Four Days of Winter in Korea Itinerary

Winter in Nami Island, Korea

“Denied ba?”
“Approved po.”

And the smile never left my face. That was the only question and answer I wanted to hear when the travel agency called to tell me that my passport was already ready for pick-up. After being denied of a Japan visa and even after acquiring one for Taiwan, the fact that you can never really can never can really can tell ever (okay, that was a long one) if you will be granted a visa seems to have traumatized even my hardest bone. In an ambitious plan to give Japan another shot the soonest time possible, I thought of collecting other visas first. And with that, winter in Korea became inevitable.

Winter Gear

For someone who’s into beaches (yes, I got the spelling right there), moving from hardly packing anything to packing everything that can combat the cold that never bothered Elsa in Disney’s Frozen was quite a challenge. Since I got no suitcase, I had to leave some pieces of clothing with a heavy heart behind. (Let’s face it, we all want to look different everyday in our photos.) Aside from that, I didn’t really have that much winter clothes so I just stuck with the essentials. After all, winter hasn’t arrived in the Philippines yet and a fancy trench coat never guarantees your survival; it still boils down to layering. (Next time, though, I won’t deny that I’ll try bringing thick coats and a bigger luggage.)

Winter clothes for Korea

Winter luggage for Korea

Hongdae

I had no definite itinerary even by the time that I got through the Korean immigration officer. What I only had were a list of things that I should do and places I could go to as advised and suggested by a former colleague (who’s already seen all the seasons of Korea) and this TripZilla article.

My very first purchase using wons was a T-money card (and its prepaid load, malamang) primarily for transportation purposes. I guess most travelers don’t do it, but after doing it in Taiwan, I also bought a SIM card. I wasn’t joining any tour so it was just right for me to have a means of Googling things and contacting people if I’m already freezing to death. That way someone can come to my aid and rub me.

Buying T-money and KT SIM card at Seoul Incheon Airport

The memo didn’t reach me that there’s gonna be a black parade at the airport. Most people were in dark coats that if they had masks and wands I would’ve probably thought they were Death Eaters.

Black parade at Seoul Incheon Airport

Being someone whose sweat glands become too emotional most of the time, there came a point that I was already sweating. But I knew better and didn’t take off any layer of clothing because the moment I stepped outside I was already inside a humongous freezer. I made my way to the All-stop Train and after around an hour was already at my hostel.

Arriving in Hongdae

Checking in at Lian Guesthouse

Checking in at Lian Guesthouse

Lian Guesthouse is located in Hongdae, an area known for its bars and clubs. I chose the place not because of the nightlife (defensive mode: on) but because of the good reviews and ratings and its location (there you go). There was only one guest—a French guy—when I arrived and when I asked him for a good place to eat, he suggested a ramen restaurant. Perfecto. I don’t know, but even after being told by the hostel owner that I should wear a jacket, I still went out with just a sweater and scarf on top of thermal and dress shirts. Believe me, it turned out very awkward walking around with everyone else in coats. The great lanky outlier! They probably thought that I wanted to end all of my suffering that very instant.

Google Maps wasn’t cooperative but after strutting around I eventually found Nagomi Ramen, though I’m not sure if it was what was suggested to me. The prices were surprisingly inexpensive, just around half of the prices of those considered fancy ramen places in the Philippines. It was also quite good.

Dinner at Nagomi Ramen

I scouted most of the area and saw that it’s living up to its reputation. Restaurants, shops, places to drink and party, and teenagers (looking so K-pop) performing in the streets were everywhere. Due to the jet lag caused by the one-hour time difference, I didn’t stay out long and simply capped the day off with a bottle of Kloud.

Hongdae at night

Hongdae at night

Seoul Plaza / City Hall

Breakfast at the hostel was free and you can always ask for more if you want more. For my first day in waging war against the hostile coldness, I secured a heat pack/hand warmer above anything else. Believe me, it can save your dear life.

Breakfast at Lian Guesthouse and hand warmer

That, and the awesome Subway Korea app. It’s simply a must-have given their complex railway system. It works offline; you just have to update the information. It gives you the shortest path, duration, and cost from one station to another. If you’re wondering about the 100 won difference, well, that’s a wonder of the T-money.

Using the Subway Korea app

Half-expecting the presence of an ice-skating rink, my first stop was Seoul Plaza (City Hall). There wasn’t any. There was, however, a sort of commotion which I later found out to be related to the president’s impeachment that very day. Well, well. Didn’t I just take part in South Korea’s history? Hashtag: blessed.

