Monday, June 27, 2011

South Korea: Seoul: Gyeongbokgung Palace

2011 June:

We arrived at NAIA Terminal 3 a little earlier than we planned, the check-in counter for our 1:20 flight opened by 10pm. They are a bit slow due to excess baggage of some Koreans in front of our line. We finished the check-in process passed 11pm, when there are only few food stalls open at the upper level.

There is no queue on the Immigration, the officers are too strict, they requested for a company id (which I do not have, because I included it in my check-in luggage) and a returned ticket. As she saw that we will be there for 8 days, she told ‘Why are you staying there for too long?’. Then, we can hear her talking to other officer, “But, they also have a lot of stamps from their previous travels”. Good thing, it ended with a stamp on our passports and allowing us to pass the Immigration Check.

The trip lasted for almost 4 hours and 30 minutes, we were 15 minutes ahead of the expected arrival. Due to weather, we had experience some turbulence. We arrived in Incheon, greeted by the sun flashing brightly from the window panes.

Before landing, we got to filled-up the Custom Declaration. We missed to complete the Arrival Card, I’m already in front of the Immigration Officer, when she told me that I need to complete that other form (haha, how can I miss that one). Then, after 2 minutes of running through the pages of my 2 passports (without any questions), finally the Korean Officer stamped on my Visa. We got our things from carrousel #16. “Cracked, oh no”, after 6 years of travelling over 8 countries on 9 outbound flights – I broke the handle of my luggage – nah!

There is one foreign exchange counter before the arrival gates. But there are more than 3 counters outside the meeting area. We have exchange 200usd for 1055won/usd. Bought our Seoul City Plus card from GS25 and had a top-up of 10000won each.

We asked the Information on how can we reach the Airport Train –near Gate 08 is the elevator, go to the basement and walk on the other side.
You will see the signage below, left is going to the Commuter train while the right is for the Express train.

We bought a single journey ticket for the Commuter train (when I thought that Seoul City Pass still could not be used – wrong move!), and it took us almost an hour to reach Seoul Station.

We had a very long walk before we find our way to Line 04. From Seoul Station we dropped off at Hoehyeon Station and mistakenly took a wrong exit. It should have been Exit 04, turn left and another turn on the second street. I must say, the uphill direction before we can reach the Seoul Backpackers is too stiff and requires much energy to pull your luggage. The street going there is a little bit scary, looks unsafe - but as you get into the house, I assure you that will feel better.

Since this guesthouse is not our personal choice, but due to sudden room unavailability in Zaza Backpackers, they helped us move temporarily to Seoul Backpackers. We arrived at around 9am and since the room will be available by their check-in time at 2pm, we decided to proceed with our itinerary.

Breakfast? Oh yeah, we have no food intake since the night before the flight. It was hard looking for an open restaurant or cafĂ© during Sunday morning at Namdaenum area. We tried to stop at one station, but every store we saw are still closed. Until we reach Gyeongbokgung Station, we saw this coffee shop near National Museum – we had this very expensive cold beef with bean sprouts for 15000won (600php).

Then, we find our way for the tickets (we though, that we can buy it cheaper with the Seoul City Pass Plus, but we did not get any discount). We were able to attend the English Tour in the palace – it was a good learning experience.

In Summary, the kings live on their own palace separate from his queen. The queen takes good care of all the servants and other wives of the king. The heating system of the palace does not use woods due to the smoke it produce, instead they use charcoal. Most of the buildings and arches found in the place were restored pieces due to the destructive invasion of Japan. The uneven flooring in the courtyard is for it not to be slippery in winter.

If you notice, the roof are already covered with nets.  This is to prevent the birds from building nests in between the roof design.

We were able to watch the exchange of guards in the palace at 1pm, the ceremony lasted for 10 minutes. They use big drums and old flutes before the guards do their marching.

Hours of Operation:
- Changing of the Royal Guard Ceremony: 10:00, 14:00
- Gwanghwamun Gate Guard on Duty Ceremony: 11:00, 13:00
- Royal Guard Costume Experience: Before and after the Changing of the Royal Guard Ceremony
- Gatekeeper Military Training: 9:30, 13:30 (running time 15 min.)

We were also able to visit National Palace Museum of Korea.

Since we are still hungry, and to satisfy our craving – we need to look for McDo or KFC (yeah, nothing beats that type of food), we decided to have a quick visit at Myeongdong – and near Exit 07, we had fish sandwich from KFC.

