Guest Post: What to pack on a backpacking trip

On a backpacking trip, there’s only so much you can stuff into that one backpack. So it’s absolutely necessary that you carry along only the most essential items.

Depending on the climate of the region you’ll be backpacking in, pack the most appropriate type of clothing. So if you’re going to be backpacking in Eastern Europe make sure you have lots of warm clothing. However, if you’re going to be backpacking in Mexico, then do not waste precious space in your backpack with warm clothing that you are probably not even going to use much. Perhaps just one sweater with a hoodie would be fine for a chilly night in a generally warm region.


Also, since you’d be doing lots of walking in the sun on a backpacking trip, it’s important to have a good sunscreen. Yes, sunscreen is not just for girls. It’s for anyone who does not want to get their skin completely burnt. Good footwear is a must. One pair of walking/running shoes and one pair of flip-flops should suffice. Finally make sure that your backpack is a high-quality durable one that can survive the various elements of weather. Armed with all of the above, conquer that backpacking trip!

Seoul: Changgyeonggung

The Changgyeonggung or Changgyeong Palace was the first palace that I visited in Seoul, the first ever real royal grounds that I have ever stepped on. It was really surreal walking around the grounds where kings and queens have roamed around and lived. The hair on my arms were kinda having that tingling sensation while my head felt light headed, just like how you would feel on those moments when you say to your self “this is it, I am here, this is real!”

I arrived a several minutes before 11:30 am which is when the FREE English Tour would start in the palace grounds. I asked around but it the language barrier seems to be a challenge.  I had to look for the group tour by my self as the instructions from the information desk was kinda vague.

 

The Grand entrance of the Changgyeonggung

 This is the chimney of the underground heating system of the Queen’s quarters

Our tour guide giving some stories about the terraced garden usually found at royal backyards

Peeking outside the concubine’s main door

View from the top of the hill

The royal sun dial that was used to tell time and season, yep including the seasons

The Queens Quearters

 

Anyways is it worth visiting the Changgyeonggung? I’d say yes but I have my reservation. Visit the palace but don’t take the tour, I suggest you take the tour of the most important palace of them all the Gyeongbukgung. Why? Because as a tourist it would sound like the same old story if you take all of the tours in all of the places and you’d just get bored or get overloaded with information that you really wouldn’t care about, so I suggest take the one at Gyeongbukgung. Research first about these minor palaces so that you don’t have to join the guided tours anymore, there aren’t really much exceptional things that you can see in these minor palaces that you can’t find on the main one.

 

How To Go To Th Changgyeonggung 

Hyehwa Station (Seoul Subway Line 4), Exit 3.
Go 20m and then turn left at Seoul Jongno Pharmacy (서울종로약국).
Go 180m and then turn left at Jeongmin Onnuri Pharmacy (정민온누리약국)
Go 200m and then turn left.
Go 60m and then cross the road to arrive at Changgyeonggung Palace.

Tips

If you plan on visiting all of the palaces in seoul including the Jongmyo Shrine you might want to buy the integrated ticket for all palaces to save!

Southern Exposure: Exploring Southern Tagalog

I’ve been to some places down south but I feel that I really haven’t even scratched the surface of the our rich heritage in the Southern Tagalog region. So when the opportunity came when I got invited for a tour around the provinces of Laguna and Quezon I got really excited and said yes!

The group met up in Makati, at about half past seven in the morning the bus started rolling and off we go!

To prepare our selves for the journey ahead we stopped for breakfast at Sol Y Viento Mountain Resort in Pansol, Laguna. What’s notable about this stop is the breathtaking view of the Laguna Lake while eating breakfast. After feasting on the buffet table we decided to move on to our first destination.

 

 

First on the list is Pila, Laguna. We alight the bus at the town plaza where you have a 360 view of well preserved houses, the Municipal hall and the Pila Church all facing the square; a perfect example of a Spanish colonial town. We visited the church and one of ancestral houses facing the square, the Alavaan House.

 

The house still is being used today by the same family who built it. As you enter the house you will notice the family photographs carefully framed showing the generations that has gone through. One of the guests asks if the descendants still stay at the house every now and then, the lady replied with yeah but not all of them stays here if they come home here in the province, the house just have so many rooms imagine how many they are now! Hahaha… well true yeah! I can’t remember how many kids I saw on the walls there!

Visiting the Alavaa house was really refreshing, it reminded me of our ancestral house in Bulacan that had almost the same layout specially where you enter the house and look at through its windows and look at the open spaces. It was just beautiful reliving and reminiscing those days.

Around twelve in the afternoon the group traversed through a narrow road going to the Alavaa family farm for our lunch, well it’s actually a feast. We had an amazing set of Filipino food with a Southern Tagalog twist. I specially love the Fried Lumpiang Ubud because it is full of juice as you take a bite after another, you don’t even need to dip it on a sauce because it is so juicy!

Lunch was really awesome that I wanted to sleep because I feel so full! hahaha! However, we need to move now to our next destination!

Next up for the day is the Majayjay Church, we were received by the parish priest after their service. We roamed around the church to gaze at its beautiful architecture. Majayjay is also home to beautiful waterfalls but we were there for a heritage pilgrimage tour so I guess that’s for another day…. Yey!

After seeing the church we scored our selves some good items from the stores around the church like the export quality lambanog that is actually exported to the United States as well as some hand crafted blades!

Our last destination was the Town of Lucban who celebrated the Pahiyas festival just a day ago. Being a photo enthusiast I was lucky to have a chance to photograph but of course the energy of the festivities on the day it self is another thing. However, if you plan to take photographs of the entries for the Pahiyas it would be a lot better to visit a day after the feast.