Commotion in Seoul Plaza

Passing by the Seoul City Hall

Excursion Trail of Hanyangdoseong

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza was my next stop. From what I’ve read, I should already be within its vicinity the moment I exit the subway. It wasn’t the case, however, as I got off at the wrong station. Medyo tanga. Dongdaemun Station is different from Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station. Their names are not far from each other and—wait for it—so are their locations. Thanks to that blunder, though, I was able to walk around the Excursion Trail of Hanyangdoseong where my candle fingers started to look like the real shit deal. Hand warmer, come to papa!

Stumbling upon the Excursion Trail of Hanyangdoseong

Freezing fingers

Dongdaemun Design Plaza

The design plaza is lovely. It looks like a giant, sleek alien spaceship whose passengers are now coexisting among us (daming alam). In fact, I hardly spent time exploring its innards because its exterior was already enough for my eyes to feast on.

Sightseeing in Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Sightseeing in Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Sightseeing in Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Sightseeing in Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Sightseeing in Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Sightseeing in Dongdaemun Design Plaza

In the plaza is a LED Flower Garden which, as the name suggests, should ideally be seen at night. Of course it can also be lit up in broad daylight but then that wouldn’t make that much of a sense, would it?

LED Flower Garden at Dongdaemun Design Plaza

LED Flower Garden at Dongdaemun Design Plaza

LED Flower Garden at Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Bukchon Hanok Village

I still had a long day ahead of me so instead of waiting for night to devour the day and see the LEDs in action, I headed to Bukchon Hanok Village to ogle traditional houses as I think it should always come natural to see the traditional side of any place. Girls can be seen wearing hanboks here.

Strolling around Bukchon Hanok Village

It was mostly sightseeing for me as I’m not quite sure what else was there to do especially that it’s winter. Some of the houses that also appear to be establishments were open for tourists but I didn’t get inside any of them.

Strolling around Bukchon Hanok Village

N Seoul Tower

N Seoul Tower was the penultimate destination for that day. It can be reached via cable car. Oh yeah. And the snow-covered mountain up-close? Priceless.

Cable car ride to N Seoul Tower

Cable car ride to N Seoul Tower

Cable car ride to N Seoul Tower

Love locks will greet you just a few steps after getting off the car. There’s just too many of them that I could only imagine how much I’d earn by selling all of them to some junkyard. Not that I’m a bitter gourd.

Love locks at N Seoul Tower

A shrouded N Seoul Tower

As advised in the TripZilla artikolcle, I opted to walk around the area while it was still bright before checking out the tower.

Walking around N Seoul Tower

Facing the tower, I headed left, past beyond everyone, the buses, and the memories… Hah! That’s me trying to be an emotional frog there. But really, I was not prepared for what I saw: a secluded hiking trail that looked just so beautiful.

Stumbling upon the Excursion Trail of Hanyangdoseong again

Stumbling upon the Excursion Trail of Hanyangdoseong again

I came a long way and on my way back walked a different path. When I was pretty sure that no one’s gonna be around, I got laid on the snow like a kiddo. HAHAHA. After such a happy moment panic immediately ran through me when I realized that my phone and hand warmer were no longer in my pocket. You might wanna guess where I left them.

N Seoul Tower from afar

Almost lost my phone in the snow

I only realized when I got back that that hiking trail was the same trail that I passed by earlier that day (too many thats there) before going to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. I was blown. I mean, my mind was.

Stumbling upon the Excursion Trail of Hanyangdoseong again

N Seoul Tower at night

I didn’t really have plans of going up the tower and when I heard about the poor visibility, well, whatever was trying to convince me totally went down the drain and I simply continued roaming the grounds. More love locks to detach by force and sell for me. Also, there are actually spots that already give a good view of the city.

Love locks as Christmas trees at N Seoul Tower

Night cityscape from N Seoul Tower

On my first day I saw possible Death Eaters and here I saw the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. That’s it, Harry Potter is real and I just haven’t received my invitation letter from Hogwarts yet. Tiwala lang!

What looked like the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets

On the other side of the trail, which I believe leads to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza area, was a viewing deck. Like the ones at the foot of the tower, it also gave quite a sight.

