People I know visit South Korea for two main reasons: to experience snow during winter or for the Korean-pop culture. I’m not fascinated with winter because it requires bulky clothes and I usually don’t purchase check-in baggage. Meanwhile, I’m not addicted to Korean dramas or K-pop groups. Visiting the country not just for these reasons will expose every traveler to a lot of things that the country offers.
Using a free roundtrip plane ticket from a credit card promotion, I was able to visit South Korea during spring. The timing was great because I wasn’t required to bring heavy clothes and the weather was really perfect for some walks. It was sunny, sometimes partly cloudy, during my four-day stay in Seoul and I seized the chance to uncover the rich history, culture, food, and tourist attractions within the huge metropolis.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
Airlines in the country offer cheap flights to South Korea but please take note that Filipinos need a visa before entering the country. For visa processing, check out my separate post on how I applied and successfully granted a South Korean visa. Arriving at Incheon International Airport, immigration booths have this machine that welcomes you to Korea on your language. After the officer scans your passport, the machine will use your national language, welcomes you to Korea, and mention some reminders during the immigration process.
South Korea has four seasons; winter from December to February, spring for March to May, summer from June to August, and autumn for September to November. Spring is the best time to visit the country especially if you’re after the cherry blossoms. Since the weather is perfect for traveling, expect it to be a crowded season for tourists. The lowest temperature I’ve recorded on the streets was 8-degrees Celsius around 7 in the morning.
Credit cards are widely accepted in most shopping centers, accommodations, restaurants, and attractions. In terms of cash, check the currency exchange first if it’s better to change Philippine Peso (PHP) directly to Korean Won (KRW) or just buy some US Dollars (USD) and change it to KRW when you arrive in South Korea. Before my trip, KRW is a bit expensive so I decided to get a small amount of KRW just enough to buy a T-Money Card at the airport. I brought USD with me and changed it to KRW in KEB Bank, don’t change your dollars at the airport. Banks still have the highest conversion rate compared to foreign money changers.
Travel Dos and Don’t’s
Koreans practice the “claygo” (or clean as you go) system so make sure to return your tray back to the disposal area. They also practice some aspects of Confucianism where they respect people older than them. In taking public transportations, such as subways and buses, please mind the labeled sections for the elders and always offer your seat to them. Bring a Type C Europlug adapter because wall outlets in Korea have these 2 round holes.
Similar to transportation cards in some Asian countries, South Korea also has options for this. Tourists can select between the MPass and the T-Money Card. MPass offers 20 rides per day that includes most of the subway lines, airport rail road all-stop train, and buses within Seoul (excluding the red bus) and Jeju. It comes with different day-durations and price. If you’ll be excessively using public transpo everyday of your tour, then MPass is the best one to avail.
If you only need few rides per day, T-Money Card is absolutely the best option to consider. The card requires a non-refundable 4,000KRW payment. It is reloadable and provides discounts (around 100KRW less than using cash per ride) on subway and bus rides. You can also use it to purchase food or items on their affiliated stores. You can reload the card at the reloading machines on subways or at some convenience stores. Remaining balance below 20,000KRW can be refunded on convenience stores but requires you to visit the T-Money Headquarters (1F of Korea Smart Card Corporation Ltd.) for more than the amount.
5D4N SEOUL ITINERARY
DAY 1 – Arrival
Flight from Cebu Pacific Air I availed from Cebu to South Korea arrives in Incheon International Airport around 9PM, local time. On your arrival, you can buy your transportation cards at the airport and reload it using the reloading devices before hopping on the express or all-stop trains to Seoul Station. Travel time from the airport to Seoul Station is 43 minutes for the airport express train while 53 minutes for the all-stop train passing by 11 stations. Fare for the all-stop train is 3950KRW cheaper than the express.
If you’re planning to get local SIM card or a Wi-Fi device, you can also avail it from the airport. I booked a 5-day 4G Device for my entire stay in South Korea using Klook Travel and picked the device on one of the booths near Exit 6/7 of the arrival hall. The 5-day data network totaled to PHP655. In claiming your device, you need to provide a credit card. The crew will swipe it for a 200,000KRW security deposit to ensure that you’ll be returning the device on your departure.
DAY 2 – DMZ Half-day Tour and Palaces
Early morning of my second day was spent in the most secured border in the world. As you may know, North and South Korea are not in good terms that forced the United Nations to create the demilitarized zone (DMZ) to separate the two nations. The zone is 250 kilometers and 4 kilometers wide. Book your DMZ morning half-day tour at VIP Travels and enjoy the whole morning visiting some significant landmarks in the DMZ. On a clear day, you can also see the North Korean side with their 240-kilogram flag waving on the hazy horizon.
But if you’re brave enough to take a step on the exact border, take the DMZ with Panmunjeom tour. This will allow you to visit the Joint Security Area, a place where North and South Korean soldiers come in contact on a daily basis. If you’re interested on the latter, contact the tour agency weeks or months before your planned tour. It’s not a daily tour and only limited number of tourists are being allowed to enter the JSA.
Arriving in Seoul around 1:30PM from DMZ, you can start hopping from one palace to another. You can visit a total of 4 gung (palaces), a shrine, and a secret garden. If you plan to visit all of them, I recommend getting an Integrated Palace Ticket for 10000KRW. This will give around 5000KRW savings. Start from Deoksugung Palace and make your way to Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, and Changgyeonggung Palaces. End your tour at the Secret Garden and Jongmyo Shrine. If time permits, you can also drop by Bukchon-Hanok villages for the traditional houses and Ihwa Mural village for murals and art installations.
