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Flying to Korea in December

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It is a challenge getting a December air ticket to Korea.

December is the month where school kids are having their holidays and many families are traveling to winter countries to escape from the heat in Singapore. Tickets are expensive and many cheap fares are sold out. It is the only time I can visit Kimchi boy because NUS gives a one month break in December for all students.

This year is my final semester as a student of NUS, it will be the last time to have the freedom to travel more than a month in Korea. When I start working, I will probably only get a week of leave to travel and when that time comes, I will once again have to make the tough decision of choosing between seeing Kimchi boy in Korea, or visiting my family in Taiwan. I haven't been a very good grand daughter because for the past two years, I have chosen Korea.

This year, I have chosen to fly with Vietnam Airlines because they provided the cheapest fare and the shortest transit duration. I'd paid $600 for a return ticket (~2 to 3 hours transit time for both flights), while last December, it cost $1,200 with Asiana Airlines.

Can't wait to see Maxi & Kimchi boy!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 (See how much maxi has grown in 3 short months!)

Bangkok Waterways: Pixelated

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Bangkok goes by many names and appellations, depending on who is speaking and how they feel about the city. The Thais call their capital Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, meaning something along the lines of ‘City of Angels’. However that name is merely an abbreviation. Bangkok’s official title would probably take most readers half a year to pronounce.  

Anyway, the whole point of this introduction is that Bangkok is known as another, slightly cheesier endearment: “TheVenice of the East”. It got this nickname back in the nineteenth century when most denizens of the city lived down by the Chao Phraya river, or one of its many canals (called khlong in Thai).


The Chao Phraya and its many tributaries have been central to life in the country ever since people turned up at its banks and decided to fish. As well as rising and falling by the river shore, Thailand’s ancient kingdoms dug out a complex canal system from the river in order to irrigate their rice paddies and to shorten sailing time to the Gulf of Thailand.


These days, however, Bangkok’s khlongs are not what they used to be. Many have been filled in with concrete to make way for the march of the 20th century, and the water is rather putrid thanks to heavy pollution.


Despite the Bangkok’s rampant modernity and 21st century transportation systems, the Chao Phraya River is still used to transport around 50,000 people a day on its barges and private boats. A trip up the river to any one of the 30+ piers costs only 15 Baht (US .45¢) on the public barges.


The vast majority of Bangkok’s population might not live in these traditional floating houses or do their grocery shopping in the floating markets any more, but the city’s endless supply of tourists are still attracted to travel up the khlongs.


A note from the Editor-In-Chimp: This article was originally posted here on Travel Wire Asia. Do me a favour and give them a few clicks, will ya?

The post Bangkok Waterways: Pixelated appeared first on Monkeyboy Goes.




Hiking Mt. Gaji

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Name: Mt. Gaji

Time: 5 hours (rounded down so I feel better about myself)

Distance: 13 km (rounded up, for the same reason)

Difficulty Rating: Totally awesome but also pretty freakin hard and exhausting, yet not impossible for a newbie in tennis shoes

The entrance to Seongnamsa Temple / Mt. Gaji Are we there yet? NOPE! Da path. Taken from around the halfway point. See Ulsan in the distance? No? It's there. Trust me. Bless you, stairs! And the poor unfortunate souls who had to build you! Getting close! Bwhaaaat?! Falls colors?

Today I hiked Mt. Gaji, the highest peak in Ulsan! At 1,290 meters, the summit offers stunning panoramic views of the Yeongnam Alps and is also one of the famous “Ulsan 12″ (the 12 scenic sites of Ulsan).

My friend, Taylor, and I left our neighborhood in Ulsan at 10:00 AM. From there we bounced, jerked, and jolted around on the bus for an hour and a half until we arrived at the base of the mountain. Before beginning our ascent, we briefly wandered through a temple. Then, it was onward and upward! … For a little over three hours.

Right from the start, the going was steep enough to leave us huffing and puffing between bits of conversation. At first we didn’t see too many other people on the mountain. But as we got closer and closer to the top, it started to rain Korean hikers. Very well dressed Korean hikers, complete with hats, walking sticks and gloves.  Every now and then we’d pass a small gaggle of them enjoying a quaint little mountain-side picnic. A few of them even offered to share their food with us! More often than not, though, our interaction with them consisted of minimal eye contact and mumbling “Annyeong-ha-sey-yohhhh,” “nehhhhh,” between heavy inhales and exhales. A few times, with some of the hikers closer in age to us, I encouraged them by pumping my fist and enthusiastically saying, “Wai-ting!,” which is their way of saying “Let’s go!” or “You can do it!” That usually got a smile and a laugh.

The trail itself wasn’t particularly well-marked in terms of frequently-posted signs or helpfully-paced ribbons. But it was rather apparent that there was only one path, and one direction: up. Up and up and up and up. At several points the terrain left us no choice but to hoist ourselves along with the assistance of these awesome, heavy-duty ropes. And when there wasn’t a rope, it was time to do some amateur rock climbing. Fair warning #1, if you don’t like walking along narrow pathways flanked by unforgiving drop-offs and skinny trees, where the guard rail/ropes are few and far between, you might want to think twice before hiking Mt. Gaji.

