Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Korea Travelogue Day 1: Jogyesa Temple, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Insadong, and Namdaemun Ginseng Market

I just received tweets and emails about my trip to Korea. It's very heartwarming to know that my readers love my travel posts as much as I do. First and foremost, I started with a personal blog that slowly became a repository of beauty reviews and product recommendations, but writing about my pets and travels is what truly excites me. Thank you very much for reading and taking part in my travel adventures :)

To say that I was unprepared for my Korea trip is an understatement. My initial plan was to start buying winter wear in October and gradually work my way to December. Of course, my birthday happened in October, and then my cousin's wedding, and other stuff happened (Pnut passed away, Veterinary expenses, etc.) that almost depleted my savings. I was also swamped with work. So needless to say, I procrastinated. I also wasn't that excited to begin with because I wasn't in the mood to travel.

So I started shopping only a few weeks before my flight, and packed only 3 days prior. This was unheard of since I always prepare weeks beforehand. But, I was too busy so everything had to be rushed. I am also writing this post to thank Alex and Kari for loaning me their winter wear. Alex loaned me her donya fur stole while Kari loaned me her jacket. Both were very useful to me while in Korea, so thank you so much guys :)

Anyway, we were scheduled to fly out on Christmas day. Yes folks, the best time of the year to travel is during Christmas because the airport is empty. I swear, a zombie apocalypse could happen there and no one would know about it.

Korea is about 4 hours away via plane, 3 hours and 40 minutes to be exact. We took the red eye flight on Philippine Airlines (my sister works at PAL, FYI) and arrived in Korea at 5:30 am (approximately). Our tour was scheduled at 8:00 am. We barely had 2 hours of sleep since our Christmas (December 25th) was so packed, but we were so happy to have arrived safely in Seoul.

All the warnings about the coldness in Korea did not prepare me for the actual weather -- it was bitterly cold and even though I had 4 layers of clothing on my upper body (thermals included), the cold was really too severe for my threshold. But you know what's so kilig? The fact that I could see fog or "smoke" whenever I spoke, that was just awesome! :)

The airport is an hour and a half away from the hotel, so we slept in the limo bus and when we arrived, we had unlimited popcorn (a hotel perk) and coffee then left for the city tour.

tour guide for the day, Pela
One thing you must know about the Seoul City Tour is that unlike Singapore, India and Hongkong, it's not a huge tourist destination. I know of some friends who go there to shop or seek business opportunities, not really to go on a city tour or the like. We had several tours scheduled, and we noticed that the tour guides  will not explain everything to you. It's more of them giving you a brief about the destination and letting you roam around for an hour or two. So before you head to Seoul, do your homework ;)

Our first stop for the day is the Jogyesa Buddhist Temple:
Jogyesa Temple is the center of Zen Buddhism in Korea, and is famous for being located in the city. From the busy streets of Jongno, follow the road towards Anguk Subway Station, and you will see Jogyesa Temple. The first thing you will notice at the temple are the lovely trees. (source)

Mom was not prepared for the cold and shortly got a headache after this photo was taken. Take note, I was not wearing thermals under my jeans. It's survivable if you don't wear thermals but it seriously limits your activity, haha. 

After Jogyesa we rode the bus to the National Folk Museum of Korea which is located inside Gyeongbokgung Palace. 
"The National Folk Museum of Korea presents over 4,000 historical artifacts that were used in the daily lives of ordinary Korean people. Here you can fully immerse yourselves in previous domestic and agricultural lifestyles, and learn about Korea’s cultural beliefs." (source)

The museum basically showcases dioramas of Korean people from birthdays, to weddings, and mourning over the death of relatives and family members. It's quite interesting, but at this point sleepiness was setting in, plus it was too cold. I wanted to stay indoors (party pooper, haha). 

Then we were off to go check out more temples. I don't want to be a bad tourist, but if you've been to India and seen their temples and palaces, other temples just pale in comparison. Sorry, Korea, but India takes the cake here. 

Okay, moving on. The sight of snow here woke me up and I got so excited. Wheee, my first actual snow!

Pela told us that this lake houses a lot koi fishes and even though it's frozen over, the koi fishes are still alive down there somehow. 

At 11:00am, it was time for the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Deoksugung Palace:
"Deoksugung Palace has held a guard-changing ceremony since 1996 after thorough historical research by leading historians. The ceremony, which is held in front of the Daehanmun Gate of Deoksugung Palace, is a tradition similar to the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace and offers a rare opportunity to experience royal culture. The royal gate is opened and closed at pre-determined times, and the gatekeepers in charge of guard duty and patrols hold a shift ceremony three times a day." (source)

Here's our video taken using an iPhone 5S (it's only 7-8 minutes long):

Whoah, these Korean guards are taller than I expected. Thanks to Tish for recording the video as it takes balls to actually remove your gloves and operate any gadget in the freezing cold.

Before heading out to lunch, my wish was granted: it snowed! And heavily I might add!

It felt so surreal, like I was in a movie! This was my first snow experience so I was very giddy and took so many photos. My joy was short-lived though, because I then realized that the temperature drops when snow falls and I then had to contend with the more formidable winter cold. Aargh. 

