I can hardly remember when the first time was when I got hooked into “anything Korean”, perhaps it was during the era of the earlier K-dramas, “Winter Sonata” and “Autumn in my Heart”. From there, I was then introduced to K-pop, and the rest is history. My fascination to all things Korean had become unrivaled up until now.
Never in my life and in my wildest dreams that I’ve considered going to South Korea, because I was quite anxious that my visa won’t get approved because I’m not earning a superlative salary, but God paved way for it to happen. (I guess, it’s really meant to be T_T). Okay, ‘nuff of my senti mode! :))
South Korea sounds like an expensive travel destination as most people would assume. Known for its increasingly prominent presence in the World and as one of the leading economies in Asia, its high cost of living and visa requirements, would often make anyone think twice to travel to this country. But trust me, you don’t have to be filthy rich to explore the Land of the Morning Calm.
Getting a Korean Visa
Applying for a Korean visa may sound intimidating especially for first-timers. While we may just choose to hire a travel agency to do this, we just did it on our own as the process was very simple! Yes, you’ve heard that right, getting a Korean visa is easy, fast, and absolutely FREE. The ordeal isn’t that long as well as you can get the result of your visa application after a week. But mind you, we failed at our first attempt because of the cut off! So, my sister came back again the other day and lined up at wee hour in the morning just to secure a slot.
However, the Embassy of Korea recently announced that it will designate travel agencies to accept applications for Korean visa starting July 1, 2018.
Here’s the rundown in filling out the Visa Application Form:
- Print the Korea visa application form on A4-size paper. You can download the Tourist/Business Visa Requirements for Employees here.
- Accomplish the form by hand and never leave any items blank. For those that are irrelevant to you or not applicable, write N/A.
- Write in BLOCK letters, as in all caps.
- Use a √ (check mark) for items with multiple selection.
- For sample, you may view it here.
For other requirements:
- 1 piece of Passport size colored picture (Please attach on the application form)
- Original Passport (should be valid for more than 6months)
- Photocopy of Passport Bio-page (page 2)
- Original & Photocopy of valid visa/s and arrival stamps to OECD member countries for the past 5 years (If applicable only)
- Original Certificate of Employment (must include applicant’s position, date hired, compensation, office address, HR landline number (cell-phone number is not allowed), HR e-mail address)
- Original Personal Bank Certificate (must include account type, current balance, account opening date, ADB)
- Bank Statement (original or certified true copy of bank statements/passbook for the last 3 months)
- Copy of PRC Card or IBP Card (If applicable only)
From July, 1 2018, Company Alpha List will no longer be required during visa application. However, it may be requested as additional document for some applicants.
When submitting Company Alpha List as additional document, information other than those of the applicant may be covered.
For complete details, you may check the website of the Embassy of Korea.
Public Transport in Korea
Navigating your way through the city’s terrain could be stressful but most of the attractions in Korea are accessible via their Metro train. The train maps however, might look daunting because it’s so complicated! So, I highly suggest you download some useful apps. In our case, we used the Subway Korea app for iOS. Riding the train was a breeze because the latter provides real-time transit information, and a vector-based map that you can pinch in to zoom in or out.
Other than the Metro train, getting around Seoul is extremely convenient—be it via bus, taxi, biking and walking.
If you plan to use the public transportation consistently, I highly recommend getting the T-Money Card. It’s a transportation card that is similar to our Beep Card in Manila but also functions as a discount card and can be used in select convenience stores.
Spring in Seoul
We intentionally booked our flight on April to specifically catch the Cherry Blossom season in South Korea. This would be our first time to witness Cherry Blossoms in full bloom and immerse on the cold Spring weather.
It’s quite hard to have that perfect timing to be able to experience the magical feeling of being blanketed with the pastel pink blossoms but we were lucky enough to be able to do so! We were ecstatic to know that the Cherry Blossom Festival was scheduled on the days of our stay in Seoul.
Egg House Hostel
Since our flight was at midnight, we weren’t able to catch the last leg of trip of the train from Airport Railroad Express (AREX). Instead, we opted to take the Airport Limousine Bus 6002 going to the place we’ll be staying at Dongdaemun.
We chose Dongdaemun Egg House Hostel via Agoda because it’s the cheapest we could get on the peak season. (haha!). The room was cozy, bed was really comfy, they have aircon and heater as well, and the hostel is in a really good location just near the train station (Metro). You can actually get to some attractions, stores and restaurants by foot.