I'm on top of the world! Yeongnam Alps But dat altitude doh! More Alps Purdy. MORE ALPS! Can you spot the Nathan? That's the summit of Mt. Gaji, seen from only about 20 minutes worth of descent.

It took us about 2 hours to reach the ridge line, and it wasn’t until about an hour later when we reached the summit that we had any sort of real view. Once or twice we stumbled upon a lookout point, but the scenery was by far the best at the top, obviously! Taylor and I celebrated our conquering of Mt. Gaji with a Choco Pie or two, and we made damn sure to take plenty of pictures, including one with the altitude sign.

Going down we took a different way, in order to make a “loop” out of the trip. It was at this point that we acquired a new appreciation for those silly walking sticks everyone else seemed to be using. See, back in Michigan, where the land is nothing but flat, flat, flat, if you went anywhere with walking poles you’d either look absolutely ridiculous, uber pretentious, or both. But here, those things are literally life savers. While Taylor and I were busy clinging to ropes, tree trunks, branches, large boulders and anything else we could use to prevent us from plummeting to our deaths, all the Koreans blew past us with such ease and effortlessness, as if they were prancing on a cloud. Seriously, we couldn’t even hear their feet hitting the ground. Just the gentle click-clack of their poles momentarily skewering the path. Meanwhile, we’re eating their dust and causing mini rockslides as we slipped and stomped our way to the bottom. Fair warning #2: the hiking path is a healthy mixture of packed dirt, streams of loose rocks ranging from 2″ to 12″ in diameter, and boulders. A few times we came across some man-made stairs (both newly built and old), but such luxuries were always short-lived!

About two hours later, we were back safely where we started. Our legs were achy, our feet and toes were sore, and our hands were covered in a fine layer of dirt, but we did it. And it was well worth the time and effort! At least now with Mt. Gaji under our belts, anything else we hike in the area will be a piece of cake!

Last glimpses of the scenery as we headed back down! All the smiles for all the stairs! The forest through the trees. It's a bug's life. Probably the most entertaining moment of the day: getting to power-blow all the dirt off my shoes once we finished the hike!

P.S. To get to Mt. Gaji from Ulsan, you can take the 807 or 1713 to the Seongnamsa bus stop (it’s the last stop on the route). I recommend starting the loop from the temple side, like we did, because the view coming back the way we descended lasts longer/is better. Also, if you go up from the temple, along the ridge line there is a small “restaurant” where you can buy water if you run out before reaching the peak (…I did).

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My First Korean Birthday: 3 years older, 1 year wiser (maybe)

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From the boys!

From the boys!

September 18th, 2014 was the official one-month mark for me being in Korea! More importantly, though, it was my birthday!

That morning my fellow teachers surprised me with a delicious birthday cake from Paris Baguette (basically the go-to place for all baked goods in Korea). They also sang Happy Birthday to me in English! And as if that weren’t spoiling me enough, they even gave me a few gifts! From my co-teacher I received  a nice dress shirt and some strawberry-mint tea. My principal gave me a windbraker jacket and matching pants, and the school nurse surprised me with some cute little hand soaps! I was so touched by their generosity!

Then in the afternoon, a few students from my highest level English class came to my desk and asked me to come to their classroom. As soon as I turned the corner into the room, the whole class erupted in a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday! Aferward they presented me with another(!) birthday cake and two very thoughtful cards, one from the boys and one from the girls.

Some of my favorite notes I received were, “Dear Nathan teacher. Hi, Nathan! I’m a student in 1-3. Today is your birthday. So, Happy birthday!! Your so humorous, friendly and very handsome. And I want to be friendly with you. I hope to have a great time with you for 3 years. Have a nice day!” Also, “Happy Birthday! Today is your birthday ~ wow ~ :) I hope you have a funny day :) and you are very handsome haha. Also I’m pretty! I’m waiting exercise together all day!” And lastly, “Happy Birthday Nathan teacher. Today is your first Birthday at Korea. How are you? It’s maybe good. I suggest that play sports more actve. Sometimes you look boring.” HA!

I closed the day by having dinner with two of my closest friends from the EPIK program and, together, demolishing a giant tub of chocolate chip ice cream from Baskin Robbins back at my apartment. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better first birthday in Korea! Who knew turning three years older in one birthday could be so great?!**

**In Korea, a person is considered one year old when they are born. Then, during the New Year everyone is counted as turning one year older. On one’s actual birthday here, no one gets any older. So, at home I turned 25 this year. But to calculate your Korean age, you add 2 years. So technically, in Korea, I’m 27! Crazy, right?

Quadruple birthday dinner on Saturday night! My birthday and that of 3 other friends all fell within a week of eachother, so this is the massive celebration for everyone!

Quadruple birthday dinner on Saturday night! My birthday and that of 3 other friends all fell within a week of eachother, so this is the massive celebration for everyone!

What's In My Memebox: Superbox #33 Collagen Cosmetics

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Those that follow Seoul Searching may already be familiar with Memebox from my previous post. For those of you that have yet to be introduced to this brilliant service, Memebox is a Korea-based cosmetics company that is allowing the world to experience the wonder that is K-beauty one delivery at a time.

