Pa had been planning for an overseas family trip for a while now. As early as last summer, he had told us that we really should take a vacation in another country (in Asia) soon. He said that not only would it be great for the family, but it would also expose us young ones to the world outside the tropical walls of the Philippines. The vacation abroad (South Korea!) was finalized early in December of last year and everyone in the family was ecstatic. Who wouldn’t be? We were going on an adventure overseas!
What’s different about this family trip, besides it being the (first?) one requiring a visa, was that we actually booked a packaged tour, with an itinerary and tour guide and tour group and everything. Unlike our trips to Hong Kong and Singapore in the past where we kind of just muddled along, hoping to see a Filipino face in every establishment, this Korea trip had an actual schedule. We were in safe hands and wouldn’t have to worry about getting lost at all. We’d also see and learn more about Korea in the tour. We even get to taste Korean dishes that we’d probably have been too hesitant to try had we been left to order our own meals.
Our trip lasted for five days, starting from early Wednesday morning and ending on early Sunday afternoon. This blog entry, I think, will have to be divided into two parts because I’m sure this will be a long one. Plus, I took a lot of photos on the trip and managed to select a minimum of forty pictures per day. This won’t matter to anyone but me so if you don’t care for the ramblings and terrible cellphone photos of a tiny twenty-one-year-old who had just gotten back from her first actual tour of a foreign country and has a lot to share and say about it, you may want to leave now.
If you’re willing to suffer a few minutes of your day to my inane blathering, read on, brave soul.
Day 1 : Cold Countryside Cruise
My sister had done her research regarding the weather in Korea in April. She said that it would be springtime in that temperate country when we visit so it won’t be too cold. It’ll be heaps cooler there than in the Philippines (oh, El Niño) but we won’t be frozen stiff when we spend a few days there at least.
When we arrived at Incheon airport, the cool air conditioning already had us tightening our jackets and patting our safety precaution scarves (I’ve never understood the full concept of scarves until then, to be honest). Our tour guide, a sweet Korean lady whose English was heavily accented but understandable once you get used to it, told us that the weather outside the airport was cold so we best put on our thickest jackets. Everyone in the group (which was three families, ours included) didn’t really take her words that seriously. I mean, it was already cold inside the airport (with its industrial sized air conditioning units everywhere), how cold can the outside possibly be?
Very, VERY cold, as we soon found out.
Turns out that the cold inside Incheon airport? Yeah, that was warm in comparison to the ridiculously cold winds outside. Seriously, it was as though we had just stepped into a psycho freezer. It was unbelievably chilly! We’re tropical people so we honestly had no idea what to expect. Our ignorance could not be blamed. That day I learned that a scarf actually does have a use besides looking nice and snug around a person. The black-and-white scarf that my ma gave me became my best friend from that point.
Anyway, our first stop on our first day in Korea was to the countryside, to the adorable French village called Petite France.
From what our tour guide told us on the way to the tiny village, Petite France was created by this businessman who fell in love with France and French culture and design. Though the air up in the mountains was cold, I still ran around the French village like the curious and hyperactive child that I really am. Oh, and it was totally not too surprising to see that majority of the attractions and statues and designs were from Le Petit Prince.
Sweetly melancholic French music played in the background in some hidden speakers here and there. The ambiance was really just perfect for exploring. There were so many buildings and rooms to visit that I was just frantic trying to choose which to go first. I almost just had to glance at the attractions and quirky knick-knacks in a room to save time. We only had an hour to look around the place, after all.
Some rooms had numerous dolls on display. Some dolls were cute and pretty
Others, not so… or at least not the conventional kind.
Then there was the buildings and rooms themselves
And there was the view… and the flowers. So many flowers.
Oh, and did I mention the art and the food?
Sadly, because of the very limited time given to us, I wasn’t able to see everything in the village. My younger sister, who had seen everything, told me that there was this room dedicated completely to the Little Prince. I couldn’t even visit all of the art rooms. How sad.
Our second destination was Nami Island.
Nami island or Namiseom is a small island about five minutes by ferry away from Chuncheon.
