Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Yeouido, Seoul, South Korea

Yeouido is a large island in the Han River in Seoul, South Korea. It is Seoul's main business and investment banking district. The island is located in the Yeongdeungpo-gu district of Seoul, and contains the National Assembly Building, the 63 Building, and the headquarters of LG, KBS, and MBC to name a few.

But what I love about this island is the public parks within the island, most notably the Han River Public Park and the Yeouido Park. I was unfortunate to be unable to see the cherry blossoms bloom in mid-April but if you're lucky enough, it is truly beautiful. I spent many days here, mostly because it was close to home and on hot afternoons, relaxing by the river is very refreshing and cool. 

I rented bikes there and rode along the Han River which was also very relaxing and affordable to be honest (about 3,000KWN/hr). You can also board the Han River cruise here that sales along the river all the way to Jamsil. 

Of all the places I visited in Seoul, this is in my top three favourite spots especially on a hot summer day and you're looking to escape the heat and humidity. There are also tandem bikes available for rent for couples, a great family park for picnics and barbecues, and wading pools in the fountains are especially busy on weekends.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gyeongbokgung, Seoul, South Korea PT. 1

Gyeongbokgung, also known as 'Gyeongbokgung Palace' or 'Gyeongbok Palace', is a royal palace located in northern Seoul, South Korea. First constructed in 1394 and reconstructed in 1867, it was the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. The name of the palace, Gyeongbokgung, translates in English as "Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven." The nearest subway station is Gyeongbokgung Station (Station #327 on Line 3) and the palace is also easily accessible by bus or on foot near Gwanghwamun Square.
Upon arrival at the Gyeongbokgung Station you will see a wide array of historical Korean/Chinese prescripts as you exit the station and walk towards the palace, you are greeted by the Heungnyemun Gate and the National Palace Museum of Korea.
The Gwanghwamun Gate from the Joseon Dynasty is an iconic feature of Seoul and is at the northern tip of Gwanghwamun Square in the Sejong Belt area. It has gone through numerous reconstructions and restorations in its history, most recently in 2010.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sindorim-dong, Seoul, South Korea

Sindorim-dong is located in Guro-gu in Seoul, South Korea. It is primarily used as a transfer station between Line 1 and Line 2 in the southwest region of Seoul in Guro-gu. It makes this location highly convenient and accessible to live in and I was not disappointed with staying here for five nights for the first part of my trip in Seoul.

Connected to the subway station at Exit 2; is a large department store "Techno Mart" and a Korean supermarket "E-Mart" making purchasing goods and groceries very easy. Within the Techno Mart, there is a multiplex cinema showcasing Korean and foreign films, a floor with a wide range of restaurants, and each floor dedicated to a line of products like computers, cellphones, home furniture etc. On the roof is a Korean garden, it really was a place of tranquility and peacefulness. Also newly opened is the D-Cube Shopping Centre on the other side of the station at Exit 1. It was actually featured on an episode of Running Man which you can watch here. At this shopping centre, you can find the latest fashion trends, foods, art center, Pororo Park, and the Sheraton Hotel. The basement features a food court with many different Korean dishes and other Asian cuisines.

The place I stayed at was a 10-15minute walk or a 2minute bus ride from the subway station exit 2 and is a relatively safe neighbourhood. Just watch out for the cars and scooters who frequently drive through red lights when crossing the street. Even after moving out, I found myself visiting the area many times, whether to eat, or to buy groceries at the E-Mart. It really has everything you need and is now more than just a transfer station.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

May - June 2012- Seoul, South Korea

WARNING: This post will be more of an introductory post about my adventures in Korea whereas the later posts will be more in-depth of the locations and places I visited while in Korea.

안녕 Hello! What can I say about my travel adventures in South Korea (mostly Seoul). It is really hard to explain with words but to travel there and live amongst the local on my own was one of my favourite travel experiences ever. I had a couple of friends here and there in Korea, but the majority of the time I was on my own. I learned a lot about myself: learning to overcome being homesick, being alone in a foreign country, and just getting out of my comfort zone to explore, learn, and experience new things I otherwise wouldn't be able to do back home.

