Any traveler who has been to South Korea would have probably heard about these facilities called jjimjilbang.
The equivalent of onsens in Japan, jjimjilbangs are scattered across South Korea as bathing here is considered a pastime by families and friends. Jjimjilbangs offer a wide range of amenities, including gyms and most importantly, sleeping rooms. In fact, jjimjilbangs are a good alternative for budget travelers in transit between cities or catching a flight.
Jjimjilbangs are very different from the saunas and spas Filipinos know locally: Korean public bathhouses are widely available and affordable (expect to pay around 8,000 to 12,000 KRW), and oh, did I mention that customers also bath nude in public?
The mere mention of this fact will bring some giggles or gasps within our group of friends. How do they do it? No awkward moment? Could they cover with towel? Isn’t that liberating and embarrassing at the same time?
During our recent 8-day trip in South Korea, we braved the cold weather and tried one of the most popular jjimjilbangs in Busan to see and experience the Korean public house for ourselves.
A few blocks away from the nearest bus station, Hill Spa stands tall like a 5-star hotel overlooking Suyeongman Bay. It was 8 pm, and Korean customers have just come from work to unwind with friends.
After settling the bill at the front desk, we deposited our shoes and proceeded to our gender-designated floors.
On your floor level, you may choose which locker you want to use. If you carry luggage that require bigger storage, some larger lockers are available but you should confirm this first with the front desk.
Remove all clothing and deposit them inside your locker. Any first timer would find this easier said than done, but confidence sans clothing is key.
Walk to the public bath area and, like proper swimming pool etiquette, wash yourself first before taking a dip. Jjimjilbang etiquette stresses cleanliness, and jjimjilbang operators you to follow suit. The shower is an open area.
Temperature of the public bath ranges from 35 to 40 degrees. A cold plunge pool is also available.
At Hill Spa, there is an outdoor bath overseeing Suyeongman Bay. I don’t recommend this during winter but yes you may try this with a brave heart.
For additional professional services, back scrubs are also available.
After you finish, take another shower and exit the sauna area. An open room nearby offers food and entertainment amenities if you want to linger. You can also proceed to the sleeping rooms, which we didn’t avail, but you can read about the experience here and here.
In general, my jimjilbang experience was one of the most exciting parts of this particular trip. It was an interesting immersion to Korean public bathhouse culture, and I felt so relaxed throughout. I look forward to coming back again!
Are you the type of budget traveler who wants to make the most out of a short trip and go to as many destinations as you can?
Unlike my Japan trip where I took it nice and easy for more than a week in Tokyo, my third time in South Korea involved crossing six cities and counties that took me from the DMZ at the northern border down to the last coastal city just before Fukuoka, Japan…all in eight days and a tight budget of more or less P24,000 (ground arrangement, airfare, accommodation, and taxes excluding shopping).
With a highly efficient transportation system, South Korea allows you to hop from one city to another without a sweat as long as you understand how the it works (schedule, transfers, location of terminals, etc.). Try this itinerary for the budget traveler the next time you visit South Korea:
In the capital of South Korea, old temples co-exist with towering skyscrapers. It is a great place to start your South Korean adventure, with places like Gyeongbokgung, Myeong-dong, Hanok Village, and Changdeokgung that shouldn’t be missed.
Don’t spend too much time in Seoul, though; its outskirts and South Korea’s other cities offer other unique experiences outside. Instead, treat Seoul as your hub — return to rest here at the end of each daytours in cities like Chuncheon, Gapyeong-gun, and Paju (access to the DMZ).
Recommended Length of Stay: Visit the key sites in Seoul in 1 day; then visit the nearby cities and use Seoul as a hub
Some of Chuncheon’s famous attractions are Nami Island and Elysian Ski Resort, which is one of the nearest ski resorts to Seoul. From Seoul, it takes 45 mins. by train along the Gyeongchun Line to this city, and you may get off in specific stations of your choice. Take Gapyeong Station for Nami Island and Baegyangri Station for Elysian, where a free shuttle awaits outside the station to the ski site.
Both Nami Island and Elysian Ski Resort are outside the city proper. We didn’t get the chance to really explore the Chuncheon, but here’s a helpful guide if you want to spend a night in Chuncheon to get to know this place.
Recommended Length of Stay: 1-2 days
3. Gapyeong County
Because of their proximity with one another, some of Gapyeong County’s and Chuncheon’s tourist attractions are linked by a bus loop that takes tourists to Nami Island, Petite France (a small theme park inspired by The Little Prince), Garden of Morning Calm, and two train stations (Gapyeong and Cheongpyeong).