Back at the guesthouse, we waited for 30 minutes for them to finish cleaning-up our room. The room lock looks secure, have clean sheets, soft bed, hair dryer and few hangers. The guesthouse has mini bar, where you can get hot and cold water, a microwave oven, a common refrigerator, 2 computer units with internet connection, it has an elevator until 5th level. Maps are available in the front desk, Philippines is not included in the free international call that they offer. What is lacking? They do not have cabinets, TV has no English channel. They do not provide towels nor toiletries.

After sleeping for around 2 hours, we were able to freshen-up ourselves. We had a quick check on what to see in Namdaenum Market – my sister describes it more of like a Chinese Market. There are food stalls in the middle of the street. Some of the stores are for winter clothes, Hallyu memorabilia, and beauty products.

We tried to look for food that something we like, and we ended up with this store that offers beef and rice for only 4500 – 5000won and a self-service water.

After dinner, had to call it a day. We need to get some energy for tomorrows’ Nami Island.

Updated with photos taken on 2016 November 10 (for your autumn color reference):

We normally take the Orange Line Gyeongbokgung Station Exit 5, when going to the palace.  This time, we took Purple Line Gwanhwamun Station Exit 9, to roam around the square and meet Admiral and King Sejong.  Crossed the street to go to the palace gates.

Upon buying a tikcet, please present senior citizen card to get discount (this is applicable for foreigners).  You can either join the english tour or watch the 10:00 exchange of guards, every after 15 minutes.

I just finished watching my first full length traditional drama, Bogum's Love in the Moonlight, and it made me appreciate seeing the interior of the main hall.  

Good thing, we are still able to chase the ginkgo leaves and able to watch the exchange of guards.

Then we moved to Insadong, it is just so quiet in the morning just like Myeongdong. Don’t go there early, better to visit after 3pm to taste the street food as well.

Drama Location:
Goblin (aka Guardian: The Lonely and Great God; Gong Yoo, Lee Dong-wook) Episode 2 (19:50-20:49th minute, aired December 2016)
The scene when Kim Shin and Eun Tak return from Canada to Seoul.

Last updated: 2017 September

How to Apply for Visa: Guide and Tips for South Korea Trip

Visa Requirements
We submitted the requirements on applying a tourist visa for South Korea. The office is located in:
South Korea Embassy, Philippines
122 Upper McKinley Road, McKinley Town Center
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, Philippines 1634
Phone: +63-2-856-9210 

  • We have printed the form found on their site. (Back-to-back printing is accepted.)
  • We pasted/glued (do not staple) a passport sized photo on it.
  • Included papers are: original Bank Certificate (6-digits), Employment Certificate and photocopy of the front page of my valid passport.
  • If you have OECD (i.e. Japan, Australia) stamps, make sure to have a photocopy as well (actual visa and arrival stamps).  
I did submit a copy of my returned ticket but it was not accepted. Based on their updated version of the requirements, instead of Bank Certificate you can submit land title or car registration – but this is not true! The consul officer still asks for an original bank certificate.

We were able to get our queue number by 8am, and the office started at 8:30am. Behave and follow the rules posted on the walls. We finished in less than an hour. I suggest to be there early so that you can still submit documents to patient Unnie.  Take note that visa processing is for free and lasts for 5 days for first time applicant on Window 1 or 2.  If with OECD stamps, it will only take 3 days on Window 3.

Korean Visa application form be downloaded from: 

