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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Korea Day 2: Retracing Traditional Seoul

4/21/2018 07:06:00 PM 2 Comments
We rested so well after a long day and after downing some soju shots on our first night. We did nothing fancy. We just acquainted ourselves to the city and enjoyed our first sights of Seoul. We were so ready for our very packed Day 2 itinerary!

a serene corner in the palace

We got up early because we had a lot of plans for the day. When I woke up, our host Mr. Hong already had a message inviting us for breakfast. We got ready very quickly so we can still spend time with him despite our hectic schedule for the day.

Thank you for the breakfast, Mr. Hong! :)

He prepared some bibimbap, seaweed soup and omelette for us. It was a simple yet very filling meal. Koreans also eat rice for breakfast, yay! Mr. Hong doesn't have to do this really, but he is a very sweet host. Kamsahamnida, Mr. Hong! :)

Gwanghwamun Square

Our first destination for the day was originally the Gyeongbokgung Palace. But we arrived too early and we want to watch the changing of guards which is at 9:35 AM, so we killed some time first at the Gwanghwamun Square. This place was opened around the same time as the Cheonggyecheon Stream which I featured on our Day 1.

The first thing that will catch your attention will be the enormous King Sejong Statue. Sejong the Great is said to be one if not the most outstanding King in Korean history. His greatest contribution was his invention of Hangeul or the Korean alphabet. His reign is considered as the Golden Age of Korea because of the great cultural and intellectual accomplishments during that period.

Statue of King Sejong

Another notable figure in the square was the statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin. This undefeated naval commander has won 23 battles in his lifetime - all against the Japanese during the Joseon era. In front of his statue is a fountain to commemorate all the battles he fought with 12 warships. The fountain is called the 12.23 Fountain.

Statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin and Korean History Timeline

The square is surrounded by royal administrative buildings. North of the square, behind the big King Sejong Statue is the Gwanghwamun Gate which is the main entrance of the Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

This palace is one of the most iconic attractions in all of Korea. It is the biggest among the Five Grand Palaces and it served as the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. It is also often regarded as the most beautiful among the five.

Geunjeongjeon (Throne Hall)

The Throne Hall is the largest hall in the palace where the King used to formally greet his audiences and give official declarations.

eye candy!

The palace architecture is a combination of ancient Chinese and Joseon Dynasty tradition. I love that they are so prettily painted.

spot the pink flowers!

I lost count on how many structures are inside the palace. It actually doesn't matter that it's crowded because the complex is so huge, you will surely find a spot just for yourself.

must have been lonely living in a palace this huge

This palace was burned down during the Japanese invasion in 1592 and was abandoned for almost 300 years. They just reconstructed it in 1867.

Operating Hours: 9:00 AM-6:00 PM (Closed on Tuesdays)
Admission Fee: KRW 3,000

Royal Guard Changing Ceremony

At 9:35 AM, we went back to the main gate to witness the Changing of the Guards. I was so looking forward to this because I really wanted to see this traditional ceremony.

Sumunjang in action

During the Joseon Dynasty, the gates of the royal palaces are being guarded and patrolled by the royal guards. They are called the Sumunjang. They were also responsible for opening and closing the gates and inspecting all the visitors of the palace.

love the royal guard uniform colors

This fascinating traditional royal court ceremony is being re-enacted exactly as it used to be held, completed with the guards wearing royal uniforms, traditional weapons and accessories. They say it is comparable to that of the Buckingham Palace in England.

just splendid

Of course, I grabbed the opportunity to take a photo with a royal guard!

feeling royal :)

The Changing Ceremony happens everyday (except Tuesdays) at 9:35 AM and 1:35 PM. Don't miss it when you're in Seoul!

time to go back exploring the palace :)

National Folk Museum of Korea

We found this museum inside the Gyeongbokgung palace grounds.

National Folk Museum of Korea

The museum houses historical artifacts mainly consisting of what the Korean people in the past used on their daily lives. Over 4,000 artifacts are on display immersing local and foreign visitors in rich Korean history.

the artifacts

The museum has three permanent exhibits: 1) History of Korean People 2) The Korean Way of Life 3) Life Cycle of the Koreans

traditional Korean people clothes

All the exhibits were interesting but my favorite was the first one.

