The weather was cold as we stepped out of the bus. It was about 10 degrees and you can feel the cold even if the sun was way up the clear blue skies. It was a good weather to be in although we were already told that it would get colder in the coming days. The trees that lined the walkways glowed in bright yellow and orange hues. These were the colors of autumn in a land that was unfamiliar to both me and Asher. But the unfamiliarity of the place excited both of us. We knew that exciting days of exploration was ahead of us – we were both ready to explore Seoul in South Korea.
Seoul is the fifth largest metropolis in the world and we never figured out how big the city was until the morning after we arrived. Strategically located along the Han River, the metropolis includes both the regions of Incheon and Gyeonggi creating a huge bustling capital for South Korea. The city, despite its development, was able to merge its strong history with its modern infrastructures. The South Korean government was able to create a good mix of urban architecture blending with its century-old palaces.
I find exploring other countries an opportunity to see the differences in culture, history, and development. It gives me insights on how we can make our country better by observing their way of life. So when the opportunity came for my little girl to join her Angklung group to Seoul, I did not hesitate to accompany her. It was going to be a memorable one because it was also Asher’s first out-of-the-country trip and South Korea was going to be a good addition on my travel list.
Day 1: Everland Resort – Kids Just Wanna Have Fun
Our first taste of autumn was in a place that also brought out the kid in me – Everland Resort. It is the largest theme park in South Korea that offered lot of activities and attractions that brought out the kid in me. It was like a huge playground for kids of all ages. Our visit came in a few days before the Halloween celebration so the whole the park was dressed up in line with the celebration.
One of the main highlights of our fun day was the face-to-face encounter with a panda! Yes, I was always fascinated by these furry creatures and, as soon as I found out that they had actual pandas in the park, it was the first item that needed to be checked off from our list. We headed straight to the park’s “Panda World”. Before the actual encounter, we went through a short audio-visual presentation that gave us a brief on how panda’s live. The finale is the face-to-face encounter with the resident pandas of Everland. It was fun observing them from the viewing deck. Asher and I had fun trying to capture a cool selfie with these gentle creatures.
A theme park is never complete without the rides so we also had a great time trying out the different rides that we can get our hands on. I was with Asher and three other beauties as we tried to explore the huge grounds of the park. And somewhere along the way, we ended up losing the three other parents who cannot cope up with our excited pace. The ladies had so much fun riding kid-friendly games, trying out 4-D rides, and checking out the spooky houses. Too bad though that we missed watching the afternoon parade.
Everland Resort is also the host of the 6th longest wooden roller coaster in the world – the T Express. I was not able to try it ut because the ladies who were with me were scared to try it out and the line was so long that you had to wait for three hours for your turn. Although, we did try it out in one of the 3D rides of the park.
I may have missed out on the T Express but it was sure fun running around behind four excited ladies who were so eager to explore that park and try out its ride.
Day 2: A Mix of the Old and the New Seoul
Our second day was a real treat for both me and Asher. It was a time where we got to see the mix of Seoul’s old and new attractions. Prior to the trip, I had a list with me of Seoul attractions that I wanted to check out during our free time. However, our hosts were kind enough to plan out our itinerary for our 4-day visit. I did enjoy doing my research about the interesting spots in our itinerary.
A couple of blocks away from our hotel is the world’s largest underground shopping mall in the world covering 154, 000sqm. Located in the posh district of Gangnam, the mall houses an aquarium, a library, exhibition areas, conference halls, shops, and restaurants. One could easily get lost inside this huge mall. The popular K-Pop song “Oppa Gangnam Style” was actually inspired by the Gangnam District so do not be surprised if you find a sculpture of the iconic pose of the song at the front lawn of the mall.
My favorite spot was the huge library within the COEX Mall – the Starfield Library. The place was just awesome and I was overwhelmed by its sheer size. The two-story library boasts a collection of 50, 000 books and magazines which would surely excite book lovers. I could definitely stay within its confines for a whole day.
Located at one end of the Insadong Street, Tapgol Park is one of the modern parks built in Seoul to recognize its historical value. The park was installed at the same location where the Weongaksa Temple of the Joseon Era. It is also a repository of some of South Korea’s national treasures.
