Cherry Blossoms in Korea (:

Now that spring is almost here, I am seeing more hits on my posts about planning a trip to Korea.Yes, I left the series hanging for a really long time. Maybe this post will kick me out of my inertia? ;p Here’s to hoping!

Anyways, the beginning of Spring is usually also the time for…CHERRY BLOSSOMS! Yayyy! Cherry blossoms are hard to catch though. So hopefully, this post will shine some light for light?

When is the best period to go?

Tricky questions. I have been to Korea 3 times. Once at the start of April (7 April 2012) and twice at the end of April (21 April 2011 and 26 April 2013). And…..I never did catch the cherry blossoms in full bloom! URGH.

But from experience, I think planning a trip that spans from the 2nd to the 3rd week of April would be the safest. Cos during my 2012 trip there, I was there for 10 days and  on the day that I was flying back, the cherry blossoms are in FULL BLOOM. It’s true. We saw it on the TV on our last day.

(Of course, the full bloom date tend to shift from year to year. Keep a lookout on KTO Facebook page for the official date (: 2014 date is out – check it out!)

Where is the best place to view cherry blossoms?

I’ll get to that in a bit but in the meantime….

If you have already planned your trip and it’s in early April, try to head to Busan (: The blossoms there are out much earlier. I saw them in bloom in my 2012 trip! (Let me know if the pictures aren’t showing up!)

along a street in Busan.

on the Busan City Tour bus. the blossoms are just right next to us!

And IF your trip is towards the end of April, then….you can try heading to Namsan Park. My tour guide during my 2011 trip brought us to this area near the entrance of Namsan Park (I think) and it was magical!

they were already falling.

my 1st time seeing cherry blossoms!

Or you can head to Lotte World or Everland. I heard their blossoms “stays longer” as well.

You can also try your luck at the palaces. During my trip last year, we were too late 😦 But we managed to catch some at the entrance of Gyeongbuk Palace (:

me and ber with the last few stalks of blossoms. imagine if it’s in full bloom!

The best place for cherry blossoms? 

JINHAE JINHAE JINHAE!

I’ve never been there myself but the photos on Instagram were super duper pretty! I couldn’t go there during any of my trips cos the blossoms are either gone or the itinerary was so pack, we couldn’t fit it in 😦

I did tell my ex-colleague who is making a trip to Korea in April to go there. So hopefully he can squeeze it into his itinerary and take some awesome photos.

how pretty is this!! photo from: boomsbeat.com via google

You can go to Jinhae from either Busan or Seoul by either bus or train. Heard that traffic can be quite bad during the Jinhae Festival though. But I’m sure it will be worth it! I’m afraid I can’t provide more details about getting there cos I’ve never been there 😦 But here’s the official route recommended by KTO –

[BUS] Take an intercity bus to Jinhae (진해).
From Jinhae Intercity Bus Terminal, go 30m forward and turn right onto Jungwondong-ro (중원동로) Road.
Go 350m forward, and stay left at the fork.
Go 230m forward to arrive at the festival venue.

OR

[TRAIN]
Take a train to Jinhae Station (진해역).
From Jinhae Station, go 640m forward to arrive at the festival venue.

Alternatively, you can click here and read about it on discoveringkorea.com

The Jinhae Gunhangje Festival is from 1-10 April. Do pop by if you are there!

Another place to take photos…

Yeouido! You can rent a bike and cycle through the cherry blossoms streets. Sigh. Won’t it be nice?

Other things to do in Spring…

For a list of festivals in Korea, please click here.

You can also head to Everland! I think Spring is tulip festivals there (: The number of tulips is amazing. You really can’t help but smile when you see them.

from 2011 trip (:

Oh and…In Jeju…You can see fields of these (no idea what they are. magnolia?) –

sho pretty!

Sigh. It feels kind of weird to be not going to Korea during this period 😦

I AM COMING FOR YOU, AUTUMN IN KOREA! FIGHTING!

Cycling by the Han River (:

Now that summer is here, I thought I would better get this post out. Yes, I realised my last “Planning a Trip to Seoul” series has stopped 2-3 weeks ago and I have left a huge ‘cliffhanger’. I promised to get back to it soon. Just that it’s such a long post, I don’t know where to begin :p

But yes! Summer has descended upon Korea (: Though it has been raining quite a bit these days (according to my weather application) ;p

ANYWAYS! Sunny days will be there soon and if you (like me and ber) have a wish to cycle by the Han River, I hope this post will be helpful (:

We didn’t dare to tell each other.

While planning for our trip to Seoul in April, the both of us didn’t dare to tell each other that we wanted to cycle by the Han River. We were afraid that we will be thought as crazy. Yes, when I told my colleagues ex-colleagues that I wanted to cycle by the Han River, their reaction was, “Serious? What for?”

So when both of us finally found the courage to tell each other, it went something like…

Me: OMG! Me too!

ber: I was afraid that you will think I am crazy.

Me: Me too!

ber: that’s why you are my oldest friend!

So, that’s how the story goes (:

Our research brought us almost nowhere 😦

To kick off our planning for the trip, I went down to KTO during lunchtime one day and on top of picking up the regular guidebook, I also picked up the “Riverside Bike Trails in Korea” guide.

the one on the left.

The guidebook was helpful in the following ways –

  • It list out the distance for each trail + how long it will take
  • The theme of each trail
  • What to expect along each trail
  • The difficulty level

The thing is, they were for ‘serious’ bikers. We wanted something more casual. Rent a bike, cycle around for an hour or two and that’s it. But the trails in the guide feels quite ‘hardcore’. It also didn’t say much about bicycle rental. Sigh.

So we turned to trusty Google and found this. We gathered that there’s bike rental at Yeouido and that’s the only information we had when we went to Seoul.

Directions to the bike rental

1. Take the subway to Yeouinaru Station (Line 5 – Purple Line)

2. Look for Exit 3 (stairs) or Exit 4 (escalator/lift).

If you exit by Exit 4, you will have to cross the street. On the other hand, if it’s Exit 3, you will be on the side of the river/park (: Here’s what the surrounding look like. You will see a small ‘eatery’ and ‘mama shop’.

View from Exit 3. Exit 2 is right in front. (Image from Google Street View)

View from Exit 4. Exit 3 is right in front.
(Image from Google Street View)

3. Facing the river, turn to the right and walk straight.

You will pass by some small street stalls and “Yeouido Information Centre“.

Yeouido Information Centre  (Image from Google Street View)

Yeouido Information Centre
(Image from Google Street View)

4. Keep walking straight and you will see a playground.

Image from sleepwalkingintokyo.wordpress.com

5. And a short distance from the playground, you will see the bike rental place (:

You can’t miss it! The bikes are so colorful and displayed very neatly!

the bike rental shop.

the bike rental shop.

Bike Rental Information

Bicycle rental is about 3,000 won per hour (single person) or 6,000 won per hour (2 person bike). I think it’s about 500 won for every 30 minutes thereafter. Opening hours starts from 9am and closing hour defers depending on the month.

Remember to bring a valid photo ID.

I would suggest leaving your IC there instead of your passport though. When we returned our bike, the uncle there gave us a China passport -.- So just to be on the safe side, keep your passport with you and leave either your IC or driving license or student pass. Because, if you lose your IC, you just have to report it loss when you are back in Singapore. But if you lose your passport, you can’t come home. Eeeps!

The bikes are really pretty and look exactly like those in the drama ;p I couldn’t decided between a white or a pink bike *bimbo* Chose pink in the end cos it matched my shoes.

bimbo mode: on

Where we cycled?

We weren’t very adventurous so we cycled for about an hour.

If you follow the bike path and cycle to the right (facing the river), you will see the place where “Lie to Me” was shot. Remember the scene where Yoon Eun Hye and Kang Ji Hwang were in the swan boat and she jumped into the river to “save” someone? TADA!

the swan boat rental place.

