Getting my Winter Clothes in Divisoria
Since we’ve already given up on this trip and my visa got approved at the last minute, I only had two days to prepare with everything that I needed for the Winter Season.
The first thing I did was go to Divisoria, the mother of all cute yet cheap finds in Manila. But if I had more time, I would definitely have gone to Ukay (Translation: Thrift shops) but I just didn’t know how to fit in the time to carefully wash and boil all the clothes from Ukay in the two days I had. So Divisoria it is. And what a blessing Divisoria is because I got everything that I needed in just a few hours. After that, we then headed to the mall to buy more thermals and essentials.
I am the type of person who is so scared and uncomfortable of getting cold. I am not used to the cold. And my lungs literally give out when I feel cold so imagine me bringing a lot of layers: T-shirts, inner shorts, leggings, jackets and pullovers. Short to say, I had overpacked. And even then I knew that I would still need another big coat to keep me warm and I had decided to go to the most visited shopping district in Seoul on our first day to scout for a coat and another pair of gloves. Because of this, we also had decided to buy all our pasalubong on day one of our trip.
Arriving at Incheon:
After a four (4) hour flight (but really due to the delay at the runway, it was 5 hours), we landed in the very cold night at Incheon International Airport.
A quick checklist from Incheon International Airport to Seoul:
We had to sort out a couple of things first before we really explored South Korea:
- Get our Money changed from USD to KRW
- Book a car from Incheon to Seoul
- Check-In at the Hostel
- Get WiFi
- Get T-Money for the Korean Train System
- Get Maps, loads of maps
- Actually plan a solid itinerary
Exchanging USD or PHP to KRW and booking a car from Incheon to Seoul
Some travellers usually have their full pocket money converted from PHP to KRW before landing in Korea. But what I did was, I got some PHP converted to USD and stored it up as my emergency fund and then I got my full pocket money by directly withdrawing in a global ATM at the airport. Their global ATM system offers competitive rates so you can maximise the money exchanged from PHP to KRW rather than having it changed at the airport’s currency exchange booth.
For the first two tries, I failed and got a bit flustered so I still went to the currency exchange stall and exchanged a bit of cash and then tried again and was successful in getting my Wons. *I won, get it? k.*
Then we managed to book a car by talking to a driver at the airport. Going from Incheon to Seoul takes about an hour. And our driver, Mr. Lee, was so kind and gave us a mini tour of Incheon and Gimpo and a mini background of Seoul. He dropped us at the entrance of our hostel and we got settled in for the night.
Pro Tip: I recommend you to book everything in Klook or KKDay days before your flight. The rent-a-car from Incheon to Seoul and vice versa needs to be reserved at least two days before and you would have a lot of options to make your ride cheaper. Either have a carpool or get a cheaper promo rate from another car provider. Getting your WiFi from Klook is also cheaper. We got our mobile data from Hongdae and it was 25,000KRW for five days. Klook offers a cheaper option for WiFi.
Before going to Myeongdong, we first had to get our train cards to go around the city so we went to a convenience store near our hostel and got our hands with the cutest cards in the whole world, T-Money.
T-Money is what they call their train card in Korea, similar to Beep cards here in the Philippines. You can purchase it at any convenience store and costs about 4,000KRW, and it is so cute. If you want a cuter design, prepare to spend about 5,000-6,000KRW but it is so worth it. Whoever said commuting doesn’t have to be cute, I spend about 10 seconds just staring at my card and it makes me so excited to enter and exit the station gates.
You get the card without the balance so what you need to do first is go to the nearest train station, and use their self-service top up booth to add balance to the card. The self-service machine is easy to use and provides a step-by-step english guide on what you need to do.
Pro-Tip: If you will primarily use the train to go around South Korea, I recommend you to load it up 10,000KRW so you can avoid going back and forth the top-up machine. But this is up to you, you can load it up initially with just 3,000KRW and that is also enough.
Myeongdong: The holy land of beauty, best street food and best Samgyeopsal (IMO – so far).
I’m sure this is not the first time you will be hearing about Myeongdong because it is so well-known and a must visit location in Seoul especially for all the beauty mavens out there. Most tourists that I know take up residence here during their visits and for a good reason.
Everything that you need to buy: skin care and beauty items, cheap pasalubong, cheap cute outfits and all-around cute stuff can be found here. Even though sunsets in Seoul are much earlier that what we normally have here in the Philippines, it doesn’t mean that you need to go home immediately since Seoul has a very active night life scene. For us Titas, it was eating a lot of street food and looking out for our favorite KBeauty products. If you’re like me and want to buy a new cute coat for your trip, Myeongdong is the place where you can scout for really stylish items.
But as newbies in Myeongdong expect that you will lose your way a lot because setting a landmark doesn’t work too well since you will being seeing a lot stores having a lot of branches at the main street, as well as at the side streets. It would be like seeing 3 or more Club Clio or Nature Republic stores in each area you go to.
Pro Tip: The Tourist Information Center has a very friendly and very fluent in English staff that will always guide you and provide a very updated map to navigate your shopping/cultural journey. We found out early that whenever we got lost, it is best to go to the Tourist Information Center to help us find our true North.
I got my stash of Missha at their local store, and got some Dear Klairs and CosRx items in Aritaum. Some hard to find items can be found in Olive Young stores (Olive Young is similar to Watson’s here in the Philippines).
If you love KBeauty and constantly buy them in the Philippines, you will really see some great deals here in Myeongdong because not only are they way cheaper, each store will also give you a lot of freebies of their other products even if you buy just one item.
