My first VTL Holiday Trip to Busan, Gyeongju, Wonju & Seoul from 11 Dec to 18 Dec 2021

With the international border closure coming to a good 2 year for now, pent up travel demand has certainly build up for most of us (me for sure!). Thus, when Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) program are being announced, I am definitely excited about it while on the other hand apprehensive about it too.

Why? Simply put, travel for leisure in a pandemic world is no longer the same now compared to the past. 🤣 Flight tickets are getting pricer, understandably as airlines are rushing to monetize their revenue to stay afloat. Factoring in additional healthcare expenditure like the costly PCR test, long waiting time needed for the negative PCR test clearance upon arrival at destination country, higher travel insurance premiums required coupled with the respective VTL countries health guidelines requirement which can be fluid and subject to constant changes depending on how the current health situation evolves.

With all these uncertainties and challenges, free and easy leisure traveling will definitely pose significant challenges without a doubt. Therefore, I have decided to delegate this pandemic mental load to travel agents by joining a group tour instead of bearing the grunt on my own. On a positive note, I can treat it as a familiarisation exercise for my next free and easy travel planning. As the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures. Who knows, group tours may well be a new norm for leisure traveling. 😯

There are quite a few VTL programs and I decided to go with South Korea due to its proximity and importantly it is one of my other favourite destination apart from Japan. 🙂

With all the calculated pains amid the inconvenience, I decided to go ahead and bite the bullet with the travel plan as 2 years is really a long time (for me) to bear for an avid traveler. 🤣

Well, with all travel packages booked and cleared out of the way, I am now ready to embark and embrace on the new norm leisure travel outlook.

Prior to travel, there are a couple of documentation hurdles that need to be stepped through before enjoyment steps in.

1. You will need to notarise your vaccine certificate. Always print a hardcopy and carry it with you at all times along with the softcopy stored in your handheld device.

2. You will need to pre-book for your pre-departure PCR Test at any of the MOH Approved PCR Test Providers 72 hours before. You may visit SATA for your pre-departure PCR Test as it is by far the cheapest provider at $107 but you will need to call them (Tel : 62446688) for reservation instead of doing so online. Else, you may make advance reservation online at Minmed Clinic Group and the cost will be $128.

Thereafter, you will also need to pre-book for your on arrival PCR Test (₩174,000) at Incheon Airport prior to departure to Korea and remember to carry a copy of the confirmed booking when entering Korea. After the on arrival PCR Test, you are required to isolate in accommodation and wait for a negative test result before you are able to carry on with your activities in Korea.

3. You will need to purchase travel insurance with a minimum coverage of $30 million won (approximately SGD$34,000) for Covid 19 related medical/treatment expenses and hospitalization costs for your travel duration. Likewise carry a physical copy of the insurance policy when traveling to Korea as well. This is an absolute requirement and simply no compromised for a peace of mind travel.

4. You will need to apply for a K-ETA for visa-free foreign visitors in advance prior to travel too.

If in doubt, always visit South Korean Electronic Travel Authorization site for further updates and information from time to time to keep abreast of the latest changes to the health regulation, if any.

5. When in Korea, you will need to download the Quarantine-Report, Self Check App (KDCA) from either Apple Store or Google Play Store for your daily uploading of your temperature check result. 

6. Remember to pre-book your PCR Test again 48 hours prior to departing Korea. After the test, traveler is not required to isolate and may carry on with your activities in Korea.

7. You are required to fill in and submit SG e-arrival card 72 hours before arrival to Singapore.

8. You will also need to pre-book for your On Arrival Test in Singapore prior to home coming.

9. You will also need to pre-book for your self administered ART on day 3 and day 7 upon return. At the same time make upfront payment using this payment link.

10. Then on day 2, 4,5 and 6, you will need to upload your self ART result.

Travel can never be the same again in a Covid world compared in the past where traveling is such a breeze. 😂 There are way too many hurdles to cross in terms of cost and inconveniences. I really do hope that one fine day (who knows when) things will improve over time and get better each day as we move along and get accustomed to the ever constant changes. 🙄

With all the above checklist ticked, I am now ready to embark on my super long awaited travel. 😅

Day 1 – Departing Singapore Changi Airport for Incheon Airport. Excitement commences upon arrival at the airport for the group departure assembly.

There are a couple of document checks in place before you are being issued with the Korea VTL pass which has to be worn upon arrival at Incheon Airport.

Finally, I am going through the departure gate after a good 2 long years. It feels real good walking past it. 👍

Enjoying and savouring a great breakfast spread at the Silver Kris Lounge with my favourite local dishes prior to departure.

This is something that I always look forward to when at the airport. Though the spread of hot foods are greatly reduced, at least there are still decent food options made available.

Time to depart for the Land of the Squid Game. How exciting, the journey begins! 🤗

Safe arrival to Incheon Airport as scheduled without much fanfare.

Only difference now is that you will be “welcomed” with a long snaking queue to await for immigration clearance and for the On Arrival PCR Test. 🤣

After the PCR Test, proceed to transfer to Hotel to rest for the day while pending for the result of the PCR Test.

The first night hotel stay is at Four Points by Sheraton, Seoul Station.

Pretty decent room size and spaciously good.

Dinner is a specially catered Korean Bento served in the hotel room. I loved the elaborate spread of dishes and banchans (accompaniment appetizers). I must say this is one of the best and tasty Bento that I have had. Yum yum! 😋

As soon as I received the PCR negative test result email approval (within 2 hours), I “chiong” immediately to the nearby familiar Seoul Station to check things out and do my usual recce.

