Traveling is on everyone’s bucket list right now. For the financial savvy people, they probably even have a savings account tucked away for just this specific purpose.
Under all that glamour and selfies and photo shoots and what have yous, lies the nitty gritty but also exciting part of traveling – planning. No matter how much you plan or not plan, you will inevitably encounter something frustrating when visiting a different country especially one where you don’t know anyone. You may experience being trapped in a language barrier, getting lost in their intricate transportation systems, losing valuable items (hope not!), etcetera.
Well I and my friends are here to guide you through some of the twists and turns we’ve experienced in Korea. It’s a beautiful and lovely country and we had so much fun there! Will make a post highlighting everything good in Korea but let me tell you the things we wished we knew before going to Seoul, Korea. These tips could have saved us some time and money but don’t worry folks, we’ve charged it to experience so you don’t have to.
1. Learn and PRACTICE speaking and writing some Korean words (or learn Mandarin as well)
Every site about travel must have suggested downloading a good Korean-English phrase app or get a good phrase book but nothing will prepare you to the real world if you don’t practice it at home. Simple things such as learning the Korean words for the different kinds of food, calling the attention of the waiter, asking for directions are a must because, hardly no one speaks English in Korea and they have the oddest subway signs. It is a PAIN to get lost and also ordering food because either you look like an idiot to them because you don’t know the difference of grilling skirt meat and pork belly or you look ridiculous to yourself. So yes, bringing the app and practicing Korean before you leave, IS A MUST. Also do download GOOGLE TRANSLATE. It saved our lives when we had to translate pictures with words on them.
Some useful phrases:
Cho-gi-yo = Call Attention to the waiter
Kam-saham-ni-da = Great thanks!
Why learn Mandarin? Because the Chinese tourists are taking over everywhere! Salesladies in beauty shops already know how to speak Mandarin so conversing with them was pretty okay despite not speaking English.
2. Note the difference between ITX and Korail (IMPORTANT FOR NAMI ISLAND TRANSPORTATION)
Download the app SUBWAY for a good map of the Korean subway system.
We learned this the hard way when we went to Nami Island. After researching how to go there, we knew that it required 2 transfers of trains. We just didn’t realize that the last transfer was moving to a different provincial train line and required separate and different tickets. What we also didn’t know is you had to purchase these tickets prior to boarding (we actually sat in the train before realizing we had to buy tickets. You could just go in the trains without swiping a card or ticket) and you had to tap your T-money on a specific side of the machine that will prompt your card that you have disembarked the Korail.
This blog explains more on what ITX is.
ITX train is part of Gyeongchun Line and it is a high speed train traveling from Yongsan Station (Seoul) to Chuncheon Station (Gangwondo).
You could ride ITX-Cheongchun to Gapyeong station either from Wangsimni Station or Cheonggyanni Station.
When you get off at Wangsimni, remember to just go down the platform, down the stairs and then you will see the machine that we mentioned. Do not traverse off to a different path because you might go somewhere and be confused with the signs xD, More info on this blog. Here’s a handy dandy map with markers that I’ve included for you.
Click to view full image
There are actually plenty of ways to reach Nami island but this is the ITX route.
Upon reaching Gapyeong station, do take a TAXI instead of the hop on hop off tour bus to save you money. Taxi ride only takes 5 minutes and is quite affordable especially for a big group.
3. Have breakfast in Bakeries/coffee shops like Paris Baguette
Everything opens late in Korea. Well for Hongdae anyway where we stayed. The only shops open before 11 are convenience stores and fastfood places. So you either cook your breakfast or go to a pastry shop like Paris Baguette. Do not go hungry or do not just keep eating fast food. I wish Seoul had more breakfast options though like Hong Kong. Where are the dimsum places??
4. Note down sale months in Seoul for your beauty haul
It’s a given that Seoul is the capital city of beauty products in Asia. A trip down Garosugil lane gives you a view of many beautiful plastic surgery buildings. The products are affordable but you can buy items cheaper when you note down the sale months. For some reason, shops were still on sale although some items were already out of stock on our vacation week from March 1 to 7. Shops were handing out tons of freebies, throwing buy 10 get 10 (basically 50% off) offers and teasing you with more sale products. I couldn’t decide which one! There should be huge sales in January-Feb and June-July but who knows, there could be more!
5. Bukchon Hanok Village is NOT a village
Famous bloggers have made this place famous with crazy jumpshots against an old traditional Korean village background. Go to Bukchon Hanok Village they say. It is pretty they say. Well it is pretty and all but take my word for it, it is NOT a village. It’s not like a provincial town filled with quaint old Korean houses. Bukchon Hanok village was only made famous recently (my friend who went on exchange there 6 years ago didn’t know what the fuss was about) and it’s just a select number of houses. It only looks “traditional” because some houses decided to retain their old rooftops and instead just modernize the foundation and interior of the house.