The tiny tourist island was named after a young Korean General of the Joseon Dynasty but is mostly known for being one of the filming sites of the popular Korean drama, Winter Sonata.
There wasn’t much to do in that resort island but there was a lot to see. It was still cold as ever but the chilly air made walking around the island more romantic. Must have been the reason why most of the visitors there were couples. Seriously, the place was teeming with them – young, old, married, dating, they were everywhere!
Thankfully, the island was pretty big and had a lot of pretty things to look at besides the PDA couples.
Our first day in Korea was relatively quiet. We did just suffer a sleepless night and four hours of flying, after all. It was pretty lucky none of us dropped dead from exhaustion. Though I guess the short naps we took during the bus rides (we rode for two hours to our first destination) kind of helped. The smooth roads and loose traffic just lulled us to sleep.
Day 2 – Mountains and Bears (and the Unbearable Cold Mountain Air)
We all woke up bright and early the following day but were dismayed to see the gloomy weather. The sky threatened to rain and, a few minutes into the bus ride to Seorak Mountain (our first stop for the day), it did start to drizzle.
Now, it was already cold there in the countryside (the mountains were shrouded with thick fog), so the rain, soft and light it may have been, really made things worse. I, and a few others, had to wear this ridiculous flimsy rain coat. I looked weird and awkward but at least I was relatively dry. Less chances of catching a cold or getting frostbite anyways.
We first had a look around inside the giant Buddha statue that faced Seorak mountain.
We even got to go inside the statue, to Shinheungsa Temple, an actual Buddhist temple.
After the temple, we started going up the mountain via cable car. A lot of us wondered if it would still be safe going up in that high mountain when the weather was so foggy and wet. Our tour guide assured us that it was still fine. The park would have closed for the day if it weren’t okay, she said.
The view up there was awesome. Too bad we couldn’t climb up the highest point of the mountain what with the rain and all. The steps were too slippery and dangerous, apparently. So we all kind of just milled around the place and tried not to shiver too much.
We didn’t spend too long there though. Not more than an hour later, we rode the cable car down and headed for the second stop for the morning, the Teddy Bear Farm.
None of us had any idea what a Teddy Bear Farm was. My family assumed that it was a teddy bear factory or something and we’d be able to see how those adorable stuffed animals were made. We were… close. The farm did make teddy bears, just not the commercialized kind that we expected. It was kind of like a mini museum of teddy bears doing human things. They were adorable.
So. Many. Bears. They reminded me of our puppy back at home, Bear. *sniffs*
Our tour guide explained to us that bears are pretty important in Korea. There’s this myth that long ago a bear and a tiger wanted to be human so they prayed to this god. The god told them that they can only become human if they stay inside a cave for 100 days and eat only a few select vegetables (not kimchi, our tour guide said). The tiger couldn’t do it but the bear persevered. After a hundred days, the bear turned into this beautiful woman and married the god. The woman/bear then gave birth to the first emperor of Korea. Yeah.
Anyway, we had lunch after our visit to the Teddy Bear Farm. Then rode the bus for around two hours to reach our last stop for the day, the Wind Village.
It wasn’t particularly windy there but it was still pretty cold, no surprise. The little village was a co-op, if I remember correctly. It’s mostly a sheep farm open to tourists. We made cheese first.
It was pretty easy, even though the lady there didn’t speak English at all. The cheese turned out beautifully with all those flower petals but didn’t taste too cheese-like.
We were given some chips, strawberry jam, and a bottle of wine to eat with our cheese. The jam was good but the wine was… wine. It was really bitter, though since I’ve never liked alcohol anyway I may not be the best critic for it.
After making and eating our cheese, we went to feed some sheep.
The sheep were used to being fed, as it turns out, because they immediately flocked the fence when we got near them. The younger sheep kept on being pushed, even toppled, aside by the larger, older sheep. They sure loved their dry straw.
Then we went to eat dinner, which was shabu-shabu. All in all, a pretty peaceful day in countryside Korea.
[End of part 1]