Jeju/Busan/Seoul Day 12 (6 Nov 19) – Bye Bye Seoul, Bye Bye South Korea: A Conclusion of our South Korea Trip

Final day in South Korea

After some final packing of our luggage, my friends and I headed to the nearby Lotteria, a South Korean fast-food chain for brunch. Throughout our 12 days in South Korea, this is the first time we ate from Lotteria (my friend and I tried once three years ago when we visited Seoul). After our meal, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and check-out. Fortunately, there is an airport limousine stop next to our hotel, getting to the airport was not a problem for us. We timed our departure from the hotel according to the airport limousine service scheduled timing. The bus came shortly at the time we arrived at the bus stop. The ride from Dongdaemun area to Incheon International Airport Terminal 1 (where our flight departs from) takes around 1 hour. The airport limousine has wide and comfortable seats which allowed us to take a snooze while being whizzed to the airport.

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This is the bus that will take us to the airport

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Taking a wefie on the airport limousine

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We relaxed as we saw Seoul flash by

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We are near the airport

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Arrival at Incheon International Airport Terminal 1

At Incheon Airport

The airport limousine only stops at one of the gates in Incheon International Airport Terminal 1. From there, passengers are to walk towards their check-in rows. Incheon International Airport is quite big, it took us around 5mins to locate and walk to our check-in row. Prior to checking in, I remembered there was a need for us to show the goods we purchased for a tax refund. However, this process has been automated. We discovered when we were at Incheon International Airport that there is no need to show proof of purchase. Foreigners claim tax refund can check-in our luggage first before heading to the automated kiosks to have the paperwork done up, we just have to produce the receipts for tax refund purposes. My friends and I headed to the airlines counter to process our check-in before proceeding to clear custom.

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Wefie at the airport

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Tax refund automated kiosks before custom clearance

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Checking-in to our flight

Once we cleared the custom, we proceeded to the tax refund counter to claim our tax. Tax refunds will be paid in either USD or KRW. As it is largely automated, akin to withdrawing money from ATM, the process is significantly faster compared to what we experienced three years ago. The airside of Incheon International Airport is another shopping mecca for passengers. There are numerous luxury brands setting up boutiques here for passengers to shop. There are even Korean Culture experience centres at the airside for passengers to understand the Korean Culture while waiting for their flight. My friends and I spent the rest of our time at the airport in the airport lounge while waiting for our boarding time.

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Cleared immigration

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Our first stop after clearing custom is to head for tax refund

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Time for us to board our flight back home

A Lookback at our South Korea Trip

Today is the day we bid farewell to South Korea after travel around for 12 days from south to north of the country. Throughout the past 11 days, we have seen both the nature and the cultural part of the country, We had also explored places which has seen far less foreign tourists and been to places that we have never visited before. A recap of our itinerary for this trip:

Day 1 – Arrival at South Korea and onward to Jeju. Due to unexpected delays, we only managed to visit Dongmun Night Market and had dinner at Black Pork Street.

Day 2 – Exploring Jeju via the Southern Road. We visited the major sights in Jeju such as Seongsan Ilchulbong, Seopjikoji, Jeju Folk Village, Jeongbang Waterfall, Oedolgae Rock, Cheonjiyeon Waterfall and Seogwipo Olle Market.

Day 3 – Hiking Hallasan. We stopped by Mysterious Road on our way to Yeongsil Trail on Hallasan, where we took a half-day hike up the mountain. After the hike, we visited Jusangjeolli Cliff, Innisfree Jeju House and end up in Jeju-si.

Day 4 – Onward to Busan. We took a morning flight from Jeju to Busan. At Busan, we visited Gamcheong Cultural Village and head to Busan Train Station to get our train tickets to Seoul.

Day 5 – A road trip to Gyeongsangnam-do. We drove west of Busan visiting places like Mireuksan, Dara Park, Mundong Waterfall, Sinseondae Platform and Windy Hill.

Day 6 – Historic Gyeongju. We drove north of Busan to Gyeongju, visiting Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village, Woljeonggyo Bridge, Gyerim Forest, Cheomseongdae, Donggung Palace & Wolji Pond and Bulguksa Temple.

Day 7 – Eastern Busan. We made a quick stop at Haeundae Beach before heading to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. We also did some shopping at Busan Premium Outlet and Centum City.

Day 8 – Onward to Seoul. We took a three-hour ride on the KTX from Busan to Seoul and spend the rest of the day shopping at Gangnam Garosugil and Myeongdong.

Day 9 – Day Trip to Suwon. Before making our way to Suwon, we made a pitstop at Namdaemun Market and Namdaemun Gate. In Suwon, we visited Hwaseong Haenggung followed by an evening stroll on Hwaseong Fortress. We ended our day with a visit to a Jjimjilbang.

Day 10 – Gangchon and Nami Island. We rode on a railway bike at Gangchon before heading to Nami Island in the nearby province of Gangwon-do. While back at Seoul, we stopped by Cheonggyecheon Stream and did some night shopping at Myeongdong.

Day 11 – Historic Seoul. We visited sights in Seoul such as Seoul City Wall, Deoksugung Palace and ended our day with shopping trips to Hongdae and Myeongdong.

Afterthoughts

During our time in South Korea, I thought there are a couple of apps that I highly recommend to visitors to South Korea (I am not sponsored by them, just sharing useful apps during my travel in South Korea). The Naver Map App (more information here) is what we relied on largely in South Korea from driving to taking public transport. This app is similar to Google Map, only it works in South Korea. Google Map has limited functions in South Korea and it does not show driving routes. Naver Map App not only allowed me to plan my driving routes before coming to South Korea, but the driving routes recommended by the app is also very accurate. The app is also useful for those who do not drive in South Korea as it shows in real-time the public transport options. The second app that I relied on heavily while in South Korea is the Subway App. This app is excellent in navigating through the confusion subway map in South Korea. It is capable of showing us the subway to take and the real-time arrivals and departures of trains. This app gives us a good idea of the time required to travel on subways. The subway app not only displays the subway system in Seoul, but it also has options to display subway systems in major cities such as Busan. We managed to cover quite a bit of South Korea throughout our 12 days here. We also experienced a few firsts during this trip: driving a left-hand drive, climbing the highest mountain in South Korea, taking the KTX, taking the longest cable car system in South Korea, riding on the railway bike to name a few. Throughout this trip, we had a good mix of nature and culture aspect of South Korea and still managed to cater time for shopping.

Jeju/Busan/Seoul Day 11 (5 Nov 19) – The Ancient and Modern Faces of Seoul: From Strolling the Seoul City Wall to Visiting Deoksugung Palace to Shopping at Hongdae and Myeongdong

Seoul is not all about shopping districts, there are a few historical sites in Seoul such as the big five palaces. We planned to visit a couple of these historic sites today followed by finishing up our day with some shopping districts.

Viewing Seoul from Seoul City Wall – Naksan Section

We started our day today visiting part of the Seoul City Wall, which my friend and I did miss out the last time we came to Seoul three years ago. The 18km Seoul City Wall was built to protect Seoul from invasion, the entire wall was well preserved after standing on its spot for more than 600 years. Visitors to Seoul City Wall can choose to walk the entire 18km or do it in part. As we have little time today, we opted to do the shortest section of the wall, starting from Naksan and we would end up in Dongdaemun gate. To get to Naksan stretch of the Seoul City Wall, we took the subway to Hyehwa Station, which is a mere two stops away from where our hotel is. Exiting the subway station, the path to Naksan is a short 5 mins upslope stroll through a neighbourhood. There are some small shops near Hyehwa Station, where we made a short pit stop to check out their merchandise. We continued our walk towards the base of Naksan Park, which was very well marked with signs pointing visitors to the park. Soon we arrived at a flight of stairs which would take us up to Naksan Park. Naksan Park sits on top of 124m Naksan Hill, which has commanding views of parts of Seoul as well as N Seoul Tower and the surrounding Mountain ranges.

