DIY Travel Guide: Winter in Korea by Xtin Geronimo

The first time I was issued a visa was way back 2007. It was supposed to be for work but due to plan changes, my flight was eventually cancelled. At that time, South Korea was not in every hip traveler’s bucket list yet. So I didn’t feel bad at all. Besides, I had just been to China then and that trip sucked anyway!

Fast forward, when South Korea opened its doors to the Philippines for non-visa fee processing, I was one of those who added it in the bucket list.

Finally, it came true after the long wait. What’s more exciting was the fact that I traveled with my two great buddies so the experience felt like hitting two birds in one stone.

So here’s the summary of our, by the way, WINTER trip.

Our ticket was booked in August via Jeju Air. It offered 30% for membership, that was $30 off. Total cost per head was $185 (approx P9,000K).
Many airlines offer ticket to Korea, but most of them are very expensive. So you really have to wait until there's a sale or check every now and then the local airlines' website to see if they have a cheap ticket.

I initially wanted our first day there to be Nami Island day so I left the first day for that and decided to book the 2nd night onward in the city. For convenience, we had to book 2 hotels or hostels for the duration of our stay in Korea.

K-Grand Hostel Ewha University
On our first night, I have booked in this hotel, because it's located near the attractions that we're going to visit. The place was small but very organized, clean and cozy. There was a condo-and-dorm-living feel.

There was a very warm reception during check-in. I was asked to present my passport, complete their checklist (house rules), and deposit KRW2,000 for incidental charges.

In a typical Asian accommodation, triple-sharing room is small but good enough to open three (3) sets of luggage.

Tap the ving card twice to open the door. This will be taught by the receptionist.
Shoes are not allowed. There are slippers available at the doorstep.

Since it was winter season then, the ACU functioned as a heater and not for cooling.

VERY personal fridge :)

The size of their bath towel is just lightly bigger than a hand towel but don’t worry, it comes in two (2) sets per person :)

Enough supply of shampoo, conditioner and body wash
The reception closes at 11pm so we were taught how to open the entrance door in case we are still out of the building by 11am.

Breakfast is provided from 8am to 10am. 

It is like preparing your own breakfast in a kitchen. There’s bread to toast, coffee to pour, soup to sip (corn soup, not sure if they change it), milk and juice, two variants of cereal, teflon pans to cook your eggs the way you like it.

K-Grand Hostel is conveniently located near the train station (Green Line 2 Ewha University Station, Exit 1)
👎: inconvenient with your luggage, it’s not because of the location but their trains are not equipped with lifts at least intended for tourists with luggage. The lift is available only when going down the platform.
K-Guesthouse
Since I felt so stressed out looking for an accommodation near Nami, I ended up doing the Nami tour on the 2nd day. Hence, I had to book our 1st night in the city. By that time, K-Grand had no more available rooms on our 1st night so I had to look for another room within the area and I found K-Guesthouse.

Just like Ewha, this one was also small.

Everything else looked and were the same as Ehwa except for the kitchen. It was downstairs and in a separate room. 
Both accommodations are a few meters away from the train stations and have convenience stores like Lotte Market, 7 Eleven, C U.


As any other other country with a well-planned transit system, South Korea’s mass transit is as systematic and as efficient as the other ones too. Trains, buses, speed trains, tour buses and cabs are readily available. Most, if not all, train stations have lockers for your luggage.
Avail of the T-Money Card. This will help you save time from purchasing train tickets for every trip. This can be used in some convenience stores like 7-Eleven anyway.


Sorry to compare this with China but South Korea has already adapted the notion: English as the lingua franca, and the Locals are a sundry of well-versed to learning to not ready yet.

They are courteous and are open to assisting tourists needing assistance. If they are having difficulty communicating, they are ready to get out of their way just to assist the tourists so it’s a big 👍🏻

Oh! How do I start? From the steamed fish cake that looks like an animal’s intestines (but it’s not 😂), to their big strawberry dipped in chocolate ganaché, to their humongous fried squid or lobster or shrimp, their pomegranate (yes, it’s a fresh extract done from the food cart (like Starbucks coffee as you see it being brewed) to their most famous kimchi-based food.

Food has usually very generous serving.