Well, things are not the same now in a Covid world with most shops closing early and sadly, you do not get to see the bustling crowd as it used to now. 😔

Day 2 – Rise and shine with a cold morning at 2 degrees celsius. Breaking away from the usual heat back home. Feels great enjoying the cool climate. Today, we will be departing Seoul to Busan. Yes, train to Busan sequel. 😀

Prior to leaving, enjoying a round of breakfast at the hotel. Good spread and food choices. Definitely no complains. ☺

After a hearty meal, took a leisure stroll to Seoul Station to board the Korea high-speed train (KTX) to Busan at 10am.

While en-route to the station, came across this uniquely interesting sculpture.

Goodbye Seoul for now and Busan, here I come. 

Arrived safely into Busan Station 2 hours 45 mins later. The station is lively, filled with activities (human footfall) and it feels nice to see that things are slowly going back to normalcy.

Thereafter, we proceeded for lunch at Dkore, a local restaurant directly opposite of the Busan Station.

My delicious sundubu lunch with a tasty spread of banchans. They are known for their soft and smooth tofu (白白嫩嫩).

Chanced upon another interesting sculpture along street in Busan. Wanna make a guess on what is this?

Next, headed off to Gamcheon Culture Village a.k.a Santorini of the East, with blocks of colorful paints and artist wall murals. You may also refer to my previous blog on Busan and Seoul Trip for more attractions visited in Busan.

My last visit was 4 years ago back in Dec 2017. Not much change was detected since then till now except that the streets are much quieter due to no touristy crowds. 

This time round, I managed to walk round the entire village to experience the various mural wall paintings.

The story of the stairs to see stars.

Read to find out more.

Bonus shot for BTS fans. Woohoo….

From there, we proceeded to Jagalchi Fish Market, Korea’s largest seafood market, selling both live and dried fish.

This market represents Busan and is famous throughout the country. A must checklist in Busan! You can find almost every type of seafood imaginable and some which you may not have seen too!

Followed by BIFF, Busan International Film Festival which is just ahead of Jagalchi Market.

Here, you get to see and look on the ground for handprints of some Korean actors and of cos, enjoy their local street snacks at the same time.

Final attraction for the day, enjoy a ride on Busan Air Cruise crystal cable car with transparent floor where you can get to see the sea….

and enjoy beautiful night views of the Songdo seaside.

On the 3rd floor of the Songdo Sky Park, you can also enjoy a breathtaking views of the night scenery coupled with some nice sculptures on display too.

Dinner was at one of the local seafood restaurant. Due to my limited Korean efficiency, I am not able to decipher the name of the restaurant in full. 🤣 Help me out if you may! Thank you.

The dish is make known to me as Lobster and Abalone with Chicken in hot steam soup. Sounds steam to me! 😀 

Time to check-in to Crown Harbor Hotel Busan for the next 2 nights.

Room size is huge and super spacious. Loved the room. 🥰

Day 3 – Spending the entire day in Busan

Waking up to a cold morning at minus 1 degree celsius. It has been a long time since I last enjoyed such climate. ☺

Enjoying a round of breakfast at the hotel. Food quality is good though the spread is not elaborate as Four Points.

First stop of the day, a visit to Oryukdo Skywalk, a glass bridge overlooking the ocean and some amazing cliffs. 

Amazing scenic views from Oryukdo Skywalk. I am always mesmerized by such great views put forth in front of me. 

Closed up beautiful view of Haeudae Beach from afar. Will be heading there in a while.

Due to the pandemic, the glass bridge is now cordoned off leaving only one half instead of the full walkway for viewing.

The bridge features a see-through floor and you can look down directly at the cliff that the skywalk is perched on.

View from the glass floor overlooking the cliff below.

A nice perfect wefie at the tip of the Oryukdo Skywalk. ☺

For those who are strong and adventurous, you may even attempt to hike up the opposite end and catch a breathtaking view of the Oryukdo Skywalk from afar.

Isn’t it even more amazing with a zoomed up shot?

You may even get to see Haenyeo (Korean Woman Divers) at work if you are lucky.

After Haenyeo come back from the sea, they will sell whatever they managed to catch from their dive.

From there, we proceeded for lunch at a local restaurant specializing in pork soup.

All pork meal where you get to wrap the pork with lettuce and a bowl of pork soup. It’s nice but somehow it is not to my liking interest as I am not exactly a great fan of pork. 

Continue with the second stop of the day after the lunch charged up.

Headed off to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, built beside the East Sea where you will encounter breath-taking seaside view from the temple.

I was here 4 years ago as well but did not get a chance to visit the temple in detail as the crowd was overwhelming with many visitors. Getting into the temple was challenging because of the massive human traffic jam back then.

This time round, with thanks to the pandemic, I am able to visit and explore the various parts of the temple. Blessing in disguise I suppose.

While on the way in and out, I managed to catchup on my long awaited Korean street snack, Hotteok. This is a popular street food, type of sweet pancake typically filled with dark brown sugar, cinnamon powder, nuts and melon seeds. Feels good to have my cravings fixed.

Third stop of the day, we paid a visit to the meeting venue for the 2005 APEC Ministerial Meeting held in Busan on 15-16 November 2005.

The meeting venue is now designated as the APEC Memorial for visitors to commemorate the said meeting.

This is the entrance to the venue for the Leaders’ Retreat where they will be ushered in to their seats.

These are the assigned seats for the various participating countries Leaders.

This is where our Singapore Leader, PM Lee sits. 

