nuffnang code

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Seoul Day 1: Hongdae and Myeongdong

It was already almost 5 pm when we arrived in Seoul from Busan, and after dropping off our stuff at our Air Bnb home, we decided to go to Hongdae first since it was just a few stations away from us.

 "Hongdae" is an abbrevation of Hongik Daehakgyo (Hongik University), which is home to one of the country's top fine arts colleges. You can definitely feel the youthful and artsy vibe while exploring the area. You wouldn't get bored here, there is so much to see and do! So many shops, cute concept cafes, restaurants, and bars.

On the streets outside, there are art exhibitions and live performances- it isn't unusual for artists to bring their own instruments/speakers/mics to do free performances for the public.

This is what greeted us upon exiting the Hongik Subway Station

One of the live performances that day

So many people! Get ready to deal with the crowds :D

My friend A 

After Hongdae, we paid homage to the home of the K beauty gods- Myeongdong! I almost hyperventilated when I spotted how many beauty stores were there. Etude House, The Face Shop, Nature Republic, Missha, Clio, etc. They are literally everywhere- and some stores have several branches in just one street. Crazy! Aside from being much cheaper than what they cost here, you get a lot of freebies upon purchase (some stores even give out free sheet masks just by walking inside hehe) and of course, extra discounts from the tax rebates.

So if you're a K beauty junkie like me or would like to start doing the Korean skin care routine, make sure you have extra luggage allowance to bring home all those goodies :D

Myeongdong, which literally translates to "bright cave" or "bright tunnel" is also one of Seoul's biggest shopping districts. It's every shopping addict's dream come true and if high end brands are your thing, you can also find them here.

Entrance to K beauty heaven. It does look like a bright tunnel! Hehe

There are also many food stalls around here so you won't starve while shopping

Resting and people watching while snacking on some strawberries... I think we just got biceps from lugging around heavy jars and bottles of beauty prods haha

   That was a productive first night in Seoul. Tiring, but really fun!

Hit up Hongdae if you want to:

Dine, drink, party
Chill out at unique concept cafes
Check out live performances
See street art exhibits

And Myeongdong for:

The Nanta Theatre (we weren't able to catch the show, unfortunately)

Busan to Seoul via Korail (KTX)

Panorama shot of Busan Station

 There are several options for getting to Seoul from Busan- there are flights (expensive), buses (very affordable, but takes 5-6hours depending on the traffi ) and trains. There are different classes of trains to choose from but we opted to go for the KTX (Korea Train eXpress) even if it was a little expensive compared to the other trains because we wanted to get there faster (travel time is just approximately 3 hours).

 The high speed KTX train from Seoul from Busan was convenient, fast and comfortable. I wasn't able to get much information from the internet about the timetables and prices so we just inquired at the counter and booked our tickets there at Busan Station. One way tickets cost KRW 65,000 (roughly Php 2600) and trains leave at 15 minute intervals. On a regular day, there are 59 express trips to Seoul. We were able to purchase tickets at around 1:15 pm and made it just in time for the 1:25 pm trip.

Busan Station practically deserted early in the morning :D

 Stone sculptures at the grounds

 The train has comfy seats and an area to store luggage near the train doors.


   Ola from my eyebags.. Getting a little bit bored.. No wifi and I wasn't able to bring a book. Fell asleep after an hour though haha.

    Finally, in a little less than 3 hours we finally arrived in Seoul! Too bad I wasn't able to take pictures inside the station because we were too excited to find the next train to get to our Air Bnb.

   Seoul Station is a major railway station and is the gateway to the rest of Seoul. It also serves the largest number of passengers in Korea. When we got there we could immediately see the difference from Busan. There were definitely more crowds and people moved at a fast pace. The population seemed to be younger also. I enjoyed people-watching at stations, Seoul-ites are so fashionable! :D 

   Carrying heavy luggage around the station wasn't much of a problem as there are lifts and escalators (though sometimes the lifts can be quite hard to find). Our Air BnB is right next to exit 1 of Gongdeok Station, which is fortunately just a few stops away from Seoul Station.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Busan Day 2: Dalamji-gil Road, Chinatown, Jagalchi Market, BIFF Square

   After spending most of our first day at Gamcheon Art Village, we spent the remainder of our afternoon trying to hunt for other tourist spots around Busan. We ended up at Dalmaji-gil Road near Haeundae Beach, which is famous for its cherry blossom tree-lined roads. We were hoping that they would be already in bloom, but unfortunately there were still no signs of the pretty pink petals we so badly wanted to see. They were in bloom about a week after we left! Talk about bad timing :( 

   But of course we still had to make the most of our situation so we just took a bunch of photos here haha!

   Should you be lucky enough to find yourself in Busan during cherry blossom season, Dalmaji-gil Road is one of the best places to see it. To get here via MRT:

Take subway line #2, get off at Exit 5 or 7 of Jungdong Station.