More information about the Gapyeong City Tour Bus loop here. There are also tour operators who combine Elysian Ski Resort, Nami Island, and other Gapyeong attractions in a day tour and you can easily find them through Google Search.
I saw the Garden of Morning Calm in spring when the flowers and plants were in full bloom. Without any expectations on how it would look like in winter, I was surprised when the garden revealed itself like this:
What a creative approach for winter!
Recommended Length of Stay: 1 day
Tourists who want to see North Korea and the DMZ travel north of Seoul to Paju. And there are two popular ways to get there: by train (DMZ train) or on a tour. We booked a half-day tour which brought us to The Unification Bridge, DMZ Theater and Exhibition Hall, 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, and Dora Observatory (photo above), among others.
Be prepared for a long walk at the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel — one of the many tunnels discovered by South Koreans and allegedly dug by North Korea in preparation for a future attack on its southern neighbor. The tunnel has been turned into a tourist attraction, and the end of it to North Korea has been sealed.
Important: Bring your passport during the DMZ tour as this will be checked.
Recommended Length of Stay: Half-day; full day if you want to visit the JSA.
Before Seoul became the capital of South Korea, the Silla Kingdom established Gyeongju as its main city. Its sites are UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed, and you can visit most of them on a bike or a city tour bus.
Recommended Length of Stay: 2 days; 1 day if you’re in a hurry
As South Korea’s second largest city, Busan holds a wealth of history and contemporary culture that will not disappoint. During the summer, Haeundae Beach and Gwangalli Beach are the most popular attractions among travelers. Year round, you mustn’t miss Gamcheon, Haedong Yonggungsa, Oryukdo islets, Taejongdae, Jagalchi Fish Market, and the local jjimjilbangs. You can take the city tour bus to go around Busan.
Interestingly, Busan and Fukuoka, Japan are linked by a ferry — you can definitely visit South Korea and Japan all in one itinerary!
Gallery Vask in Bonifacio Global City remains as “The Best Restaurant in the Philippines” on the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants announced in Bangkok last week. Ranked No. 35, the restaurant is the only Philippines-based business which made it to the list.
Inspired by his travels, the chef looks for new ways to present dishes and is always on the hunt for unusual ingredients. Signature plates include Adlai, a native cereal often used in the Philippine highlands instead of wheat and rice. The grain is teamed with bagoong paste made from fermented shrimp and aromatics, served with sea urchin and pigeon and finished with gotu kola hearts, an aromatic herb traditionally used for medicinal purposes.
Meanwhile, Gaggan in Bangkok claims the No.1 spot for a third consecutive year and retains the titles of The Best Restaurant in Asia. Rising one place to No.2, Restaurant Andre retains the title of The Best Restaurant in Singapore, while Amber (No.3) in Hong Kong is named The Best Restaurant in China.
Paulo Coelho once argued against going to museums when you’re in a foreign city: “[I]sn’t it far more interesting to go in search of the present than of the past?”
But what if the entire city itself is a giant outdoor gallery of history, where artifacts are as big as a hill and replicas as ambitious as an unfinished 1,000-year old bridge?
Or at least, that is what Gyeongju is.
Gyeongju is one of South Korea’s underrated destinations. First-time travelers in South Korea often miss this place, preferring to go to Seoul and its outskirt destinations (like Nami Island) or Busan. But after spending 8 days in 6 cities in South Korea, Gyeongju emerged as our favorite.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Silla Kingdom that reigned today’s Korean Peninsula crowned Gyeongju as its capital. And so, spread across this valley are remnants of that past, which includes Buddhist temples, Asia’s first observatory tower, giant burial mounds, and old Korean villages. Many of these sites are listed under UNESCO World Heritage.
Gyeongju is a peaceful, rustic city surrounded by fields and mountains. It is provincial compared to Seoul and Busan, and a place best enjoyed on a bike.
Gyeongju is the nearest side trip destination in Busan – just 1 hour away by bus!
From Seoul: Take the KTX to Singyeongju Station. A cheaper option is to take a 3.5-hour express bus.
From Busan: Bus ride between the two cities takes one hour. Busan has the nearest airport connected to Manila, Clark and Cebu.
Within Gyeongju: You can rent a bike to go around the city. Several sites like Bulguksa and Seokguram Grotto are far from the city proper but can be conveniently reached by bus or private vehicles. Budget
P3,500 per person may cover decent accommodation in Gyeongju, bike rental, express bus from Seoul to Gyeongju and Gyeongju to Busan, entrance fees, and food. Our Itinerary
The original plan was to make Gyeongju a sidetrip from Busan before we arrive in Seoul. But seeing the list of attractions to see in Gyeongju, we decided to spend overnight. It was one of the best decisions we made!
