Before you even book your round-trip airfare, be sure you already have an approved Korean Visa. Applying for one is very easy, and best of all, it can be free. The requirements are also few and easy to procure. Here’s how I applied that eventually got approved!
My main purpose of visiting South Korea was to learn about Korean Buddhism through their Templestay program.
Templestay (from the Templestay Guidebook in Seoul) “is a journey of happiness undertaken for oneself to the mountain temple, where the breath of Korea’s evergreen nature and traditional cultures lie within. At the mountain temple, you will find your day filled with Korea’s 1,700-year-long history and traditional buddhist culture. You will find the wisdom of being together with other beings from a bowl of rice…”
The Templestay programs are offered by over 30 temples within South Korea, and for my very own journey, I selected the International Seon (Zen) Center, because of its very easy-to-access “within the city” location, as well as the program that it offers – the “Breath & Rest Program”, which focuses on Meditation and Relaxation.
The International Seon (Zen) Center
From the same Guidebook, this temple “is a Zen practice center established to promote globalization of Korean Buddhism and traditional culture. It is open to anyone who has trouble finding time to experience temple activities or wants to rest body and soul. Every Saturday, the center runs ‘Mediation and Dharma Talk’ in English. This meditation session for foreigners is not only for foreigners willing to learn Zen meditation but also for Korean Americans and locals interested in English”.
The Breath & Rest Templestay Program
This program is offered every 1st, 3rd, and 4th weekend of the month. It starts at 2PM on a Saturday and commences with a Tea Ceremony with a Buddhist monk the following day, where in our case it was from 10AM to 11AM on a Sunday.
But, before we get into more details about my Temple Stay experience, let’s start from day 1; how I got to South Korea!
Cebu Pacific Air
For a budget traveler like me, Cebu Pacific Air has always been my first airline of choice because of its very convenient flight schedules, availability, and amazing low year-round/promo fares. I purchased my roundtrip airfare from Cebu to Incheon International Airport last June 12, 2017 for only PHP 5435.56. And, few days before my flight, I have decided to add a meal on both flights, since I would be travelling from the office and straight to the airport. And the best thing about pre-ordering a meal, is that you will get a free drink (for short haul flights). Cebu Pacific offers daily flight to South Korea, from Cebu. It departs Cebu at 3:40PM and arrives at Incheon International Airport at 9:15PM. The total flight duration is approximately 4 hours and 35 minutes + add an hour to it, since South Korea is ahead by one hour.
Day 1: Arriving at Incheon International Airport
Depending on your airline, you would be arriving at either the Concourse or the Main Terminal. The Concourse is connected by an underground train, that transports arriving and departing passengers every 5 minutes. Be very mindful of your belongings; once you leave the Concourse Terminal, there is no more turning back. You will not be allowed re-entry, since the returning train will be carrying departing passengers to different international destinations.
Just like Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan, getting in and out of their major airport is very easy because of airport railways or subways. The Airport offers a lot of transportation options, but the most affordable one would be their AREX (Airport Railroad Express), and further, depending on your budget and available time, you can either take the “Express Train” or the “All Stop Train”. The “Express Train” costs more (8000 KRW) since it goes straight to Seoul Station. Its travel time is approximately 43 minutes. On the other hand, the “All Stop Train” costs less (4250 KRW) since it will stop at 12 other subway stations to drop-off and pick-up passengers. Its travel time is approximately 53 minutes.
Finding AREX is very easy. Just look at the signs above at the Arrival Gates and follow the arrows. Just remember, it’s a subway, hence you should go down. And I would suggest taking the “All Stop Train” since it also uses TMoney – the train card that you would be using should you intend to use Seoul’s underground subway transportation. The entrance to the “All Stop Train”, if you are coming from the elevator, is on the left side.
The TMoney Card can be purchased through a vending machine or at a convenience store located at the far-left side of the entrance. The card can easily be reloaded through an automated machine, also at the left side of the entrance. You can recharge your card for as little as 1000 won, up to 500,000 won. The balance can also be refunded at selected franchises.