Apr 27, 2015

Korea Itinerary: Seoul and Busan in 9 days

My favourite shot along way up to the N Seoul Tower
I finally had the time to properly sit down and recalled the itinerary of my trip to Korea recently. Better to pen it down before it get lost in my memory box and sit somewhere collecting dust. You see, the trip was planned in a time to coincide with the cherry blossom in Korea. Yea, you can say I was a bit addicted to catch all the pink flowers after Japan last year. After this trip, I realised how lucky I was last year when I was able to catch the sakura perfectly but no so this time around. We were slightly a week late and most of the flowers already dead by the time we reached Busan and in Seoul, there were still pockets of sakura.

Initially my plan is to spend all 9 days in Seoul and hence the booking of the flight to and fro Seoul. I did a big mistake here as I decided to fit in Busan. And to take the KTX all the way from Seoul to Busan. The better option is to fly into Busan and fly out from Seoul.

So the summary of my itinerary is as follows;

Day 1 
KL to Seoul to Busan
We reached Incheon around 3.30pm and came out from the immigration around 4.20pm. We went straight to the KTX counter as we wanted to catch the 4.30 direct train to Busan from Incheon and to reach Busan around 8.30pm. Yup, the train ride is almost 4 hours long and imagine my horror when the girl at the counter told us that the sitting tickets were finished and there was no more sitting tickets for the rest of the day. I actually thought of booking it upfront at Korail website but since I was not certain of the timing that we can land, I decided against it. Double horror as it was Sunday weekend!! So we were discussing which were the best options when there was this couple in front of us decided to take the standing tickets instead. Suddenly, I remembered that Korail also provide standing tickets but at a lower price. But still, 4 hours of standing, I was not sure whether hubs can take it (he had worse stamina than me). Standing or left stranded in Incheon. So standing it is. We were able to get seats from the airport until Seoul station and luckily only stand for an hour. For info, for standing tickets you can sit as long as there was no one at the seat. After all the mishaps and adventures, we reached Busan station around 8.30pm and proceed for dinner in one of the restaurant. We then take the subway and stopped at Nampo station for our hotel, Elysee hotel. I really love this hotel for the strategic and the hospitality of the owner, Mr. Son. He even send me the detail descriptions to reach his hotel from the Nampo station along with photos!

Day 2
Yonggusa temple
It was forecast to rain when we were in Busan and it rained whole day we were there. So we decide to just go to Yonggusa temple and spend the rest of the day 'lepaking' around Nampo after knowing that the sakura flowers in Dalmaji hill had also died. So we ask Mr. Son for the directions there and he gave us a paper which comprise of all the alternatives of going to the temple. I will share the details in a more detail post, lol.

The sea of canola flowers hidden among the tall buildings in Busan

Day 3
Canola flowers and Gamcheon
Initially I planned for Gamcheon and combined with Beomeosa temple but my friend texted me and asked me whether I was going to see the famous yellow flowers ie the canola flowers or rapeseed flowers in Busan since I told her that the sakura flowers already dead in Busan. She gave me a link and I read that there is a festival going on to celebrate the flowers. To reach there, take the metro line 3 and stopped at station no. 315, Gangseo-Gu Office. You can see the yellow flowers even from the metro. The best time to visit should be around early to mid April, I think. Not too sure on the timing as we were there in mid April.

Gamcheon, the Santorini of Busan
Then from there, we went to Gamcheon also known as Santorini of Busan. To reach there we take the metro line 1 and stopped at ToSeong exit 8. After exit turn right at the intersection walked a few metres until you see the Cancer centre. Take bus no. 2 or 2-2 to the Gamcheon village. You won't get lost as there are a lot tourists going the same way.