The park was a quick fix for me because it gave me a quick glimpse of South Korea’s rich history. If there was one thing that I missed out on this trip was to see Seoul’s grand palaces. I thought that I would be able to squeeze in a day to be able to explore the city but we had an itinerary to follow so Tapgol Park was the closest that I got to on Seoul’s history.
The place was buzzing with activities at the time of our visit. We were told that a political rally was happening at the time of our visit. Interestingly, Tapgol Park is an integral part of the country’s history as it had played host to various political rallies that molded the country to what it is now.
Asher and I had fun exploring the park’s pagodas and monuments. We tried the usual shots that we do, much to the amusement of the locals who were enjoying the cold afternoon weather of Seoul.
Bustling with guests and locals, Insa-dong is a focal point of traditional Korean culture and art trade. The street is one of the centers where you get to experience Korean artistry with the art and culture stores that line the street and art exhibits. Insa-dong is a great place to get traditional Korean crafts like Hanboks, Hanji, tea, and traditional Korean snacks.
This is where Asher and I had our first taste of the authentic Korean streetfood snack – the Bungeoppang. It is a fish-shaped bread filled with red bean paste and honey. It is then topped with vanilla ice cream. It is a favorite winter snack in South Korea.
I was also amazed with the shops that line the streets that offer Korean merchandise. It was interesting to see how rich the South Korean culture is. What is more amazing was how their local cultures are still practiced today despite the advancements in technology. As we walked along the length of the street, young South Koreans caught my attention for wearing their Hanboks. It turns out that wearing the Hanbok on a regular day is a common sight to see. They wear like regular clothes and not only during special occasions.
N Seoul Tower
We ended Day 2 with a visit to Seoul’s iconic tower – the Namsan Tower or, more popularly called N Tower.
The Namsan Tower stands at 237 meters at Namsan Mountain, the second highest point in Seoul. The communication tower is a landmark and an attraction in Seoul and has tourist facilities like an observation deck, cafes, restaurants, and gifts shops. It is a must that you visit the N Tower when you find yourself traveling to Seoul.
We enjoyed the cold windy evening weather as Asher and I headed up to the observation deck of the N Tower. Along the way and at the observation deck, one would notice the love locks. These love locks were a representation of true love as couples attach a lock onto the railings of the observation deck. There are probably a hundred of thousands of locks mounted along the railings. Interestingly for couples, the management of the tower has a tradition that you have to go through prior to “locking” their love onto the railings.
Apart from these love locks, the N Tower also offers an amazing panoramic view of Seoul. I enjoyed the view of the sparkling city lights of Seoul during our visit. It was beautiful and magical. Watching the city glow in the dark atop N Tower is definitely a great way to cap off the night.
Day 3: An Autumn Ride
We woke up to a colder morning on our third day. As expected, the temperature dropped to 6 degrees that early morning. EveryoneWe were headed to the Samsung Transportation Museum that day to give the kids a learning experience on the evolution of modern transportation.
Samsung was at the helm of creating a repository where kids and kids-at-heart are able to visually understand how modern transportation progressed from horse-drawn carriages to modern race cars. The collection of car displays gives visitors a glimpse of the era that it belongs and how these cars became icons during its time. I enjoyed the collection of race cars on the second level of the museum. You get that adrenaline rush just viewing the race cars.
One thing that both Asher and I secretly enjoyed was the scenic grounds of the Samsung Transport Museum. The tree-lined grounds with its yellow and orange leaves were a perfect backdrop for an autumn-themed photoshoot. We secretly snuck out and enjoyed our attempts to get that perfect autumn morning shot.
I guess our photo attempts were fairly good. Hahaha!
Day 4: Wandering Around
Our last day was spent wandering around. We were scheduled to make an afternoon visit to Myeongdong before heading up to the airport while our morning was free. So Asher and I decided to take an early morning walk around Gangnam.
Seoul Olympic Stadium
My first glimpse of the Seoul Olympic Stadium was on our first day when our bus passed by the area on our way to Everland. I figured that it was close to where we were staying. So after a quick research, it was a good 20 minutes away.
Asher and I braved the cold Monday morning to take a quick stroll to the Seoul Olympic Stadium.
