South Korea – beyond expectation

South Korea _ Really Impressive

As written on my previous blog, I put too much effort to graduate from TU and feeling so depressed, therefore I decide to just return home, back to my home country, after 3.5 years struggling in Netherlands, I think it’s about the time. Before I return back home I decide to take a short break to South Korea, well it’s not really my idea, it was Ms.T’s, we decided to went home together and she asked me whether I wanted to stop over on South Korea first, I don’t have anything in mind so I said yes.

Ms.T is a big fan of Korean drama, movie, and needlessly to say she also got influenced by all Korean food and culture. As for me, I’m mild to everything Korean (hey, I couldn’t deny that I have lil’ bit obsession to Korean movie and drama, but that’s it :”) ).

South Korea winter trip, things that need to be prepared:
– Visa (24 eur, at your nearest embassy), funny thing they only gave me 14 days visa (damn you Netherland regulation!)
– lotso lotso undershirt, if it’s possible thermo shirt (we went there during winter time, we even had -10 degree on some days)
– thick scarf (I didn’t prepare it, I just bring a normal scarf, and when I arrived there the people wear like 2 m scarf)
– nice boots (Korean snow was really thick, and when it freezes it became really slippery)

Overall, since the winter also extreme on Netherlands, I thought I don’t have to prepare anything and just bring the usual winter outfit (I survived the winter anyway), I was wrong surely South Korea wind is not as strong as Netherlands but the temperature was could enough to make me feel that I need coffee every hour (yes! it’s that cold!)

I didn’t prepare well on this trip, basically I followed the itinerary from Frommer’s website, which is kind of appropriate for elder people (even though  I said this, I still didn’t catch the itineraries)

Even though without any hustle and bustle preparation, this trip was still enjoyable though, I’ll try to explain it differently from the way I used to explain my previous trips.

To make it little bit excited, we made a to-do-list based on things that we saw on Korean drama, this is the list:
– eat bimbimbap
– eat baby squid
– eat tteodokki (inspired by Lover in Paris)
– eat midnight snack on side of the road
– spend a night on Korean traditional house
– wear Korean traditional costume
– get lost in Seoul’s metro
– eat kimbap
– try Korean sauna (jimjilbang)
– goes to teddy bear museum (inspired by Goong)
– write our name on Korean character
– last, but not least eat lots of Korean food (when in Korea eats like Korean)

Day 1
Get ready for almost 20 hours trip from Amsterdam, I took the cheapest flight and it was Qatar Airlines. I had two times stopovers in Munich and Doha, the Munich transit was little bit terrifying, since the plane landed one hour late than the schedule and I have to catch another flight in one hour, so I’m just like running from one terminal to other lucky enough I found the terminal carrier (oh, you know the one who carries elder and disable peoples) I happen to find it and the driver was nice enough to carry me along and by the time I arrived on the gate there were lots of people who still awaits for the plane.
Munich-Doha was pretty standard, it was 6 hours trip and I pretty much asleep (ah and also Life as we know it). After two hours transit in Doha, I continued my trip with 9 hours flight to Incheon, it was fully seated plane and what surprised me the most the passengers were 90% Korean, I guess they came from all over the world to return back home, the passengers homogeneous amazes me, I even overheard some Korean taught some Hangul (Korean language) to foreign people, what a warming scene. Another 9 hours of flight and voila, I arrived in Incheon, immigration blablabla, waiting for Ms.T’s plane (she got upgraded into business class), after some confusion on how we should go to the hotel (by the airport bus, 9000 won), we arrived in the hotel late at night, we spent our first and second night in Nostalgia Hotel, it’s a business hotel (or at least that’s what Ms.T’s friend said).
Since we came little late at night we pretty much, don’t know where to eat and also pretty much where we were, we ended up spent our first night with eating instant noodles and watched episodes of Secret Garden on 40 in LCD full HD TV (which was surprisingly good)

Day 2
We started day 2 little bit late, mainly because we still used of european time (aah.. jetlag), we still have to walk 10 minutes to the nearest metro station and also bought breakfast and also a T-card to ride on Metro (2500 W) and then when we took the metro we were shocked that Seoul-er (or Soul-ian?) are really stylish and absolutely strong, most of the youngster wore only skinny jeans or legging, even more amazing they wore high pointy heels, I have to mention this because the weather outside are icy and slippery, local peoples are indeed strong!. We started the day by taking seoul city bus tour (10000 W) and our first stop is dongdaemun market (why?because we were terribly hungry), I bought a typical spicy Korean squid with rice (something squid bibimbap) it was really spicy and I really never thought it will be THAT spicy and I didn’t really enjoy it (hmm first impression Korean food? not so good), the positive side is Korean food comes with lots of side dishes, so if I felt it was too spicy just mix it up with other side dish to make it little bit better. Next stop is shopping, the district is famous for it’s cheap-stylish-market, but since we came from Europe everything felt not so stylish and also not so cheap (blame us, for being so stingy and convert everything to Euro), but in the end I bought a set of necklace and earring (with oh-so-Korean style), the lady who assist us was really nice even though she barely spoke English. But since we went around a bit too long, and also we did window shopping a lot, when we went outside it was already late afternoon, so we decided not to wait for the city tour but straight goes to the the gyeokbokgung palace. But the luck goddess was not on our side, the palace was close when we arrived, the museum (Korean folk museum) was still open though, but we didn’t enter the museum, we took some photos of the palace (since the light was perfect) and continue our trip to the city hall, when we arrived there luckily there was a small museum that still open and it was a really nice museum about Korean king and Korean army officer, we even had a chance to write our name in Korean character (since it’s the museum of the Korean Character founder, King Sejong).
We came upstairs and the day has turned into pitch black, so I ask Ms.T whether she wanted to take the bus tour (since it’s the the last round) and went to N tower, she said OK, so N tower it is. Late night we went for N tower and Teddy bear Museum, not really impressive, since we can’t stay very long outside on -7 degree Celsius (approximate). But we still got some beautiful picture of Seoul’s city light. We went home almost at 12 at night, my heart was thumping that we won’t get the last metro (we got that), perhaps you wonder what did we ate for dinner it was another instant noodles (viva la instant noodles!)

Extra note on N-tower: there were places where you could put a love lock, but I don’t know why there were lots (I mean LOTS) of love locks, it almost looks like love lock’s junk yard, I even found a couple who came there just to buy the love locks
Extra note on Teddy Bear Museum : not as cute as it sounds, if you like to get the feeling that you didn’t waste your money (12000 W, ticket incl.tower) make sure that you spent some time there to take some awesome macro photo.

Day 3
We made the decision to spend another day in Seoul because we felt that we haven’t seen enough, so in the morning we spent time to look for the hostel, we look for it on google, but we couldn’t find the location, so we gave up (after walked for 30 minutes on icy road) and decided to put our bag in the locker (so freaking’ expensive, 3000 W/2hrs) took a walk and look for the hostel later. So we continue our walk to the Changdeokgung Palace in middle of snow blizzard (or I think it’s normal in Seoul) we waited there for 1 hour for the next English tour, when the tour started there was only few tourists but as time goes by it was increasing, the tour guide spoke perfect pitch English without any hesitation I start to understand the history of Korean imperial family and the architecture of the palace, it was really informative. Unfortunately we didn’t came there on spring or summer, it was snowing for the whole day and we didn’t get a chance to enter the Secret Garden (another garden inside the palace), the bottom line was it was like the Alhambra all over again, yet we found a UK girl whose kind enough to share her hostel address. But hell, the shows must go on, we continue our trip, and by the we went out of the palace, the snow was falling down again and it was thick and heavy type of storm the salt trucks are rushing on the main streets, so we went to the nearest coffee shop to sip some warm (Nescafe coffee, and you guess it, there’s no such thing in Netherland) when the snow calmed down, we continue our walk to the metro, took our stuff and checked in the hostel (Hong Hostel, 30000 W/night, twin bed room), we got a room in front of common room, which was quite noisy, but as someone who came from Asia we manage to get some sleep. But lemme continue our story first after we checked in we continue to walk to Ittaewon to visit the mosque and hoped for some halal korean barbecue, but we didn’t found it ( :=( ), the journey was little bit harsh we had to walk climb up the hill and it was muddy snowy hill, with my thin sneaker on our halfway there my sneaker was broken and the water sipped in through the sole, I felt like walking on on the mud without any shoes, once we arrived on the mosque we prayed and I filled my shoes with the brochure and map, next thing I know we ate tteodokki and KFC for dinner (hey, I don’t really want anything spicy). We then headed to the city hall, there’s nothing special there actually, we even got lost for like 15 minutes because the confusing road sign, we ended up with hang out in Dunkin Donuts and I bought a super glue to fixed my shoes. We went back to hostel (still nearby 11 or 12), got some sleep, and prepared our stuff for the train ride in the morning.

Note of the day: since in this trip we went to the middle of the city the metro station is decorated life size poster of Korean idol, I saw them a lot, including one big poster of Korean TV shows Dream High, 2AM (or 2PM?) and many more. Oh I also got to mention those Seoul-ian are over loaded with information, they read e-mail, or chat, or read blog, or even watching TV (yes, watching TV) beat it during metro ride or on the stair way (while walking!). The metro is even more amazing, every metro station has LCD TV that sometimes inform the passengers about the safety with video or just some TV shows that created by the metro company (I mean, wow!)

Day 4
We headed to the station in the morning because we need to catch 10.15 train, one of our hostel mate who came from Brazil head out first because he brought along a huge luggage, I forgot to tell him that Seoul Metro was really full on 7.30-8.30, they even had official pusher to push people, we ended up met each other in central station. When we were on the station, it was on time, like in another 15 minutes the train will pass, and my bad the ticket machine is not working. We took KTX and intercity train to go Gyeongju (39000 W), we have to stop over in one station and change train, the lady on the ticket office said that it would be late, but we came on time. On the fist 15 minutes on our train ride we discussed of whether this train is cheaper than European train, we can’t get any agreement since I came from Netherlands and Ms.T came from Germany. But using our engineering skill we end up with conclusion that, it has the same standard with Europe (there, we rest our case). The train ride was really beautiful, we went across the mountain and start from snowy landscape into more autumn-ish landscape. The train ride was approximately 2.5 hours, we arrived in Gyeong Ju and look for our hostel.
Our hostel was typical Korean traditional house, we even slept on the heated floor. It has a rustic ambiance, Korean authenticity, two dogs, the name of the hostel is Sa Rang Chae (30000 W/night, twin room). After we checked in and put our stuff we started our trip, it was windy and really chilly, I put my hood on and it still doesn’t work (damn Korean wind), we headed to the city and walked around, we couldn’t find any Korean restaurant with English explanation, so we took Mc Donalds for lunch, and everybody at the restaurant seemed to be looking at us, I guess it’s not really common for 2 tourist with jilbab came there. Since we came on Monday the museum was closed, but we decided to see the open air exhibition surrounds the museum, it was nice, even though early Korean adapted Buddhism the architect and the remains not really different from Hinduism architect in Indonesia. It was freaking cold and we decided to bought warm drinks on coffee machine, I bought coffee and Ms.T bought milk Tea, both tasted horrid, it tasted like traditional herb mix instead of what we wanted, short words we mixed our drinks, had toast and drank it in a gulp. Then we went to Anapji pond, the sun is shining but the pond was frozen, it’s kind of contradiction, still I got great picture (with pond that looks like fake pond).
We can’t hold the cold any longer so we headed back to the city, we went to the Indonesian-Asian-Halal store where we met Indian guy, who spoke fluent english and Korean, and went to more cities in Indonesia than we did (that’s Globalization for you!) because he have export and import business in Indonesia. We talked with him quite some times and asked where we could find nice restaurant, and he didn’t recommend anything, that was quite a shock. So we went on a shopping trip (yes that’s what girls did) I bought some souvenirs and stuffs, we ate every street snacks that available (from Korean version of taiyaki, to Korean version’s of kue cubit) and it’s all yummy. We went to 1000W shops and bought lots of crappy stuff, and in the end when the store was ready to close (about 10 or 11) we went back to the hostel, had instant noodles as our dinner (I think I already tasted all kind of instant noodles there), had a long chat about our future before we slept and went to bed. In the morning, we had breakfast from hostel, I read on the Lonely Planet that this kind of heated floor was used from a long time ago, when it was used on the palace during the winter ussually the people will feel warm but the water on the table will be frozen, luckily I didn’t put any water on the table to prove that theory.

Note of day: people would say that I’m crazy for not visiting the observatory, but I have to say that it was freaking cold, so I guess walking around the city is a better option. Even though people say that shopping in Seoul is a non-missed experience, but big city always dis-encourage me, so if you like to walk around the city with super friendly people as along the way you should try shopping in Gyeong Ju.

Day 5
On this day we explore Gyeong Ju further. Started the day with toast and egg, and left our bag on hostel, next we wore traditional Korean dress (did I mention that our hostel provide the costume? yes indeed they are) we took photos and then start the day, as ussual we walked t the city center and took the bus, we planned to go the Bulguksa temple at first, but the lady on the information centre (we just like stopping by every possible information center) said that we should start with Seokguram Grotto, so we took another bus uphill to the groto. The grotto is one of the Unesco world heritage site, and we have to walk around 2 km to the groto from the entrance, it was windy and really chill, and what amaze me there was an ahjumma (madam) with high heels and fancy dresses not to mention a grandson walk on the hill to the groto (hmm, I bet she came from Seoul), despite of the weather, I really enjoy my visit there, the buddha statue was majestic and the surrond area was really soothing and calming, the wind blows through the leaves somehow gives me sense of serenity. After some souvenir shopping  we continue our trip to Bulguksa temple, it’s an ancient Buddhist temple, all around there were only few people, some couple went there to pray, family visit to the temple, or just group of friends, nothing fancy, it also gave me some kind of serenity feeling. This temple shows journey to the heaven, I’m not really understand Buddhism, but judging from the names of the temple and the explanation, it’s the similar explanation of Borobudur. The temple is really beautiful, not only due to the historical value but also the architecture, the location, it’s a perfect 10 temple. We spent 2 hours to went around the temple and then we have to continue our trip to Busan. We took different bus to go to the city and that bus shows different side of Gyeong Ju, it’s the commercial side, where we could see the complex of fancy 5 star hotel, golf course, Shila Memorial Park (More like amusement park), the amusement park, and the folk village. Since the scale is kind of gigantic, it reminds me why Gyeong Ju became the tourist city in South Korea.
We thought our bus will go to the city center, but it goes straight to the bus station, and then we had to walk like 3 blocks to our hostel (the hostel owner draws a map of the bus station location, it just like 1 block away, man! just plot the google map!) tired and lazy, we took taxy just to go to the bus station. Took the bus to Busan in next 10 minutes (4000W, every 20 min) and we headed to Busan.
The bus arrived in Busan in 1.5 hours, next thing we did was to find a hostel, we couldn’t find the tourist information center so we asked to the information center, the guy was really friendly not only he shows the way to the information center but also he took us to the booth (awww, I’m so in love with South Korea public service),  we asked to to the lady and the lady gave us 2 option of hostel, which was not really preferable considering the price, but the lady didn’t know any cheaper hostel, and we were too lazy too look for any hostel in unexplainable place. So we went to the hostel who has better explanation (and shorter train ride), by the time we arrived the night was starting (so I guess it’s about 6 pm) we start to walk unplanned, since it’s already dark, after we checked in on Blue hostel (20000W/night/person,dorm) we decided to walk on the surround area and it was a shopping area. We met a Chinese girl who went along with us, only for the first 10 minutes, then she had to take her camera. So we went out grab some seafood pancake for dinner and star walking, the light of the stores blind me the neon lights were really bright, and since Busan is the border of Korea and Japan there are lots of Japanese restaurant, Japanese karaoke (with karaoke character in Japanese) we even found some guys gave us a brochure of ‘Model Host Club’ (if the guys who gave brochure are already handsome, I wonder what does the guy who work in the club looks like), it feels like being in Japan in so much weird way. Our walk leads us to the Lotte Mart (another Lotte Mart) because Ms.T was looking for deodorant, instead of found it (damn, those deodorant was really hard to find there!) we found a mini trevi fountain, we called the day and (again) headed to the Dunkin Donuts, on our way home we found huge underground shopping center (those Korean and their space utility) so I bought some foot cream for my mom, and after did some late night grocery shopping on 24 hrs nearby grocery store we headed back to the hostel. When we arrived there the chinese girl was video streaming, she was watching ‘My Princess’ a brand new Korean drama, we just like ‘oh my god, all asian girl who came here are all the same’, and on the TV we watched the bloopers and parody of Secret Garden, it was really funny!. Back in the room, before we slept we discuss about our background, she’s a solo traveler who already traveled half around the world including europe and japan, not very common Chinese girl though, we also talked about the Korean drama especially Secret Garden, she’s also fan of the drama and she even had the ring tone and MP3, Ms.T and her was fought about who will get Hyun Bin (she’s the winner). Meet another girl traveler was really fun!

Day 6
What’s next to do? Ah yes off course, we spent a night in Busan, a really really nice port city, start our trip with breakfast on the hostel where we found Malaysian sibling who studying at Taiwan, had little bit chat, and then we start the day. Since Frommer only recommend eat Hwae (raw fish) on jagalchi market, wwe have to improvise our trip. We started with the fish market, where we found splendidly variety of fish, and it was really clean, still wet though, this was the time when my shoes holes splitted again. Then we continue to the port and PIFF area then we started to enter the market area where we found lots of people had their breakfast on the street (I really wanted to try that but I don’t speak Korean, and lost in translation is not really good on food explanation. so I didn’t take the plunge), after some souvenir shopping we went up hill to the Busan tower, it’s kind of similar with N Tower but the architecture is more 70s, there we found the 1st free photo booth on the tower, and they put a real camera there (DSLR) so without any hestitation we took photo of us KOREAN STYLE, we thought that our style is enough to be ashamed of but when we looked at the gallery there are lots of picture of Korean using more hilarious style and they even put add some accessories (like star or so) on the picture (how I love cute Korean!). Then we went down hill to the metro station and headed to our next destination to eat fish on Gwangili Beach, we went there, stop for like 15 minutes because we found a nice coffee shop (and this was where we decided to spend one more night in Busan, instead of coming back to Seoul using Night bus) so we walked on the beach, that’s where we found another photo booth, and yes we took another picture with korean pose.
The beach was really nice, it was a sunny day, so it was really tempted to jump in the water, we took like thousands different shot with the bridge as background. Then when we went to the nearest high restaurant and order a set of Hwae for two (70000W), and first they put like different kind of seafood snack, it was a lot and took some time until next course arrive, so I thought that Hwae only served like this, but then somes another hot plate, and vegetables, and (as requested) fresh baby squid, but next big thing is the big bang, the platter of sliced fishes just like sashimi, it was so good, but our tummy was kind of full so when we hit 1/2 of the plate we begin to feel very full, even Ms.T gave up, and next thing I just like eating the rest of the fish havocly.So we went back to the hostel but first who did we meet on the metro station? It was the chinese girl, what a coincidence, we even borrowed her phone to call the hostel and ask whether our room still available (yes it is). We went back to the hostel, checked in, put our bag, straight go to other place, at first I really want to go to the aquarium so we headed to Heundae beach, but when we got there it was slosed, so as ussual we stroll around the beaches and surround. We found varieties of jimjilbang, from the almost run down to almost look like 5 star hotel, we walk headed to the Centum City, on the city map it was really close but actually it’s quite far. Since I really want to go to the loo, we took the bus and stop in the nearby starbucks (why?it’s Ms.T’s coffee time). So we went around the surround, since we couldn’t find any good spot and Lotte didn’t provide deodorant, we went to Shinsegae (the world largest departement store), there we found the fanciest toilet, the most random thing available on supermarket (from baseball gloves to kimchi, from underwear to fancy perfume, from daily stock to fancy gift set, you mention it, they have it), we found the deodorant, we found the friendliest staff ever (we ate dinner on the foodcourt, so we just like picking up some random snack to be eaten), finally we found some joyfull and happiness on mall. We went back to the hostel with happy feeling, and by the time we arrived in the hostel we had to share our room with 2 british guys traveller who just travelled from India, we slept early because we had to take morning bus, and it was long trip from hostel to the bus station.

Note of day : the bus ticket and the metro ticket on Busan is quite expensive (1500W/trip)

Day 7
We got up early to catch the 10.20 bus because it was cheaper (20000W, normal 30000W), we got the ticket, and now lemme tell you a tale about two unfortunate travellers. We started our trip smoothly, get into bus, put our bag, get the ‘hot seat’ (Titte’s seat number = code of bus line), then the bus took rest somewhere in Gyeong Ju area, and we went to the toilet, and we went to buy drinks, and snacks, and there’s announcement in Korean, and we looked for our bus, and the bus was not in there, and then we realized that the bus already left us. So, we went to the information centre, the lady was uhm.. can’t speak english, not even the broken one. Luckily, we can speak tarzanese (read:body language) then the lady phoned her colleague whose ale to speak english, after this and that, we eventually ended up to take the next bus, and we understand why it’s more expensive, compare to our previous bus this bus was more spacious and clean, plus we could sleep inside. We were really impressed with their public service, we expect that we have to pay or something like that, but it’s not, we don’t have to pay, and the driver still really nice, it was more than our expectation. When the bus arrived we took our bag that was guarded by the previous bus driver, while saying ‘I’m sorry, my apologies’ over and over again. Then we went to meet with titte’s little brother friend, we peomised to meet in Myeong Dong, a shopping quarter. On our way to myeong dong I went to buy a pair of shoes, considering my bad experience with seoul, I don’t want to break any more shoes. I changed my shoes on nearby toilet in metro station, utilizing the new shoes, and hit the road with that.
Then we had lunch, a korean chicken bbq, spicy one, not really good idea to fill empty stomach. Walk on Myeong Dong, where titte was looking for the most unattainable shirt (the korean national shirt), saw the so called Secret Garden’s headphone, went around to buy some souvenirs for my family. Then we headed home, it was little bit late so we had to be in a rush for the flight, since we put our luggage on the hotel and it took like 40 minutes to get there, so from the nearest metro station of the hotel we went by taxi, and since we didn’t get chance to fixed our luggage, we fix that on the front of the check-in counter (Ooo, the rush feeling!) then we ran across to the gate (it was the last call) only to understand that also some people later than us. It was a flight with Air Asia-X to Kuala Lumpur, it was the most uncomfortable flight I ever had, the chair is straight, we didn’t get any drink, and also I got into motion sickness, halfway I went to toilet and almost throw up. We arrived in the morning, and because it’s a low cost airlines there was no transportation from plane to airport. There were few family who comes with their baby, I feel a pity on them.

Day 8
Good morning Kuala Lumpur! We planned to went around in the morning, but something happened, it was really bad. The morning after me & Ms.T cleaned up our body, she realized that she lost her wallet, the last time we saw it was on the plane, on panic mode (but still composure) we went back and forth of lost and found depot, the police, etc. Untill one moment we decided that it’s useless to wait for it, we went to the KLCC just to look around and had some lunch. We went back to the airport and watched like Boys Over flower (another korean drama) on our way back, then we continue saw it while waiting on the airport, and uhm during our plane trip (ha! in the name of korean fever). Landed in Bandung 1 hour late than scheduled, Bandung airport is still as small and messy as I remembered. We got picked by our parents, then I rest my case of this trip. The next morning I just realize that I’ve lost my new shoes (I wore sandals along the way), oooh the agony, losing 2 shoes in 24 hours. Farewell my shoes, hopefully you’ll be rest in peace.

Note of day: The south east asian public service is a bad as ever, just keep your stuff all tidily.

Let me finish this post by recapping our small to-do list:
– eat bimbimbap (check)
– eat baby squid (check)
– eat tteodokki (inspired by Lover in Paris) (check)
– eat midnight snack on side of the road (check)
– spend a night on KOrean traditional house (check)
– wear Korean traditional costume (check)
– get lost in Seoul’s metro (uncheck, well sometimes we missed a station but it doesn’t count)
– eat kimbap (check, remember Simsegae?)
– try korean sauna (jimjilbang) (uncheck, ms.T had a period, and I’m didn’t want to come alone)
– goes to teddy bear museum (inspired by Goong) (check)
– write our name on korean character (check)
– last, but not least eat lots of korean food (when in korea eats like korean) (check)

lemme wrap it up, it was a pleasure journey.

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