Similar to other beauty box companies like MyGlam and Birchbox, Memebox offers shoppers a mystery box of 4-8 sample and full sized products that are all sourced, packaged and shipped directly from Korea to over 45 countries worldwide. Although the products are generally a surprise, with the exception of a few spoilers, the cool thing about Memebox is that you can pick from a selection of fun themes like "Wine and Cheese Cosmetics", "Pinkaholic" and "Blackheads No More." This helps to ensure that you receive the types of products you want.

Unfortunately, I get a lot of slack from my Korean friends about my skin and often get told that I look older than I am. This bluntness, common in Korea, is something I'm still getting used to. Nevertheless, it's a fact that my fair, 28 year old Caucasian skin is already showing signs of aging and wrinkles. Which is why I was super pumped to receive Superbox #33 Collagen Cosmetics ($35 USD).

I had really high expectations for this box and most of them were met, if not exceeded. Here's what I got:

1. Ramosu Carestory Collagen Extract 100 10ml Full size product (valued at $36) Infused with over 17 different amino acids, this 100% concentrated Collagen Ampoule is meant to deliver intense hydration to facilitate cell regeneration.

This product was a bit difficult to assemble and it definitely brought me back to my nursing school days of preparing injections. Application was easy and it only required a few drops, but I felt that it didn't provide the hydration I was expecting and should be used with other products to be fully effective. Considering this product is used in many Korean aesthetic salons, I'm hoping for good results with continued use.

2. The Skin House Wrinkle Collagen Free Spot 30ml Full size product ($28) This wrinkle-care product is packed with collagen and adenosine components for delivering deep, intense nourishment to the skin to nullify the signs of aging by filling in between fine lines and wrinkles.

I had just run out of my Innisfree Eco Science Wrinkle Spot Essence so I was happy this spot cream was included in the box, as it has the same function. It can be used as an eye cream but also works well on the forehead and in the smile lines. I felt it wasn't as moisturizing as my Innisfree cream (which costs about the same) but absorbed faster and better.

3. Deweytree Real Collagen Nutrition Serum 50ml Full size product ($39) Deeply moisturizing and nourishing, this facial serum infused with high concentrates of collagen treats enlarged pores, sagging skin, and signs of aging with its highly moisturizing and nutritious formula which catalyzes skin regeneration and renewal.

This product is hands-down my favorite, not only from this Memebox, but among all the cosmetics I've bought this past year. This silky serum glides on easily and makes my skin feel baby-soft. This product in itself is worth the purchase of this particular box... I just wish there were more of it.

4. 3W Clinic Collagen Make-up Base 50ml Full size product ($30) This silicon-type collagen make-up base contains blemish-control powder components for matting out and preparing the skin condition before foundation application.

I had been wanting to buy a green-tinted base for a while to neutralize the redness in my skin- a big complex of mine- so I was eager to try this product first. I was quickly let down, however, as this base didn't blend into my skin very well. In fact, it didn't settle into my pores at all and after I applied my foundation, my skin became flaky and my makeup clumpy. Fortunately, this was the only miss in the box.

5. Dermahouse Collagen Firming Cream 30ml Full size product ($29) The abundant collagen, shea butter, and mango shea butter ingredients in the Collagen Firming Cream work to lock in moisture and deliver beneficial nutrients deep down into your skin. With continuous use, fine lines and wrinkles should disappear and skin texture and clarity should improve.

I'm fairly loyal to Kiehl's when it comes to lotions and creams but I've been alternating my day cream with this firming cream. My skin isn't yet saggy (knock on wood) so I can't speak for the firming properties of this cream. However, I found it satisfyingly hydrating and liked the light fruity scent. It worked perfectly as a day cream but I felt that as a full-sized product, it was rather small for the price. Still, it's a steal since the Memebox itself costs slightly more than the product.

6. Abelle So Hot-Burning Concentrate Ampoule 20ml Full size product ($24) This is a unique hair ampoule that warms up by itself and absorbs deeply into your hair. This highly concentrated ampoule is made from E.G.F, hydrolyzed keratin, hydrolyzed collagen, and hydrolyzed silk (whatever those things are), which all work to strengthen the hair cuticle and make your hair shine with a natural glow.

This product is a godsend, as I regularly blow dry and straighten my unruly, naturally curly hair, causing constant damage. I felt like this ampoule started working immediately after I applied it to my just-shampooed, towel-dried hair. It is to be used once a week for best results so this full sized product should last about a month.

Overall, I was very happy with this box and felt it was a great value for the price. Can't wait to see what the next one will be!

Want to try Memebox? Now is the time! Seoul Searching readers get $5 off on orders above $100 from now until the end of September! Just click this link and enter the coupon code MC13 at checkout to receive your automatic discount. Enjoy, K-beauty junkies!

Although my Memebox was free in return for this post, all opinions are, of course, my own.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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151 Bar: Gungdong's Little Steak and Break

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151 Bar in Gungdong is all about five things to eat and a lot of drinks. Skip the other four, go straight for the steak. Nice med-rare with some sauteed veggies and king oyster mushrooms. They've been open for a few months and have a nice, low-key atmosphere. Bit of fire for eye candy when they cook.