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Autumn street scene around Hyehwa Station

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Walking from Hyehwa Station to Naksan Park

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It is going to be an upslope walk to Naksan Park

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Naksan Park lies on top of these stairs

As we climbed the stairs, we were able to see a quieter side of Seoul, a stark difference from places like Myeongdong and Gangnam. At the top of the stairs is an intersection, we took the road on the left that brought us to the  Seoul City wall in under 3 mins walk. The Seoul City Wall sits at the top of the hill with the inner-city side being shorter than the side that faces outside of the city it was meant to protect. Getting up close to Seoul City Wall, it is apparent that some parts of the wall are being from different time periods in Korean history. Some parts of the wall are built with more uniform stone blocks cut into similar dimensions, while there are parts of the wall being built with irregular shapes of stones. Most of the inner side of the wall shows signs of being recently restored with the stones looking newer than the others. This stretch of the Seoul City Wall from Naksan to Dongdaemun is a downslope walk, making it a very easy walk for visitors of all ages.  There weren’t many people around during our visit to the Seoul City Wall, the only people we saw are locals taking their morning stroll. Along the way, we were reminded of how vast the city of Seoul is with the magnificent views of the city constantly in our sight. After walking for around 30 mins, the serene view gave way to a busy street bustling with life. The moment we saw Dongdaemun Gate sitting majestically in the centre of a busy road, we know our walk along the Seoul City Wall came to an end. I would recommend people who wanted to take a stroll along the Seoul City Wall but do not have much time for it to go for this Naksan to Dongdaemun route. Reaching the main road, we headed for the nearest subway station – Dongdaemun Station and made our way to our next destination.

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Quiet Seoul from Naksan Park

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Seoul City Wall up close

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Taking a wefie at the end of our walk along Seoul City Wall

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Dongdaemun gate sitting in the middle of a busy road

Deoksugung Palace

A visit to Seoul will not be complete without a visit to one of the five palaces in the city. Those with more time can opt to visit the bigger palaces of Gyeongbukgung or Changdeokgung, which would take up more than half a day. Since my friend and I visited these two palaces the last time we came to Seoul, coupled that we do not really have a lot of time today, we opted to visit one of the smaller palaces in Seoul – Deoksugung Palace. We took the subway to City Hall Station which is next to Deoksugung Palace. As it was approaching lunchtime, instead of heading into the palace, we crossed the busy road diagonally opposite the palace and settled lunch in a small family-run restaurant. Despite the owners of the restaurant only able to understand very basic English, we had no problems ordering the food (they do have an English menu). The food was inexpensive and delicious.

After lunch, we headed to Deoksugung Palace. After getting our tickets (KRW1,000 per adult), just when we were about to enter the palace, we were in time to witness the change of guard ceremony. The elaborate ceremony saw locals dressed up in ancient Korean soldier uniforms handing over the guard duties to the next group. The ceremony lasted around 5 mins and we were invited to taking pictures with the guards before heading into the palace. There is a small tentage by the side of the entrance where visitors can dress in Hanbok for the photo opportunity with the guards for free.

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We were in time for the change of guard ceremony outside Deoksugung Palace

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Taking wefie with the guard commander outside Deoksugung Palace

Deoksugung Palace was first used as a temporary palace in 1592 during the Japanese invasion where the King stayed when he returned to Seoul after the invasion as the other palaces were burnt down during the invasion. The palace was reused as again in the 19th century where the later King of the Korean dynasty used it as a base to establish the Korean Empire and raised his status to Emperor. It is during this period when most of the buildings in Deoksugung Palace was added. Walking through the main gate of Deoksugung Palace, we came to a stone bridge that transports visitors over a small stream, similar to that of a moat found in most palaces around the world. My friends and I headed to the first building that is surrounded by a stoned corridor. This building is near the entrance of the palace and served as the sleeping chamber of the King when he resided in Deoksugung Palace. Taking a peep inside the sleeping chamber, a small throne sits in the centre of the building and the interior was relatively simple in design. A smaller building next to the King’s sleeping chamber closed for public viewing was used as a place where the Korean King used to receive foreign envoys.

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The sleeping chamber of the Korean King

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There is a simple throne inside the sleeping chamber

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A small building next to the King’s sleeping chambers used to receive foreign envoys

My friends and I decided to visit the buildings at the back of the main palace building before returning to see the main palace building. As we were walking we came across a building that was not painted in any colours next to the King’s Sleeping Chambers. This is the only two-tiered building in Deoksugung Palace and served as the sleeping chambers of the queen. A little further into Deoksugung Palace, passing the queen’s sleeping chambers, is a row of brightly coloured semi-open buildings which was used for the coronation of the King. This is another venue in the palace where the Korean King receives foreign envoys. We peeped into this building and found the interior to be very simple in design, there are no elaborate motives nor was it painted in the bright colours as we were so used to see in Korean Palaces.

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The only two-tiered building in Deoksugung Palace that serves as the sleeping chambers of the queen

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This is where the king receives foreign envoys

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The interior is rather simple in design

After some photo shots, we returned to the building that sits in the middle of Deoksugung Palace. This lone building is the main palace building in Deoksugung Palace. This is where the official throne of the King resides. We were encouraged by the staffs in Deoksugung Palace to enter to view the throne hall. There do not seem to be any restoration works done in the throne hall. The wooden throne hall still retains the paint that was first coating when it was built 500 years ago. The ceiling of the throne hall has elaborate dragon carvings, decked in gold paint. In the centre of the hall, sits the king’s throne majestically on an elevated platform, seemingly displaying the might of the reigning Korean King. The high ceilings in the throne hall make it a very cooling hall. We were encouraged by a staff member stationed inside the throne hall to go closer to the throne for a better look of the artefact. There are, however, strict rules to be followed while inside the throne hall. The staff ensured that visitors do not use any form of flash photography or video while inside the throne hall. We even saw him telling visitors off for videoing inside the throne hall. The part of the throne hall open to visitors is relatively small, we got out in 5 mins. As we exited the hall, making our way to the entrance of the palace, we walked past a large square, installed with small stone tablets marking the place where the different ranked officials would stand during an audience with the king. This square is smaller compare to the ones that we have seen in bigger palaces such as Gyeongbukgung we visited three years ago. As Deoksugung Palace is a relatively smaller palace, my friends and I completed the tour of the palace in under 2 hours. As we were walking out, we saw some parts of the palace being cordoned off for preservation works.

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The throne hall in Deoksugung Palace

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Inside the throne hall

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Taking wefie with the throne

Exiting Deoksugung Palace, we spotted some tentages being erected in the open field opposite the palace. My friends and I decided to head across to check out what is going on. There seems to be some apple harvesting festival event here. There are numerous stalls set up by farmers across South Korea selling the fruit of their labour. We got to try some apples, which is very sweet and crunchy.

The Young and Vibrant Hongdae Shopping District

Leaving Deoksugung Palace, our next stop is Hongdae Shopping District. My friend and I did not manage to visit Hongdae when we visited Seoul three years ago. We made it a point to plan a visit to Hongdae this time around. Access to Hongdae is very easy via the well-connected subway, we alighted at Hongik University station and the shopping district is just outside the station exit. The vibe at Hongdae is very different from that in Myeongdong. While Myeongdong sees mainly tourists, Hongdae is frequented by mainly by Seoulites. The entire Hongdae area has a very young and vibrant vibe, thanks to the nearby University. There are more shops selling clothing here compared to Myeongdong. As we walked around, we spotted a Bingsu restaurant and decided to enjoy some Korean Shaved ice dessert. The dessert was delicious and not too sweet. After dessert, we explored more of the Hongdae area. We do find here to be a better place for shopping compared to Myeongdong. However, due to seasonal changes, the clothing on sale are mainly winter wear, which we would have no use back at home. One would easily lose track of time just by walking around in Hongdae.

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The very vibrant Hongdae

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Hongdae is mainly frequented by locals

Last Dinner in Seoul and Back to Myeongdong

The sky soon got dark and it is time for us to hunt for dinner. For our last dinner in South Korea, we returned to Tosokchon Samgyetang Seoul for some Korean Ginseng Chicken. As we had already timed our visit, there was again no queue for the famous Korean Ginseng Chicken restaurant. After dinner, my friend and I returned to Myeongdong for some last-minute shopping of beauty products. As Myeongdong is mainly frequented by foreigners, I find the shops are more generous in giving discounts and free samples here in Myeongdong. After getting our stuff, we walked around Myeongdong a little and decided to return to the hotel as the shops are closing. My friend and I made a quick pitstop at Dongdaemun Design Plaza to take some photos before returning to the hotel to pack up for our trip home the next day.

 

Jeju/Busan/Seoul Day 10 (4 Nov 19) – Gangchon and Nami Island: The Breathtaking Autumn Foliage in Gangwon-do

Our journey today brought us to yet another nearby province from Seoul. Today we headed out to Gangwon-do for our first time experience in riding the Railway as well as a visit to Nami Island that we did not do the last time we were here. As we returned to the hotel late the night before, we slept in a little and headed out at around 10.30am. Our first stop is the Railway Bike, located at Gangchon. The journey from Seoul to Gangchon in Gangwon-do took us 2 hours to reach via the subway.

