Winter in Seoul – Day 1: Testing out the winter breeze

*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 Incheon

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.

Cebu Pacific weighing our check-in baggages and we were almost 7kg short of the combined 30kg limit

Cebu Pacific weighing our check-in baggages and we were almost 7kg short of the combined 30kg limit

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.

Snow greeting us as we arrived in Incheon International Airport on December 11, 2012

Snow greeting us as we arrived in Incheon International Airport on December 11, 2012

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.

The exchange rate of the KEB money changer in the arrival area

The exchange rate of the KEB money changer in the arrival area

Snow covered effect of the Christmas decoration

Snow covered effect of the Christmas decoration in Incheon International Airport

Cute sign in Incheon International Airport

Cute sign — but where are the cacti? Looks like aloe vera to me

Snow on the roof - Incheon International Airport

Snow on the roof

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.

About to go to the Commuter Train going to Seoul

About to go to the Commuter Train going to Seoul

Waiting for the Commuter Train to Seoul

Waiting, waiting

Snowy white Incheon from the Commuter Train

Snowy white Incheon

Mon and snowy Incheon

Mon and snowy Incheon

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.

Arrived at Seoul Station and about to transfer to the line going to Myeongdong

Arrived at Seoul Station and about to transfer to the line going to Myeongdong

Our stop for the following four days

Our stop for the following four days

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.

Looking for the money changer with the best exchange rate and a pair of affordable earmuffs in Myeongdong - brown leather jacket, H&M black V-neck sweater, JAG jeans, Red Wing boots, Missoni Scarf

Looking for the money changer with the best exchange rate and a pair of affordable earmuffs in Myeongdong

Asking for directions from the Tourist Information

Asking for directions from the Tourist Information

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.

Exchanged the rest of our money here at Woori Bank near Myeongdong Theater

Exchanged the rest of our money here at Woori Bank near Myeongdong Theater

Going to Woori Bank Money Changer near Myeongdong Theater

Going to Woori Bank Money Changer near Myeongdong Theater (click to zoom)

Finally found some earmuffs for only KRW 5000

Finally found some earmuffs for only KRW 5000

And we saw this sign of the Cat Cafe in Myeongdong, which we visited a day after --- cuteness overload!

And we saw this sign of the Cat Cafe in Myeongdong, which we visited a day after — cuteness overload!

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.

Snowy porch of Namsan Guesthouse 2

Snowy porch of Namsan Guesthouse 2

Interesting wall graffiti in Myeongdong

Interesting wall graffiti in Myeongdong

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.

Recharging KRW 10,000 on my T-Money

Recharging KRW 10,000 on my T-Money

Figuring out the map going to Bukchon Hanok Village

Figuring out the map going to Bukchon Hanok Village

My Red Wing boots perfectly protected my feet from the Seoul winter

My Red Wing boots perfectly protected my feet from the Seoul winter

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.

Mon on the steps of one of the traditional houses in Bukchon Hanok Village

Mon on the steps of one of the traditional houses in Bukchon Hanok Village

Like a kid playing with the snow - Bukchon Hanok Village

Like a kid playing with the snow

I love this picture of Mon, wonder why he did not use it as his Facebook profile picture

I love this picture of Mon, wonder why he did not use it as his Facebook profile picture

And my camera fell to the snowy ground after taking this picture

And my camera fell to the snowy ground after taking this picture

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.

I was actually shaking like mad in this picture because I had to remove the scarf covering my face LOL

I was actually shaking like mad in this picture because I had to remove the scarf covering my face LOL

On our way to Gyeongbokgung, the lovely snow-covered trunk of this tree tickled my fancy

On our way to Gyeongbokgung, the lovely snow-covered trunk of this tree tickled my fancy

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.

Gyeongbokgung again, but this time in winter

Gyeongbokgung again, but this time in winter

Nice to see you again --- Gyeongbokgung

Nice to see you again — Gyeongbokgung

Thank you tripod - Mon and I in front of Gyeongbokgung

Thank you tripod – Mon and I in front of Gyeongbokgung

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).

King Sejong unfazed from the winter breeze in Gwanghwamun Plaza

King Sejong unfazed from the winter breeze in Gwanghwamun Plaza

Admiral Yi Sun Shin, King Sejong and Gyeongbokgung - December 2012

Admiral Yi Sun Shin, King Sejong and Gyeongbokgung

I had the same photo in this same spot last year =)

I had the same photo in this same spot last year =)

Gwanghwamun Square a year before (2011)

Gwanghwamun Square a year before (September 2011)


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.

Timer and tripod picture in this Christmas setting

Timer and tripod picture in this Christmas setting

Trying to take a picture of Cheonggyecheon with natural daylight

Trying to take a picture of Cheonggyecheon with natural daylight

Cheonggyecheon under the winter daylight

Cheonggyecheon under the winter daylight

Tom N Toms coffee near Cheonggyecheon

Tom N Toms coffee near Cheonggyecheon

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!

