Insta-October: Korea

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2013 isn’t over yet, but I can say with full conviction that October was the best month not because it’s my birthday month, but it’s because I went to a country that I had been wanting to visit for the longest time — Korea! I recently went on a 5-day trip to Seoul for the Asian On Air (AOA) Program which was organized by Korean Air and Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). Anton of Our Awesome Planet and I represented the Philippines, and we were joined by 10 other bloggers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. We were grouped into two teams with different itineraries. Luckily, my group’s itinerary was all about the K-Pop culture and shopping!

If you’ve been following my blog for quite some time, you’ve probably noticed that I compile my Instagram photos every month and feature them on my blog. October was quite a busy month for me, so I wasn’t able to take photos on a frequent basis. However, when I went to Korea on October 17-21, I took a lot of photos — enough to cover my October on Instagram entry!

Here’s my scrapbook-inspired travel entry about my recent trip. Enjoy!

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Never in a million years did I think I’d be visiting a hangar of an international airline. I’ve always been fascinated with airplanes since I love traveling, so it was really an overwhelming experience. My jaw literally dropped when I saw the airplanes up close! Aside from visiting Korean Air’s hangar, we also went to the flight simulator rooms and went to the Korean Air Training Center, where all Korean Air Cabin Crew, or they call as ‘Sky Team’ goes for training.

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We also visited the main Tourist Information Center (TIC) which was located on the basement level of the KTO headquarters in Seoul. At the TIC, visitors can get maps, leaflets, and other promotional materials for free. They can also get information on tourist attractions, accommodations, food, shopping and many more. Visitors can likewise browse travel-related books at the Tourism Technology Library, buy something at the souvenir shop, and take photos at the Hallyu Zone. Hanbok (traditional Korean dress) experience is offered regularly throughout the year as well.

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Throughout the program, we stayed in two different hotels. For the first two nights, we stayed at Hotel The Designers in Samsung-dong, Gangnam-gu. For a little bit of Gangnam style flair, you can’t look past this hotel. Every room in the hotel is unique (I got the “Nature Wakes” room) and was designed by local artists. Then we transferred to The Benikea Premier Marigold Hotel in Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu. The location was perfect because it’s in the heart of Hongdae. It’s the perfect place to stay for both tourists and business travelers who want to experience the vibrant city to the fullest.

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South Korea is outpacing other countries in beauty innovation. In the Philippines alone, Korean cosmetics like Etude House, The Face Shop, Nature Republic, Tony Moly, Too Cool For School, Missha and Skin Food are opening more branches nationwide to take advantage of the growing market for beauty products. I’ve always admired the flawless skin of most Koreans, especially the celebrities, that’s why I was glad that I got to experience the beauty culture of Korea. I got a body massage at INHA International Medical Center, got my hair styled at RA Beauty Core, and got a facial spa at Jurlique Spa. The quality and services were top-notch!

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I saw IU, SHINee, T-ara, Kahi, Block B etc. and host Woo-bin at M! Countdown and Mnet WIDE taping! I was really happy I got to closely see K-Pop artists perform live and got to see Onew, Jonghyun, Key, Minho and Taemin goofing around! The fans were going crazy!

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I think I can live in Korea for a long time because there are so many unique and offbeat cafés including Café Comma in Hongdae, which is owned by one of the largest publishing companies in Korea, and A Twosome Place in Apgujeong, which is owned by Korean actor So Ji Sub. I’m seriously addicted to coffee, green tea and sweets!

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I tried some of Korea’s popular desserts and drinks, including the 30cm+ tall soft serve ice cream in Myeong-dong, pat bing soo (shaved iced dessert) in Hongdae, and banana-flavored milk in Itaewon. Actually, you can get these delectable sweets almost anywhere in Korea. You must try them because they’re so yummy!