This is the dinner served during the 2005 APEC Summit held in BEXCO on 18 Nov 2005. The menu comprises of steamed king prawn, grilled beef served with pine mushroom, scallop & ginseng salad, chestnut porridge, steamed rice in black bean, pine nut, black rice and red bean with “sin-sun-ro”, assorted Korean pastries, pear & citron punch and various side dishes : kimchi, white kimchi, beef boiled in soy sauce, seasoned vegetable and fried kelp.

Can you spot our Singapore Leader?

Final stop for the day, visit to Haeundae Beach.

We took a slow leisure stroll from the APEC meeting venue to the final stop for the day, Haeundae Beach. Along the route, we came across a Lighthouse.

 

This Lighthouse was built as a commemoration for the 13th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in 2005 and it is located 1km away from Haeundae Beach. It is 25m high and built to steer ships clear of the rocks. It looks like a lotus blossom to show development and an affluent future for Busan.

Haeundae Beach is an urban beach in Busan and often dubbed as one of the country’s most famous and popular beaches. A must visit for all visitors.

Look at the beautiful white sands on the beach and its cleanliness with great sea views.

If you have time in future, there is one other attraction in Busan, Yeongdodaegyo Bridge which I find worth a visit as it is of interest and unique. You may read up more in my previous blog on Busan & Seoul Trip if you are keen to find out more.

Dinner is near to Haeundae Beach at a local restaurant specializes in puffer fish soup.

A very light and healthy meal indeed, it tasted like tender chicken breast meat to me though. In Japan, it is called fugu and I had it in sashimi style and tempura form. Thus, having it in the form of soup (to me) doesn’t seem to do much justice to the puffer fish.

This is the puffer fish that I have just eaten. 

As I have yet to settle my cravings for fried chicken, I decided to have it at BBQ Chicken & Beer restaurant located on Level 2 of the hotel that I am staying in.

Ordered their Original Chicken, Golden Olive Chicken to get my fix. Yum, it just tastes so good as expected. Tenderliciously good. As I have always reiterated, you will never go wrong with fried chicken in Korea!

Day 4 – Departing Busan to Gyeongju

Gyeongju is the main destination in South Korea for visitors interested in the cultural heritage of Silla and the architecture of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

Had a light breakfast before checking-out of the hotel.

Time to travel to Seokguram Grotto in Gyeongju to see a monumental statue of the Buddha sitting on top of a stage in the shape of a lotus flower.

Seokguram Grotto was first constructed by Prime Minister Gim Dae-seong in 751, the 10th year of Silla King Gyeongdeok. Originally, it was called Seok bulsa. According to the Samgukyusa, Gim Dae-seong founded Seokguram for the parents of his previous life. Seokguram represents not only the supremacy of Silla arts but is also regarded as the best oriental Buddhist work.

Thus along with Bulguksa, this grotto was designed in 1995 as the world cultural heritage by the UNESCO.

Follow the lantern footpath from the entrance to the grotto. The view will certainly be more magnificent in the night where the lantern are being lighted up.

Thereafter you will need to climb up some stone steps to see the grotto.

Before that you will come across a natural spring water and you are highly encouraged to drink the water from it for the natural mineral goodness.

The Seokguram Grotto is not only known as one of the finest masterpiece of Korean art but is also recognized as the world over as a cultural treasure that is the quintessence of Buddhist art works.

The layout of the grotto shows a rectangular antechamber and a round main hall. In the rotunda hall sits a majestic Buddha carved in granite. There are various figures surrounding the Buddha. Two Devas, two Bodhisattavas, ten standing Arhants, an eleven-headed Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (the Bodhisattva of Boundless Mercy). Eight Guardian God’s, Vajrapani and Four Guardian Kings were sculptured on the wall behind the main Buddha. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside the hall.

Else, this is what you are supposed to see. Click Here to find out more.

More sceneries shots from the grotto.

Proceeded over for lunch at Pumpkin Village at a traditional restaurant, HobakGoeul.

HobakGoeul specializes in smoked duck with pumpkin.

Awesome spread of banchans

Pumpkin soup paste

Chive pancake, one of the best tasty pancake that I have had.

Hot somen noodle soup

Smoked duck, brown rice mixed with beans and steamed with chives. Somehow Korean brown rice just tastes different and surprisingly I enjoy eating it probably because of its glutinous rice texture.

Star of the meal, smoked duck with pumpkin. The smoked duck is smokingly good. It tastes like bacon and loved the sweetness and smoothness of the pumpkin which tastes like sweet potato. Trust me this is really good stuff and by far the best meal of the trip! 👍👍👍

Continue further to ancient kingdom of Silla, Gyeongju to visit Bulguksa Temple. In 1995, along with Seokguram Grotto, the temple was designated as a World Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO.

See what I see?

The Uber in Korea. A yellow kakao taxi! 

The construction of this temple was begun by Prime Minister Gim Dae-seong in 751, the 10th year of King Gyeongdeok and completed in 774, the 10th year of King Hyegong. The temple served as a centre of Silla Buddhism and of prayer for the protection of the country from foreign as a base of the volunteer militia.

Immediately after the entrance, you will see a 103 year old beautiful pine tree on the left.

Here, you will also get to see a natural spring water with 3 dragon heads seated on a lotus flower. You may also drink the water directly as well.

The temple complex comprised a series of wooden buildings on raised stone terraces designed to represent the land of Buddha.

Important cultural properties from the Unified Silla period located on the premises included the two stone pagodas, Seokgatap and Dabotap pagodas.