I was able to somewhat learn some basics of the Korean language and its hangul alphabet, from listening to others, practising on my own, conversing with locals, and studying phrasebooks and Korean language books in the bookstores. However, sometimes I would still feel intimidated to speak Korean or to try to order food without any English, but I was able to. Learning some basic food words was really stomach-saving.

And yes, this was not my first time traveling to Seoul, I had gone the year before for a five day tour while I was in Hong Kong in the summer. A completely different experience nonetheless. Sitting in a tour bus being brought everywhere compared to finding the right transit bus, subway, route to take on your own. Or having food ordered for you and everything in the itinerary being planned out in a schedule. You can view my previous posts about my first trip to Seoul here:

The Planning: Flights and Accommodations
Well to say the least, there wasn't much planning. Only a budget of $5,000 for 7weeks. I had originally planned to go with my cousin but his indecisiveness delayed any progress (and he ultimately flopped). The flight would have been around $1500 - $1600 from Toronto to Seoul with Air Canada or Korean Air which for me, is really expensive. Luckily I had found a deal with Singapore Airlines for their flights to Seoul from San Francisco were starting at around $690USD. What a deal! It was perfect because it allowed me to "stopover" at SFO to visit my cousins and go LA with them for 5 days in June. Perfect!

So I booked my "free flight" to San Francisco using my Aeroplan miles (paying around $100 taxes/fees + $50 for round-trip one checked baggage) and I had my flight to San Francisco booked with United Airlines. In the end, I settled for a slightly higher fare with more flexibility (which saved me in the end for rebooking, and earned Aeroplan miles) for $880USD and plus the original $690 price was no longer in sight less than one week before departure. Cheap price, but one hassle: on the way to Seoul, I would have to check-in and go through security twice. But I did have plenty of time while connecting flights as I waited patiently for my Singapore Airlines experience...and what a flight experience it was.
Total paid for flights: $1050.

United Airlines: YYZ - SFO @ 06:51 - 09:39
Singapore Airlines: SFO - ICN @ 14:10 - 18:35 +1 day
Singapore Airlines: ICN - SFO 17:50 - 12:40
United Airlines: SFO - YYZ @ 16:05 - 23:52

It was when I completed making my flight purchase, reality began to sink in that I needed to find a place to live and stay for the duration of my trip. I searched online and found this website: http://www.airbnb.com where it allows locals to rent out a room in their apartment/house, or the entire apartment/house. Similar to staying at a hotel but much cheaper. I decided to choose this one: http://www.airbnb.com/rooms/455393 and was lucky enough to be the first guest to stay at the new studio. So I booked it for 5 nights at $25/night and thought I would find a long term place to stay while I settle in my new city for the first couple of days. The apartment exceeded my expectations, I wished I had just stayed there the entire duration but the host had wanted $1100 for the 5weeks (35nights), so I had to apartment hunt.

There was some difficulty to find an apartment or room for just one month using traditional methods: craigslist, real estate agencies, short term oneroomtels; and the Korean way of handling rentals and leasing, including the need for key money and deposits and first and last months rent. Just too complicated for me especially while I was looking for a place to stay for just one month's rent. Luckily my friend in Korea was helping me look for places to live, but I narrowed my search with Craigslist down to two choices.

The first was a decent villa style house where I would share with a roommate the kitchen and washroom, no AC (which was actually survivable to my disbelief) and cheap (original rent 400,000KWN) and good location for the bus (less than one minute walk) and subway (three minute walk) and closer to Hongdae. The second was farther away and harder to reach because I did have some difficulties finding it when I was going to look at the apartment. It was a studio with AC, really basic furniture and LAN internet but no WiFi. There also wasn't much nearby in walking distance but it was somewhat close to Ewha and Sinchon stations (a ten minute bus ride), and more expensive too (700,000KWN PLUS utilities). It was kind of obvious I chose the first option and I began to warm up to living there and sleeping on the futon on the wooden floor- Something I wouldn't do in North America.
Total paid for Accommodations: $600

Total paid for Flights & Accommodations: $1,650