That night we rested our tired body at the beautiful Graceland Estates in Tayabas Quezon. Darkness has covered the surroundings and there is nothing much to see across the horizon, so we just decided to relax inside our room, I checked my laptop and wrote several lines of a post that I was trying to finish. The bed was really comfy that I couldn’t help but fall asleep, while some of our travel mates were enjoying the well heated pool.

I woke up early in the morning put my running shoes on and raced through the paved peripherals of Graceland’s lake. The course was quite challenging specially for me who tries to lose weight as the terrain slowly slopes up to a good amount of incline. After a few laps I decided to go back to our room and get ready for the day’s activity. Breakfast was served at Memphis Cafe with the best Lucban longanisa and my personal favorite among all of them, the Bonete generously topped with coco jam!

With everyone ready and fully loaded off  we all hop on to our tour bus. Our first destination for the day was the Basilica of St. Michael de Arch Angel also known as the Tayabas Basilica. We were warmly welcomed by the church workers who guided us through the Diocesan museum, I was specially interested on their inventory of chalices and other Mass accessories that are beautifully displayed.

 

On our way to Sariaya, Quezon we made a special stop at the Malgonlong Bridge one of the oldest existing bridges in the Philippines (mind you they stopped using the bridge just a few years ago!) that was spared from destruction of the DPWH thanks to the Local Government Unit of the municipality! Kudos to you sirs and ma’ams!

As I stepped out of the bus upon arriving in Sariaya my heart beated faster as my feasted at the art deco houses that the Coco Barons during the American Era. We visited one of the beautiful mansions called Villa Sariaya formerly known as the Rodriguez Mansion. Our tour guide Ina then indulge us to Quezon’s beautiful tradition of Tagayan. Now, I know that most of you would be thinking like “tagayan what!?” well tagayan is more than just passing a single glass of alcohol among friends, but it is a beautiful tradition of poetry, songs and culture.

After immersing into Quezon’s rich cultural ritual we then stopped by a local store to satisfy our cravings…. I mean buy pasalubongs (gifts) for our friends and families. We went on a shopping frenzy for Bonete, Tamales and other Quezon delicacies.

With my bags full and my pocket almost empty I boarded our bus with a happy heart I was just so excited to come home and share everything!

Our final destination for the tour I should say is one great touch for this trip, a very fitting finale. A sumptuous lunch at Ugu Bigyan’s pottery and restaurant with everyone was a great experience it self, no I am not exaggerating dinning there really is an experience.

 

Before leaving Ugu graciously showed his pottery making skills which was extra ordinary in level as he makes it look like as easy as as  drinking water.

I am really lucky being apart of this Heritage Pilgrimage around the Southern Tagalog region it was an eye opener for me that there are so much more that I can experience down south other than the beaches and hot springs. Quezon province really is  a destination for learning more about our heritage and culture. It is a treasure chest for people seeking what was it or is really like to be a true Tagalog. Just like one of the participants in the tour said, our travel mate, no less than the former senator Leticia Shahani it is the best tour of the Southern Tagalog area that there is. Well that is true because it was facilitated none other than the Tina Decal the recognized expert for anything that has to do with the southern region of Luzon. My hats off to you Tina for the wonderful things you made us experience.

 

This trip was made possible by

Filipino Heritage Festival Inc.
Address: G/Flr. Museum of the Filipino People Valencia Circle, Luneta, Manila
Web: www.HeritageFestival.ph Tel.# +632 523-9692 Email: info@heritagefestival.ph

Travel Tools: A Look At Momondo’s Fare Comparison Site

Being the backpacker that I am, I am always in the look out for great travel deals specially for air fares. So for today, I will be scrutinizing a fare comparison site. We will be taking a look on how easy  does it make a traveler’s life is, presenting Momondo.com.

First off lets take a look at the values that of how Momondo was built upon.

I like the way how Momondo is presented to its target audience, travelers. It does not show it self as just another site that would simply give you the rates available but with a total travel experience in mind. True enough when I dug further what they aspire to deliver is to inspire travel and not just mere generate profit from searches and I must say that you can really feel that it was built with the traveler in mind with the over all feel of the site.

The Experience

The first thing that I look for in website is its ease of use. I have this rule that I should not click more than three times on to another page to get what I need. Did Momondo.com passed this? Well it’s an astounding YES! It only takes one click from its home page to get the results!

Its straight forward layout takes you to what you need right at its home page. Its uncluttered landing page makes it instinctive for the user to navigate the pages. You actually don’t need to think what to do you’ll just do it when you see it.

The page is also not that heavy so it loads easily so if you have a broad band connection like mine you won’t get frustrated just waiting for it to completely load. Since it loads fast you’ll be able to enjoy the fast suggestive auto populating fields for information like airports that you’d like to go to.

It is also good that the site enables you to customize the settings such as the currency and language because just like me I want to see the rates with my local currency allowing me to understand the real value of the fares.

The Real Deal

Beyond the nice layout let’s take a look at what matters most of them, The results! Comparing from other from other fare comparison sites, Momondo.com offers comprehensive and competitive results. It allows the user to possibly source their travel needs in just one stop with its car rental, hotel and even holiday rental options.

Room To Improve

Hmmm…. truth is I cant find anything yet(I’ve used the site for several days now) maybe because they developed the site with simplicity in mind providing the users what it really needs.

