HOW TO VISIT SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA? Read more to get the best out of your trip to Seoul, from getting a VISA, what apps to download, and things to see and do and experience in the city.
A friend once said that Seoul, Korea is in “no one’s bucket list.” A harsh statement, but it may be true. If Seoul is so great, then how come so many Koreans visit or move to the Philippines? As a Filipino, there are many things we can learn from South Korea. Some say the problem is its location. The Korean peninsula is surrounded by mega-powerful countries such as Russia, Japan, and China; some of which have taken advantage of them at one point. The country’s history is marred by violence and civil war. Their history and culture have been almost obliterated many times over. Despite that, South Korea today is a rich country and a source of many inventions in science and more. How did South Korea rise from the ashes of its past?
In Seoul, I experienced the best street food in the world. The city was safe, clean, and a true modern mega-city with world-class museums, architecture, technology and sites like the DMZ and the Incheon International Airport. But sometimes, the things that go wrong also become the best memories. Two months before I left, I’ve been using the Memrise app to learn some basic Korean language. Only on the last day of our trip that I realized I’ve been saying ‘thank you’ (goma subnida) all wrong. Instead, I’ve been saying ‘sorry’ (goma woyo). No wonder the locals kept giving me such odd looks! It goes without saying that I highly recommend Seoul as a place to visit.
How to get to Seoul, South Korea
I already wrote about how to use the Skyscanner app to book and find cheap tickets in my Tokyo, Japan blog. This time in Seoul, I got a free round-trip Cebu Pacific ticket from my mother-in-law. My husband and I just had to pay for Php5,000 (USD $100) in taxes, which I’ll include in the budget breakdown in a separate post.
Getting a VISA to South Korea
In Cebu City, the Consulate General of The Republic of Korea is located on the 12th floor of the Chinabank building, Cebu Business Park. Some basic requirements include your passport, proof of ticket and accommodation, bank statements and income tax return from the Bureau of Internal Revenue. We received our VISAs within 5 business days. For more information, visit their website.
Where to stay in Seoul, South Korea
Seoul is the capital of South Korea (Republic of Korea), with a population of about 10 million. As I usually do when traveling to cities with great public transportation, I stay near major bus or subway stations. Using a quick search in Booking.com, I found Ekonomy Hotel Central in Myeongdong. Here are some of the pros and cons of staying there:
Pros of staying at Ekonomy Hotel Myeongdong:
– Affordable at Php 3,500 (USD $70) per night
-24-hour front desk and friendly staff
– 3-minute walk to Euljiro 1-ga station and right at the heart of Myeongdong food street
– Clean, modern, designs. We loved the tiny and efficient bathrooms
– Private bathroom and a communal kitchen
– Free basic, cold breakfast of oats, bread, jam. They offer free coffee and a great selection of Western and Korean teas (my favorite was the nuts and barley tea)
Cons of staying at Ekonomy Hotel Myeongdong:
- Construction and some noise at time ofcheck-in (March 2017)
- Hard to find, even for locals
- The room itself is very tight. No cabinets or tables, or space for clothes and food. They make up for this with their communal kitchen
Pro tip: Print out the map directions from the hotel staff. I usually get this before I even leave the country. The hotel is on the 15th floor and is very hard to find.
What’s the weather in Seoul, South Korea
I was monitoring the weather in Seoul, South Korea for months, knowing that it would be cold when we arrive in March. Seoul gets the draft from Russia, so it’s known for harsh winters. My husband and I came prepared with the thickest winter clothes, Uniqlo heat gear, fleece and double-lined parkas. But when we got there, we were surprised by the pleasant 8-degree Spring weather.
How to Visit Seoul, Must-Have Items:
Pocket Wifi (Wide Mobile)
The T-money transportation card is very similar to Tokyo, Japan’s Suica, which you can use in public buses and subways. It costs about Php 100 ($USD 2) each. We purchased ours from a 7-eleven store and reloaded it in the stations.
3. Apps to download
These are the useful apps in my trip to Seoul:
- iTourSeoul – made by the government. It’s a handy app with maps, travel guide PDFs. When I got lost, I simply used one of the area maps when I lost my paper version.
- Seoul Subway – Metro map and route planner. I couldn’t have survived Seoul without this map, which I used to commute all over the city.
- XE Currency – a basic currency converter
- Google Translate – I just discovered a nifty trick in Google translate. Turns out, I can type in English, click the Korean version and make it view full screen on my phone. When I was in a bookstore looking for a paperback version, that’s I what I showed to the store associate. They understood right away.
One of the best airports in the world – Incheon International Airport
If I have to fall in love with an airport, Incheon International is the one. It’s consistently awarded as one of the best airports in the world. There are free museums, shower and sleeping areas. The shop and food sections are plentiful. On the 4th floor, there’s a “Korean Town” where my husband and I shared a large traditional Korean meal for Php 415 (USD $8). My favorite is the automatic tax refund machines that scan passports in seconds.
How to get from Incheon Airport To Seoul
The Incheon International Airport is about 50 kilometers to Seoul. There are several options to get to and from the airport:
- Airport Limousine Bus – If you just do a quick Google search of “Seoul airport limousine bus,” you’ll find lots of information. This blog also talks about it here. I didn’t use this one because there was none running at our arrival time of 11:00PM.
- Seoul Subway + AREX Airport Railroad Train
Several blogs have mentioned the AREX Airport Railroad Train as clean, fast, and convenient. We used this on the return trip from Seoul to Incheon airport. Just make sure you don’t have heavy luggage because you’ll have to carry your it up and down stairs. Each trip costs about Php 700 (USD $14) per person from Seoul Station to Incheon Airport.
How to Visit Seoul: Summary
- Even before you go, start reading about Korea. I read the usual guidebooks Lonely Planet, Fodors, etc. and watched Youtube explainer videos about North Korea (my current obsession).
- If you have questions or have specific tours in mind, please reach out to our friend Tommy, who runs WonderPlanet. I’ll talk about our tour to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in a separate post.
- Learn basic Korean words using phrasebooks, videos or lessons. Personally, I love the Memrise app. I used it a few months before our trip, and it has helped me remember and pronounce landmarks such as Cheonggyecheon, Changdeokgung, and Changgyeonggung.
- Book accommodation as VISA requirement. Choose a location without any cancellation fees
- Prepare all Korean VISA requirements. Apply.
- Check weather report.
- There are lots of money exchange booths all over town, so exchanging to US dollars to Korean Won is not a problem.
- Download all the necessary Seoul apps.
This is Part 1 of my series “How To Visit Seoul, South Korea” discussing all the preparation. In Part 2, we will talk about the things to see and do in Seoul, including how much it costs to travel there. Tune in!
About the Author
Crystal Neri is a freelance writer who has worked across media platforms in places as diverse as US, Singapore, and Australia. She lives in Cebu City where she covers travel and entrepreneurship at crystalneri.com. Say Hi to her (@nericrystal) on Twitter and Instagram. Subscribe to her newsletter: