People who know me and I don’t spend a lot of time traveling. My lack of wanderlust comes from two conflicting personality traits:
- I’m a creature of comfort: I really, really have no desire to “rough it.”
- Ironically, despite my pang-mayaman needs, I’m kuripot and have this perpetual notion that I am a pauper.
Around a year or two ago, I decided that I’ve had enough of this deprivation nonsense. I’m not getting any younger. I’ve come to the realization that I can’t wait until I’m La Vista-lady rich to go anywhere. Besides, I noticed that my obsession with not spending has gotten to the point that no matter how much I save, I never think I have enough to splurge.
So I figured I better just start enjoying my money (and my husband’s. 😛 A part of this decision entails allowing Moe to pamper me- spending my money still hurts me. But spending his – I could definitely get used to. :P).
The last trip I took was in South Korea last July. For those of you who have gone to Korea, you probably know it’s not exactly a smart decision to go in the middle of their sweltering summer. But my friend Boo wanted to plan a birthday trip. And since she’s into this whole Korean-novela craze, she wanted to go to Seoul. Friendship trumps dehydration, so off we went despite stern warnings from everyone else.
ON VISAS AND BDO CREDIT CARD
I heard that the Korean embassy is known to be super strict with handing out visas . In fact, a friend, who was planning an office trip to Seoul shared how half of his employees got denied after their bank accounts were scrutinized.
Luckily, we found out that BDO has an existing tie-up with the Korean embassy. So all you have to do is submit a photocopy of your credit card along with your last 3 billing statements and you can do away with bank requirements. (Guys, I’m not big enough to be sponsored by BDO, so I swear, this is a legit tip. Anyway, for more information on visa requirements, click here.)
Since we still lived in Subic when we were applying for a visa, we also got a trusted travel agency, Interlink Travel, to fix everything for us; we just had to submit our travel documents to them and they took care of everything else.
The only advantage of leaving for South Korea over the summer was that we didn’t have to worry about bulky coats and layers of clothing. This was a definite plus for us because our trip was around the same time we left Subic for Manila (we planned the trip months in advance. Way before we had an inkling that we were going to be homeless). We were still squatting at a friend’s house and most of our stuff were still in boxes, so it was a relief that we only needed t-shirts and tropical-weather clothes. I did indulge and buy myself new kicks though (Onitsukas for the win!) because I had nothing in my possession that could be remotely deemed as athletic wear. I knew we were going to do a lot of walking, so my un-exercised feet definitely needed cushioning. (Pro-tip: Don’t even bother wearing jeans! It is that humid. Light, cottony clothes are the way to go!)
ON AIRPORT PICKUPS
The airport was just a little less than 2 hours away from our hotel, so we decided that it would best to cab it (My friend Boo, who arranged everything, has a bigger aversion to roughing it). The cab that picked us up was pretty decked out – complete with wifi, free bottles of water and party lights. Nothing says Welcome To Korea more than red lights and fast internet! 🙂
ON CROWN PARK
Pat on the back to my anti-roughing it friend Boo for picking a good hotel. We stayed in Myeondong, one of the busier food and shopping districts. Our hotel was pretty nice and was just a block away from all the restaurants and shops. Moe and I ended up getting a deluxe room, which is fairly large.
For some weird reason though, it just didn’t have a proper closet- there was just this space on the wall where you can hang stuff. No drawers, no shelves; just literally a hole in the wall. I spent a good portion of the first night insisting that there was a secret button that you could press and a part of the wall would just spring open. (Sometimes, I forget that real life is not a James Bond movie. Moe would have none of it of course and promptly left me to do my own banging and pushing.)
Other than the slight inconvenience of keeping most of our clothes in our suitcases, the hotel was great: The bathroom wasn’t too shabby- it was spacious and was always kept clean by the efficient staff. It came stocked with amenities (except for toothbrushes – we had to buy those from the concierge. There’s a 7-11 right down the street, but we arrived close to midnight and were too lazy to go back down, so we decided to live large). The best part: They have those automatic toilets that we love. (I’m telling you, there’s nothing better than doing first wee in the morning on a toasty toilet seat.)
