Backpacking to Seoul, the City of Love

Seoul or what I say as the city of love is my second city that I visited while I reside in Korea. City of love is my methapor of my impression on the capital city of South Korea. Not only because Seoul was full of in love couple or there was numerous romantic spot there, but the atmosphere there was saying that. Places like Namsan tower, Insadong neighborhood, and Cheonggyeochon were perfect for dating or even sightseeing together. Namsan tower has remarkable place for “couple love padlock” where couples write their name on the padlock expecting their love will prolong forever.

Love lock of Namsan
Love lock of Namsan

I spent 3 days and 2 nights there. Because I was by myself back there, I chose backpacker inn for my staying place. Lots of help from my Korean friends to arrange the inn reservation and also itinerary about famous and must visit spot in Seoul. Thank you Kim Hak-Rae! I stayed in Yellowbrick backpacker inn located near Insa-dong area. And for transportation I used only bus and subway because they are far cheaper than taxi. Avoid taxi unless your wallet is thick. My suggestion when you first arrived at seoul is to buy a T-money card at nearby convenience store. This works as electronic money you can use almost everywhere from buying subway ticket until buy cigarettes at convenience store. For commuting activities, it is very practice for bus and subway. Actually you can buy ticket manually with paper money but that will bother you because as a backpacker you will travel by them a lot. Also you can get discounted price compared if you buy manual ticket. It is convenience and benefitting though. I met a friend from china whom had a T-money card he bought 5 years ago and it still worked. So make sure to buy one T-Money card because T-money also valid for supermarket and convenience store shopping. You can top up your balance at nearby convenience store like CU or cigarette store.

The Yellow Brick – Convenient place yet reasonable in price!

Price 4/5 – Affordable for backpacker traveler who seeks for sleeping place only.

Facilities 5/5 – Breakfast included (toast, milk, juices, coffee), laundry machine, internet and WiFi are working with fast connection, locker in each room for your belongings deposit.

Appereance 5/5 – Good interior design and really clean room.

Location 4/5 – Near to store, restaurant, and bar. But at late night nearby location very desolate! Located near Insadong neighbourhood and Cheonggyeochon. Takes 10 minutes on foot to reach closest subway.

FYI. TYB offers room type from dormitory mix until single room for woman. Of course the price depends on the number of people in the room. The more you get the cheaper it gets. I took the cheapest rate room which is the 8 people share room for male. Please consider if you cannot stand snoring sound because of 7 people there might be one person snore while they sleep. True story, happened to me. Statistically, one of 8 people snore while they sleep. It is okay if that one is you but if not, prepare for a hard time sleeping.

What to visit?

  1. Namdaemun + Namsan + N Tower

seoul night view Courtesy :http://seoulisforlover.blogspot.com

Namdaemun is a market selling everything. Unfortunately when I visit Namdaemun it was on Seolal day so literally everybody was celebrating with their family, all store were closed. To pay my dissapointment, I ate on the food stall (that fortunately still opened) along the Namdaemun alley. They sell various kind of Korean food snack like kimbab, tteokbokki, soju, twigim (fried), sundae, and many others. After eating, I asked to the ahjumma where is the nearest tourist place from Namdaemun. I did not expect to travel to other place than Namdaemun market that night because I think shopping there would take whole night. Ahjumma said to go go Namsan tower, not very far from here. Not very sure of her suggestion, I asked nearby police station and so they said so. “Just go up the hill” they said. I was kinda surprised that they had good english because most of people in Seoul avoiding me when I talk in English.