Viewing deck at N Seoul Tower

Night cityscape from N Seoul Tower

Had I known, I would’ve only bought a one-way cable car ticket. I wouldn’t have minded walking downhill because my sweat glands weren’t gonna be able to act up with the cold weather, anyway. After aerial and underground rides, I was back at the design plaza.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza at Night

It now looked like it was about to take off and go back to its home planet. And lovelier.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza at night

And the LEDs? Dreamy. Just the right way to end the day. Or night.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza's LED Flower Garden at night

Dongdaemun Design Plaza's LED Flower Garden at night

Dongdaemun Design Plaza's LED Flower Garden at night

Everland

You could say that I’m an adrenaline junkie by my junk so Everland effortlessly made it to my list. It was a long train ride and I think it can be reached faster by bus. At the last station was a free shuttle to the theme park.

Arriving at Everland

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t permit some rides to be operational which included T Express, the park’s wooden roller coaster. Fortunately, I didn’t buy a ticket ahead so I had time to mull whether I should go inside or not. And while doing that, I had my buddy below keep me warm.

Patio heater at Everland

In the end, I didn’t go in, not just because of T Express but also because of the realization that theme parks are better enjoyed with someone else, at least. Someone you can mock for being such a wussy. Haha. Nah, I just thought it’d be ridiculously hilarious screaming your lungs out on your own.

Just beshinde (term coined in Fortune Island) Everland is Caribbean Bay, an indoor/outdoor water park which is the largest in the world. Everland was still flocked in that weather so it was no surprise that Caribbean Bay was, too.

Caribbean Bay at Everland

And then suddenly, drizzle turned into snowfall… Magical.

First snowfall experience

Gyeongbokgung Palace

After grabbing a bite and gulp at 7-Eleven, I locomoted to Gyeongbokgung Palace. The place is massive. Seriously. From the outside you would think that it’s just gonna be an empty lot but apparently it goes on forever inside. (So forever does exist, eh?)

Exploring Gyeongbokgung Palace

Exploring Gyeongbokgung Palace

Exploring Gyeongbokgung Palace

Exploring Gyeongbokgung Palace

No matter which direction you look, you would literally see the same roof. What captured my attention the most, though, was the frozen lake in the middle of it all with a pavilion at its center. Seeing snowfall seemed to have instantly become a thing of the distant past when I saw it. The photos may not showcase it, but it’s grandeur in real life.

A frozen lake in Gyeongbokgung Palace

A pavilion in Gyeongbokgung Palace

According to their schedule, the place closes at five during winter (and is closed on Tuesdays). It was drizzling again when they were about to do so. Run for your lives, ladies!

Women wearing hanboks in Gyeongbokgung Palace

The Story of King Sejong

On my way to the nearest train station I came across the Story of King Sejong. As curious as I can be, I checked it out and it didn’t disappoint.

Visiting the Story of King Sejong

Visiting the Story of King Sejong

Colorful icons at the Story of King Sejong

The Celestial Planisphere was a rather interesting representation. It’s a Korean map of the stars and constellations where you can toggle the four seasons and see their seasonal constellation travel. Nifty.

Celestial Planisphere at the Story of King Sejong

Celestial Planisphere at the Story of King Sejong

Myeongdong

With the temperature that day, I was more than happy to arrive at my last stop, Myeongdong. Indeed, it’s heaven for women (see that rhyme there?). No joke. The neighborhood is crawling with beauty shops. I have no idea about prices of beauty products but I’m pretty sure that they’re discounted real good there.

Shopping in Myeongdong

Shopping in Myeongdong

Some stores even give freebies. (Nope, wasn’t hoarding them!) You could have a feeling of déjà vu from seeing one store of the same name one after another.

Shopping in Myeongdong

That being said, that doesn’t mean that you can’t go there if beauty products aren’t your thang as the place is heaven for foodies, too! The abundance of street food is on par with the beauty shops. Itadakimasu!

Food trip in Myeongdong!!!

I just have to say that I didn’t enjoy eating (emphasis on the eating and not on the food) the scallops because they only provided chopsticks and my hands were already barely able to hold on to them, much more use them. Bloody winter. Happy tummy at the end of the day, nonetheless!

Nami Island

Winter in Korea (or any season for that matter) wouldn’t be complete without setting foot on Nami Island. It’s located in Gapyeong and one of the fastest ways to get there is via the high-speed train ITX which you can take from Yongsan Station. Despite being told by the hostel owner and the signs in stations, I still ended up incorrectly hopping from one train to another. I had no idea what got me confused with the signs on my last day. Was too excited to get my arse on the island, I guess.

