Asia's powerhouse in terms of economy, livability, environment, culture, development. Seoul is captivating mix of ancient traditions and latest applied technological advancements. In this city, one can find innumerable retail and shopping stores, legion of street food vendors, extraordinary architectures, trend setting youth fashion and culture, vast nightlife districts, very hectic education, work, and corporate system and environment, serene buddhist temples.
*Important Note: Entry to South Korea is visa free IF you are citizen of countries from North and (most) South Americas, European, and others like Russia, China, Singapore, etc. (refer to your local Korean embassy or consul for more information). Now, for residents of a developing country such as the Philippines, you may enter visa free via accredited group tours to JEJU ISLAND ONLY however if you plan to travel to Seoul or Busan, you will need to check with Korean Embassy submit documents and requirements for visa processing months prior to your travel.
South Korea has 7 international airports. About 1 hour west of Seoul, is the country's largest airport, with great flight connections throughout the world. This is also one of "the best run and best designed airports in the world" - a delight and pleasure to use, although if you arrive late watch out for pushy taxi drivers lying about the hotel buses and trying to get you to pay 3x the normal fare.
*TIP: Make sure to make arrangements with hotel's airport pickup, or your travel agent's transport, or you can just plan the public transport from airport train to your accommodation.
Busan Port is the largest seaport in Korea and offers ferry rides mostly to and from Japan. There are fairly frequent ferry connections from Busan to Japan. JR Kyushu's Beetle hydrofoil service from Busan to Fukuoka is the most popular which travels to Fukuoka in just under three hours with up to five connections a day. It also offers service to near by Tsushima.
Due both to its location at the end of the Korean peninsula and the political situation with North Korea, entering South Korea overland is practically impossible. The border between North and South Korea is considered the most heavily fortified border in the world.
According to our local guide, if going on short distances just because tired of walking, you can always call a taxi, and would be easier and cheaper. However, if you insist on getting around or even getting lost thru their subway, you can always give it a try, just make sure you map out your route to your destination.
Buses are also very well connected all throughout the city, and it is just a matter of further researching where exactly you will be going.
You would probably never run out of nice, and posh hotels and other accommodation in the city of Seoul. However for busy areas like Myeongdong a preferred hotel near the area may be fully booked, so unless you are planning to stay outside the 'touristy' areas, better research and book in advance.
The fam decided to stay in Myeongdong area as it is the area near the places we plan to go, really accessible via public transport, and most of all, it is like the center are where the one can find famous global brands, to local brands. And also not as expensive as the famous Gangnam area.
We are a bit lucky as originally we were scheduled to go on March which was really cold and rainy. We rescheduled on the last week of April due to fam schedule conflicts, as well as little miss wanderlust's school examinations. Good thing we still made it to the last days of spring, with cool weather and colorful flowers blooming, before it becomes hot and humid this summer.
1. Jogyesa Temple
Center of Zen Buddhism in Korea. And it is famous for being located in the middle of busy streets of Jongno. The temple doesn't give off the solemn and traditional air of the other temples located deep in the mountains, or offer the seasonal scenery of the mountains and the sea. Because it is located in the middle of the city, the transport is easy, and is well connected to the surrounding areas. It is good for tourists on a tight schedule. Along the street around Jogyesa Temple are many Buddhist specialty shops, selling such things as prayer beads, Buddhist writings, incense, as well as souvenirs such as dolls and key chains. If you are interested in Buddhism, these stores may be worth looking around.
2. Gyeongbokgung Palace
Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace is also commonly referred to as the Northern Palace because its location is furthest north when compared to the neighboring palaces. It is arguably the most beautiful, and remains the largest of all five palaces. This palace is rich in history and culture, although destroyed from wars of previous centuries, they were able to rebuild it again. Also in the middle of a busy city, lies the palace that once housed its monarchs. Which is also why it is easily accessible for the tourists.
Getting there: Gyeongbokgung Palace Station (Subway Line 3), Exit 5 / Gwanghwamun Station (Subway Line 5), Exit 2.
3. Bukchon Hanok Village
It is home to hundreds of traditional houses, called hanok, that date back to the Joseon Dynasty. The name Bukchon, which literally translates to "northern village." Today, many of these hanoks operate as cultural centers, guesthouses, restaurants and tea houses, providing visitors with an opportunity to experience, learn and immerse in Korean traditional culture.
