I recently got back from Seoul and I thought I would share my first impressions of the city and some tips when you’re beginning to plan your itinerary 🙂
Disclaimer: By no means are these points used to define/offend anybody. These are just my thoughts based on what I’ve experienced.
1. Get the T-money card if you’ll be using the subway fairly frequently to get from places to places. It would make travelling super convenient and the card can also be used to pay for cab fare. While the Korea Tourism website claims that the card cost 2500 won, I bought the same card at 3000 won instead from the GS 25 convenience store at the arrival hall (1F) in Incheon airport. Maybe the price for the card was raised without updating the website, but I wouldn’t know. The balance in the card can also be refunded at the end of your trip. Just take note on the refund policies in the website above. If you plan to refund the balance at Incheon airport, you might want to do so at 7-11 in the arrival hall (1F). Apparently, the convenience store, CU, at the departure hall (3F) don’t offer refund services. Lastly, the card can also be used to pay for your purchases at certain stores like Paris Baguette (I’m not sure if it is applicable for all their branches). Just keep a look out for the T-money logo at the door of the shops and confirm with the cashiers once more. For more information on the card, check out the link above.
2. If you come from a country with much less complicated subway lines than Korea or if you cannot read Korean characters, you might want to spend some time on their interactive subway map . It not only tells you your travel route (i.e. which stations to transfer), cost and duration, it also tells you which entry and exit through which train doors makes for a quicker transfer. In this way, it’ll help you to familiarise with their subway maps, as well as, save you some time from figuring out the map in Seoul when you could spent it on travelling.
3. Also, note the direction your train is travelling towards. When you’re transferring within the subway station, the signs to reach the platform for the trains for the same subway line moving in opposite directions, can be located in different directions. Furthermore, take note of the nearest subway exits for the places of interest you’re visiting and USE THAT EXIT when you’re leaving the station. It makes a huge difference as some stations can have more than 10 different exits and it can leave you totally lost once you’re out of the station.
4. The area of your living accommodation matters, especially if you’re on a time budget. If it’s your first time planning an itinerary like me, than you might want to consider using some of these tips I found useful:
(a) Identify the places you want to visit
(b) Plot out the nearest subway for these places on the subway map
(c) Select a central subway station where most of these places congregate. If the places are scattered, then consider selecting for a subway junction where many subway lines intersect.
(d) Choose an accommodation near to the subway station. The last thing you would want at the end of the day, is to be dragging your shopping bags and tired feet for a 10-15 minute walk back to your hostel.
5. Wear comfortable shoes. I cannot emphasised this enough. Seoul is pretty much slopes and stairs. You’ll be climbing the stairs in and out of subway stations and walking on slopes and stairs as you explore the city. Some of their slopes can be gentle, while in other cases, it can be as steep as hell. It certainly explains why most Korean girls are decked in sneakers and sports shoes, and they look good in it too! It befuddles me how some can walk in heels and not feel their ankles breaking. O.O
6. If you need coffee to start off your day and the place you’re living don’t offer some, try the packaged coffee at the convenience stores. It does the trick and is certainly at least 4-5 times cheaper than the smallest cups from cafes. Also, do try out their onigiri and gimbap from the convenience stores. They’re relatively inexpensive and makes for a good breakfast/snack on the go.
1. Seoul focuses a lot on outward appearance. Most people (even the toddlers) have their hair perm, dyed or done up nicely by the salon. The girls, even the younger ones, are all wearing make up. Maybe it’s because we’re not allowed to wear makeup in Singapore in secondary school (13-16) and later on if you’re in junior college (17-18). It’s kinda weird to see them all dolled up just for school. Perhaps, it’s just me… But on another note, they do all look very pretty. Although some are sooo fair (think a skin-tone comparable to a new pair of white socks) that there seems to be a greyish undertone to it and all I was thinking was … it can’t be all that healthy.
2. An expansion of the first point, we came back to the hostel one night to see the hostel manager with cling wrap around his scalp as he was dyeing his hair. He greeted us like there was nothing unusual but we were kind of shocked. Perhaps such trends/actions on beauty have been such a commonplace in their society that it was not at all out of place. It’s highly unlikely I’ll ever witness this in Singapore. Most people would do their hair only in salons or in the confines of their own home.
3. I’ve had friends and relatives who visited Seoul telling me that Koreans are rude and that there was nothing was nothing much the city had to offer after a while. So I went in with the mindset of not expecting much from the country and was prepared to face rude Koreans everyday. I can even honestly admit that I visited Seoul because many people I knew had already done so and I wanted to see what all the novelty and hype was about. I can certainly see the point about rude koreans. They push their way through crowds, without apologising if they smack you at some point, especially as they rush for the trains and you’ve the random few sale assistants rolling their eyes as they serve you in shops. But at the same time, I’ve encountered my fair share of kind-hearted Koreans. They willingly whipped out their handphones to help guide us to our hostel when we were lost (even if it’s through google map), they walked us to our transfer subway station platform and they were many more instances of their kindness during my short stay there. I firmly believe there’s always going to be rude and polite people in any country, it all depends on the proportion and your luck. I cannot discount other’s experiences but I can safely say I’m lucky enough to have experience both sides of the coin in Seoul. My greatest advice is to go in with an open mindset, put aside any pre-conceived notion you may have developed from watching Korean dramas, shows etc. and you’ll most likely do fine.
4. A lot of people have claimed that shopping in Seoul is cheap. But I wouldn’t go all that far. It all depends on the shopping districts. In most cases, I find that shopping while not super expensive, it’s not all that cheap as well. Unless, maybe if you buy in bulk. If you’re planning to do some serious damage in Seoul, bring more cash 😉
5. If you speak Chinese, you’ll probably get by a lot easier in Seoul than if you speak English. There’ll most likely be a sales assistants, be it a restaurants or shops, that can speak Chinese. It’ll be even better if you can speak some common Korean phrases. Sometimes, it feels like they treat you better or are more willing to offer discounts if you can speak and understand their language.
That’s all for my tips and first impressions! I hope you’ve enjoyed this lengthy post and till the next one, bye!