We were all very interested in seeing cherry blossoms, and while hubby had seen the beautiful blooms many years ago in Japan, the rest of us have only seen them online and on TV shows. Initially, we intended to fly into Japan first before travelling to South Korea (the flowers started blooming earlier in certain parts of Japan, and the variety of flowers were different), but the exorbitant air fares made us decide to go for a less ambitious trip 😛
We read about the largest cherry blossom festival in 진해 Jinhae 镇海, and decided that we would focus on 부산 Busan 釜山, and 서울 Seoul 首爾, while keeping things flexible in Busan so that we could go for a day trip to Jinhae, when the cherry trees were in full bloom.
Also, Ms. V and Ms. W had covered Seoul in their recent trip, so they would fly back to Singapore earlier, while hubby and I continued our exploration. Our itinerary were as followed:
Day 0/1 (30 & 31 Mar 2017 Thu & Fri) at 서울 Seoul 首爾 & 부산 Busan 釜山:
- Touched down on SQ602 in Incheon International Airport at 22:15 Korea Standard Time (GMT+7).
- Took all-stop train to 서울 Seoul Station 首爾站, and walked to실로암불가마사우나 Siloam (Silloam) Fire Pot Sauna (Jjimjilbang) 汗蒸幕, overnight stay at the Jjimjilbang.
- Exchanged the KORAIL Pass vouchers at Seoul KTX Station and took the 10:15 KTX train to Busan (no zombies were encountered :P). Bought food at the convenience store to lunch in train.
- Reached Busan at 13:20.
- We spotted pretty cherry blossoms after exiting Busan KTX Station!! The only super pink cherry blossoms that we saw throughout the trip was at the cherry tree near the Busan Subway Station Exit just across the plaza separating Busan KTX Station and Busan Subway Station.
- Checked into 부산비즈니스호텔 Busan Business Hotel.
- Coffee break at 빽다방 Paik’s Coffee, checked out the nearby streets.
- Dinner at 송정3대국밥 Songjung Third-generation Pork Soup with Rice 松亭三代豬肉湯飯.
- Checked out Lotte Department store.
Day 2 (1 Apr 2017 Sat) at 부산 Busan 釜山:
- Day trip to 진해군항제 Jinhae Gunhangje Festival 镇海军港祭, aka Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival 镇海樱花庆典.
- Dinner at 유가네닭갈비 Yoogane 柳氏家鐵板雞專門店.
- Checked out the underground shopping malls.
Day 3 (2 Apr 2017 Sun) at 부산 Busan 釜山:
- Half day trip to 해동 용궁사 Haedong Yonggungsa Temple 海東龍宮寺.
- Half day trip to 해운대전통시장 Haeundae Traditional Market 海雲台傳統市場.
Day 4 (3 Apr 2017 Mon) at 부산 Busan 釜山:
- Half day trip to 태종대유원지 Taejongdae Recreation Area 太宗臺遊園區.
- Afternoon trip to 감천문화마을 Gamcheon Culture Village 甘川洞文化村.
- Visited 자갈치시장 Jagalchi Market 札嘎其市場.
- Checked out BIFF 광장 Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) Square
- Dinner at 해동해물탕 Haedong Haemultang 海東海鮮鍋 near hotel
Day 5 (4 Apr 2017 Tue) at 부산 Busan 釜山:
- Day trip to 오륙도스카이워크 Oryukdo Skywalk 五六島天空步道 and 이기대 Igidae 二妓臺 Coastal Walk.
- Back to Seomyeon for coffee break at Kavan Coffee (best latte of the entire trip!), while the girls checked out Cafe 7gram for some yummy waffles.
- Dinner at 교촌치킨 Kyochon Chicken 橋村炸雞.
Day 6 (5 Apr 2017 Wed) at 부산 Busan 釜山 & 서울 Seoul 首爾:
- Breakfast at Hands Coffee before train back to Seoul.
- Checked into 신신호텔 Hotel Shin Shin.
- Dinner at 봉추찜닭 Bongchu Jjimdak 鳳雛燉雞.
- Shopping at 롯데마트 Lotte Mart 樂天超市.
Day 7 (6 Apr 2017 Thu) at 서울 Seoul 首爾:
- Breakfast at Dunkin Donuts.
- Early lunch at 토속촌 삼계탕 Tosokchon Samgyetang 土俗村参雞湯 and popped over to check out the nearby 세종마을음식문화거리 Sejong Village Food Street 世宗村飲食文化街.
- Visited 남대문시장 Namdaemun Market 南大門市場.
- Snacked and shopped our way through 명동 Myeongdong 明洞.
Day 8 (7 Apr 2017 Fri) at 서울 Seoul 首爾:
- Breakfast at Ediya Coffee.
- Visited 노량진수산물도매시장 Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market 鷺梁津水產市場.
- Lunch at 놀부부대찌개 (Nolboo Budae Jjigae) Nolboo Army Stew 樂伯部隊鍋.
- Sent the girls off to catch their bus back to airport.
- Dinner at 오우가 Ouga 五友歌.
- Met Mr. J for drinks at Myeongdong Coffee.
Day 9 (8 Apr 2017 Sat) at 서울 Seoul 首爾:
- Breakfast at TOUS Les Jours.
- Visited 경복궁 Gyeongbokgung Palace 景福宮, and 국립고궁박물관 National Palace Museum of Korea 國立古宮博物館.
- Early dinner at 동대문 Dongdaemun 東大門, plus exploring the area.
- Supper at 광장시장 Gwangjang Market 廣藏市場.