4. The War Memorial of Korea
It was established to remember the Korean War (1950 - 1953) and to symbolize the desire for peaceful reunification of Korea. The museum consists of 6 individual exhibition halls and a room where you experience combat during war, a screening room and an outdoor exhibit area with memorial statues, and even names of all the individuals who helped sorted by country, and lots of Americans and Filipinos too. But to summarize anything learned from different War Memorials, is that WAR SUCKS! Hope every human would just co-exist in peace together away from wars over silly disputes for power.
5. Go Higher at Seoul N. Tower
Not just an ordinary tower building, but it is a tower above the mountain, originally built to broadcast signals back in 1960s. N Seoul Tower has a cool mountain surroundings with nice floral gardens around which even have lots of tulips planted along the sidewalk on Mt. Namsan. It is the reason why it became a popular place to unwind for locals and tourists alike. It also has a romantic spot above with the popular "Locks of Love" can be seen and for the lovers to try.
*Protip: It also has a scenic restroom.
6. Shop 'til you Drop at Myeongdong
Myeong-dong is Seoul’s shopping mecca and is a must-see for tourists, but it is not just a shopping destination; Myeong-dong is also a center of commerce, banking and culture with a daytime population of 1.5-2 million. For shoppers there is a mixture of street stalls and retail outlets selling everything from high fashion to casual attire as well as many Korean cosmetics stores offering high-quality products at competitive prices.
Myeong-dong is very popular with international visitors and fills with Japanese tourists during the Japanese holiday period known as “Golden Week” which runs from the end of April to the beginning of May. Part of Myeong-dong’s popularity stems from the more affordable prices here compared to other shopping areas.
It is also filled with huge range of beauty shops. Different beauty outlets from popular international, to popular local, you will never run out of different health & beauty products, as well as fashion items, accessories, perfumes and the boys favorite, sneakers as they definitely have the latest and even upcoming trends
Big global brand names, together with the coolest and hippest local korean brands, cluster together in this area, its street stalls are also tourist attraction selling all kinds of fashion items, and street food stalls serving traditional korean delicacies like fish cakes, tteokbokki (stir fried dish made of rice cakes with vegestables in hot sauce) and soondae (steamed pig intestines stuffed with bean curd, soybean sprouts,noodles, and mushrooms).
*TIP: It may be easy to get lost as multiple stalls of same brands are present in this long stretch of streets and side streets, so be sure to have your hotel/accommodation's address and contact written in Korean so it will be easy for you to get a taxi and go back.
*PROTIP: Myeongdong is the best area to buy cosmetics
7. Hunting Arts & Antiques at Insadong
Insa-dong, located in the heart of the city, is an important place where old but precious and traditional goods are on display. There is one main road in Insa-dong with alleys on each side. Within these alleys are galleries and traditional restaurants, teahouses, and cafes.
The galleries are the heartbeat of Insa-dong. There are about 100 galleries in the area and you can see every example of traditional Korean fine art from paintings to sculptures. The most famous galleries are Hakgojae Gallery, which functions as the center of folk art, Gana Art Gallery, which promotes many promising artists, and Gana Art Center.
The teahouses and restaurants are the perfect complement to the galleries. At first they might be hard to find, but if you take the time to stroll around the twisting alleyways, the window shopping in itself can be very entertaining. The shops in Insa-dong are very popular among all age groups, because each one is unique.
Every Saturday from 14:00 to 22:00 and Sunday from 10:00 to 22:00, the main street is blocked off from traffic and it becomes a cultural space. Stores set up booths outside and Korean candy merchants and fortune teller stalls can easily be found; there are traditional performances and exhibits as well. Insa-dong is especially popular among foreign tourists. This is where they can experience and see traditional Korean culture firsthand, and also purchase pieces of fine art. On the street you can eat Korean taffy and traditional pajeon (Korean pancake), and see many foreigners lost in all the joyous festivities of the street.
Getting there: Anguk Station (Subway Line 3). Exit 6.
8. All Night Shopping at Dongdaemun
Popular for its modern architecture and designed buildings, and also where one of Seoul’s biggest night market shopping districts, comes alive at sun down (10pm to 5am, to be specific). Some of the most popular shopping malls here include Doota, Migliore, Hello apM and Good Morning City.
