What You Need to Know Before Traveling to Seoul, South Korea

With the rising popularity of Korean culture all over the world, be it on the side of entertainment, cuisine, or cosmetics, South Korea has become one of the in-demand travel destinations for many people. South Korea is one of the bigger countries in Asia gifted with a natural charm. One could go endless with the variety of things to do and places to visit.
This country has a more personal touch on me though. The thing was, after watching several Korean dramas (where once I finished a 20-episode series in one weekend, LOL!), I decided to travel South Korea to visit my favorite drama set locations. Nevertheless, you need not to be a K-drama fan to enjoy in South Korea.
In this blog entry, I'd like to focus on giving tips on traveling to Seoul, the capital of South Korea. It's a big city that could get overwhelming for a first-time visitor. But of course with careful planning, Seoul is an easy, cheap, and beautiful destination you can consider.

Seoul 101

South Korea is a country located in East Asia. Meanwhile, the top city destination, Seoul, is located at the northern part. Popular districts such as Gangnam, Myeong-dong (shopping district), and Insa-dong are all found in the heart of Seoul.
While most areas in Seoul look very modern, what's good is that several historic spots in Seoul have remained intact. Thus, you get to see the old and new sides of the city that I find very unique.
The currency used in South Korea is called a won (₩), which is widely accepted throughout the country especially in Seoul. However, one thing I noticed is that most Koreans pay via electronic transfer already. They simply tap their phones to pay in metros, convenience stores, and others. To me, South Korea highly resembles Japan in terms of being advanced in technology. 

How to move around

South Korea has an amazing public transportation system, particularly in Seoul. It's safe, convenient, and organized. Even the locals themselves ride them on a daily basis regardless of the profession and age.

Take the train and subway

In Seoul, I noticed that almost all tourist spots are accessible by train or subway. In fact, when you arrive at the Incheon International Airport (T1 / T2) in Incheon, you can take either the Express Train and the All-stop Train, both operated the Airport Railroad Express (AREX), to reach the city center at Seoul station. While the Express Train is the fastest way to get to Seoul, a good tip to save is take the All-stop Train if you aren’t in a hurry at all. A single journey ticket only costs ₩4,250 as compared to the Express Train’s ₩9,000.

 Express Train
 All-stop Train
From T2: ₩4,750
From T1: ₩4,150
Stops to reach Seoul station
From T2: 13 stops
From T1: 12 stops
Travel time
From T2: 51 minutes
From T1: 43 minutes
From T2: 66 minutes
From T1: 59 minutes
Train interval
Every 35 minutes
Every 10 minutes
First train
05:20 AM
05:23 AM
Last train
09:45 PM
11:42 PM

Use tap cards

In South Korea, a universal card called the T Money serves as your chingu (friend) to move around. It's a tap card that can be used in trains, subways, buses, and even at convenience stores to buy items. Aside from saving time in buying tickets especially during Seoul's 6-7PM rush hour, using a tap card gives discounts per ride. For example, there's a ₩100-discount when using the T Money in subways against paying in cash. So imagine, you can save ₩1,000 after 10 rides, an amount that can relatively buy you a coffee at the convenience store.
T Money cards are mostly sold at convenience stores. There's one at the ground floor of the arrival area of Incheon International Airport T1. The card itself costs ₩4,000 without any load yet. You have to load and reload it separately, which may be done at convenience stores or any reloading machine at the train or subway station.
With one of my long-time blog readers who showed me around Seoul! Thanks Ate Rossel! 
The amount to put in the T Money card depends on you. But to give an idea on how much to put in, I initially loaded ₩25,000 and I was able to use it for 5 days in Seoul and Busan’s subways and trains. The T Money card can also be used in riding the All-stop Train to and from the airport.

