I was really excited for our Korea trip as we already had to cancel a trip to Japan earlier in the year. Also, I started watching a couple of Korean TV soaps (Descendants of the Sun, Goblin and My Love from the Stars) and, coincidentally, they have scenes at the places that we planned to go to. Or our itinerary was slightly influenced by Koreanovelas that I was watching. We took Cebu Pacific as our carrier but since this was right in the middle of Holy Week, we really didn’t get budget tickets (around 15K each, round trip). I didn’t really mind since the schedule was really good and this is our first international trip as a family and I’m quite stoked about that as well. We stayed in Namsan Hill Hotel which is a ten-minute walk from Myeongdong. I guess we could have stayed in a place that’s closer but it’s the next best thing. It’s also actually close to the N Tower so that’s a definite plus. It costed us KRW 403,100 (close to Php 19,000) for five nights and the room had two double beds (with my 4 y/o son sleeping beside my wife) and it also has complimentary breakfast (usually sausages, eggs, veggies and cereals). Didn’t get to enjoy the breakfast fully except for the last day because it’s either we have to be going early and have to take breakfast outside or the itinerary included breakfast. Goes without saying that the room WIFI was amazing (we were in Korea after all). The room is within budget and very nicely maintained if a bit small but we just need a place to sleep in and we really didn’t mind. We arrived at the hotel late evening and quickly settled down so we could be up early for tomorrow’s tour.
After taking out sandwiches from Isaac Toast (it was okay, nothing spectacular in my opinion), we proceeded to the Myeongdong meeting point for our Garden of Morning Calm, Nami Island and Petite France combo tour that we got from Trazy. Trazy will be providing transport (a big bus in this case) to the aforementioned locations and there are just set times when we need to return to the bus. This is perfect for us as we do not want to be hassled by the travel arrangements but we prefer to just explore by ourselves and not listen to tour guides. Our first stop was at the Garden of Morning Calm.
Garden of Morning Calm
The Garden of Morning Calm set the mood for our whole visit in Korea - the place is very beautiful and relaxing and just a feast to the senses. We went last April 2017 so spring plants and flowers abound. The different colors of the tulips contrasted breathtakingly well against a backdrop of green plants and the blue sky. I was never a nature-lover person but I think it was here where I finally learned to truly appreciate nature’s beauty. There were also different installations there like gingerbread houses, churches and rustic houses and the garden is actually segmented into 20 different themed sections which we did not have the time to visit. That’s okay (at least for me) since we’re planning to go back anyway and I’d like to visit again but hopefully on a different season as they feature different flowers each season and they have a special light show during winter months. This is far and away my favorite Samsung product (they own and maintain the place, apparently) and I remember saying at that time that it was my favorite place in the whole of Korea. I also remember how silly I thought that statement was since it was still the only place we visited at that time but it’s amazing how well that statement held up all through out our stay there.
Maybe Nami Island will be more beautiful than Garden of Morning Calm but unfortunately I won’t be able to know until my next visit. The short ferry ride to the island was nice and the first 15 minutes of roaming around the island was nicer but a sudden deluge of rain made us camp inside a restaurant for the majority of our stay there. I was feeling really down at that time as the photos and videos that I took at the start were really, really good and I would have braved a bit of rain just to get more footage but it was really a torrential downpour. There were camels there which I found weird, but the mini train looks like it’s going to be a fun and scenic ride and the foliage was still quite beautiful even in the rain. I’ll be going back to Korea even for just for a proper visit of Nami Island but I already have two reasons so that’s the silver lining to all this, I guess.
Speaking of reasons to go back to Korea, Petite France is NOT really one of them. The incessant rain didn’t help to improve its allure and the place has its moments, especially if you’re into Korean TV but this faux French town is something that you can miss and not feel too bad about it. The place is colorful, the Little Prince is quite a nice story and there was a pretty cool scene in the My Love from the Stars TV show that was shot in Petite France so it’s still a nice tourist spot but it pales in comparison to the previous two and definitely not something that you’d want to go back to. That’s the end of the tour and the bus took us back to Myeongdong and we had dinner there (I forgot the name but I will update as soon as I find out because it was pretty good) before retiring.
Lotte World and Lotte Aquarium
Day two of our tour is a trip to Lotte World and the Aquarium inside Lotte Tower. We should have scheduled the jaunt to Nami Island on this day since the sun was out all day. Funny that the weather cooperated while we were in a mostly indoor theme park but we’ll take what we can get. This part of the tour is purely for Rafa’s (my 5 y/o son) enjoyment since the attractions on the indoor part of Lotte World are mostly for kids and I wouldn’t ride the more extreme rides without my wife and my wife wouldn’t ride on her own. The theme park largely delivers as Rafa was going through the attractions that he is eligible to ride without much interruption. After he had his fill of rides, he was fast asleep in his stroller and we walked to the nearby Lotte Tower for the Lotte World Aquarium. Wasn’t really expecting much - I just bought the combo ticket from Trazy just because. Rafa was interacting with a couple of penguins and I’m fascinated with whales (they have two beluga whales if I’m not mistaken) so we appreciated the aquarium. As we went to the Lotte World Aquarium, we noticed that there were signs that the Seoul Sky just opened a couple of days ago and I insisted that we see what’s up (literally).
Seoul Sky is the tallest building in the whole of Korea and fifth in the world as of this writing. It was the first time for me to be in such a tall building - my wife reminded me that we already went to Victoria Peak in Hong Kong - but somehow, I don’t count it as such. It was surely a place that’s also high up there and it also had a nice view of Victoria Harbor but it’s not a tall building per se so I was quite excited when we ascended to the observatory of Seoul Sky. The elevator shot up so fast but you don’t feel it because you’re watching a video of the history of Seoul up until the construction of Seoul Sky. The night sky view was predictably breathtaking, the moving and blinking automobile and traffic lights were a mesmerizing view. The song that came to mind att hat time was Sky Full of Stars by Coldplay (they were actually performing live that exact same time in a nearby coliseum, too bad I wasn’t able to watch). After an hour or so, it was time for the train back to Myeongdong (Loco Quan 401 Restaurant, a decent Korean barbecue place) for dinner and then to the hotel for some rest.