Getting there: Dongdaemun Stadium Station (Subway Line 2) / Dongdaemun Station (Subway Line 1 and 4)
9. Kid's Time at Lotte World, Everland, or Seoul Grand Park.
Which is the "best"? That's relative. Each one has it's own points. Seoul Land is the largest (depends on how you measure) and also has a zoo. It has the most rides. Everland is Korea's answer to Disney, and it has different "kingdoms". It is however a little farther outside of the city than Seoul Land. Finally Lotte World is partially indoors. This obvious advantage to this is that if it rains, there will still be a lot to do for a 6 year old. If you decide to include it on your itinerary for maybe half a day, Lotte World would be easier to get to. This venue is a little smaller than the other two however.
And if you ever decide to do Lotte World, make sure you pickup those yummy Lotte chocolates and candies as take away for your relatives at home.
10. Han River Cruise
A boat cruise along the Han River is one of the best ways to view Seoul's river front areas. There are also available snacks and drinks in the cruise. You also get to feed the seagulls by purchasing dried anchovies.
11. Chillout with Cute Critters at the Dog and Cat Cafes
If you and your companions are fond of these cute and adorable animals, then you can try visiting either cat cafe or dog cafe. We visited both and they were both awesome! Although not recommended for people with allergies and asthma, our little miss still did, (but with proper medication ready incase). Apparently, there were NO signs of any asthma or allergic reaction that occurred the following nights.
12. Checkout the Myeongdong Cathedral
There is also a big Cathedral in Myeongdong area where catholic are able to express their faith. While in terms of religion, Buddhism & Christianism are the most followed, the majority of the South Koreans do not have religion, or as they would like to call it, "free thinkers".
There are couple more attractions that due to time constraints we weren't able to visit, but is definitely worth checking out.
13. Nami Island
Namiseom Island was formed as a result of the construction of Cheongpyeong Dam. It is a half moon-shaped isle, and on it is the grave of General Nami, who led a great victory against the rebels in the 13th year of the 7th king of the Joseon Dynasty, King Sejo. However, it is more popularly known among the youth as the setting of a couple of famous Korean Dramas.
14. De-Militarized Zone (DMZ)
The Korean peninsula is home to a single nation of people with the same language and ethnicity, divided in two. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a buffer zone, which was established on July 27, 1953 when the Armistice Agreement was signed during the Korean War. The DMZ vividly captures the scars and wounds of the Korean War as well as the wishes and hopes for the future.
South Korea and North Korea drew a truce line across the Korean Peninsula, from the mouth of the Imjingang River in the west, to the town of Goseong in the east. On either side of the truce line is a 2km-wide stretch of land where military activity is forbidden. The zone has been protected from human disturbance for about four decades and has become a haven for wildlife. The tourist destinations in this ecological area have been renamed as The Peace and Life Zone (PLZ). The following information is to introduce the major attractions in the DMZ and PLZ's package tours.
15. Cable car to Mt. Namsan
Runs from the base of Namsan Mountain up to N Seoul Tower, one of the most representative tourist attractions in Seoul, loved by tourists and residents alike.
With bars, clubs, restaurants and shops selling everything from reproduction Korean furniture and tailored suits to jewelry and Korean pottery.
17. More Shopping
Common Grounds shopping is a trailer or container park turned into shops and mall. Getting there: Konkuk University Station (Subway Line 2 and Line 7). Exit 6.
There are also underground shopping spots in Seoul include the Express Terminal Underground Centre, Gangnam Underground Shopping Centre and Yeongdeungpo Underground Mall. Get lost around the labyrinthine alleys and you’re guaranteed to find great bargains!
($1 US Dollar = 1164.54 South Korean Won * as of May 2016)
Accommodations - Hotel Bed - 95,000Won +++ /night
Accommodations - Family Room -120,000Won +++ /night
Foods - Local Set Meal - 4,000Won / person
Foods - Fast Food Combo Meal - ~5,000Won / person
Foods - Upscale Restaurant Set Meal- 25,000++ / for two
Drinks - Bottled Water (convenience store) - 1,000Won (1L)
Drinks - Beer (convenience store) - 2,500 Won
Drinks - Beer (upscale bar / 500ml) - 5,000 Won
Transportation - Taxi - 3,000Won flagdown rate (3,500 at night)
Transportation - Subway - 2,000Won or more depending on station
MISC - Lotte World Entrances - Full day, 48,000 Won, 42,000 Won, 38,000 Won, 12,000 Won
MISC - 1 summer dress in a High Street Store (Zara, H&M or similar retailers) - 45,000 Won
MISC - 1 pair of sport shoes (Nike, Adidas, or equivalent brands) - 150,000++ Won
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