Quotes from previous guests:

"I had a steak there after midnight, I think."

"Pleasant atmosphere. Like a fancy place. "

"...empty except for me. The place has been empty both times I've been here."

"Good steak."

"The steak was delicious."

"Bacardi Silver in a rum and coke that was only 6000 won."

You know how it is in Daejeon--a little place opens up, does everything nice, but for some reason they just don't get the traffic to stay open. If you're in Gungdong, and crave some solid eats a bit later in the evening and don't want the hassle of galbi or samgyapsal, please direct your trotters this place.

I love bars that serve food over restaurants that serve drinks.

Maybe you do, too.

Tell them Daejeon Access sent you.

The full menu.

Mmmmm tasty.

151 Bar

Steaks and drinks

Not kid friendly

Credit cards accepted


Down the street from Santa's, across from Sun Mart, in Gungdong.

Daejeon Access

"What's Going On In Daejeon"

Naksansa Temple – 낙산사 (Yangyang, Gangwon-do)

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The 18 Metre Tall Gwanseeum-bosal Statue at Naksansa Temple in Yangyang, Gangwon-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Naksansa Temple was first founded in 671 C.E. by the famed monk, Uisang-daesa. The name Naksansa Temple is an abbreviation of “Botarakgasan.” The name “Naksan” refers to Mt. Potalaka in India, where it’s believed that Gwanseeum-bosal (Avalokitesvara) lives. Gwanseeum-bosal is believed to live on an island surrounded by the sea along with guardian dragons. It’s along the coastal waters of Naksansa Temple in Yangyang, Gangwon-do that Uisang-daesa meditated. He had a visit from Gwanseeum-bosal who told Uisang to build a temple on Mt. Naksan, which is where the temple is located. Throughout the years, Naksansa Temple has been destroyed by fire more than most Korean temples. The temple was first destroyed by the invading Mongols during the 13th century. After that, it was repeatedly reconstructed and expanded by royal order in 1467, 1469, 1631, and 1643. After all this expansion, the temple was completely destroyed during the Korean War in 1953. It was from this period in time that most of the temple buildings dated back to, but it was the April, 2005 fire that was most damaging. It completely destroyed Naksansa Temple including a 15th century temple bell that just so happened to be a national treasure. Fortunately for us, the temple has been completely rebuilt for an all new generation of temple adventurers.

You make your way up to the temple from the temple parking lot. The well-manicured grounds are something to enjoy as you make your way to the temple grounds. The first thing to greet you at the temple is the fortress like entry gate.

Walking a little further, and finally cresting the hill that Naksansa Temple sits upon, you’ll notice the rebuilt bell pavilion to the far left side. Straight ahead is the Cheonwangmun Gate with the Four Heavenly Kings inside with bulging eyes. The next structure to greet you is the strangely shaped Binil-ru Pavilion that seems to be just as wide as it is long. Typically, these types of pavilions are rather long in length.

Having passed through the crescent-shaped gate, you’ll enter into the lower courtyard at Naksansa Temple. Other than collecting your breath or sitting to enjoy the view, there is nothing for a visitor to see. You’ll have to go a little further if you want to see anything.

Past a gate that is adorned with descriptive murals of both the guardians Heng and Ha is the upper courtyard. Resting in the middle of the upper courtyard is a seven-tier stone pagoda that was purportedly constructed, at least in part, by Uisang-daesa. Housed inside the ornately decorated Wontong-jeon main hall is a slender statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. With a large golden crown on her head, she sits all alone in the main hall.

However, the real highlight to this temple is the crowning Gwaseeum-bosal statue that’s called Haesugwaneumsang (해수관음입상). Standing 18 metres in height, the serene-looking Gwanseeum-bosal looks out towards the southeast. The peaceful, granite statue was first constructed in 1977 and it took 700 tons of granite to build. It’s perhaps the most beautiful of its kind in all of Korea.

After having seen the Haesugwaneumsang statue of Gwanseeum-bosal, you can take a path down towards the lower courtyard which houses the large sized Bota-jeon. The exterior walls to this hall are painted in some of the most original murals dedicated to Uisang-daesa in all of Korea. The murals cover the duration of the famed monk’s life like his voyage home with Lady Seonmyo at his back as he returns to Korea, as well as the floating rock mural from the establishment of Buseoksa Temple. Inside this hall are some of the 33 incarnations of Gwanseeum-bosal. They are both beautifully and masterfully executed. Out in front of the Bota-jeon is a seven-tier stone pagoda.

