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Seoul: Getting In and Around Seoul

May 6, 2010

Visiting non-English speaking countries is usually done by getting package tours so as not to bother with the communication.But being a non-fan of the package tour travel type, I have opted to do a DIY for South Korea because of one key reason and that is the extensive subway system that they have. I have this personal belief that if there’s a good public transport system, one can definitely do a DIY travel.And what better way to immerse yourself in the country but in these public trains and buses instead of being confined inside a tourist bus and herded left and right by the tourist guide.


You can get a copy of the Seoul Metro map or you can also print it from their website (http://www.smrt.co.kr/Eng/index.jsp) .Most travel guide books like Lonely Planet and Frommer’s have a pullout section for the metro map.


There are two options for your fare ticket: Single trip or a Reloadable Transport Card. The single trip card can purchased in the ticketing machines in the station before you ride the train. Single trip ticket charges more compared to the reloadable card since there is a 100 KRW discount given for reloadable/prepaid cards.

I encountered two types of Relodable Transport card in Seoul – the T-Money and U-Pass.You can use both of them for riding the subway and buses. But the T-Money can also be used to pay for taxi fares, convenience store and other establishments that accepts T-Money.Basically, T-Money is a cashless debit card that a Seoulite can use for transport and other purchases.Both have a card fee that is not refundable. You can purchase T-Money in the subways stations it’s like a vendo type ticket machine. Purchasing direction has an English translation so again no need to worry over that language barrier. On another note, if you will go to the Incheon airport terminal (which connects to Gimpo airport) – this terminal only sells U-Pass (as of March 2010).You can only  use the U-Pass for train and bus rides.You need to tap the transport card into the card reader above the entry gates so you can go inside the station.

U Pass

T-Money

Subway map, Transport card, good sense of direction and an attitude of adventure is your definite key to doing a DIY tour in South Korea even if you don’t know any smattering of korean language.

Seoul: Almost Getting Lost In Translation

April 24, 2010

The hostel that we booked gave us a very comprehensive (when I say comprehensive it is literally a step by step guide) of transportation mode that we can take from Incheon International Airport to Seoul. We were given three options: By Subway, By Bus (Airport bus service), By Taxi. Taxi is definitely out of the option because Seoul’s taxi fare doesn’t come cheap and the airport is about an hour drive to Seoul which translates to expensive. Subway is also a good option but we need to transfer stations but this means lugging our suitcase during train transfers. Among the three taking the Airport Bus service is the best option to take: fare is reasonable at a flat rate of 9,000 KRW, No carrying of luggages and No transferring of trains. There is not much difference in travel time since this is an airport service the stops is fewer than the usual city bus routes.


Obviously we have made a choice – Bus service is it, anyway according to our hostel owner the bus announces the stop names in English so there will be no problem in the possibility of missing our stop. What could possibly go wrong. We just need to make sure that we boarded the correct bus number, hand our luggages to the driver and take our seats and doze off for 30-45 minutes…and that is what we thought.

We did get on to the correct bus but we should have taken the error in reading of our u-pass card as an omen of things to come. Prior to queing in the bus stops outside the airport’s arrival area we purchase the u-pass card in the airport’s train station and loaded it up with enough money value since we will be using it for paying the airport bus. Actually all this time we thought the u-pass card is the t-money because according to my research, Seoul’s transport system used this “smart money” device for paying the fare. Since we cannot find reloadable cards except for the u-pass we thought that this is already the t-money card(more on this on a future post).Once we boarded the bus, we tapped the u-pass card into the card reader and we got an error. I tried tapping three times but to no avail, by this time the driver is already frustrated and he was saying something in Korean which of course I didn’t understand even a single word.With panic written all over my face, I rummaged through my bag to just pay in cash but I was having trouble finding my purse and the driver was now getting more frustrated. My friend noticed this and she was able to hand me a 10,000 KRW note that I hurriedly slipped into the cash slot. Wheew, definitely not a good start.

Airport Bus at Incheon International Airport

With almost 45 minutes travel time and coming from a red eye flight, I dozed off after the bus pulled out from the airport. I awoke when I heard the stops announcement, after about two stops – we noticed  that the bus will onlystop when someone presses the stop button. So we were very alert to make sure we won’t miss it when our stop is announced.Until it is just us and a group Korean women were the ones left in the bus  when we had this doubt that there is a big possibility that we missed our stop.My friend asked the driver by saying our stop which is “Sungkyunkwan” – the driver took out our luggage and said just one word “taxi”. It might be the lack of proper sleep, the coldness of the air or the utter shock of forcing us out of the bus and telling us to take a taxi – that the only thing I was able to do was to stand in the sidewalk and look helpless as the bus sped down the street. I still cannot comprehend how we can miss our stop when we were definitely listening to the stop announcements – I just had this feeling that the driver cannot understand us  and just wants us off his back so he dropped us in this place that we don’t even know the street name.