The Extra Mile

 

I am always bound to day dream about destinations anytime and anywhere! So it is really important for me to have access to travel resources and yes to put a stop to my obsessive compulsive habit of just fiddling through information and creating an itinerary up in my head.

There are two ways that you can access momondo.com on the go, if you can easily access it through any mobile browser by going to momondo.com and you’ll be automatically directed to their mobile site.

The second option is the one that I recommend, download their free app through the android play store. I

like this option better because it simply lets me tap on the app icon and vioala! The information that you need is there at your finger tips and you can access it by tapping it anytime you fancy!

Over all I will give Momondo.com 4.5 stars out of five… almost perfect? Well yes, I like the usability and how it delivers to its target market, of course being competitive is out of the question as it is a requirement for any service driven site and if it failed on competitiveness I would have given it a 1 star. So yep! start tapping your phones and downloading the Momondo.com app! 

 

Seoul: The N Seoul Tower

The night was chilly cold but thankfully my sweater is holding heat up on my body.

The N Seoul Tower is a communications tower that sits on top of Mt. Bugaksan. You can reach the top by walking up the entire hill or ride a cable car going up. However, going to the cable car loading area is another thing. We asked some locals on how to get there and we were told to take a certain bus, but we thought that it is so near that we can just walk to it. My new found friend Daisy knows that there’s an elevator going up the hill where the cable car is but the thing is that we cant locate it! We decided to take the longer way instead we walked all the way up the hill and I tell you it wall challenging specially for since I was carrying a bag with my stuff and my tripod plus the fact that I am way over weight is a super challenging factor.

Upon reaching the cable car area we rested a bit and of course I took the opportunity to take photos of the tower. After a bit we lined up to buy tickets that costs around KW 8,500 two way but we thought that it would be a lot more fun if we just walk our way down the the mountain and anyways it would be just easy since it is downhill and we cold save a lot so we just bought a one way ticket for just KW 6,000. There were a lot of people coming in so I thought that there’s gonna be a big crowd up, the line though for the ticket was moving kinda fast so I didn’t expect what I was about to see. After buying our tickets we went to the boarding area and oh boy! Even though the line down stairs at the ticket booth was fast the situation in boarding the cable car was waaaaaaaaaaay far from it! We waited for a couple of hours just to get our turn and board the Cable car in the waiting area, while in line, you would get a chance to sit every now and then. You would also not get hungry because there’s a cafe in the area so no worries about food and drinks. Even though there were all of those amenities it still got a lot boring waiting for our turn and yes it was tiring that made me consider just to ditch our plans, but of course I didn’t since I really wanted to see the tower up close.

 

Upon reaching the end of the ride you would still have to walk several flights of stairs to reach the base of the tower. The tower’s ground level is high enough to see the city from its top. The famous lovers or couples lock area is also on the deck found at the ground level. I didn’t go up the the tower anymore because there lots of people that day so I assumed that there’s just gonna be a lot up there too and that it would be difficult to take good photos from the top.

View from the top of the hill

The city as seen from the upper deck

Love locks found at the upper deck area

One of the most popular activities here are for couples to lock their love for each other by locking a padlock on the upper deck. It’s actually quite romantic specially during autumn or spring when the cool wind blows gently and the autumn leaves drop from the branches.

A traditional Korean Pavillion

Last glimpse of the tower before we go down

I was really overwhelmed with the activities and what is happening around me when Daisy asked if we could go as she realized that it was really late in the evening already and that we haven’t ate anything yet for dinner, so we started to descend. As I look at my back I saw the tower again and took my last photo of the tower. I feel that I could have spent more time here and enjoyed it but it was a weekend and going up was a challenge while eating a lot of our time. Maybe next time I’ll make sure to visit it on a weekday.

stairs going down

How To Get To The Namsan Seoul Tower

By Bus

You can take buses # 2, 3 or 5  to get to the cable car boarding area.

 

What To Do In The Namsan Seoul Tower

  • Teddy Bear Museum
  • Love Locking on the upper deck
  • Observatory
  • Watch the nightly show projected on the tower

The Hot Citron Tea at tea shop on the ground level is a must try specially if it is quite chilly when you visit, very good for re-energizing your tired body.

For more information about the Namsan Seoul Tower let me share with you my reference for my trip HERE. It includes updated prices other activities that you can try, operating hours and near by tourist spots that you can try and of course a detailed direction going to the tower.

 

For more of my South Korea Posts visit the links below. 

Travelouge: Seoul Searching My South Korea Backpacking Series

Travel Guide: Places I visited and Itinerary Suggestions

All South Korea Posts

Seoul: Coffee Prince Cafe

I’m glad that I started my trip in Seoul by meeting with a long time online friend Anton. We’ve been communicating for a while already even before this trip, incidentally Anton was there in Seoul  as well for a trip so we decided to meet up. He was actually on his last day and will be leaving for the airport that afternoon.

After finishing our late lunch at KFC -Hey don’t judge too quickly they have meals that aren’t available in other countries too! 😉 – Anton took the lead and started walking going to our agenda for that day, Coffee Prince’s 1st Coffee Shop! We were amazed on how Anton navigated the streets of Seoul, as if he had been there before and I even asked him if he’d checked the place earlier and was just being nice to us by taking us there, but no! He really is visiting it for the first time!

After several minutes of of walking we’ve finally reached the shop. I was really overwhelmed with emotions that I just stood there and took a good few minutes of staring at the coffee shop. As soon as I pulled my self together I started taking photos. I’m sorry, but it was really so dreamy for me, I’ve followed the series from start to finish and even watched it several times over the net.