Korean Gama

If you like museums and history, I'm sure you will also enjoy this as much as I do.

Operating Hours: 9:00 AM-6:00 PM (Closed on Tuesdays)
Admission Fee: FREE with Gyeongbokgung Palace ticket

We continued exploring traditional Seoul and headed to the Bukchon Hanok Village as soon as we finished our lunch nearby the palace. We decided to just walk because we've read it somewhere that it should only take 25-30 minutes by foot. We got a bit lost but guess what? We stumbled upon a cool neighborhood and a park with cherry blossoms and many other lovely trees!

with lil bro and the blossoms :)

We were ecstatic because we didn't expect to see cherry blossoms anymore since it's late April but we found them! We took a lot of photos at the park so our walking trip to Bukchon took more than an hour.

Bukchon Hanok Village

We finally found the village! This historic village is located between the Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung palaces. Bukchon actually means "northern village" as it is located north of the Cheonggyecheon Stream.

Bukchon alleys

This village is consisted of different alleys featuring traditional Korean houses called Hanok.

blast from the past

During the Joseon Dynasty, government officials and wealthy families lived in this village. It actually still has the same feel until now. The houses there looked like they belong to rich people.

traditional x modern

There are about 900 hanoks in the village today. Most of them have been restored still with the traditional design but now with modern materials. The alleys and streets are steep, so wear a comfortable walking shoes.

Since this is a residential village, there are no fees to visit this attraction.


I actually contemplated weather to include Insadong here or not because honestly, I did not take a lot of photos in the area. I don't know why but I just realized it when I revisited our photos at the end of the day haha.

Anyway, Insadong is still part of our "traditional" walking tour for the day. Though I don't have photos, I can still vividly remember the galleries and shops selling exquisite arts and crafts. In fact, this was where I bought my cute Korean Folk Dolls as a souvenir and bunch of "pasalubongs" for my friends. This place is also known for their old tea houses.

Shin Old Tea House

Another reason we went here is to visit one of their traditional tea houses. My friend is very keen on trying one and well, I also like that kind of stuff so we just followed him. It was quite an adventure to find the famous Shin Old Tea House as it is tucked away in an alley far from the busy area of Insadong.

we found it! :)

We successfully found the place! When we arrived, the two halmoni (grandmas) welcomed us with warm smiles and gave us their simple menu. It was quite late in the afternoon and we were the only guests at that time. It is said to be a hundred year old house and is nicely decorated with antiques and old paintings. They offer about 20 different types of Korean traditional tea.

gangjeong and tea

I opted for the plum tea which turned out to be a little sour but sweet and smooth. Our tea came out with gangjeong. A hollow rice puff coated with honey and toasted sesame seeds. It complemented the tea really well.

We had our much needed rest at the tea house after walking all day. The dim lighting and floor seating made us relax while sipping our tea. Though the halmonis can't converse in English (except for a few words), we spent a great afternoon with them. Needless to say, we loved our experience here.

Shin Old Tea House
Address: 164 Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Telephone: +82 2-732-5257
Prices starts at KRW 6,000

N Seoul Tower

So from Insadong, we decided we can still squeeze in one more place to visit - the N Seoul Tower! If you frequently watch KDramas, I'm sure you're already familiar with it. It is a popular dating place for Korean couples, especially at night.

Namsan Seoul Tower

I guess this was where we made the worst decision during this trip - to climb up the stairs all the way to the tower! We've been walking all day from one attraction to another since early morning and yet we did not take the cable car going up. We think we were so fit that it wouldn't matter but boy, half way through and I'm already dying haha. Just pure torture.

well hello there, Namsan Tower!

More than an attraction, the Namsan Tower is actually built as a broadcasting tower to send out signals to TV and radio. Until now, it is still broadcasting signals for companies like KBS, MBC and SBS.

Seoul city lights

There is no sense tiring yourself going up if you won't proceed to the observatory. There was just a short queue when we arrived, mostly couples since it was night time. The views from the observatory was stunning. The 360 degrees panoramic view of the entire city of Seoul lit-up is just wonderful.