This stone pagoda, known as Dabotap (Padoga of Abundant Treasures) is presumed to date to Bulguksa Temple’s establishment in the mid-8th century during the Unified Silla period (668-935). This pagoda represents the Buddha of the past, Prabhutaratna and forms a pair with the adjacent stone pagoda which represents the Buddha of the present Sakyamuni. There was also a guardian lion at the top of each of the four stairs but three were stolen by the Japanese.

The three-storey stone pagoda of Bulguksa Temple also known as Seokgatap (Pagoda of Sakyumuni Buddha). The pagoda consists of a two-tier base, three sets of body and roof stones and a decorative top. The corners of the base and body stones are carved to look like pillars and the undersides of the roof stones are carved into tiers. The decorative top was newly made in 1973 as the original was missing. The overall design is representative of Korean stone pagodas. Seokgatap has been dismantled for repair and restoration four times in its history.

After that, proceed down to Daereungwon Tomb Complex for the amazing sight of the royal burial mounds and one of the oldest existing astronomical Cheomseongdae Observatory.

These tombs are scattered around the Hwangnam-dong area and the precinct of Daereungwon. Tumuli Nos 90-114 and 151-155 numbered during the Japanese rule are earthen mounds.

These tombs are believed to have been built in the early Silla period. Large tombs are wood-lined chamber tombs with stone mounds and small tombs do not have mounds at all.

A crown and many relics were excavated from Cheonmachong in 1973. The name Cheonmachong was given to the tomb because the flying horse was painted on the pendant of the saddle excavated from the tomb.

The diameter of the tomb is 47m and its height is 12.7m.

Hopping across to Cheomseongdae, designated as the country’s 31st national treasure on 20 December 1962.

Cheomseongdae (star-gazing tower) is an astronomical Observatory in Gyeongju and also the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia and possibly even the world.

Tonight’s dinner is at a local restaurant serving bbq pork wrapped with vegetable.

Likewise, I need help on the restaurant name. 🤣

The spread is really elaborate with the banchans as usual.

End the day with a visit to Woljeonggyo Bridge, a re-constructed covered bridge originally built during the Silla period.

This bridge also appeared in the k-drama “The King : Eternal Monarch” where Lee Gon waits for Tae-eul.

We will be checking-in at Sono Belle, Gyeongju, a resort style hotel for a night.

The room is really big and spacious with kitchenettes and comes with tatami room as well. Great for family stay over. Only complain is that no toiletries are provided in this hotel. 🤣

Day 5 – Traveling from Gyeongju to Wonju before arriving back to Seoul

This morning breakfast is a 5 course Western meal served at the hotel café. Nothing fanciful and uneventful. 😐

After which, proceeded to check-out of the hotel and begin the day with the journey to Wonju.

Wonju is the most populous city in Gangwon province, South Korea. It is a market and processing centre for forest products from the nearby mountains. Industries include medical equipment manufacturing. Among the area’s notable agricultural products are peaches, sweet potatoes and mushrooms.

Reached the lunch venue 3 hours later.

It is another traditional Korean restaurant specializing in Potato Pork Rib Soup.

Usual suspects of banchans ☺

Star of the meal, Potato Pork Rib Soup a.k.a Korean Bak Kut Teh. 😀

The pork rib is huge and super tender that falls off easily when pulled apart.

Continue by taking a slow walk from the restaurant to the next attraction, Wonju Hanji Theme Park. For those who are keen to find out more, you may read up on the History of Hanji.

Some interesting fun facts that I learn along the way.

Korean public rental housing constructed by Korean government appointed developer, LH and you will be able to see its name being painted on the block.

Humansia is the other subsidiary company of LH, so you will get to see its name painted on the block too. These rental flats are valid for 10 years stay only similar to our COE. 🤣

Korean tenant will be able to buy over from the government after 10 years, else they will need to shift out from it.

If you look at these blocks built by The Sharp developer, these flats are constructed for sale by the government. Hope this gives you some knowledge and understanding.

So, do keep a lookout in future should you happen to see one such block the next time you visit Korea. 😉

Do you know why this park is called “Healthy Wonju”?

Wonju Hanji Theme Park, located in Musil-dong Wonju-si is a theme park where you can learn the historical value of traditional Korean paper hanji, made by hand-processing the bark of mulberry trees.

Look at all the beautiful exhibits on display that are made from hanji. Unbelievable!

Over here, you will get to experience DIY Craft making a souvenir using hanji to bring back as memorabilia.

Today, we are making hanji hand fan. An interesting experience especially for a person (like me) who does not possess a talent for art.

Start of DIY Craft with the provided material.

A video clip will be played to guide you on how to go about doing it prior to starting the craft work. 🙂

This is the art piece that I am suppose to work towards.

Tada…….my artistic production. What do you guys think? Can I make the cut? 😲😬

After a good time with the DIY Craft, it’s time to travel to Seoul City which will be another 1.5 hours away.

Stopped over COEX Mall Starfield Library to get impressed by the towering bookshelves decorated by the massive books.

Isn’t it mind boggling? 

Oppa Gangnam Style

Remember this song?

Last but not least, paid a visit to a Dalgona candy stall and have fun on Dalgona “Squid Game” challenge.

Witness the entire Dalgona candy making process.

Capturing an interesting sculpture along the street while waiting for the coach pick up.

We are having Korean Ginseng Chicken Soup (Samgyetang) at a Michelin-star restaurant for tonight’s dinner.