You can rent a boat and pedal out into the Han River (: But we weren’t that adventurous and the rental place was not opened. Heh.

We did a U-turn after passing this place as the path got ‘serious’ with tall lalangs (?) growing at the side. So we U-turned and cycled down.

We passed by several bridges (: And generally, just enjoyed the breeze and the scene.

urbanisation is so close yet so far away.

one of the bridge/expressway we passed.

As the hour was almost up, we stopped at this Glass Dome thing that reminded me of “The Fullerton Pavillion”.  ANYWAYS! There’s a nice swing there so we paused and took some pictures. The swing is apparently a photo zone. The only one we saw. Perhaps if we had keep cycling, we would have seen more! (:

the photo zone.

the photo zone.

Lunch-hour!

The Koreans really have 情趣. As we were leaving the park, we saw several office workers bringing their lunch to the park.

I used to work by the Singapore River and I don’t even do that! But yeah. The Koreans packed their lunch and brought them to the park to eat. So nice right? (:

Other useful information

While preparing for this post, I discovered some other useful information. WHY DIDN’T I SEE THEM EARLIER!

From Discovering Korea – Cruising the Hangang on a Bicycle
(Do check out the rest of the blog. It’s quite informative!)

From KTO – Bicycle Trials in Seoul 
(It contains the information from the guide I was talking about. Do note that the guide provides information on how to cycle to neighbouring province and to Busan as well.)

So yups!(: That’s it from me!

Planning a trip to Seoul! – Part 2a

Part 2: Navigation – Is this near to that?

Before I downloaded this app, you will see me analysing and scrutinising the subway map every morning before leaving the hotel. Scribbling notes on which subway station to get down at, which line to change to and which exit to get out of.

But since ber introduced this app to me on our April trip to Seoul, things are so much easier!

But first…

Subways in Seoul

If you think our MRT network is complicated and the distance between NEL and EWL is far, you really need to head to Seoul 😛

With that said, the walk between each Line may be long, it’s not boring though. There’s loads of travellators and there are shops. Yes, SHOPS! Shops selling handphone cases, grocery, donuts, sweets and I even found Face Shop in one of the stations in Seoul and Busan!

Yes, all these inside the station. You don’t have to tap out.

To take the subways in Seoul, all you need is the t-money! It works exactly like our ezLink but better! You can use it to take the buses, the subways, the cabs and even use it to puchase stuff! I likey!

t-money is available at all train stations and convenience stores @ approximately 2,500 won. Just look for this big blue machine at the train stations, choose English and follow the steps on the machine.

buy and top up your t-money!

buy and top up your t-money!

The design of the t-money card you buy at this machine is rather standard. Nothing special. For some fancy designs, you can try the convenience stores like G25 and 7-11. You can get t-money handphone accessory! Slightly more expensive though.

hello kitty t-money credits: ttmik

Note: t-money can be used in other states like Busan subways/buses, Gyeongju Buses, Jeju Island Buses, Incheon subways etc.

For the non-frequent Seoul travellers

Instead of getting the t-money, you might want to consider getting the M-Pass Card or the Seoul City Pass (: They are priced between 10,000 won to 59, 500 won.

Personally, I’ve never used the M-Pass Card or the Seoul City Pass before. I think these cards are only available at Incheon airports tourist counter and convenience store.

These passes gives you 20 free rides per day on all subway lines/bus (for M-Pass); limited subway lines (Seoul City Pass). After you have exhausted the 20 free rides for the day, you can top up the cards to continue using it like a normal t-money card.

The validity of the card will depend on how many days you stay in Seoul. You can purchase cards ranging from 1-7 days (M-Pass) and 1-3 days (Seoul City Pass).

Personally, I won’t choose this cos I don’t think I take 20 rides in a day :p Plus, these passes MUST be returned to the sales location or you lose your deposit *yawn*  Hehehe.