Locks of Love

Why is this place famous for lovers? At the roof terrace in 2nd floor, you will find these countless love locks hanging just about everywhere. People would hang padlocks here to symbolize a never ending love. It's so romantic, right? Yes, we've seen it in so many KDramas haha. For the record, I did not hang my own padlock here. Maybe not until I find my Gong Yoo, oppa. :)

Because we were so dead tired already, we decided to take the cable car going down. That is one thing I would recommend, dear readers. Take the freaking cable car! Go for the two-way tickets. It is a better deal!

Operating Hours: 10:00 AM-11:00 PM (Mon-Fri, Sun); until 12:00 AM on Sat
Cable Car: KRW 8,500 (Return); 6,000 (One-Way)
Admission Fee: KRW 10,000

We just bought something to eat for dinner in a nearby convenience store from our apartment. We were all too tired to dine out. We will be out of Seoul on our next day's adventure!

This is Part 2 of my Seoul travel series.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

New Zealand Tourist Visa Online Application for Filipinos

9/02/2017 08:27:00 PM 4 Comments
New Zealand. My dream destination for a very very long time. Last year during my birthday (which was actually before the year ends), I thought about the things I wanted to do the most that I haven't done yet. This came to my mind first. It was then that I decided that I'm going to this stunning country this year, no matter what.

An expensive country to visit like NZ definitely requires a visa from Filipinos. The good thing is that, the visa fee is waived for us Pinoys if we are just visiting up to 59 days. You just have to pay for the processing fee. Sounds good to me!

Photo Credits to Tourism New Zealand

Just like Oz, I found out that we can apply online for the NZ visa. I actually prefer this method over paper application. No printing and photo copying, more eco-friendly and it is faster and easier to do so. Again, a scanner is a must for online visa applications.

You are eligible to apply online if:
  • You are applying as an individual
  • You have a credit card
Otherwise, you are required to submit a paper application through VFS.

Online Visa Application Requirements:
  1. Passport
    • Scan your passport photo page.
  2. Photo
    •  Your scanned photo should be passport-sized, neutral face and in light background.
  3. Evidence of Funds
    • Bank Statement - for the last 6 months. If you have an online banking account, you can save or print as pdf from there. For passbook accounts, scan it.
    • Bank Certificate - I requested my bank to reflect my account opening date and ADB. Not really required but I think this will give an edge to my application too.
  4. Proof of Employment
    • Certicate of Employment
    • Employer Leave Approval
  5. Proof of Pre-Purchased Travel
    •  Round Trip Flight Tickets - unlike other countries that discourage buying tickets before getting a visa, NZ actually requires purchase of onward travel tickets before you apply for their visa
  6. National Identity Document
    •  SSS ID - is what I have submitted. You may also opt to submit your Driver's License or PRC ID as long as it's a valid government-issued ID
  7.  Other Supporting Documents*
    • Birth Certificate - from NSO
    • Cover Letter - explaining your purpose of travel and your planned length of stay is a good way to express your honest intentions on why you're visiting their country
    • Day to Day Itinerary - this will convince them that the amount of money you have is enough to support your travels around their country 
    • Credit Card Statement - for the the last 6 months. Get it from your online account or scan your paper statements.
    • Income Tax Return 
    • Records of Previous Travel - your present and expired passports' visas and stamps
    • Confirmation of Hotel Bookings
  8. My Australian Visa*
    • Because I'm traveling to Oz before NZ
Those marked with asterisk (*) are optional requirements that I submitted which I believed could positively affect my visa application.

Additional Notes: 
  •  There is no need to notarize any of the documents. I just scanned all of my docs. Only translated documents requires notarization.
  •  NZ Immigration website has a file size limit. The size of each document must not exceed 10MB.
  • Each document type should be uploaded as a single file. For example: 6 months credit card statements, flight bookings, passport pages  with visas and stamps. Instead of uploading it one by one, you should merge them into one pdf file per category.
Helpful Websites for Optimizing your Files:

How to Apply Online:

Step 1: Create a RealMe account

Make sure to register your most frequently used email address because this is where you will receive updates regarding your application.

Step 2: Accomplish the Visitor Visa Application Form

Fill out all applicable fields and answer all questions honestly. Make sure to proof read before submitting to avoid delays in application process or incorrect information on your visa.

Step 3: Upload your documents

Finally, it's time to submit fruits of your labor - your optimized documents! Actually it was my first time to learn about converting, splitting and merging of pdf files. Whew! :)

when you reach this part, you're almost done!

After submitting your application, a Thank you message that needs to be printed will appear in your screen:

print this!

You must print it because you will need to bring that along with your passport to VFS. But don't go right away to VFS. Wait for an email from NZ Immigration acknowledging the receipt of your application on their end. That's the time that you can go and drop your passport.

Step 4: Submit your passport to VFS.

VFS is the third party agency that processes paper visa applications and accepts the online applicants passport submission for NZ. Their address is on the photo above or you can just click the link to check their office hours and phone number.

You just need to bring your passport and the thank you letter, that's it. As I mentioned earlier, no need to pay for the visa fee but there is a processing fee. I paid for the following fees:

Php   570.00 - Passport Handling (Online Application)
         380.00 - Courier
         110.00 - SMS updates
Php 1060.00 - Total Paid

Courier is optional but it'll work well if you live far from VFS or like in my case, I find it burdensome to go back and forth to VFS. Anyway, I spend almost the same amount of money for Grab/Uber going to their (not so accessible) location so might as well just have it couriered. It's actually quite steep for a one-way courier but whatever.

SMS fee is also optional but I also found it very helpful and it'll lessen your worries about the status of your application. As in they will give you updates from the time it has been forwarded to the Embassy until the time it was dispatched to the courier.

Processing Time

My visa processing took 3 business days. This is from the time I submitted my passport to VFS until the day I received my passport back at home. Pretty fast! If I'll include the time I submitted online plus the day I waited for the acknowledgement email, that's only 2 business days additional.

Thank you NZ for my multiple entry visa! :)

They granted me Multiple Entry valid for 1 year! Woohoo! I'm happy because I was not hoping for more than a single entry but they gave me one. And it's NZ - one of the most beautiful countries in the world! The only downside is that, they don't issue me an actual visa sticker that would be visible in my passport. Like Oz, they just issued me an E-Visa. No biggie for me as long as I can travel to their country! I'm really ecstatic! This is it! :)

Note: I deleted crucial information from the photo because this visa is valid until next year.

My Application Timeline:

Jan 29 - submitted online application
Jan 31 - received acknowledgement letter from NZ Immigration
Feb 02 - dropped my passport to VFS and paid processing fee
Feb 07 - got my visa and received my passport back

It looks longer than what I've stated above because there are 2 weekends in between and I didn't bring my passport to VFS right away. But all in all, it only took 5 business days.

If NZ is also your dream destination, I hope this post helps you with your trip planning. A year ago, I did not push through with my plans thinking that getting this visa is taxing or much more complicated than getting a Schengen. It was easier than I imagined!

So if you think you've saved enough and you can't stop dreaming about that splendid Middle Earth scenery,
I say GO FOR IT! ♥

The distance between your dreams and reality is called action.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Korea Day 1: Warming Up in Modern Seoul

3/26/2017 03:51:00 AM 0 Comments
Unlike other places, Korea is not high on my list. It took me a lot of Korean dramas and a cheap air fare to finally decide to visit the K-land. It started with that AirAsia seat sale. Php 3,870 for Manila-Incheon round trip is quite a steal! I booked it without thinking twice. Well, I actually booked for me and my brother. I don't exactly remember if I asked him first but all I know is that, regardless if I ask him or not - he will surely go with me because it's cheap haha.

the modern mega city of Seoul

I told my friends about it one time that we were having dinner and then one friend said he wants to go too. He booked his tickets right then and there, then the next thing I knew we were off to Seoul!

Annyeong Haseyo!

We arrived on a cold spring noon. We were a little surprised by the temperature to be honest. Coming from a hot summer in Manila, we were not prepared. We were wearing our usual Manila clothes haha. It was a first time for the three of us to experience spring!

the adventure begins

We opted to rent an apartment thru Airbnb. In an expensive city like Seoul, it is more practical than staying in a hostel for the same price. But the thing with Airbnb is, you are renting a real home. Meaning, it is located in a residential area and finding it for the first time can be challenging. Our host told us the best way to get to their home from the airport is by bus.

