Seoul, South Korea 10/'11

Unlike most people, I don’t own a TV set — not anymore. I haven’t watched TV in over 4 years, so I became oblivious to the Korean novela wave of ’06-’09. Everyone at dental school was talking about characters that I, apparently, have never even heard of. “Boys Over Flowers” became so predominant at conversations that I just stopped eavesdropping altogether because I couldn’t understand an iota of what they were talking about. That was in 2008.

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Fast forward to 3 years later, my then-Koreanovela-crazy-classmates spotted a promo fare on Cebu Pacific Air for Cebu to Incheon (Seoul). The price? A grand total of PHP3,300 r/t incl. taxes. Since I’m known for being a travel-crazy nut, they naturally invited me. And since the price was too good to pass up, I decided to join in — not knowing what to expect.

Normally, I plan my excursions around places I reaaally want to go to. But when you’re strapped for cash, you can only go so far. As much as it breaks my heart that I can’t travel the entire world just yet, I have learned to prioritize. In this case however, I haven’t even given Seoul (or South Korea for that matter) any prior thought. So much for priorities. We bought the CEB-ICN tickets in February of 2011, for travel in late October 2011.

During that 7-month interval, my travel buddy KC and I combed through Bangkok, Hong Kong, Macau, Beijing, Melbourne and Sydney (in that order). By the end of the combined 2-month excursions, we were exhausted. Jaded, with emptied wallets and maxed out credit cards. We were BROKE and we vowed to go on a year-long travel sabbatical, disregarding the Incheon tickets as well and foregoing the PHP3,300 fare we paid for (much to our resentment). But life has a way of spicing things up when you least expect it.

A month before the departure date for Incheon, the number of people still willing to go to Seoul (out of 9), whittled down to just 3: Rosana, Carlo and Isabel. Sang, in particular, did a lot of convincing to make us change our minds. To cut the story short, I am an invertebrate with a weak backbone. I relented. Two weeks before departure, there were 6 of us willing to give it a go. However, it took another week to get us off our asses for VISA processing. That left us with just ONE week to file AND get our VISAs. Stupid move.

In the end, only 3 people were given VISAs, which unfortunately, did not include the Korean novela fans who planned the trip to begin with. On this note, I shall soon write about the process of applying for a South Korean VISA. Hopefully, no one will have to make the same mistakes we did.

October 25 came and we were off to Incheon via Cebu. Cramped in a relatively small plane (A320) for over 4 hours can feel suffocating. We forgot to book premium seats in advance, so we were left to chance. Luckily, the check-in counter agent at Mactan International Airport gave us 3rd row seats, which was a god-send. I cannot stress this enough: Book a premium seat when traveling international on Cebu Pacific! The additional PHP100-200 fee is so worth it. As usual, complimentary meals were not served on board. Instant noodles, chips, drinks and other snacks were available for sale. All things taken into account, it was a smooth (and cheap!) ride.

We landed at Incheon International Airport at 9:30 p.m. so were right on schedule. But one praning immigration officer (who I think, was a newbie) threw a curveball my way. Let it be known that I have an ugly, oversaturated passport photo that looks fake. Not my fault. Apparently, a whole batch of early 2010 passport photos look as horrid. Anyway, I’m not sure what that damn woman thought wrong of my passport, but she took me to the immigration room for further assessment. One senior officer did the rounds of background checking and that-thing-they-do-with-a-microscope-like-apparatus. After 15 minutes and 8 yawns later (I was sleepy), they finally released me.

We stepped out of the airport to a welcoming gush of cool autumn breeze. Ahhh… I love the smell of winter coming. Bought tickets for the Airport Limousine Bus (KRW10,000 one-way) at a freestanding stall outside the terminal. Then we waited for Bus No. 6015 to take us to Bangrang Hostel, near Chungjeongno Station. The bus ride went smoothly and took about an hour. The driver, in particular was gracious and soft-spoken, like most South Koreans (as we were about to discover). We felt we were in safe hands.

(Because I’m a lousy blogger, I didn’t take pictures. This photo is from someone else’s blog.)

[photo via]

We passed by the CBD and the first thing that came to mind was: Sydney! Some parts of Seoul looked exactly like Sydney, Australia — with its multi-level roads and mix of old and new buildings — save for the indecipherable signages in Hangul. Even if it was nearing midnight, some yuppies were still milling about the corporate buildings. Interesting. Oh, and they had really nice outfits. Haha.

(Having problems with my SD card, so I am unable to upload some of my own photos at the moment. I shall replace this as soon as I get my SD situation in order.)

[photo via]

At half-past 11p.m., we finally arrived at Bangrang Hostel. Kim, our host, patiently waited for us at the reception area despite an hour delay.

Sidenote: Koreans look so cute and amiable without even trying. See? (No, I’m not turning straight.)

Check-in went without a hitch, then Kim showed us around the front part of the hostel where all the amenities were, including: the common area, computers, kitchen, and TV room.

We then had to go around a hilly block to the adjacent building at the back, to where the guest rooms were located on three floors. This is exactly how our room looked like, although I have yet to upload my own photo of it. Bear with me.

Note: This was our room for the first two days only since we had to change rooms 3 times in 6 days. That’s what we got for not booking early enough. Hah.

[photo via]

KC and I collapsed on the two lower bunk beds (our other roomies had not yet arrived), and called it a night. We were expecting another friend, Momsy, the same time next day. KC, in particular was more giddy than usual and went to bed early (which usually never happens).

The magic of Seoul has begun.

NEXT UP: Doing the rounds at Itaewon, Dongdaemun and Hongdae = HERE.


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