As you make your way out from the lower courtyard, you’ll notice a Myeongbu-jeon Hall to your left with the Boje-ru Pavilion straight ahead. It’s just past this two-story bell pavilion that you’ll come to a beautiful lotus pond. Sitting in the centre of this well stocked pond sits a stone statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Naksansa Temple, you’ll first need to get to the Yangyang Intercity Bus Terminal. From there, you’ll need to take Bus #9 or #9-1 headed towards Naksansa Temple. The bus ride will take about 10 to 15 minutes. You can do that or simply take a taxi from the Yangyang Intercity Bus Terminal. The taxi should take about 10 minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10. Of course the crowning Gwanseeum-bosal is the main highlight to Naksansa Temple. With its sheer size and serene beauty, it isn’t hard to tell. There are a few other highlights, as well, like the regal Gwanseeum-bosal inside the temple’s main hall and the beautifully manicured temple grounds. Also, the lower courtyard with the amazing Bota-jeon Hall and the lotus pond are pretty amazing in their own right. Add into the mix the scenic ocean views, and Naksansa Temple can make for a nice day trip in Gangwon-do.


Th scenic walk up to Naksansa Temple.


The entrance gate that greets you at the temple.


The Cheonwangmun Gate at the temple.


One of the eye-bulging Heavenly Kings.


The temple’s bell pavilion.


The crescent-shaped entryway to the Boje-ru.


A look up at the upper courtyard.


A look at the seven-tier stone pagoda in the upper courtyard.


A look up at a beautiful sky and the Wontong-jeon.


The main altar inside the Wontong-jeon.


The beautiful earthen fence and blue sky at Naksansa Temple.


The sites as you make your way towards Gwanseeum-bosal.


Gwanseeum-bosal coming into view.


The serene, and massive, granite statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.


A closer look upwards.


And the amazing view that Gwanseeum-bosal enjoys.


The path that leads down to the Bota-jeon.


The Bota-jeon Hall.


The Floating Rock scene from the establishment of Buseoksa Temple.


Uisang returning to the Korean peninsula.


A look inside the amazing Bota-jeon at Naksansa Temple.


The view from the Bota-jeon out towards the Myeongbu-jeon and the temple’s Boje-ru.


The amazing lotus pond at Naksansa Temple.


A better look at one of the white lotus flowers.

The post Naksansa Temple – 낙산사 (Yangyang, Gangwon-do) appeared first on Dale's Korean Temple Adventures.

An Insider’s Guide to BIFF

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An Insider’s Guide to BIFF    
Printable PDF Version 

Planning Your Schedule

Choosing Your Films

    Read the Guide
    What country is it from?
    The “Guest Visit

How to Buy Tickets

    On-line Purchase
    Busan Bank Purchase
    Same Day Purchase
    Exchange Booths

By Matthew Sidgreaves 

(with contributions from Sarah Hansen and Michele Bourner)

It’s that time of year again when the Busan International Film Festival rolls into town and for once Busan is truly the most dynamic town around. If you’ve never experienced it then you are missing out. Whether you call it BIFF or PIFF, the film festival is without doubt the number one event in the Busan calendar and there is a palpable buzz and energy around the city. The event is truly international with big name stars, directors and a huge media circus all amassing in Busan. So take full advantage of this amazing opportunity; pick out some films, enjoy and be part of the BIFF experience.

The following guide is aimed at first timers and the casual festival goer. I hope that it helps you get the best out of the festival.

Planning Your Schedule

This is probably the easiest bit because if like me you work for a living there are only going to be certain times you will be available to see films. The opening weekend is when most will do the majority of their movie viewing. It’s possible to watch four or even five films in a day, but this can be extremely tiring. It’s important to not burn yourself out and leave time to do important stuff such as rest and eat.

If you are watching back to back films ensure that you leave yourself enough time to get to the next screen or theater. Fortunately, with the building of the new BIFF Cinema Complex, most of the films are in cinemas that are close to one another.

To get from the BIFF Cinema Complex to the nearby Shinsegae CGV and Lotte Cinemas in Centum City allow at least 15 minutes walking time. Both CGV and Lotte are on the top floors of the stores so you will have to factor in waiting around for elevators. If you are more than fifteen minutes late for your movie you will often be denied entry. 

There are also four other locations that are showing films this year: two of the locations, the Sohyang Theater and the Community Media Center, are very near to the BIFF Cinema Complex. The other two are the Haeundae Megabox and the Busan Megabox located all the way across town in Nampodong, so play close attention to the screening venue when selecting your films. You don’t want to suddenly find out that you have to get from Haeundae to Nampodong in 15 minutes! Even getting from Haeundae to Centum City in a short amount of time can be quite a challenge. The subway is the best option and is usually quicker than a taxi. There is also a shuttle bus service available that runs every 10 minutes from outside the Megabox building in Haeundae to Centum City and the BIFF Cinema Complex. How long it takes is totally dependent on traffic and it also makes stops at all of the major hotels, so don’t rely on it if you are in rush.

Choosing your Films

Choosing the right films is the key to having a good festival. A lot of excellent films will be shown, but there will also be plenty that will leave you bewildered, bored or even suicidal! So doing your research, for the most part, is going to pay off.

The BIFF program can be daunting. This year’s program boasts 314 films from 79 countries with 98 world premieres and 36 international premieres. So how to choose?