Where to stay

Accommodation prices in Seoul vary depending on the area. In luxurious districts like Gangnam, for example, of course expect a skyrocketed price per night. A good tip to save is to stay close to university areas such as in districts of the Hongik University (Hongdae) or Ewha University. Aside from accommodation, food and shopping items are usually cheaper here than anywhere else since they're targeted for university students on a budget.
I stayed for 4 nights at Kimchee Guesthouse Downtown. Though it's a dormitory type of accommodation where I shared most facilities with other guests such as the sleeping room, toilet, and kitchen (yep, I usually cook or prepare my food when traveling to save!), I loved this guest house for its price, security, and location. I scored a bunk bed in an all-female room for ₩10,750 (PHP 505) per night that I reserved at booking.com. 
Both the locker and sleeping room are equipped with pass codes, so security was not an issue. Luckily, through the years of my backpacking, I've never lost anything despite sleeping in a shared room. As a golden rule, I always bring my valuables with me instead of leaving them in the room. 

Where to eat

I find food prices in South Korea quite similar in Japan too: expensive. Well, it isn't bad to eat once in a while at restaurants and cafes, but doing it every single meal may get pretty harsh in the pocket.

As an alternative, I went through the alleys of Seoul to explore its diverse street food. Honestly, they were very filling to the tummy and wallet at the same time. For example, a stick of fish cake is priced at ₩1,000, chicken skewer at ₩2,000, and octopus cake at ₩3,000. At times, it included a cup of hot ginseng tea for drinks! I traveled South Korea in March, which was still very cold and so hot drinks saved me from chilling. 
Watch out for the spicy food though. It's very common in Korean cuisine and if you aren't tolerant to spiciness, a useful phrase could be: “Ahn maep-gae hae-ju-se-yo” (“Do not make it too spicy, please”). 

How to travel in a unique way

As I mentioned, Seoul has managed to keep its history. There are 5 main palaces found in the city, namely: Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, and Gyeonghuigung. And if palace-hopping is your thing, then you may want to rent and wear hanbok, the traditional Korean costume. Why?
Aside from making you look so Joseon dynasty-ish in photos, entrance ticket to the palace is waived when wearing a hanbok. Most hanbok rentals are priced at ₩13,000 and up for 4-hour usage. If you want to buy hanbok and keep it as good souvenir, ready-made ones are sold cheaper at the Dondaemun Market.  
Meanwhile, if you're just after the experience of wearing a hanbok, there's also a free hanbok experience in Myeong-dong. Simply reserve a slot to get a 5-minute photo shoot wearing the hanbok. There are a couple of colorful hanbok costumes and head accessories to choose from for men, women, and kids.

Address: Seoul Global Cultural Center, 5th floor M Plaza, 27 Myeong-dong 8-gil, Myeong-dong 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul. From Myeong-dong subway station, take exit 6 and turn left. When you're at  Myeong-dong (shopping street), you'll see M Plaza building at the 3rd block to your right. There's a huge Zara store at the ground floor of the building. Take the escalator to the 5th floor. It's open daily, from 10AM to 6PM.

How to go to South Korea

For Philippine passport holders, note that visa is required to enter South Korea. For me, it's best to get the visa first, then buy the plane ticket, accommodation, and other expenses once the visa is issued. Anyway you may apply as early as 90 days before the intended travel date. For detailed steps on how to easily apply a tourist visa, I wrote a separate blog about it:

It takes around 4 hours to fly from Manila to South Korea. To arrive in Seoul, there are several airlines with the Manila-Incheon (ICN) route, but the cheapest and promo flights are usually offered by either Cebu Pacific or Air Asia.
Another way is to enter Busan, a province located southeast of Seoul, via the Manila-Busan (PUS) route offered by Philippine Airlines. Once landed in Busan, you can ride a train that takes 3-4 hours to get to Seoul. Actually, during my South Korea trip, I spent a day in Busan and flew back to Manila in Busan. 

Have you ever gone soul searching in Seoul?

What You Need to Know Before Traveling to Seoul, South Korea What You Need to Know Before Traveling to Seoul, South Korea Reviewed by Shelly Viajera Travel on 29.8.19 Rating: 5

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