Sunday, December 30, 2007

Some Personal Pictures in South Korea

I arrived at the Incheon International Airport, an hour from Seoul, after a flight of four hours. I breathed in my first winter air. It was exhilirating! Later as we went on a short romp in downtown Seoul, after a delectable dinner of bulgogi and amazing kimchis, and the temperature dipped below zero, it was not fun anymore. We saw some Korean girls in miniskirts and boots. We were amazed. Starbucks was closed and every expensive. We took refuge in a coffee shop and held on to our coffee cups like they were the life-giving fire. A group of Malaysian boys entered, and we immediately sensed that both groups are not from around here. One of them asked where we were from. Philippines, I answered. Malaysia, he voluntered. We smiled, a ray of the tropics in wintry Korea.

My room at the Ibis Hotel in Seoul, where we spent the night before going to Jeju Island. It is a small business hotel with small but cozy rooms. The toilet is small, almost like a cubicle, but is equipped with a "high-tech" toilet, that is, with bidet, washer, dryer, warmed seat, etc. Great!

We went to Gimpo Airport, at the other end of Seoul, to catch a flight to Jeju Island. Gimpo was Korea's main international airport until Incheon was built, in the occassion of Korea's hosting of the Olympics. Gimpo now mainly serves as a domestic travel airport. But it is still nice.

The Korean Airlines plane in which we rode (obviously). It serves pomegranate juice, which became my instant favorite. I almost consumed all their supply.

While marveling at the so-called Mysterious Road in Jeju, I went immediately to the food stalls and marveled at their offerings. I ate delicious crabstick wrapped in fish cake, skewered and fried.

Waiting for the bus at the Jeju International Convention Center. It is near the amazing Jusangjeollidae, where I ate a piece of boiled silkwood. By the way, I was wearing my The North Face jacket. A piece of endorsement. He he.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Straight to Jeju, Straight to the Heart

As a prelude to my Jeju travel essay, here is my article on the PAL Manila-Jeju chartered flights and the Jeju tourism industry:

With an admirable concentration of museums, resorts, parks, natural and cultural attractions and activities, Jeju Island is indeed the tourists’ playground in Korea. Located about 420 kilometers south of the capital Seoul, Jeju enjoys a temperate climate, adding to the attraction of the island.
With an area of 1,845.55 square kilometers, the largest island of Korea, Jeju is volcanic in origin with the dormant Mount Halla, South Korea’s highest, dominating its central landscape. The mountain is inscribed in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites together with the Seongsan Ilchubong tuff cone at the eastern side of the island and the Geomun Oreum Lava Tube System at the northeast. Around the islands are topographical features like beaches, cliffs, caves and waterfalls that attract nature-loving visitors. These features earned the island the appellation of “Hawaii of the East.”
Museums and parks riddled the islands, including three dedicated to sex and love. There is the Teddy Bear Museum, which contains the most expensive and the tiniest teddy bears, and the Jeju Folk Museum, which recreates a traditional Jeju village and informs about the indigenous way of life. Hotels and resorts are also scattered around the island, including the grand Lotte Hotel with its nightly “volcanic show” and the intimate Seaes Hotel, which transformed a traditional village into well-appointed villas set by the seashore.
Because of its beautiful landscape and excellent tourist facilities, Jeju has long been attracting newlyweds, becoming the most favored honeymoon destination in the country as well as Korea’s premiere tourist site.
Because of its air of beauty and romance, Jeju has become a favorite location for Korean television series, which has become popular in the region, particularly in the Philippines. For Filipinos, Jeju becomes a familiar name because of these “Koreanovelas.”
But there is much, much more to Jeju Island, of course.
“Jeju Island is an ideal destination for Korean honeymooners because of the beautiful natural scenery, which provides escape from city life. It also provides various experiences for foreigners with its traditional facilities and cuisine,” said Kim Dong Seol, who owns Rakso Air Travel and Tours, a travel agency based in Makati City in the Philippines.
“Jeju basically has a nice scenery and weather, and beautiful nature, which we can’t see in Seoul. The natural and artificial things are in harmony,” he added.
To make the experience of Jeju more accessible to Filipinos and foreign expatriates in the Philippines, the Philippine Airlines and the travel agency Rakso are currently offering tour packages and chartered direct flights from Manila to Jeju and vice versa.
“The Philippine Airlines has studied and tested lots of new destinations for Filipino tourists to quench their desire for new destinations. In the process, they also studied Jeju Island. Rakso, being a Korea destination specialist, put more emphasis on this new project with its know-how,” Kim said.
“In fact, we have had a Korea package, which includes Seoul and Jeju Island (seven days and six nights, or more), and feedbacks from those who visited Jeju were quite good,” Kim further said. “So we decided that Jeju Island itself could be a nice destination for the Philippine market, for those who are sick and tired of destinations such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok. At the same time, Jeju Island was included by UNESCO in its World Heritage sites list, and Jeju itself was declared as a ‘self-governing province.’ So, they are also very aggressively in promoting Jeju as the ‘Hub of East Asia.’”
With these developments, the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province is lifting visa requirements for different countries. As of now, there are about 180 countries included in the no-visa policy, including the Philippines. Visa will not be required for those availing of the packages and/or flying directly to Jeju.
The direct flights and packages, however, are on a limited run. It started on Dec. 15 and ends on Jan. 12. There are twice weekly flights. The Manila to Jeju flight is on Wednesday, leaving Manila at 7:15 a.m. on a four-hour flight to Jeju. The Jeju-Manila flight is on Saturday, leaving Jeju at 12:35 p.m.