Read the Guide

There are short synopses of all the films on the BIFF website:  There is also a BIFF Ticket Catalogue, which is available from all branches of Busan Bank. The catalogue should be available on Monday, Sept. 22 or a PDF version can be downloaded from the website here:

The write-ups often can differ greatly depending on the reviewer or translator; not all were created equal. Most of the write-ups are decent and give a fair reflection on what the movie is about. However, in the past, there have been some reviewers that have written massive spoilers giving away important plot lines and even the ending. Unfortunately, there is no way this can be avoided, so it’s up to you if you still want to see it. Also, there are times when the synopsis and the actual movie you end up watching seem to bear absolutely no relation to each other, but that’s part of the fun of the festival! It’s also worth comparing the on-line site and the ticket catalogue because sometimes they can have two entirely different synopses from different writers.

What country is it from?

Some countries just seem to have a proven track record when it comes to film making. Any film from a Scandinavian country is always a solid bet; most of the time you are pretty much guaranteed hilarious, bizarre or just plain depressing. Countries with a successful domestic film industry, such as Iran and India, are also always worth consideration because production values are normally high. If you’ve never seen a Bollywood film then this is your perfect opportunity.

Korean movies are, of course, the most widely represented at the festival. They can also be some of the hardest to get tickets for because Koreans like to watch Korean films! With so many Korean films showing there will be a myriad of genres to choose from; from the melodramatic to thought provoking and sometimes quite shocking films. If you’ve ever seen any of the films from Korean heavyweight directors such as Park Chan Wook (Oldboy), Kim Gi Duk (Pietà) and Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, Memories of Murder) then you will know that Korea produces some of the finest films in world cinema today.

Japanese movies can be quite a mixed bag. But what they do excel at is the screwed up, bizarre and just plain weird! It’s a genre of movie that is quite unique to Japanese cinema and can be quite the experience. So if you find yourself reading the synopsis of a Japanese movie and end up saying, “What the Heck!!”, or words to that effect, then go see it. For fans of animation and Japanese Anime there are usually several films showing. From the family friendly to head scratching disturbing, so choose carefully if taking the kids! (And also note that children under the age of 6 will not be permitted into screenings.)

When it comes to European and North American movies there is often the advantage that many will have already been shown at other film festivals such as Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Toronto and Sundance and therefore will have already been reviewed in the industry press and on websites. It’s best not to read the full review though, as it may contain spoilers; usually scanning the introductory paragraph and conclusion will suffice. The BIFF guide also tells you which films were in competition and the winners at these other film festivals. Tickets for these films are often in high demand, but most have multiple screenings during the festival week. However, many of them, especially the English language films and many of those from established film making countries, such as France, get wide releases after the film festival season has finished, so there is often the chance to see them later.

This year’s festival has a special “spotlight” on films from Bangladesh, Iraq and Lebanon because films from these countries have been ignored in the past. There is also an “In Focus” category this year which is showcasing “Georgian Women Filmmakers” and “New Turkish Cinema”.  The fact that the film festival organizers are highlighting films from these countries hopefully means that they have been selected carefully, so they might be worth considering.

Of course there are a ton of other countries I haven’t mentioned, so don’t only go by what I’ve mentioned above. The key is to go with your gut when reading the synopsis and trusting in the person who wrote it. If it seems good, then it’s worth trying to see.


If you are watching a film that doesn’t have English dialogue then make sure it has English subtitles. The vast majority do, but there are always a few that don’t. If a film has the letters “KK” or “KN” next to it on the schedule, it means there are no English subtitles.

The Guest Visit

The guest visit (coded as GV on the schedule) is a unique opportunity to hear the director and sometimes the actors speak about the film after it has finished screening.  It usually involves the director talking about their movie and then a question and answer session with the audience. Personally, if there is a guest visit for a film I’ve chosen I will try my best to see it, as it can help explain, clarify, enhance and at times, totally change your perception of the film you’ve just watched. However there are a few provisos to a guest visit that you should be prepared for:

Beware of having no English translation, especially for Korean movies. Sometimes they will ask if anybody wants an English translator, so take advantage if you can.  Usually though, either the director speaks English or there are both English and Korean translators who do alternative translations. Some translators are absolutely brilliant at their jobs, but there are others who are just plain terrible. Even if there is no translation, it’s sometimes worth staying, you can always leave if you have no idea what is going on!

Beware the “Over Zealous Korean Film Buff”! Guaranteed there will be at least one at every guest visit you see. They will spend minutes rambling on giving their own personal analysis of the film, often at the bemusement of the director, without really asking any questions at all, but if they do it will normally fall into the next category.

Beware downright stupid questions from the audience. The festival audience are usually a very knowledgeable and amiable bunch and quite different from the cinema goers you get at your regular Korean cinemas. However there will always be the dumb question, it can be quite funny and embarrassing in the same instance!

Finally, guest visits seem to be added and be cancelled frequently. Visit the Notice section on the BIFF website for up-to-date information on the GVs:

How to Buy Tickets

Once you have your chosen your films then the fun starts: Trying to buy the tickets.  To maximize your chances you have to be available to buy tickets on the first day they go on sale and at the first moment they go on sale. Tickets for some films are sold out in minutes and for the opening and closing films often seconds.

The opening and closing film tickets go on sale at 2 p.m., September 23.

All the other tickets go on sale at 9 a.m., September 25.

 For purchasing tickets the day they go on sale and up to the start of the festival, your two best options are to buy them online or to buy them in person at a Busan Bank branch.