If you are really planning to fill your bags with a lot of KBeauty items, you’d be ecstatic to know that once you get a total worth of 30,000KRW per store you get an immediate tax free deal once you pay. You don’t need to save all those receipts and ask for a tax refund at the airport. And this deal is available in ALL the stores.
One thing, if not the most important thing to not miss out on your visit to Myeongdong, is trying out their street food because they are so good.
We also got to try some really good meals at The Golden Farm (which IU endorses and who I’m a big fan). We really loved their Bulgogi stew, Doenjang-Jjigae and Samgyeopsal plus all side dishes are refillable.
I highly recommend you to try them out or just go find your own SamG or Korean foodventure because since our first meal, we never had a bad experience with any of the restaurants we dined in.
Unlike the unlimited samgyeopsal we’re so used to now in the Philippines, in South Korea you will notice that the price of the Samgyeopsal depends on which part you’d like to eat. Pork skin and Bulgogi strips cost about 5,000-6,000KRW per set but really good cuts costs about 35,000-45,000KRW.
At the Golden Farm, we also noticed that they have a process on how to cook the Samgyeopsal. They have a device they use to check the temperature, then they cook first the pork and beef in an efficient manner. They do this for a lot of customer tables, switching every 1-3 mins until the meat is cooked well. Then afterwards they will proceed with the vegetables, cooking them just enough to complement the meat. They will then place everything in a tiny metal tray still within the pan so you can leisurely eat your meat while it’s still hot. And what a Samgyeopsal that was. The meat was so tender, fresh, and tastes like steak. All of the vegetables we also tried were so fresh and it was a joy having a hot meal and cozying up in a heated restaurant as we escape from a very cold winter day outside.
No matter where we went we always came back to Myeongdong in the evenings. And we noticed that prices do change and some stores offer discounts or promos very close to the weekend. So I suggest that you do not buy everything you need in just one visit, canvas, and get the best deal.
Getting lost and finding great spots is sometimes the best parts of travelling
Since we have no definite itinerary, we chose to just pick out what was on the map and recommended by the Tourist Information Center and found ourselves stepping out on the Ewha Womans University station platform and exploring one of the biggest universities I have ever seen.
At this point, I was just really amazed by how clean and aesthetically organized Seoul is. Every point has a purpose, and every corner is pleasing to the eyes and walking is definitely recommended because the pedestrian areas are enough to accommodate big crowds. You can always find a great corner to take photos for Instagram. If you are a fan of Korean Dramas and you highly envy those scenes that seem so arranged and so beautiful that it’s not possible to actually recreate those moments in real life? Well, we honestly felt that there was a filter in the air because each area we’ve been in is just so amazingly beautiful. And yes, those moments that you’ve been watching they are quite possible in real life, or at Seoul at least.
We would have loved to stay longer at the Ewha campus grounds but at 5:00pm the sun was already setting and the air was becoming dangerously chilling and at that point, we just needed to relax our feet and bring up our body temperatures so we headed on to the nearest cafe we could get into, Cafe Pera.
We ordered one strawberry shortcake and a Cafe Americano drip coffee for me and traditional Green Tea for Che and every slice of that dainty cake was something to die for with those fresh strawberries and not too sweet cream just filling your mouth like heaven and the drinks were satisfying warm and indulgent as well. My coffee had just the right amount of caffeine and I didn’t need to add anything to it and the green tea was just too pure. I honestly wish I was exaggerating this, but no. You have to go there, eat that cake, and drink that coffee to understand why I am sharing it the way I am sharing it. And everything, even the spoon, was too adorable and quaint. Everything about this cafe was just so warm and inviting. The lady who served us looked like the lost princess from Goblin (a KDrama series) and the barista is straight-up collared like one of the cast from the Coffee Prince (another KDrama series haha).
Leaving that cafe and stepping out into -4 degrees celsius was such a pain but we needed to visit one last stop and that was the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and visit this amazing installation that we know from She Was Pretty (you’re guessing it! a Kdrama series). Thousands of LED flowers surround this part of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza all lit from within and a joy to see in the cold winter night. You have to be at the bottom end of the installation to truly appreciate it. But if you’re not a big fan of lights or man-made installations, you can skip this and head on to the Art Museum inside the Plaza. Or you can just walk around and marvel at the architectural masterpiece that is the whole Design Plaza, designed by the late Zaha Hadid. It feels like walking through a modern Utopia and just seeing it is worth the walk in the cold.
After that, we explored Dongdaemun and were surprised that there were more cheaper clothing stores here than in Myeongdong. I suggest that if you plan to shop in Korea, save a lot of money before your trip because all the clothes are so cute it is so hard to choose just one.
We ticked off another item from our KDrama checklist by eating at a Pojangmacha. If you are a big fan of KDramas, this is a definite must-do on your SoKor trip. Pojangmachas are small tented spots that can be on wheels or are arranged with small tables in a large area covered in a big orange tarpaulin where you can eat or drink late at night. It was super cold and we were really hungry so I just took a quick Instagram story of our experience, you can watch that here:
We were so tired and so cold at that point and wanting to catch the last train back to Hongik University Station, we trudged back to Dongdaemun station to go home. All in all, it was an amazing first day at South Korea. Everything was just perfect and we instantly knew that the next four days wouldn’t be enough for us to explore all of Seoul.
Thank you for reading up to this point. It has been a lengthy blog but I’ll be sharing more of our trip on my next post. See you there. 😉
Travel buddy and Photo credit: Cheriz Penaflor