We took the PAL 2:10 pm flight to Incheon, SK and arrived past seven in the evening (Korean time, 1 hr. ahead of us). Our English speaking tour guide, Ms. Mona Park, was already waiting for us in the arrival area. It was there we met the rest who are also joining our group tour – all 34 of us – mostly families whose members are definitely kdrama fans from the Phils.
Straight from the airport, we had dinner in Incheon City where I tasted my first Korean meal.
My sister and I were so excited to take off our shoes and eat dinner on the floor with the colorful table laid out in front of us. It was a pork meal cooked right before us with many side dishes I only see in Kdramas…the ones I get hungry while watching. My friend told me before that she did not like korean food and i was prepared for the worst. I tried the famous kimchi…at first it did not taste so good, but the more I ate it, it eventually tasted well. Spicy and sour. I likewise tried the rest of the side dishes. Surprisingly, I found it delicious. Maybe watching those actors in the dramas voraciously eat their food had something to do with it. : )
After dinner, we checked in at Best Western Premier Hotel – Incheon. It was a nice hotel. One of the hotel shops had a poster of Jo In Sung on it and knowing I won’t be meeting Jo In Sung there, hehe, he’s in mandatory military training, I had my picture taken there.
We started the next day early by eating American breakfast at 7:30 am and by 8:30 we were on our way to the ferry terminal in Incheon on our way to Sido Island. This is where the drama Full House was located. The drama Lovers was also shot here, but the shooting place was not preserved for tourist attraction. There were so many seagulls in the ferry terminal and during our short trip of 15mins, the seagulls were all over the place. It was my first time to see seagulls, by the way. The ferry arrived at Shindo Island and our tour bus travelled several minutes and crossed the short bridge to Sido Island.
Our tour bus stopped along the highway in Sido Island. We had to walk up the hill to the Full House. Whew, it must have been tiresome for the leads in the drama when they were running in the area because the hill was quite steep.
At the first sight of the Full House, my sister and I could not contain our excitement; I think we let out a shriek. It was exactly how it looked in the drama. I literally breathe the same air and walked the same path Rain had took, hahaha. We took pictures all over the house. Even inside the closet of Jieun’s bedroom where Yongjae had hidden in the drama. If there were stairs from the balcony towards the beach at the back where Yongjae was jogging in the drama, we would have gone there too. After having our pictures taken at possibly every corner of the house, (even with so many tourists inside), we left Sido Island and started our road trip to Yangjoo City, Gyunggi Province.
Yangjoo City in Gyunggi Province is about two hours away from Full House. We were on our way to the Dae Jang Geum Park, the site and actual outdoor set of the mega hit kdrama, Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the Palace). Despite the long trip, I was not bored or tired. The scenery outside, with matching Kdrama OSTs on my earphones, plus the highlights of the Dae Jang Geum drama shown on the bus TV, made the distance very short. Immediately before entering the park, we had our lunch in a traditional korean restaurant. It was pork belly with many side dishes again. It was a hearty lunch for me again. Lavit!
Dae Jang Geum Park was so beautiful. It was my first time to see the colorful trees up front. The scenery was a work of art. The park was divided into two parts — the palace and the commoners’ area, where most of the scenes in the drama were shot. The drama was a very long one which I did not bother to see back in 2005 because it was so long (54 episodes). However, once I knew it was included in our tour, I watched it all and managed to finish it the day before I left for Manila. The set was quite extravagant because it was built just for the drama (just like Full House). I could even get lost in it because of so many twists and turns. The set looked bigger on screen though. My sister and I missed the chance to wear hanbook here. Hya wanted to rent one but since it was for a fee of 5 USD, I convinced her it was not worth it. Now, we’re regretting we did not rent a hanbook costume in the park and took our pictures there wearing it. : (
After Dae Jang Geum Park, we set off and headed to Seoul, which is about an hour and a half from Yangjoo City. We were going to watch Nanta, the longest running korean play (since 2006) and which is shown worldwide. It is a “non verbal performance integrating Korean traditional Salmunori rhythm with comic and drama”. The show was about 110 minutes and even without dialogue, we laughed our hearts out. I think my sis and I laughed the hardest out there. The theater was full with mixed audience of caucasians and asians. I would recommend watching the play. It was an interesting cultural experience I’m thankful I got to see.
After watching Nanta, we had dinner at a restaurant in Seoul. It was chicken ginseng soup. The meal was a one month old chicken with sticky rice and ginseng inside. We added noodles to the soup as well. It was delicious, although I found it lacking in salt. No matter how much salt i sprinkled on it and even pepper, it just didn’t taste salty. Did the ginseng do this perhaps? I also got to drink ginseng wine to go with the chicken ginseng soup. I drank it in one gulp like they did in the dramas, hahaha. This shocked my sis. She only made a sip. The drink was bitter and I think I burned my stomach, hahaha!
