Featured Post

Moving Domains

Hello All, Just a quick note to say that I haven't been blogging here for a while because Peter and I decided to get our own doma...

Blog Archive

Instagram @ajourneywelove

Archive for March 2012

[Travel] Ilocos Norte tour part one

It all started with a whim to travel. Then there was a P288 sale from airphilexpress and I found myself booking a trip to Laoag and three days worth of leave.

Finally landed at Laoag Airport last sunday, march 25th at 630pm then signed up for the free shuttle from the airport to the city centre. Plan was to take a bus to Pagudpud and stay at Cathy's Homestay.

Lucky us, we caught the last trip of the mini bus from Laoag to Pagudpud! Fare was P60 for an ordinary bus and since we were in a bit of a hurry, we weren't gonna complain.

After two hours, we arrived at the Pagudpud town centre! My, it was a deserted area at 9pm! We were dropped off in front of the municipal hall and a tricycle picked us up to get to Cathy's resort in Saud Beach.

Note for those of you planning our sojourn: bring food with you! I actually bought some before the trip but left it in the car! Dohh! The stores close at 7pm in Pagudpud and there's no restaurant near Cathys place so if you don't have food, you'll end up with no dinner!

Just our luck, cathy's was overbooked and so we got to stay at Madrid Beach Resort, Cathy's aunties place. Same price but no breakfast included.

No hot shower but that's fine. It was a semi- early night or us as we were tired after the trip. We have an early day too, we have a tour of Pagudpud starting at 8am!

Photos to follow, when I get back home and manage to upload them.

South Korea: YongPyong Ski Resort Part One

I knew that on my recent trip to Korea, one of the things that I really wanted to do was to learn how to snowboard and/or ski (or both). So in my itinerary, I prepared an almost-flexible four days out of my nine days in Korea to spend at a ski resort.

Originally, I wanted to go to Vivaldi Park (Daemyung Resort) which was only an hour away from Seoul. I thought it would be better if I stayed in Seoul and just go over to the resort, take a few lessons then go back to Seoul. Then I realized: that would be just like saying I tried something - like learned a lesson for an hour or so and then that's it! And so, I did my research (hello Google) - tried to find what is the best ski resort in South Korea, wanted to find a cheap hostel within the premises where I could stay a few nights, and I landed in YongPyong Resort.

It is 2 1/2 hours from Seoul by the Express Bus (the bus stop is at Jamsil station on the East Side of Seoul) and leaves at 6.10AM and 9AM. I thought at first that I need a reservation to get on this bus and after numerous attempts of trying to email the resort and got no reply, I decided to commute there instead (another way to get to YongPyong resort). Little did I know, I didn't have to reserve a slot - you could just turn up on the day itself and board the bus and pay the roundtrip fare of 28,000 Won. Oh well.

What I did was a bit more complicated: I went to the inter-city bus station in Seoul and bought a ticket to Hoenggye for 13,800 won (good thing I pronounced it correctly when I was buying a ticket - the girl at the counter managed to recognize it and she had an English spelling of the town and got me the rigt ticket. Was stupid enough not to ask someone fluent in Korean to write down the town for me in Korean). It was quite a long bus ride in a sense. 2 1/2 hours away from the city. I spent the first few hours looking out the window at the scenery but the seat was so comfy, I fell asleep and when I woke up, I was in a Korean countryside where the trees and the mountains are dusted with snow.

Seeing as I've never seen real snow before, and only seeing ice on the streets in Seoul, I got excited! It looks so powdery soft and white! Finally, I got to Hoenggye, where the bus station was not exactly what I had hoped for. It was just a stop near a gasoline station. Ok, quite rural. Tried to go to the Post Office where the shuttle bus to YongPYong would stop but it was nearly 6pm and there was no bus in sight! Turns out the information on the website was out of date. There was no 6pm bus anymore, the next bus would be at 7pm!

Okay, panicked for a moment there but thought I could kill some time by exploring the tiny town of Hoenggye rather than waiting in the cold in front of the Post Office. I saw tiny shops along the main road, but there was a Paris cafe place so I stopped by and grabbed myself something to eat and a coffee while mooching their free WiFi. That kept me busy for around 45 minutes as I waited for 6:55pm.

Got to the stop 5 minutes before and it came on time! It just stopped, picked passengers up and I finally arrived in the resort!