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It’s official. I’m hooked to Korean food. Sure, I’ve had my share of bibimbap (a bowl of warm white rice topped with vegetables, raw or fried egg, sliced meat and chili pepper paste) and bulgogi (grilled marinated beef) over the years. But since I tried authentic food in Korea, the infatuation has grown into a deep love. I got to try the juk (rice porridge) at Jayeon in the airport, samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) at Tosokchon near the Gyeongbokgung Palace, hanjeongsik (full-course Korean meal with an array of side dishes) at Insadong Chon, tteokkbokki (spicy rice cakes), sundae (pig’s intestines), odeng (fish cake) and gimbap (Korean version of sushi) in Hongdae, samgyeopsal (pork belly) and pajeon (pancake with green onions) at Busan Galbi in Itaewon. I highly recommend these restaurants!

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Every time I travel abroad, I always make sure to visit one of the tallest (if not the tallest) buildings/places to get the best views of the city. N Seoul Tower wasn’t included in our itinerary, but good thing we were given some free time to roam around Seoul. I went there with Enoey, an Indonesian blogger, early in the morning because we wanted to avoid the huge crowd and take nice photos. There’s no admission fee on the roof terrace and from there, you can already have magnificent views of the city and see the thousands of love padlocks.

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Even before going to Korea, I knew that I wanted to visit Myeong-dong, Garosu-gil and Dongdaemun for shopping. My Korean friends and Filipino friends who have traveled to Korea told me that these are the best places to shop. I’m glad that KTO read my mind and brought us there! The stores totally didn’t disappoint! However, we only had a couple of hours to shop per area. I hope I can come back soon to do more shopping!

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Before and after visiting Seoul, Hongdae remains to be my favorite. It’s a district bustling with young people and a hive of cultural activity. When I think of Hongdae, I think of quirky cafés, clubs, bars, and restaurants, noraebangs (karaoke places), musicians playing in the park, art scene, and unique fashion finds. It’s unfortunate that I wasn’t able to go to the Hongdae Free Market, a marketplace for young artists which happens every Saturday. Oh well, this adds to the numerous reasons why I should go back to Seoul!

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I never heard of Samcheong-dong before visiting Korea, but it’s now on my list of favorite places in Seoul. It’s a charming mix of traditional hanok-style buildings, modern art galleries, chic cafés and restaurants. Trendy shops have blended into the traditional landscape too.

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We went all the way to Yongin, a city in Gyeonggi-do province, to experience Korea’s largest theme park — Everland! It’s full of heart-pounding rides and exciting attractions and entertainment, as well as gorgeous flower arrangements and beautiful gardens. Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to try everything. I will definitely go back and try the other rides!

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Also located in Gyeonggi-do, we went to MBC Dramia, a multiplex shooting set made by Munhwa Broadcasting Company (MBC) for their historical K-dramas such as Jewel in the Palace, The Moon that Embraces the Sun, and Gu Family Book. The fresh air, nature and calm atmosphere was a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of Seoul.

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On the last day of the program, I sort of had the whole day to myself since my flight to Manila was late at night. Right after the bloggers left early in the morning, I went to Hongdae since it’s within walking distance from the hotel. I did last minute shopping and had banana chocolate waffle and café latte at Hello Kitty Café. I just couldn’t resist the cute decor! When I found out that there’s another branch at the Incheon International Airport, I visited it as well and ordered sweet potato latte and brownies. I can’t wait to go back and try the other Kitty-shaped desserts!

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While leisurely strolling around Cheonggyecheon, I kept taking photos of literally everything around me! The stream used to be a neglected watercourse hidden by an overpass, but today, it has been transformed into a haven of natural beauty.

This entry is just a summary of the AOA Program. All of the photos were taken using my trusty iPhone5. So be sure to watch out for my upcoming blog entries! They will be more detailed and will contain a lot of photos taken using my dSLR. Visiting Korea in autumn was just so lovely and the country was so photogenic! I hope I can go back during the winter and spring. There’s so much more to explore!

Follow me on Instagram @tiniglesias xx

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  1. Pat Hernandez says

    Hi! I am a new reader of your blog. I love this post! This makes me want to go to Korea more! Are those your drawings? The way you blogged about your experience is so creative and cool! I can’t wait to read your future Korea blog posts! :)