 

 

 I really loved the atmosphere that day, It was the first time that I experienced autumn and it was exactly how I pictured it to be (at least for the first couple of days LOL!) the colors of the trees, the crisp cool air it’s just a dream come true!

We were a little hesitant to go inside because as far as my research says that the shop doesn’t allow any videos or photos taken inside or you might need to buy a drink before you can take any photos. I wasn’t quite sure if I want to order food or drinks as well because going back to research every one says that they are over priced and doesn’t taste good. But Daisy -my hostel mate- is determined to go inside, apparently she’s a fan of the KDrama too! So she just walked right up and entered the coffee shop so I of course I excitedly followed her inside.

  As I walk towards the door I saw a photo of Go Eun Chan and of course I didn’t pass the chance and asked Daisy to take a photo of me and my Chan =) . Stepping inside the coffee shop was like walking inside a KDrama… well its their set… but it’s like I am dreaming awake that time. It was everything how I thought it would be (minus the food and coffee) they were able to preserve the set it self and yes you can use the bar where the gang usually prepares coffee and roam around the cafe as if you reminisce the good old days… hahaha yeah I did that as if I was part of the drama! hahaha! We wanted to sit on the table next to the window and the flower painting but they were pretty strict with the sitting arrangements and told us that it is reserved for a minimum party of seven, so we settled for the one in the middle of the cafe. There, we shared our travel stories and where we want and plan to go everything that we can just think of. truthfully I have never felt such a traveler before until I have been with these people in that conversation. I was like hey I can finally relate! hahaha! I mean I have spoken with a lot people who travel but I really never connected much mainly because I don’t know that much yet. But being there at that conversation at that very moment, it felt like wow… I can travel the world! Hahaha… and Yeah you guys out there are my inspiration… A lot of you are!  

 

I wanted to experience the cafe entirely so I roam around some more, unfortunately the upstairs were closed and off limits. there, Choi Han Kyul and Go Eun Chan often talk about things and I really like to see where they usually hang out but like I said it was off limits… Bummer!

The weather was great that day so I decided to go out and the things I usually do whenever I hangout at my favorite coffee shop here in Manila. Ian, Anton’s friend joined me outside for some smoke. We are both coffee lovers…. or was it just me? Anyways what I remember clearly is that he hated his drink because he specifically ordered his latter HOT but he gave him iced! Well I don’t know if it was incompetence or language barrier… hahaha we’ll never know…. I asked him if he wanted to have it exchanged coz I’ll gladly have them replace it for him but he opted to just stick with it. He look pretty pissed though… hahaha… poor Ian.

There’s really nothing much to see or do in the coffee shop unless you are a fan of Coffee Prince. I mean as a fan just being there is really something already it is like putting a kid in play land…. well that’s basically how I felt that time… pretty lame yeah but I am sure that Coffee Prince can totally understand me… hahaha… So if you aren’t a fan who might wanna think of skipping this one, though I’m pretty sure that your friends who are fans would be very envious of you having pictures from the shop! Weigh your options carefully! hahahaha!

Side note: While writing this post I have been thinking on how on earth will I put all the photos that I want so here are more photos!

So How Do You Get to The Coffee Prince 1st Shop?

How to Get There: Take Subway Line 2 to Hongik University, and go out of Exit 8. Turn right at Seven Springs corner and pass the intersection. At the 3-way intersection, turn left. Walk about 100 meters on the road above the playground and walk towards the road on the right side. Walk about 500 meters until you find the coffee shop on the right.

For more of my South Korea Posts visit the links below. 

Travelouge: Seoul Searching My South Korea Backpacking Series

Travel Guide: Places I visited and Itinerary Suggestions

All South Korea Posts

Harana: The Music Of Love

Does any body still serenade anyone anymore?

Good question huh!? Well in the good old days it’s a norm to serenade somebody that you like. When a girl being serenaded by a guy looks out of the window or their balcony it means that the guys has a chance and that the girl may like him. Enough said there… here’s a video taken during Taal’s El Pasubat Festival, It demonstrate how they do “Harana” (Serenade) during the days….

Seoul Searching: The Epilogue

Well, this trip is coming to a close already. Thanks to my procrastination I wasn’t able to many of the places that I planned on going to, which is partly why I don’t want planning my trips because I just disappointed whenever this happens. But hey it wasn’t totally my fault at all there! It was way TOOOOO COOOOOOOOOLD! See I am like oil I can’t move when it is cold.

Trying to prepare my head to accept the fact that I am already going home back to the warm embrace of Manila, I decided to walk around the neighborhood again. I needed too process everything that I’ve experienced the past few days aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand I need to eat dinner! Hahaha…. I guess that snack I had wasn’t holding up until I get to the airport as I planned.

Walking around I find that may be Seoulites love Chicken just like how us Pinoys do. I mean there were a bunch of restaurants that has Chicken and Hoff on their signage which is pretty a pretty damn good combination I must say! I continued to walk and found this small food shop that sells cups of chicken mixed with rice cubes(?) in spicy red sauce. It really filling and the right amount of spicy just made me feel warm and good. It made me wish that we could have we could have more adventurous and variations when it comes to street food.

It’s a really cool restaurant with simple concept; people can post post it on their white walls with messages for each other and may be some message for the shop! Of course I left something there… hopefully it is still there when I get back! LOL… as if! I really like the post it wall section; it is so alive with so many messages I guess being a school district really help to keep the businesses alive.

it was almost midnight when I decided to walk back to my hotel. I purposely walked slowly thinking how differently Seoulites live their lives from us Manilenyos; how connected they are compared to the struggling internet connectivity; how much they walk while us in Manila would ask jeepneys to stop practically in front of our houses like cabs.