As far as I know, ITX tickets are purchased separately and the train can be identified by its seats which are like those of a bus, with the passengers facing the direction parallel, and not perpendicular, to the railway track. (Uh, my apologies for the geometry.) Not knowing these was the cause of my own ruckus.

Arriving at Gapyeong Station

Once in Gapyeong, you can conveniently go to multiple tourist spots. All you have to do is avail of the hop-on hop-off city tour bus which you can get on just right outside Gapyeong Station. You can buy tickets from the bus driver himself.

Hop-on hop-off city tour bus timetable from Gapyeong Station

After having read this post on the city tour bus, I was intent on visiting Petite France and the Garden of Morning Calm as well. If you intend to do the same, it would be wise to arrive very early and be mindful of the time. You should start waiting for the bus around 15 minutes before its scheduled arrival else you might have to wait for the next one as it easily gets full.

The ferry to Nami Island operates from 07:30 to 21:40 comes and goes every few minutes so basically there’s no waiting game once you arrive at the port.

Ferry ride to Nami Island

From a distance, I could only wonder how the upside-down cones below were made. Turns out that they’re frozen fountains. How they’re made to freeze, I could only wonder again. If my intelligence report was a flop and they’re not actually fountains, would you spare me for being only human?

First glimpse of Nami Island

As tourists tend to settle around what they immediately see, I took the road less traveled (nagmamagaling) and went straight to the opposite side of the island. There, another frozen body of water ravished me.

Frozen waters around Nami Island

I went into all corners of the island and it’s as picturesque as it can get despite the weather. What more for the other seasons, right? Some trees, in fact, didn’t turn into skeletons and remained in full leafy blossom.

K-drama view in Nami Island

A frozen pond in Nami Island

Summer and autumn in Nami Island

Frozen fountains in Nami Island

When the view below came to view, I just had to ambush the Korean couple coming my way because the guy was holding a camera and a tripod which meant that he probably has skillz in snapping (yep, that has always been my cue). He didn’t fail me. Yosha!

Bridge over frozen water in Nami Island

Bridge over frozen water in Nami Island

And how about seeing autumn and winter in Korea in one picture?

Autumn and winter in Nami Island

The frozen fountains were the last on my list. Even after seeing them up-close, I still couldn’t fathom how they were frozen or made to freeze.

Frozen fountains in Nami Island

The island can also be reached via zipline as seen in the wires above the fountains. I didn’t see anyone do it though. That’d be like suicide for me. Unless you really have a thick hide.

Frozen fountains in Nami Island

Back in the mainland, while waiting for the bus, I noticed that there was a sort of bungee jumping where you’ll be tied around the waist. I would’ve considered it if they’d consider tying my ankles instead. Then again, I have long reserved such activity for another country. Gehee.

Petite France

Petite France, as the name suggests, is indeed petite. If time is not a luxury during your visit, I’d say you can skip it. For me there’s not really that much to see and do there. And it’s not that I don’t like France, of course. Who wouldn’t wanna go there?

Visiting Petite France

Visiting Petite France

Garden of the Morning Calm

Like in N Seoul Tower, I arrived at the Garden of the Morning Calm while it was not yet dark. And like in Nami Island, I walked to every corner of it.

A suspended bridge at the Garden of the Morning Calm

Flowers at the Garden of the Morning Calm

Millennium Juniper at the Garden of the Morning Calm

At the far end was a chapel which was so nice to see especially that it was my last day.

Chapel at the Garden of the Morning Calm

The garden undergoes an utter transformation when darkness takes over. It’s a sea of lights that’ll make you wonder how lovelier it can be when it’s not wintertime.

Sea of lights at the Garden of the Morning Calm

Sea of lights at the Garden of the Morning Calm

Blossoming lights at the Garden of the Morning Calm

Blossoming lights at the Garden of the Morning Calm

Waiting for the last bus back to the train station was torture. Good thing the people in front of me in the queue were Filipinos and their conversations kept me entertained. They were saying that the intense cold was making them feel like their toenails were being peeled off (HAHA) and that bus schedules are being followed on the dot.

I attempted with the ITX train again but after waiting for what felt like forever, I decided to just hop from one station to another again because I needed to go back to Myeongdong in the hopes that there’s still an open store. And so I left the two Filipino girls I was chatting with. They were also waiting for the ITX but unlike me, they really purchased tickets beforehand.

