*extremely picture-heavy post
So, here starts the strenuous “Winter in Seoul 2012” series. As earlier mentioned, I will not be doing the typical day by day account of our trip, rather complement it with thematic and specific posts that can’t be elaborately explained within a ‘daily’ post, and that will include the breakdown of our budget for the trip (note: like all-in-all, with the tickets, accommodation and dues we paid in the Philipine airport, I have personally shelled out less than Php 25,000 for the whole trip. =D)
Our flight to Incheon International Airport wasn’t until 1:30 AM but we were already in NAIA Terminal 3 before 10:00 PM. When the check-in counters opened by 10:30 PM, we immediately rushed to present our itinerary ticket and paid for the Php 1,620 travel tax. The staff manning the counter also weighed in our baggages to check-in and even if they were already quite heavy, we were still almost 7 kilos short of our combined 30kg limit as we have already paid for 15kg each. It was actually our first time to check-in luggages because since we started travelling together, we only have two carry-ons each and has been used to travelling light. But as we were obviously travelling to a wintery place, our usual baggage won’t cut it.
Mon and I waiting for check-in at NAIA Terminal 3 for our flight to IncheonAt around quarter to 1:00 AM, we decided to head for the boarding gate. Going there, we had to first pay for the terminal fee, which was already lowered from Php 750 to Php 550. Then next to the immigration officer who had to take a look at our passports and ask questions on how long we will be out of the country, as well as our employment record. It took me only three minutes to finish the whole thing over, but Mon took a longer time. The immigration officer even mistook him for a Korean and immediately talked to him in English. LOL One more thing, they no longer made us remove our shoes, which wasn’t the case when we travelled last year. Good thing because I was already unknotting my laces when the security personnel stopped me.
We were seated next to an extremely Korean girl who asked us about our trip ahead. Barely five minutes inside the plane and we were already experiencing first hand how nice most Koreans were, which was part of the charm why we kept on coming back to South Korean. She even left us a call card for us to call her in case we needed help/got lost while in Seoul. Fast forward to the flight itself, we arrived almost an hour earlier than the ETA. Since Korean time is an one-hour advanced than ours, it was already 6:30 AM there but the sun still hasn’t shined. Hello winter and the snowy airport ground greeted us straight away. A quick run from the exit of the plane to the airport’s interior and our faces momentarily froze from the temperature.
The line in the immigration area was very long and it took us a much longer time to be cleared and have our visas stamped. Also, Incheon International Aiport now already has biometrics (fingerprints sensor) and a digital camera, which were improvements on security.
After getting our checked-in baggages from the conveyor, we were so famished that we headed straight away to the money changer to have some of our USDs changed before going to McDonalds. Both Hana Bank and KEB had rates at KRW 1041 = USD 1, and when I tried to exchange about USD 10, I was a bit embarassed when I was informed that the minimum was USD 50. Anyway, after exchanging the minimum amount, we finally got our fix of coffee and breekfast from McDonalds. (Now, I will be making a separate post, dedicated to food-related things we had in our whole trip.) The airport was wonderfully decked and lit for Christmas that we had a great time having our pictures taken with the decorations.
I also bought my T-Money from 7-11 in the airport, which cost me KRW 2,500 and went to the AREX train area to recharge it with KRW 5,000, just enough to go from Incheon to Seoul Station. We initially thought that the price was KRW 3,800 for the Commuter Train, but it was already lowered to KRW 2,950. Similarly, the Express Train, which was a non-stop trip and 10-minute faster than the former, was slashed from KRW 10,800 to KRW 8,950. Well, I only found out about it on our way home but if I had known that, I would have still taken the Commuter Train.
Almost an hour after and a bunch of magnificent views in snow-covered Incheon, we arrived in Seoul Station and we were astounded to see that the giant KORAIL wheel (or whatever it was called) was no longer present. We thought it was a permanent fixture in the area, but apparently it wasn’t. A quick walk towards the Seoul underground and we took Line 4 going to Myeongdong station, which was only two stations away.
Leaving from Exit 4 (because Exit 2 and 3 were still under construction), Namsan Guesthouse 2 was about 5-minute walk from the station. It was slightly uphill but not steep enough to give us a hard time walking. Even if we arrived in the morning, way earlier than the 2:00 PM check-in time, the person in the reception (I forgot his name but he was the guy who speaks both Korean and Chinese) allowed us to check-in on at Room 104 (a Twin Room A), which was one of the rooms directly in the receiving area. It was a nice place and it merits a post of its own, especially as we also transferred to Twin Room B after a day and can give a blow-by-blow account.
After leaving our things in the room and brushing our teeth, we went immediately to Myeongdong Market to buy earmuffs and exchange the rest of our USDs at a hopefully better rate. Before coming to Seoul, I’ve read that there was this money changer near Myeongdong Theater that has one of the best rates. Well, we were not able to find the particular place but looking around and comparing exchange rates from both banks and sidewalk money changers, Woori Bank near Myeongdong Theater has the best rates that time at USD 1 = KRW 1070. The closest rate we found was at KRW 1065. We then bought earmuffs at KRW 5,000 each to finally protect our ears from instantenously falling off.