09:00 AM – Departed Seoul’s express bus terminal for Gyeongju
1:00 PM – Bike to the Daerungwon Tomb Complex just on the next street.
2:00 PM – Late lunch
3:00 PM – Bike to Gyeongju Yangdong Village and Woljeonggyo Bridge
4:00 PM – Bike to Cheomseongdae Observatory
5:00 PM – Bike to Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
6:00 PM – Return to hotel
09:00 AM – Bus ride to Bulguksa Temple
10:00 AM – Tour around Bulguksa
12:00 NN – Bus ride to Seokguram Grotto
12:30 NN – Tour around Seokguram Grotto
2:00 PM – Return to Gyeongju and stroll around the city’s street market
4:00 PM – Return to Gyeongju bus terminal bound to Busan
Top 5 Highlights of the Trip
1. Rent a bike on your first day – (10,000 KRW) We recommend you rent a bike from your hotel and stroll the city on your first day. Otherwise, you can buy a bus pass.
2. Woljeonggyo Bridge – South Koreans take heritage very seriously. While biking around just outside Yangdong Village, we stumbled upon a small museum managed by Mr. Kim. He is the curator of a gallery to Woljeonggyo, an adjacent bridge project that aims to complete a Silla Kingdom-era connection. Perhaps delighted of his only guests, he treated us with a welcome coffee and a special tour of the bridge (We couldn’t go up the bridge yet, but we saw it at close range).
3. Donggung Palace & Wolji Pond– The palace and pond are best enjoyed at night after a stroll at the nearby Cheomsangdae Observatory. The area was once the Silla Kingdom’s place to receive guests. The Koreans researched the original layout of the palace that once stood on this field and managed to rebuild a few pagodas seen above.
4. Street market – Before we headed to Busan, we took an hour to stroll the city center. Tried their famous Gyeongju Bread and other delicacies!
5. Bulguksa and Seokguram Grotto – These sites are the farthest from the city but mustn’t be missed; you should allot at least half a day to see these two sites. A lot of walking is involved so be prepared. Bus No. 10 and 11 lead to Bulguksa from Gyeongju Bus Terminal and Gyeongju Station. To get to Seokguram, take Bus No. 12 from Bulguksa.
How about you? What was the highlight of your Gyeongju trip?
Euromonitor International recently unveiled the 2016 WTM Global Trends Report during the World Travel Mart, predicting how the future of travel would look like based on key trends sweeping across the globe.
Three main trends are worth noting:
Meet the “Roamie”, described as “a 21st century nomad who travels the world and craves all amenities wherever he or she stays.” This is a major trend in the Americas where traveling around world while staying in co-living communities are becoming popular. As more travelers go on solo trips, this business is becoming a lucrative segment for start-ups.
2. Bag-free, Hassle-free Travel
More and more people are leaving their suitcases at home. And why would you need them when hotels and travel providers are offering pay-as-you-go services such as clothing to buy or shoes to rent? This trend just proves that the sharing economy is only to grow stronger as the market most open to sharing — millennials — become a majority in the travel segments.
3. Microadventures and Bleisure
Microadventures are for the thrill-seekers short on time but who want new and adventurous experiences. Busy road warriors are now looking for adventures they can conquer over the weekend. This includes businessmen traveling for conventions, sales, and other purposes who will extend a night or two just to enjoy the city.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) announced that the Grand Palace reopens to tourists and visitors on November 1.
Visitors can now enjoy The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha or Wat Phra Kaeo, some of Thailand’s most popular landmarks considered as the country’s best examples of local architecture.
The Grand Palace is open every day from 8am to 4pm. Tourists can enter at the Wiset Chaisri Gate as normal, except during royal ceremonies. The entrance fee includes access to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha or Wat Phra Kaeo, the Royal Thai Decorations and Coins Pavilion, and the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles.
TAT reminds visitors to dress respectfully as Thailand is still in an official period of mourning for His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Visitors should wear somber-colored attire as a mark of respect during this period when visiting the Palace. Men must wear a shirt or T-shirt, long dark colored trousers or jeans, and covered footwear. Women may wear blouse or T-shirt that covers the shoulders, long skirt or dress, and covered footwear.
The general public can pay their respect to His Majesty the King’s Royal Urn at the Dusit Maha Prasat Hall in the Grand Palace from October 29 onward. They can enter at the Manee Nopparat Gate from 8am to 4pm and through the Wiset Chaisri Gate from 4pm to 9pm.
