Ssang Waterfalls (image from www.meetup.com)
This is not quite the Korea itinerary many people will do. If you read my past travelogues, you’ll notice that i try to cram as much as i possibly can into any trip (in the spirit of Fast Travel), so for Korea, i will be going to all the important/popular sites in 11.5 days, covering Seoul, Seoraksan/Sokcho, Jeju and Busan.
The first and most important travel tip i would like to offer is this – use Korea Tourism Organization’s Visit Korea website (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/) for your trip research. While doing my research, i gathered information from various sites/blogs, but i eventually realized that everything that is worthy of your time/calories is on the VisitKorea site! i immediately changed my trip research strategy – to using the VisitKorea site exclusively for shortlisting attractions and food places. The information presented on the VisitKorea site is very comprehensive, and despite the disclaimer that “VisitKorea does not guarantee the quality of products or services introduced on its site”, i found that everything listed on the site carries sufficient weight and are basically “disappointment-proof”.
My trip doesn’t happen until May, but as i’ve mentioned before, it’s always a good idea to make advanced arrangements to secure the best deals, such as flights. I booked flights on Jeju Air as soon as they were available for sale, and they’re pretty cheap – Seoul to Jeju KRW 37100 (S$45), Jeju to Busan KRW 29100 (S$35) and Busan to Fukuoka KRW 88000 (S$105). Japan (Kyushu) is the destination of the second leg of my three weeks trip. So here’s my Korea itinerary:
Day 1 – Arrival in the early morning, take bus (it takes 2 hours to get from Incheon to Seoul!) to guest house. I chose to stay in a Hanok near Changdeokgung Palace for a more complete Korean experience, and anyway, we love the ease of sleeping on tatami since we travel with young kids. Get early lunch/brunch at Tosokchon – hopefully the Ginseng will help prop us up for the day after a sleep-deprived overnight flight. It’s probably a good idea to avoid going to Tosokchon at meal times. The usual thing to do for most people is to bundle the visit to Tosokchon with a visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace, but i will decide on what to do when i’m there. I have made up my mind to visit Changdeokgung Palace (UNESCO Heritage Site) for sure, so i might just give Gyeongbokgung Palace a miss. Next, i will check out Insadong, and specifically Ssamziegil, pick up a prepaid data SIM card at KT Olleh (393, Samil-daero, Jongno-gu) (Update: eventually i used m1’s data passport and it’s so much easier and cheaper too), and further head to Myeongdong (all on foot), stopping at Cheonggyecheon stream along the way. Dinner will be at Gaehwa 개화 to sample their Jajangmyeon, plus a second round at
Two Two Fried Chicken (bad reviews on TripAdvisor) Kyochon Fried Chicken at Dongdaemun. By the way, there are many bad reviews about the shopping at Myeongdong (more expensive and may carry fake goods) so we will leave the shopping till the next day (Update: the shopping at Myeongdong was actually pretty good).
Day 2 – Walk about Bukchon Hanok Village before proceeding to Changdeokgung for a tour of the Secret Garden (known as Huwon). A visit is possible only with a guided tour (reservations can be made two months ahead on the internet) and the first English tour starts at 1130am. Cold buckwheat beef noodles for lunch at Ojang-dong Hamheung Naengmyeon (오장동함흥냉면). Patbingsu for dessert at Mealtop Apjugeong. Next, shopping at Gangnam Station Underground Mall. Dinner at Byeokje Galbi (벽제갈비), which supposedly offers the choicest Korean beef.
Day 3 – Noryangjin Fish Market (and no, i will not eat the live octopus thingy). Hangang Park. Pick up rental car from Gimpo Airport and drive to Gangchon Rail Park. Seafood dinner (sashimi and stew) at Odaeyang Hoetjip (오대양횟집), Sokcho. Stay for the night near Seoraksan National Park entrance.
Day 4 – Hike Seoraksan (towards Cheonbuldong Valley) and possibly also take the cable car ride up to Gwongeumseong Fortress. In the afternoon, head to Chuam beach (Chotdaebawi or Candlestick rock), and spend the night at Donghae, with dinner near the hotel.
Day 5 – Hike Mureung Valley, the highlight of which, to me, is the double cascade Ssang waterfalls (pictured at top of post). Spend the night at Chuncheon, with dinner at Sigol Makguksu (cold spicy buckwheat noodles which is the signature dish of Chuncheon).
Day 6 – Spend the morning around Nami Island, then head back to Gimpo airport to catch the flight to Jeju (grab lunch at airport). Upon arrival at Jeju, pick up rental car and head to the guest house at the south-western end of the island, with a brief stop at the Mysterious road (Dokkaebi Road).
Day 7 – Yeongmeori coast, lunch at Gyo Rae Handmade Noodles (supposedly with chicken raised on Jeju island) (Update: went to Seongmi Garden instead which i originally wanted to avoid since it is said to be very busy. Totally worth it. Just be there early to avoid the crowd), Jeolmul Natural Forest Resort and capping the day with a hike up Seongsan Ilchulbong (people normally go there for the sunrise but i rather stay away from the crowd).
Day 8 – Udo Island and Manjanggul Cave. Dinner at Dombedon, where the famed black pig (steamed and sliced) is served (Update: had seafood dinner at Doraji instead since we had black pig the day before. The black pig would taste like normal pork anyway so not so worthwhile).
Day 9 – Flight to Busan. Check in to hotel which is at Seomyeon area. Visit Shinsegae Mall, Guiness record holder of the largest departmental store in the world. Dinner at Maniju (마니주), which specializes in grilled eel. Take a stroll along Gwangalli beach and head back to the hotel.
Day 10 – Hike the Songdo coastal walkway (Update: skipped and went to Nampo shopping district). Try sashimi at restaurant near Songdo beach. Visit Gamcheon culture village. Dinner at Ssangdoongi Dwaeji Gukbap (Pork soup with rice which is a specialty of the area around Busan).
Day 11 – Do last minute shopping around the Seomyeon area. Flight to Fukuoka.