The packages
The Rakso Jeju tour packages are scheduled for Dec. 15-19, Dec. 19-22, Dec. 22-26, Dec. 26-29, Dec. 29-Jan. 2, Jan. 2-5, Jan. 5-9, and Jan.9-12, and includes four-day-and-three-night tour for US$555 and five-day-and-four-night tour for US$599 (US$659 if one chooses to stay at Hawaii Hotel for two nights and then to KAL Hotel for the remaining nights, and US$699 if one chooses Lotte Hotel for the remaining two nights). The tour packages include meals, accommodations, tour, transfers, an English-speaking guide and admission fees to the facilities.
The first day of the four-day-and-three-night tour package includes visiting Yongduam Rock after arriving at the Jeju International Airport, visiting the Hallim Park, the Hyeopjaegul Cave, the Keumrung sculpture park and the Mysterious Road. Lunch will be stone hot pot bibimbap at Hiang Restaurant and dinner seafood casserole with noodle at the Yongduseong.
On the second day, tourists visit Seongsan Sunrise Peak, experience picking Jeju tangerines at a farm, visit Seopjikoji and Jeju Folk Village Museum, and then the Chenjiyeon Waterfalls. There will also be shopping at Chilseongro Street. Lunch will be pork barbeque at Seongup Town, and Korean traditional set menu for dinner at Pig Dream.
On the third day, they will visit the O’Sulloc Tea Museum, the Jushang cliffs, the Teddy Bear Museum, the Museum of Sex and Health, and the Hallasan National Park. Lunch will be boiled fish at Deomjeong and pork bulgogi for dinner.

On the last day, they will visit the Ginseng Centre and an amethyst factory.
For the five-day-and-four-night tour, tourists get to visit Yongduam Rock, the Hallim Park, the Hyeopjaegul Cave, the Keumrung sculpture park and the Mysterious Road. Lunch will be ginseng chicken soup at Biwon and dinner seafood casserole with noodle at the Yongduseong.
The itinerary for second and third day is almost the same as the four-day-and-three night tour, except for the buffet lunch at Bunjaewon Restaurant on the third day.
On the fourth day, tourists get to visit the Hallasan National Park and enjoy half of the day snow-sledding. After that, they will visit the Bunjae Artpia and Sambang. They will also visit the Ginseng Centre and an amethyst factory on the last day.
“It really focuses on the beauty and various tourist spots of Jeju,” Kim said of the packages. “Other Korean travel agencies in Jeju checked our itinerary and said that they are real luxury tours, which even Koreans can’t have because of budget constraints.”
So far, many Filipinos are taking advantage of the packages. Kim revealed the initial flights and packages were fully booked. About 60 percent of those who availed are Filipinos, while the remaining are Koreans.