Gangchon Railway Bike Ride

There are several railway bikes around in Gangwon-do, I chose to come to the one in Gangchon for a couple of reasons: firstly it is very near to the subway station which meant that we did not have to waste time in travelling from the subway station to the railway bike park; and secondly, it is a few stops away from the subway station which is nearest to Nami Island. We reached Gimyujeong subway station at around 1 pm. From the subway station, it is a mere 3 mins walk to the railway bike park, which is literally next to the subway station. There are only two types of railway bikes available: 2-seater and 4-seater railway bikes. There are scheduled departure timings for a ride on the railway bike. My friends and I wasted no time and headed straight to the ticketing counter. We were glad that we managed to get the tickets for the 1.30om departure on a 4-seater railway bike. Tickets on the railway bikes are charged based on the type of bike and not by the number of headcounts. We paid KRW40,000 for the 4-seater railway bike. Since there is some time left before our scheduled departure, my friends and I went around exploring the railway bike park. The park seems to exist for the sole purpose of boarding the railway bike. There are limited facilities at the park. We only found one cafe selling finger food and a few photo spots for visitors to take pictures at the railway bike park. There is also a very short zip line at the park, which does not interest us. As we still have some time left, we headed into the cafe, initially wanted to grab a bite. But the limited food on sale dissuaded us to even have our lunch there. We spotted a corner in the cafe where we spent the rest of our time taking pictures.

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Taking pictures inside the cafe

It is soon our time for boarding. We headed outside the cafe to join the queue to board the railway bikes. There are two queues already formed up at the boarding area. We made sure that we are queued in the 4-seater bike queue. Boarding was efficient, staffs at the railway bike station boarded visitors by groups and gave us a brief on the brakes and how to use the bike. We settled into our bikes and waited for the green light for us to start pedalling the railway bike. We did not have to wait for too long to be given the green light. Pedalling on the railway bike was easy and effortless (provided all the passenger chip into the pedalling of the bike. Along the way, we would pass through three tunnels. As the bike leaves the bike park, we were treated to sceneries of the countryside. We initially find the scenery rather refreshing, no tall buildings and a lot of greeneries on either side of the railway where we passed by. However, the scenery on this stretch became repetitive after a while as we were pedalling through farmlands. We have to follow the pace of the bike in front of us and the bike kept stopping, apparently for its riders to take pictures. My friends and I were having more fun in pedalling the bike and “plotting” to slam into the bike in front. At times we were slacking off and stopped pedalling leaving the friend sitting behind to do the hard work until she found out and busted us. Farmlands slowly turned into a wilderness, the railway track brought us under and over metal bridges, we soon came to the first tunnel about 10 mins after leaving the railway bike park. The first tunnel was a relatively short one lined with pinwheels on either side of the tunnel walls. These pinwheels seem to be powered by electric rather than wind. The Koreans did a fantastic job of turning an otherwise boring and dark tunnel into a spectacle of colour, bright and Instagram worthy tunnel.

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Map of the entire railway bike track

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The Rail Bike tracks started with farmlands

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More farmlands on both side of the track

At the end of the first tunnel, the railway track bridged over an almost dried river, giving us a feeling of flying over the river. This part of the track seems to be predominately taken over by nature, there was wilderness all around us. Leaves on the trees are mainly green with a hint of yellow, grown on the small hills on the side of the track. The only sign of civilisation is the highway bridge at a distance next to the track and sporadic farmhouses at a distance from the track. This section of the Gangchon Railway Bike ride is pretty short, we arrive at the second tunnel about 5 mins later. The second tunnel was dark at the entrance. It got brighter the deeper we rode in it. We were treated to a colourful light show in the second tunnel. Strips of LED lights turned from green to blue to pink as we rode through the tunnel. Wow, two tunnels with completely different themes. This got us hyped on how the third and final tunnel will be when we come to it.

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Crossing a stream after exiting the first tunnel

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Starting to see some hills

The second tunnel is slightly longer than the first one. The track continues over a small wooden bridge over a small stream. Hills form the backdrop over the farmlands and we started to see more trees donning on their red and yellow autumn outfits. There is a good mix of nature and farmlands with very little civilisation in sight. The distance between the second and the third tunnel is rather short. We came to the third tunnel after 10 mins of pedalling.  The third tunnel is again different from the first two. The third tunnel is a pitch dark. As we pedalled our railway bike in the tunnel, we begin to see white strips of LED lights illuminating the ground and at some parts, the ceiling of the tunnel. This tunnel is the VR tunnel, which I guess there would be some VR effects if we had forked out the extra KRW5,000 per pax. However, we were not given the option when we got our tickets.

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There are lesser farmlands from this part of the track onwards

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Taking pictures on the rail bike

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A small farm afar

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Not so scenic part of the rail

Coming out of the third tunnel, we were taken away by the beautiful scenery. The railway track hugged along a river which is decorated by endless mountain ranges on the opposite side of the river.  Parts of the mountain ranges displayed hues of red, constantly reminding us of the autumn season. Pedalling along the river, enjoying the gentle autumn breeze is a very tranquil affair. We were truly able to enjoy the moment, as it felt that we were the only people around the area. This stretch of the railway is the most scenic of the entire Railway Bike trail. This is the part that we make us feel coming all the way here, experiencing this unique activity is well worth the time invested.

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We were greeted by scenes of the river and mountain ranges coming out of the third tunnel

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Taking a picture with the beautiful sceneries

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It is very peaceful riding on this section of the track

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The sceneries of river and mountains

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The mountains and river feels therapeutic

Another 15 mins of pedalling from the third tunnel, we arrived at our endpoint. There is a small rest area for visitors to grab some snacks while waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. My friends bought some Korean Street food, while they were enjoying their well-deserved snacks, I went around taking pictures of the river. One can never get enough of the picturesque view that was before us. Soon we were told to get onto a train that would bring us back to a nearby train station for a bus transfer back to where we started. There are several carriages on the train, one of which is an open carriage which was packed with visitors. We did not bother rushing for the open carriage and gotten ourselves some rather good spot – at the end of the train. We were still able to enjoy the scenic river views from where we stood. The train ride took around 15 mins where buses are already standing by to ferry visitors back to the railway park. We reached the railway park at around 3.20pm. We wasted no time and headed to the subway station and catch the next train to Nami Island.

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Taking a wefie on the suspension bridge that we had to cross to the bus stop

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Red autumn leaves are everywhere

Nami Island

It is already 4pm when we arrived at Gapyeong Station, which is four stops away from Gangchon Railway Park. We approached the tourist information counter and checked where should we be taking the bus to Nami Island. We were informed by the staff that it would be cheaper and faster if we catch a cab to the ferry terminal. Indeed, we saved KRW2,000 by taking a cab to the ferry terminal. The cab ride took us only 5 mins to reach the ferry terminal. My friends and I headed straight to the ticketing counter and got ourselves the ferry ticket to Nami Island. The KRW13,000 cost includes return ferry journey and entrance to Nami Island. There weren’t many people at this time when we were queuing up for the ferry. We did not have to wait for too long for the next ferry to pull into the pier.

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We arrived at Gapyeong Station

As the 5 min ride ferry approaches Nami Island, we can see the numerous trees with yellow and red leaves lined up along the coast of Nami Island. There are numerous paths on Nami Island that visitors can use to explore the crescent-shaped Nami Island, each of these paths are laid with different trees, which is best viewed in Autumn season. Before we stepped onto Nami Island, I had planned a specific path for us to take so we can cover most of the island. However as we stepped off the ferry, all the plans were thrown away. We were immediately attracted by a row of trees with the red maple leaves at the right of the pier on Nami Island. Lining up by the coast of the island with the river as the backdrop, my friends and I were captivated by the beautiful autumn scenery on this part of the island, so much so that we stayed here for quite some time taking pictures with the trees as though this is the only spot on Nami Island that is picture-worthy. After some time, we realised we had overextended our stay as the sun is setting, we continued on the path further into the island.

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We arrived at Nami Island after 5 mins ride on the ferry

As we walked further into Nami Island, we spotted a small stream with a wooden bridge built across it. This is another great picture spot with the yellow, red and green trees in the background. After some photoshoots, we hurried to the other parts of Nami Island, hoping to cover more of the island before it gets dark. As we were walking along the path, we spotted more trees covered in yellow and orange trees. We were reminded of the autumn season in every corner we turned on Nami Island, these coloured leaves make Nami Island a great spot to visit during autumn. Soon we came to a forest of tall pine trees, entirely covered with red leaves. We attempted to take pictures of these trees, but the picture we took does not do it justice. The forest looks better on ground zero than in photos.

