Planning my holiday in South Korea was surprisingly challenging due to a dearth of reference materials in English.
In fact, it was easier to plan trips to Eastern Europe or even countries like Nepal or Myanmar. To confound the problem, the information provided by the Korea Tourism Organisation website was sometimes rather sketchy. My first impression was that tourism is not taken seriously in South Korea.
However, that perception changed the moment I arrived at the Incheon International Airport. At the passport control counter, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a pre-recorded voice instructing me in Bahasa Malaysia to place my index fingers on the panel for fingerprinting!
And when we were trying to figure out how to recharge our T-Money cards (similar to the Touch N’ Go cards in Malaysia) at the recharging machine, an attendant came to our assistance, speaking in Mandarin.
Mandarin is more widely spoken than English in big cities around South Korea. In popular tourist spots in Seoul like Myeongdong and Insadong, there were multi-lingual “free-floating guides” wearing red or yellow vests to assist tourists.
The highlight of our vacation was Yongpyong Ski Resort, which will host the Alpine Skiing event in the upcoming Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. We took the public express bus from Dong Seoul Bus Station to Hoenggye Bus Terminal near the resort. The fare was KRW14,500 (RM56) for a two-hour journey and there is a departure every 35 minutes.
The ski resort, located 215km from Seoul, was opened in 1975 and is the largest ski and snowboard resort in the country. Some scenes of famous K-drama Winter Sonata were filmed here.
The hotel we stayed in – Yongpyong Resort Dragon Valley Hotel – was at a very convenient location as it was near the ski slopes and next to the Dragon Plaza that houses restaurants, cafes, shops and the gondola station. Surprisingly, the price of meals at restaurants and snacks in the convenience stores were more or less the same as those in Seoul.
In Seoul, we stayed at Acube Hotel, a new boutique hotel located in a quiet neighbourhood and within walking distance to Dongdaemun, a popular area for tourists and locals, too. We used the subway to get around the city as it was convenient.
We travelled out of the city to Nami Island (75 minutes by subway), which is also a must-visit for Winter Sonata fans. From Nami, we took a bus to the Garden Of Morning Calm for the Winter Night Illumination.
We went to Suwon, too, to see the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site of Hwaseong Fortress built in 1796.
Within Seoul, we visited Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Bukchon Hanok Village where hundreds of 600-year-old traditional houses are still standing, Insadong, the War Memorial of Korea, Myeongdong shopping streets, the N Seoul Tower and the Old and New City Hall.
The most memorable thing about our vacation was the Gyeongbokgung palace. It was Culture Day (takes place on the last Wednesday of every month) and admission fee to the palace was waived. To top it off, it began to snow when we arrived at the palace! It was the only day we experienced snowfall during our eight days in South Korea in late February.