As luck would have it I made it in time and went inside the first store that was still open. Brother duties. Bought BB creams for the sisters. Mission so accomplished (I was the last customer) that I just had to take down two Klouds before hitting the sack.

BB creams from Myeongdong

Departure

Come the fifth day, it was closing time for me. Here is Nary, the hostel owner, and Jenny. She probably says it to everyone but it was still nice hearing her say, while in a hug, that she’ll miss me. It was a good stay.

Nary and Jenny of Lian Guesthouse

Tips

  • Layering is everything. Especially for someone who’s from a tropical country. A negative temperature is not a joke; it’s lethal. I always wore four layers on top: thermal shirt → dress shirt → cardigan/sweater → leather jacket. For down below, underwear → thermal underwear → jeans (thermals are available in Uniqlo). And I would still feel very, very cold. Layering matters because while it’s so cold outside, it’s not the case once you’re inside. That way, you can easily remove a layer or two so you won’t feel hot. Unless you really are hot.
  • And I’m not even done with the clothing yet. Earmuffs and gloves are a very big help. If you have no earmuffs, a bonnet will do. The ears and hands are very sensitive to the cold, which brings me to the next one: your jackets or coats should have pockets in front of them. That provides extra warmth for your hands. As for socks, wear high ones. You could also layer them as long as you’d still be able to fit in your footwear (which has a high chance of getting wet). And oh, you could easily sport a scarf, too.
  • Consider gloves that you can use on touchscreens. It’s a hassle removing and putting them back on when you need something in your phone. There are also gloves that can neatly expose the fingers.
  • Enter buildings from time to time to warm yourself up. Exactly the opposite of cooling yourself in malls in the Philippines when the sun is ablaze.
  • Subway stations have transfer gates so it’s not really the case that you’ll only tap your T-money twice—one for entry and one for exit—when you transfer between lines.
  • Plan your destinations and routes carefully so as to minimize travel time.
  • You can actually survive by just eating street food. I only posted photos of those that I ate in Myeongdong but believe me, I only ate at a restaurant for that ramen on my first night. The rest were just in the streets and convenience stores. Talk about saving time and moolah but still with a full sto(o)ma(c)h. Also, bring water with you and refill it whenever you can. That’s additional savings.
  • You might experience cold (in your nose, aside from the one inflicting your skin) and feel weird when it seems to be freezing inside your nose.
  • Korea visa application in the Philippines is gratis. I just applied via an agency due to work reasons.

Itinerary

  • Day 1
    • Hongdae
  • Day 2
    • Seoul Plaza / City Hall
    • Excursion Trail of Hanyangdoseong
    • Dongdaemun Design Plaza
    • Bukchon Hanok Village
    • N Seoul Tower
    • Dongdaemun Design Plaza (at night)
  • Day 3
    • Everland (would’ve eaten the entire day if I went inside)
    • Gyeongbokgung Palace
    • The Story of King Sejong
    • Myeongdong
  • Day 4
    • Nami Island
    • Petite France
    • Garden of the Morning Calm

Expenses

ItemCost (PHP)
Travel tax1620
ItemCost (KRW)
Day 1: T-money card4000
T-money46000
KT SIM card27500
Lian Guesthouse (4 nights)89000
Nagomi Ramen6000
Fish-shaped street food2000
Day 2: Sausage2000
Squid3000
Cable car ride (round trip)8500
Chicken barbecue3000
Kikiam-ish street food1500
Day 3: Latte, heat pack, bread3500
Gyeongbokgung Palace entrance fee3000
Kikiam-ish street food2000
Seashell street food4000
Corn dog2000
Scallops8000
Squid/shrimp5000
Hand warmer700
Day 4: Gapyeong City tour bus6000
Nami Island entrance fee8000
Petite France entrance fee8000
Barbecue2000
Garden of the Morning Calm entrance fee8000
Corn dog3000
Crabstick fish cake1500
BB creams24000
Day 5: Cider1500
Bread1100
Cup noodles and sandwich (inflight)10000
Total293,800.00

Visited: February 2017

Nelson

View posts by Nelson
An outdated software engineer with the attention span of a fruit fly. Follow me on Instagram if you have one? Cheers!

6 Comments

  1. *jots down for reference*
    -locomoted
    -occasional adult references
    -strikethroughs

    Ha! Def not copying these for my next posts, when I tell them how I locomoted around Taiwan.

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