There are lot of things to be learned in Seoul not just the development part but also how disciplined and respectful they are to each other. Seoul is a wonderful city that is a far cry from the chaotic Manila that we know but I LOVE my city just as much as I love Seoul.

Hanging out at the Bong House common area before going to sleep

I slept for a few hours and woke up around four in the morning. I prepared my stuff before I slept so I just hit the shower; I was suppose to leave together with my room mate going to the airport but I wanted to freshen up a bit firs, so he went ahead with his big bags.

As soon as I step out of the mansion I was like WTF is this!!!! I checked on my phone what the current temperature was and it was a freaking -2 degrees Celsius!!!!  I waited for several minutes in the bus stop which was grueling for a tropical person! I video recorded my self while waiting for the airport bus.


 

Finally I boarded the Airport bus and it was nice to see that the bus was really configured to take passengers with baggage bins in the entry part of the bus. They also implement safety rules strictly, imagine before we enter the airport highway the driver instructed every one to put on their seat belts no matter what part of the bus they are seated. Further more the driver inspected if everyone complied! I must say that I am impressed!

Finally I reached the airport, of course I am delighted on how magnificent the structure is. I hanged out a bit outside and smoke before I step in the airport. As soon as I got in the first thing I looked for was the convenience store where I could refund the remaining money in my T-Card.

I then proceeded to the check in counter and tried to check in my tripod. As I hand over my tripod the airline staff was quite surprised that I wanted to check that small of an item, she said “oh you can bring it in (the airplane) it’s just around a kilo so no problem”. This time I was the one who got surprised and confused at the same time but since she said it was okay I brought it with me even though I have baggage allowance; I prefer hand carrying my stuff than checking them in.

Busy Incheon International Airport, Busy but not chaotic
 
Waiting for my turn to check in

From the immigration I took the people mover going to the concourse where I will be boarding my plane. As I walked intently slow to savor my last moments in Seoul, I couldn’t help my self but stop every now and then to look at the beautiful sunrise unfolding before me.

I realized that with each and every trip abroad I slowly become a citizen of the world, adapting, blending and appreciating each and every culture that I immerse my self into. I learn how to respect difference more and appreciate how unique we are from each other. Seoul has taught me to be calm in the storm, to stay focus just how calm and collected this megalopolis is. Until next time Seoul, I’ll make sure to stay longer in your arms and savor your sweet embrace.

 

This post is part of my four day backpacking trip to Seoul, South Korea series

Seoul Backpacking Guide

Part 1: Arrival, Coffee Prince and Seoul N Tower

Part 2: The Palaces and Coffee Shop Experience

Part 3: The Jimjjilbang Experience and Nandaemun

Part 4: The Epilouge: Going Home

South Korea Trip Preparations

How to Apply For A Korean Visa

SEOUL SEARCHING: MY SOUTH KOREA SOLO BACKPACKING DAY 3

Day three, my last full day in Seoul, I wanted to go and see Nami Island but I thought and that it would eat up a lot time; I’d rather spend it roaming around the city. I wanted to maximize the time that I have left exploring and experience the vibrant city life of the Seoulites.

It was cloudy that day so on my way out of the hotel I asked Bong, the cool owner of the hotel about the weather. I asked if he think that it would rain hard that day and I was really surprised when he replied that it would rain at all! I found it hard to believe that the heavens would not pour out, because the clouds were really thick and I couldn’t even see a single ray of light from the Sun. On the other hand the wind was blowing hard that one would think that there is some sort of typhoon or weather disturbance if it was in thePhilippines. So I decided to bring an umbrella because I didn’t want my camera to get wet if it were to rain.

My first destination that day was a Jimjjilbang or a Korean spa.  I thought  that it would be perfect to soak up at the spa since the weather was cold and I could definitely use a little warmth. This particular spa was recommended by Bong because of its good standard unlike regular spas around.  But on second thought I would have wanted to check a regular looking Jimjjilbang to see how regular folks enjoy the spa.

Anyways, I stayed in the spa for about three to four hours enjoying the warm pool and heated flooring where you could comfortably lie down and take leisurely naps.  There’s also a restaurant where you could order food and eat Korean style sitting on the floor. I ordered a red bean sauced noodle which was really not that tasty, I don’t know if it was just because of the restaurant or the dish was really meant to taste that way. I actually needed to force my self to leave the spa because it felt like as if I was checked in on a really good hotel that I didn’t want to leave. LOL!

As I step out of the building I saw a tourist  information booth, I was planning to walk from where I was to the Nandaemun gate, it looked really near on the map but the information officer insist that it’s about an hour if I walk. It started drizzling so I decided to give in and take the subway.

I thought that I had enough heat on my body after soaking in the spa that I dared to lessen the layers of my clothes, but the wind was really strong making me shiver as I walk to the subway leaving me with no choice but to put more clothes on.

Upon exiting Hoehyeon station I navigated my way with my map going to the famous gate.  I had to pass through the Nandaemun market area which reminded me that it was lunch time already, It’s time to munch, munch munch! It’s a good thing that there are a lot of choices in the Nandaemun market but it also posed as challenge for me on what should I eat! I tried everything that I can -meaning anything that I think I can swallow-  well most of he street food in Korea are very “normal” except for those silk worm cocoons that I would not even dare come near.