After getting out of the Anguk station exit 2, we thought that it was nearby. There was a very crowded and lively street filled with street performers (there was a guy blowing huge bubbles) and interesting shops and restaurants but no traditional houses in sight. Following Instagram’s location of Bukchon Hanok, we trekked uphill and downhill for an hour and got lost in between corners. We couldn’t find it! But just as the sun was about to set, we finally saw the lane of houses and got our perfect shot. Well I got a perfect shot of my Sakura Funko Pop but I guess it was an experience.
For those who don’t like to walk a lot, do not go to Bukchon Hanok village and just go to the lively lane with a lot of performers. That’s a better experience.
6. Street food vendors in Myeongdong open late around 3-4PM
Our flight departing Seoul was late so we decided to buy last minute pasalubong (take home gifts) on the last day but little did we know that the street food vendors in Myeongdong open late! So those chocolated covered strawberries/strawberry mochi? We weren’t able to bring some home 🙁 Do your shopping stat when they’re open or plan accordingly.
7. A DIY trip to YongPyong Ski Resort is harder than it looks (especially off peak season)
Thinking we’d save money, we didn’t book a package and decided to just DIY. We’ll take the bus, take the shuttle bus and ski at the resort. How hard can it be?
Well it was hard! First, no one speaks English again when you reach the bus station across Gangbyeon station. Good thing one guy managed to help us get tickets. The bus though has many stops so make sure to note which stop you’re getting off at and the number of stops. After about 2.5 hours, we finally reached this provincial town. There was supposed to be a free shuttle to the resort but whenever we asked (3 people in broken sign languages) what time the shuttle was coming, they said just wait at 3PM. So we arrived at the bus station at 2PM, waited until 3 and nada. It must have been because it was off peak season because usually there should be one. I was already becoming skpetical because there was no sign of a shuttle stop anywhere and it was just in front of a post office. What an obscure location! Needless to say, we finally decided to get a taxi after freezing in the cold for an hour and it only took 10 minutes. So kids, GET A TAXI INSTEAD. Your time is worth more than this.
Also when going back, remember that buses headed to Seoul from YongPyong depart at 5PM exactly. No ticket booths will be open at 5PM so make sure you reach them in time. If you do miss it, go to the nearby hotel and have the concierge get you a taxi and bus schedule at the original bus station. The concierge thankfully speaks English while the people at the bus station do not.
8. Tax Refund KIOSKS at the airport are SELF SERVICE on one condition
Korea’s awesome. They have great products and you can get 8-9% off because of tax refund. Every receipt worth 10,000 won is entitled for a cash refund. DO NOT FORGET TO ASK FOR THE TAX REFUND RECEIPT AT STORES. 🙂
Thinking that customs had to inspect our bags, we decided to just pack all the items with tax refund receipts at the airport. Thing is, you actually didn’t have to do that and can pack ahead if you don’t exceed 50,000 won (the refund that you’ll be getting) because the tax refund kiosk is self service and very hassle-free. It is only when you exceed then you have to go to a different counter.
Save yourself the trouble of packing at the airport and heed this advice. Also to claim the money, the tax refund claim counter is just right after immigration. You don’t have to go so far for it (we went to another counter near a departure terminal which was so far from ours O_O).
FYI this is for Incheon Airport.
9. Pack Light!
If you’re planning to go to Seoul in Winter, you can opt to invest in a warm jacket so you don’t have to do a lot of layering. It’s better to remove one piece of clothing when going inside a heated store or restaurant than removing a lot. But make sure to bring gloves and scarf. Winter in Korea is not kind to our face and hands. Harsh cold winds will whip your face. BRING MOISTURIZER.
Pack light because you’ll be buying loads of Beauty Products of course. And seriously, 30kg wasn’t enough for me when I got back. Haha! I will have a separate post regarding beauty products that you can hoard in Seoul soon.
10. Have a lot of patience.
So this guide may not exactly safeguard you from other stressful encounters so I advise to bottle up a lot of patience. Remember that you’re in a foreign land and your purpose is to breathe in and experience the culture. Things may go wrong but always have a positive outlook. Charge it to experience if ever it goes sideways xD
Thank you for reaching the end of this guide! I hope you a fun-filled and stress-free vacation in Seoul. 🙂 Do leave a comment for any feedback.
Thanks to my friends for their contribution to this post. To our next adventure!