Standard banchan

Ginseng wine, you can either drink directly from the cup or choose to pour over the soup.

The awaited star, Samgyetang!

After a satisfying meal, time to check-in to our hotel, Novotel Ambassador Seoul Dongdaemun. This will be my next 3 night’s abode.

The hotel is new, clean and nice. Loved the size of the room.

Immediately after loading off my luggages, I scoot off to Myeongdong to see how the situation is in at the current state as I have seen on youtube videos that it is almost half dead now.

Truly and sadly, the once extremely busy street is now empty with most shops closing in early and some shops are vacated.

Even the used to be busy cosmetic shop like Holika Holika is now empty too!

With the festive season round the corner, the mood and feel is somewhat missing. Now, there is only a lonely Christmas Tree to welcome the upcoming Christmas and ushering the New Year compared to the past where crowds will be seen taking pictures with it.

Looks like there is nothing much we could do to save Myeongdong for now as much as we love to. 

Day 6 – Spending the entire day in Seoul

Powering up the morning with a good breakfast before starting the day’s activities.

Kick-off the day with making an en-route stop at a Ginseng Gallery, Ginworld to have a better understanding and the history of Ginseng.

Interesting sculpture made from Ginseng roots.

Thereafter, proceeded over to Dawon where you can get to buy health supplement products to pamper your liver.

Lunch today is at one of the family restaurant located in Hongdae serving Budaejigae.

Tastily delicious. Definitely better than back home.

Followed by visiting a Cosmetic Shop, The Odbo for a spot of shopping.

Love my shopping loot. 😀

Continue on to the most iconic Gyeongbokgung Palace, the first royal palace built in the Joseon Dynasty.

The serene, peaceful and beautiful palace worth visiting for all seasons.

Here, you will get to see the Emperor’s workplace (朝廷) in the olden days.

A close-up look at the Emperor’s seat. Extremely magnificent back then!

The last time when I was in the exact spot here 5 years ago, what I see was a frozen lake. You may read up more in my previous blog on Seoul Trip and compare the scene back then.

While inside the palace compound, I managed to catch hold of magpies (喜鹊鸟). Seems like I will be having good luck all year round. Yay!

Next, a visit to Gwangjiang Market. Food lover can find forest of small stalls selling street food and traditional Korean food.

For the more adventurous, you may consider trying sannakji (live octopus sashimi) with tentacles still wriggling on the plate! 😯 Unfortunately, I have to give it a rain check in view of the limited time spent here and nearing dinner time too.

Having said that, I still manage to lay my hands on the best ever doughy cinnamon donut. A must eat for sure. Strictly no compromise even it is means long snaking queue.

Followed by a Korean bbq dinner at a local restaurant.

One for the road dinner. Though I am not a huge fan of Korean bbq, I must admit that this is one of my best had Korean bbq meal.

Day 7 – Enjoy the day free at leisure to explore Seoul on our own

Today I will be covering a couple of areas within Seoul if time permits. 😉 Today’s weather is extremely cold as the temperature starts to drop to minus 7 degree celsius.

Had a quick breakfast prior to the start of my planned day trip. 😀

Wish I could wake up and enjoy my daily breakfast with such great scenic view each morning. Certainly therapeutic for our kind of stress work life.

Beginning the day by making a visit to Seoul Olympic Park. This park is built to host the 1988 Summer Olympics.

How to go to Olympic Park?

Take a Subway Line 5 (Purple Line) and alight at Olympic Park Station.

Look out for Exit 3 thereafter. Fret not, there will be signage to guide you along.

Here I am after a good half an hour train ride.

Entrance to the Olympic Park. A big, nice park and great for picturesque.

The Ding-Dang-Dong sculpture are based on the metaphor and transformation of a “bell”. One with echoes of soul is named “The Bell of Heaven”, related to Korean tradition. Another bell is related to the Western technology of facilities for iron manufacturing, blast furnaces and others. With dynamic and aesthetic shapes, the sculptures encourage viewers to perform an auditory appreciation and physical participation as well as a visual appreciation. Viewers can make real sounds by walking through the space inside the sculptures and touching the surfaces. But the artist urges viewers to listen to the harmonious sound of the history of times past beyond the physical bell sounds.

Sculpture of What falls is flying. The artist selected glass and metal to express light dimensionally. The transparent glass and rusty metal show the relationship between two contradictory matters such as the physical world and the mental world, the body and soul, civilization and nature, and light and darkness. The spirit penetrate materials and the soul tries to reach out where we want it to. happiness and sadness co-exist in the middle of it.

Bronze work by Caesar Baldiccini, a French sculpture on the level of a national treasure, “The Thumb” made in 1988 is one of only seven large thumb statutes in the world. Caesar Baldiccini is called the flag bearer of neorealism and was also famous as a human body sculptor who enlarged certain parts of the human body.

Impersonation station. “I am distressed whenever I think about this-that is, history has not been true since a certain point in time. If not recognized, human beings may disappear from the earth. Every event since then would not have been true, but we may not recognize that fact. Our duty is not finding that point in time, but enduring the destruction that occurs in every minute of the real world.” From <The Human Province> written by Elias Canetti.

After much knowledge learning from the various sculptures in the park, I must not sway away from my main objective of coming here. This trip is intentionally arranged to look for the Squid Game Doll and have fun playing with the traffic light game.

红绿灯,是跑是停由你决定! 🤔😬

我选着跑….

后果自负….🤣🤣🤣

After a good time here, I hopped over to Hongdae for my retail therapy. 🙂

The used to bustling street of Hongdae with crowds and various youth group performance on the street is now quieten down too. 😔

Loot from Hongdae

I have been highly recommended to try this local fried chicken joint, Kyochon by our local tour guide if there is an opportunity to do so.

I managed to locate one such outlet in Hongdae and there’s no prize in guessing where’s for lunch next. 😊

Kyochon seems to be one of their favourite joint among their locals.

Holding on firmly to their belief! 👍

Ordered their Kyochon Half & Half Series.

A split whole chicken with the harmony of 2 flavours, Kyochon’s unique garlic and soy and hot red pepper sauce. The garlic soy sauce is not overpowering and definitely loved the fried chicken here. Very delicious. Highly recommended for sure! 👍👍👍 You will never go wrong with fried chicken in Korea!

Ever wonder why kkakdugi (pickled radish) is served in a fried chicken restaurant?

Went in search of Line Friends flagship store thereafter. They used to be located at Itewon but has since moved to Myeongdong. When I went to Myeongdong 2 nights ago, the store was closed and the closure notice indicated that their new flagship store is now in Hongdae.

So, here I am. There are more varieties in term of merchandise items. However, the café is now closed probably due to Covid I assume.

Photo spots are also greatly reduced compared to the previous store in Itewon. 😔

Loot from Line Friends

From Hongdae, I popped over to Seoul Station Lotte Mart for one last chance to 扫货. It’s now or never.

Loot from Lotte Mart

Then off to Myeongdong in search of my long missed Delimanjoo. The other night I was here, the store has closed so I have to make it a point to come back again specially for it.

Delimanjoo is a South Korean bread (custard filled cake) and only this store near Myeongdong station is famous and always seen with super long snaking queues each time I am here.

There is literally no queue now. Good for me but sad for the stall owner!

Settling my next cravings at Osulloc Tea House. This is a must and strictly no compromise if I am in Korea.

Enjoying my maccha latte and green tea roll cake. It is just so good that you need to try if you have not do so. 

Loot from Osulloc Tea House

More loot from various cosmetic shops

Savouring a light and simple dinner at Lotteria which is near to the hotel I am in. 

I loved their bulgogi burger as their beef patty is super tender and juicy and fried chicken too. Yum yum. 

Collected my earlier pre-order persimmon with thanks to the local tour guide for the arrangement. This is really good stuff. Sweet and delicious.

Day 8 – Homecoming from Seoul to Singapore

Time flies especially fast when we are having good times. It’s time now to bid farewell to Seoul and prepare for home coming.

One for the road breakfast before checking-out and thereafter headed off to Incheon Airport for our pre-departure swab test.

The ART swab test is conducted at the Incheon Airport T1 Covid 19 Testing Centre (East) which is the same testing centre during arrival as well.

Thereafter, you will have to wait for the negative result report within an hour thereabout before you are able to proceed with check-in for your flight home.

Practically your whole day is gone with all the health protocol process in place. 🤣🤣🤣

It started to snow at Incheon Airport in the early afternoon as forecasted and I am lucky enough to be able to catch it before clearing immigration. Could this be a sign from the magpies that I get to see earlier at Gyeongbokgung Palace?

 

Definitely, a big surprise treat to welcome me home. Yay!

It did not take long to cover the entire area in white. 😲

Amazingly beautiful to see nature at works.

Taking a break and have a light snack at Asiana Lounge prior to boarding. Food options are extremely limited. Haiz, on a positive note, there are still food being served. Shin Ramyeon is still my ultimate life-saver.

Caught hold of the performance parade at the Airport departure gate by the Koreans donning the traditional Korean clothes, Hanbok. This is definitely a great way to showcase Korean culture to visitors of Korea. 

Time to bid farewell and prepare for homecoming. Bye Seoul for now and I hope to see you real soon.

Overall, it has been a great 8D7N trip and I am happy that this trip is made possible because of the VTL arrangement despite all the inconvenience. With all the constant changes even as we speak now, who knows when travel will be restricted again. 😲

Each time towards the end of my trip, I always leave with a mixed feelings and with a heavy heart. 😂 In the past, I will feel sad to leave but happiness again when I can look forward to my next planned trip. Now, I am not sure when the next trip will happen!

Having said that, at least I had my fair share of joy from this trip. What about you? 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Singapore & Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble

After almost close to 9 months of International Border closure, we are finally seeing some form of tiny light at the end of the tunnel.

Beautiful skyline taken from Swissotel The Stamford, Singapore
Beautiful skyline at night

Yes, yes, yes….. the Singapore & Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble (ATB) will see its inaugural flight commencing from 22 November 2020 onwards. With the recent hype and ATB announcement, travellers have been fast snapping up flight tickets and hotel reservation sites have seen a tremendous increasing traffic as well. 😲

Hmm…after all this fanfare, what does it mean to me? 🤔

As much as I wanted (desperately) to take a breather out of the country for leisure travelling (I am pretty certain most of us are in this same plight too), things might not be seen as rosy as it is going to be.

No doubt the most critical part of the quarantine pain is taken care of but there are still underlying factors for consideration too.

First and foremost, the flight tickets are going to cost you a bomb. Ticket prices can shoot as high as up to $1,000 for a return ticket which normally costs less than $300 during pre-Covid days. Thanks to reduce dedicated flight capacity in view of safe management measures. 🤣Haiz…..

Secondly, you need to pay for your own Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test within 72 hours before the scheduled departure time. This test may set you back by close to $200.