Now the great dilemma, where do we walk? to the right,left or straight? As we scanned around the area we noticed that there is a staircase heading towards the Metro just in the corner of the street. Hope at last! but there is no elevator or escalator just this glorious gray staircase which means literally carrying and lugging our suitcase up and down through the subway. We checked the station where we are and it was just the same line as the nearest metro station of our hostel. Finally, after 2900 miles of air travel, one hour bus ride, half an hour of aimless wandering in looking for a metro line, half an hour of figuring out the Metro and actual train ride and half an hour of walking and getting lost along Hyewhadong – we have arrived in our home away from home and are ready to start off our Seoul Searching.

Seoul: Seoul Searching

April 10, 2010

The Challenge is to do a DIY in a non English speaking East Asian country.  Three choices arose – Japan, South Korea and China.  I was finally won over by the spiciness of the kimchi and the allure of the koreanovelas – so it was off to South Korea. But before hitting all those Lonely Planet guides and internet forums, I was off to the South Korean Embassy to apply for my travel visa. I collated all the required documents and submitted it to the consulate. All documents and visa application guidelines can be found in the website of the Korean embassy (http://embassy_philippines.mofat.go.kr/eng/as/embassy_philippines/main/index.jsp).

There is a 3 working days wait period before they can release the result (approved or denied) but as a Philippine passport holder, Korean visa is considered as Gratis meaning we don’t have to pay for the visa application for a stay of until 59 days.

South Korean Flags on display along Insadong

Once I got my visa approval, I scoured the internet forums, travel blogs and Lonely Planet guide.I would recommend Lonely Planet’s Korea guide – which was of great help in preparing our itinerary and it also has a good list of recommended places to eat and hostels to stay. Additionally, Lonely Planet has an extensive list of Korean phrases that you can use when the communication gets though. Pinoyexchange’s forum on South Korea is also a treasure throve of recommendations and tips but you got to backread through the hundred plus pages. Buhaykorea.com which is a blog of a Filipina Seoulite also has some travel related posts regarding Seoul but what I appreciate more are the stories on how a Pinay is living and raising a family in Seoul. On another note, Buhaykorea also has a very extensive blogposts on the cosmetic market of Korea which you women can hoard during your trip. If you want to couch-travel and see Seoul virtually, http://www.lasnoches.multiply.com has ‘takes your breath away’ travel photos.

One thing I learned, an extensive research and a good subway/train system are your tickets for survival in a Non English speaking DIY tour.

Phuket: Sapryt anyone? And Other Tales From The Plate

March 6, 2010


Another thing that I look forward to when going to Thailand is the gastronomic wonders that await me.From the spicy goodness of the tom yam to the sweetness of the sticky rice with mango who am I to resist all these yummy delights.


Of Phad Thai and Sapryt

Once we have registered in the hotel, we immediately went in search for our lunch.As we walked along the main road we found a busy Thai restaurant named No.6 Restaurant which is not beside No.5 or No.7 restaurants.


We were seated at the table right beside the sidewalk and given copies of the menu. I want to start my with something I consider as my “Thai comfort food” which is Phad Thai. It is a dish of stir fried glass noodle which can have seafood, chicken, pork or beef (whichever you prefer). The taste is way different from the usual noodle dishes commonly found in the Asian region. I got a plateful of tasty Chicken Phad Thai for 60 Baht.

Padthai


Together with the dish that I ordered, I also ordered a cold soda – Sprite. And a somewhat bizaare converstation ensued between me and the waitress.


Waitress: Ok, so u ordered…… 1 coke and 5 Sapryt


Me: Sorry..we ordered Sprite (looking confused)


Waitress: yes 5 Sapryt


My Friends: Sprite is Sapryt!!


Me: Yes, 5 Sapryt!

Bottles of Sapryt

Of Fresh Seafoods and Another Sapryt

For dinner on our first night, we already have an idea where we are going to eat since we saw these rows of restaurants earlier that has fresh seafoods that you can choose from and they will cook it for you based on the dish you ordered (For Pinoys, this is your Thai version of Dampa). We headed to these seafood restaurants near Orchid Resort/Hotel. We ordered the following main dishes: Tom Yam soup, Steamed Fish and Pandan chicken.As for refreshments it’s not Sapryt but we opted to go au naturel and ordered fresh coconut juice.Service is excruciatingly slow and personally I wouldn’t say that it’s value for money since there is really nothing special in the way the food tasted

Steamed fish

On our second night, we tried to go towards the market where there are also several stalls of “Dampa” style restaurants. We got attracted to this restaurant when we notice that the guy inviting people in is the same guy pictured on the tarpaulin which says “Mr.Jai, Good My Friend”. Oh,yes it’s Mr.Jai himself inviting people into his restaurant.