On-line Purchase:

This is by far the easiest, quickest and best method. BIFF uses the on-line Korean portal to sell their tickets.

In the past number of years, to buy tickets online you MUST have a credit card. It can be international or domestic, but it MUST be a credit card. Check cards may not work. Also, if you’re using a non-Korean credit card, be aware that the payment will be processed slower than a domestic card, so using a Korean credit card is best.

On the ticketing website, look to the right of the page and you will see two options: “Native Resident Ticketing” and “Non Resident Ticketing”. For those of us with Alien Registration Cards, it is possible to sign up as members and use the “Native Resident” option, however the registration site is all in Korean and you will have to use the Korean ticket purchase portal if you choose this option. The “Non Resident Ticketing” sales site is all in English and no pre-registration is required, so it’s much easier to just use the “Non Resident” option.

You need to enter your e-mail address and a 9-digit PIN when first entering the site and any subsequent visits thereafter. You MUST remember the email address and PIN you use in order to access your tickets throughout the festival. There is no confirmation email sent, so it’s on you to remember what information you use to access the site.

Tickets for the opening and closing films can only be bought online—and they sell out in roughly 45 seconds!! So, you have to be online, ready, and fast with your mouse to get them. There’s usually a team of 4 of us trying to get tickets for the opening and closing tickets and most years we end up with a couple for the opening and a good amount for the closing. If you fail to get tickets in the first minute of sales, don’t despair yet. For the opening, keep trying the website right up until the day before the festival. People will return tickets and if you're online when they're being returned, you can win. Your other option, which I've used many times in the past for opening night and closing night tickets, is to show up at the theater around 5:30 or so and buy tickets off scalpers. You'll pay more than the 20,000 per ticket, but you'll get your ticket. Closing film tickets are much easier to get, relatively speaking. Just keep visiting the ticketing website regularly and chances are you will get lucky.

When it comes to actually purchasing the tickets for the rest of the festival, you are going to need your wits about you. But there are several tactics you can use to increase your chances of success:

The first thing you should do is make a list of your movies by CODE NUMBER. The code for each film can be found on the screening schedules immediately after the showing time and can be found below the film summaries. It’s a three-digit number and it’s what you’ll want to use to book your films—not the film titles. Also, after entering the code number in the code box on the ticket purchase website, ensure you click the “Search” button on the site. DON’T hit Enter on your keyboard as this defaults back to the opening movie and it will show as being sold out.

Once you’ve made a list of the codes of the movies you want to see, I recommend the following:

1. Purchase the tickets for films shown on the weekend first. These are the tickets that sell the quickest because for most people, it’s the only time they have free. There are also two national holidays this year during the festival which will also create high demand. The first is the first Friday, October 3 and then other is the following Thursday, October 9.

2. It’s stating the obvious, but try to purchase the movies you want to see the most first; if they happen to be on the weekend then good luck. If they are showing on a workday, especially during the daytime, then you probably still have a good chance of getting them if you drop them down the list a little. Not always though! I’m usually left unsuccessful and disappointed about not getting tickets for at least one of my top choices every year. Note also that the films in the “Gala” section also sell out really quickly, so if you have your heart set on seeing one of those, it should be at the top of your priority list.

3. If there are two or more of you wanting to see the same movie then pool your resources. You can only buy two tickets per film at a time, but if planned correctly you can vastly increase your chances of success by deciding who is buying what. Divide up your list between you. If there are some movies you both really want to see then both try for these. (See the next point).

4. If there are more than two of you buying, don’t be scared of buying too many tickets for the same movie. You can always return any excess tickets and get a full refund before the festival starts. If you return them after the festival starts you are charged a 1,000 won fee.

5. Have back up movies. Purchase them last, but it’s better to have tickets for something if you don’t get your first choice.

5. Be prepared for the on-line ticketing system to hang and sometimes crash. If nothing seems to be happening after selecting your movie, then start again.

6. If you get to the “Select your Seat” screen, then you are halfway there. However, especially on the first day of sales, hundreds and sometimes thousands of people are trying for the same movie and there might be someone else selecting the exact same seat as you. For whatever reasons, Korean buyers seem to go for the seats at the front and middle first, so by choosing seats further back or aisle seats you will increase your chances, but if the system hangs after selecting your seats, somebody beat you to the punch!

7. If you get to the payment screen this usually means you’ve succeeded, but not always. Be very careful entering your credit card details. Make a mistake here and you have to start all over again.

8. If you don’t get your tickets not all is lost. Many people cancel their tickets before and during the festival, so it’s always worth clicking through your films you missed out on whenever you have the time. For some reason a lot of these returns are made late at night, so try then. It’s also worth looking at the schedule again and seeing if there is anything else that appeals to you.

NOTE: Tickets for all films are available for on-line purchase up until the day before the screening of the film. This also applies to returning and refunding tickets. If you wait until the day of the film you will not receive a refund. (If this does happen, see the “Exchange Boards” section below).