End the long day by taking the subway to Konkuk University to have dinner at the Common Ground. It’s a hippie area for Koreans and be amazed by the shipping containers used to build the entire complex. Trendy shops, restaurants, and coffee shops are available until 10PM.
DAY 3 – Everland Resort
Taking the subway for about 2 hours transferring from several lines will bring you to Everland Resort, the largest theme park in South Korea. Apart from heart-pumping rides, the amusement park also features themed festival depending on the season. During my visit, the European Adventure had their Tulip Festivals on the Holland Village. Of course don’t forget to try the T-Express, Korea’s first wooden roller coaster and world’s fourth steepest roller coaster.
Continue the fun by riding attractions like the Double Rock Spin, Let’s Twist, Rolling X-Train, Hurricane, Columbus Adventure, Thunder Falls, Lost Valley, and Safari World. Everland is not only for kids but also for kids-at-heart that are prepared to try the fun and exciting rides. To avoid the lines, buy your Everland day-pass ticket from Klook Travel.
DAY 4 – Nami Island and Petite France
Spring is indeed great to stay outdoors and perfect for some day tours from Seoul. Gapyeong is a county in the Gyeonggi Province and famous for Nami Island. Nami Island, or Namiseom Island, is a moon-shaped island famous for its beautiful lines of trees and scenic surroundings. It’s also the location of the famous Korean-drama Winter Sonata that took the world by storm.
Twenty minutes from Nami Island is the Petite France. The owner of the property traveled to France and fell in love with the country that he decided to bring it to Korea. Apart from the French-style structures, it can also be considered as a theme-park for The Little Prince. Several halls present stuff related to the Saint-Exupery novel as well as sculptures scattered around the attraction. Klook Travel offers affordable options for the Nami Island and Petite France tour.
Take the time to wander in Cheonggyecheon, a 10.9-kilometer long stream and recreation space in downtown Seoul. Despite the towering skyscrapers, it’s interesting to see areas like this that offers serene and calming vibe for the locals. Don’t forget to drop by Myeongdong Cathedral before you head back to your accommodation.
DAY 5 – N Seoul Tower and Food Trip
Flight back to the Cebu leaves Incheon International Airport around 10PM local time. This means that you can still utilize your whole day in Seoul. Morning walks in parks like Yeouido Park or Seoul Forest before scaling the N Seoul Tower on Namsan, a mountain at the center of Seoul. N Seoul Tower’s observatory gives a sweeping 360-degree view of Seoul’s megalopolis. If your schedule is flexible, I suggest visiting the tower during sunset or night time for a better view of the city.
Before heading back to Incheon International Airport for your flight, spend the afternoon on the streets of Myeongdong for some beauty products shopping, Namdaemun Market for some bargains, and Insadong for food trip and souvenir shopping.
WHAT TO EAT
Our guide on the Nami Island tour told us that almost 90% of the legit Korean food are spicy. This might be a problem for those who’re not fond of eating spicy food. I’m adventurous when it comes to trying out local cuisines so it’s not an issue for me. If it’s a big deal for you, there are a lot of food chains available.
Average meals from low to mid-range restaurants usually run from 5000KRW to 10000KRW and it’s already a heavy one. Believe it or not, food carts are ubiquitous in Seoul and serve as a cheaper alternative. Fried chicken on sticks, chicken kebab, egg bun, fish cake, tteokbokki, and some soft-served ice cream! I had no specific food to try during the trip and usually picks random places to buy food everytime I was hungry. But I tell you, the regular spicy sauce is super spicy! I find myself sweaty and crying after trying a serving of tteokbokki. If you’re bold enough to try the local food, eating will never be a problem on your stay in Korea.
WHERE TO STAY
Budget accommodations in Seoul, South Korea is surprisingly cheaper than Singapore. You can stay at some hostels only for PHP350 or around 8000KRW per night. This type of accommodation offers basic amenities but already enough to recharge from a tiring day of exploring tourist attractions in Seoul. On my 4-night stay in Seoul, I booked my lodging on 2 different locations, 2 nights each. NOTE: I booked my accommodations during a sale from Traveloka where rates were almost 50% off.
Kimchee Downtown Guesthouse
Located near the Chungjeongno Station, Kimchee Downtown Guesthouse is very accessible to Myeongdong area and the famous Namdaemun Market. I stayed in an 8-bed mixed dorm equipped with thick blankets and hot shower which are must-needs considering the weather in Korea. The guesthouse has fully-equipped kitchen, common area, offers free WiFi connection, and common bathrooms. They also have private rooms just in case you’re not comfortable with the shared dormitories. Staff can speak English fluently and helpful enough for some inquiries on roaming around the city.
Few blocks from either Jongno-3 or Euljiro 3 Stations is Seoul Guesthouse owned by the friendly Ms. Jo. When I arrived at the guesthouse, no one was manning the front-desk so I just decided to leave my backpack at their storage and returned around 9PM. I booked a bed in a 4-bed dorm room with mattresses covered with comfy and thermal blankets. Every bed has a near wall outlet and room has air-conditioning unit probably for summer. There are three shower nd toilets for the shared rooms.
SAMPLE EXPENSES | Seoul Itinerary: Below PHP16000 for 5D4N