I hardly have ideas about the food titles of what I had eaten in the past four (4) days simply because we made sure it was authentic. Authentic means:
  • the manner you ordered the food was pointing system because you couldn’t read it and they couldn’t understand you as well
  • the food you ordered was the same as the other customer in the other table who was already savoring the food when you sat
  • you stared at the food between your chopsticks because you were not sure what it was.
For someone like me who has tried to avoid eating pork chicken and beef for a year now, it was hard to break the game but I had to or I would never be able to compare what’s real kimchi or bulgogi or bibimbap like.
In short, there’s always a good food around the area to try. Unlike here where you have to go to Dampa, Tomas Morato or Maginhawa Street to try real good food.
I also noticed that they have a lot of coffee shops. Had I known, I should have taken photo of every coffee shop that we passed by. Names and store designs are creative and amusing.
What they are known for: what else but cosmetics! I’m a mom who doesn’t always like putting on make-up because it’s very time-consuming and eeky especially when I commute. But seeing their cosmetics stores like coffee shops sprouted on each alley, it felt addicting. When I say in each, it’s literally one after the other. Unlike here where gasoline stations or fast food stores of the same brand should have at least 5km distance from one another. It’s so tempting.
Other commodoties in Korea are generally cheap so don’t take the many thousands highfalutin in your head. Convert it instead if you are not sure.

As I mentioned earlier, we went there on a winter unintentionally. The temperature from November to February are freezing cold. During our 4-day stay there, walking around and taking photos were a real struggle. The cold was unimaginable for tropical-based people like us. It was crazy!
💡Tips:
Make sure you’re dressed to kill the wind and cold weather. Uniqlo HeatTech garments are very helpful. (Insert photos 11)

If you have night plans, do re-reconsider.

Befriend Petroleum Jelly and any other type of moisturizer to avoid lips from chapping, skin from breaking like a soil during drought season.

When we went in Feb, winter season was soon to be over so some stores were already on sale of winter jackets, ear muffs, gloves, facial mask.
P1,000 is approximately KRW21,000.

N Seoul Tower
The coffee store is a big help to keep hydrated either by water or by caffeine - depends on the weather. There are still other food stalls and restaurants inside to keep you full.
This place offers a good top view of the metro matched with a nice weather.

There is an area for lovelocks. You can buy locks there or bring your own. It’s kind of cheesy but for lovebirds wanting to make a mark in Seoul, you’ll surely find a spot there.

Going to the Observatory has a fee.

Nami Island
When I told my Korean colleague that I was going to Korea, she excitedly asked me when. I told her it’s in Feb, then her face and tone changed and asked me: “why? It’s winter.” And I said I don’t know. This is to give you a gist of what to expect in our Nami experience in winter time.
Korail ITX bound from Cheongyangni to Gapyeong. (Insert photos 14) You need to have the voucher exchanged for a ticket at the counter. Once issued, the issuer will explain which track and seat number you are assigned to. At the platform, look for the correct track number and stand in line.
Be at the platform 10minutes before the departure time. Once the platform doors open get inside immediately because they close it after a minute or two.

There is a coffee vending machine at the platform. There are two flavors. Each flavor has three (3) different choices and in following order (T-B) milk, sugar creamer. Insert the coins, select your choice by pushing the button, wait for your coffee brew, bend your knees a little so you’ll see the cup inside to get it. The cup is not visible outright. It’s just there, promise.
Food cart is available inside the train so if you forget to bring food and drinks, don’t worry.

Getting out of Cheongnyangni Station should be scheduled. As the bus arrives every hour, you can either wait but not leave the station until then or take the cab. (Insert photos 18 ). See what happened to us :(

There is a Cafe Storyway if you miss the bus. They serve good coffee. We ordered Vanilla Latte with 50% syrup and it tasted just perfect. (Insert photos 17)

Upon getting at the Gapyeong Wharf, pay the entrance fee at the what they call “Immigration Counter”.
(Insert photos 19)
If I ever get to go back there again, I would take the zip line, no matter how cold it would be by that time. We saw some take the zip line and it looked so fun. Darn! I should have followed my instinct!

When you get to the island in winter time, observe where most people head to and reroute so you can take as many pictures as if you’ve rented the whole island by yourselves. (Insert photos 20)

We took the left side trail, passing through the lake in ice.

Mind you, restrooms in Nami are so cool - some cubicles have books! And some are so stylish as if a meteor hit the restroom. (Insert photos 21)

We reached the Stretch of Winter Sonata eventually and there were few people there. Maybe it’s the winter so regardless of the other people around, we managed to take photos like we were shooting a movie. (Insert photos 22)

When you’re done with all the photo shoots, head back to where the ferry dropped you off to catch the ride back to the wharf.

Back at the wharf, exit to your right. Walk straight until you see the coffee shop Dessert 39 on the opposite of the road. That is the bus station going to the Garden of the Morning Calm. Beside that coffee shop is a fish cake store with the logo of a chicken! Haha! The peddler is very accommodating and kind. Try to pour some soy sauce into the cup to add a little taste in the bland soup of the fish cake.

(Insert photos 23)

Garden of the Morning Calm
At the Garden, proceed to the counter again to pay the entrance fee.