The Jeju tourism industry
Traditionally, visitors to Jeju Island are locals, many of them honeymooners. It is estimated that about five million tourists visit Jeju annually, making the island-province Korea’s top tourist destination. In the process, tourism has become a major industry in the island. Our guide, Heea Kim, said that it may have surpassed agriculture as the main industry. Jeju Island is famous for its tangerines. A big hybrid variety, dubbed the Hallabong, is of particular interest to tourists.
“We earned 1.9 trillion Korean won from tourism,” said Ko Kyeong Sil, the director-general of the Culture, Tourism and Sports Bureau of the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province. This accounts to about 25 percent of the province’s gross revenue in 2006, and it is growing.
“This year, the gross revenue from tourism has just exceeded two trillion Korean won as of the late November,” Ko said.
From the five million tourists to Jeju, about 500,000 are foreign tourists, contributing about 30 percent to the tourism revenue. About half of the number of foreign tourists is Japanese, who have long been visiting the island even before it became a tourist destination and are still considered its top market, Japan being very near Korea.
Because of tourism developments, direct flights and the no-visa policy, Jeju tourism continuously grows and begins attracting other nationalities.
“The total number of foreigners who have visited Jeju using direct flights is 273,406 (149,000 Japanese and 115,000 Chinese) out of 492,000 passengers,” Ko revealed. “And the rest turned out to have used the flights via Seoul. Those who used direct flights outnumbered the rest, so we will focus on the operation of direct flights.”
“Japan was the primary market of Jeju for about 10 years ago,” Ko further said. “But it has recently moved to China over the years. From now on, we will also put our efforts to find new market such as the East Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia, the Americas, and others.”
Although not a big market, Jeju is welcoming of the Philippines, especially with the PAL-Rakso tour packages jumpstarting tours from the Philippines.
“We expect many Filipino to visit Jeju, so that Jeju can be widely known and remembered in the Philippines,” Ko said. “With this new chartered flight as a momentum, human resource exchanges are expected to constantly take a place.”
“We will constantly conduct familiarization tours for travel agents and the media to different destinations, and also encourage outbound tour packages to Manila, so there will be active travel exchanges,” Ko added.

Of particular interests to Filipinos are the locations for the Koreanovelas, which are hugely popular in the Philippines. Ko recommends the Jeju Folk Village Museum, which is the location for the popular Jewel in the Palace, and set location of Legend, Korea’s most expensive television series to date. For the series, the filmmakers virtually built an ancient village including a grand palace at the eastern part of Jeju. After the shooting, the set location was transformed into a theme park. Legend is set to be shown in Japan. Most likely it will reach the Philippines and will become a hit.

Aside from these, Kim of Rakso Travel said that the Jeju government needs to study how to further attract the Philippine market in order to make the Manila-Jeju direct flights regular.
“The Philippine market is quite seasonal. To make this Jeju direct flight a regular route is not easy. There should be a balance between Manila departure and Jeju departure. I mean, Korean tourists from Jeju also should be bigger than this time,” Kim said.
One thing that Jeju perhaps lacks is shopping.
“We acknowledge that Jeju lacks large shopping centers except a duty-free shop for locals,” Ko said. “This will have an adverse effect in attracting foreign tourists. We will work very hard to solve this problem.”

But Jeju itself is an amazing destination with its sublime landscapes, cultural attractions and amusing museums that one can junk shopping altogether. The caves, cliffs, waterfalls and even the desolate meadows, which pulsate with bright colors during spring and summer, can awe visitors. The restaurants, tucked in quiet villages, offer nutritious and delectable local cuisines. The museums and parks provoke the senses. The more adventurous can climb Mount Halla and explore the lava tubes. There are golf courses for the businessmen in search of leisure. The women divers of Jeju are almost legendary. The traditional villages, with their low houses of stones walls and grass roofs, satisfy the craving for the exotic. There are numerous luxury hotels and resorts dotting the island. Jeju can have any visitor’s breath taken.
“In 2006, 5.3 million tourists had visited to Jeju. We are now tying to attract at least 5.5 million tourists this year, and we don’t see any problems about it. Then, we will go for six million mark next year,” said Ko. “We are planning to move forward with a plan of attracting as many tourists as possible into Jeju and taking this opportunity of revitalizing local economy.”
“We hope to have this flight regular, and more Filipino tourists get a chance to know Korea better, also more Korean tourists visit the Philippines,” said Kim. “Ultimately it will be an extra bridge for cultural exchange and economic growth.”