For more information about t-money and the passes available, you can click here.

Note: There’s a Seoul City Pass Plus as well. It functions just like t-money, but you can only use it in Seoul. I think that’s what I have now. NOOOOOO! *note to self: buy fancy t-money next trip* I never did refund the card and keep using it on my trips (:

Some other random stuff about the subways

There’s tons of stairs and not much escalators OR lifts in the Seoul subways. I’m serious! This must be why most Koreans have nice legs :p Here’s one flight of stairs that I had to climb everyday to get back to my hotel –

happy climbing.

The app that I am going to explain in detail in my next post will help to minimise the walking and climbing!

Last thing about the Seoul subway (or Korea subway) that I like is…instead of just showing you the ETA of the next train, they show you where the train is at…

one stop away!

And they play a tune when the train is arriving. Quite useful really if say you are at the top of the escalator and you hear the tune. RUN, PEOPLE. RUN! 😛

Alright, I digress. Next post will introduce the amazing app! (: Back in a day or two!

*If you have any suggestions or find that the information I’ve provided is not correct, do let me know! (:

Planning a trip to Seoul! – Part 1

Ever since the encounter at KTO, I’ve been planning to start a series of blogposts on planning a trip to Korea. Never got round to it cos of all the drama but HERE I AM! (: Will focus mainly on Seoul, and talk about Busan/Gyeongju after this series.

Part 1: Starting to plan for your trip 

No matter how many times I have been to Korea, the first thing I do before I start planning my trip is to head down to KTO and grab a copy of their guide book. Of course, you can also view the e-copy here.

They have recently updated their guidebook (as the Vist Korea campaign was over) and I guess, personally, I much prefer the old version that covers more areas outside of Seoul. But anyways! The new guidebook is still good for Seoul (:

the refreshed KTO guide. (source: sadokobear.wordpress.com)

the refreshed KTO guide.
(source: sadokobear.wordpress.com)

The book is organised into Areas (Seoul, Seoul Vicinity, Eastern/Central/Southeaster/Southwestern Area, Jeju Island) and then into the type of attractions grouped into, “Themed Tours”. Here’s a snapshot of the content page –

Contents page(:

Contents page(:

With the guidebook in hand….

What I will do is to flip through the guidebook quickly, take note of the places that I may be interested in and then…I head to KTO website to read up more about them.

Now, you may ask…What’s the difference between the guidebook and the KTO website?

The new guidebook is more condensed. There’s not alot of information there except for a brief write-up and the station where you should alight. But the KTO website on the other hand, contains – a) more detailed write up of the place, b) the opening hours, c) the Exit that you should go, d) pricing information  and e) time of the guided tours.

Here’s a comparison of the information provided in the guidebook –

Information in the Guidebook for Gyeongbok Palace

Information in the Guidebook for Gyeongbok Palace

Part of the information on the website for Gyeongbok Palace

Part of the information on the website for Gyeongbok Palace

Alternatively, search the places in an app!

You can also download “Visit Korea” application (: It’s basically a guidebook, grouped according to categories like Shopping, Culture and Accommodation. Those are further grouped into the different ‘dong’ in the area. Really good (: Almost as good as the old guidebook I was talking about!

It provides almost the same information as the website (: Definitely more than the current guidebook.

Visit Korea 2.0

Visit Korea 2.0

When everything is done….

When you have shortlisted most of the places you want to visit, you can either start arranging your itineraries. Well, kinda (see below for explanation) You can probably do 3-4 places in a day if you are the GO!GO!GO! tourists. But if you are like me, who likes to spend a bit of time at each area, stop to read every single sign board, then 1-2 is the max.

So I just used the guidebook for shortlisting stuff?

Well, technically, yes. But after you have shortlisted the places that you want to go, you can go back to the guidebook and see what other interesting places are around you!

what's around Gwanghuamun

what’s around Gwanghuamun Gate

 

There you have it!