Day 10 (9 Apr 2017 Sun) at 서울 Seoul 首爾:
- Early lunch at 한가람 Hangaram 李花 near our hotel.
- Went to 석촌호수 벚꽃축제 Seokchon Lake Cherry Blossom Festival 石村湖櫻花節, with coffee break at A Twosome Place.
- Snacked our way through 명동 Myeongdong 明洞.
Day 11 (10 Apr 2017 Mon) at 서울 Seoul 首爾:
- Breakfast at Namdaemum
- Went to Yeouido Spring Flower Festival
- Lunch at Sariwon and coffee break at Le Brunchic (closed) at IFC Mall
- Dinner at Myeongdong and Gwangjang Market
Day 12 (11 Apr 2017 Tue) at 서울 Seoul 首爾:
- Breakfast at Namdaemum
- Lunch of Ginseng Chicken at 동방영양센터 (Dongbang Yeongyang Center) Oriental Nutrition Center 東方營養中心.
- Checked out 덕수궁 Deoksugung Palace 德壽宮.
- Dinner at 애성회관 곰탕 (Aeseong Hoegwan Gomtang) Aseong Hall Beef Soup.
- Checked out of hotel.
- It was really tough trying to do research for this trip! A lot of official websites were mostly in Korean, with a more basic English version which lacked information. We did a lot of Google translation (which could get really wonky), and gone through English and Chinese blogs, as well as guide books to try to figure things out. The English spelling varies, so do try to work out the rough pronunciation. Also, note that there might be 2 addresses for the same location, as South Korea underwent a massive address and postal code change. As we encountered traditional Chinese characters during the trip, we tried our best to use traditional Chinese in the translations in our South Korea blog entries 🙂
- Google Maps was only useful for general directions, but very often, the places that we want to go to, were not in the correct locations in the map. It is best to note down the Korean names and address of the places that you want to go to, and it will be even better if you have some pictures of the place, in case you need to ask for directions. If you are able to read a bit of Korean, try Naver Maps. It is definitely more accurate with more details.
- The cherry trees only blossomed for a short period of time, and depending on the weather, they may bloom earlier or later. It was not feasible to do an overnight stay in Jinhae, as we would not be sure when the full bloom would be. Instead, we chose to stay in Busan during the period which coincided with previous year’s Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival (the schedule for the year was not out yet when we made our hotel bookings). We kept checking for updates on the blooming status, as well as the weather forecast (the fragile blossoms might not survive heavy downpours), before deciding which day to go for the cherry blossom viewing. Also, the cherry trees usually bloom earlier in Busan, hence the Busan – Seoul sequence was more logical in terms of cherry blossom viewing.
- Purchase the KORAIL Pass (KR Pass) voucher online prior to your trip. There is no cancellation charge if you do not exchange the voucher for the train tickets within 180 days of purchase. There are a few types of KORAIL Pass, and since we were travelling as a group, and taking 2 KTX train rides within 10 days, the Flexible Saver Pass was the most value-for-money for us.
- At Seoul KTX Station, we had to exchange the voucher at an Information Counter (nearer to the entrance to the train platforms), and then proceed to the ticket counters to buy the KTX train tickets. We were able to buy the train tickets for the return leg together.
- At Seoul KTX Station, there were a couple of stalls selling Bento sets after you go through the entrance to the platforms. We did not realise that, and had already bought food from the convenience stores within the station. At Busan KTX Station, we did not see any shops selling Bento sets though.
- In Busan, it was sometimes much more economical for the 4 of us to share a cab instead of taking buses. We would usually check with the hotel staff for an estimation of the cab fare, and do a quick comparison with the bus fare.
- While the last express train from Incheon Airport to Seoul Station departs at 21:50, the all-stop trains are still in service till 23:40. We took the train instead of the late night bus service, as it was cheaper and easier (no need to worry about lack of seats, bus berth, etc.).
- For our trip back, we decided to try out the airport bus instead of taking train to Incheon Airport, as the designated bus stop was very near our hotel, and especially after our friends feedback that the ride was very smooth and without traffic jams. We boarded the empty bus at 19:09, and it was a smooth 70-minute ride to Incheon International Airport. It was also quite a lovely night ride, as we saw the Namdaemun Gate in its full glory, and some of the bridges that we saw along the way had beautiful lights up. Do check out the bus stop a day before you leave, for we actually saw a notice about road diversion at the bus stop, and the airport bus would not stop at the designated stop nearest to our hotel for a particular day.
- Some items in certain restaurants are not available to solo travellers, as the food portion is huge (meant for sharing, or the menu may sometimes indicate minimum 2 pax). Other restaurants frown upon sharing, i.e. 1 order per person. For such restaurants, usually the food is served with quite a few refillable 반찬 banchan (side dishes), so it is quite understandable. So sometimes, when we did end up sharing (because their 1 pax portion could be very huge too!), we try not to get refills.
- For this trip, hubby tried out Starhub DataTravel, I used M1 Data Passport, and Ms V got the overseas travel Wi-Fi router from Changi Recommends. Starhub DataTravel worked without a hitch, while I had some issues with the M1 Data Passport, because the recommended telco was in a different name on my phone. It was definitely a phone issue, because it was only different on my phone :S Again, we were unable to give thumbs up for Changi Recommends, because it kept failing! Sheesh, even when only Ms V’s device was connected to it, most of the time, she was unable to do Google search, or use maps when we were trying to find our way. She was able to check her work emails consistently though -_-” To be fair, we have heard of others who used the Wi-Fi router from Changi Recommends without issues in South Korea. I guess it’s a luck thing, huh?
Subway map App: