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.
Wefie in Lotteria
The airport limousine bus stop
Getting ready to head to the airport
This is the bus that will take us to the airport
Taking a wefie on the airport limousine
We relaxed as we saw Seoul flash by
We are near the airport
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.
Wefie at the airport
Tax refund automated kiosks before custom clearance
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.
Our first stop after clearing custom is to head for tax refund
There are numerous shopping options at the airside
Incheon International Airport is quite large
Duty free shopping at Incheon International Airport
Actors dressed up as royalties
Photo opportunities with “Korean Royalties” at the airport
Traditional Korean Cultural performance at the airside
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 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 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.
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.
I used Naver Map App during my stay in South Korea
Naver Map App interface
Subway App interface for the subway system in Seoul
Subway App interface for the subway system in Busan
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.
Having our coffee in the hotel before we set out to explore Seoul
The view from the hotel cafe is stunting
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.
Autumn street scene around Hyehwa Station
Walking from Hyehwa Station to Naksan Park
It is going to be an upslope walk to Naksan Park
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.
Quiet Seoul from Naksan Park
Part of Seoul City Wall at Naksan Park
Taking a wefie at the Seoul City Wall
We got a good view of Seoul from Naksan Park
We can see the mountain ranges afar
View from Naksan Park Seoul City Wall
Seoul City Wall up close
This stretch of Seoul City Wall from Naksan Park is a downslope walk
Beautiful autumn scenery along Seoul City Wall
Seoul City Wall in autumn
My friends resting in a pavalion on Naksan Park
Stunning view of Seoul from Naksan Park
This section of the Seoul City Wall look very new
Part of the Seoul City Wall
Seoul City Wall near to Dongdaemun
A different view of Seoul
Seoul City Wall from Naksan Park
Dongdaemun in sight
Nearing the end of our walk along Seoul City Wall
Taking a wefie at the end of our walk along Seoul City Wall
Dongdaemun gate sitting in the middle of a busy road
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.
The main road outside Deoksugung Palace
Street beside Deoksugung Palace
We had a great lunch
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.
We were in time for the change of guard ceremony outside Deoksugung Palace
Witnessing the change of guard ceremony outside Deoksugung Palace
Taking a wefie while the ceremony is on-going
The change of guard ceremony outside Deoksugung Palace
Guards posing for visitors to take pictures
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.
The sleeping chamber of the Korean King
There is a simple throne inside the sleeping chamber
A small building next to the King’s sleeping chambers used to receive foreign envoys
Square in front of the sleeping chambers of the Korean King
Bright green and red colour schemes is typical of Korean ancient architecture
This is where the Korean King receives foreign envoys
Autumn leaves with the king’s sleeping chambers in the background
Back view of the king’s sleeping chambers
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.
The only two-tiered building in Deoksugung Palace that serves as the sleeping chambers of the queen
This is where the king receives foreign envoys
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.
The throne hall in Deoksugung Palace
Inside the throne hall
Taking wefie with the throne
The king’s throne unclose
Elaborate carvings on the ceiling in the throne hall of Deoksugung Palace
Throne hall in Deoksugung Palace
This square is where the officials would stand during an audience with the King
Wefie with the gate in front of the throne hall in Deoksugung Palace
Beautiful autumn foliage in Deoksugung Palace
Gardens in Deoksugung Palace
Gardens in Deoksugung Palace
One final wefie outside Deoksugung Palace before we leave
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.
Apple festival opposite Deoksugung Palace
There is quite a mood here
A large turnout for the apple festival
Farmers from all over South Korea set up stalls here
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.
The very vibrant Hongdae
Hongdae is mainly frequented by locals
I had tiramisu bingsu
My friend had the cookies bingsu
My other friend opted for fried desert
The very vibrant Hongdae
Hongdae is full of life at night
Taking a wefie at Hongdae
The very vibrant Hongdae
The very vibrant Hongdae
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.
We had Korean Ginseng Chicken for our last dinner in South Korea
We opted for the black chicken this time round
Wefie at Myeongdong
Myeongdong is crowded tonight
Return to Myeongdong for last-minute shopping
A quick pitstop at Dongdaemun Design Plaze before we head back to hotel
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.
We got very good views of Gangwon-do on the subway
On the subway to Gangchon Railway Bike
Stunning views from 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.
Finally reached after 2 hours on the subway
The subway station behind us looks like some Korean Temple
Entrance to Gangchon Rail Bike Park
This tells us we are in the right place
Taking wefie in Gangchon Rail Bike Park
Taking pictures with a mock up Rail Bike
This rail bike is for visitors to take pictures
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.
Map of the entire railway bike track
Waiting for our turn to board the bike
Wefie with the umbrellas that dotted the sky at Gangchon Rail Park
One more wefie before we board the bike
We are ready to go
Wefie with the Rail Bike
The Rail Bike tracks started with farmlands
More farmlands on both side of the track
Red Autumn leaves spotted on the side of the track
Crossing a stream
Entering the first tunnel
Wefie in the first tunnel
The first tunnel is decorated with pinwheels
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.