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We found this to be a great spot for photo taking on Nami Island

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Taking a wefie with the tall pine trees

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All the leaves had turned red

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Pine tree forest on Nami Island

The sun has set and it was getting dark. We figured we will not be able to enjoy the picturesque autumn sceneries on Nami Island compared when there is daylight. We started to make our way back to the pier for our ferry ride back to the mainland. Along the way, we spotted a small gift shop selling souvenirs in the middle of nowhere. After getting some souvenirs, we continued our walk back to the pier and left Nami Island. Reaching the mainland, we decided to settle our dinner here before taking the 2-hour train ride back to Seoul. There are numerous restaurants around the pier on the mainland. As we were a little hungry, we settled in one of the restaurants. The cost of food is not as expensive as we thought it would be, and yet the food is very delicious. After dinner, we took a cab and headed to the train station where we took our 2-hour train ride back to Seoul. We headed back to the hotel to change up as we kind of stink after having the Korean BBQ dinner.

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One last wefie before we leave Nami Island

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One last shot of Nami Island

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Nami Island at night taken from the ferry

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We settled for our dinner before heading back to Seoul

Cheonggyecheon Stream

One of my friends wanted to get some facial masks in Myeongdong, we headed out again for a late-night shopping at Myeongdong. Before we head to Myeongdong, we stopped by Cheonggyecheon Stream. The last time my friend and I came to Seoul, we mere overlooked Cheonggyecheon Stream and did not really stroll along the stream. Cheonggyecheon Stream is a 10km long stream in downtown Seoul. The Korean government spent millions to revitalise the once smelly and dirty sewage stream. These days, Cheonggyecheon Stream is a popular recreational space for locals and visitors to stroll along. We were in time for the annual lantern festival along Cheonggyecheon Stream when we visited, which takes place every year in November period. Visitors would be able to see Cheonggyecheon Stream lighted up with figurine lanterns installed in the middle the stream. There are lanterns from the Korean and Chinese folklore as well as some from Disney animated movies such as Aladdin, Peter Pan and Lion King to name a few. However, it was a shame that the lanterns were not lighted up at the time of our visit, we can only see these lanterns from the street lights. My friends and I strolled along Cheonggyecheon Stream for around 10 mins before calling it quits and headed to Myeongdong.

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Cheonggyecheon Stream Lantern Festival

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Taking wefie at Cheonggyecheon Stream

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Cheonggyecheon Stream at night

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Some of the lanterns on Cheonggyecheon Stream

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Korean folklore lanterns on Cheonggyecheon Stream

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Korean folklore lanterns on Cheonggyecheon Stream

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Taking a wefie at Cheonggyecheon Stream

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Cheonggyecheon Stream at night

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Cheonggyecheon Stream at night

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We spotted this building near Cheonggyecheon Stream

Back to Myeongdong

Myeongdong is a mere two subway stops from Cheonggyecheon Stream. The vibe in Myeongdong is very different today being a weekday compared to weekends. There were significantly lesser people and most of the roadside stalls selling snacks were missing. Most of the shops seem to close early during weekdays at around 11pm whereas shops seem to open till midnight on weekends. We did not stay at Myeongdong for too long as my friend already got what she came here to get plus the fact that most of the shops are closed anyway. We walked around a little and headed back to the hotel. As our hotel is located opposite the Dongdaemun shopping district, we headed to check out the shopping in Dongdaemun, which was marketed as a place for late-night shopping with shops open till 5am. We found the price of the thing sold in the Dongdaemun area seem to be higher, and the face mask shops did not give as generous discounts compared to those found in Myeongdong. We headed back to the hotel to rest after 5 mins of walking around Dongdaemun area as we found nothing much to buy.

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This is one of the iconic building in Seoul

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Dongdaemun late night shopping district

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Dongdaemun late night shopping district

Jeju/Busan/Seoul Day 9 (3 Nov 19) – From Namdaemun to Gyeonggi-do: The Morning Market and The Tranquil Night Stroll in Suwon

Our plan today is to visit Suwon and walked along the Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon at night. This is something that my friend and I did three years ago when we came to South Korea. We liked the experience and found strolling along the wall at night to be quite enjoyable. The plan is to visit the Hwaseong Haengung before sunset and head out to walk on the wall in the evening.

Walking around Namdaemun Market 

As we still have some time today, we stopped by Namdaemun Market which we did not have the time to visit the last time we came to Seoul. We make it a point to plan it into our itinerary during this trip to South Korea. We heard that Namdaemun Market is a great place to shop, with lots of things to buy and are generally cheaper compared to Dongdaemun or Myeongdong. Arriving at Namdaemun Station, we followed the signs in the station to get to Namdaemun Market which puts us right in front of the market. The large Namdaemun Market is an open-air market that seems to branch out in all the roads in the area. There are hundreds of stalls here, spreading from the shops on the sides of the road and even the centre of the road. It seems that the roads are closed to traffic to allow stalls and visitors are safe to stroll on these roads. The shops on the side of the roads sell mostly souvenirs and Korean ginseng, while those in the centre of the road sells a variety of items ranging from clothing to souvenirs and even pots and pans. The whole market feels disorganised with stalls and shops randomly set up. We walked around a little and due to the change in season from autumn to winter, most of the clothing on sale at Namdaemun Market are mainly winter wear. We ended up merely browsing through the market did not find anything suitable to buy as the items on sale are not suitable for us to bring home plus we have doubts about the authenticity of the branded clothing on sale. After walking around for a little, we felt a little bored at Namdaemun Market and left the market.

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Namdaemun Market is full of locals and tourists

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Namdaemun Market has both shops and stalls

Namdaemun Gate – Southern Gate of Seoul

Namdaemun Gate, one of the eight gates along with the ancient fortress of Seoul in Joseon Dynasty, is only 5 mins walk from Namdaemun Market. Since we are in the vicinity, we decided to pop by Namdaemun Gate to take a look. There are signs along the road that leads visitors to Namdaemun Gate, which is the largest of the eight stone gates in Seoul. The double-tiered roof Namdaemun Gate was built in 1398 and was restored in 2013 following the infamous arson of the gate in 2008. The gate sits majestically in the southern part of Seoul, relinquishing its role from the main gate that welcomes the King’s return to the city in the ancient days to serving as a symbol of the Korean history. Visitors can get up close to Namdaemun Gate, walking through the gates like how previous Kings has done. However, the top levels of the gate are closed to visitors. Going up close to Namdaemun Gate, we can see the intricacies in the design of Namdaemun Gate, the top tiers of the gate are made of wood, brightly painted in traditional colours of green and mahogany found in Korean Palaces. There are some stone carvings of animals sitting on each of the two roofs of Namdaemun Gate, visible from the arch. We were in time for the change of guard ceremony at the time of our visit when we saw three Koreans dressed up in ancient guard uniforms crossing the road and heading towards Namdaemun Gate. As soon as they arrived, these guards matched towards the gate waiting for their colleagues to take over guarding of the gate. We stayed a little, wanting to watch the ceremony. But later learnt that the guards are not stationed at Namdaemun Gate, unlike those in Palaces such as Gyeongbokgung or Deoksugung. Moreover, the change of guard ceremony feels more like a show to entertain visitors with no commentaries, we decided not to wait for the change of guard ceremony and left for Suwon.

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The majestic Namdaemun Gate

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Namdaemun Gate up close

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Taking a wefie with Namdaemun Gate

Suwon Market – A Surprise Find

To get to Suwon, we took the 1½ hr subway ride from Seoul Station to Suwon Station. Suwon is in a neighbouring Gyeonggi province south of Seoul. Suwon Station is bustling with life with locals going about their daily life. As we felt a little hungry, we wanted to get lunch before we head over to Hwaseong Haenggung. My friend and I was here three years ago and stumbled into a night market and some shops on either side of the night market, we knew we might find some food there. We crossed the road came to the street where we remembered where the night market was. We were glad that the market is open in the day and the street is very lively with mostly young Koreans hanging out in this area. There are shops on either side of the street with some of them being restaurants. In the centre of the street, there are some roadside stalls set up selling street food. We walked around to check what our lunch options are and ended up in a street that sells fresh produces from meat to fruits and even seafood. Looks like we have stumbled into a local market. As we saw no restaurants are in sight, we headed back towards the street opposite Suwon Station and settled for KFC instead. There were simply too many restaurants here.

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We arrived at Suwon Station after the 1½ hr ride on the subway from Seoul

Hwaseong Haenggung – The Temporary Palace

After lunch, we headed to Hwaseong Haenggung, which is the largest temporary palace outside of Seoul, used by the Korean King in Joseon dynasty during war or whenever he visits the tomb of his father. We took a 10 mins bus from outside Suwon Station to Hwaseong Haenggung. The Naver Map app (I can’t recommend this app enough for travels in South Korea, whether one is driving or not) indicated the number of bus stops before we arrive at Hwaseong Haenggung, and I conscientiously counted the number of stops to prevent history from repeating.  The last time my friend and I were here we missed the bus stop and ended up getting lost in Suwon. Three years ago my friend and I did not manage to visit Hwaseong Haenggung as it was about to close when we arrive at the palace. This time around, we ensured that we cater enough time before it closes to visit the palace. Looking at the main entrance, my first impression of Hwaseong Haenggung is that it is a very small palace. The main entrance to the palace is a two-tiered wooden gate that seems inconspicuous with the building around it. It does not command the majesticness that the other palaces in Seoul do. Passing through the main gate, we came into a large empty courtyard surrounded by short walls. This is the largest single space in the entire Hwaseong Haenggung. The sanded courtyard is laid with flags and a couple of cheesy standees of characters from the Korean drama which was shot here at one corner. At the end of the courtyard is set of three wooden doors which led us to a very small second courtyard with another set of wooden doors literally steps away. Passing through the second set of doors, we come to another courtyard, smaller than the first one, with the main audience hall sitting at the end of the courtyard. This audience hall is a small building with a large opening looking out into the courtyard. Inside the audience hall, there is only space for the king’s throne and small tables with four cushions. I can imagine the king’s officials would speak to him from outside the audience hall, after all, Hwaseong Haenggung is not used as a main residence for the king. Hwaseong Haenggung is also used by the king to celebrate his mother’s 60th birthday, in fact, there are displays near the audience hall to give visitors an idea of the food being prepared for the celebration. We went around exploring the different parts of Hwaseong Haenggung, there is a sleeping quarter next to the audience hall where the king and the queen used. The sleeping quarters for guards and servants are located to the front left part of the palace. Each quarter is no large then a pod where the residences used to do other things like sewing and preparing court documents other than using it to sleep.

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Model of Hwaseong Haenggung

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The main entrance to Hwaseong Haenggung

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Main audience hall in Hwaseong Haenggung

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Interior of the main audience hall in Hwaseong Haenggung

Just went we thought we were done with Hwaseong Haenggung, we spotted an exit that leads us to the annexe of Hwaseong Haenggung. This is part of Hwaseong Haenggung mainly houses the main sleeping chamber of the king and the queen whenever they visited the palace. The biggest building in the annexe of the palace is used for morning assemblies with his officials when the king visited. Similar to the main palace grounds, some buildings were used as sleeping quarters for the palace workers. Most of these buildings have their doors shut or are left empty which did not give us a good context what these buildings are meant for. My friends and I did however enjoyed the autumn scenery around Hwaseong Haenggung, especially the annexe. The annexe to the palace is relatively open and less crowded, giving us a good view of the hills behind Hwaseong Haenggung. The annexe is also a great place to take pictures with the trees growing in the palace grounds and on the hill donned on their red autumn gowns. As the palace was closing, my friends and I left Hwaseong Haenggung. We wanted to wait for dusk to visit Hwaseong Fortress and since it is still early, we decided to go for early dinner. Three years ago when we visited, we chanced into a local restaurant and wanted to go back there. However, we were disappointed to know that it was closed down. My friends and I ended up in a nearby cafe for a drink while waiting for the sun to set.

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One of the buildings in the annexe of Hwaseong Haenggung

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This is the largest building in the annexe of Hwaseong Haenggung

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Inside the building in the annexe of Hwaseong Haenggung where morning assembly was held

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We rested here for coffee while waiting for dusk

The Tranquil Night Stroll along Hwaseong Fortress 

As the day turned dark after our coffee, we decided it is time for us to commence our walk along the Hwaseong Fortress. I always recommend my friends to take a walk along Hwaseong Fortress when at night as not only the walk is tranquil, the night light along the fortress wall is amazing. There isn’t much crowd and we can take our time to take pictures. Hwaseong Fortress is the official fortress surrounding the centre of Suwon and stretches 5.5km with a variety of command posts. There are four gates to the city of Suwon, of which we visited three along the walk.

Hwaseomun – Start of our Stroll

The gate nearest to Hwaseong Haenggung is Hwaseomun, a two-storey stone gate with a semi-circular extension in front.  From Hwaseomun, we crossed the road and walked along the walls up to the hill that was behind Hwaseong Haenggung, we came to the first pavilion we saw along the wall and wanted to go up. However, it seems crowded and we continued our walk up the hill to a military outpost. The outpost was closed at this time. From here we got a good view of the first pavilion that we just walked past. This is where we made a u-turn and traced back our footsteps towards the first pavilion we just went past. The two-storey open-air pavilion welcomes visitors to take a rest when walking along the wall 24hrs a day. As it was no longer crowded, we went up the pavilion to enjoy the peacefulness and the cool autumn breeze and got a great view of Hwaseomun with its semi-circular front from the top level of the pavilion. After taking a few pictures, we headed back towards Hwaseomun and continued our stroll along Hwaseong Fortress. 

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Hwaseongmun at night

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Wefie at Hwaseongmun

Janganmun – The Gate that was used by Kings

From Hwaseomun, it took us 20 mins of casual strolling plus the time we stopped to take pictures, passing another military outpost, we were near the main gate to ancient Suwon city – Janganmun. As we walked along the fortress walls we got closer to Janganmun, before reaching the gate, we passed by a canon platform. My friend and I were here three years ago, having the same scenery before our eyes. Back then I had difficulty capturing a picture of this canon with Janganmun as the background, due to the low light at the platform. This time around, I managed to take a picture of the canon with Janganmun in the background. As we walked up to Janganmun, we were again awed by the sheer size of Janganmun. The stone wall of Janganmun is topped with a two-tiered wooden structure, meticulously painted with the green and red colours appearing in palace buildings. Janganmun is significantly taller and larger than Hwaseomun. To continue our path on Hwaseong Fortress, the pathway skirts in front of  Janganmun, which through the opening, we were able to see the majestic Janganmun, as though it is still protecting the people staying inside Suwon City.

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One of the two canon platforms at Janganmun

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Wefie with Janganmun

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Janganmun – the main gate that the kings of Korea used to enter Suwon

We walked past Janganmun along Hwaseong Fortress wall and arrived one of the two flood gates in Suwon City – Buksumun Flood Gate about 20 mins later. Buksumun is dressed in the typical Korean palace colours of green and mahogany, with a building built over stone foundations above a stream. The doors leading into Buksumun was closed at the time of our visit. It is here that my friends and I stepped off the wall for a view of Buksumun, which stood solitary performing its role as a defence wall and as a flood gate. We headed under the fortress wall to get a good view of Buksumun from the front of the fortress wall, which is as impressive as the view from inside of Hwaseong Fortress.

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Buksumun is the prettiest at night

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The front side of Buksumun

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Night view of another pavilion and Buksumun

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Wefie with Buksumun

My friends and I headed back onto the wall and continued our stroll along Hwaseong Fortress. Some 5 mins later we came to another sentry post. This sentry post is built on higher grounds, which gave us a good view of Buksumun and parts of the Hwaseong Fortress. There are some very good photo spots in this sentry post, where we spent quite a bit of time to take photos. From the open-air pavilion-like sentry post, Hwaseong Fortress resembles a mini Great Wall of China. After taking photos we continued our walk on Hwaseong Fortress towards the next landmark on the wall. Some 30 mins of uphill and downhill walk, we arrived at Dongjangdae, which was used as a training ground for the Korean troops for over two centuries. Dongjangdae is enclosed with stones walls and was closed at the time of our visit. These stone walls surrounding Dongjangdae was low enough for us to peep over and see the command post inside the wall. Beside Dongjangdae, there is a large open area which was used these days for tourists to experience archery training of Korean troopers.

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Sentry Post past Buksumun

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Wefie at the Sentry Post

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Part of Hwaseong Fortress seen from the Sentry Post

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Taking a peep over the wall surrounding Dongjangdae

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Dongjangdae at night

Towards Changnyongmun – Our End Point

From Dongjangdae, we could see our endpoint, Changnyongmun, across the road. I told my friends that seeing Dongjangdae is an indication that our walk along Hwaseong Fortress is coming to an end and pointed to our endpoint across the road. We skirted around Dongjangdae and resumed our stroll along the wall. The next structure we came across along Hwaseong Fortress is a three-storey circular-shaped watchtower. The watchtower is rather plain with no patterns or designs engraved onto any part of the tower. It was also closed at the time we arrived it. My friends and I took some pictures and left the watchtower. Not far from the watchtower (about 2 mins walk), we reached the crossbow platform. The lighting here is not as great as some parts of the wall, making the crossbow platform a tad difficult to visit. There is an opening to allow visitors to access the crossbow platform, however, due to the poor lighting, we merely took some quick pictures of the structure. 

