Monday, February 24, 2014

Hostel Review: Banana Backpackers

The hostel is located near two stations, and just walking distance from Insadong and some palaces. It can also be conveniently reached from the airport. But me, the lost me, had difficulty finding this the first time. It was past midnight when I walking around the alleys and no one seems to be around. I luckily bumped into some nice Korean guys who called Banana Backpackers and asked for directions.

Stayed at a dorm room for three nights (₩23,000/night) and at a single room(₩40,000/night) for one night. Lucky me, I was alone during my whole stay in the dorm. I had the room all to myself! The staff still cleaned the bathroom and the roomThe heater was adequate but the floors were still cold - use slippers. The bathroom is small, but kept clean. Wifi signal is strong.

The spacious dorm

Hair dryer, hangers, lockers, night lights and sockets. They've got the basics. You can borrow the plug adapter/converter at the reception.
The single room

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Get Naked: The Korean Jjimjilbang Experience

Getting naked in front of strangers is a scary thought. I’ve given the Japanese Onsen a try, so I thought I’d give the Korean Jjimjilbang a try too. I was travelling alone and I want to try a unique experience. Well actually, I wanted to escape the cold. Exploring Seoul inwinter can be tiring. I wanted to be somewhere warm during the afternoon. The nice guy in Banana Backpackers recommended that I visit Dragon Hill Spa, a famous Jjimjibang where the celebrities go.
So here is the shot at the entrance. This is the only shot I have on this place.
The spa was almost an hour away from Banana Backpackers but I found it easily. The standard entrance fee is 11,000 KRW, that’s roughly Php 450. A very good rate for an afternoon in the spa. I paid the fee up front at the entrance. They handed me a key for the shoes and the lockers. Watch the people. I spent a minute figuring out why my shoebox key is not working when a guy told me that the women’s section is on the other side. *sheepish smile*

The floor labels are marked in the elevator. Some are men-only/women-only areas. I got my “prisoner’s uniform” in women’s floor reception area. I found my locker and proceeded stripping butt naked. How did I know that was the process? Well, everyone else is doing it. I ALMOST WENT out to the common elevator/stairs hall when someone pointed me to the right direction. I was probably blushing all over as I made my way to the bathing/shower/spa room *another sheepish smile*

I pretended to know the drill. Drop the towel, shower, scrub scrub scrub yourself before dipping into the hot bath. The Jjimjilbang has more pools vs. the one Japanese onsen I tried in Tokyo.  There are hot pools in varying temperatures (38 deg, 42 deg and 45 deg) and two or three other cold pools with different temperatures as well. There’s also an outdoor bath (surrounded by walls of course) which are scented with oils. They also have a sauna and steam room. I really liked the sauna room and cold shower combo.

Munching Around Seoul

Aside from a cheap snow experience, I had no solid plans of what to visit in Korea. I skipped visiting the other planned palaces, although the Changdeokgung Palace is a hop away from Banana Backpackers. Lots of other tourist spots but the cold weather made me want to do less.
I started walking around Bukchon Hanok Village. It started snowing when I was on my way there. The village boasts some of the traditional Korean houses. The residents are generous enough to allow tourists to roam freely, but they signs posted around to limit the noise as it is still a residential area and people live there. I walked around and enjoyed the falling snow.


I really liked this door so I patiently waited for someone to pass so that he can take my photo here. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Really Winter: Frozen In Nami Island

Nami Island, I’m back.
Two layers of leggings, pants, two layers of socks, three layers of shirts and a cape. Plus boots.
I was prepared to withstand winter. 

I was able to go to Nami Island using the subway + cab + ferry – like how I did it two years ago.
From Banana Backpackers:

  • Ride Jongno 3(sam)-ga (Line 5) and get off at Gunja Station
  • From Gunja (Line 5), transfer to Sang bong (Line 7)
  • From Sang bong (Line 7), ride Gyeongchun Line going to Gapyeong station. The whole train ride cost me 2,050 and took me over 1 hour (including waiting for the next train and asking directions).
  • From Gapyeong, ride a cab going to the ferry going to Nami Isand. 

From a distance the world looks blue and green and the snow-capped mountains white. 

The train ride to Gapyeong wharf took around an hour – including waiting for the next train. I was unlucky with my cab driver: He took the roundabout way going to the port. The ride cost me 5,600 instead of the expected 3,000. Boooo you. Opportunistic taxi drivers exist in first world countries.

The line was a bit long but moving. Tickets cost 8,000. I knew the drill. Get ticket. Ride the ferry.  The ticket attendant was Pinoy, "Enjoy kababayan!". Nice. 

I veered away from the crowd after I had my photo taken at the entrance.

Thanks to a couple who took my pic, after I offered to take theirs.

I took the  Riverside Lover's Ginko Tree Lane route - a different path from the usual. The tourists were quite few. I had limited opportunities to ask someone to take my photo. I couldn't really use my tripod, as the possible surfaces where to put it was covered in snow.

I eventually reached the famous Metasequoia Lane. This is how it looks during winter. I was so lucky that it was snowing that day. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Korea Winter Edition – Budget, Itinerary, Winter Preparation

There are only two seasons in the Philippines: Summer and the monsoon season (wet and dry season, parang market lang). I dream to see snow. I think this is a dream common to Filipinos.

My childhood inspiration to see winter: Bambi and Thumper

Japan has snow but a trip there is relatively expensive. Snow in Beijing is erratic (or so they say). Seoul is the cheapest destination to experience snow. South Korea, here I come... again. 

 I've been to Seoul in 2012 to experience spring. I'm going back for snow this time. 

The Budget and Itinerary

The main goal is to experience snow. That’s it. Petty? Yeap. I didn't plan to visit amusement parks and do loads of shopping. I definitely wanted to go to back to Nami Island again. Other than those things, my schedule had an anything-goes format.

I bought the roundtrip tickets in Cebupacific’s 50% off sale last May 2013 – for Php 7,388.37. I knew it was a way higher than my previous RT Seoul ticket: 5,240.31. Grabe, 40% increase! Korea became extremely popular.

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