In June, I heard that Cebu Pacific now has regular flights going to South Korea. And in one of their periodic low fare promotions, we (my sisters and I) decided to book a trip together. The truth is SoKor never interests me, not to mention it used to be very expensive to fly to. So the 2 major motivations of this trip are (1) the low fare: $143 (PH6879) for return ticket; and (2) traveling with Candie, who was an exchange student 7 years ago. We thought it would be so much fun to watch her flaunt or fall on her fading Korean language. After telling our mom that the 3 of us are going to be gone from the office for 8 days, quite eventful in itself, i must say, we were all set!

The flight took 4 hours and we landed in Incheon at 8:30pm (time is 1 hour ahead of Manila). As expected the airport is modern and impressive. We noted several mobile phone rental inside the airport. We were going to rent one because we know Korean mobile system isn’t GSM but surprisingly, upon switching on our mobile phones, we found that GSM is actually supported! And not just Nokia N73 as advised by the Globe Platinum help desk. We were carrying LG KT610 and Sony Ericsson K850 and both cellphone worked, supported by KT (Korean Telecomm). According to our friend/host Hinny, S.Korea now supports all kind of mobile system. Cool! That is for your information: Globe, Smart and Sun cellular.

We took an airport limo that took us to Seoul. It takes one hour and costs W14,300 (PH572 or $11.5) per person per way. We were surprised (again) how cheap it was recalling the airport limo from Narita-Tokyo at Y3000 (PH1500 or $30) per person per way.

Our couchsurfing hosts in Seoul are Tony and Hinny, a lovely young couple. Tony came to get us at the bus stop and they even ordered us “special” chicken delivery because we were starving(!) budget airline and all. We met their poodle named Mango. She was so smart doing all sorts of tricks and so friendly. She would run excitedly over to lie on my lap. I like her so much that I want one! I’ve never been fond of dogs. First macbook, now puppy. What’s next?

Day 1 (Sun) – Lost in Translation, Seoul

We got 8 days in South Korea and we said, we’re going to pack as much as we can without exhausting ourselves, with emphasis on the “non exhausting”, of course!

The plan was to do the cultural/tourists thingy first, like the palaces and temples. It’s always my priority when I travel. Unfortunately while it’s fun to travel with my sisters, their priority is shopping (specifically Girlie because Candie also love historical sites). I’m not saying I don’t love it, because truth be told, when we go shopping, I always ended up with the most bags. Anyway, we didn’t leave the house until noon time, so we decided to take lunch first before starting the day.

Hinny took us to the nearby Lotte Mart food court and we had our first spicy Korean food, which we will be having a lot of later.

Bibimbop – spicy red flavored vegetable rice on hot metal bowl
Sundubu – spicy red tofu soup
Haemuljige – spicy red seafood noodle soup

Since it was late and we were to meet up with our host for dinner, we decided to skip the palace to look at the nearby attractions. Hinny suggested to look at this king’s tomb in Selleoung (subway stop) and Tony said to look at this tranquil temple at the Samseoung (subway stop). But because we hadn’t gotten our bearing of Seoul yet, we had a hard time finding our way. We had to ask around every 2 second, which very fortunately Candie speaks Korean! I would say that this became the main attraction of our first day in Seoul. The number of English speaking locals has increased over the years but there are still people who do not know what is a toilet. In the end, we didn’t visit any tomb or temple, but ended up in COEX (Samseoung), one of the largest shopping mall in Seoul, not surprisingly.

We met up with Tony and Hinny in the evening for a night in town. They brought us to Nowon’s downtown for dinner, ice cream, shopping, and nore bang! We love the festive downtown. It reminded us of Ikebukuro, where Pincky used to live in Tokyo. It also resembles Hong Kong a bit.

It was comforting to find that because the whole time we were roaming the city during the day, we found Korea to be bland and depressing. Maybe because it was Sunday and everyone in church? Or maybe we were at the wrong part of town. It took us a while to find a decent coffee place to sit in. I didn’t even bother to take photos. And if you’ve traveled with me before, you’d realize how bad it was because even Hong Kong where I’ve been to so many times, I would still like to lomo the cable car or the hectic street signs, shops, people. There was absolutely nothing of interest!

For dinner, we had the most amazing Samgyupsal. Literally it means 3 layers of meat. You get a griller on the table and you order grams and grams and grams of samgyupsal. They’re either thinly sliced or cut in 1 cm strips. You grill them, dip in chilli sauce and wrapped with raw garlic, pickled radish and anything you fancy in a lettuce leaf. Yum! The nicest thing about Korean restaurants is that you get these little plates of goodies (kimchi and other preserved delicacies) before your order arrives.

Nore bang or what we fondly call karaoke is truly a Korean pop culture. The downtown is lined with several nore bang places, even one building can have 2 or 3. They are so serious inside with flashing disco lights in every room. Awesome sound system and the mic all work! Being Pinoy with karaoke in our blood stream as well, we surprised our hosts that we were as into it as they were, if not more. Candie even sang a couple of Korean songs. They explained that when they take their guests to nore bangs, most were too shy to sing and so they’d (Tony & Hinny) end up the one singing most of the time. We all had so much fun!