Of First Trips and Many More
It was our first trip together as man and wife. Fondly coined as the ‘Mini Honeymoon’, we chose a country close by to vacation for a week, postponing the honeymoon proper to Europe till spring the following year. Hallyu (한류) was still in its infantry stage but was interesting enough to arouse our curiosity, hence the decision on a package tour to South Korea (the mister’s first visit and my second within a year). Incidentally, it was the first package tour we signed up for: prior to that, we were always travelling independently to nearby countries like Malaysia, Hong Kong and Thailand.
Alas, we forgot to factor in the fact that we would be travelling during the school holidays. While I’m not sure how this works in other countries, it is almost always a bad idea to travel during the school holidays here in Singapore: the packages are decidedly more expensive, the tour groups larger and the tour buses noisier. Unless one works in the education profession or has school-going children, it is advisable that everyone else avoids travellling during that period, AT ALL COST. It does not matter if you love children or not (we both like our nieces and nephews enough) because being stuck on an aircraft or a tour bus with at least a minimum of 2 to 3 different fretting children is not a scenario any sane adult with a choice would want to put himself/herself through.
That said, the children in our tour group were very adorable when they were not behaving like total monsters. In fact several of them liked playing with us because we bothered to interact with and entertain them, unlike their harrassed parents (who were very grateful to us for the short respite). We also met some interesting characters on the trip, for example one of our fellow group mates was the President of F4 Fan Club in Singapore. She was there on a vacation with her father, sister and brother-in-law (left her husband and children behind in Singapore). Once on a long bus journey, she confided that she was tempted to slip away to some place on her own because F4 would be there! In the end her plan didn’t materialise because her elderly father felt it wasn’t safe since she didn’t speak any Korean at all.
One of the more interesting sights during the tour, in my opinion, was this manual raft-like ferry boat (갯배) we took in Sokcho (속초). Unlike most other fuel-powered ferries, this particular one requires passengers to help out by means of pulling a special hook along a cable laid across the channel in order for the ferry to move. Being one of the abled-body young men on the ferry, the mister volunteered one obligatory run and then promptly came running to tell me that it wasn’t as easy as it looked. 😆
We were brought to many locations in Korea within the week including the 38th Parallel monument, Everland Resort, Lotte World, Yongpyong Ski resort, Mount Sorak and so on. Too much to take in, too little time, but that’s the way it is with package tours. It took us quite a while to figure what we wanted out of our travels (after 3 more package tours), but once we crossed that slight impediment that is sheer laziness we never looked back (to package tours).
One major reason why people tend to stick to package tours is the fear that they don’t speak the language and therefore cannot communicate with the locals or find their way around. A valid concern, except that our recent travels have proven otherwise: it is possible to survive with plain English coupled with plentiful gesturing. After this trip, we visited Seoul twice more on our own without knowing or reading a word of Korean, and survived. Of course, things improved vastly the 3rd time when we returned armed with my basic Hangul reading and speaking skills: we got lost less often, and we could give cab drivers very specific instructions so we didn’t have to walk too much. It is possible to explore a country without speaking their language. Just be ready to put up with inconveniences like more walking and getting lost more often. That’s all part of the fun anyway. 🙂