The Olympic Stadium was Seoul’s centerpiece for the 1986 Asian Games and 1988 Olympics. The multipurpose stadium can seat 69, 950 spectators and hosted the Opening and Closing programs of the Olympiad. The park now serves as a recreational facility for locals and tourists.
I was so thrilled to having stepped on the hallowed grounds where the Olympics was once held. I took the time to really savor the moment. We sat on the bleachers and I imagined the whole area filled to the brim and cheering for athletes. It was probably an exciting experience for those who were there at the time.
Walking back to our hotel, we had a nice stroll along the streets of Gangnam District. The district is Seoul’s upscale and modern side with its skyscrapers and upscale shops and restaurants.
Myeongdong is Seoul’s shopping mecca. This is where you will find a mix of local and international fashion brands and a string of shopping malls. This is also a great place to shop for Korean cosmetic products.
We also had our share of Korean street food in Myeongdong. Afternoons is a great time to enjoy Korean treats when pop up food stalls start their day. Food stall hopping is a must with the food options that you can check out.
Beyond the food and the shopping, Myeongdong has its own historical significance. Strolling along its nooks and crannies, we discovered interesting facts about Myeongdong.
Myeongdong Nanta Theater/UNESCO Building
At the center of Myeongdong’s bustling commerce is the UNESCO Building. The unassuming structure is the home of the Myeongdong Nanta Theater where you get to watch high quality performances in its 385-seat theater.
A few steps away from the UNESCO Building is the Myeongdong Cathedral. Dedicated to the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, the church is a central figure of Roman Catholicism in South Korea as it is one of the first churches to be built in the country.
One thing that stood out during our visit was the church’s steeple. Standing at 45 meters, the steeple and its clock stands as the iconic image of the church and stands out in the modern skyline of Myeongdong. The sprawling grounds of the church evokes a feeling of security with its quiet and peaceful atmosphere in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the streets around it.
Asher and I had a short but sweet time by the church as we took a short break from all the walking searching for squishies and what to bring back home to the Philippines. Interestingly, the church grounds was a sanctuary for protesters through the years. It hosted peaceful protests within its grounds and remains to be a sanctuary until now.
Post Travel Notes
It is amazing to know that the Philippines once assisted South Korea a few decades back to help in building the country. That assistance is valued by South Koreans as it contributed to the development of the nation to what it is now. Unfortunately, the development of the Philippines is no where near the development of South Korea as an industrialized state. And in a turn of events, the nation that once helped a nation rise is now the receiving side of assistance.
Where did it all go wrong?
Two things stood out for me during this trip - transportation infrastructures and the sense of national pride are key to a country’s development.
An effective and efficient transport infrastructure is needed for a country to rise economically. Seoul has an intricate mass transport system that easily connects the districts and the surrounding areas. Its road network is massive that one can move around the city with ease. The transportation infrastructure is well-planned that the of transfer of goods, resources, and manpower can easily be done from one point to another. No wonder Seoul has grown into a megapolis that it is now. Effective and efficient movement of resources is crucial for the development of the country.
What really stood out for me was their sense of national pride. South Koreans were able to develop in the modern way without sacrificing their history. While we demolish historical structures, South Korea maintains its own that speak of who they are. It is a common sight to see old and young Koreans wearing their hanboks as they go through their daily run while we reserve ours for special occasions only. The N Tower is an icon of national pride. You know that the N Tower is South Korea and South Korea is the N Tower.
As we headed back to the airport, I watched the city lights of Seoul with the N Tower hovering over the city. I think that at the base of a developing nation,like the Philippines, is the sense of pride on who we really are. We need to answer the question - “sino nga ba ang Pilipino?” It is the understanding and execution that if we want our country to move forward, we need to put our country’s welfare first before our personal gains. It is that little sacrifice that I hope Asher, and her co-Angklung players, picked up and will live on as they grow to make a better Philippines.
Getting there: Cebu Pacific offer regular flights to Incheon Airport, Seoul’s main gateway. They also offer regular promotional fares to South Korea. There are a lot of accommodations available for every kind of traveler in Seoul. Our group stayed at Aloft Hotel in Gangnam District.
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Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.