There were several food stalls and shops offering a variety that are quite familiar to my eyes (mainly because of research) so without any hesitation –but a lot of challenge- I ordered a pan fried onion spring cake which was KW3,000 a piece. After finishing my fried cake I went next door and bought a bunch of Mandus in different flavors. The store keepers kept on talking to me on a language that was somewhat familiar to my ear until I heard a line “ni zhongua ren?” I replied with the best mandarin I could come up with “wo? zhongua ren? bu shi!” LOL!!! Apparently the staff at the Mandu stall were mainland Chinese working as an immigrant.

After trying to converse with the Mandu stall staff with my broken Putonghua I moved on and searched for something heavier to fill my hunger.I walked around the market area to find a good buy. I braved walking inside the plastic covered stalls and find out what was there that I could try. I was really hesitant because I didn’t know what they are selling at all and the only thing that I know what kind of food is that is written on their sign is Kimbap!

I walked in and tried to observe what they serve, the lady served a meal to one customer and then to another then I figured out that it that is Sojebi! I thought that it was a good buy for just KW4,000 you get a bowl of Sojebi plus some Kimbap! Yey!

It was a good meal replenishing my body heat and filled my stomach real good, plus the Kimbap that was really made in very simple way was really tasty and good! With a full stomach I marched to my main destination in the area, none other than the Nandaemun Gate.

I walked back to the main road from the market area, and yes I love walking inSeoul. Their sidewalks are well paved (though sometimes puddles come up in some areas when it rains) and are really conducive to walking.

My heart got excited and beat faster with every step that I take on my way to the Nandaemun, because with every step each store that unveils before my eyes turns out to be a camera store! It was like camera heaven I could stare all I want at different cameras from different eras in all of its shapes, sizes, colors, format!!! okay okay I’m kinda rambling here already…. But my point is I will repeat… it was like camera heaven….

From the shops I could see the gate already and I started thinking on how should I shoot it, but suddenly I realized, I didn’t bring my tripod!!! awwww geez! well I guess I really had to do a selfie shot to remember the moment.

I had to take photos from several angles but the over cast sky was really a challenge thankfully I was able to get a decent shot. It took a while but yeah I am satisfied with the frames that I was able to capture…. though my ideal shot actually is a night shot with trails of light coming from cars from a high vantage point. However, I was not able to bring my tripod for long exposure and where on earth will I get access to a high floor or roof top? So I ditched the plan.

The Nandaemun area is really interesting with lots of food and shopping choices, this area is also full of historic and cultural places that you just won’t get enough staring at. As I explore the area I found a post office in one of the buildings, it reminded me that some friends asked me for post card exchange.

I walked up the doors of the post office and inquired where I can get post cards that I can send to friends and I was directed to a counter. As soon as I got my turn I asked for a post card and the guy was handing me over this blank white card with some line on it (where I guess you write the address). I was kinda shocked and confused at the same time, I clarified that what I am looking for is a post card with a photo of a Korean landmark and he said… nope we ain’t have any of those…. hahaha of course those weren’t his exact words…. he’s not from the block you know! hahaha….

The Chill Factor

The temperature continued to plummet and the wind got stronger, I could barely feel my hands already and my body was shivering bad! I tried smoking hoping to get warmer but nah! It doesn’t work at all! I kept on putting my hands inside my pockets for some relief but no…. it’s not really a solution, it made me think now that I should have just went back to the market area and bought some cheap gloves! geez!

The temperature was really starting to be more intolerable I just had to seek warmth from anywhere, I was asking my self is this how I am going to die? Of cold? LoL!!! I saw a coffee shop that looked pretty nice, so I came in and ordered coffee to help warm up and I asked for it to be extra hot. After charging my camera’s battery and my phone, I went off and continued my journey…. with a cup of really hot coffee to keep me warm.

My next stop was the Cheonggyecheon Stream.I really wanted to walk going there since it was just like a couple of stations away from where I was. So I consulted my map and started walking to a certain direction. After a few minutes I noticed that the landmarks that I was seeing weren’t on the path that I should be taking on the map. I stopped and looked at my map but my brain seems not to function properly! I can’t figure out what I did or read wrong! T_T

After walking a bit more I finally saw a distinct landmark the Seoul Station. I looked at my map again and I figured out that I was walking at the opposite direction all along!!! How crazy is that!? The sun has set, the wind made the temperature unbearable and I had to walk double the distance from where I intended to start so I decided to take the subway at that point.

From the Seoul Station I got off at the City Hall station. From there you can walk for a few minutes and you’ll see a famous landmark that can cause some debate over friends if it is a Christmas tree or a just a huge shell! hahaha!

I walked passed the Shell/Tree sculpture and thought that it would be good to get a photo of it, but there were people taking videos of them selves. I waited for them to finish their stuff but the language and the voice that I over hear from their conversation seem too familiar! When they were done, I walked up to them and asked if they were shooting for a show but to my surprise it was Giselle Sanchez! We chatted a bit about our own trips inSeouland apparently she was there for a concert with Parokya ni Edgar. Giselle is such a nice and beautiful person and her husband, Emil with their friend were super nice too! I had to bid goodbye after our little chat so I could explore the stream and I was kinda disturbing them in their shoot… hahaha… well that was really fun… so thanks for the chat Giselle!

So there I go, off to explore the stream which is about over a mile long so yeah I didn’t walked all through it but what I saw was what I was expecting it to be. I could have stayed longer if the weather was more forgiving, I mean cool is okay but ice cold is a nayer. The stream is really romantic that it could really be a good place to walk along with your special someone, anyways I don’t have any plans of being more cheesy here so lets move forward! hahaha!