Since it’s winter, there are many areas that are closed to avoid accidents. The place is like a paradise placed in a mountain so there are uphills and downhills. (Insert photos 24)

Thee main feature of the Garden is the panoramic lights. We did not wait till night time there because we thought that we still had to transfer from one hotel to another and given the physical tiredness, we did not want to push to the limit.

Myeongdong Shopping
 (Insert photos 26)
We were lost. We were lost as to where to start, explore and end our search!

This is where we devoured our palates with their street food. Everything looked so appetizing. If it weren’t really that cold, we would have stayed along the street and swept every cart with a little bit of everything. Nothing did not look uninteresting.

It’s common in their stores the following :

Tags 1+1: when you see this tag, clarify it with the sales person because in our experience, it means that you get two items for the price of one or it’s 50% off.

Tags 10+1 KRW1,000: again, clarify. I had a mistake purchasing socks because we thought that it’s KRW100 per piece so if you buy 10 pcs, you pay only KRW1000 plus 1 more item then that makes it 11 pieces. I ended up paying KRW30000 because it means that if you buy 10 pieces, price per piece becomes KRW1000 and you will still get one (1) free pair. (Check if there are available photos)

The sauced chicken was very flavorful. There was a kick of spice that will want you to bite one more. KRW4000 per cup

The strawberry dipped in chocolate ganaché had an elegant flavor served in a stick! It was icy cold so the chocolate combination was a perfect mix. KRW1000 per stick

There was also a roll (like a kikiam) buy can be served in one flavor or assorted (cheese, sausage, vegetable, chicken I think) at the same price. KRW2500

We finished the food trip off with fried sweetened potatoes. I know that we have it here but it’s just different when you’re eating in cubes and in South Korea 😜

(Insert photos 25)

Ewha University / Shopping Lane
The alleys leading to the Ewha University is like a continuation of our cosmetics shopping yesterday. It gave us another day to explore the metro, shop and keep our wallets empty and our luggage and carry-on bags heavier :) (Insert photos 27)

Here are just few of the cosmetics stores other make-up addicts die for:
  • Missha
  • Innisfree
  • Holika Holika
  • Tony Molly
  • Nature Republic
  • Etude House
(Insert photos 28)
The Ewha University showcases the palace-like structure and seemingly stonewall architecture with their unique ingress/egress designs. It’s like a walk in the park thing. Nothing fancy in the university area but another new sighting in thia country. There’s an Ewha Museum Café by the way.

A Seoulful Goodbye

Ewhafelt like home for a couple of days. (Insert photos 30 )

From the K-Grand Hostel, we walked back to Ewha Station Exit 1 and exited at Exit 4. After a few meters, we crossed the road heading to the limousine bus station bound to Incheon Airport. Bus 6002. First departure is at 430am and last departure is 2100h. Don’t get confused with another bus station near the K-grand Hostel

Because the route is going to the other end. Exit 4 is the correct way out going to the correct bus station. (Insert photos 29)

The bus driver will get off the bus to assist you in lodging your luggage at the compartment so be ready to tell him which terminal you heading to. I didn’t think it mattered when I saw all of us got off the bus. :)

We arrived at the airport four (4) hours before departure and I was so amazed that despite the self check-in counters for Jeju Air do not include Manila bound, the queue that we stood in was already serving passengers for the 7:30pm flight.

Once you have the boarding pass, proceed to Departure 3/4/5 area for the Immigration check-in. As in any other airport, be assertive in preparing yourself for the x-ray inspection. In short, retain only your basic clothing. Jacket/s, watch, belt, carry on bags should all be placed in the tray for x-ray. Hold on to your passport and boarding pass.

At that time, we were assigned in Gate 122 . To get there, walk up to Gate 28. On the opposite side, you will find a guard at the escalator where you have to go down to take the train to get to the correct gate.

While waiting for boarding, you can eat first at their food hub. We ate their local food there (Insert photos 31). Bibimbap was so yummy! The food hub is a self-bussing area.

Go to their traditional dress ____. Present your passport and boarding pass for the Hanbok dress photo opportunity. Selections include Ordinary, Royal and Entertainer. I chose the last one simply because the upper clothing is pink in color :) (Insert photos 32)

Reminder if you’re departing in winter: Do NOT keep your jacket and other warmer you have with you yet until you are inside the plane. After your boarding pass is torn, get ready for a winter memory of Seoul before getting inside the plane. It felt like the ice water challenge and you wanted to yell at the flight attendants and the other passengers in front: “hurry up you mother *#£$:”&(₱-)!

That’s all. :)
 
P.S. Here's the complete details of the itinerary I made for them :)
 
If you need help preparing yours, just send me a message at lakwatserangligaw@gmail.com.

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