In the chilly night, I was walking by myself climbing the hill to Namsan tower. The sight of Namsan tower slightly getting bigger along the steepness of hill. The sight of couples walking hand in hand slowly getting massive. I was climbing the stairs to the top among tenth of couples varying of teenage couple to elder couple. At that time I started thinking maybe it is a bad choice to visit Namsan by myself. But show must goes on, finally I reached the top so I can clearly saw the tower. Drenched in sweat because I tried to save some thousand won not to take the gondola so I climbed until the top on foot. Nothing special about the tower actually but that was not what couples thinked. Suddenly I remembered what my Korean friend told me about Namsan, “do not go there because it is dating place for couple”. And yeaah, I finally regretted to go there. But it is such a waste to not going up to the top of the tower which requires several thousand won (it is VERY EXPENSIVE) and have to wait around 1 hour on the queque because LOTS of people want to go to the top. I was just curious and thinked that at least I can show off to my friend that I have ever been to top of Namsan tower. Waiting in loneliness among the crowd of people is sad, it is one of the worst feeling on earth I think. I sought for solo traveler like me whom I can make friend and chat with but there was not any. In the end I went to the top by myself and deeply regretted to go the top of the tower because again it was dating site for couple. Enjoying Seoul romantic night view while drinking coffee and eating cake could not be better unless you are by yourself. Nothing to do so I decided to go back.

Tips: Sorry for my informative personal story but I strongly recommend you only visit Namsan if you are with somebody to accompany you, best if you visit with your couple. The atmosphere is so good for dating. If you want to lock padlock of love there, do not forget to bring your padlock and the key. Do not take the gondola, along the stairs to Namsan tower you can enjoy Seoul’s beautiful night view.

  1. Myeongdong

Myeongdong was very crowded at that time, noted that I visit Seoul at Seollal (one of biggest national holiday). This complex is a shopping district with numerous of most prominent fashion brand outlet located here. Several names like uniqlo, forever21, nike, until cosmetics brands like faceshop and etude could be found there. Nothing really special there but the atmosphere there was very nice. Crowded yet lovely are best to describe myeongdong area. I visit myeongdong with my newly met acquaintance. He is a chinese who lived in the USA. He told me that the goods’ price in myeongdong did not any differ from USA goods, which is pricey. I agreed about that because the price was considerably high, compared to the approximate price in my home country, Indonesia. Food stalls alson pricey there, but in the alley we founded relatively cheap beef soup restaurant so we ate there.

  1. Insadong

I visited insadong on a rainy night when I craved for dinner. So I decided to walk along the insadong, try my luck if I can found any cheap souvenirs. Insadong differs from Namdaemun or Dongdaemun whereas they sell antiques and artworks which reasonably more expensive than ordinary souvenirs. Just walk around the street even you are not gonna buy any goods there. The atmosphere there is such a waste to miss.

  1. Chongyeochon

The river was built upon Lee Myeong-Bak president era. President Lee was so eager at that time to reconstruct the old and dirty river into beautiful one which can become Seoul’s landmark. Now Mr. Lee’s dream has came true since Chonggyeochon has became tourist’s favourite spot in Seoul. You can walk either side the river from the beginning to the end of river, there is no charge for entering this place because it is public place where everyone can enter. But there is time restriction at night, I forgot what time is the maximum visit time. First time I visited the river, it was after heavy rain weather and so the river is kind of overflow. For the sake of safety, people are not allowed to enter the sideway. But the day after, I entered the river from Dongdaemun area just to walk along the sideway. The immense light would be very beautiful at night and at noon and day time is also nice to walk around enjoying the breeze.

  1. Gyeongbukgung + Sejong centre

Gyeongbuk palace is one of compulsory place to visit in Seoul. IMO, there was no attractive things to see at the

King sejong
King sejong

palace. Just an ordinary Korean old time palace but tons of tourists always seen there. For first time visit, it is okay to roaming around the palace to get some photo of the scenery. Do not forget to take picture at the mandatory place which is the King Sejong and his admiral statue at the road in front of Gyeongbuk palace. I was more interested when visiting the Sejong centre where the display there tells the majesty of King Sejong. FYI King Sejong is the one who invented Hangul (Korean alphabet) and master in astronomy study back in his era. I took a free hangul writing session where I could write my name in Korean using brush and ink (traditional style) and bring it home as a souvenir.

Ice rink
Ice rink

 

The scenery at Gyeongbuk area is surrounded by mega and tall building of corporate and governmental company. It is a scenery in the middle of busy corporate activities! President Lee Myung Bak also had his work leftover at this area, which is the ice rink in the town hall.

 

What to eat and where?

Gwangjang Market for varied korean street food

Gwangjang market is traditional market selling korean all kind of street food. Name from mini kimbab, japchae, sundae, odeng, tteokbokki, twigim (fried), bibimbab, and many others are available here. I only tasted jeon (fried flour), kimbab, japchae, and twigim because that was my limit on digest food. My recommendation if you visit here is to try mini-kimbab, japchae, twigim, and hotteok. Kimbab made from rice rolled like sushi and wrapped by seaweed. Japchae is mixed fried vermicelli with seasoned vegetables. Twigim is fried food. Hotteok is sweet pancake. All of the foods stated above is considered halal. If you are curious about tteokbokki, try to search JAWS store. JAWS serves the most delicious tteokbokki among others, try to google JAWS location closest to your location! It is a kind of franchise chain store which serves korean snack food including the famous tteok.

For dinner, supper, or lunch you can eat anywhere because there is no difficulty to find restaurant in Seoul. I always go to humble looking restaurant for cheap price, considerable price to eat is around 5000 – 8000 won per portion.

Where to shop?

Fashion items: Dongdaemun shopping district (not recommended because of high price), Hongdae area (I have never been there but lots of people says they sell unique and cheap fashion items)

Cheap souvenirs: Namdaemun market for cheap and varied kind of items.

Well that is my summary of my time back there. There is still a lot of place in Seoul I’ve not visited yet, famous place like Gangnam, COEX Aquarium, Hongdae area, and 63 tower. My post is about places that recommended as cheap and nice place to visit because there is not much distance between each other. Transportation and roaming time can be saved so I could enjoy Seoul more. Enjoy Seoul!

Exploring Beautiful Gyeongju

 

Anapji pond scenery at night
Anapji pond scenery at night

This post will give you brief guide to exploring Gyeongju, a city of numerous historical scenery. If you follow this post, it may guide you for an effective journey to explore Gyeongju in one day. Of course it covers most popular spots in Gyeongju for tourist and foreign visitors. Take a peek of what Gyeongju looks like (Courtesy of Arina Gabe Pandiangan):

 

I had the opportunity to explore Gyeongju on the middle of January of 2014. Back there I was in the middle of my internship program in POSTECH, Pohang, South Korea. I went there together with my intern-mate whom also from same university with me. Credit to her for some photographs she took that published in my blog. She is a prolific traveler so it was her idea to visit Gyeongju for our spare time, and she made the itinerary. Lucky me! For your information, that was on chilly winter when we traveled there. Actually winter is not a good season to visit Gyeongju, you will know why in the following post.

Location and How to reach Gyeongju

Pohang and Gyeongju are located on same province on east Korea, Gyeongsangbuk. From Pohang bus station to Gyeongju bus station takes +- 1 hour travel by bus. You can find the bus to Gyeongju departs from station every one hour. It costs 3400 won for one trip and vice versa for Gyeongju departure. Gyeongju also can be reached from nearby cities like Daegu, Busan, and of course from Seoul which far away located in the north.

Arrive at Gyeongju, you can find tourist information centre there to get some brochure about famous location for tourist in Gyeongju. My itinerary back there was: Bus station – Bulguksa temple -Seokguram grotto – Teddybear museum – Cheomseongdae – Anapji pond – Bus station – Pohang.

  1. Bulguksa and Seokguram grotto

Old couple were ahead of us on hiking
Old couple were ahead of us on hiking

Bulguksa and Seokguram are located on same neighbourhood but Seokguram is located in the top of Toham-san (Mountain Toham). If you want to reach the grotto from Bulguksa there are two alternatives there. First is using bus and the second is by hike the trail on foot. I chose the latter though and it was worthed nearly forty minutes of walk on the hiking path on cold winter. Be sure to choose this alternative on winter season because the heavy and thick cloth can burden your journey and that was what actually happened to me. If you use Long John, you will covered in sweat from the effect of climb moderate steepness mountain path. FYI, Long John does not absorb sweat so you will drenched in sweat with chilly winter wind blowing into your body. You could catch a flu later, so try to mind my advice if you want to follow the hiking path on foot.

