Seoul isn’t one of the hottest travel destinations for nothing. With Korean culture exploding in the Philippines, it’s not surprising that the thought of walking in city’s streets has crossed our minds. As a hotpot of culture, history, music, business, technology and all things in between, Seoul has something for every kind of traveler.
Here are 22 helpful tips and tricks for your trip to this beautiful metropolis.
Their train lines are amazing
The Seoul Metropolitan Railway consists of 20 lines. Yep, 20. This means that you can basically go anywhere in Seoul without any hassle. But one thing that’s as important aside from the system’s geographical range is its speed and punctuality. Trains have a specific time of arrival, and expect these to be followed to the second by their conductors. Walang labis, walang kulang.
Their trains are also tourist-friendly with all signs and directions translated in English. Plus, the stations are always very clean and tidy.
These apps that will be your BFFs during your stay
Before leaving for Seoul, make sure to download these apps to make the most out of your stay there:
NaverMap – NaverMap is the Google Maps of Korea and you will need it. Also, Google Maps and any other app made abroad that loads a map won’t work in South Korea, so tourist, meet NaverMap, your new best bud.
Subway – If you’re going to be using the subway a lot, the Subway app is definitely a must-have. Just type in the station you’ll be coming from and where you’re going and the app will tell you where to transfer, how many stations in between, the travel time, and most of all, the cost of your trip (so you’ll be able to keep track on your train card’s balance).
Kakao Talk – Kakao Talk to South Korea is like what Facebook Messenger is to the Philippines; everyone has an account and they use it as their main messaging app. So if you meet new friends in Korea, better install Kakao Talk so you’ll be able to keep in contact with them.
Google Translate – Because language barrier.
Always know where the exits are
Another great thing about Seoul’s trains is that there’s more than one exit in a station for easier access to passengers. They use these exits as landmarks so people know which exit to take, this is why it’s important to know which exit is closest to your destination since most exits are far from each other.
Familiarize yourself with the streets
Even though you have a map and the necessary apps, it would be great if you know the street names, or at least the landmarks.
Here’s a tip: Before you start your day in Seoul, make sure to take screen grabs of the map, check the Subway app, recheck the address of where you’re going and how you’re going to go there. You wouldn’t want to waste your precious Seoul time getting lost. Unless of course that’s your thing.
Get a T-Money Card
T-Money is the Beep Card of Seoul. You use it to conveniently pay for train and bus fares.
Incheon Airport and Gimpo International Airport are connected to train lines, so it’ll be better if you buy one in the airport once you arrive so you can ride the train straight to your hotel. A typical 10-station train ride costs about KRW1,250 (about PHP50), so KRW10,000 (about PHP400) in your T-Money can last you for about four to five days if you’ll be moving around Seoul a lot (BTW, that’s probably as much as ~just~ one of your Uber trip from Makati to QC on a Friday. Imagine that!).
And if you’re lucky, you might get a T-Money card with a cute design!
Locals walk quite fast. They’re not afraid to overtake and push you if your meandering is causing them delays so be prepared. Unless of course you actually walk as fast as they do.
Oh, and another thing that you’ll love about commuting in Seoul is that they stay on the right part of the escalator to leave the left side for those in a rush. That’s a pet peeve you won’t worry about anymore!
Know some basic Korean
Unlike the Philippines, not a lot of Koreans speak or understand English well. So who’s going to adjust? Of course, there are some locals who will try their best to understand you, but as a tourist, you should at least go and remember some basic phrases. The thinner the language barrier, the bigger possibility that you’ll enjoy your time there.
For the rest of it, there’s always Google Translate.
Wear comfortable shoes
There’s going to be a lot of walking. A LOT. And even if you the map shows that your destination is near a train exit, there’s such a thing as scale. A lot of famous tourist destinations are also quite far from the stations so walking is definitely something you’ll do a lot of. Of course, there’s always the option to ride a cab, but cabs aren’t that cheap with a KRW4,000 flagdown rate (PHP169). Yikes!
Korean convenience stores are enough
For someone used to the 7Elevens, Mini Stops and Family Marts in the Philippines, Korean convenience stores are a fresh breath of consumer air.
