Friday, August 2, 2013

First Step to Every Well-Planned Trip: Lodgings...

First Step to Every Well-Planned Trip: 
Lodgings...

I sort of fell into this blog while planning my trip to Korea...but it's been quite the ride so far! I started off intending to write about the different hotels and hostels you could find around Korea but the more and more I wrote, the more I realized it was becoming a "General Info" blog rather than specifically about Korea (although, it still kind of is). From my years of being a writing student, I know better than to fight with my muse and just go with her...she can be quite a handful if she's ignored. So my inner battle has been put to an end: I'll do both!



Finding lodgings while planning a trip can always be a headache (or it can be for me, especially when I always hope there will be a big, bright sign that says "best rates found here!") alas, it is never that easy--even more so if you're travelling to a foreign country without the help of a friend from the inside. Luckily, however, the ever-present Google Gods are there to help us aloof people. To someone who isn't quite sure what they are looking for, I would suggest first asking yourself where you want to stay . For instance, I knew implicitly I would not want to stay at a hotel where I could find all the comforts of home (the US) so right there the Hyundai Hotel and Hilton Hotel were out of the pickings. Of course, I had to ask the permission of my friends who would be taking this trip with me...luckily we were all in agreement...Hostels all the way. 

Buuuuuuut before I discuss hostels, I first want to discuss the benefits of choosing a hotel versus choosing a hostel. Unfortunately due to the 2005 Hollywood  movie "Hostel" the word has become tainted with a negative connotation and for awhile I'll admit, I was very anti-hostel myself! Of course in 2005 I was also a 17-year old fool that believed all Hollywood movies were steeped in some sort of "true-story" (...that made watching Paranormal Activity interesting...wait...that's a true story too? Dammit!) But as all children are apt to do, I grew up and my much wiser self realized that not all Hostels are in the middle of Yugoslavia where serial killers like to buy foreigners for their torturous fantasies! This isn't meant to imply that I am a pro-hostel all the way, I think hostels and hotels have their places. Hotels tend to be cleaner because they cater to a clientele that requires they meet certain expectations. Obviously if you stay at Jimbo's Motel, a cockroach is to be expected, but if same said cockroach was found at a Hilton, that's a potentially profitable lawsuit...just sayin'! Nice hotels also tend to be in the heart of the city so, using Korea as an example, finding a hotel or several in Seoul would be no problem. Hell, you could probably toss a rubber ball in any direction and be able to bounce it off the walls of 6 different hotels. Lodging at a hotel is almost always going to end with a 100% guaranteed customer satisfaction (as it should!) as well as being the most stress-free for the traveler. Hotels always provide a fail-safe secure and comfortable environment for it's occupants and that is not something to scoff at. It can be pretty scary travelling to a place you've never been before and equally so to a place where the language isn't that of your native tongue. I also wouldn't suggest going to a non-English (or whatever your native tongue is), foreign country by yourself without booking at a well-known hotel because unfortunately the number of missing persons travelling abroad is ridiculously high...

Before you start assuming I am bashing the name of hostel, I just want to reiterate that I (and my friends) chose a hostel over a hotel--for a number of reasons. First, I'm not travelling alone. That's the BIGGEST factor in not looking into a hotel. The second biggest factor? I'm also in the process of learning the language, so although it may not be an English-speaking country, I will at least be able to get around without *crosses fingers* any serious problems. The other benefit to choosing a hostel--and there are many--is being close to other travelers much like myself. Hostels tend to be very close quarters so there is a very high chance that you'll run into people from different countries and personally, I think it would be great to meet new people from all walks of life. Another major benefit to choosing a hostel is the pricing. Hostels began as what was termed "Youth Hostels" for young travelers who didn't have loads of cash stockpiled at home just waiting to be used. It has since grown to mean any backpacking traveler with the hope of experiencing a new culture. Remember how I mentioned that hostels were "close quarters", well I wasn't exaggerating. Generally, depending on the size of your party, there's enough room for a bed, a suitcase and perhaps enough room to change without rapping your elbows on the surrounding walls...don't believe me? 

I hope you're not claustrophobic!!
Those are just a few examples! However, not alllllllll hostels are like that, in fact later on I will show pictures of the hostels I've chosen to potentially stay in. 