Drinking water reservoar
Drinking water reservoar

About Bulguksa: literally there is not much thing to see here. Mostly you will see old building which constructed with Buddhism architecture influence with some statue figuring Chinese-Buddhism gods. Be sure to visit the drink the water from water basin and window shopping at souvenir store.

About Seokguram: there is only one thing to consider here. The Buddha statue is stored inside an enclosed room with surrounding glasses. Visitors only can see from outside the glasses and photograph is strictly prohibited. You should not expect massive statue there like I did back there. Truthfully, the statue is kinda small for world heritage scale. The Buddha statue was built using Chinese Buddha style. Buddha statue has many kind of style depends on location where Buddhism grows. Major style of Buddha statue type are Chinese, India, Thailand, Western, and Indonesia style.

  1. Teddybear Museum

    Teddybear Museum
    Teddybear Museum

“Four human-sized teddy bear posed with one Korean litte girl inside the museum. Which one was the cutest?”

Even though the ticket price is costly (9000 won per adult), we went in anyway. The reason is maybe that time is our one and only time to visit Teddy bear museum. In the world, there are only a few of teddy bear museum. USA, UK, and South Korea are the only place to spot this museum.

About TB Museum:

Parade of showcase showing famous scenery and teddybears as the actor on it. Jurassic park famous scene showed many teddybears were catching dinosaurs as we saw on movie Jurassic Park I. On different museum section, there are some famous art works acted by teddy. There is eve Teddy bear version of PSY “Gangnam Style”. At the end of museum tour you can enter the 3D cinema showing short film about dinosaurs. Of course there is a souvenir shop for teddy-thing handicraft for gifts.

  1. Cheomseongdae

Star gazing place
Star gazing place

Place of observation activities for old Korean astronomer. You can watch the history of astronomy study in Korea inside the multimedia room there.

This place is free of charge. Feel free to visit this scenery. It looks good on night so make sure to list cheomseongdae as late place to visit in your itinerary.

Near this neighborhood you could find store selling Gyeongju bread. You cannot find this on other city aside Gyeongju so  do not forget to buy this classic bread.

 

  1. Anapji Pond

Anapji at night
Anapji at night

Make Anapji as your last destination because it looks better in the night. Located not far from Cheomseongdae so you can reach it on foot from there. This picture below is one of famous spot for photo-taking. The pond reflected the building of Silla dynasty beautifully like a mirror reflection. There is ticket fee for entering this place but in a very reasonable price. Around 2000 won I think, I forgot the exact amounts. The end of my journey was when we went back to the bus station to seek our bus to Pohang. In one day we have seen the most common and nicest place to visit in Gyeongju. I hope my story will give insight for you to explore the beautiful Gyeongju. See you on other post.

Korean Facts – Do You Know that They Brush Three Times a Day?

I have ever lived in South Korea for two months and I met enormous facts about Koreans (and I think they’re very unique):

  1. Koreans brush their teeth after every meal in one day! It’s more likely to be a such lifestyle in Korea to maintain your oral hygiene. All of my colleagues here always brush their teeth after they eat the meal (applied for breakfast, lunch, and dinner). This facts amazes me because it’s a very rare activity to be done for me, ordinary Indonesian. I just do my regular teethbrushing (night and morning) everyday.
  2. Korean likes ramyeon (instant noodle) and they have a specific pot for cooking ramyeon. Let’s call it Ramen Pot. It looks very nice for a boil pot, because it colored as gold, medium size, and it is perfect for ramen cooking. From my experience for cooking ramyeon, it can fit up to 4 ramyeon each time.
  3. Korean likes to eat soup (tang, gug, and jigae) very much and they eat it together with acquaintances from one big pot. Usually korean soup served in large pot so we could eat it together with friends or family. Here is my opinion about korean soup:

– Korean soup has magic effect, I feel very healthy after eating Korean soup. – Korean soup (almost) always had red pepper in it. – Korean soup doesn’t contain much salt, yeah it’s healthy though! – Korean soup always served at very hot level (literally very hot). – Korean soup always better served with rice. And if you are travelling to Korea, I suggest you to try this Sundae Gug or the soup of sundae. I like this food very much, it was addicting.