We then returned to the guesthouse and paid for the total of our stay. It was KRW 55,000/night for the Twin Room A and KRW 60,000/night for the Twin Room B, with a total of KRW 235,000. We wasted no time and went outside to eat at a hole-in-a-wall in Myeongdong before going to Bukchon Hanok Village.
After eating lunch, we went to Myeongdong Station and recharged our T-Money with KRW 10,000 to be used in the following three days, believe it or not. =D Our first stop was Bukchon Hanok Village. From Myeongdong station, we travelled one station to Chungmuro station and transferred to Line 3 going to Anguk station which was three stations away. After exiting in Exit 2, we then tried to find our way to Bukchon Hanok Village but it wasn’t easy. We were aimlessly walking and we were not sure whether it was the right direction. After seeing a giant map and a tourist information area, we found out that it was already very near.
Bukchon Hanok Village is actually a large area, and the moment you see traditional houses (called hanok) with their easily-distinguishable architecture, you will know that you are in the right place. Of course, aside from the structures in the area, we wanted snow to be included in our pictures as well so it was no wonder that we tried capturing both features in most of the frames.
After taking several photos of ourselves, we then tried to find our way to Gwanghwamun, which was not easy. The breeze was extremely cold and my nose was already dripping with mucus and covering our faces with another scarf still did not do the trick. But when we already saw a familiar-looking, twisted glass building, we already knew that we were headed to the right direction as we saw the same building after exiting Gyeongbokgung last year.
The cars were already moving slow as the traffic was abysmal, but we went on our way to take loads of pictures in front of Gyeongbokgung, with the help of our tripod. We can actually see people inside the buses and cars looking at us and smiling while we go crazy with our poses. =D Such tourists.
At this point, Mon was already freezing and was convincing me to get a move on and go to a place where we can momentarily thaw our fingers, but I was so overwhelmed of my obsession to take pictures that we had a little argument over it. He had a point, though. After taking photos in front of Gyeongbokgung, our main camera, which I borrowed from my brother, just died instantenously. It was difficult enough to adjust the settings of the camera because we were wearing gloves but I still managed to check the batteries and it was already cold as ice! No wonder the camera just died down like that — even the batteries were not able to withstand the cold (and if we were to follow that logic given in the ‘Angels and Demons‘ movie by Tom Hanks, batteries do not generally do well in cold temperatures).
Obviously, the sun sets earlier on winter and we were chasing it because we haven’t seen Cheonggyecheon under natural daylight because last year, we saw the place when it was already lit for the evening. So from Gwanghwamun, we then walked to Cheonggyecheon and we were happy to see it with the lights off. It wouldn’t be long, though, before the sunset but as we were yet again freezing, we did not wait outside for the lights to be turned on and just drank some coffee from Tom N Toms near the stream.
After almost less than an hour, it was already dark outside and we were like kids waiting to see the Christmas decors lit around Cheonggyecheon. It was still as amazing and breathtaking as ever and I think we got better pictures this time with our tripod. No more shaking and out-of-focus shots!
While we were fooling around the stream, I heard ‘Moon River‘ being played on a flute and I thought that it was the sound system in the area. To my surprise, a couple of meters from us, this wonderful lady was playing the song with her flute and it made me extremely happy and emotional. I loved this song and I was immediately reminded of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s‘ and my maternal grandfather who used to play this kind of songs on Sundays when I was a kid.
After Cheonggyecheon, next on the list was Dongdaemun because we still haven’t seen the place lit in the evening when we were in Seoul last year. So from Gwanghwamun station, we rode the subway until Jongno 3 (sam)-ga and transferred to Line 5 to Dongdaemun station, which was two stops away. When we were in Jongno 3, we suddenly recalled how we used to spend most of our time in this station because it was the best station going to Guesthouse in Korea. =D
When we reached Dongdaemun station, we went right away to Dongdaeumun, took pictures of us in front of the gate, then off to Doota Mall we went.
Doota Mall is one of the major shopping destinations in Dongdaemun, and it houses a lot of Korean clothing brands from the first floor up. After taking pictures of the exterior, we then went inside the mall to do serious window shopping because we were already freezing. It was obviously our frist winter night outside and the temperature was still something we haven’t experience ever.
We spent a good hour and a half in Doota Mall before we decided that our feet were already fit for walking. That was the time when we decided to eat our very late dinner in Dongdaemun. After a full meal that gave us energy to brave the cold evening, we called it a day and went back to our guesthouse in Myeongdong to get a good night’s sleep because honestly, I have only slept for an hour in the plane. The following day was another day of serious walking but we have already fallen in love with Seoul again.
*See related posts in this “Winter in Seoul 2012” series.