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Sunday, November 18, 2012

South Korea: From Busan to Seoul in Four Days (Highlights)

"Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind -Seneca

Less than a week of travel time would not exactly be ideal for anyone who wants to go around a country or even a city for that matter. These days though, a couple of free days will do for me. In this lifetime, beggars could not afford to be choosers. I am desperate to have any kind vacation (FYI, I am now a dermatology resident and believe me, it's not as easy as most people think is). For most of us who have the travel bug, I don't think there will ever be a cure for it. Symptoms may remain dormant for a while but it resurface sooner or later. It's only a matter of time.

After almost two months of training, a long weekend finally opened up. My only problem was choosing where I would go. As one of Asia's rising stars, South Korea's selling point as a weekend destination was strong.  Its proximity, rich history/culture, and bulgogi (my favorite!) were all good reasons to revisit the land where the Gangnam dance was born. And besides, I seriously could not afford to travel to countries more than 8 hours away.

I thought it could not be done but I was able to fix my papers and visa in less than 2 days. The following morning, I again found myself on board a plane to Busan, South Korea via our national flag carrier, Philippine Airlines. Busan was our jump-off point for this trip like last year. From there, it was a four-day journey to most of Korea's provinces and major cities all the way to Seoul.

Here were some of the highlights:

1) Insadong-gil/Ssamzie-gil in Seoul Korea. Because of its vibrant and youthful vibe, I am not surprised why this is a favorite amongst locals and foreigners. Known as the cultural or traditional street of Seoul, Insadong makes the energy of Korea palpable.

With all the antique and souvenir shops, bookstores and restaurants that line the 700-meter stretch, this place reminded me of Notting Hill in London--a Korean version of it, of course. This is so popular that even Queen Elizabeth has visited it already. 

One place worth noting here is Ssamzie-gil, which seems to be the place where everyone who visits Insadong converges. Built in 2004, this shopping complex houses most of the goods made by Korea's young artists. 

As soon as you see two huge yellow symbols that look like the a split letter M along the main pedestrian road, you know you have reached your destination. Interestingly, the symbol is actually the Korean letter "Sang-sheeut", the first letter of Ssamzie-gil.

We entered a courtyard and what I found seemed to be the thriving artsy district of Seoul, Korea. Ssamzie-gil is the best place to shop for unique or traditional gift items--from Hanji (traditional Korean paper, craftworks, bags, and ceramics. It is like our own Cubao X on steroids. Despite the modern structure of this shopping complex, Ssamzie-gil seamlessly blends well with the establishments in Insadong. 

Graffiti all over the place. The whole complex is a blank canvass for artists who want to express themselves.
Even the spirit MJ is alive here.

Jazz artists giving us a taste of old music and soul in Seoul.

Being here is like imagining yourself exploring n an artist's mind. Every nook and cranny is a showcase of everyone's creativity. 
See the giraffe on top?

If you look out the window, you can also get a glimpse of Seoul's past when you see its tradtional architecture.

A lot of surprises as you explore each floor.

2) Korean Street Food - I could not exactly remember all the names of all food that I ate but they were all excellent!

Can someone tell me what this is? I swear I could eat a dozen of these in one sitting.

3) Seoul Lantern Festival/Cheonggyecheon Stream - Aside from the famous Gyeongbokgung or the Royal Palace during the Joseon Dynasty, another attraction that became striking was the Cheonggyecheon Stream.

The idea of a beautiful stream as a public recreation space blew my mind. The $281 million project was a massive undertaking and received harsh criticisms because of its cost and limited historical and value. Despite that, everyone is apparently enjoying the zen-like atmosphere of the Cheonggyecheon. Like the Eiffel Tower, everyone would eventually grow to love it. People already do.

With a stroke of luck, the day we visited was the second day of the Seoul Lantern Festival. From a distance, the lanterns looked like fire in the middle of the stream. 

The maddening crowd deterred us from going down the main walkway along the stream but we were happy observing everything from where we were.

The Gyeongbokgung Lantern 

We should have something like this in Manila to draw more tourists!

Lantern Wonderland.

4) Goyang City/Meeting I Love Dokdo Kids - Visiting Goyang made me realize that if the government wants to develop a city, it will happen if they have the foresight, will, and commimtment to do it. Goyang City used to be farmland 10 years ago. Now, it's a bustling city that's as progressive as most of the major cities in the world.

When I visited, I also had a pleasure of meeting these enthusiastic young and smart volunteers for "I love Dokdo" campaign (A sovereignty dispute between Korea and Japan ala Spratlys island). It was refreshing to meet hopeful kids that want to change Korea. This country seems to be in good hands,

5) Private Samsung Factory Tour in Gumi - I was lucky to have a private tour of the Samsung Factory in Gumi. Nothing can be bigger than Samsung in Korea. They are changing the way people live.

The first Samsung phone. 

Remember this from the movie "Matrix". The first phone by Samsung used in a movie.
Demo of the new products and gadgets of samsung. Wireless connectivity is the future.

Modern touch screen tables. Now you can watch the news, read the papers while you eat.

Here's the collection of all the Samsung models (almost 2000) over the years.

6) Back in Gyeongju (I was here last December, 2011). From Seoul, I took the KTEX (train) back to Gyeonju. Gyeongju, known as the museum without walls, is an important historical site in South Korea. This used to be the capital of the ancient Kingdom a Silla dynasty, an era than dates back to the 57 BC - 935 AD (Can you believe this was as old as Rome?) The most important historical treasures here are the Bulguksa temple, Gyeongju Historic Areas, and Seokguram grotto, which are all designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO> (Ill post all the pictures later). Gyeongju is also one of the most popular destinations for honeymooners in South Korea.

We had a quick tour of the Gyeongju Museum. This museums holds some of the oldest artifacts in Korea - from the crowns used by the emperors during the Silla dynasty to the tools they used to start the civilzations.

I stayed at the Hiton Hotel here. I was pleased to find out that Hilton Gyeongju has already started modernizing its rooms. They even have heated toilets now!

Despite my quick sojourn in Korea, I still got a sense of what this country was all about. Korea is a small country but its culture and traditions still remain intact but it does not want to be left behind. It is moving towards the future in lighting-speed pace. Thanks to my multiple-entry visa, Ill probably find myself back here again on a long weekend.

I am glad I am still able to take quick break once in a while. It's one way to keep my sanity intact. I am sure Ill be busier in the coming weeks but I know I'll find myself sipping my favorite juice drink on a private island somewhere in our beautiful country. "Till next time.


Lee said...

my crush! cute always!

retrochic said...

I should have gone with u! haha

joan | the backpack chronicles said...

Sabi nga nila, "Once a traveler, always a traveler". Kahit na pigilan lalabas at lalabas ang ating pagiging lakwatsero at lakwatsera.

Wow Samsung tour! Yun palang bawi na samahan pa ng masasarap na street food!

deobaraanmd said...

Haha! Exactly! Always and forever a traveler!

killerfillers said...

I allready booked a flight here for next year's trip. More post!:)

deobaraanmd said...

i will killerfillers! thanks!

Kira said...

Korean street food is really one of the best next to PHL isaw (haha!) especially that chicken & leeks bbq! now I miss Korea... :)

deobaraanmd said...

yes! haha! I will be back for sure early next year! :)

Anika said...

Thank you for sharing the post!
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