Bulgoksa temple in Gyeongju.
One of the UNESCO heritage and a must visit temple in Korea.
Day 4
Gyeongju and KTX to Seoul
I had intention to see the famous cherry blossom festival in Jinhae, hence the pit stop at Busan. However, upon consultation with Mr. Son, he mentioned that most of the flowers are dead..sad..I had been repeating the flowers death for many times now. He suggested to go to Gyeongju which we may still able to catch the sakura as it was little north of Busan. He gave us directions and alternatives to reach there. We took the KTX, fastest but more expensive as we had to rush to Seoul in the evening. And this day, I did a very big mistake, an accountant should not make. I forgot about the Korea day pass that I booked from Korail for KRW120,000 + for two person which I could have use for this day, the day I traveled using the most KTX trains (and also it is the day we going to Seoul using KTX) and could have save back on at least KRW 40,000 for two of us. We stopped at Singyeongju, which is a little outskirt from the town and took bus no. 700 from outside the KTX station which lead us straight to Bulgoksa temple. I will share other alternatives to Gyeongju in another post. This one is getting too long and my hand is aching trying to type as I recalled my itinerary. We also went to Seokgurum grotto, not too far away from Bulgoksa temple. You can take the bus no. 12 from the tourist information centre or just hailed the bus from the bus stop outside Bulgoksa temple. Cost is KRW 1,500 per person.

After that, we took the KTX back to Busan, take our luggage and went to purchase the ticket for Seoul at 7.30pm. As it was a sunny day and I did not want to waste a sunny day in train travelling, I decide to only go to Seoul late evening. And the worst has yet to come. We stayed in Myeong Dong and the guesthouse I booked was at top of a hill. By now, my husband already in foul mood and blamed me for booking such cheap and inconvenient place to stay. I was really upset as not only he did not help out with any of the booking and itinerary but I was the one dragging the big bag up the hill and the room. So I ignored him for the rest of the night.

Day 5
Gyeongbukgung, Changdeokgung (including secret garden), Insa Dong and Myeong Dong
A secret garden amidst the palace ground. I felt transported back in time
It was raining the first day in Seoul, sadly and I was not in a good mood to go anywhere after yesterday's night incident. We just visited the famous palaces around Seoul, the most famous ones and also the secret garden in Changdeokgung. We bought the KRW10,000 ticket package which includes going into the two palaces we went, Jongmu shrine, and also Changyeonggung. If we buy separately, it would cost total of KRW 14,000 for 4 palaces and 1 shrine. As it was raining, we did not really enjoyed the palaces that much except for the morning trying out costume at Gyeongbukgung for free. After secret garden, we went to Insa dong for souvenir shopping and later Myeongdong for shopping.

Day 6 
Yeouido Park, Deoksugung, Namsangol Hanok Village and Seoul Tower
Still holding to my hopes of seeing sakura, we went to Yeouido park near to the National Assembly. We took the line 9 subway and exit 1 or 6. We walked for about 5-10 minutes towards the sea and then we saw it. Too bad, again half of the flowers were dead. We did not spend much time here and rush over to City Hall subway station to Deoksugung. We managed to catch the change of guards at 2pm and after that proceed to Namsangol Hanok Village after recommended by my colleague. From there we went back to Myeongdong for fried chicken (will review that later) and then proceed our 'Mt. Kinabalu' hike up to Namsan park/Seoul tower. The 'Mt. Kinabalu' hike is more like what my husband describe, haha. For me it was not that difficult walk up with all the beautiful scenery and sunset. We locked our lock at the famous lock place and then proceed with going up the tower with popcorn and coke for the night view. Normally, I won't spend such money on popcorn and coke on top of the tower but since it was a tough hike for my husband, got to reward him.

Day 7
Nami Island and Petit France, Dongdaemun and Cheongyecheon stream
Check the weather forecast and this day, it was also sunny. We took the 8am ITX train to Gapyeong from Yongsan. I will elaborate more on the mode of transport to get to Nami Island in a more detail post about Nami Island and Petit France. I feel Petit France a bit overrated but since it's the filming location for My Love from the Star and also Running Man. A bit advice though, do not take the local subway from Gapyeong back to Seoul especially on a sunny weekend. It's madness as we were packed in sardine for an hour standing. I can't barely move an inch. After that, we went straight to Dongdaemun market and to see the famous Cheongyecheon stream.

Day 8
Bukchon village, Ginseng chicken, Myeong Dong
The rainy atmosphere of Bukchon
Another rainy day today as we head towards Bukchon. As we only woke up around 10am, we took our own sweet time to get ready. I kind of regret not going to Bukchon when it is sunny as the place is amazing for portrait shooting. To reach Bukchon, stop at Anguk station exit 3. After that, it's lining up for the famous ginseng chicken, Tosokchon near Gyeongbukgung.  And then it's more shopping in Myeongdong and Lotte Department store. I managed to nab a few tops from the Myeongdong subway underground station.