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Wefie with the watchtower

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Watchtower up close

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We only took pictures of the Crossbow Platform as we were walking past it

It is another 2 mins walk from the crossbow platform to our final destination on Hwaseong Fortress – Changnyongmun. Changnyongmun is one of the four gates into Suwon city and this marks the end of our 2 hrs stroll along Hwaseong Fortress. Similar to  Hwaseomun, Changnyongmun is a smaller gate and has a semi-circular wall with an opening in front of the gate outside the fortress. The architecture is very similar to Hwaseomun, decked with a wooden building on top of the stone fortress wall. The wooden building in Changnyongmun is painted with the familiar green and mahogany colour, prevalent in most ancient Korean buildings we have seen so far on this trip. We went outside of Hwaseong Fortress at Changnyongmun. The gate looks almost hidden and the entrance is difficult to spot from the front of the gate outside of the fortress. After some photos, my friend and I went through Changnyongmun and headed to the bus stop between Changnyongmun and  Dongjangdae where we caught the next bus to Suwon Station and headed back to Seoul.

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Wefie on Hwaseong Fortress with Changnyongmun

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Changnyongmun from inside of Hwaseong Fortress

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My friends on Changnyongmun

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The underside of Changnyongmun is painted with a dragon mural

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Changnyongmun from outside of HWaseong Fortress

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Wefie with Changnyongmun outside Hwaseong Fortress

Experience Jjimjilbang – The Korean Sauna

As we were on the subway, I noticed that we would pass through the station where Dragon Hill Spa is. A quick insertion of activity, we decided to stop at the station for the spa. One of the experiences that we set out to do when planning this trip is to try out the Jjimjilbang, the traditional Korean sauna. Dragon Hill Spa is a Korean jjimjilbang caters more for tourists than locals, nonetheless, it is a good place for us to try out jjimjilbang. We alighted the subway at Yongsan Station and made our way on foot to Dragon Hill Spa, which is located next to the station. The moment we enter Dragon Hill Spa, we were taken aback by the number of people waiting in line. There is a crowd of at least 30 people at the entrance, part of a tour group waiting for their turn to enter the jjimjilbang. One of the staff saw us and waved us to go around the crowd and immediately served us. The jjimjilbang costs KRW16,000 per adult and we were given a key tag that also doubles up as a credit tag which we used to buy things from and settle the bill when we exit. We got into the front area of the jjimjilbang and had to take off our shoes and place them in the locker provided. The locker number corresponds to the number on the tag we were given. Male and female changing rooms are separated by level, I gave direction to one of our friends on where to go and what to do and made our way up to the male changing room. In the male changing room, there is a locker for us to put our clothing and a counter for us to take the size of the clothing that we would wear when going in the main sauna area. We took a shower at the wet area and spent some time soaking in the hot spring water. The hot spring soak was very effective in relieving the aches from our travels in South Korea so far. After soaking for 10 mins, we got dressed and went to the main area to meet our other friend.

Before we went to the main hall, we headed to the restaurant in the jjimjilbang to have dinner. After dinner, we headed to the main hall for the treatment rooms. There are several treatment rooms: ice room, kiln sauna, Nephrite jade energy room, and pyramid mediation room. The last time I came to the jjimjilbang was 10 years ago when I first visited Korea as part of an escorted tour. Back then the tour guide told us that Koreans believe going to hot and cold treatments rooms will force our pores to open and close for detox purposes. My friends and I went to the ice room (temperature was -15°C) and stay for around 5 mins, followed by one of the five kilns with 88°C temperature. We did this a few times, alternating between hot and cold rooms for the next 30 mins. As it was getting late, we changed up and headed back to the hotel. As it was already past midnight, the subway service has ceased for the day. We originally wanted to grab a cab back to the hotel, however, there was a long queue at the taxi stand and with no cabs in sight. This is when I whip out my mobile phone and used the Naver Map App to guide us. The app pointed us to a nearby bus stop and the bus to be taken. True enough, the bus came exactly at the timing shown on the app and we got back to the hotel without any incident. When I checked the app again, I realise the bus we just alighted is the last bus.  

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Wefie at the main hall in Dragon Hill Spa

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We were in the Ice room

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Taking a wefie in one of the hot kilns

Jeju/Busan/Seoul Day 8 (2 Nov 19) – From Busan to Seoul: Our Journey Continues in Seoul

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Onward to our next destination Seoul via KTX

Riding the KTX to Seoul

Today we take things down a notch and had our second travel break day. Much of today is spent on travelling from Busan to Seoul, our final destination of the trip, via the highspeed KTX train. We would spend the day orientating around in Seoul and watching one of the non-verbal comedy that South Korea is so famous for other than kimchi and K-pop. We woke up later than the previous days and checked out of the hotel in Busan at 10am to catch the train departing at 12 noon. We wanted to get to Seoul by 3 pm to catch our 5pm show. We wanted to get to the train station early to prevent the episode of missing our train my friend and I faced with three years ago. As a result of that, we got lost in the middle of nowhere. I did research on Naver Map App the night before and got to know that the train ride from Haeundae Station to Busan Train Station takes around 1 hr. After checking out, we dragged our luggage and headed to Haeundae Station, which is around 5 mins walk from the hotel, at the end of Gunam Street in the Haeundae area. The subway ride includes a change of train at Seomyeon Station. 1 hr later we arrived at Busan Train Station. We still have a bit of time to get some food to be consumed onboard the KTX. Unlike countries like Japan or Taiwan, there aren’t any shops selling bento sets for long-distance train commuters. The only shops that sell food are bakeries near the boarding platforms at Busan Train Station. From our recce two days ago, we have already identified the food we wanted to get which cut short our time in going around and see what is for sale.

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Taking a wefie at Busan Train Station before we leave for Seoul

After getting our takeaways, we headed to the platform where our KTX train is waiting for passengers to board. We had trouble looking for a spot to stow our luggage for the journey. There are very limited luggage storage space in between train carriages and all of them were occupied at the time we boarded the train. We had to place one of our luggage in the seat with us, while the other in the space behind the last seat in the carriage. We got settled into our seats and the train commenced the 3 hr journey from Busan to Seoul with a few stops in between. We wanted to pamper ourselves a little and gotten First Class seat tickets on the KTX. Instead of four seats across in the Economy Class, First Class seats only have three seats across each row. The seats are very comfortable and resemble a large armchair. The seats are so comfortable that we got a good rest onboard. About 30 mins after the train leave the station, a train attendant comes around and distributes a snack pack to passengers in the First Class section of the train. First Class passengers can also obtain an unlimited number of bottles of spring water from the vending machine between carriages for free. We watched South Korea zoom pass the large windows from our seats, the view from the train was amazing. Mountains after mountains, cities after cities and rivers after rivers. This is the joy of riding a train instead of flying. Halfway through the train ride, we settled on the food we bought before we board the train. The 3 hrs train ride just whiz pass like the scenery of South Korea before our eyes as the highspeed train made its way from south to north of South Korea. The train soon pulls into Seoul Station before we know it.

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Taking a wefie with the KTX train that would bring us to Seoul

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My other friend is sitting behind us

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Onboard in the First Class seat

Return to Seoul – A Sense of Familiarity

As we exited the station, the streets suddenly became familiar. My friend and I were here three years ago. Nothing much as change. As we were standing in front of Seoul Station, we begin to relate to our other friend where we stayed the last time we came to South Korea and the supermarket where they were giving out new year rice cakes to customers who walked into the supermarket. We had no troubles finding the entrance to the subway station in Seoul Station and managed to find the subway line that would take us to the hotel we would call home for the remaining days we have in South Korea. The hotel we stayed is a mere four stops away from Seoul Station. We arrived at the hotel and checked into our rooms. My friends and I settled in for a while and headed out to watch the Korean Non-verbal performance – Fantastick. We made our booking through KLOOK, however, when we arrived at the address that KLOOK gave us through the vouchers, we were surprised there weren’t any theatre buildings around. We begin asking some locals on the Fantastick theatre, although there was some communication difficulty, the Seoulites we met were very helpful. Using a translation app and their limited knowledge of English, we were told that the address given was the wrong address. One of the Seoulites that we met even googled the address on his mobile phone and showed us the correct place of the theatre. As we were already late for the show (the show would have started even if we head over to the theatre), we gave up the idea of watching the show and headed to Gangnam.