Myeongdong and Nanta Show
Day three was Myeongdong Day for us. We started with brunch (Myeongdong Kyoja - really good noodles and dumplings, try it) then dessert (Korean Dessert Cafe Sulbing, really good Sulbing or Snow Ice as well, try it). The plan is to roam around the place and shop while waiting for the Nanta show (5PM) and dinner will be solely street food. We also passed by Myeongdong Cathedral and it’s a very nice church and I managed to get nice shots of it’s exterior. Unfortunately there’s no mass. It was a really nice, relaxing day where the sun was shining and it wasn’t too cold. Before too long it was time for the Nanta Show, a musical play about a group of chefs cooking for a wedding celebration. Rafa slept through it but I found it okay - even if they’re speaking straight Korean I can still fully understand and appreciate the show. Understandably, you cannot take photos and videos inside the theater but there was a photo op session with the cast after the show (Claire and Rafa wasn’t able to join because Rafa chose that time to poop). Then it was time for dinner.
The whole Myeongdong area was like a long food buffet with so many different kinds of food are available for the eating - you just need to pay for each morsel that you’ll get. We didn’t know where to start so we went to the start (or end) of the line and worked our way up. I don’t really advise this, though - it’s not so much a concern for pigs like me but when you have a small frame and limited tummy space like my wife and kid, you have to be a bit picky. Maybe you can do a quick recon of the food available and make a mental note on the stuff that you want to try and go from there. My personal favorites are the lobster with cheese (but this is so expensive!), the grilled cheese, and the beef with sprouts. For dessert, there was also an ice cream shop where they make it like a flower (that’s good) and fruit stalls where they sell very large strawberries (even better). We took the strawberries to our Airbnb so we have something to eat in our room. We went home early so we can rest for tomorrow - it’s time for our second theme park.
There’s a dedicated bus to Everland in Myeongdong so it was very convenient for us but the thing with this bus is that it leaves Everland fairly early (6PM) so that’s a trade off that you might want to consider. It could have rained while we were watching the Nanta show or while we were sleeping but it chose to rain on the day we will be going to one of the more unique theme parks that I’ve been to. Everland provides free (but flimsy) raincoats but the rain really dampened the experience. One (of the two) really unique things about Everland is the prevalence of animal related attractions in the park. There were two (two!) attractions where in you ride a bus that goes around the animal enclosures so you can experience the animals closer and in their habitat. Two of the best (and somewhat terrifying) sights there were the pride of lions (a pair was even doing the nasty - too bad my appended lens on my iPhone got foggy so I wasn’t able to get pictures or video) and the bears (they stand up to catch with their mouth whatever food the bus driver was throwing at them) that were taller than the bus when they’re standing on their hind legs. There was also giraffes that literally got in our faces so that was a treat as well. When the weather finally cleared up (around 4PM! 😞), we got to see the beautiful gardens inside the park, the second unique thing about Everland (aside from the animal attractions). I know that most theme parks have gardens also but Everland has a miniature Garden of Morning Calm inside and that trumps quite a lot of gardens. It even has a Thomas the Train ride (probably Rafa’s favorite ride ever) that goes around the garden so you can take in the sights from all angles. We ended our time there by accompanying Rafa in some of the kiddie rides. All in all, we had fun despite the rain and I’d go back there a second time just to experience the park more (and to get a video of lions doing the nasty - kidding).
The plan for our last day was to try to get to as many sights in and around Myeongdong before our evening flight. So we started on the nearest tourist spot - N Tower. Quick aside - when I plan our itinerary, my wife’s usual comment (aside from pointed questions on the costs required) is that we try to do the easiest tours near the end/at the end of our stay. The reason is that you don’t like to be hassled on the preparations for leaving the country right after you got home from a long day trip. A relaxing last day is what she’s aiming for and I agree with the logic (and the results). You don’t want a hectic last day and if ever you need to be, you’ll have the flexibility of doing so. This is what we did in Korea, in our recently concluded trip in Taiwan and now in Tokyo and it’s working for us. Anyway, N Tower (N is for Namsan, I think). The cable car leading to N Tower is just a few minutes walk from our hotel. It’s really just a glorified stairs (in my opinion) as there are more stairs to trudge on after it. We stopped by the love padlocks on the way and chained our small padlock near the side stairs. The tip here is to NOT use a small padlock. Better to use a big one so you can still chain it on the heavily-padlock populated areas. Then we’re off to the actual tower. I’m sure the view would have been spectacular if it were not for the (yep, you guessed right) rain. Heavy rains limited visibility on the observatory deck and our capability to go to the other tourist spots. So my wife did her usual postcard and I did a nice time lapse video of the observatory which had the names of the cities that face that particular section of the tower. We were then forced to buy the most ridiculous umbrella (a very pink Hello Kitty one) just so we can return to our hotel.
So that’s it for my write-up about our Korea trip this year. Hope you found my rambling tolerable enough to glean something useful for your Korea trip in the future. We will surely go back to Korea - it’s that beautiful and Nami Island and Everland (and a whole lot of other places) are calling out to me to visit. Message me if you have questions or if you would like some tips on where to go and what to do in Seoul/Korea. Goes without saying that I fully recommend a trip to Korea!
Next up, I’ll be posting stuff from my Taiwan and Japan trip next month/year! Until then, see you!