Although, staying in a hostel is the cheapest choice, there is a lot of thought that needs to go into it before a decision is made. If you're like me and a lot of the details tend to get lost in the excitement of travelling then LISTEN UP! Going to a foreign country is exciting but don't forget that there is wisdom in maintaining a modicum of fear! Yes...FEAR! Scared yet? Just kidding, it's not as all bad as needing to be fearful, but caution will do you well, young Padowan! (If you don't get the Star Wars reference then A LOT of caution will do you well...young grasshopper? No? Nothing? Ok, you are too young to be travelling at all!) Humor aside, keep in mind that you will be travelling to a FOREIGN country where the language (unless you are going to the UK) will be different than your own so be prepared and then...be a little more prepared than that! 

**Side Note: Learning a few key phrases is probably (definitely) a good idea; things like "How do I get to the American Embassy?" or "Do you speak English?" should be on your list of "Be-Able-To-Spout-At-A-Moments-Notice". These are phrases you are not going to want to stutter over or "forget" if you ever find yourself in a situation where it is necessary. Chances are these phrases aren't going to be needed (well, maybe the "English speaking" question will be) but it's always nice to have on hand in the highly unlikely chance it will be useful. Safe than Sorry is a quote for a reason! 

Having gone completely off topic, I felt it was necessary to emphasize that little message...back to our regularly scheduled program...

Picking a hostel...Yes, there are some make-or-break/hard-and-fast rules in choosing a hostel (or even a hotel!).  First decide where you want to go, you'd think this would be obvious, but it's a little more complicated than saying "I'm going to Korea!"--Well, that's fabulous but where in Korea are you going cause if you're going to spend most of your time in Busan, the last place you're going to want to find a place to lodge will be in Seoul--I advise you look at a map of Korea to understand the reference. I knew I was going to be staying relatively close to Seoul for most of my trip so I knew I would be looking at the areas surrounding the giant city. So that basically left me with Incheon or Seoul. At first the thought of staying in Seoul was intimidating because well..1) it's huge; 2) it's incredibly busy. We wanted to stay somewhere quieter but unfortunately, because Seoul is so huge, Incheon was almost immediately thrown out due to the fact that it is a 30 minute bus/subway ride away and who wants to take an hour ride a day to see a city we'll mostly be travelling to everyday? So knowing where you're going to be spending most your time will be incredibly helpful in deciding where your "base camp" will be. Luckily in Korea, hostels are almost as popular as hotels so it wasn't hard to find an abundant number of hostels but I will give mad props (there's that word again...I'm referring to my last blog) to HostelWorld.com because it is a fantastic resource for finding hotels, hostels and B&B's! Agoda.com is also worthy of mention although, I think they primarily cater to the Asian countries...but don't quote me...seriously...Anywho, these two sites were incredibly helpful as they not only list descriptions, but pricing, facilities, pictures and (most importantly) reviews! Another hard-and-fast rule is distinguishing what is most important to you in terms of amenities. What do you need from the place you're staying? Things like currency exchange, city information, bathroom arrangements, curfews, security, 24 hour assistance, etc. Things like this should be thoroughly considered and noted before deciding on a place. Piece of advice...be as specific as you think you need to be before starting your search. Think of it as apartment shopping but on a very, very temporary scale. The place you choose will be your port of harbor for the remainder of your stay (if you're are staying in one place) and should be a place you feel comfortable returning too.

One last thing before I discuss the hostels I found--don't base your decision on pictures, descriptions or pricing alone. I mentioned it earlier but any smart traveler always looks for word-of-mouth (reviews) before choosing a place. If the reviews are crappy, then it's probably not a place that you want to stay in. Reviews, when travelling, are your best friends! When you've completed your stay...you should also leave a review for the place you stay for future travelers...SHARE THE LOVE!

So, moving on to the hostels I've chosen as potential winners:

 First up is Inside Backpackers! (or Backpackers Inside, I'm not sure)



This place simply looks amazing! The reviews give it an average of 90% (accordingly to hostelworld.com) Of course, you don't have to do the deluxe suite however, I like to have a personal bathroom that I don't have to share with a dozen people so a suite will be necessary but it also comes with a personal kitchen and a few other amenities that would useful for a week adventure in Korea. Backpackers Inside (or Inside Backpackers) can be found north of the heart of soul:

A: Backpackers Inside
A few of the facilities this hostel provides is 24 hour security, currency exchange, free internet, breakfast included, linen provided, laundry facilities, and a safety deposit box at the front desk! That's not even all of the amenities this place provides but these are the most important to my travelling entourage (I wish it was an entourage anyway).  The other great thing..no curfew! The pricing is also ridiculously amazing! For 4 people to stay at a hostel for 7 days is roughly what it would cost to stay at a hotel per night!!!  Like I said...amazing! Please, please, please check out the website if you want more details, but for the sake of this blog, I'm keeping it fairly simple.