By 12:00 noon it was time for lunch in a small and homey Korean cafe in Insadong. By this time the snow had ceased, it was now colder, and it felt good being in a warm and enclosed establishment. They served us traditional Korean appetizers such as kimchi, spicy tofu soup, pickled radishes, etc. The main viands consisted of scrambled egg, grilled fish, and sticky rice. I swear, I've never felt more Pinoy when I was here. When the tour guide asked us what we wanted for lunch, I voted for bulgogi but was outvoted by an Indonesian tourist family (also in the same bus) and so we had grilled fish (dried fish to us Pinoys). 

Anyway, the short lunch in a warm environment gave us the strength to go around Insadong-gil to shop for a bit. It was about -3 degrees Celsius on the first day, by this time I realized that I was under-dressed, haha. It was seriously too cold for me, my toes were numb and the chill was seeping though my jeans. 

"Insadong is also one of the best places in Seoul to purchase traditional Korean art, products, and other souvenirs, as it is filled with antique shops, art galleries, traditional stationery shops, handicraft shops, pottery and porcelain shops, bookstores, and art supply stores. Insadong is also home to many traditional restaurants and teahouses." (source)
Doll House Gallery
paint brushes!
The main street is Insadong-gil, which is connected to a multitude of alleys that lead deeper into the district. And this is where I found the Ugly Doll store! I almost shrieked and immediately purchased a plushy called Ice-Bat.

Nanananananananaaaa, Ice-Bat!
Then we were off to Namdaemun Ginseng Market for more shopping. Ginseng is huge in Korea -- as in everything has some sort of Ginseng ingredient (even skin care products), apart from the actual Korean Ginseng Tea which Koreans take pride in. 

there's a funny story to this Red Pepper Chocolate, click here to read about it
We spotted a store that sells Korean chocolates which we purchased as pasalubong, including the famous Red Pepper Chocolate (I kept these for myself, thankyouverymuch), and packs of dried seaweed. Naturally, we asked for free samples, LOL. Because we bought so much, they gave us packs of seaweed for free. Yay!

(Side note: Actually, the reason why we kept coming back was because they were the only store that had a strong heater. In Korea, heaters are your best friend.)

I love heaters :)
with the store owner

You'll also spot some vendors selling these hot snacks which I liken to dumplings and soy-based food at our local 7-11. Every order comes with a free spicy broth to ward off the cold. Each stick was around 3,000 KRW.

Pela said we should be back in the meeting place by 4:30pm but we were late, haha, so she had to look for us in Insadong. Sorry to all the other tourists who waited for us in the bus :D

By 6:00pm we were back in the hotel and we decided to have dinner since we plan to sleep early and recharge for Nami Island the next day. There was a 24-hour Korean restaurant nearby that specializes in grilled food so we ate there. Sadly, there was no English translation of the restaurant's name. I even asked the owner to read the establishments my Foursquare account suggested but he said even the restaurant name was not listed.

Hello repolyo! Their cabbage leaves were so green and crisp! My sister had a ball eating her Sam Gyup Sal. The pork and beef were so tender and fresh, this is mainly the reason why we kept coming back to this restaurant even on our last day.

So that's it for day 1. I enjoyed my first day so far, and felt so excited to go exploring and buying stuff at Innisfree (one of the reasons why I agreed to visit Korea in the first place, haha). I hope to be able to write about Nami Island soon, so please stay tuned :)

Related posts:

Korea Travelogue Day 2: Shopping at Innisfree
Korea Travelogue Day 2: Namiseom Island
Korea Travelogue Day 2: Petite France
Korea Travelogue Day 2: Gangnam Underground Shopping Mall
Korea Travelogue Day 3: Bau House Dog Cafe


  1. Gyuh. I got hungry after reading this post. :O~

  2. We've been craving for this as well ever since we got back. It's really, simple grilled meat with beancurd and yet it's so good!

  3. I want to go to Koreaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

  4. I didn't know it was that cold in Seoul. You mean, the kois are still alive? They don't freeze to death?I might not survive Korea, ginawin ako! Favorite ko yung mga pictures niyo ng sister mo, parang pang magazine :)

  5. Saw/read your instagram post about the red pepper chocolate - heeee heeeee heeee!!!

  6. Thank you naman, number 1 fan talaga kita :D Super lamig cos it was winter na e. Ginawin din ako! Effort mag-picture kasi you have to remove your gloves and it's freezing! There were instances na numb na nose and lips namin because of the super cold temp!

  7. LOLz, true story yun ha! I have a photo of the chocolate smear marks in case you want to see. Hahahaha!

  8. Sabi ng cleaning lady, "oh I think this lady's tummy did not agree with Korean food last night"...

  9. Sabi nya, "Kadiri naman itong Pinay na ito!" Hahaha :P

  10. Hahahahaahaha!!!!!!

  11. What a lovely post, Kira--thank you!! Korea is in my bucket list also, it's great that I have you as a guide! :)

  12. Thank you, Ae! :) Korea was lovely, we were just so lucky to have experience the actual snowing. And might I add, the Duty Free in Korea has the lowest prices :)

  13. Important question: how's the wifi? Haha. Sheng and I will go there in December!

  14. Hey Mara! We subscribed to Globe LTE's promo ($27 for 3 days) so internet was not a problem :) Ang mura sa Duty Free ng Korea! Dun ka na bumili ng bags! :P

  15. Oh, I thought they rent out Wifi devices like in Tokyo. And yes, I plan to shop in Korea when I get there! :)

  16. Sheng may know more about that. We were happy with the Globe LTE and the hotel wifi :)