It’s our last dinner at Phuket so we ordered a bit more compared to the previous night’s dinner. We got grilled fish, stir fried kangkong, tom yam soup, steamed fish, grilled pork and few pieces of oysters and (drumroll please) oh yes…the infamous bottles of Sapryt.Mr.Jai didn’t let us down, service is good and prompt, food is tasty and flavorful and the best part the price is cheaper.Our total bill is just a bit higher than the previous night’s dinner considering we ordered way more dishes than the previous night.With satisfied grins and full stomachs we can really say “Good My Friend!” (I cannot recall the actual address of Mr.Jai’s restaurant — if you are interested to meet him in person and dine here I would suggest you can ask your hotel or the locals for directions to this restaurant )

TomYam

Capping it with some Green, Yellow and White

Before lugging our baggages to the airport we grabbed some lunch at the Jungceylon Mall’s Foodcourt. Similar to foodcourts in Bangkok – you need to get a prepaid card that will be used to purchase your food. No worries, any remaining amount can be encashed back to you by returning the card. Found my remaining Thai food must eats which are Green Chicken Curry and Sticky Rice with Mango to satisfy my sweet tooth. The green curry is ok not something to rave about with small pieces of chicken. I’m always partial to Sticky rice with mango for me it always taste great no matter where I bought it.


Phuket is not only sun,sea and sand but also a gustatory delight. Cheers to that with a bottle of Sapryt!

Phuket: The Yin and Yang Of Our Phuket Getaway

February 12, 2010


The Yang


The “Yang” is characterized as fast and aggresive which is the perfect description on how we started our Day 3 at Phuket. We hit Patong beach at 9 am and amazingly there are just a trickle of early sunseekers since most of the tourist were out partying until the wee hours of the morning. With the liberty to find a good place to lounge, we decided to stay near the sun bleached Thai guys manning the Water activities booth.We were just settling down when we were approached with offers of different  activities ranging from the fun banana boat ride to the wild “I had a bad case of vertigo” parasailing. But we have our eye on one water sport activity to feed our thirst for speed in the waters – Jetski. With a bit of talk about Manny Pacquiao and some haggling, we were able to rent a 2 seater jetski for 1,100 Baht for 45 minutes (originally it is only for 30 minutes rental). The weather was good, the sea is like a calm glass and since it is still quite early there are very few boats docking in the beach – and it was the best 45 minutes of speed rush we experienced. At first, I was quite hesitant to put the jetski into a full speed since I’m not really a speed daredevil but once I felt the wind on my face and the taste of the salt water, I just can’t help but to set it to full throttle and cruise along the expanse of the deep blue.


As for the parasailing, I just don’t have the courage to overcome my height phobia so it was a definite no for me. But my friend “I” being an “adrenaline junkie”  tried the parasailing for 1,500 Baht which is about 10 minutes of being suspended over Patong Beach.


The Yin


The “Yin” is characterized as slow,soft and tranquil – Oh yes, we are treating ourselves to an hour of massage after a morning of cruising and swimming in the Andaman Sea. For those who want to rough it up – you definitely have to try an authentic Thai Massage. But for me since I wanted to relax and unwind and not wince in pain (ooppss..did I just said that) – I choose the aromatheraphy massage using Sakura oil. Thai Massage is priced at 350 Baht while the Aromatheraphy massage is priced at 500 Baht. The aromatheraphy massage is very similar to a swedish massage plus the use of aromatheraphy oils while Thai massage is a whole different experience that can’t be described by mere words. After rinsing our feet, we were ushered into individual massage cubicles with a futon (mattress) and what follows is an hour of pure massage bliss as muscles are kneaded and muscle kinks and pains are relieved.

Relax..Chillax


As we end our three days of island getaway, we are all energized to start the year with zest and vigor. I never knew that it is a good thing to start the year by already taking vacation leaves. Now there’s a thought – end of year trip followed by a start of the year trip.If a cellphone needs to be recharged so does this corporate slave needs to be energized to face another year of  an 8 to 5 deskjob.

Phuket: Island Hopping

January 27, 2010


6:30 – 7:30 AM : Early day today for our island hopping tour.  Had our complimentary breakfast buffet from the hotel to energized us for a whole day of fun.