Amazing scenery :) I'll update more on Part Two if I ever get around to typing it :P

South Korea: Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace)

While I was researching for this Korea trip, one of the hindrances I had was trying to remember (and write down) the names for all the sites I wanted to see. Just trying to write down and remember the names of the five palaces was a tongue-twister in itself.

On my first day in Korea, February 18th, after lunch at Itaewon (a Subway sandwich), we took a subway to Gwanghwamun. It was a large square, dominated by two statues. One of the statues was of the King of Korea who pioneered the Korean alphabet. My new friends and I were amazed at the structures and got a group photo in front of the statue of the King. There, a young Korean child waved to one of my new friends and we fond it so endearing!

Fter getting our photo fix and tiring of the square, we walked to the entrance of Gyeongbokgung. THis is the largest of the five palaces in Seoul, and it has a changing of the guards timed almost every hour (check the site for time schedules) - we were a bit too late for the 1:00 changing of the guards schedule, so we just paid the 3,000 Won entrance fee and went in.

I never thought that these new friends would like palaces: seriously, as they were all boys, but then again, we are all toursits so they must also be curious about what the inside of a Korean palace would be like. One of the new friends has been to the Forbidden City in Beijing and said that Gyengbukgung looks like one of the Chinese palaces. We then had this theory that since Korea is connected to China, there are certain influences within the Chinese culture that would have rubbed off in Korea.

We saw the top of a pagoda somewhere in the distance and we all mutually agreed to find a way there after we have explored the grounds first!

Saw the throne room, where hoards of people were gathered around, taking photos. Eventually explored other parts of the palace, where there were other rooms or houses of sort, which we thought would house some of the servants (or concubines!)

Then the best part: there was a man-made island and lake within the palace and it was iced over. In that man-made island is another house-type structure. It was so beautiful and amazing. With al the trees around (with no leaves, of course, it was the dead of winter) and that iced lake, it certainly was worth the admission fee.

Of course, I can't help but wonder how beautiful the grounds would also be if I went there in spring and winter - with all the changing colours of the leaves!

Entrance to Gyengbokgung is 3,000 won. It's open from 10AM-5PM (during winter)
Best way to go there is to alight at the Gwanghwamun subway station and walk a few metres to the entrance.

[Travel Tips] The friends you'll meet while travelling

Its been nearly a week since I came back from my first ever solo backpacking trip abroad. At first, I was dead scared: what if I become really lonely, or what if I run out of money or I bore myself? Then comes the dread: who will take my photos??? Then: will I ever get to meet new friends?

Fortunately for me, on my first day to Korea, I met a great set of friends who I ended up travelling a few days around Korea with. I checked into the hostel at around 8AM after a long red eye flight (I didn't get much sleep so I must have looked horrible then) and was not really dressed properly (I was dressed in just a t-shirt and jeans when I left the tropical land of the Philippines), it was freezing (I had a screenshot of the weather/temperature at the time and the lows were at -11 degrees celcius), and I was alone.

I decided to stay at a hostel during these alone times. I was reading some RTW (Round The World, for those of you who don't know) blogs and most of them recommended hostels to meet new friends and well, to save on the cost of a bed per night. And so, little did I know that I would meet a few people out at the hostel on my first day!

Sometimes it just takes a little "Hello" and a smile to make new friends - most of these new friends of mine are staying in Korea for a longer period of time. I was just there on holiday for a week: others are going to be teaching English for a year, another is studying as an exchange student.

We get to exchange insights and previous travel experiences, and chat about anything under the sun. We get to play little games and experience new things!

The original itinerary gets thrown out the window because you either go with the flow (ie where the new friends will head off to) or just end up staying at the hostel and hanging out with them.

Sure, you won't get along with every one of these new friends but in the end, you get to meet some classic ones that you'll want to stay in touch with: easier now with the advent of email, Twitter and Facebook.

Who says it's sad and lonely to travel alone?

The point is: some of these people do travel alone, and some of them are looking for friends, just like you :)

More Korea-related articles:

South Korea: Kimchi Hongdae Hostel

My first stop in Korea after the airport was the Kimchi Hongdae Hostel, which would be home for at least four nights, on the first draft of my itinerary. Situated in Hongdae, the hostel is around a 10 minute walk from the Hongik University subway exit 2 on either the AREX commuter train or the green outer circle line, making it an ideal location.