**Side note: Things to look for in hostels in Korea is linen! Not all hostels provide linen so unless you are cool with sleeping on the hardwood floor with no blankets, pillows and such, make sure your hostel provides them!

Second place is Jin's Paradise!





This hostel also had a higher rating (92% at hostelworld.com) and I'm almost sure this will be the winner for a few reasons which I will list here. First, the amenities are good; 24 hour reception/security, bicycle hire, internet access, laundry facilities, pool table/night club/restaurant/bar, ATM/currency exchange, key card access, house keeping, safety deposit boxes, and mini-supermarket. This place has crazy amenities, especially the bicycle hire! As I stated earlier, Seoul is a huge city and although I imagine we'll be using taxis and buses at some point, it's also nice to be out walking and riding around to see the city!  The location is also the complete opposite to Backpackers Inside and happens to be closer to a lot of the places I want to go:


Black Star: Jin's Paradise, Red Star: Hongdae,
Purple Star: Namsan Tower, Blue Star: Namdaemun Market
Green Star: Banpo Bridge
If I'm being completely honest, this location is pulling some heavy weight because it's closer to the things I want to see but I haven't completed my list yet, which is why Backpackers Inside is still in the running. I hope others look into these two places when choosing a place in Korea. I will keep going back to check reviews between now and my booking so check them out!

I don't think there's anything else I want to mention about choosing lodgings but I'm always learning and if I find other notable pieces of advice, I'll make sure to list them in a future blog. Please feel free to leave comments with any pieces of advice you've learned from your travels abroad, anything would be much appreciated! If you're travelling soon, please stay safe and have fun!

Now, onto the winners of today's "Artist/KDrama of the Blog"

Artist: In honor of this artist's military enlistment (and the fact that I will miss his OST songs immensely) I've chosen:
Yesung
(Kim Jong-woon)
This artist is considered the shy one with a few quirky habits such as touching people's faces but he is incredibly endearing! His biggest fear is being forgotten while he's away, so I'm showing my support!

Yesung is the Background Voice (<Listen during second chorus) for Super Junior which is unfortunate because he has the best voice in the whole 11-man group. Employees of SMent actually Ranked  the members and it was no surprised when Yesung claimed the number one spot. His deep timbre is soothing and the power he puts behind voice is what makes him King of the voices of Super Junior. Funny that I should use the word King because Yesung is also known as the King of OSTs due to the fact that he is the most sought after singer for OSTs (OSTs = Original Sound Tracks for movies/kdramas). In fact, his last OST song ("Gray Paper") was revamped in honor of his going to the military and was sung by his fellow K.R.Y. members, Kyuhyun and Ryewook, during their Super Show 5 in Japan but with a special ending. Due the restrictions on Korean personnel in the military, Yesung cannot show his face on social networks but that didn't stop his members from honoring his much felt absence. This video is even more sad because Kyuhyun cried on stage which he very rarely, if ever, does. Watch the below video if you're curious:

But alas, he'll be back in under two years and he'll be singing OSTs in no time! Onto something happier!
This song ("It Has To Be You") sung by Yesung was chosen because it's my favorite second only to "Gray Paper" and you can see just how much Yesung is loved by his fans just from listening to the audience. His soulful eyes almost make listening/watching him somewhat enchanting. Yesung, yours fans will be waiting! Saranghamnida, Oppa!
Hwaiting!!
Phew! That brings us to...

KDrama:

This drama kind of snuck up on me and slapped me in the face because it was unexpectedly excellent! I have a fascination thing for tormented love so people beware...this drama gets worse before it gets better. But what I liked most about it was that it was honest. Cinderella, who grows up with a silver spoon, becomes woefully adrift when tragedy strikes but luckily...or unluckily depending on how you look at it--she has her Stepsister. Moon Geun Young's rendition of Cinderella's stepsister is grittily truthful in how she lives her life. It's a drama that reminds it's audience that not everything is a fairytale like most dramas would have us believe but also illustrates human nature's ability to grow and become more than what we start out being. Why did I pick this drama? Because Yesung sang it's main OST, of course! Yesung's "It Has To Be You" is from Cinderella's Stepsister. Now normally I would put a trailer at the end of this to show you what the KDrama is about buuuuut...for some reason the KBS released trailer (and I can't express this next part enough) shows LITERALLY NOTHING from the Kdrama. Actually, for the sake of being redundant, the trailer is actually a dramatization of the Kdrama--what a drama within a drama...it's Drama-Ception! I know, right?!?!?! So...not wanting to mislead anyone, I'll just say...give the first episode a shot and see if it perks your interest.

Ok, that's all for today so be at peace until next time....

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