Now that you have the list of places that you want to go, the next step is to see which station is near which. Now, in the guidebook (and on Google), you will find the Seoul subway map. Confusing yes?

Stay tuned for I have a solution for you! (:

And I just discovered this awesome app that gives you a guided tour! Psyched!! More soon!

Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain (반포대교 달빛무지개분수)

Was at KTO today and overheard a fellow Singaporean asking about going to Banpo Bridge.

Thought I would share my experience here too (:

Background

Banpo Bridge or Rainbow Bridge as it is more commonly known is located in Seoul, Korea. It’s actually an expressway, if I’m not wrong. So….imagine the CTE + over a river + spraying water with colorful lights and tacky music at night. TADA!

Yes, I am making un-romanticising it 😛

Our adventure there

Ber and I being the busy working adults (excuses!) that we are, didn’t really do a lot of research before we left. We only know that we want to see this famous Rainbow Bridge! So, somehow, on Day 2 of our trip, we found ourselves lost.

But fret not! We asked a guide at E-Dae and managed to get the directions there. So……

Step 1: We took the train to Yongsan Station

Step 2: We took bus 405A at a bus stop across the street from the station.

the wulu bus stop.

Step 3: I think we alighted about 6-8 stops later. Can’t remember which stop it is but….It’s super wulu! You see the expressway on your right, the train track is behind you, there’s ONE building (some broad cast station) across a HUGE road.

We got a little lost. Stopped a nice old couple who stopped to help us even though we (and they) were freezing! We asked them where Banpo Bridge is and they pointed to the expressway above us where there was a sign that said, “반포대교” LARGELY. We felt a little stupid so we thanked them and let them go.

We climbed a staircase to check if we need to cross a bridge or something but nope. The bridge leads you up to the expressway where you can walk towards a housing estate. We climbed down.

Then I saw that there were loads of cars coming out from this small road behind the train track. Suggested going down there to check it out cos that was where the river and all those cars must mean something (yes, I was desperate!). Ber had some concern about 2 girls heading down a dark road in the middle of nowhere. But after some discussion nicely (her) and sarcastic remarks from me (cold + me = mega bitch), we decided to just try. Cos…we came this far! Might as well (:

Passed the train track, down a dodgy staircase, crossed a street and we saw a group of people hanging around. So we knew we were correct! It’s basically a bicycle path along the Han River, under the expressway and erm…an abandoned skate park, I think.

Now, we had 15 mins to spare and we froze.

freezing!

At 8pm, we heard some seriously tacky music playing. There was the song from Winter Sonata and some really old school classical song. The lights came on, the water danced and….

rainbow~

Trust me. The picture looked much nicer than it was in real life. Throughout the 15 minutes light show, I kept waiting for the WOAH to hit me. Never did.

It’s nice but under-whelming, I guess. Not really worth the effort.

Should you still go?

Yes. But please. GO FOR THE HAN RIVER NIGHT CRUISE! It’s gonna be more romantic and more worth it!

Can’t find much information on them but here’s the KTO site and from what I gather online, seems like the Live Music cruise should bring you to Banpo Bridge in time for the lightshow. Or you can take up this Han River Tour that KTO suggested.

But of course, do drop them an email or get your hotel reception to give them a call to double confirm (:

In a nutshell –

What we took: Yongsan Station -> Bus 405A -> Walked

Recommended: Han River Night Cruise

If you are really adventurous: Take the recommended route by KTO. Should be less wulu. It sounds easier at least!

[Subway]
1) Dongjak Station (Seoul Subway Line 4), Exit 1 or 2.

2) Express Bus Terminal Station (Seoul Subway Line 3,7 or 9), Exit 8-1.
Go straight for 250m, and turn right at the Express Bus Terminal 4-way intersection.
Continue going straight for 400m and cross the street at the crosswalk.
Go straight through the underpass to arrive at the park.

[Bus]
Take Bus 405 or 8340 and get off at Banpo Hangang Park.

Good luck! Have fun!