  1. Korean loves their country so much, they have pride of the nation in their heart. They use Samsung, Hyundai, KIA, LG, Lotte products which are Korea’s national product.
  2. Korean really likes to drink, specially Soju. Soju is Korea’s national liquor which have incredibly cheap price. Priced 1000 Won each bottle. Compare to milk which worth 2000 won, soju can be categorized as cheap drinks.
  3. Korean has modern queen, Queen Yuna. Actually it’s Kim Yuna, the famous world figure skating athlete. They love Yuna very much.
  4. Korean food has so many side dishes. Even if you only order one portion of beef soup, you will get kimchi, vegetables, dumplings, garlic, etc for the side dishes.
  5. There is one ramyoen that tastes very hot, buldak bokkeum myeon. I like spicy and hot food but still this ramyeon is worth to try. You must taste the after burn sensation! It was the most hot ramyun I’ve ever tasted.
  6. Korean students study very much. No wonder their country has developed so fast.
  7. Koreans often avoid to speak in English even they can speak.
  8. Sashimi and korean beef BBQ are considered as luxury foods.
  9. Future bride have to “pay” the groom family a compensation for a wedding. Contrary to what happens at my country, Indonesia. Being man in Korea is benefitting though!
  10. Koreans like to eat alive octopus because of they give much stamina for men. I did not really feel the stamina effect, maybe because I ate the roasted one not the raw and alive one. Yeah, that’s a few facts about Korea and still plenty of that actually that I cannot recall. If you plan to travel to Korea, make sure you taste all of the food because they are amazing.

 

Johor Bahru – Singapore with 100 SGD

I have travelled to Singapore for several times. There was time when I went there without touristing intention but for transit purpose. My actual destination was Johor Bahru, located in Malaysia peninsula. At that time Johor Bahru was still an unpopular travel destination for Indonesian, making the airfare was considerably high. The alternative and cheaper way was to transit at Singapore and travel via bus on Johor-Singapore causeway. *In 2015 Air Asia has good offer for airfare ticket due to the rising popularity of JB whereas LEGOLAND located there. Direct travel maybe cheaper depends on the occassion though.

The Universiti Teknologi Malaysia is located on Skudai, Johor Bahru. My purpose was actually to compete in Oil Rig Competition during the Oil and Gas Festival held by the Society of Petroleum Engineer UTM Student Chapter. Long story short, I stayed in UTM for 2 days and 1 night. Lodging and food (lunch and dinner) are provided so not much money I spent in Malaysia. Last day when I departed to Singapore I bought a lunch box in campus cafetaria priced around 4 RM.

Blissful Loft Inn at Clarke Quay area

One night cost on dormitory room type (bunk bed, mix man – woman room) was 30 SGD . Facilities:

– 2 Share bathroom

– Free breakfast (bread and jam with coffee or tea)

– Free internet wifi and desktop computer

– Living room

My impression about this place: such a quiet and nice place to rest located on Clarke Quay neighbourhood. We had surveyed other inns around there, this is one of the cheapest in price with high availability of rooms. Blissful Loft inn and China Town put distance between two MRT station and could be reached with 10 minutes of walking.

How to save 30 SGD for lodging budget? The way that I have tried is to sleep in Changi airport to avoid inn cost, one time in 2012 and one time in 2013. At night, you can see several passengers sleep on bench on terminal 2. They sleep with their suitcase and bag beside them or below them as they used it as pillow. As we know Singapore is one of safest country in the world, it can be assumed their airport is safe. At least I already proved it for 2 times I slept there, every person in our group have nothing stolen there. Maybe the real reason was our frugal looks made nobody even had intention to stole something from us. Apart from that, until now I have never heard about criminality on Changi airport.