Day 9 
Flight back to KL
We use the airport express (AREX) to the airport. To take the AREX, stop at Seoul subway station and walk towards the KTX Seoul station. You can get the tickets at the Korail counter or the lower ground counter before the entrance of the AREX.

Apr 26, 2015

Pray For Nepal

Heard about the Nepal earthquake today and feel sad for the casualties. The quake even affect those in India, Bhutan and Tibet and also coincidentally, these are the few places I had a chance to visit three years back.

When I looked at the photos of the demolished UNESCO heritage in Kathmandu, my heart sank. I quite like Kathmandu honestly and its quirky traits and now most of the buildings were in rubble. My prayer goes to the people of Nepal and not forgetting those who are affected by the earthquake. I will forever treasure the memories and the good times I had when I was in Kathmandu 3 years back.

Apr 21, 2015

Anyeong Haseyo

I am back from my one week trip to Korea, spending time between Busan and Seoul. Man, this trip is much much more expensive than Japan last year. I think I spend almost double the amount including on shopping. I don't dare to see my credit card statement. Sigh..why the hell I end up buying more than 100 sheets of face masks while I only have 1 face to use?? Guess I had to sell some of them to earn back some money to pay off my credit card debts. The only consolation I can tell myself that this will be the second last trip for the year at least.

In summary, I enjoy Korea but sadly we reached when most of the sakura had fallen so we left with pretty much bare sakura trees in Busan. But with very pretty yellow canola flowers. There are still some left in Seoul but pretty much the rest of the sakura had fallen. I will share my itinerary and cost for the trip which I am not very satisfied this time as I did a few stupid mistake and end up costing more than what it suppose to be. I could have save back at least a few hundreds by just opening up my brain...sigh

Stories wise, quite some adventure happened here and there, with my husband forget to bring the tripod plate and end up we had to buy one in Busan to even bargaining for the clothes which I thought the Koreans don't really bargain and to speaking Chinese in Seoul, mostly in the shopping area.

Apr 6, 2015

Backpacker or Flashpacker

I kind of abandon my blog for a very long time due to personal reason but now I got to stay positive and think positive. Just hope I can stay in this state for some time before another emotional breakdown. I find that whenever I have a upcoming trip or travel, I will automatically feel better, think more positive and focus all my energy into researching for the trip or trips.

I think I have gradually graduated from a backpacker to a flashpacker. I feel that I was more a backpacker when I was in my twenties and now being in thirties and married, travelling takes a whole new different view and off course packing involves two instead of one person. Even when I called myself a backpacker in my twenties, I rarely carried those gigantic backpack save for the Tibet, Bhutan & Nepal adventure. Most of the time I used a rolling luggage bag and carried a small backpack for my big ass camera. I find that giant backpacks tend to consume me as I was quite a petite size (which I keep telling myself that) comparing to the giant backpack.

In my twenties I love staying in hostel and plus the budget constraint I had, it suited me well. I think the last time I stayed in a hostel for my whole trip was in New Zealand and Japan. Ok, it seems like I am still much of a backpacker in my thirties as well. So how do you classify yourself as a backpacker or flashpacker? For me, it's the accommodation, my style of packing and what bags to used, budget constraint in buying food or shopping and mode of transportation. I find that the older I get, I am more incline towards a bit of luxury. I still use the occasional excel worksheet to work out my itinerary and cost just like how I am doing now for my Hanoi trip in May, which it will be definitely a flashpacker trip. And I find that only my friends who are accountant / auditor background will use an excel worksheet to work out the itinerary and cost, haha.

So in conclusion, which mode would I prefer now? I guess it's mixture of both flash and back. I still tend to find cheap accommodations such as B&Bs, hostel but at least with a private bathroom. I still cut on my transportation, getting the best and most cost effective way to travel around. I still haggle like mad eventhough it was just to reduce a few ringgit (probably I feel happy and sadistic just to get what I want according to what I am willing to pay).