After dinner, we checked in at the Imperial Palace Hotel in Kangnam district where we stayed for two days. It was a five star hotel and a very elegant one. Our room was majestic. After checking in, and despite the very cold weather, Hya and I braved to walk the streets of Seoul in Kangnam. We were told by our tour guide that Bae Yong Jun’s condo unit is about 15 minutes away from our hotel. Who knows we might get a glimpse of him? Of course, we did not. Ms. Mona said, we can’t see him, he had bodyguards all over him. Hya and I ended up looking for a bus stop and got a picture there because the dramas all had scenes in the bus stops. After finally finding one, we turned back because my fingers were getting numb by the cold air.
The next day, the temperature fell further. Very cold air greeted us when we stepped out of the hotel to board our tour bus. We were on our way to Nami Island, the famous shooting place of Winter Sonata. It was again a long ride to Kangwon Province. When we arrived in the wharf to take the 10 minute ferry ride to Nami Island, I could not believe the number of tourist busses lined up there. There were so many people heading to the wharf, foreigners and locals alike. It was a very cold ferry ride towards the island because it was windy that I was already asking my sister if it’s possible to die because of the cold. I already had four layers of clothing on me but the cold air still seeped through my clothes. After the short but coldest trip ever, I forgot the cold and was mesmerized by Nami Island. The trees were so beautiful. Our pictures do not bring justice to its beauty. The yellow Ginko trees were so lovely. The pine trees lined up where the couple in the drama went biking did not look the same as in the drama because it was not winter yet. Even then, we enjoyed trekking the rest of the island. It was a big island to explore by foot that we could not even find the cemented snowman there where the couple of the drama supposedly made. We did manage to find the bronze statues of Bae Young Jun and Choi Ji Woo though. Nami Island was buzzing with people even if it was not a weekend. There were so many tourists and even students and young children on field trips. Many were biking the same bikes the leads in the drama were riding, some in electric scooters. Too bad I don’t know how to ride a bike and neither a scooter! We had lunch in one of the restaurants in the island and we ate korean chicken barbeque with matching side dishes again. I enjoyed the meal although eating in the outdoors was so cold for me to fully enjoy it, hehehe.
After our lunch, we left Nami Island and proceeded to Yongin, Gyeonggi Province to spend the rest of the afternoon at Everland Park. It’s the largest theme park in Korea, about three times the size of Hong Kong Disneyland. I could not determine how the park compared in area with the Disneyland in California (which we also did not finish to explore), but in Everland, we had to ride cable cars to transfer to other parts in the park. Although we spent more than four hours in the park, we only managed to go to the European Adventure and Magic Land. The flowers in the European Adventure were a sight. All of the flowers were blooming at the same time. Then, we watched a 3D movie in the Zootopia. The short movie was in Korean language without english subtitles, so we did not understand it fully. We enjoyed the experience though. We had a quick dinner at Alpine Village so that we could proceed to see the rest of the sights. We were running out of time and we could not decide which part to go. Hya and I decided on Magic Land — where many of the kdramas we saw were also shot. Magic Land was also so large, we could not even find the skating rink where Rain was skating in Full House. The rides in the park had long waiting lines that all we managed to ride was the ferris wheel. I thought the ferris wheel was a fast ride like the ones I had ridden when I was growing up but it was not. It was the slowest ride ever, I even thought we stood still during the ride. It was not a thrill ride at all but a ride designed so that we can view the entire park above the ground. And what a sight it was! With little time left, Hya, H and I just walked around the park. We ate churros too because I recently watched a kdrama shot in Everland and the female lead said it was the best churros in the world. I do not agree. The one I tasted in Disneyland in Anaheim, CA tasted better. : )
We left Everland at almost 9 in the evening and went back to Seoul. We were told by Ms. Mona that our wake up time the next day was 5:30 am, breakfast at 6:30 and by 7:30 am, we will be heading to the Demilitarized zone. It was a military controlled zone and our appointment was at 9:30 am, if we did not arrive on time, our tour guide said she cannot guarantee if we can ever get in. She likewise instructed us to wear our warmest clothes because it was colder up north.
Everybody was up early the next morning. I had five layers of clothing on me. It was about an hour’s ride to Imjingak Park where we could see the Bridge of Freedom, where SK and NK exchanged prisoners of war at one point. It was also in Imjingak where there was a memorial altar. Every memorial day, SK citizens with families in NK go to the altar and make offerings there for them because they are not sure whether their families are already dead. After Imjingak, we headed further North and there was a military check point. A soldier went up our bus and checked our passports one by one.