They also offer free breakfast, wherein you can cook your own egg, eat cereals, and toast your breads at their common area.
With all the attractions vying for their attention in Seoul, we started out our incredibly diverse range of experiences by checking out the Cherry Blossoms at Yeuido Park. (Better catch them before they wilt!)
There are two ways to get to Yeouido Park using the Metro:
- Alight at Yeouinaru Station (Seoul Subway Line 5), Exit 1. Walk 10 minutes towards SBS TV Station, or
- Alight at Yeouido Station (Seoul Subway Line 5), Exit 3. Walk 5 minutes towards the National Assembly building.
This beautiful recreational area is said to be one of the best places to see the breathtaking Cherry Blossoms for FREE. The park comes to life with trees laden with cherry blossom and other colorful flowers during Spring. I felt like I was transported in a Korean drama that time. (LOL)
Harking back, the park is actually divided into four different sections: The Traditional Korean Forest, Grass Square, Culture Square, and Nature’s Ecosystem Forest. Strolling around is totally relaxing.
The most memorable experience for me here was this exact moment: whenever the wind blows, the trees shed and it felt as if it was raining cherry blossoms!
We also ate Tteokbokki (spicy stir-fried rice cakes) along the streets as there are some vendors aligned at the seems like a never-ending path of cherry blossom trees!
Indeed, it was the most picturesque cherry blossom street in Seoul! <3 We apparently spent too much time there, haha!
Ewha Womans University
Our next stop was the Ewha Womans University. Yes, I certainly spelled that right! It was jam-packed that time maybe because we arrived there during their lunch break.
Anyway, this university was founded in 1886 by an American missionary and was Korea’s first educational institute for women. This school reminded me of my alma matter, Miriam College, because it’s an all-girls university.
The famous Ewha Campus Complex is tagged as Korea’s largest underground campus. The architecture is world class and as per research, “the lower levels contain a library, bookstore, gym, movie theater, cafes, and other cultural facilities, while on the first level visitors can find lecture rooms and an eco-park”. Whoa~!
But lo and behold, along the vicinity of the Ewha Womans University is one of the most popular shopping districts in Seoul. There were a lot of stalls selling super cheap yet stylish clothing for a low as KRW 5,000. Do the math! (Yes, it’s just around PHP 250!). Aside from that, there are also beauty stores, street food stalls, and various restaurants in the area. I could live in here!
You can also spot a Lotte Elcube compact mall here! This small store focuses specifically on young, fashion-conscious shoppers. The first floor houses the Line Friends merchandise, and it also has various shops that sell cute clothes, accessories and bags for both men and women. They also carry some beauty products like 3CE, Labiotte, and many others.
Shoe heaven! Name it, they have it!
Binggrae banana milk drink.
The alleys are worth checking out too! See those baby breath flowers? I want to buy one for myself! *u*
Since it’s already lunch time, we opted to eat at Popeye’s. We used to have this in the Philippines way back then, but it’s now closed! 🙁 Got to try this last time at the Hong Kong airport though.
In the past, the Cheonggyecheon Stream is a neglected waterway not until it was restored way back in 2005. Today, it is considered as an attraction amidst the hustle and bustle of Seoul.
It’s very serene in here with small waterfalls, and it has nearly two dozen overhead bridges.
Nothing fancy in here, but you can actually make a wish by tossing coins to the waters, and it’s quite a good spot to just stroll along the stream.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Considered as the most stunning landmark at the center of Dongdaemun, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza or DDP, is designed by Zaha Hadid, one of the world’s most renowned female architects. She’s also known in designing the New National Stadium of Japan for the 2020 Olympics in Shinjuku.
DDP is where the most anticipated exhibits and fashion shows (like the Seoul Fashion Week) in Korea are held. It might look like a UFO but is totally futuristic yet sort of fashion forward (for the lack of term). The coolest thing about it is its walkable roof which I failed to go to because it was too cold for my life!
There are 5 halls in this plaza including Art Hall, Design Market, Design Lab, Museum and Dongdaemun History and Culture Park. And if given a chance to come back, I’d like to check out some of their exhibits.
Also, we didn’t miss out on checking out the flower garden filled with LED flowers. I wasn’t able to catch it at night when the flowers are all lit because it took some time to get dark in Korea, but was able to return the other day and voila, got to witness the best of both worlds!
That’s it for the first part of my South Korea trip. More posts coming soon! 🙂