Contact Information
Rakso Air Travel and Tours, Inc. is located at the ground floor of Rico Building, 112 Aguirre St., Legaspi Village, Makati City, with telephone number (+632) 812-9667, fax numbers (+632) 812-8035 and 840-2484, mobile number (+63917) 810-0223 and email Visit Web site
In Jeju on your own, English-speaking tour guides are few. A recommendable one is Heea Kim, who resides in 365-1, Yongin Apt., Ildo 2-dong, Jeju City, with mobile number 018-605-5936 and email

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Back From Jeju With Some Pictures of My Self at the Teddy Bear Museum

Jeju Island is breathtaking! It is one of the few places that impresses me. Yes, I survived winter in Korea. I think I miss Korea. I think I am falling in love with Korea.
I'm in the middle of the Chrtistmas rush so I have precious little time for an essay on my Jeju tour. So bit by bit I'm going to post first pictures of me in some Jeju attractions. These ones are from the Teddy Bear Museum.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Going to South Korea

It's 3:30 in the morning, December 8, Saturday. I just finished packing. I hope I did not forget anything. I'm going to South Korea today. Flight is at 2 PM on Philippine Airlines PR466. It is winter there. Last time I've heard its -5 C. I've never been to winter. I am having anxieties. I hope I did not forget anything. But we're going to Jeju Island after a brief stop in Seoul. It is the warmest place in the country. Still it's 8 C. It is still fucking cold. I got a new The North Face Elevation coat and sweater. I struck out a deal. They lent me the coat, and I will write about the product and endorse it. Not bad. I am like a fan of the brand, and fancy myself an endorser just like the mountaineers and the adventurers. Why not a travel writer as an endorser. I got some winter accessories lent by helpful friends. I am so grateful. I hope they will suffice. I am so fidgety. Anybody, wish me luck.

I am looking at the itinerary:

Prospective Schedule for Media Group
08 Dec. ~ 11 Dec.

8 Dec
14:20~19:20 From Manila to Incheon by PR466
22:00 Hotel Check-in (IBIS Seoul)
22:30 Night Market or Rest at the Hotel
Day End

9 Dec
8:30 Breakfast
9:30 City Tour /"Blue House, Gyeongbokgung Palace "
11:00 Shopping at Itaewon or Namdaemun
12:30 Lunch
14:00 Depart for Gimpo Airport
15:00 Depart for Jeju
16:00 Arrive at Jeju
Welcoming Ceremony
17:00~18:00 Dinner
18:30~19:30 Loveland
20:30~ Hotel Check-in (Lotte Hotel)
Day End

10 Dec
07:00~08:00 Breakfast at Lotte Hotel
09:00~10:00 Urimok (Scenery of SNOW)
11:00~12:30 Inspection of Seaes Hotel
12:3~13:30 Lunch
14:00~16:00 Museum of Health & Sex/Teddy Bear Museum
16:30~18:00 Inspection of SkyHill C.C
18:30~19:30 Dinner
20:00~21:00 Cheonjiyeon Fall
21:30~ Back to Lotte Hotel
Day End

11 Dec
08:00~09:00 Breakfast
10:00 ~ 11:00 Jeju Falk Museum (Jewel in a Palace)
12:00~13:00 Lunch
13:30~14:30 Shooting place of Legend
TBA Depart for Gimpo Airport
TBA Transfer to International Airport
20:20 Depart for Manila by PR469
23:30 Arrive at Manila

* The schedule is subject to change.

Some of the items mystify me. I feel hungry. I remember I just had burger and soda. I will have chicken noodle soup. I feel cold. The last few days were stressful. I will be having kimchi in the days ahead.