Moving ahead after the military check point, we settled at the DMZ site of the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel. There were soldiers all over the place and we were instructed not to take pictures at any portion except those they allow such as the building and the landmarks and definitely not with the view showing the North Korea portion. All our belongings were left at a locker and with only ourselves and the helmet, we boarded the ride inside the 3rd tunnel 73 meters under the ground. The Demilitarized Zone is about 2 kilometers of NK from the demarcation line dividing the two nations and another 2 kilometers from the demarcation line from South Korea. This 4 kilometers from the demarcation line is the DMZ where only animals live. However, NK had built infiltration tunnels from their boarder leading to SK to attack the latter. There are 4 infiltration tunnels that had been discovered by SK since the 1970s.
The 3rd tunnel we visited was a “1.635 kilometer-long tunnel, 1.95 meters high and 2.1 meters wide, penetrating 435 meters south of the Military Demarcation Line at a point. It is only 4 kilometers south of the Truce Village of Panmunjom. Capable of moving a full division per hour, plus their weapons, it is evidently designed for a surprise attack on Seoul. This tunnel is only 2 kilometers from a key outpost defending the Munsan corridor leading to Seoul.”
After the ride in the tunnel, we viewed a documentary in the DMZ theather to help us understand the story behind DMZ.
After the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, we moved to the Dora Observatory, the nearest point to North Korea from South Korea. This is a “304 sq. feet , 500 capacity, observatory platform located in Mt. Tora at Kune-myun, Paju-si.” Up here, we viewed a telescope where was can actually see North Korea. However, there is a photo line and when we take a photo from said line, no view of the North can be seen, only the onlookers. Soldiers were also plenty along this area and we were told not to take pictures of them but when I took a picture of H at the photo line, a soldier suddenly appeared, so his back was in the picture.
We boarded the bus and moved to the Dorasan Station.”Dorasan Station is a railroad station situated on the Gyeongui Line, which once connected North and South Korea and has now been restored. For several years the northernmost stop on the line was Dorasan Station, which is served by Tonggeun commuter trains.
On December 11, 2007 freight trains began traveling north past Dorasan Station into North Korea, taking materials to the Kaesong Industrial Region, and returning with finished goods. It is scheduled to make one 10 mile trip every weekday. ”
Only businessmen can get inside Kaesong Industrial Region in North Korea and it was initiated by the Hyundai Group. Apparently, the owner of Hyundai was born in North Korea and during the war, he fled from there, stealing one cow from his neighbor. Over the years, he so wanted to return the cow, thus, he built the unification bridge in DMZ where one thousand (interest) and one cow was transported to North Korea. This paved the way for South Korean businessmen to do business in North Korea in Kaesong Industrial Region.
After a very educational morning in the DMZ, we had lunch nearby. It was a typical korean meal- beef this time with another set of sidedishes. I was again so full.
After lunch we headed back to Seoul for the much awaited shopping. First stop was at a Korean Ginseng Duty Free Store, where we were educated about Korean Ginseng and where we tasted Korean Ginseng wine for free. My husband wanted to buy but it was so expensive! The one he wanted to buy cost $740 US dollars! They were the best kind. Even then, we were convinced with the health attributes of the Korean Ginseng that my husband bought a cheaper kind (still expensive if you ask me); my sister and I bought Korean Ginseng Tea and Korean Ginseng Root for my mother. We turned a blind eye to the price because it was supposed to be good for breast cancer patients.
Second stop for shopping was the Amethyst Factory of South Korea. It is a duty free jewelry store. Amethyst is the only precious stone in Korea, we were told. That time we went, jewelry was on sale at 45% lesser than the cost. Despite such discount, the items there were so beyond our reach…the beautiful ones cost several thousands of US dollars. Two of tour tourmates bought jewelry there. : )
Third stop for shopping was the Duty Free Store in Donghwa. One portion was for the foreign brands and the adjacent building was for Korean made products. There Hya and I bought our much coveted Korean stainless steel chopsticks and the long spoons. : ) I even bought extra as pasalubongs for my friends who watch kdramas like me. We also bought chocolates and other small souvenir items in Donghwa.
At dinner time, we ate at Outback Steakhouse. I ate steak with sticky rice, carrots, and brocolli and fresh mango juice as my drink. No more kimchi. hehehe.