Hongdae is the slang term for Hongik University so don't try to look for Hongdae in the subway map as you won't see it! This area is known for the all night bars and clubs where some of the younger crowd - Koreans or foreigners alike flock to.

The area is also known as a shopping heaven, full of indie stores (except for a few chain cosmetics stores that you would practically see everywhere) that offer cheap clothes, shoes, or accessories that's of a very good quality.

So, why did I choose this hostel? Aside from it's proximity to Hongdae and it's accessibility to the subway and the airport express trains, they offer cheap dorm rooms.

They're also one of the cheapest hostels around. Online, they have great deals for rooms. As of this writing, if it's a weekday, you could get a dorm room for 15,000 Korean Won (roughly 15 USD), and 18,000 Korean Won (18 USD) for weekend rates.

Another thing why I booked through Kimchi Hostel? The fact that you don't need to have a credit card to pay for your reservation. You just fill out the form on their website, include your details and they will email you back with a confirmation. You'll need to reconfirm your reservation with them though! This is what I did, and the immigration officer in the Philippines asked where I was staying and just gave them the email printout (yeah, the immigration officers in the Philippines could be quite horrible specially if you're a solo female traveller. They always think that you're going abroad to find a job or become an illegal immigrant somewhere - more on that in a separate post). 

I stayed in the female dorm when I was at the Kimchi Hostel. The floors were actually heated (ondol-style) and I found myself sleeping in a mattress on the floor! It was that comfy! Although I did wake up in the middle of the night because it became too hot ha ha! (I was actually wrapped up in a comforter and was wearing sweats to bed since I'm not used to the cold weather and I was sweating!!) The other nights, I found myself on a bottom bunk bed near the door. I loved my little spot and I found that the bottom of the bed is a great place to stash my luggages and other junk in! Well, all of us girls had a lot of fun shopping in Korea that we all tried to stash our junk underneath our beds! :P 

I loved the kitchen: tried cooking lunch there one Wednesday afternoon after a mishap of trying to find raw eggs (long story) and buying bread (another long story) and it's a great way to save money. The dining area is also a great way to talk to the other people in the hostel over lunch or dinner or just eating a few munchies. 

There's also a lounge area where you could watch telly (if you're into K-Pop there's a channel that has a lot of those acts singing or doing stuff but I didn't really bother since I can't understand them!), just hang out, or read (there's a lot of guidebooks available in the bookshelf: take your pick which country you would want to go next. If you're stuck where to go in Korea, there's a Korea guidebook and a guide to Seoul too). You could also go online using one of their two computers (free to use, of course) or if you have your own netbook/iPad/iPod/mobile phone, you could use their free WiFi (which is absolutely fast!!)

The guys running the place are absolute sweethearts. They help you out as much as you can: you need directions going from one place to another using the subway? No problem, they know the way! Need help moving your stuff from one room to another, no problem as well! If you need to stow some of your luggage when you leave Seoul to go snowboarding, they'll keep your bags in a storage bin until you arrive (which I did when I went snowboarding in YongPyong, more of that in a separate post). 

If you also need to kill a few hours before your flight back home, you could also leave your stuff at the hostel after you've checked out, while you go out and explore the city one last time or just hang around in the common room in the hostel, they don't really have a problem with that! Which was good since a lot of the other hostels I've been in don't allow you to hang around the common area after you've checked out. What they do have in common is they let you stow your luggage, which is cool.

If you're staying for long periods of time, you could also do your laundry there for a minimal fee. Good for long term travellers who only packed a few sets of clothes for their trip - unlike me who ended up buying hoards and hoards of new clothes from Uniqlo (but to my defense it was on sale!!!) - glampacking much!?

They also provide maps of the Hongdae area and Seoul in general when you check in so if you find yourself in a pickle (lost or whatever), you could just refer to the map! I had to refer to the Seoul map once or twice (I actualy tore mine accidentally) and the Hongdae map once so it was very very useful.The hostel also provides other tour services for you. Pick up one of the many brochures from the common area and you'll never run out of ideas where to go. 

Another thing that I loved; they provided a towel when I checked in!! That was a plus! As not all hostels provide towels for you (so I normally pack two in my backpack). 

Normally the hostel gets pretty booked during weekends (Friday-Sunday nights), so better boook in advance! Then again, it is understandable since Hongdae really gets busy during weekends when the party scene is at its peak! 

So there, a very, very long review about the Kimchi Hostel. I've stayed there for a total of 5 nights and will stay again when I go back to Seoul (hopefully later this year during autumn or maybe a bit earlier during summer so I could also make a side trip to Yeosu for the World Expo -that is, if I decide to fly through Incheon and not through Busan). 

Other Korea-related posts:

South Korea: Visa Requirements & Experience

And so I applied for a South Korean visa a few weeks ago in line with my trip this February 18th till the 26th. It's fairly easy, so I'll share with you some of the requirements and steps needed to lodge your visa application.

The Korean visa requirements are as follows:

1. Application Form with a Passport photo pasted to the form. (you could download the form online or you could ask for one at the embassy and fill it out while you wait your turn)
2. Photocopy of your passport details page
3. Photocopy of your visas from the OECD countries (ie US, UK, Australia, etc) plus entry and exit stamps (travel must be done within the last five years) - this step is only applicable if you had visas to the OECD countries or travelled to them. Skip this step if you haven't.
4. Certificate of Employment - original copy.
5. Bank Certificate - original copy.
6. BIR Form 2316 (photocopy would suffice).

Once you have all those requirements, it's time to go to the Korean Embassy!

I have no clue how to commute there without taking a taxi so I can't be of much help. If your taxi driver does not know how to get there, you could just direct them near Market Market and go down the overpass to C5. The Korean Embassy is the first building you would encounter when you turn going to Mckinley Hill. You wouldn't miss it ;)

Once you arrive, you need to give a valid ID to the security guard and state that you are going to apply for a visa.

They will then give you an ID number and allow you inside the premises. Please note that if you're applying, they process from 9am-12nn on a first come-first served basis.

Once inside, you need to approach another desk. The guard will ask you if you have a valid visa to any of the OECD countries - and would then give you a number accordingly. They have a separate line for frequent travellers to Korea/OECD countries, and another one for first-time applicants.

At the time I applied, I had a valid UK visa, so I was directed to the frequent traveller/OECD visa holder line.

I arrived at 8.30 AM and processing started as early as 8.45AM for the first time travellers. I had to wait a few more minutes for the frequent traveller line processing to start. I didn't mind, I had a book with me to pass the time.

When my turn came, I passed my documents and the consul checked if they were complete. She didn't ask me any questions (the girl before me in the queue was asked a few questions) - so I think it is a case to case basis on what other information the consul would require from you.

The consul then filled out a form with a date - it is the date when you can come back to claim your passport. Do not ever lose this form as you'll need it to claim your passport!

Since I was in the OECD line, it only took three working days for them to process my application.

The application period was less than 30 minutes for me. Easy peasy!

Four days later, I came back to claim my passport. I was on training on the day they were set to release my passport so I came the day after. Not a problem ;)

They normally release passports between 2-4pm and it was also on a first-come first served basis. In this case, it was only one line for everyone.

Same procedure applies: at the gate of the Korean Embassy, they'll ask you to sign in, then once inside, you'll have to surrender your claim stub thingy and they'll ask you to write down your full name and contact number at the back side of the paper then give you a number in return.

Wait for your number to be called - they normally batch the claims (ie numbers 1-20) then you'll fall in line in front of the window.

Once you get your turn in the consul's window, the consul would then ask you for your full name (for verification purposes) and then they'll release your passport.

If you're lucky, you would be granted a visa!! ;)

Single-entry visas are valid for 59 days and are free!

In my case, I was granted a visa, so hello winter in Korea! :)

When you apply for a visa, an airline ticket and accomodation is not required. I did not have any accomodations lined up yet when I applied for a visa, but I do have an airline ticket already (hello Cebu Pacific's seat sale).

However, at the time I applied, I didn't bring a copy of my e-ticket and was not required to show it. Then again, it could be a case to case basis and would not necessarily mean that my case would be the same as yours.

** okay, sorry, I wrote this post before I went to Korea... It's been a week since I returned back to the PH and here's some photos!!**

Some more Korea-related posts:

- Copyright © Ruby Loves Adventure - Skyblue - Powered by Blogger - Designed by Johanes Djogan -