Thirdly, upon arrival at Hong Kong International Airport, you are required to do another Covid-19 test and you need to remain in the airport during this time until you receive a negative test result before you can officially start your planned travel. This test will set you back by another $87.

Finally, before you depart Hong Kong back to Singapore, you still need to take another PCR test within 72 hours before your scheduled departure time. You may do the said test at any one of the recognized clinics or testing centres in Hong Kong.

While you are in Hong Kong, you must also comply with their prevailing health and safe distancing measures including mask-wearing and restrictions on group gatherings.

You may refer to the Hong Kong Social Distancing Rules for Covid-19 : What you can and can’t do published by Hong Kong Tatler for the latest policy update. Always good to stay abreast of their latest policy to avoid unnecessary brushes with the local laws.

Beautiful skyline taken from The Peak, Hong Kong

Importantly, do note that you are to bear for the full cost of any medical treatment, subject to the prevailing medical and healthcare policies should you (unfortunately) be tested positive for Covid-19 while you are in Hong Kong or Singapore.

**Latest news update as of 21 Nov 2020 (a day before the inaugural flight), both countries have decided to postpone and delay the launch of the ATB from the public health standpoint in view of the spike in the number of Covid-19 infections in Hong Kong. The ATB launch will be further reviewed in the next 2 weeks given the evolving situation in Hong Kong.

**On 26 Apr 2021, news on the resumption of the ATB was announced once again by Singapore and Hong Kong to commence the inaugural flight on 26 May 2021. As usual and expected, flight tickets were snapped up in a matter of hours (despite the ridiculously high price) after the ATB news broke out. 🤣🤣

**Latest update on 17 May 2021, news on the deferment of the Singapore and Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble has once again been announced in view of the rising local community cases in Singapore. Travelers’ hopes are once again dashed and will have no choice but to await for the next resumption in time to come. 🤣🤣

Well, after all these inconveniences, are you still excited about leaving for your leisure travel? Is it worth the hassle and pain?

**Latest update as of 20 Aug 2021, hopes on the long-delayed Hong Kong and Singapore Air Travel Bubble is now dashed as it will no longer happen due to the different approach in treating the current Covid-19 handling taken by the respective country. Hong Kong is going for zero cases whereas Singapore is gearing towards the endemic pathway. 🤣

For me, (being a cost conscious and rational thinking animal) guess I will probably hold my reins for now until all the ATB dust has settled before starting to plan for my next trip. What about you?

Reminiscing Past Japan Trips

Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are all caught in this helpless situation where all borders are closed for leisure travelling. Gone were the days where we can easily go for a quick weekend getaway vacation whenever we feel like it.

For those who are more adventurous, we can even go for a quick turnaround day trip by taking an early flight out and catching the last flight back. This pandemic is truly unprecedented and has certainly disrupted & upsetted leisure travelling landscape drastically.

For now, we can only pray hard 🙏 for this crisis to blow over soon and slowly regain back sanity.

How soon can we do this again?

Well (for me), I can only reminisce by flashing back my past Japan travel memories to keep stock of where I am, what I have done and what is due to do when leisure travel restrictions are lifted once again.

Japan (25 out of 47 Prefectures)

1. Hokkaido Prefecture (Southern Hokkaido, Northern Hokkaido and Eastern Hokkaido) which I have covered.

2. Kyushu Region comprises of 7 Prefectures; Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Oita (Northern Kyushu and Southern Kyushu) which I have covered too.

3. Okinawa Prefecture which have been covered.

4. Shikoku Region comprises of 4 Prefectures; Kagawa, Ehime, Kochi and Tokushima. It has been covered as well.

5. Chugoku Region – I managed to cover 3 out of the 5 Prefectures (Hiroshima, Okayama & Tottori). I am now left with Yamaguchi and Shimane Prefectures

6. Kansai Region – I managed to cover 4 out of 7 Prefectures (Hyogo, Wakayama, Kyoto & Osaka). I am now left with Nara, Mie and Shiga.

7. Chubu Region – I managed to cover 3 out of 9 Prefectures (Gifu, Aichi & Shizuoka). I am now left with Fukui, Ishikawa, Toyama, Nigata, Nagano and Yamanashi.

8. Kanto Region – I managed to cover 2 out of 7 Prefectures (Kanagawa & Tokyo). I am now left with Saitama, Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki and Chiba.

9. Tohoku Region comprises of 6 Prefectures; Fukushima, Yamagata, Akita, Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi. If not because of the pandemic, I would have covered these 6 Prefectures in May 2020. 🤣🤣🤣

Are you on track too?

47 Prefectures of Japan

Japan has 47 prefectures. On the basis of geographical and historical background, these prefectures can be divided into eight regions: Hokkaido,
Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kinki, Chugoku, Shikoku, and KyushuOkinawa.

Each region has its own dialect,
customs, and unique traditional
culture. For example, the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, and the Kansai region, which includes Osaka, offer striking contrasts in everything from the taste of food to the style of traditional performing arts, and people have fun comparing them.

Japan has a population of 127.29
million. Mountainous areas account for more than 70% of Japan’s land, so major cities are concentrated in the plains that account for less than 30% of the land. Cities with a population
exceeding one million are Sapporo in Hokkaido; Sendai in the Tohoku region; Kawasaki, Saitama, Tokyo, and Yokohama in the Kanto region; Nagoya in the Chubu region; Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe in the Kinki region; Hiroshima in the Chugoku region; and Fukuoka in Kyushu.

47 Prefectures of Japan

The capital city Tokyo, needless to say, is the hub of Japan. Other major cities fulfill roles as the political, economic, and cultural hubs of their respective regions.