Just a stone throw away from the stream’s entrance is the Gwanghwamun Plaza where the monuments of  Admiral Yi Sun-sin and King Sejong probably two of the most famous heroes of Korea. The monuments really fits its location as if it welcomes everyone who are going to the the Gyeongbokgung Palace. I took several pictures to my hearts content and then decided to go back to my hotel. Yep I was ready to call it a day, my feet were tired and would welcome any form of rest, but I was thinking that I should not rest much because I’d only feel the pain more on my feet.

On my way back to my hotel I remembered a couchsurfing friend said that she lives near where my hotel is, so I pulled out my phone and sent her messages through facebook. One thing that I really like aboutKoreais that there are wifi connections available almost everywhere enabling me to send messages even if I was deep under the ground in a moving subway train!

It took me after less than 30 minutes to get back to my area and I was still waiting for my friend’s reply so I decided to hangout near the shops and eat a bit at the food stalls around the area. There were lots of people going around shopping and meeting friends. I really am glad that I hang around that area and see how people go about at least a part of their day with couples eating and people socializing. It felt great! It was like I was a part of the system.

I was finished with my little snack  which was about KW3,000 not bad at all, it tasted really good and it seem like they have something special on it even though it was just deep fried. My friend finally replied unfortunately she was away with her friends, oh well I guess I’d have to go back to Korea once more so I could meet her…. and yeah you guessed it right it’s my last night in Seoul already and this trip is about to end.

This post is part of my four day backpacking trip to Seoul, South Korea series

Seoul Backpacking Guide

Part 1: Arrival, Coffee Prince and Seoul N Tower

Part 2: The Palaces and Coffee Shop Experience

Part 3: The Jimjjilbang Experience and Nandaemun

Part 4: The Epilouge: Going Home

South Korea Trip Preparations

How to Apply For A Korean Visa

Seoul Searching: My South Korea Solo Backpacking Day 2

It really isn’t easy to wake up and get out of bed if it is really nice and warm compared to the biting cold outside,  Specially for someone like me who sleeps like oil I really need some time to warm up. LOL!

So I got up checked my email then went straight to the bathroom to fix my self. The water pressure was kinda low so it was a bit of a challenge good thing that the entire house is well heated. It was past ten when I went up stairs at the common area to eat breakfast, that I realized when I checked the time. Breakfast was a bunch of bread and jam a couple of cups of coffee, I needed it I was really sleepy because of all the walking we did the day before. It was really hard for someone like me who depend on how hot it is or how high the sun is when it comes to reading time. Prehistoric right? but yeah most of the time I do that.

My agenda for the day was to visit the five palaces of Seoul. These palaces were built during the Chosun Dynasty to serve as the seat of Korea’s monarch government and to establish Hanyang (now known as Seoul) as the Capital. It would be my first time to see an actual Palace where Royalties have resided so I am really excited as it could be the closest that I could get as to holding the rails of Buckingham Palace.

The first palace on my itinerary is just a 5-10 minutes walk from where I was staying, so Instead of taking the bus I decided to just walk and see the urban scenery of Seoul. What I like about walking around Seoul is that comparing it to Manila (though I still walk around a lot in the city), smoke pollution coming from cars are way less making it more tolerable and leisurely to walk along the sidewalks. I also love the fact that Korea has alleyways and promenades where there’s just pedestrian traffic and that if you want to get to your favorite restaurant you’d have to walk!

After several minutes of walking an old wall started appearing on my side reminding me of Manila’s Intramuros. I took a quick look at my map trying to figure if I am on the right path. A few more minutes of walking then I found my self standing in front of this beautiful gate fit for a palace.

I was standing in awe of this centuries old gate where majesties have come to pass by to their palaces as I told my this is where I really start my journey in Seoul, the house of the royals that established this great society.

Coming from my hotel the first palace that I walked to was the Changgyeong Palace. I was really excited that I took so many photos of the gate to the palace from so many angles! I couldn’t leave the gate because I wasn’t that satisfied with the photos that I was taking. It felt like the photos were all over exposed but yeah most of them are which I later on realized that there was nothing that I could do because the sky was such an overcast!

I stepped into the royal grounds and all of the leaves are vibrant with its autumn colors waiting for winter to arrive. There weren’t much people inside the palace grounds though it was a weekend but not too empty as well.

I read somewhere off the net that there are FREE English tours around the palaces that you can join. The tours are quite informative and the guides speak really good English. I came in just in time for the 11:30 am English tour but I didn’t knew where the starting point is at . I went to the information booth but I honestly didn’t quite understand the instructions of the lady gave me. So I wander around the palace grounds until I heard from a distance a familiar language! Quick as I can, I went up to the group and ask one of them “Excuse me, is this the English tour or is this a private one?” the lady replied and said “No this is the free one!”, I smiled and joined the group.

The tour would take you around the palace ground acquainting you with the historic buildings inside the compound. I find the  tour guide unintentionally funny which is the funniest of being funny! hahaha! am I even making any sense? hahahaha anyways the tour was fine!

After the tour I wandered off again and retraced the tour’s path to take photos minus the crowd that I was with, it was past lunch time already when I finished taking photos. But I wasn’t hungry still. I guess my appetite gets smaller when I am on trips, or I just don’t feel the need to eat every time I am on the road

I then again went to the information booth and asked for directions on how to get to the other palace which was inside the same complex that I am in. Yet again I did not understand the instructions of the lady, So I just aimlessly walked around until I found my self to yet another door with a booth. I guess I found it.