According to The Bureau of the Royal Household, visitors paying respect to the King should wear black long-sleeve shirt, long dark colored trousers, and covered black footwear for men and black blouse that covers the shoulders, long dark colored skirt or black dress, and covered black footwear for women.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand has issued the following guidance for foreign travelers coming to Thailand within the mourning period for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej:
Most mourners in the country will be dressed in black or white clothing as a display of the reverence to our Beloved King and as part of Thai culture, but this is not mandatory, especially for visitors.
Tourists should kindly wear appropriate and respectable attire in public.
Visitors should refrain from conducting any inappropriate or disrespectful behavior.
The Government has asked for the cooperation from entertainment venues to refrain from conducting any boisterous performances.
Meetings, receptions and other related occasions taking place within the premises can be held as usual, but may be adjusted in appropriateness as a mark of respect for the mourning period.
Most of the traditional, religious and cultural events including MICE and weddings will be taking place as usual, although the celebrations may be changed for appropriateness as a mark of respect, or the events may be dedicated to the memory of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Tourist attractions will be open as usual with the exception of Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace, as they will be the venue of the Royal Funeral Rites (will re-open on 1 November 2016). All transport, banks, shopping areas, hospitals and other public services will be operating as usual.
Many people will be travelling from the provinces to Bangkok during the mourning period to pay their respects to the King. This may cause some congestion in certain parts of the city as well as to commuters. Visitors planning travel and trips should stay updated via the local media about road closures or delays.
Due to the commuting of the people during this time, the safety and security measures for all Thais and visitors is a major priority of the related authorities
Status of events and festivals
Events cancelled (in order of events’ dates)
Oasis: Supersonic – Thailand Premiere, Bangkok, 17 October 2016
Morrissey Live in Bangkok, 18 October 2016
Bangkok Symphony Orchestra 2016 – The Sound of Thai Heritage, 21 October 2016
Scorpions 50th Anniversary Tour 2016, BITEC, Bangkok 26 October 2016
2016 Lee Jongsuk Fan Meeting Variety in Bangkok, 28 October 2016
BIGBANG Made [V.I.P] Tour in Bangkok, IMPACT Arena, 29-30 October 2016
Pattaya Loi Krathong Festival, 14 November 2016
River Festival 2016, Bangkok, 14 November 2016
Pattaya International Fireworks Festival, 25-26 November 2016
Farm Festival on the Hill at Singha Park, 25-29 November 2016
Bangkok Street Show 2016, Lumpini Park, 10-12 December 2016
New Year Celebrations, Pattaya, 31 December 2016 – 1 January 2017
Events postponed indefinitely or to new dates (in order of events’ dates)
Chanthaburi Scenic Marathon, 29-30 October 2016
Krabi Adventure Race Trophy 2016, 4-5 November 2016
Harmony World Puppet in Kanchanaburi 2016, new dates 20-26 February 2017
Events going ahead (in order of events’ dates)
Triathlon Challenge Kanchanaburi, 23 October 2016
Annual events, status under consideration (in order of events’ dates)
River Kwai Bridge Week 2016, 25 November – 7 December 2016
Sukhothai Loi Krathong and Candle Festival 2016, 10-14 November 2016
The Glorious of Ayutthaya Fair 2016, 16-25 December 2016
Status of tourist attractions
The Grand Palace and The Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Closed 14-20 October 2016
Wat Pho (The Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
Open as usual
Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn)
Open as usual
National Museum BangkokQueen’s Gallery
Open as usualClosed 14-16 October 2016
Ratchadamnoen Boxing Stadium
Closed until further notice
Lumpini Boxing Stadium RamindraHellfire Pass Memorial Museum
Closed for one month from October 2016Closed 14-16 October 2016
The Alcazar Cabaret, Pattaya
Open as usual
Tiffany’s Show, Pattaya
Open as usual
Muay Thai Live at Asiatique The Riverfront
Closed, until 17 October 2016
Open as usual
Phuket Simon Cabaret
Open as usual
Calypso at Asiatique The Riverfront
Open as usual (no alcohol)
The Square Buddha Amulet Market, Bangkok
Closed until further notice
Chiang Mai Walking Street on Saturday and Sunday & Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
The company behind Punta Fuego has partnered with AccorHotels to bring the group’s midscale brand Novotel to the unspoilt beaches of Calatagan in Batangas.
The property, which will be called Novotel Calatagan Beach Resort, will stand 9 storeys tall with 342 rooms, some of which will be sold under a condotel type model, says Landco in a press release.