While reminiscing my past Japan trips in the wake of Covid-19, I come across a newly released promotional video by Japan National Tourism Organization highlighting the beauty of Japan’s 47 Prefectures.

Hope this will give all Japan lover a ray of hope for a split second to visit each prefecture and see its most famous attractions & activities once again. Enjoy the moments and have fun!

https://youtu.be/x1ihrFkb8m8

I have covered 25 out of the 47 Prefectures thus far. I am eagerly looking forward to the completion of the remaining 22 Prefectures when travel restrictions are lifted. What about you?

Is travelling a thing of the past?

With Covid-19, it has changed the global travelling landscape completely. We have seen in recent months how the Covid-19 has changed our lives which most of us probably used to take for granted in the past.

Personally, I am one of the many travellers out there badly affected by this pandemic outbreak. It was painful to have to cancel my pre-planned April, May and June 2020 trip which was planned 9 to 12 months ago. Highly likely my August 2020 will be affected as well (given the current situation) and I am keeping my fingers real crossed 🤞 for my December 2020 trip to go ahead as planned.

Well, there is a Chinese saying that goes “计划赶不上变化” and this is extremely apt in this instance which translates literally to “however well planned your plans are in advance, you will still not be able to catch up with unforeseeable changes”.

Well for me, I always hold the belief that life is short and we should live life without regret. This pandemic outbreak really holds true to my belief. Even if you have the means to travel now, you will not be able to do so as you wish. 😔

Living life without regret is really important, so I want to urge you all, if you have something that you have always wanted to do or on your bucket list, make it a point NOW to make it happen while you can and do not procastinate further to live with regret later in your life.

This is truly and indeed a good wake-up call for all of us. For me, I will definitely not hesitate to travel for up to 2 months at one go (wherever possible) to make up for my loss time when the travel restriction is lifted. What about you?

Chinese New Year Shikoku Trip from 24 Jan to 9 Feb 2020

My long anticipated Shikoku (四国) trip is finally here. Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s major islands and comprises of 4 Prefectures; Kagawa (香川), Ehime (爱媛), Kochi (高知) & Tokushima (德岛).

This trip will focus mainly on Shikoku Region and we will also cover 2 other Prefectures in Chugoku Region; Okayama (岡山) & Tottori (烏取).

This time round, I will be flying in to Chubu Centrair International Airport in Nagoya on a red-eyed flight via Thai Airways with a brief transit stopover at Bangkok. Landing in Aichi Prefecture is the next most ideal for getting to Shikoku Region unless you are on domestic flight or if you were to fly in direct to Hiroshima.

From Nagoya, it will take about 5 hours to drive into Kagawa with approximately 382 km. You bet, I am definitely excited and looking forward to this upcoming trip.

pt2020_01_24_20_03_03For now, time to relax and warm up at the Thai Royal Orchid Lounge prior to boarding.

pt2020_01_24_23_21_35Starting my first leg transit to Bangkok.

pt2020_01_25_07_24_43Enjoying my reunion dinner on board… 😋

20200124_235315Final leg from Bangkok to Nagoya.

pt2020_01_25_07_32_41Breakfast on board before landing in Nagoya.

Arrived into Nagoya as scheduled. Upon custom clearance and baggage collection. Headed over to Toyota Rent A Car to pick up my car for the next 12 days road trip.

20200125_081933One thing to note, it is always advisable to check with the car rental company for advice on expressway toll passes as their toll charges can really set you back.

With this in mind, I took up the 14 days expressway toll pass valued at ¥34,600 instead. Just to be safe than sorry. 🤣

This time round, I was issued with a Toyota Fielder though I reserved for a Corolla Axio.

20200125_090501As usual, did a quick check on the car condition before starting my adventure.

20200125_104051First pit stop at Konan rest area after the first 120km drive. Stop over for nature call, stretch & kohii break.

20200125_134106Refuelling at Awaji Rest Stop next. Enjoying a nice bowl of Shoyu Pork Ramen and a freshly served piping hot Beef Croquette.

pt2020_01_25_13_37_20The shoyu ramen & beef croquette are tastily power.

pt2020_01_25_13_38_15There is also another shop right beside selling confectionery and onion related products from Awaji. After sampling their potage, couldn’t help but to grab a few of the local onion products. 😂

Continuing with my journey down to Takamatsu (高松), capital of Kagawa and Japan’s smallest prefecture thereafter.

Visited a couple of attractions in Takamatsu city prior to hotel check-in.

20200125_164335First being Yashima-ji Temple. This is a Shingon temple in Yashima, a lava plateau to the northeast of Takamatsu and an important cultural property.

pt2020_01_25_22_02_58It is also the eighty-fourth temple on the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage.

pt2020_02_09_18_56_58Scenic views from Yashima old battle field.

20200125_150809Next up, paid a visit to Takamatsu Castle and Tamano Park.

20200125_150051Takamatsu Castle also known as Tamano Castle. It was built in 1590 adjacent to the Seto Inland Sea. It is one of the few Japanese castles built along a waterfront and features saltwater moats that draw directly from the sea.

Some of the viewpoints which you get to see in the park.

20200125_152251Sayabashi Bridge – this is the only bridge that connects to Honmaru, the core of the castle and Ninomaru.

20200125_155905Asahibashi Bridge / Asahimon Gate – Otemon Gate was once south of Sakuranobaba on the south side of the castle. Asahibashi Bridge spans on the eastern side grounds and people cross it to go through Asahimon Gate.

20200125_153105