Then, the shopping spree continued as we went to Myeongdong Shopping District with over thousands of shops. Shops close at 5am here. My sister and I saw the tents we see in the dramas selling rice cakes. Even if still full from dinner, we still chose to try some. The spicy rice cake was bearable — not as tasty as i thought it would be when the leads in the drama eat it; hya liked it though. The other variety of rice cake we tried was delicious though. It was while we were eating in the food cart that we noticed the very big LCD screen in one of the buildings in Myeongdong advertising Boracay in the Philippines repeatedly. Hmmm…no wonder Koreans are flocking here. The warm beaches of Boracay can definitely lure the Koreans in that cold autumn weather. The clothes for sale in Myeongdong were autumn/winter clothes so we could not buy any — besides, clothes are cheaper here. The DVD/CD shops had the kdramas available — but without english subtitles, what use would that be? The CDs of the kpop singers were available but it was way expensive than the CDs sold in the Phils. So, with nothing practical to buy (hya bought bags though, and i, a set of autumn clothing for i had run out of clothes), the three of us just enjoyed the night market in Myeongdong. We saw our tourmate (who is mute) licking that famous ice cream in the dramas, so i asked him where he bough it and we could not understand his silent answer (in signals), so he ended bringing us there. : ) The freezing temperature did not stop hya and i to try the ice cream. Surprisingly, we finished it! We walked around and went to the underground shopping district as well leading to the (MRT) station.
At about nine o’clock we left Myeongdong and proceeded to ride the cable to Mount Namsan – where the Seoul Tower is located. It is now the tallest building in SK — too bad, we could not go to Building 63 (famous for My Girl). It was only a short cable ride of less than 10 minutes, but it was beautiful sight to see Seoul beneath us. After the cable ride, we had to walk maybe a hundred steps up the mount and base of the Seoul Tower. If you watched Kim Sam Soon, i bet you know Mt. Namsan : ). It was so cold up the Seoul Tower. There were so many lovers up there, promising their love for one another and sealing it with their padlocks left on the screen grill around the building, throwing the keys forever. I wonder what they do when they break up? Get a hammer and destroy the padlocks? hahaha.
We checked in at Renaissance Hotel after that chilly visit at Mount Namsan. It was also a five star hotel.
The following day was our last day in South Korea. First on the itinerary was visiting the Presidential Compound of the President of South Korea. We were only allowed to visit the guest house area and take pictures there. Our tour bus just passed by the Presidential Blue House where the President actually resides. From there, we proceeded to the National Folk Museum of Korea. The building was so beautiful. I would have mistaken it for a palace or a temple. Inside the museum, we were able to see exhibits of the culture of the Korean people. We also got to hear their cultural musical instruments which I only see in historical korean dramas.
Exiting the National Folk Museum is actually another entry point of the Kyungbook Palace in Seoul. The Palace of their last kingdom in the Chosun Dynasty. It was a very big palace, but it looked similar to the set of the Dae Jang Geum park. I always see Kyungbook Palace in the advertisements on Arirang channel so I had been hoping to see it for myself one day. I’m glad I finally did. “Hi honey! I’m in Kyungbook Palace in Seoul. Wish you were here!” : )
After Kyungbook Palace, we went to Tiramisu Cafe, one of the shooting places of the kdrama Coffee Prince. I just found out that there were actually three coffee houses used in the drama. The one we went to is currently owned by MBC. I had cafe latte in the Tiramisu. We recognized that it was the wall that the actress was painting in the drama. I cannot remember the details. I am not a Coffee Prince fan : ).
After coffee was lunch composed of Korean Duck and again, the abundant side dishes. It was my last Korean meal and I totally savored it.
We proceeded to Dongdaemun Shopping District after lunch for last minute shopping. It was a big shopping area and we just bought more souvenir items. The shopping malls there are not the same as ours here. One shopping building only sells clothes, accessories, souvenirs; you have to go to other stores to look for the goods you want to buy. The malls are specialized. Dotte (the one we went to) only sells clothes, accessories, shoes and souvenir items. We could not buy the autumn clothes, so we just went to the souvenir items area and went out the mall, waited for the others outside the mall sitting in the benches, just watching people.
After Dongdaemun, we headed back to Incheon City for our flight back home. As if shopping was not enough, we again stopped at a Korean Supermarket right outside Incheon Airport for any Korean foods we wanted to buy. Hya bought seaweed wraps (for kimbap) and I bought korean made candies and other foods.
After having made all possible shopping, we were finally ready to say goodbye to South Korea and we proceeded to Incheon International Airport.
I felt a twinge of sadness when we were in the Airport waiting for our 8:20pm flight to Manila. I wished the vacation would go on forever. I truly enjoyed myself in South Korea – beyond my expectations. Even my husband enjoyed it too though he could not relate to the kdrama sets we went to. We took a total of almost 600 pictures to document our every move there. I posted more photos at my multiply account
The print on the celophane of the Korean Supermarket we shopped in Incheon City, says “Remember Korea” and you bet I will.