It’s not the first international hotel brand in Batangas, though; American brand Microtel has already been in Sto. Tomas, Batangas for quite a while. But the entry of a giant like AccorHotels shows strong confidence by global hotel groups to go to emerging destinations outside the traditional ones like Boracay and Cebu. (AccorHotels is also slated to bring its Mercure brand to Dumaguete).
The resort’s nautical-inspired cruise ship architectural concept was designed by Pomeroy Studio, a Singapore-based urbanism, architecture, design and research firm, according to Landco. Pomeroy was hired to pursue a “sustainable environment agenda” for the resort; the resort will apply for LEED Silver certification.
“Novotel is excited to collaborate with Landco as we develop the Novotel Calatagan Beach Resort in the Philippines. We are grateful for the trust that they have in our hotel management expertise. Upon completion, this beautiful seaside community will be a top-notch destination that makes the perfect venue for business, MICE and leisure,” says Venessa Koo, Vice President of Development for AccorHotels, Upper Southeast and Northeast Asia in a statement.
AccorHotels is the group behind Sofitel, Novotel, Mercure, M Gallery, and a range of other brands, with Fairmont and Raffles joining recently.
As Filipinos become more well-traveled, they’re looking for other cities to explore around in Asia outside the mainstream route. In South Korea, one of them is Busan, the country’s second largest metropolis. Interestingly, the city is as friendly to travelers as Seoul, with a range of options to get around depending on your budget. Here are some of them:
Busan City Tour Bus
The Busan City Tour bus is perhaps the best mode to go to the city’s tourist attractions, sites such as Haeundae, Gwangalli, Taejongdae, Oryukdo, Songdo, Centum City, and Yonggungsa Temple.
Click on the links to see the five city tour options:
Operating Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Tue – Sun)
KRW 15,000 for adult (PHP650) / KRW 8,000 for youth and children (PHP345) / KRW 12,000 (PHP520) for groups (more than 10 adults) / KRW 6,000 (PHP260) for group of more than 10 youth and children
Mandi Bus departs from Busan Station at 30-minute intervals from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Tue – Sun) and travels to Sanbokdoro area – Busan’s hillside villages in the old downtown area including Gamcheon Culture Village, Bosu Book Street, Dakbatgol Happy Village in Ami-dong, Ebagu Archive Center, Yoo Chihwan Postbox and more.
KRW 10,000 for adult (PHP430) / KRW 7,000 for youth (PHP300) / KRW 5,000 for children (PHP215) / KRW 2,000 (PHP87) for group of more than 10 adults
Nakdonggang River Eco Bus:
Nakdonggang River Eco bus tour will offer easy access to historical and ecological resources of the Nakdonggang River. People can relax and enjoy beautiful nature at Hwamyeong Eco Park, Samnak Eco Park, Eulsukdo Eco Park and Dadaepo Beach.
KRW 7,000 (PHP300) for adults / KRW 5,000 (PHP215) for youth / KRW 3,000 (PHP130) for children / KRW 2,000 (PHP87) for groups of more than 10 adults
Passengers are allowed to transfer between the BUTI bus and the Jumbo bus for a transfer fee of KRW 5,000 for adults and KRW 3,000 for children. A combination ticket for the Jumbo bus, Mandi bus and Eco bus costs KRW 20,000. The ticket is an all-day pass.
When you’ve been to South Korea more than once, you’ll find your Cash Bee prepaid card very useful upon arrival in Busan especially in trains. (Cash Bee is South Korea’s equivalent of Hong Kong’s Octopus and Japan’s Suica cards.)
Under the Busan Metro System, Busan has four lines within the city and an LRT that connects Busan with its neighboring city Gimhae. You can download the map here.
Meanwhile, you can use this website to see travel time between stations and plan ahead your itinerary.
Busan Tour Taxi
Busan Tour Taxi is a new service introduced this year (2016) available on a reservation basis. Ideal for tourists who want a more personalized experience, the Busan Tour Taxi signed up about 100 taxi drivers who have been trained to provide quality service and guided tours, taking you to attractions and even places to eat.
Taxi fares vary by hour: KRW 20,000 (PHP865) for one hour, KRW 50,000 (PHP2,165) for 3 hours, KRW 80,000 (PHP3,460) for 5 hours, KRW 150,000 (PHP6,500) for 10 hours and KRW 180,000 (PHP7,800) for 12 hours excluding tolls and parking fees.
To reserve, call for reservation at +82 51-600-1004. The call center operates 24 hours.