Everything was going smoothly, from purchasing our bus ticket to finding the right bus that will transport us to the city. Yes, there is a Bus Stop# on the ticket but we didn't have an idea on where it is or what it looks like because it is our first time in Korea. We were also distracted because of course when it's your first time in one place, you keep looking around and enjoy what you're seeing.
our bus ticket from the airport

Later on we realized that we didn't know how to disembark. We initially thought it would be similar here, where driver stops in every bus stop and will tell you what stop it is or you can just simply tell them when you want to alight. As we go farther we observed that they are not doing that and locals don't say a thing when they're about to get off. Gosh, it is so not South East Asia. We're in so much trouble haha.

I was looking out the window and thought I've seen the gas station landmark given by our host but since we didn't know what to do, we missed our stop! We finally figured that there's a button on the side that your should press if you want the driver to halt on the next bus stop. Geez! We reached Ewha University (2 or 3 stops away from our original stop) because of this booboo and just took a taxi from there to our apartment.

Mapo-gu: Our Home Base in Seoul

We finally reached Mr. Hong's place. It is located in Mapo-gu. It is in a somewhat uphill (like in Koreanovelas), very quiet neighborhood and just a few minutes walk to the bus stop/highway. There is also a convenience store near the bus stop where we buy snacks and top up our T-Money.

our neighborhood
Mr. Hong gave us the 3rd Floor Unit. We have 2 rooms and our own kitchen with a small dining area, living room and bathroom. I initially thought we'll be sharing the facilities with other renters so we were very pleased that we have the entire unit for ourselves!
yay! I have my own room!
He's very particular with the room sharing though. I stayed in my own room and my brother and friend on the other one because according to him, females and males should be in separate rooms. Not sure if it has something to do with Korean culture or their religion.

The bed is very comfortable and it has heater! It was really hard to get up in the cold morning that I never want to leave hehe.

Transportation and Seoul CityPass Plus (T-money)

Our host was very kind to accompany us to GS25 (Convenience Store) to purchase our T Money card and get us acquainted on how to use the city bus. For foreign tourists like us, it is best to get the Seoul CityPass Plus. This is pretty much similar to Hong Kong's Octopus card. You can use it in subways, buses, convenience stores and a lot of other stores as long as they have the T-money logo. It also comes with discount coupons for tourist attractions, restaurants and other shops. Super cool!

From our host's place we have to take a bus to Hongdae/Hongik University and from there we can go to just anywhere in the city either by bus or subway using our CityPass+.

you can purchase CityPass+ for KRW 3000
Since we haven't had our lunch yet, he brought us to a buffet restaurant in Hongdae. Unfortunately, nothing looks appealing to us - probably because it was way past lunch time and they looked like left overs already. We politely told Mr. Hong that we'll just go to Gwangjang Market to eat and said goodbye to him.

Gwangjang Market

Luckily, Gwangjang is just one subway ride from Hongdae. We arrived there at around 2:30 PM and the place is bustling with people wanting to eat. It is a foodie paradise!

i love this place!

I strongly believe that one way of getting to know a country's culture is by trying out their local food. If there is one place in Seoul or in South Korea that I'll recommend for sampling reasonable authentic Korean food, it is definitely Gwangjang!

most of them looks spicy!

We strolled around the market before deciding what to eat. Anyway the place was full that it was hard to find empty seats for us. We also got excited seeing all those foods that we saw in Korean dramas haha. Since we haven't eaten anything yet, we felt that we need to eat rice so - Bibimbap it is!

ahjumma preparing our bibimbap
We were choosing between two stalls when these two ahjussis (polite Korean term for marriage-aged man) immediately offered us seats in their table. How can we refuse such kindness? They do not speak English and we do not speak Korean (except a few words we learned from dramas) but we managed to have a small talk with them mostly based on sign language haha. Later on we were being offered soju shots which we politely declined because we haven't eaten anything yet since we departed Manila in the morning.

with friendly Koreans @ Gwangjang Market

They were also the ones who initiated taking photos with us. They asked ahjumma (polite Korean term for marriage-aged woman) to take photos using their phones so I went with the flow and also asked to have a photo taken from my phone hehe. It was actually crazy that they were even asking for our Kakao Talk contact info which I don't have by the way. They were probably amused with foreigners like us going to a very local place to eat.