Total spent

10 SGD 10 pieces of low quality Singapore keychain bought at Chinatown

30 SGD Blissful Loft Inn

5 SGD Hainamese rice with sweet pork for lunch

20 SGD EZTicket for MRT transportation

35 SGD for spending in Johor Bahru and intercountry bus

Total spending 100 SGD

 

Korean Noodle 101

I’m a big fan of noodle, any kind of noodle especially instant noodle or usually called ramyeon (Korean) or ramen (Japanese). During my stay in Korea, I tried to taste all kinds of noodles here. Yeah, they do have a lot of different noodle name and variative ways of serving. Some served with gochujang while the other served with no sauce but only soup. For my first two weeks lived in Pohang,  I have eaten about five different types of noodles at least.  At first I was kinda skeptical for korean’s variative noodle. I thought that they will tasted the same each other despite their decorative look. After several tasting…. I founded that they are really unique taste. I bet first time eater would recognize the taste as unique. So if you wanna know about Korean noodle or maybe planning to taste some of them, I have a recommendation of noodle that you should eat:

  1. 칼국수 (Kalguksu) or the knife noodle.

    Called by knife noodle because of its preparation process that uses knife to cut the wheat into ‘noodles like’

    Knife noodle
    Knife noodle

    form. Noodle nowadays processed using modern machinery. Kalguksu served by conventional method and it is become its distinctive point among other noodles. No wonder you will found the noodle’s size is kinda wide and not symmetrically cut. It usually served with soup and other additional ingredients like seafood (clamp, prawn, fish, etc) or beef/pork. I tasted the haemul version or the seafood kalguksu.
    First tought: the texture is very addicting, makes me wanna eat more and more. Personally, I like noodles which has chewy and soft texture and this one truly has it. Albeit it is a little plain in taste, I recommend kalguksu as must try list. Actually kalguksu is a kind of summer food but it is still worth to try in the winter. Delicious food has no time domain though. This food gives refreshing taste after eat and of course the “full” pleasure because it containts much wheat (High GI). Image of kalguksu noodle, courtesy to wikipedia.org.

  2. 냉면 (naengmyeon) or the cold noodle.

    I am not kidding, this kind of food really is served cold. Actually it’s a winter food but I don’t feel very good

    Cold noodle
    Cold noodle

    when tasting this cold noodle. I prefer hot noodle to the cold one. In my opinion noodle should served hot no matter what . So my first impression is not good with this one because I ate it on the chilly winter. But still worth to try because it’s very popular even they make a song of this noodle.Jessicafrom Girl’s Generation sings about this noodle! Haha. Maybe it’s kind of promotional music, I don’t know the exact meaning of the song. And yeah, it is usually eaten with dumplings (you can choose for the fried or steamed one). Dumplings called Mandu in Korean and is tremendous in taste.

 

  1. Chinese noodle – the Korean version

    I went to Chinese restaurant and they served two kind of noodle as their speciality. Yeah, one is my favorite and

    Black bean noodle
    Black bean noodle

    the most famous one: 짜장면 (jajangmyeon)! The noodle with black sauce! And the other is jjamppong (짬뽕). Jjamppong is soup noodle with many seafood in it, and not tempting so let’s just skip jjamppong. Jajangmyeon tastes best when combined with tangsuyuk (sweet and sour sauced fried pork). Jajang’s appereance is really tempting. Main tastes of jajang are oily, blackbean, and yummy. The black sauce stain at your face also become an after pleasure of eating jajangmyeon.
    Look how jajangmyeon looks like, how tempting it is. Jajangmyeon has a best partner, it is called tangsuyuk (sweet and sour fried pork).

  1. Ramyeon!

    This one is actually an instant noodle but some restaurant also served this as a fast served menu. Several popular variation of ramyeon are cheese-ramyeon, ham-ramyeon, bulgogi-ramyeon, kimchi-ramyeon, and tteokbokki-ramyeon. I tasted the latter, which is a mix between ramyeon and tteokbokki (spicy fish cake). Tteokbokki is a very famous snack food in korea. Nothing special about this because basically you can easly found these two food so when you are going to ordering ramyeon, avoid to order these ramyeon. Order a cheese or unique one instead! Hehehe.