They say that the best experiences are borne out of spontaneity. It's what exactly how we capped our 2013. In one fateful phone call from the hubby (who asked if I were game to go to Seoul, South Korea in the next two weeks) our 2013 just got more colorful and interesting.
Just a quick back story: I have resigned to the fact that we will not be going out of the country for a vacation this year because of two reasons: 1) we're still recovering from our wedding expenses last year 2) we just started amortizing for a 3-bedroom condo (that was not in the books at the start of the year but in a fit of inspiration took the plunge anyway, mid-year). You know being an adult comes with a lot of obligations and responsibilities. So, we sort of tamed our wanderlust.
But the Seoul opportunity was just too tempting to pass up. We threw caution to the wind and said yes to booking our flight!
Visiting South Korea requires a tourist visa. To apply, you need the following: a certificate of employment, a bank statement, a photo copy of your stamped passport (last five countries visited), your actual passport and a filled-out application form.
The form says that it will take exactly five days for the visa to be released (if visiting for the first time) and three days (if you've got a stamped visa from an Organization of Economic Co-operation Development (OECD) member country). We got ours two days before our scheduled flight.
So, at midnight on November 22 we took an Air Asia Zest flight to Seoul, South Korea. I had a few misgivings about my Fall gear (the cold might be too biting!) and I don't have much resources to buy new ones.
And for the first time, I didn't have to worry about our itinerary. Since we were just joiners to this trip, Tyrone and I were just happy to take part in whatever activities, our friends have lined up.
But my fears and worries were replaced with child-like wonder when we experienced -2 degree Celsius kind of weather. This four-day trip is promising!
Arriving at Incheon International Airport is already an experience in itself. Korea knows branding. Signs are everywhere. Even immigration has a friendly vibe to it with its KISS (Korea Immigrations Smart Service).
|I must say this is a great system for queuing. Everyone lines up around the circular column. Such discipline.|
Incheon is about an hour from Seoul. At the arrivals, you take the airport express (train) to bring you to Immigration and Baggage Claim. Outside the airport, it's easy to spot which bus to take going to Seoul. Or if you want convenience, you can take a cab.
The locals (and even tourists) get around Seoul in many ways but mostly through its complex but easy to use subway system. Buses run on scheduled trips; efficient system complete with GPS tracker posted on bus stops. And cabs are everywhere. I must say that cab and bus drivers are very well-dressed. Impressive.
At the airport, we took a bus that took us to Myeong-Dong (the shopping district of Seoul). We paid Korean Won 10,000 each. It's roughly PhP400. Not bad.
Now, South Korea isn't a first world country for nothing. It is home of the grandest Hyatt (in my opinion), Westin, and other international five-star chain of hotels. But these travelers chose to stay in a hostel, Zaza Backpackers. It is our second time. The first was in London Ole in Macau. So, I pretty much know what to expect.
It was comfortable and safe, cheap with wifi connectivity and located right next to Myeong-dong's night market.
Here are some street scenes that greeted us upon arrival.
Our four days stay was packed but light enough for us to enjoy the food, the sights, the cafes and the luxury of walking around in unbelievable cold weather. Hey, to us who live in a tropical country, a -4 degrees Celsius is an awesome experience, by itself!
We visited Namsan Park, Dosan Memorial Park and the Seoul Tower and promptly fell in love with the colors of fall. I experienced donning the national costume called, Hanbok and just took the time to smell the roses.
Just like any tourists, we hunted the shopping districts for good finds. One place in particular interest is Paju Book City -- home of the biggest Lotte Premium Outlets. It's designer brands' heaven-on-discount.
Of all the palaces, we only had the chance to visit the Gyeongbukgong Palace which is massive and well-preserved.
And of course, we didn't have the heart to miss Gangnam (and Rodeo Street), made more famous by Psy. And home to some of the biggest luxury names in the world.
More photos on the next posts.