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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 rooves.

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.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Australian Tourist Visa Online Application for Filipinos

3/13/2017 02:01:00 PM 0 Comments
I guess most of us has dreamt about seeing the Sydney Opera House in our lifetime. It is just a matter of when. You never will if you won't do anything about that dream, right? The first step is to get that Australian visa! I got my mine after just 24 hours! Business hours. This by far, was the easiest and the quickest visa application I have ever experienced. I'm super impressed! This is also one of the most expensive though - it's a little more than Php 5000.00. But for the kind of service I received, it was worth it.

scroll down under ;)

First, you have to decide how you want to file your application. You can choose to apply through VFS (paper application) or online. I don't want to go through all the hassle of printing a lot of documents, securing a manager's cheque for the payment and scheduling an appointment just to lodge my application -sayang ang leave! It was no-brainer for me - online is the way to go!

Once you've decided, it's time to gather all the requirements.

For online application, a scanner will be your bestest friend! :)

Online Visa Application Requirements:
  1. Passport
    • Scan your passport photo page.
    • Scan all pages of your passport with amendments, visas and entry/exit stamps.
  2. Photo
    •  Passport-sized, in plain background. At the back of the photo, write this declaration:
    • some parts are deleted deliberately
      •  "This is a true photograph of your FIRST and LAST NAME " then your signature.
      •  Scan both sides of the photo (front and back)
  3. Evidence of Financial Capacity and Assets
    • Bank Statement - 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.
    • Credit Card Statement - from your online account or scan your paper statements for the last 3 months
    • Pay Slips - also for the last 3 months
  4. Evidence of Work Experience
    • Certicate of Employment
    • Employer Leave Approval
  5. Evidence of Birth or Age
    • NSO Birth Certificate
  6. Other Supporting Documents*
    • 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
    • Travel Itinerary - this will convince them that the amount of money you have is sufficient to support your travel plan
    • Expired Passport visas and stamps - proof of travel history, especially if you have a new passport
    •  Income Tax Return
  7.  Credit Card for the AUD 135 Visa Fee
    • This is what you'll need to pay the visa fee online, so this should come handy.
Those marked with asterisk (*) are not really required but I submitted them because I strongly believe they can help with my application.

Also note that, there is no need to notarize any of the documents. I just scanned everything.
When you're done preparing and scanning the above mentioned requirements - Congratulations!
You're now ready to apply online!

How to Apply Online:

Step 1: Create an ImmiAccount

Make sure that you register the email address you're using/checking the most. All updates regarding your application will be sent to that particular email address.

the Australian Immigration website

After creating your account, you will receive an email asking you to confirm your email address. Please note that you will also receive email notifications from them every time you login to your account.

Step 2: Fill out the Application Form

Accomplish the Visitor/Short Stay Visa (Tourist Subclass 600) Form. Answer all the fields correctly and honestly. Proof read all the fields and your answers before hitting submit just to make sure you did not miss anything and that you have filled out everything accurately.

Step 3: Pay your Visa Fee

Online visa applications, can only be paid using a credit card. It is AUD 135 plus a 1.32 surcharge. I was charged a total of AUD 136.32 which was converted to PHP 5,168.45 at that time.

Step 4: Upload your Supporting Documents

So you're done with your application form and payment, it's time to submit all the documents you've worked so hard for. You know the trip to the banks and the scanning galore :)

here's how it will look like

Just choose which Evidence Type each document matches with. You can check my photo above to give you an idea. It doesn't matter how many you'd like to submit. But in my case, I only submitted those that I listed above on the requirements part.

That's it! After you successfully submitted your application, you will receive an acknowledgement email with your transaction reference number and other details essential to your application. 

Processing Time:

Unlike other Embassies or Consulates, they don't have/give fixed processing times. Majority of the blogs I've read shared that they got their visas a month after their application. There's only one that said she got hers after a day. Keeping this in mind, I applied months before my travel date because I don't want that kind of stress a few days before my planned departure.

So when the grant notice came, I was REALLY surprised! They received my application on a Friday. Then the following Monday, when I came back from my lunch break at work, voila! There's my visa grant notice waiting to be read! I was like really??? And I stared at my computer smiling like a fool for a few minutes reading it again and again haha!

1 business day! Superb, right? I'd like to think that I've submitted satisfactory documents for them to decide approving my application that fast :)

3 words better than I Love You? Visa Grant Notice :)

I intentionally erased some information on the photo because this visa will still be valid several months from now. They've granted me Multiple Entry but only good for 9 months. I'm perfectly okay with it because I don't think I will return anytime soon after this trip.

If Australia is high on your travel bucket list, worry no more! Getting a tourist visa has never been this painless and speedy! I can't wait to see them kangaroos and koalas! :)

If we wait until we're ready, we'll be waiting for the rest our lives.