7:45 AM: Our tour pickup  is right on time and we are off for a one hour ride to the port. Time to catch some sleep while on the way to the port

8:45 AM: Reached the port and there is a complimentary coffee for some java jolt and some bread and jam. You can buy here a loaf bread for 40Baht for feed fishing and rent a fin/flipper for 100Baht.


9:30 AM: Time to board the speedboat. Best place to be will be in the bow of the boat for a clear view of the emerald sea and vertical cliffs but this best position is not without a trade off as our tour guide puts it – “Sit in the back — like Thai Massage, Sit in front — like Thai Boxing”. It’s about 1 hour speedboat ride before our first stop which is snorkelling at one of the side of Phi Phi Island.


10:30 AM: Time to suit up and grab the mask,snorkel and life vest to go snorkelling. We were docked a few metres from the beach and there were several speedboats tour as well in the area so it’s a bit crowded. We were given 20 minutes to snorkel and we opted to just stay near the speedboat so will be ready once they call us. We brought some bread slices to feed the fish.


11:00 AM: After snorkelling, we passed by Monkey beach but we didn’t  docked in the beach since the tide is high. After passing by Monkey beach we headed to Maya beach which is the location of the Hollywood movie ‘The Beach.’ Upon entering Maya beach you will notice two vertical cliffs that serves like a gate going into the turqouise water and white sand of this paradise like beach. Since there are also several tours visiting the same islands – expect throngs of sunseekers in the beach.


12:00 noon: Just in time for our lunch – since I can feel the start of hunger pangs. We went to the island’s Tourist Center where there is a large mess hall. There is buffet lunch, fruits and drinking water. There is also a souvenir store where you can get some small trinkets to take back home.


1:30 PM: We headed to another island for a longer beach time.


2:15 PM: It’s another 45 minutes speedboat ride to the island. Upon reaching,we rented a beach chair which is 150 Baht for a pair and munched on roasted corn cobs. We were also offered fruits and cups of soda which is inclusive in the tour package. After lounging and relaxing for 30 minutes, we headed to the beach and enjoyed the cool water.


3:30 PM: Time to head back to Phuket after a beach-filled day.


4:00 PM: Arrived at the Port and we are headed back to our hotel.

Phuket: Sunkissed at Patong Beach

January 21, 2010


The plane tickets have been booked 5 months ago during a promo fare. We were all given 5 months to prepare but just coming from the festive season of December in Manila – the extra rice , the rich sauce of the kare-kare and additional lechon skin are still very much evident in our shapes as we don our suits. Nevertheless we are out to have fun in the sun, sand and sea in Phuket,Thailand.


Phuket International Airport was a sea of multi colored board shorts, cotton shirts and tank tops, dark sunglasses and flip flops which sets you right in the mood of a tropical vacation. All thoughts of work-related emails, deadlines to meet and reports to finish are replaced by images of lounging in the shore, fresh coconut juice and the smell of sunblock on the skin. It was a one hour ride from the airport to the infamous Patong Beach and as the minibus made its way in the city streets of Phuket, the scenes that unfolds from the bus window is very similar to the Philippines – cars and public transports plying the streets, billboards that dotted the skyline and gated houses and commercial spaces.


It was only11:30 am when we reached the hotel, so we registered first and left our bags as we head on our way in search of our first authentic Thai food for lunch. Navigating through the streets of Patong beach is very similar to Manila – the pedestrian lanes doesn’t mean anything, the cars won’t stop no matter how long you stand there, you have to find that opening in the sea of moving machineries and cross the street. There seems to be this relaxed busyness as we meet hordes of tourist walking along, riding the motorbikes, haggling with vendors, chatting in a restaurant or coffeeshop.People are in constant motion but not in a harried way, it’s like they wanted to get the most out of their vacation.


After our delightful lunch (details will be on a another blog entry), we scouted around for a reasonably priced island hopping tour for tomorrow. In almost every street, you will notice this small cubicle like stalls that offer tours and adventure packages. Since we are in Thailand – haggle..haggle..haggle.In the end, we are able to get the PhiPhi Is, Maya Beach and another island (that I forgot the name) tour via speedboat (Incl. of Lunch, fruits and refreshments) for 1,100 Baht for each person which was originally priced at 2,800 Baht.


After taking an hour of a rest after we checked in at 3pm, we headed out into the cluster of beach loungers and bronzed bodies in the beach just in time for us to also snap some sunset photos. At around this time it was already a crowded in the beach as the sun seekers have come out in full force to catch the final rays of the sun. Since we are waiting for the sunset to take pictures – we occupied ourselves by people watching while sipping our ice cold fruit shakes. Indeed, life’s a beach!

Phuket Beaches