October 21, 2017

My friends and I successfully made it past the scrutinizing gaze of the airport immigration officers. It wasn’t a walk in the park but we passed the last hurdle to fulfilling our puerile dream of being able to touch down in the Land of the Morning Calm. The days leading to our flight has been nerve-wracking and anxiety-filled as thoughts of last minute changes might stymie our year-long planned excursion. The road to this day certainly wasn’t all that smooth. There were some blips but those are behind us now.

2:30 PM

It’s finally time to board the plane! No words can describe how I felt at that moment. Even though I have been riding the plane for some time, my nerves still get me. The fact that the flight is four-hours long further spiked up my anxieties. This is my first international flight and also the first flight that is going to last more than two hours. Admittedly, I have considered purchasing anti-depressants to quell my anxiety and my nerves. A shot of Valium would be great!

If there was one thing that I was thankful for is that I am not going to be alone in this flight – I have friends along with me! Their presence has a calming effect. Unfortunately, we were seated separately. Nonetheless, it is fine so long as we land in South Korea safely.

3 PM

The cabin doors have been closed and locked. The protocol announcements were made and in a couple more minutes and we’re off to the land of K-Drama, K-Pop, and Oppas. The plane is taxiing on the runway and getting on queue in the runway. This is it! 3, 2, 1, and we’re off! Man, this feeling of getting pushed back while the plane steady ascends never gets old. When the plane found its equilibrium, my friends and I changed seats so that we can seat together. There were numerous empty seats to choose from.

I chose the window seat so I could take a peek outside. The weather outside is great, better than what I expected. The blue skies and the cottony cloud formations are idyllic sights. We were cruising smoothly until the plane began shuddering. The seat belt sign was turned on by the captain even though the shaking wasn’t that strong. I had it worse during my solo flight to Coron in July 2016. The plane’s shaking was still bothersome. The seat belt sign was turned on for a majority of the flight.

This is a good sign of great things to come!

To quell my apprehensions, I tried to sleep but it was all for naught. Instead, I listened to music on my phone to calm my overshooting nerves. I also brought a book to read during our flight but it was challenge trying to concentrate on the words. To calm my nerves, I stopped looking at my watch to check on the time. Four hours on air is a drag but we are bound to reach our destination anyway. If there is one thing I have learned during my travels it is putting my trust in the Lord who oversees my every journey.

While caught in a ponderous moment, the sun was creating a wonderful spectrum of colors. The sun was already setting and it is showcasing the full array of its beauty. It was too bad that my friends and I were seated on the wrong side of the plane, facing the eastern horizon. Nonetheless, the colorful display ricocheted inside the plane, creating a riveting show. This is a wonderful omen – amazing things will unfold in the coming days.

Before we know it, darkness has already enveloped the world outside the plane. We were already on the third hour of our journey, meaning we’re just an hour away from landing on Incheon International Airport. Just a little bit more patience and we will get there. Just as I was contemplating on this, city lights have become visible and we are drawing closer and closer to it. That must be the outlines of South Korea’s night skyline! A simple time check proved that indeed what we are seeing is South Korea. Moreover, the pilot confirmed it is so.

A glimpse of South Korea.
Even in the dark, South Korea comes to life.

The plane was filled with a collective and resounding “oohs” and “ahs”. For the passengers to appreciate the skyline, the pilot dimmed the lights. Even from above, South Korea looks tantalizing. Too bad ordinary cellphone cameras could not justify this beauty. I guess there are just some things that are meant for the eyes only. A couple of minutes late, we successfully landed on the Land of the Morning Calm.

Annyeong hasaeyo Daehan Minguk!

My friends and I can’t help but gasp at the realization that we’re finally here, in South *invective* Korea! Time check: 8 PM? Oh yeah, South Korea is an hour ahead of the Philippines and my phone automatically adjusted its time. We are finally entering the portal to a different world. But first, we had to go through the quarantine check. Please note that passengers originating from certain countries, e.g. Madagascar, are to undergo quarantine. Thankfully Philippine passengers are not part of the list.

Let me take the opportunity to appreciate Incheon International Airport. It is one of the world’s best airports and one can easily understand why. It is spacious and very clean. Just when I thought that nothing more is going to surprise me about this behemoth, it opened up another can of surprise. I was in awe when I learned that we had to take a subway to the main terminal. It is my first subway experience and it was great! Now that is how you get to be one of the best airports in the world.

Too stoked to take pictures of Incheon.

However, before we were officially allowed to enter South Korea, we had to go through the country’s immigration first. The scrutiny wasn’t as stringent as it was in the Philippines. The immigration officer just stamped our passports after obtaining our pictures and finger prints. Now that sure is easy. I am just thankful to be able to make it all the way here. We then went to retrieve our baggage.

But before traveling to our accommodation, we need to check off some items first. We retrieved the internet sim we purchased via Klook. This will provide us 10-day unlimited access to internet. We got the sim on a booth located in the airport’s vicinity. Next off, T-money. T-money is the South Korean version of our local beep card. It can be used to pay subway and bus fares and can also be used to pay in convenience stores. Convenience stores sell and reload T-money cards. Please note that the card itself is bought separately.

Now have to find our way to Seoul. From Incheon, Seoul is almost an hour’s subway ride away via the Airport Express, or ArEx in short. Passengers can ride either the non-stop train or the all-stop train. The former is costlier although the disparity in time it takes to reach Seoul is barely 10 minutes. Moreover, ticket for the non-stop train must be bought at the counter while T-money can be used to pay the all-stop train. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which train we rode.

We’re here!

After boarding the all-stop train, we are now on our way to Seoul, the country’s heart and soul. ArEx is similar to our MRT but more spacious, comfortable and efficient. Although I was in awe and spellbound by this new experience, I can’t help but feel aghast at the state of our country’s own transport system. If South Korea was able to have an amazing transportation system, why can we not? This question kept nagging me during our entire trip. Indeed, these kinds of experiences show us the infinite possibilities. If they can, then most definitely we can, if only we have the political will to do so. Omo, Pilipinas kong mahal.

When we reached Seoul station, we transferred to Line 2 as our accommodation is situated along this line. Seoul Station is one of the major arteries of the country’s transport system and it is a spectacle in itself. At 11 PM, we finally met our AirBNB host who warmly welcomed us. However, there was some mix up as our original booking date was a day later than our arrival. We communicated in advance this change in reservation date but this was all done offline. To make up for the confusion, our host booked us a separate AirBNB owned by his friend.

1 AM, October 22

Finally, after a long trip, my friends and I can finally sleep! We have an early call for this day. Whew, indeed, it was a long day filled with awe and excitement. But the coming days are filled with even more enchantment. But for now, lights out! Do tune in for the continuation of our South Korea excursion.

Tune in for the rest of our South Korea adventure!