Tips and Guide

In case you have concerns, may the following how-to guide, tips or experience help you while filling up the form for Korean Visa:
  • If you are still students applying for visa, make sure to include your sponsor details (bank certificate, COE of your dad or mom, original and photocopy of copy birth certificate to prove your relationship)
  • For unemployed parents that you will be applying for visa, make sure to include sponsor details as well  (bank certificate, COE of your sister or brother, original and photocopy of copy of your parent and your birth certificate to prove your relationship)
  • Place N/A for any other blanks on the form
  • On page 1, 1.7 National Identity No. - place N/A
  • On page 2, Passport Type = Regular
  • Korean Visa requirement for Unemployed:  If you declare that you are unemployed, please have a decent bank certificate, bank statement.  On Page 10, 10.1 Funding Details, the estimated cost define should be within your financial statements.  10.2.a I have defined "myself and my <relative>", 10.2.c I have defined "shared expense on accommodation and food only".
  • On page 3, if Unemployed, make sure to include details of your sponsor (bank certificate, COE of your sponsor, original and photocopy of copy birth certificate to prove your relationship). 
  • Details of Visit = Tourism,
  • Page 4, 9.4 Hotel address in Korea should meet the budget that you will declare in 10.1, and should also co-inside with your financial statements (ITR, bank statement, bank certificate).  If you only have less than 25K php in bank, please do not use 4-5 star hotels address.  No need for actual booking in or other reservation websites. 
  • On page 4, Funding Details, we defined 600 USD for 6 days (to be safe not use less than 300 USD, as they maybe too low)
  • Part of my personal rule, for bank certificates use more than 100k just to be safe.
  • Original Bank Certificate (must include account type, current balance, account opening date, 6 months average balance)
  • Bank Statement (original or certified true copy of bank statements/pass book for the last 3 months)
  • Regarding the type of bank - savings, time deposit even cheque account is acceptable.
  • Copy of Income Tax Return (ITR)
  • Notice: Those who applied on agency, the name of the agency should be stamped in front of the form.
  • For those who are equity traders, you can check this entry on how to request certificate from COLfinancial
  • Visa Denied stories, you can read further on  

Issue DateTypePeriod of Sojourn

For more detailed inquiry, don't hesitate to call the Embassy.

How to search the results of your visa application online

  • Click on Check Application Status link.
  • Even if you have regular passport, which searching keep the default selection of type: Diplomatic Office
  • Select: Passport No. from the dropdown field
  • Fill-up the passport no.
  • Name in English should be LAST NAME FIRST NAME
  • Date of Birth should be YYYY-MM_DD
  • Click on Search.

The result will be showing only if Received|Approved. It will not display if single or multiple.


The releasing time is in the afternoon 1:30pm-4:00pm. Make sure to write down the name of the applicants (Last Name, First Name), passport number and 1 contact number (representative) on the receipt paper upon claiming.

Reasons for denied Korean visa

Beware not to fall on any of the following to enjoy your trip.  If you wonder what are the possible reasons for getting denied results in Visa application, here is an excerpt from the paper slip from the embassy.
  • Your passport is invalid.
  • You are prohibited to enter Korea as per Korean Immigration Law Article No. 11 Sec 1 (Prohibition of Entry)
  • Our record shows that you have previously violated the Korean Law.
  • You failed to qualify to the visa category that you have applied for. [Do not mix student and tourism, if you really  mean to be a "tourist" if you will not study there].
  • The documents you have submitted cannot be verified. [Make sure that the company or HR telephone numbers posted in your COE are accessible.]
  • You failed to prove the purpose of entry to Korea. [Mention your intention like travel/holiday vacation for limited days.]
  • You failed to prove strong economic and family ties to the home country. [Make sure that your bank statements are funded for a long period.  This is the reason why they also require that your bank certificate provide the average daily balance (ADB).  It is for them to see that the fund was saved long enough, not just a quick/fast money that was transferred in the recent couple of days/weeks prior to the application.]
  • Your host (inviter) is not qualified to invite you.
  • You failed to prove the relationship with your host (inviter).  [Same case if we consider "the host (inviter)" like your "sponsor", what they normally accept as sponsor is either a parent, sibling, or husband/wife.  You will normally use birth certificate or marriage contract to prove your relationship.  With that, sponsoring a girlfried/boyfried-level might be difficult case since there is no official certificate that you can use.  I do not generalize this case, but I'm not sure of the probability that you'll pass/fail the screening.  You may do further research if that your case by posting your inquiry/situation in forums, so you can hear other public opinion.]
  • According to the Philippine Law, you failed to give prima facie (at first glance) evidence of your marriage validity.
  • You failed to give the correct information about your spouse.
  • You and your spouse failed to prove keeping a normal marital life.
Applications may apply again after six (6) months with the same purpose, unless there are emergency/humanitarian reasons or application for different purposes.

[Reference: Search for "denied korean visa" to view the sample paper slip] 

Sample Itinerary

If you received your approved visa, congratulations!  You have completed Step 1.  Next, proceed and find your accommodation and start building your itinerary.  Listed below are sample itineraries:

South Korea: Itinerary for Jeju & Seoul v 2011

Text Updated: 2017 September