Busan Bank Purchase:

The Festival has only relatively recently offered online ticket purchases, so in the past, all tickets needed to be purchased through Busan Bank (at a teller, at an ATM or via phone banking). Some BIFF ‘old-timers’ prefer buying their tickets via a Busan Bank teller to risking using online purchasing (in previous years, the online ticketing was TERRIBLE. Since switching to the Daum ticketing portal, though, it has become significantly more reliable!). If you’re more comfortable buying tickets from a person, much of the advice in the “On-Line Purchase” section stands.

1. Make a list of your codes and write them in order of priority.

2. Again, you can only buy two tickets per film at one time. If you need to buy more than 2 tickets, repeat the code lower in your list. Sometimes the teller will notice the repeat and refuse to sell you two more, but more often than not, that ruse works.

3. Once you get to the teller, give her your codes, cross your fingers and hope that (a) she wins on most of your shows and (b) her computer doesn’t crash (in the past, crashes at the bank were the norm).

4. You will have to pay for your tickets in cash and once they’re issued. Credit cards are not accepted.

 If you failed to get tickets to the films you wanted to see in the madness of first-day sales, don’t despair. There are other ways to get tickets.

Same Day Purchase:

The festival holds back 20% of all of the tickets for same day purchase—EXCEPT for films showing at the Haeundae Megabox and Nampdong Busan theaters. This is great for those that are not free when the tickets go on sale on-line. However, you need to be up very early to be there when the box office opens to have a chance at getting the films you want to see.

This year, same-day purchase box office locations are at the ground floor (likely outdoor) box office of the BIFF Center and the outdoor Shinsaegae Box Office. They start selling the held-back tickets at 8:30 am. On weekends and holidays, I recommend being in line by 7:30, especially if you want to buy tickets for more than one show. Earlier is much better, though. At 7:30 there will be large lines, but remember, there are hundreds of films being screened each day and the people in line can only buy 2 per film—the chances of everyone wanting to see the same films are low-ish.

That being said, if you’re not an early bird there will still be tickets available for something on the day. Large boards are set up outside and inside all the main screening venues telling you what is available. (They cross out movies as they are sold out). However by this stage you are often getting the dregs of the festival, although you might stumble upon a gem!

Exchange Booths

The absolute last option for scoring tickets the day of the screenings is the ticket exchange booths that are set up outside every theater. A BIFF rule is that you cannot get a refund for a ticket on the day of the screening, but stuff happens and sometimes people end up with tickets they can’t use. Look for volunteers camped out at little tables in front of white boards. If someone has a ticket they want to get rid of, they bring it to the volunteers who record the title of the film (almost always in Korean) and the code on the whiteboard. If a show you want to see is on the board, talk to the volunteers and pay them for the ticket. They will then send a text message to the person who left the ticket who then goes to pick up his/her money. It’s a neat little system-and sometimes you can get lucky!

One final point: Respect the volunteers. The film festival would never happen if it wasn’t for the scores of volunteers who work tirelessly to ensure that BIFF is a success. Most are university students who are looking to interact with foreigners and give their résumés a little boost! They do a fantastic job and as said, without them there would be no festival. So if things aren’t going your way, try to keep this in mind.  

Please note that all of the above purchasing information is based on previous years' festivals and therefore could be subject to change. I also take no responsibility if you pick a bad movie! Enjoy your festival.

About the Author:

I saw my first BIFF film in 2002, the only film I saw that year. Since then it has become a bit of an obsession, to put it mildly! For the entire ten days of the festival I spend pretty much every spare minute I have watching films. The amount I see each year varies, but it’s usually in double figures. It can be tiring and other commitments in life often take a back seat, but it’s also an amazing privilege that such an event is held here in Busan. Being able to see so many films from so many different countries is quite staggering. For the rest of the year I rarely place a foot in a regular movie theater, so when BIFF comes around I take full advantage of this unique opportunity afforded to me.

“Biyaheng Bibimbap” on I-Witness

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Last night, an award-winning documentary television program in the Philippines called I-Witness featured one of South Korea’s most popular signature dishes, BIBIMBAP. Bibimbap is “mixed rice” topped with meat, vegetables, chilli paste and egg. Although the very first Korean restaurant in the Philippines has been serving bibimbap since 1974, it was only recently when this food has gained popularity among Filipinos. Bibimbap restaurants have suddenly mushroomed in my hometown, but unfortunately, none of the bibimbap that we have tried here appeased our taste buds. My husband told me the bibimbap that I used to cook for him in Korea is more delicious. ^^ (I will share my recipe next time.)

The host, Howie Severino, visited the birthplace of bibimbap, Jeonju, where he had a taste of the best bibimbap in the country. He also tried different kinds of jeon sold as street food in Seoul. I never thought that I would miss Korean food now that I get to eat all of my favorite Filipino dishes… but I was wrong.

The documentary wasn’t all about food.

Howie interviewed another successful Filipina in Korea, Genie Kim, whom I have met during the meeting with President Noynoy Aquino. She is one of the many Filipinos in Korea who help fellow Pinoys (Filipinos) by being a multicultural family broadcaster, a volunteer and a marriage counselor.

For those who were not able to watch “Biyaheng Bibimbap”, below is the episode on Youtube.



From Korea with Love




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