With food like ramen, Samgak, dosirak, sausages, banana milk, steamed buns, boiled eggs, and most importantly, the wide array of ice cream flavors, there’s enough awesome and pretty cheap snacks to sample.
Street food’s great and relatively cheap
You know you’ve always wanted to try authentic Korean tteokbokki and in Seoul, they’re literally everywhere with other street food like odeng (and its delicious broth where it’s cooked), kimbap, and a lot more. Their street food are also relatively cheap, ranging from KRW500 to KRW2,000 (about PHP20 to PHP85), so it’s perfect for when you just want something to munch on.
Have only one meal a day when you can splurge
The worst thing about traveling on a tight budget is deciding between food, shopping and recreation. But if the scale tips more towards food, here’s a tip for: choose only one of the day’s three main meals to can splurge on. For example, you can have a KRW2,000 (PHP85) kimbap in the morning, convenience store ramen for lunch, and then splurge away your precious Won on unlimited samgyupsal for dinner.
Travel (and eat) in a group
What you’ll love about restaurants in Seoul is that they have big servings and unlimited side dishes.
Traveling with a group will be a blessing. Imagine enjoying a KRW10,000 (PHP400) dish split up to five ways!
Tap water is drinkable
Yes, you read that right, Seoul’s tap water is safe to drink and there are plenty of sources. You can bring a tumbler with you every day and just refill so you won’t need to buy bottled water. You’re going to be doing a lot of walking, so hydration is definitely key.
Buy your winter clothes there
If you’re ever going to Seoul in the winter season (usually from December to February), you might want to buy some winter clothes there instead. Seoul is also known for their glorious bazaar-type shopping centers like in Namdaemun, Express Bus Terminal, Gangnam Station Underground Shopping Mall, and a whole lot more. Their prices are relatively cheap, but the quality is excellent and worth every penny.
Window shop first to avoid getting your heart broken
Before you buy that cute top you know you’ll never find in the Philippines, window shop first in Myeongdeong, Insadong, Samcheongdong, and Dongdaemun Design Plaza until you find the cheapest version of the top. It’s a lot of walking, yes, but nothing is more painful than seeing a cheaper version of something that’s worth over KRW5,000.
There’s plenty of pasalubong to buy
Seoul doesn’t run out of pasalubong-worthy things. Just a walk in Lotte World and you won’t be able to help but fill your shopping cart with a ton of snacks your family and office mates will love.
Don’t forget your smartphone
If just for the reeeally fast Wi-Fi connection.
Don’t buy a roaming plan
I don’t recommend getting a roaming plan because there’s free Wi-Fi EVERYWHERE in Seoul and a lot of them are free. Besides, if you really want to focus on the beauty of the place, don’t feel like you have to update your social media accounts every second.
But if you really NEED internet all day…
You can also rent pocket Wi-Fi in the airport for KRW5,000 to KRW8,000 (about PHP300 to PHP500) a day.
Research, research, research
Spend a bit of time getting to know your destination before you even head there so you can customize an itinerary. There are a lot of things you can do in Seoul: shop traditional products in Insadong, buy cosmetic products in Myeongdeong, drink up in Hongdae, reenact Winter Sonata ni Nami Island, shop premium clothes in Gangnam, and plenty more. If you don’t plan, you might just waste time either getting lost or deciding where to go. And you might fight yourself missing some really good experiences.
Take it easy
Seoul is huge, and even if you’re wearing the most comfy shoes ever made, you’ll still find yourself tired at the end of the day. So, in planning your itinerary, aim for about two to three destinations each day because that’ll already entail a lot of walking. Give yourself more time to take things in and enjoy each experience.
Visit palaces in the morning
Palaces like Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, and Deoksugung are landmarks of South Korea’s beautiful history, so you’d definitely want to see them and explore as much of them as you can and preferably with as few other tourists as possible. Palaces can get pretty packed on weekdays, so there’s really little to no possibility of escaping the crowds any day. But if you go in the morning (say 9 a.m.), there’ll be fewer people, it’ll be much quieter and you’ll be able to appreciate these parts of Seoul a little more.
Got more tips? Post them in the comments!