Crossing a stream after exiting the first tunnel
Starting to see some hills
Inside the second tunnel
Lights turn from green to blue in the second tunnel
Taking a wefie in the second tunnel
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.
There are lesser farmlands from this part of the track onwards
Taking pictures on the rail bike
A small farm afar
Not so scenic part of the rail
Inside the third tunnel
The third tunnel is laid with white and yellow LED lights
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.
We were greeted by scenes of the river and mountain ranges coming out of the third tunnel
Taking a picture with the beautiful sceneries
It is very peaceful riding on this section of the track
The sceneries of river and mountains
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.
A small waterfall at the rest area
Taking a wefie at the rest area before we board the train
My friends buying street snack
Scenery along the river on the train
Red leaves on the trees along the tracks
More red leaves along the sides of the tracks
Scenes from the train
Heading to the bus that would take us back to Gangchon Rail Park
The bright red bridge stood out well against the greeneries
Taking a wefie on the suspension bridge that we had to cross to the bus stop
Red autumn leaves are everywhere
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.
We arrived at Gapyeong Station
We arrived at the pier to Nami Island within 5 mins of cab ride from the subway station
My friend with the mascot of the zip line to Nami Island
Taking a wefie at the pier
On the ferry to Nami Island
Getting ready to board the ferry to Nami Island
Another wefie on the ferry to Nami Island
We are reaching Nami Island
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.
We arrived at Nami Island after 5 mins ride on the ferry
Taking a wefie at Nami Island
We were drawn to this row of trees by the pier on Nami Island
I love the different coloured leaves on the trees during autumn
Me with the red maple leaves
My friend with the red maple leaves
My friend with the red maple leaves
My friend doing some flying pose on Nami Island
Yellow leaves with a hue of red
This row of trees has yellow leaves
The red leaves on these trees constantly reminds us of autumn
Me doing some flying poses
My friend doing flying pose
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.
We found this to be a great spot for photo taking on Nami Island
Taking a wefie with the tall pine trees
All the leaves had turned red
Pine tree forest on Nami Island
My friend on Nami Island
It is getting dark soon 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.
The sun has set and Nami Island lights up
Nami Island at night
My phone is able to capture the red leaves on this tree despite being dark
Nami Island at night
Nami Island at night
It is actually darker than it seems
We were not able to appreciate the trees at night
One last wefie before we leave Nami Island
One last shot of Nami Island
Nami Island at night taken from the ferry
We settled for our dinner before heading back to Seoul
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.
Cheonggyecheon Stream Lantern Festival
Taking wefie at Cheonggyecheon Stream
Cheonggyecheon Stream at night
Some of the lanterns on Cheonggyecheon Stream
Some of the lanterns on Cheonggyecheon Stream
Some of the lanterns on Cheonggyecheon Stream
Korean folklore lanterns on Cheonggyecheon Stream
Korean folklore lanterns on Cheonggyecheon Stream
Taking a wefie at Cheonggyecheon Stream
Cheonggyecheon Stream at night
Cheonggyecheon Stream at night
Korean folklore lanterns at Cheonggyecheon Stream
More lanterns at Cheonggyecheon Stream
One last shot of Cheonggyecheon Stream before we leave
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.
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.
Namdaemun Market is full of locals and tourists
Namdaemun Market has both shops and stalls
Wefie at Namdaemun Market
There are a lot of stalls at Namdaemun Market
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.
The majestic Namdaemun Gate
Namdaemun Gate up close
The under roof of Namdaemun Gate has very intricate designs
Dragon mural under the arch of Namdaemun Gate
Taking a wefie with Namdaemun Gate
Actors getting ready for the change of guard ceremony at Namdaemun Gate
Guards in position for the ceremony
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.
We arrived at Suwon Station after the 1½ hr ride on the subway from Seoul
We stumbled into a local market opposite Suwon Station
There is a shopping street opposite Suwon Station with push carts selling street food
Suwon has more locals than foreigners visiting
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.
Model of Hwaseong Haenggung
The main entrance to Hwaseong Haenggung
Wefie at the main entrance to Hwaseong Haenggung
Main entrance to Hwaseong Haenggung up close
The first courtyard in Hwaseong Haenggung
Wefie at the first courtyard in Hwaseong Haenggung
Main audience hall in Hwaseong Haenggung
Interior of the main audience hall in Hwaseong Haenggung
Wefie with the main audience hall in Hwaseong Haenggung
One of the corridors in Hwaseong Haenggung
Around Hwaseong Haenggung
There are life size displays that gives visitors a good idea what some of these rooms are used for 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.
One of the buildings in the annexe of Hwaseong Haenggung
This is the largest building in the annexe of Hwaseong Haenggung
Inside the building in the annexe of Hwaseong Haenggung where morning assembly was held
We got a great view of the autumn trees at the annexe of Hwaseong Haenggung
Trees in their autumn gowns on the hill
My friend in Hwaseong Haenggung
My friend in Hwaseong Haenggung
Under roof of one of the buildings in Hwaseong Haenggung
One of the buildings in Hwaseong Haenggung
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.