It was the back entrance of the second palace, costs much more than the first one so I guessed that it has much more to offer than the first palace.

I payed the fee and got my self inside the complex and yes it didn’t fail me it was way much more elaborate and bigger than the first one that I’ve been to. Welcome to the Changdeokgung Palace!

A much more elaborate palace the Changdeokgung Palace spreads for acres of land and houses a lot of what used to be government buildings during the time of Korea’s monarchy. This complex also has a royal garden they call “The Secret Garden” not really a secret back then but only royals were allowed to see the garden concealing it behind the tall palace walls hence the name Secret Garden.

This palace also offer Free English Tours for this palace and yeah I think it’s worth joining it because you can learn a lot of things about the buildings and how they contributed to Korea’s history.  It was still early so I decided to hangout in a coffee shop inside the palace complex. Yeah, coffee is expensive and not good but I didn’t want to go far anymore to look for a decent meal. But yeah, the view from where I was sitting is awesome!

The tour started around 2:30 in the afternoon at the front gate of the palace. The tour guide gave us a little history of the palace first like when and how it was built and what not. After a little briefing our guide, Grace, took us to a maze like network of alleyways connecting the buildings of the palace.

took us to the nooks and cranny of the complex giving us bits of info that you wouldn’t know if you would just roam around the palace alone.

It was drizzling a bit that after noon when the tour ended so I tried to go back to the hotel as fast as I can, but I think I wasn’t really fast enough though. I got caught in the rain and had to take shelter from the balcony of the queen’s residence in the first complex.

When the rain subsided a bit I ran across the complex to the gate and on to my hotel. My plans for that they were crushed as I couldn’t go out because it was raining hard again, it was as if the heavens just allowed me to go back to the comforts of my room. I planned to visit all five of the Palaces but because of the rain the remaining three just remained as plans.

I spent the day in my room, an upper bunk bend in a warm and cozy mansion. I don’t remember that I even watched TV that day (or even my entire stay for that matter) but I never felt bored. I hanged out in the common area talking to people (whoa! is that you ? hahaha ) and trying to find out what else I could do.

I borrowed an umbrella and tried walking around the block where I was staying to see what is there to see. My neighborhood is a cool one with the Sungkyunkwan University just a stone throw away. There are lots of food shops and cute small cafes where you can chill out.

Police Station! Hahaha 

That night I walked further than the block where I was staying to look for a good coffee shop. I realized that I had little money left so I searched for an ATM with English instructions and oh boy! It was not easy! I had to look at three different banks I think before I could find one that has English!

After getting money I continued looking for a coffee shop, Fortunately Korea has a very good coffee culture so I was able to find a coffee shop after just a few minutes. I couldn’t find any Starbucks still open that time but there’s this awesome coffee shop that I found! Hello Tom n’ Tom’s!

What I like about Tom n Tom’s is that they have a heated smoking area which makes it comfy specially on a cold night like that was. I also like that they have at least three WiFi accounts in the store which you can connect to so the connections don’t slow down!

I took advantage of the good internet connection and called friends back home for a little chitchat and uploaded some videos on youtube and yeah it didn’t take that long before everything finished.

I was thinking of what to do the following day because the palaces are closed that day and Nami Island is out of the question because it’s just too far. Then I remembered that I’ve always wanted to try the Jimjjilbang (a Korean style spa)! so I posted on a facebook group that I belong to where can I find the nearest one.  After a few minutes a member answered and it was just near where I was staying at!

It was almost three am and I needed to head back to my hotel to rest, well at least I have something to do already for tomorrow. I was really excited since it is one of the things on my list that I really have to try to when I get to Korea!

 

This post is part of my four day backpacking trip to Seoul, South Korea series

Seoul Backpacking Guide

Part 1: Arrival, Coffee Prince and Seoul N Tower

Part 2: The Palaces and Coffee Shop Experience

Part 3: The Jimjjilbang Experience and Nandaemun

Part 4: The Epilouge: Going Home

South Korea Trip Preparations

How to Apply For A Korean Visa

Romantic Getaways For Valentines

Still thinking of where to go this valentines day with you love one? Here are some suggestions that you might want to consider

1. Boracay

Who wouldn’t fall in love with the fine sand under your feet while watching a perfect sun set across the vast turquoise water, Boracay simply just levels up the romantic vibe with its picture perfect vistas.

2. Anawangin

Cuddle up and enjoy more of each other while feeling like one of the casts of survivor as you enjoy the solitude in this secluded cove in Zambales. Far from the noise of the city and no electricity this experience will surely make you closer with each other.

3. Vigan

Walk along the cobble stone streets of Vigan and relive the days when harana was the in thing. The way back when brings you back in time when romance was a true art form.

4. Taal

Vigan is too far away? Well just an hour away from Manila is Taal, Batangas. Taal boasts of not just Hispanic abodes but also turn of the century houses. Enjoy a lovely dinner or lunch at Villa Tortuga with their exquisite menu dating back to the olden ages. Oh have I mentioned you can also dress up and be in character while in the villa?

5. Baguio

February is great month to visit Baguio as this month is also celebrated as the Arts Month and knowing that Baguio is one of the Art Mecca of the Philippine you will surely find lots of activities that you can either watch or participate that both of your would really enjoy!

These are just some of the best places here in the Philippines where you can spend your time this love month specially on valentines day. How about you where was the most romantic place that you have spend your valentine’s day?

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