The Christmas Tree was already lit

The Christmas Tree was already lit

And the lights were finally on - Cheonggyecheon

And the lights were finally on

Lights on - Cheonggyecheon

Lights on

Extended tripod shot - Cheonggyecheon

Extended tripod shot LOL

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.

This amazing lady was playing Moon River with her flute --- very moving and I almost cried

This amazing lady was playing Moon River with her flute — very moving and I was close to tears

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

Jongno-3(sam)-ga! Hello again!

Jongno-3(sam)-ga! Hello again!

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.

Dongdaemun at night

Dongdaemun at night

Mon in front of Dongdaemun

Mon in front of Dongdaemun

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.

Wonderfully lit and decked Doota Mall for Christmas - Christmas lights Seoul 2012

Wonderfully lit and decked Doota Mall for Christmas

That giant heart in Doota Mall - Christmas lights Seoul 2012

That giant heart in Doota Mall

Taking our sweet time window shopping inside Doota Mall to warm our backs

Taking our sweet time window shopping inside Doota Mall to warm our backs

That nice Doota bench

That nice Doota bench

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.

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9 Comments

  1. Hello. Thank you for your informative posts, which have been a lot of help as I plan our trip. We will be staying at Namsan 1 and we will be arriving at 6 am of January 2. I just wanted to ask if they would allow us to pay for our stay in the afternoon even if we leave our things at the hotel early in the morning. I hope to be able to exchange our USDs in Myeongdong rather than the airport to get better rates. Thank you!

    • Hi! Glad to hear you found the posts helpful. =) Anyway as for Namsan, AFAIK, they can let you in early in your room if the place is still unoccupied by the time you arrive and they won’t charge you in advance. But if the room you booked would still be occupied, you can leave your things in the morning and come back to check-in after you had your lunch, exchanged money etc. If you arrive at 6am in the airport, you’d most probably reach Namsan Guesthouse by around 9:30 to 10:00 if you were to eat breakfast in Incheon Int’l Airport prior to traveling. You are right to exchange just the needed money for the train and take care of the rest in Myeongdong where you can look around for the best one. Good luck and hopefully you’d have a blast on your trip! I miss going there as well hehehe

      P.S. Namsan 1 is a bit of an effort to reach from the highway. Namsan 2 as it is was already an additional exercise from a day’s strolling or even carrying your things upon check-in. If you are carrying lots of bags or have elderly with you, you might want to consider getting a room from Namsan 2. Personally, Namsan 3 was out of the question kase mas mahalya ng bongga. Sayang ang pera pang-rampa hehehe =D

      • Thank you so much for the reply and the tip! Actually, we tried booking Namsan 2, but the place was full. The only option left was Namsan 1. Puno na all the rest. We are a group of 4, with a senior and a kid, so I was thinking of getting their airport pick-up service. I was trying to contemplate on whether I’d shell out KRW 65,000 for that, but because of your tip, go na kami sa pick up since we have three suitcases plus hand-carried items. =)

        One more thing, do they have pots, pans, and plates in the common kitchen? We are seriously considering packing Pancit Canton and Maggi Noodles along with our winter gear to save on cash for my planned Laneige looting. =D

        • Hahaha I’ve never seen their kitchen in Namsan 1 but you can always bring microwavables naman if you really want to cook noodles etc. But as I can remember it, they have UNLIMITED noodles, coffee and tea for guests. Too bad we were not able to maximize it kase we just ate about four cups lang for our stay. Don’t forget to ask free stuff from the salespeople in the stores kase they would be most willing to give them out naman.

          Try to compute yung cost and the convenience for their airport pick-up service. But since may senior ka din and kid na kasama, I think less hassle na yun sa inyo kase effort talaga yung paakyat sa Namsan 1. Masarap maglakad pababa pero mapapamura ka paakyat. hahaha Also for the clothes, if you already have existing winter accessories, go lang, but even the gloves we bought here had no match for the cold kaya you might want to bring just a pair and buy there na lang. 🙂

          • We did buy some Heatteach stuff from UniQlo and some coats on sale from Zara. Hopefully, they’d be enough, but we’ll just scour Myeongdong for additional gears if necessary. This is going to be my second winter, but it’s going to be the first for my family, and everyone’s really excited. I’m sure we’ll have a blast, anticipated aching feet aside. =D

            Thank you so much for all your help. I’ve been stalking your blog for a few days. Hope you won’t mind if I pop in here and ask some more questions as I plan along. You’ve been an angel! Merci beaucoup! 🙂

          • De rien! I’ve heard Uniqlo Heattech is really effective. If you don’t like too spicy food, just bring little chocolate bars para alis anghang kagad, and don’t forget a small tub of vaseline. Hehehe Feel free to ask if you have any more questions about your trip. =D

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