Dongdaemun Market Area

Based on the map, Gwangjang seems just close to Dongdaemun so we just opted to walk. It's just one subway station away so it couldn't be that far. We also liked walking in Seoul because it will make you see a lot of things and discover more about the city.

I was really happy to see flowers blooming just about everywhere. And they're just not regular flowers but beautiful and colorful flowers!

Oh Spring! :)
Soon enough, we reached Dongdaemun Market. We were kind of expecting that there will be street markets in the area but did not find any haha. What we found are high-rise shopping mall buildings instead.

in front of Doota Fashion Mall in Dongdaemun

We were intimidated and thought that things might be expensive in there so we did not enter any of them. We just looked around and did not attempt to shop. It's not a good thing to shop on your first day, is it?

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)

On the other side of the road, we noticed this huge futuristic looking silver structure. Dongdaemun Design Plaza is among the largest buildings in Seoul and a showcase for Korean and international design. This is designed by the late Zaha Hadid, a world renowned architect.

it looks like something from another planet :)
It has several exhibition halls and multi-purpose convention halls. They also hold fashion shows, forums and conferences there. This walkable park is actually part of its roofs.

locals also enjoy hanging out here

DDP is also connected to the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station.

Cheonggyecheon (Cheonggye Stream)

An 8.4 kilometer long stream running through downtown Seoul, transformed into a public recreation space. That was a long one right? And at first sight, it was quite weird that it is in the middle of a highway.

Cheonggye Stream in the Dongdaemun area

Here's some background story for you. This was built as a drainage system during the Joseon era and it served that purpose for hundreds of years. But after the Korean War in the early '50s, a lot of people have flocked to the city and started settling along the stream which caused too much pollution in the area that the government decided to just cover it with concrete. During the industrialization period sometime in the 70's, they built an elevated highway on top of it.

After learning about its history, I don't find it odd anymore. :)

locals walking along the stream

Removing the elevated highway to restore the stream was a huge undertaking (not to mention expensive). This was a project of the former Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak. I found his urban redevelopment vision brilliant. The vehicles entering the city has decreased and people began using  the subway and buses more frequently. Temperature has also cooled down in the surrounding areas of the stream. Most importantly, animals like birds and fishes have found their way back to the city. No wonder he became South Korea's 10th President a year after his term as the city mayor has ended.

crossing the stream with my chingu :)
The water is so clean there are a lot of fishes! Walking along the stream is actually very relaxing and fun.

Dining in Hongdae

We started our first day a bit late so we didn't see that much of the city. We were still in that acclimatizing mode. We were lucky to be staying near Hongdae - a good place to hang out in at night. This neighborhood is near Hongik U so the ambience is very fun and youthful. There are also a lot of nice restaurants and cafes around.

getting ready to grill

Part of the traveling adventure is not knowing anything about a place and just randomly choosing where to eat haha! There are a lot of them in the area but being first timers, we settled with the one which seems to be a bit crowded (could mean it is good) and seeing the shiny silvery smoke vents means Bulgogi!

Bulgogi x Soju = Perfect Night

This was our first Korean proper meal since we landed. The hot soup, the side dishes - kimchi and pickled radish and of course, the meat oh Lord the meat was yummy! And since spring nights are cold, a bottle of soju is great with a meal.

so who's the tipsiest? haha!

We totally enjoyed our first dinner in Seoul. Food prices in this place are not expensive too. Aside from the yummy food, marami ring yummy boylet sa paligid. I'm not kidding, so many cute Korean guys here kaya nasusunog yung mga iniihaw namin hahaha! We obviously had so much fun.

So that was our first day in Korea. Stay tuned for Day 2. That one was more eventful since we already have a full day to explore the city.

This is Part 1 of my Seoul travel series.