Their breakfast buffet was also good. The food selection wasn’t extensive, but they served a lot of those crunchy fries that I couldn’t seem to get enough of. (Hey, if the Koreans can maintain their svelte frame while eating oily stuff for breakfast, then there must be something to it.)
As an added bonus, all their front desk could speak impeccable English. This came in handy when we needed help navigating through the city.
ON AWESOME URBAN PLANNING
For her birthday, Boo treated us out to a guided urban tour. One thing that really struck me was the thought and attention that they put into planning their buildings.
Dude, their old, 18th century houses could put our modern condos to shame.
Case in point, we visited the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main estate where the royal family used to live. The complex itself is massive and is filled with clever structures that would send an architect’s heart aflutter.
What stood out for me in particular was this artificial pond surrounding this pretty building that our guide said used to house the King’s concubines (Ancient kings really have b*lls of steel. Imagine housing your side chicks in the same complex where your wife lives.)
Apparently, the King, was a little bit of a divo. He wanted the water straight from the mountain river to flow right into his pond. So the engineers had to build some sort of irrigation system that would cater to this difficult but still reasonable request. But the King, was not happy with just having fresh, running water at his disposal. He would have none of this flowing currents business – it was not aesthetically pleasing. His pond had to show the reflection of all the beautiful structures around it, and the river, much to his chagrin, wouldn’t stop – well, streaming. It was killing the vibe.
So what did his clever engineers do? They built some sort of funnel that would keep the water in the pond perfectly still. Not only that, but our guide swears that the water is still potable. Take that DMCI!
ON QUAINT PLACES AND RANDOM DECOR
Korea also had all these really interesting-looking shops and restaurants. Interiors range from deconstructed and chic to bright and festive to totally random and eccentric.
For instance, we visited this coffee shop that had miniature plastic dinosaurs right infront of 2 antique horse statues. (From what I gathered, this is a crowd-pleaser.) Right across this questionable tableau, there was a train-riding monkey beside a monument that suspiciously looks like Mama Mary.
It sort of gave me the impression that although Korean architecture is well-planned and meticulously executed, they also have a sense of humor when it comes to their aesthetics. Every place we visited a unique charm and each place has its own vibe and personality.
ON INSTAGRAM-WORTHY PLACES
What I also really loved about Korea is that every place that we went to had picture perfect-spots. I strongly believe that it should be named the Instagram capital of the world. It’s every selfie girl’s dream, and every Instagram husband’s nightmare
Aside from having awesome architecture, the country invested a lot of time and effort taking care of nature. Even in the middle of the city or a shopping center, you would see perfectly trimmed trees. I think they’re also mandated to keep pocket gardens on roof decks , because every building had one.
There are two nature-y places that we visited that I was especially enamored with. One, is a botanical garden called Garden of Morning Calm, which had a lot of Harry-Potter like trees.
And the other is an island an hour away from Myeongdong called Nami. You guys, if you’re into nature-y stuff, you have to go to Nami! I swear, it looks like it came straight out of a fairytale – the best part, you can totally do cheesy pictorials and nobody would even blink! Every group or couple that I saw was armed with heavy-duty cameras and selfie sticks. A lot of them were quite seriously strategizing the composition of their next selfie, with, I daresay, much more gravity and thought than most congressmen would exert when they’re deciding on a bill . What’s nice about Nami too, is that it totally changes depending on which season you visit (they say it’s especially magical during the fall).
I don’t usually rave about nature stuff. But visit Nami. Totally, totally worth it.
Ofcourse, there is more to Korea than just Instagram-worthy places and wifi taxis. There are still a lot of noteables that I want to discuss. I even saved my favorite traveling hobby – SHOPPING – for the second installment. Hope you guys stay tuned!