Monday, November 21, 2016

The Road Less Traveled: Gwangju

South Korea is a country that has been close to my heart ever since I had a Korean best friend. The fusion of the old and the new never fails to amaze me. And coming from a tropical country, the gush of cold air fills my heart with joy. For my second trip to the country, I wanted to have a more authentic experience, so I added a 3 day adventure to Jeollanam-do (South Jeolla province) to my itinerary. Though choosing the best province to explore has been difficult, after days of research, I was convinced to go to Jeollanam-do because of the delectable cuisine and the alluring sights it has to offer.

How to get there: KTX

The day before our trip to Gwangju, a city in Jeollanam-do, my friend and I went to Gapyeong riding the ITX Cheongchun in Yongsan station. We bought our ITX tickets as well as our economy KTX tickets (Yongsan to Gwangju Songjeong station; costs W46,800/$46) for the next day in Yongsan station. You can buy the tickets online if you have a credit card. Tickets can be purchased up to one month in advance. There is also an option to travel to Gwangju by bus from Seoul Express Bus Terminal. It is about $20 cheaper but will take 3 hours and 20 minutes to reach Gwangju.

Trains and buses follow their schedule promptly so make sure to be on the platform 15 to 30 minutes before the time of departure. The train ride to Gwangju Songjeong station was smooth and convenient and took less than 2 hours (9:50 to 11:43). There was also free wifi on board. Upon arriving at Gwangju Songjeong station, we had to ride the subway to our hostel. It was easy navigating the station because there were a lot of signs in English. But if you are confused, fret not, there are many tourist information booths [red i signs] in most areas and people manning them can usually speak a bit of English so just ask away. Also, ALL Koreans I met and interacted with were warm and always ready to give a hand, even at time when language barrier is apparent.

Gwangju Songjeong subway station. There were only a few people at the time we rode the subway, a big difference when compared  to a busy Seoul subway ride.

Where we stayed: Oxbloodk Hostel

A few months back, I searched for places to stay in Gwangju and found a budget place with a high rating, that is, Oxbloodk hostel. I checked their website, emailed the owner directly for reservation and eventually booked a double room with private bathroom for 2 nights for W36,000 or $36/night, more than $10 cheaper compared to Seoul hostels located in the central area! The owner was very responsive to my queries from the directions to the hostel to going around Gwangju and the nearby cities and towns.

The hostel is a 3 minute walk from the nearest subway station. From the exit 6 of the Nongseong station, walk to your right until you see an SK self gas station. Turn right on that street and take a left on the first street. After a few buildings, you will see the hostel on your left.

At about 1 pm, we were welcomed by the manager/owner Jae Hyeon oppa who toured us around the facilities of the 6-storey building which included a laundry room, lounge with TV and a kitchen with unlimited supplies of coffee, juice, milk, bread, rice, seaweeds, korean noodles, eggs and hash brown which you can cook at any time of day. A water dispenser was available in the first floor.

Our room was small but there was enough space for my friend and I. It was clean and well equipped with TV, refrigerator, mirror, hairdryer, flat iron, clean combs and brushes, floor and bed heater, clothes rack and a safe deposit box. We were also provided a set of toiletries per person.

Jae Hyeon oppa then asked our plans for the day and we told him we were thinking of going to Damyang. He offered to walk with us to the Gwangju U-square bus terminal (10 to 15 minute walk; directions to also in hostel's home page) and instructed us which bus to take. And so our Jeolla adventure begins.... :)

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