Kimchi, missing pedestrian lanes, and language problems are just a few of the challenges that you, the intrepid traveler, will hurdle when you get to Korea. Here's to a spicy and exotic adventure to the Far East...
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Lotte World
Nam Dae Mun Market
Changdok-Kung Palace
Korea House
Sheraton Walker Hill
Itaewon Shopping Entrance to Changdok-kung Palace

Land of the Morning Calm

By Angelica Bautista Viloria of

Just over a couple of years ago, from May 15-18, 1995 to be exact, Manuel and I spent the second part of our honeymoon in Seoul, Korea. Before this, we had spent a few days in Boracay which most people understood. Upon learning though that we were also going to Korea for our honeymoon, most people, with a puzzled look on their face would usually ask: "Why Korea?" Sometimes, I'd get the feeling that we chose the strangest place on earth for our honeymoon. Anyway...

Why did we choose to go to Korea? There were several requirements. First, we had to find a place we both haven't been to. That should make our visit more interesting and fun. Second, we had to see a different culture -- new language, new food, among other things. The place had to have opportunities for sightseeing and shopping, two things which I enjoy, obviously. Lastly, and more importantly, it had to be affordable. We didn't want blowing a substantial amount of our savings for just four days.

So, how was Korea? Well, the place did meet all our requirements. We enjoyed our stay and found the country interesting. For would-be first-time visitors to Seoul, I'd like to share a few things:

  1. There is a one-hour difference between Manila and Seoul.

  2. For Filipinas, make sure you bring your calling cards and enough money. You may find that it takes you more time to get through Immigration than Filipino males. I don't really know what the reputation of Filipinas would be in Seoul. All I know is that it took me twice as long to get through Immigration compared to my hubby.

  3. Stores in Korea close once a week. Each store would have an assigned day for this. Make sure that if you plan to go shopping at a certain store, you have your schedules right. Otherwise, you could go home severely disappointed.

  4. Items at Korean department stores are quite expensive. I don't think I saw anything below W50,000. At the time that we were there though, the exchange rate was W1 to P.03.

  5. People rarely cross the street in Seoul. Everyone goes underground where there are arcades selling ties, souvenir items, and even Baskin Robbins ice cream for only P30 a scoop!

  6. Korean girls/women are very fair. They have good, clear skin and they all look like they don't need a derma. Maybe, it's because of the weather. When we arrived, the temperature was at a nice 17 degrees Celsius.

  7. When you want to go around via a taxi, ask the hotel personnel to write the name of your destination in Korean. This way, if you get stuck with a driver who does not know any English, you're still sure to get to your desired place. Most hotels would also have a special card showing the name and location of the hotel so you can ask for this and show this to your taxi driver on the way back.

  8. Don't be surprised if you see taxi drivers throwing coins at a certain contraption. They're not being charitable, they're just paying for the toll.

Now, that that's done, what are the places to go to or visit while in Seoul? Following are our suggestions:

Lotte World (Magic Island and Lotte World Adventure): For people who have been to Disneyland, this place may not be comparable. For amusement park lovers, however, these two would still be quite interesting. Magic Island is an open-air park while Lotte World Adventure is located indoor. While at Lotte World Adventure, we suggest you go see Fantastic Odyssey, a water, lights, fire, and fake plants show. Although the narration is done in Korean, we're sure you'll still enjoy the presentation. Also, try the soft yoghurt ice cream which comes with crushed fruits like cherry and blueberry. Yummy! There's also a Korean Folk Village where there are miniature scenes like: "Parade of successful examinee for civil service exam." Be prepared to see lots of grooms and brides having lots of pictures taken at Magic Island. They're not models but real couples in their gowns and tuxes. We're told that Korean couples usually have such pictorials before their wedding. They have their photos taken, with them wearing traditional Korean wedding outfits and Western-style attire too.

Nam Dae-Mun (South Growth Gate): A shopping area for shoes, bags, clothes, and souvenir items. Look over things you buy quite carefully though. The items can be quite cheap but the quality may not be that good. For blouses, make sure you check the buttons as they may fall off sooner than you expect. Also, watch over your things carefully. Some shoppers don't have any sense of personal space so be sure your bag is secure the whole time.

Seoul Tower: Allows you to get a nice view of different areas in Seoul.

Changdok-kung Palace: Has interesting spots like the "Happy Forever" and "Never Get Old" gates. There's also a room called "Making Good Son Inside." You also get to learn about Korean history and the different dynasties. During the Chosun Dynasty, for example, I learned that men and women had to go through different gates. Lower and narrower ones for the women and taller and wider ones for the men. This was supposedly a reflection of the status of men and women in Korean society at that time. Our tour guide, who happened to be female, after explaining about the gates, then went through the gate for males. Manuel jokingly told her: "Why are you passing through that gate, isn't that supposed to be for males only?" To which our guide seriously responded: "This isn't the Chosun Dynasty. This is the Republic of Korea!" So much for her sense of humor...

Cultural dancers perform at the Korea House Korea House: Delicious Korean buffet dinner but an even more delightful show awaits tourists after dinner. The place has a small theater where they feature traditional Korean dances, songs, mime, and musical instruments. If you ever get to watch the show, look out for the fan dance and most importantly for the samulnori, and tell me what you think about the dancers' necks!

Sheraton Walker Hill: At the time we were there, they staged the "Viva Fantasy" Show. The show combines traditional numbers with Western/European style (a la Moulin Rouge) performances. The traditional numbers were better at Korea House but the sets, stage design, and portions involving the puppets, dogs, and magicians were quite enjoyable. They also had huge chandeliers with people suddenly coming down. They had a shark, a fake one of course, suddenly hovering over the heads of the people watching. Don't expect any traditional Korean dinner at this place, though. Steak is the usual fare.

Itaewon is usually recommended by a lot of books on Korea but in our case, it was a big disappointment. We didn't get to buy anything as the place mostly had leathergoods and shirts, things we weren't interested in. Nam Dae Mun had a wider variety of goods so if you only can go to one place, choose this instead of Itaewon.

As you can see, there are a lot of places to go to and enjoy in Korea. We enjoyed our honeymoon there and even learned to say: "An mae un gut chuseyo." Nope, that doesn't mean "I love you." After eating kimchi for four days, you just have to learn this line. Want to find out what the line means? Go visit Korea...

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Land of the Morning Calm (A family travel account of Seoul, Korea)
Copyright © 1997 by Angelica Bautista Viloria. All Rights Reserved.