October 24, 2017 (Afternoon)
Following our trip to the Demilitarized Zone, our tour group proceeded to the National Ginseng Museum in Seoul. This is the last leg of our tour. Essentially, ginseng is an herbal plant renowned for its medicinal qualities. For this reason, it is tagged as the national treasure of South Korea and is believed to be the secret for Korean’s longevity and stamina. Ginseng is also famous in the the Philippines. It has been mixed in with other food products such as coffee and snacks.
Beyond the healing properties of ginseng, my friends and I were more fascinated to note that our museum guide looks like our countrymen. We were reluctant to confirm this with him but we were eventually able to confirm it later when our tour group went to the ginseng store. Nearly all salesmen at the store were Filipinos. In our three-day stay in Korea, this is the first time that we encountered non-tourist Filipinos. Most of our countrymen we encountered were like us, tourists.
The salesmen were very eloquent in expressing themselves. Their in-depth knowledge made them effective in persuading buyers. They enlightened us on the different varieties of ginseng and the myriad of health benefits one can gain from its consumption. It is amazing plant and it is no wonder that it is Korea’s national treasure. The museum also has a grocery store where one can purchase different ginseng-based products. One can have a free-taste before buying. The best thing is that the free taste is unlimited. My friends and I tried nearly everything before finally deciding on which ones to buy.
After our brief stop at the Ginseng Museum, our tour group dispersed. My friends and I went to have lunch, a part of the tour package we have availed. It was only our group that availed of this package. We were treated to a Korean restaurant serving traditional Korean dishes. We were famished but we were unable to finish everything because the serving is enough to feed a feast. While we were eating, we discussed our next destination. After a lengthy discussion, we decided to proceed to Haneul Park to watch the sunset before capping our day at Myeongdong, one of Seoul’s famous shopping districts.
Haneul Park is quite far from downtown Seoul. Nevertheless, we were able to go there in under an hour because of the subway. What is truly fascinating about Seoul is that nearly every landmark has a subway station within striking distance. This makes moving around Seoul more efficient and more comfortable. Even without internet, one can easily find his way on the subway because of the markers and signage placed to aid commuters and visitors alike. For Haneul Park, our subway stop is the World Cup Stadium Station. The stadium when Seoul hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
From the stadium, we walked for about fifteen minutes to Haneul Park. Haneul Park is part of a five-park complex collectively called as World Cup Park. The area was once a landfill which held over 92 million tons of garbage before it was transformed into a park which opened in May 1, 2002. The park was named Haneul, which in Korean, means “sky” because it is located on the highest point of the area. Once a mountain of garbage, it is now a lookout point offering dramatic views of Seoul, especially of the sunset.
The park is an extraordinary feature in the midst of a bustling metropolis like Seoul. Its candid and rural atmosphere is a breath of fresh air. Its vast grassland is alluring and offers many places for photo ops. Naturally, my friends and I went our own way to explore the area. Aside from the tall cogon grasses, sunflowers and other plants accented and beautified the place. It is no surprise that the favorite spot in the park is the part fronting Han River.
Although the sun has not begun setting yet, a throng of people have crowded in river viewpoint, patiently waiting for that dramatic sunset. Everyone was of the same mind, reserve a slot to have a great vantage point to take pictures. Indeed, as soon as the sun began setting, everyone brought out their cellphones and cameras to capture the spectacle. The backdrop is the metropolis of Seoul but the sight was nevertheless breathtaking. As soon as the sun has completely set, everyone began dispersing.
Before returning to the subway, my friends and I went for a final round of picture taking escapade. After the last round, we went back to the subway to go to Myeongdong. On our way back to the station, we met a couple whose dog pooped on the pathway. Automatically, the husband brought out a cellophane to pick up his pet’s discard. It was an instant culture shock to me because who in their right mind would stop and pick up such disgusting thing. I never saw it in the Philippines – I even once stepped on a strategically “land mine” in a high end area. I saw this scene again in the Return of Superman, a reality show. This made me appreciate the courtesy Koreans have for their fellows.
South Korea travel tip # 9: It is important to note which subway line your destination is to avoid getting lost. There are almost 20 subway lines plying Seoul. To the uninitiated, this could be overwhelming.
Before roaming around Myeongdong, we first went to look for a place to dine as we were already hungry. There are numerous cafes and restaurants in the area and it took us a while to look for a place we could dine in (and we could afford:)). For dinner, we had samgyeopsal, the famed Korean grilled meat. This is the first time we’re eating the said dish in Korea, making it all the more special. When we’ve had our fill, we went out to explore the area in spite of the evening breeze.
To the uninitiated, Myeongdong is one of the numerous premier shopping areas in Seoul and is a part of nearly every traveler’s bucket list. It is quite a very busy area because the area’s specialty are free beauty products. Moreover, nearly all beauty product stores give away free face masks. Aside from the beauty products, Myeongdong is also known for its street food scene, something Filipinos know a lot about. Unsurprisingly, we met several Filipinos in the area.
I am not really a fan of shopping. I ended up just following my friends around. Every alley is filled with shops. I noticed how every famous beauty product brnd has at least four stores spread over the area. Trendy clothes and travel essentials are also being sold. Myeongdong also has its own underground shopping mall. The stores in the area start packing up at around 10 PM. Once my friends were done shopping, we went back to the subway station to retrieve our things which we left on a subway locker.
South Korea travel tip # 10: In every subway station are lockers where travelers can leave their things for a fee. The lockers have varying sizes and the locker fee depends on the size of the locker to be rented. If you have shopped a lot from your previous destination and you do not want to be burdened while looking around, you can leave your things in the lockers. You just have to note where the locker is located so that you can easily retrieve your things after.
It is yet another late close to our day but this day, so far, has been the earliest we have slept. For now, annyeong! Our next stop is one of Korea’s most renowned tourist spots so do watch out for it.
Here are the pictures taken by my friend, Voltaire Coycoyen.