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Taking a wefie in front of Seoul Station

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Seoul as I remembered it

Gangnam Garosugil

My friend and I visited Gangnam Garosugil three years ago when we came here. Back then we were here to explore the area, however, this time around, we were here to get some mobile protectors (Spigen shop is here). As we exited the subway station, the sense of familiarity kicked in. We did not even have to rely on the map to tell us where to go. Gangnam Garosugil got its name as trees are planted on both sides of the road, almost like soldiers in a parade. Gangnam Garosugil is a relatively short street with shops, restaurants and cafes lining on both sides of the street. There are not many tourists here, mainly Seoulites visit this place. The place is as we remembered it three years ago. All sorts of luxury branded shops as well as local designer shops lined on both sides of the streets in Gangnam Garosugil. Some shops we saw three years ago are still there, others have been replaced. There is even an Apple Shop in Gangnam Garosugil. The Seoulites coming to Gangnam Garosugil are all dressed up as if they are trying to match the upmarket Gangnam Garosugil. After getting our mobile phone protectors, we took the subway to Gyeongbokgung Station for the Ginseng Chicken we had three years ago when we came. My friend still can’t forget the Ginseng Chicken we had from the restaurant three years ago. The restaurant, Tosokchon Samgyetang, is very popular with tourists and locals alike. We had to time our visit to the restaurant to avoid the long queue, which is very common in this restaurant. We reached Tosokchon Samgyetang at around 7.30pm, where the crowd had died down and we did not even have to wait in a queue.

Myeongdong – Shopping Mecca of Tourists

After having the delicious and flavourful Ginseng Chicken Soup, we headed to the shopping mecca for tourists in Seoul – Myeongdong. Myeongdong is a shopping area, nearby to Seoul Station, with a lot of shops. It is highly popular with tourists as most of the shops here offer on the spot VAT refund for tourists. Exiting the subway station, we were faced with hordes of tourists coming here to shop at Myeongdong. Nothing much has changed here since our visit three years ago. The same shops are still there. One thing nice about Myeongdong is that not only it is packed with Korean brand shops, there are also street food stalls lined up in the middle of the walking street. What I like about Myeongdong is that most of the staffs in the shops can speak fluent mandarin or good amount of English. Some of the shops here even offer good discounts for tourists and are very generous in their gifts to tourists. Myeongdong is a one-stop area for tourists as it has everything that tourists usually come to Seoul to shop for. After getting the things we were here to buy, my friends and I went back to the hotel to rest for the night.

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Myeongdong is always crowded with tourists

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Taking a wefie in Myeongdong

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Myeongdong is very crowded especially on a weekend

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Myeongdong is full of tourists

Jeju/Busan/Seoul Day 7 (1 Nov 19) – Haedong Yonggungsa Temple: The Temple By the Sea

The Deserted Haeundae Beach

Busan is famous for its beaches as it is where Koreans come to in summer to escape from the hot sun. The most popular beach in Busan is Haeundae Beach. The hotel we stayed in is literally opposite Haeundae Beach. Having been in Busan for four days, we have not really stepped into the 1.5km long Haeundae Beach is famous for its white sand. We started our day by heading to the beach and took some obligatory photos before heading to our next destination. Haeundae Beach is deserted at this time of the year as the cold temperature prohibits beachgoers from coming here. There are only a handful of morning strollers walking along the beach. After taking some pictures, we headed to the bus stop to hop onto the bus that took us to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

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Haeundae Beach

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Wefie at Haeundae Beach

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Towering buildings overlooking Haeundae Beach

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Haeundae Beach is deserted at this time of the year

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A very quiet Haeundae Beach

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My friends at the bus stop near Haeundae Beach for our bus to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple – The Temple by the Sea

The bus ride from Haeundae Beach to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple takes only 30 mins. We alighted at the bus stop that the Naver Map app pointed, from there it is a 5 mins walk to the entrance of Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. Before we can hit the entrance of the temple, we were swarmed with a flood of stalls selling souvenirs and street food. The small market outside the temple is a place where visitors stop by and saviour the delicious street food that South Korea has to offer. A little further from the stalls lies an eight tiered pagoda and an archway that marks the entrance to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. Unlike most of the temples in South Korea, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is not buried in the mountains or forests, it is built by the coast next to the sea. The temple offers a great view of the sea in East Busan. Passing the narrow entrance that can only fit two persons passing through at a time, a stairway leads to the temple. As we were walking down the stairs, we got a glimpse of Haedong Yonggungsa Temple beyond the trees planted along the stairway. There she is, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple sitting by the Eastern shore of Busan as though she is guarding Eastern Busan against the elements. At one point, the path to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple split into two. My friends and I took the left path leading us to a coast where we came to a large statue of Buddha sat in front of the sea for visitors to offer our prayers. After offering our prayers, we took a moment and view the coastline. It is here where we got an excellent view of the entire Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. Many visitors like us, came all the way out here to take pictures of the temple.

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Pagoda at the entrance of Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

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Archway marking the entrance to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

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Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

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Statue of Buddha at the end of the left pathway at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

After taking some pictures, my friends and I headed back to the path which led us here and proceeded to the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. Passing the intersection, we continued on the path that led us to a stone arch bridge linking the temple to the main entrance. There are several buildings at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, the biggest building is the main prayer hall at the temple with statues of three Buddhas installed inside. After offering our prayers inside the temple, my friends and I spotted a path at the side of the temple that led us to a small hill. At the base of the hill sits a large golden Laughing Buddha, as though he is welcoming visitors to the temple. A short climb up the hill, we spotted a large statue of Goddess of Mercy facing the sea. The view from the platform in front of this statue gave us a good view of the entire Haedong Yonggungsa Temple compounds. We also got a great view of the entire coast with the sea that stretches far out over the horizon together with the nearby buildings in this eastern part of Busan, the view here is liberating. After taking some pictures, we headed down to the main temple grounds and left the temple. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is rather small compared to Bulguksa Temple we visited the day before, we did not spend too much time here.

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Wefie with the main temple of Haedong Yonggungsa

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Carving of a dragon on the steps to the main prayer hall in Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

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Statue of Laughing Buddha at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

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Wefie with Statue of Goddess of Mercy

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This is the only pagoda in Haedong Yonggungsa Temple grounds

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View of the coast of East Busan from Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Shopping at Busan Premium Outlet

My friends and I spent the rest of the day visiting the shopping malls in Busan. After visiting Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, we headed to Busan Premium Outlet, which is about 20 mins walk from the temple. There are two premium outlets in Busan, we chose to come to this one as it is very close to the temple. The human traffic at Busan Premium Outlet was very thin at the time we arrive, maybe because the outlet is just opening up. Busan Premium Outlet is a large outlet complex with four levels. The first three levels are dedicated to numerous branded shops and the top level is where restaurants are located. My friends and I walked around and found the things being sold here does not command a bargain. We walked around like zombies and found nothing much worth buying. The only thing we found worth buying is the pair of shoes we got from Reebok shop for around S$30. After buying the shoes, we headed to the top level for lunch. Even the food options here are limited. After lunch, we walked around the entire Busan Premium Outlet a little more and headed back to the hotel to leave our shopping items.

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Busan Premium Outlet from across the road

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The entire Busan Premium Outlet was very quiet when we visited

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The lunch we had at one of the restaurants in Busan Premium Outlet

Shopping at Department Store in Busan

After reaching the hotel, we rested for a while and headed out in the evening to the Lotte Department Store. We took the subway to Centum City station there are two department stores above the station. The exit from the subway station leads to both Lotte and Shinsaegae Department Stores. Lotte Department Store is large, however, we find nothing much to buy here (maybe we are not the shopping type). We walked around for 30 mins and did not even bother going to Shinsaegae Department Store, the world’s largest department store as we thought the stuff they sell is probably similar to that in Lotte Department Store. We left the area and returned to Gunam Street in Haeundae for our last dinner in Busan. We walked around Gunam Street to check out our options for dinner.  My friends and I finally settled for a Korean BBQ restaurant as we saw quite a number of locals having dinner. We were perhaps the only foreigner in the restaurant at the time of our visit. The food here is good and the staff, like any other Korean BBQ restaurant, would BBQ the meat for us. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and pack up for our trip to Seoul the next day.