   We stopped by the Busan Station to check out the rates and schedules for the bullet train to Seoul. Busan's Chinatown is just across the street from the station, but don't expect it to be like Chinatowns in other countries with night markets and food stalls. We got there at around 9 in the evening and most of the souvenir shops were already closed. The only places that were open were seedy bars, massage parlors and a handful of Chinese and Russian restaurants. 

   The next day, we only had a halfday to spend in Busan before heading to Seoul so we decided to go somewhere relatively near Busan Station so we wouldn't go beyond our planned time of departure.

Jagalchi Market and BIFF Square

   Jagalchi Fish Market is Korea's largest seafood market and I was sooo amazed at the variety of seafood on display! All kinds of fish, shells, giant octopus, the list goes on. The wet market surprisingly does not reek strongly of fish (This is subjective; I don't know about you guys, but anybody who has been to a Philippine wet market knows how smelly the fish section is) and we had fun walking around and checking out the stalls.


   We walked a little further towards BIFF (Busan International Film Festival) Square. This area was transformed in 1996 as a center for Korea's film industry and the annual film festival used to be held here until it was transferred to the Busan Cinema Center in 2012. BIFF Square still attracts a lot of tourists as this area is lined with many food stalls, shops, restaurants and cinemas.

The smell of the street food was very inviting so we helped ourselves to some tteokbokki, kimbap and mandu.

   We also came across this cute pojangmacha (tent) cafe and we went in for our AM caffeine fix. The owners really made an effort to make the place cozy- the cute decor and knick knacks made you feel like you were in a real brick and mortar cafe. The coffee was good too- freshly ground and brewed on the spot. 

To get here:

Take the MRT to Jagalchi Station, go out through exit 7. You will see the Jagalchi Fish Market first. To get to BIFF Square, just walk straight through the market then turn left.

This ends our adventure in Busan! We are full, caffeinated and so ready to take on our next destination :D

Monday, May 2, 2016

Busan Day 1: Gamcheon Culture Village

   On our flight to Busan, Gamcheon Culture Village was actually featured on the plane's in-flight magazine. My friend showed me the picture which had the caption "Santorini of the East", and we were sold! We were definitely visiting this place.

   Just by looking at these photos of Gamcheon Culture Village, I'm sure you would find it hard to believe that this used to be a mountainside slum area and home to the city's poorest people. In 1950, at the start of the Korean War, the North Korean People’s Army pushed back U.N. forces to a 230-kilometer line near the southeastern part of Korea. This area was called the “Pusan Perimeter” and was the last line of defense. Gamcheon became home to many refugees during the war to avoid forces from the North.

    It became a famous tourist destination in 2009 after the government's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism launched an initiative to turn the village into a creative community. The theme for this was "Dreaming of Busan Machu Picchu". Artists and painters came in to do murals and graffiti, and some homes were converted into studios, cafes and galleries.

   Gamcheon is huge and hilly; and though the entrance is free, there is a map (KRW 2000) that you can purchase at their Tourist Information Center. It isn't just any ordinary map, you can use it to go on a scavenger hunt and have it stamped at the 9 listed locations. In exchange, you can get a free souvenir. We didn't get a map because we weren't planning on staying too long there. 

   To find the most interesting locations in the village, we just followed where most of the people went, and sure enough we were able to spot many photo-worthy places. Some tourists probably thought of the same thing. At one point we were trying to find the Little Prince installation (we could see it from below) and we took a wrong turn and we ended up at a dead end! Haha. Those who were following us probably got disappointed. :D

   But as we were going around, we noticed there were these little painted wooden fish that were shaped like arrows along the walls, and these turned out to be guides to places of interest around the village.

This street is where most of the shops and cafes are located.

Ssiat Hotteok (seed-stuffed pancake), one of Busan's delicacies. Really love this! Warm, chewy, and crunchy with just the right amount of sweetness.

My first time to see cherry blossoms!! Too bad we weren't able to catch them in full bloom :(

Taking in the view of the colorful Lego-block houses :)

We had a great time going around this quirky, artsy village. It's really admirable how the combined efforts of the government and artists were able to convert an old slum area into this living art space that the locals and tourists alike could enjoy.

Entrance Fee:

177-11, Gamnae 2-ro, Saha-gu, Busan

How To Get Here:
Take Subway Line 1 to Toseong Station, go out through Exit 8.

Walk straight ahead until you see the bus stop (you will see the PNU Cancer Center to your right)

Take the Mini Bus 2 or 2-2 and prepare for what will probably be one of the most nausea-inducing rides of your life haha. It's a 15 minute ride with a lot of twists and turns through the hilly slopes of Gamcheon, but all the pretty and happy colors you see once you get off the bus will all be worth it :D