Travelling with aged parents and siblings in friendly South Korea, is just a matter of making minor adjustments
TRAVELLING with your family, especially your parents, is not the same as when you’re travelling with your best friend. There's a lot that you need to take into consideration. Their comfort is your number one priority. There have been a few occasions when I have had differing opinions with my sister my co-planner? But you sort that out quickly because you don't want negative emotions to affect your trip.
It gets more adventurous when we travel on our own. Travelling on our own gives us the liberty to choose where we want to go and when we want to go. But travelling on our also means that we have to make all the arrangements by ourselves and do tones of research too.
However, I am not the sort of person who plans my journey. I love spontaneous trips and just enjoy the process. And I try to rub it off on my family too, who seem to be liking the idea as well.
But I guess travelling with your family also means you're taking the time to bond with them. You learn something new about them that you might have otherwise not noticed. Like, Dad can’t take the cold even if it's sunny outside while Mom loves having her photos taken, and little sister is game enough to act silly in front of the camera. One thing for sure, travelling with my family makes everything better.
So, how did our seven-day South Korea holiday go?
AIRPORT TO AIRPORT
Cold air greets us as we make our way to the immigration counter at Incheon International Airport. Lines are already forming as we proceed to get our passports checked. As we need to catch our next flight to Jeju Island, the first stop in our holiday, we make sure we have all the documents ready before making our way to Gimpo International Aiport.
Thank goodness I had arranged for a later flight, otherwise all four of us - Mom and Dad, my little sister and I — would have to dash around like mad travellers.
At Jeju International Airport, Joanne,- my Korean friend, who is also a Jeju native, greets us with bags of locally-produced tangerines and their famous hallabong, a variety of the mandarin oranges. Her gesture makes us feel more welcome. After a brief exchange, she shows us to our car and introduces us to our driver, a happy-go-lucky ajushi (or uncle), who insists I call him Johny.
The seven-seater car is big enough to ferry us and our bulky luggage around. At around 200,000KRW (about RM800 for eight-hour service) a private taxi service can be pricey but considering we're travelling in a group, comfort and convenience are more important.
We don't do much sight-seeing on our first day in Jeju as it’s raining. We check into our hotel to freshen up before heading out again to meet Joanne for BBQ dinner, a must-have when in South Korea. Joanne has booked a table for us at a relatively new BBQ restaurant that serves the famous Jeju black pork. Again, Joanne extends her warm hospitality when she offers to pay for our dinner.
Surrounded by nature, Jeju Island remains one of those places where it's unspoilt by pollution. Everywhere you go, you'll be amazed by the natural beauty of rock formations, flowers, trees and mountains.
As it starts to drizzle on our arrival at the Gamcheon Cultural Village in Busan, a kind-hearted grandmother and perhaps, daughter-in-law, invite us to go into their humble stall and stay as long as we have to. I love how these locals are always so welcoming and treat us like one of their own. Perhaps it's my attempt to speak Korean that warms their hearts or maybe that's just who they are ...people who are genuinely nice.
Lady luck smiles on us again as our trip in Busan is made extra special with the blooming cherry blossom trees. Just right across the street from our guesthouse is a long stretch of public park, where cherry blossom trees line up both sides of the road.
Romantic is perhaps the right word to describe how it feels to see tiny petals of the cherry blossom are carried by the wind and gently laid down on the ground.
Anyone who has watched that South Korean hit film thriller Train to Busan will definitely remember how its lead character tries to outrun the zombie apocalypse. Rest assured that Busan is quite a relatively safe city. Not a single zombie in sight, just plenty of picturesque scenes, friendly people and easy access places.
TRAIN TO TRAIN
Our next stop is Seoul and we’re taking the KTX KORAIL high-speed trains from Busan. I love the convenience of purchasing the tickets online but it irks me every time that I need to run around looking for a printer to print my reservation tickets. How do you expect a traveller to find a printer? Not all guesthouses have them.
It's an adventure in itself looking for a printer at the Busan Station. We are being transferred from one information counter to the other but none can help us print it. It isn't until a friendly station master steps up and asks if we need help.
He then directs us to the KORAIL lounge area where a young lady with spilt coffee all over her blouse helps us print out our documents, all in less than five minutes. Here's a tip: If you're travelling in a group of two to five person, you can opt for a Saver Pass, which is cheaper than purchasing them individually.
The journey from Busan to Seoul via the KTX takes us about 2 1/2 hours. As free WiFi is available onboard, you don't have to worry on losing your Instagram moments. Food and beverages are also available for purchase in the train. If you're on a budget, there's always free water available as well. Oh, I must commend their clean toilets. There's hardly any smell at all and everything is sparkling clean.
I'm amazed that no train conductor comes up to the passengers to check their tickets. A friend later tells me that it's because the Koreans trust their countrymen will never cheat. I'm impressed by their honesty and professionalism.
One of the highlights of our stop in Seoul is the famous Nami Island. As it's quite far away from the city, we take the ITX-Cheongchun train, which is quite similar to the KTX. The overall trip takes us about an hour and a half as it stops regularly in between stations. But it is a bit confusing for us.
But an easier way is to take the green bus (Gapyeong City bus) in front of Gapyeong Station (that's where all the trains will stop). It costs only 6,000KRW (about RM24) per person for unlimited ride. It may sound expensive for a bus ride but it is not.
The bus goes in a loop, stopping at various tourist hotspots like the Garden of Morning Calm, the Petit French Village (where Running Man shot one of their episodes here), Gapyeong Rail Bike and the Interactive Art Museum. I recommend you spend at least a day in this area.
LAND OF THE MORNING CALM
The expression The Land of the Morning Calm suits South Korea perfectly due to its enthralling natural beauty – of picturesque high mountains and its clear waters. Indeed, everywhere I look, I am greeted by its natural beauty. Flowering trees, the most prominent ones being the plum and cherry blossom trees, dot the sidewalk and in people's home.
Travelling in South Korea is easy for us, even though we hardly speak the local language. Except for a few useful phrases that I picked up from watching countless of Korean dramas and, most of the time I rely on sign language and lots of pointing and gesturing.
But trust me, the moment the locals hear you speak their language, even though you're trying really hard not to make any mistakes, they warm up and will go out of their way to help you.
I am called a 'dongsaeng' (a term used for a a younger sibling or a younger close friend) by a friendly uncle when I try to bargain for a very beautiful quilt at the bustling Gwangchang Market in Seoul.
Now, sitting in front of my laptop and going through the photos from our trip, it makes me wonder, how on earth did we survive South Korea on our own, especially when we don't speak the language?
The answer? Lots of patience, accommodating and understanding each other's needs. Will I travel with these same people again? Most definitely! I'm already feeling our next trip. Yes, it's definitely happening.