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Inside Lotte Department Store

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Shinsaegae Department Store in Centum City is the largest department store in the world

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Outside Lotte Department Store

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Our last dinner in Busan

Jeju/Busan/Seoul Day 6 (31 Oct 19) – Gyeongju: Taking a Walk Back in Time and the Iconic Bulguksa Temple

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Our journey from Busan to Gyeongju

We headed out early to Gyeongju from Busan at 7 am today as we wanted to leave the city before the rush hour kicks in. The drive to Gyeongju usually would take 1 hr via the highway, which is very straight forward, however it took us around 1½ hrs to reach Gyeongju. Around 45 mins into the journey, we spotted Eonyang rest area and stopped for a break. At Eonyang Rest Area, we had our brunch as we were a little hungry. After brunch, we continued the rest of the journey to Gyeongju.

Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village – A Walk back in Time

Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village has very well preserved and restored traditional Korean houses (hanok). The village once lived a wealthy man (Choi) who used his wealth to help the poor in the region. The village was later converted to at the first state-operated academy estate in 682. We chose to visit this village as it is close to other sites in Gyeongju. Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village is not difficult to find, the village is very close to the edge of the city, near the toll gates by the highway when turning Gyeongju exit. There is a car park opposite Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village which was not crowded at the time of our visit as it is was being early at the time of our visit. The parking and entrance to Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village are free. We reached Gyeongju at around 9.50am and the shops are not open until 10am. As we hang around the entrance to Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village while waiting for the shops to open, we spotted a tour group with their guide explaining the village. We inched closer to them hoping to get some insights to the village. The tour guide pointed only three buildings that were worthy to visit namely Choi’s house, The School of Law and the Confucian School. The rest of the buildings are shops. We crossed reference with the map we had in hand and made mental note of where these locations are. One of the things we set out to do before coming to South Korea is to try out wearing the hanbok and walk around in a historic place. Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village is the perfect place to do that. We rented hanboks from the only hanbok rental shop in the village once it opened. After wearing our rental hanboks, we roamed around Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village taking pictures. Initially, we felt a little ridiculous and certainly feel touristy, we got used to wearing hanbok after a while as hanbok is still worn by Koreans from time to time. The whole village gives one a feel of travelling back in time. Every building in Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village is a hanok. However, we were a tad disappointed that these hanoks have been converted to places of business, mainly restaurants and cafes. We would think there would be museums and exhibition halls in these hanoks to introduce to visitors the Korean culture and the livelihood of people in the Silla Dynasty, something similar to Jeju Folk Village we visited a few days ago.

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We changed into our handbooks and ready to walk around Gyeongju Gyocho Village

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Posing in Gyeongju Gyocho Village in our handbooks

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My friend in her hanbok in Gyeongju Gyocho Village

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Me in Gyeongju Gyocho Village in hanbok

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My friend in Gyeongju Gyocho Village in his hanbok

As we were walking, we spotted a building with its door open and also the tour group we met at the entrance earlier on. We followed the group into the building and learnt from the guide that this is one of the three buildings that are worth visiting. This is the house of Choi Family which is donated by his descendants to allow visitors to understand the Korean history. Without the explanation from the tour guide, we would have no idea about the significance of this house. The compound of the house is on the small side, however, it has everything that functions as a home here. There is even an area where urns for fermentation of kimchis are kept. Visiting Choi’s house in hanbok certainly feels we are taking a step back in time.

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Entrance to the House of Choi

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Me in the House of Choi

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My friend in House of Choi

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My friend in House of Choi in her hanbok

Woljeonggyo Bridge – The Impressive Bridge

Leaving the Choi Family’s house, we headed towards the river for our next stop – Woljeonggyo Bridge, which is about 5 mins walk from the house. Woljeonggyo Bridge is built in 760, the covered bridge built over Muncheon Stream is believed to be the oldest stone bridge in South Korea. The bridge remained standing for over five centuries and was destroyed subsequently. The bridge was restored based on the stone foundations over a period of 10 years. We were glad that the restoration of Woljeonggyo Bridge was completed and opened for visitors at the time of our visit. Woljeonggyo Bridge is the Donggung Palace is painted in colourful traditional Korean colours that one would find in their palaces. Woljeonggyo Bridge has two two-storey bridge towers on each side of the stream. These towers are decked out in mahogany red topped with bright green roofs. Taking pictures of Woljeonggyo Bridge with our hanboks makes one really feel stepping into the past. We approached the bridge towers and discovered there are two steep staircases on either side of the entrance to the bridge, that seem to lead to the upper level of the tower. We thought we might get a good view of the surroundings on the top of the tower. My friends and I climbed up one of the stairs to reach the top level of the tower to find an empty space less a historic map of Gyeongju. The wooden windows on the top level of the tower are closed making looking out to the surroundings not possible. We headed down the staircase and went to the middle of the bridge to take some pictures. Taking pictures here in our hanboks with the numerous pillars lining across the bridge makes the pictures Instagram worthy. The mid part of the bridge looks out into Muncheon Stream and the mountains surrounding Gyeongju. There is a sense of peace and harmony here.

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Bridge tower of Woljeonggyo Bridge

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Wefie at the bridge tower of Woljeonggyo Bridge

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My friends looking out to Muncheon Stream on Woljeonggyo Bridge

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Muncheon Stream from Woljeonggyo Bridge

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Is she playing hide and seek?

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The bridge tower of Woljeonggyo Bridge

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My friend on Woljeonggyo Bridge

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My friend on Woljeonggyo Bridge

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Wefie on Woljeonggyo Bridge

Gyerim Forest and the Royal Tombs – Peace and Tranquil Stroll

Leaving Woljeonggyo Bridge, we headed back towards Gyeongju Gyochon Village and instead of going inside the village, we skimmed the village and walk towards Gyerim Forest, making our way to Cheomseongdae. The forest is thickly populated with zelkova and willow trees. Gyerim Forest is believed to be the birthplace of the founder of the Gyeongju Kim clan, one of the most important clans in the Silla period in Korean history. The walk through the forest was very peaceful and the trees provided shade for us from the sun. At the end of the forest, we spotted some mounds springing out over the flatland, cordoned off by fences made of rope. These are the tombs of past kings in the Silla period. One of these tombs lies the body of King Naemul, the 17th monarch of the Silla Kingdom (in power from 356 to 402) and became the second king of the Kim family name. As we did not get closed to the tombs, we have no way to differentiate which tomb belongs to which royalty.

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The Royal Tombs in Gyeongju

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Us with the Royal Tombs in Gyeongju

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More Royal Tombs

Cheomseongdae

After taking some pictures with the royal tombs, we headed over to Cheomseongdae, the astronomy observation tower. This 9m bottle-shaped stone tower built on a square base has a cylindrical shape and topped off with a square opening structure. Cheomseongdae was built between the period of 632 to 647 to observe the movements of the stars and was thought to be the oldest existing astronomical tower in East Asia. As we were not able to climb up the tower, we left after taking some pictures with it.

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Cheomseongdae Tower

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Taking a wefie with Cheomseongdae

Donggung and Wolji Pond – The Secondary Palace

From our Naver map app, it seems that our next destination, Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond is very close to Cheomseongdae. The walk between these two sites took us around 10 mins through the vast field. Entrance to Donggung Palace costs KRW3,000 per person, unlike the five big palaces in Seoul, entrance is not free despite wearing hanbok here. Donggung Palace is a secondary palace used by the crown prince back in its heyday during the Silla period. It is also used as a banquet site to host important national events and VIPs back in those days. After the fall of the Silla dynasty, the palace was abandoned and forgotten. Entering the fence that cordons off Donggung Palace, we were faced with an empty plot of land with three standalone pavilions, each standing in one corner of the palace grounds. Our first impression here is a tad disappointing as we were expecting to see some palace buildings and not pavilions. Nonetheless, we headed to the pavilion closest to the entrance and got a glimpse of Wolji Pond, which look like a normal pond with some lotus leaves in it. The first pavilion was empty and we were not impressed by it. We headed to the second pavilion further into the Donggung Palace grounds. Here we learnt more about the original palace building from a model of the palace in its heyday. We started to get impressed by the palace based on the model. We stayed here a bit more to look out into Wolji pond and the third pavilion. We did not bother going to the third pavilion as it looked empty. My friends and I then walked around trying to piece together where the main palace building was based on the model we saw. From the model and walking on the actual palace grounds, we thought the palace is a tad small. I have seen pictures of Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond at night, I thought visiting the palace at night would be the best due to the lighting. We did not spend too much time here at Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond and left for the hanbok shop to return our hanbok.

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First Pavilion in Donggung Palace facing Wolji Pond

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My friend in her handbook at Donggung Palace

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Second  and third pavilion in Donggung Palace

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Second Pavilion in Donggung Palace up close

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Taking a wefie with the second pavilion in Donggung Palace