Sunday, February 15, 2015

Seoul City Tour and Traveling to China

Hello again! 

In this post we talk about our Seoul City Tour and our experience flying into China!

On Sunday our tour started slightly later so we were finally able to get our Dunkin Doughnuts for breakfast! But no worries, we didn’t just eat donuts, we had a breakfast sandwich as well. ;)  

We got picked up by our little tour bus from Seoul City Tours and were on our way to see some historical sites of Korea!

We took my parents on the same Seoul City Tour that we took Tyler’s mom and brother on back in November! We really liked this tour because it hit some of the major sites like Gyeongbuk Palace, Jogyesa Temple, and a Folk Museum, but it was short enough that we weren’t flooded with too much information. Not only that, we had a strict schedule that day as
our flight to China was at 6pm!

We got to see many sites! First stop was Jogyesa Temple! We enjoyed seeing this temple again as it’s so interesting that it’s right in the middle of the city! We took photos with the giant Buddah’s, walked around, and got back on the bus to our next location!

See the gold Buddah's in the background?

On our way to the Folk Museum, we passed by the Blue House (the President of Korea’s house). Like we’ve written before, people are not allowed to drive up or walk up to the president’s house. Only tour busses with special permission are allowed to “slowly” pass by. So we snapped as many photos as we could and then off we went.

We think the Blue House is in such a beautiful environment! 

At the Folk Museum, we had a very limited amount of time, but learned as much as we could about Korean History!

Outside the Folk Museum!
After the museum we got to tour Gyeongbuk Palace! This palace is the largest of the palaces in Korea, but unfortunately a lot of it was burned down during the Japanese invasion. They are working on restoring it now. We were able to see the main buildings and learned some interesting facts about the Joseon Dynasty.

A map of what the palace would have looked's huge! 

A short "servants" door. 

Our favorite building! The lake is frozen too!  

We were able to watch the changing of the guards ceremony in front of the main gate of the palace as well before getting on the bus again.

It was just a little chilly! ;)

Our last stop was the “tourist trap” called the Ginseng Center. We were given a whole speech on the way to the center about the amazing benefits of Ginseng and then given a similar speech while in the center. We politely ignored the major sales pitch given to us quickly looked around and then went downstairs to wait for the rest of our tour to finish. Let’s just say that part wasn’t exactly the highlight of the tour! ;)

Ginseng anyone? ;)

The bus dropped us off in the part of town called Insadong, a popular shopping area that has both tourist souvenirs but also really nice pieces of art. We made a quick walk through the area and caught a taxi back to Itaewon. For lunch we had Turkish chicken kabobs at Ankara Picnic and french fries at McDonalds, before grabbing our luggage and heading to the airport!

Taxi Ride! 

We took a taxi ride to Seoul station and then took the express train back to the Incheon Airport. Once we arrived we had a semi tense moment at the check in counter. This was one of 2 very important moments in our journey to get into China. Instead of going the traditional route and applying for a very expensive visa to get into China, we opted to try China’s new program called the 72 hour visa-free entry. This allows citizens from many different countries fly into specific Chinese cities and stay for exactly 72 hours or less and then fly out. There are many rules for this program and there’s also a catch. You must fly in from 1 country but when you fly out, you must fly to a different country. As they explain it  you must fly from country A→B(China) →C. Originally, we did not know that rule and had planned to fly from Seoul to Beijing and back to Seoul again. But if we would have gone through with that plan we would not have even been allowed to board the plane to China! So our new plan was to fly from Seoul to Beijing to Hong Kong and then purchase a separate plane ticket from Hong Kong to Seoul. This caused our tickets to be a little more than expected but we had to play China’s game! ;)

Train Station!

So at the airport check in counter we were just praying that all rules were being followed and that we would be allowed to get on that plane! Thankfully after the ticket counter woman inspected our flight plans very diligently, our tickets were printed and we were able to go through security to get to our gate! Praise God!

After going through the long process of security and customs/immigration (we got our passports stamped again!) we made it to the International terminal! We actually met this really cute couple and their friends who happened to have just adopted this very young Korean toddler and were taking him home that night! What was cool was that all of them were from the US and were mennonite! It was really amazing to see this sweet boy going home to a loving family!

We're going to China! 

So very happy it worked and we got our tickets! :D

After eating dinner we had to kinda run to our gate as they were about to board. When we got there, we couldn’t believe our eyes. There were many people heading back to China with SO many shopping bags! We were not sure how they were going to get all of that stuff on the plane, but they sure did try! As we got into our seats these people kept coming with all of their stuff. Flight attendants were trying so hard to find little spaces in the overhead compartment to put the shopping bags in. Somehow it all worked out and we were officially ready to fly to China!!

This airline, Air China, was great! We had comfortable seats, a full meal (we were super excited about that even though we had just ate!), and the flight was not full at all so we could recline our seats guilt free! It was a short flight and before we knew it we were landing in China!

Our plane! 

When we arrived we had to go through the 2nd tense part of our journey to China. Now that we were there, China had to make sure all rules were being followed again, so we stood waiting for confirmation from China Immigration. Thankfully, we could all breathe a sigh of relief when the guard stamped Tyler’s passport first, indicating we were good to go!

Our passports received many stamps during this trip! 
We booked this 3 day China tour through “” and was very impressed with this tour company. It was a private tour so we were met by our amazing guide, Leif, at the airport. He walked us out to our driver and van and then we headed into Beijing to our hotel. The whole way there we were tired, but very fascinated by all the information Leif was giving us about the various sites we were seeing.

Our guide, Leif!
It took us about 40 minutes to get to our hotel, thankfully, there wasn’t too much Beijing traffic. When choosing the tour package we had the option to stay in a “standard” hotel (4 Stars) or a “luxury” hotel (5 stars). Obviously we wanted to save money and weren’t going to be too picky about hotels so we went for the standard. We were so very happily surprised with the quality of this hotel. It was a Holiday Inn hotel in Beijing and was very nice. Our rooms were beautiful and very comfortable. We also had a free buffet breakfast each morning that had both Western and Chinese choices. It was a great deal for 3 nights!

Cute little sitting area.

Beautiful bathroom....with a actual tub! 
Comfy bed!

That night we all slept very well in preparation for the next days big event...The Great Wall!!

Stay tuned for our next blog about that and the other many sites we saw!

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