Hi everyone! Recently I went to South Korea and it was my first time going to South Korea. It was a really short trip as we only went there for 4 days 3 nights. The 4th day was practically nothing as our plane departed at 1pm. Thus, we had to rush to the airport after waking up.
1. Accommodation (Koreana Hotel)
If you decide to search for places to stay, you will find a lot of other hotels. However, my family were trying to find a cheaper option in Seoul, thus we found Koreana hotel. Koreana hotel was much cheaper as it was around 170,000won per night if I remembered correctly. Besides the price, the hotel was a few minutes from the subway station, City Hall, one stop from Seoul station. A tourist attraction, Gyeongbokgung Palace, was walkable distance away from the hotel. This hotel also offers a taxi/cab service of 20,000won to fetch you from the airport to the hotel (cheap if you have a lot of people compared to taking the subway).
However, the disadvantage of this hotel is the check-in time is 3pm. You can however leave your luggage with the hotel if you do not mind and collect your luggage when you check in later. As my family members can only speak limited Korean, luckily one of the staff was able to speak Chinese. FUN FACT: Quite a number of Koreans can actually speak Chinese. Therefore if you have trouble communicating with them via Korean or English, you can try to speak in Chinese in case they do speak Chinese.
How to go via subway:
Line: AREX (Incheon terminal 1/2) -> line 1 (Seoul station) -> City Hall Cost: 4,150won (all-stop), 9,500won (express)
I did not take the express train as I was trying to save money. The all-stop will roughly take 1hour15mins. You can take the express train to save time. Note that the Seoul station is slightly confusing compared to other stations. Always take the escalator if possible you do not want to get lost or risk tapping out with your card and paying more. Sometimes the lift will bring you to a floor that requires you to tap out, wasting money, and getting lost. Following the normal route with stairs and escalator will lead you from the AREX platform to line 1 platform.
If it is your first time going to Seoul, I would advise you to take up the taxi service provided by the hotel to not get lost. After checking in or leaving your luggage with them, you can slowly explore taking the subway with less complicated stations.
2. Transportation (T-money)
In South Korea, you can go anyway via the subway or bus. You can make payment via T-money, cash (for the bus), or a one-way ticket (subway). I would recommend the T-money card (similar to ez-link if you are from Singapore) where we just have to tap using T-money at the subway gantry or when boarding the bus and tap out via the subway gantry at the destination station or when alighting the bus. When you tap in, money is immediately deducted from your T-money card. For the subway, it is usually 1,250won while 900won for the bus (I only experienced 1,350won for the subway once. Not sure why). Usually, when you tap out, you will see two rows as well. Usually, the top row will be 0won which means no additional money is deducted. If your destination is very far from your boarding station, additional money deducted will be shown in the top row.
The T-money card can be purchased from any convenience store. You can easily search for the location of any convenience stores on Naver map (Recommended app for maps in Korea). There is also a number of convenience stores in Incheon airport called CU. You can search for CU here. Each T-money card is sold for 3,000won in CU which does not expire. You can also withdraw the money from your T-money card in CU when you are leaving Korea. CU will charge a fee of 500won for withdrawing the money. If your T-money card is unused for 5 years, the money inside the card will expire. Thus, it is recommended to withdraw your money at the airport’s CU when you are leaving the country. Note that CU’s T-money card design is fixed. If you would like to have other cute designs, you can check out this blog for a comprehensive guide on where to get one.
2.1 Top-up (reload) money
CU offers to top up money for your card. However, I did not do so as I was not sure if they will charge me a fee for doing so. Therefore, I headed to the subway station to top up my card. The top-up machine has four languages available, English, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. So you do not have to fear having to read Korean.
The top-up machine is actually pretty easy to use as it is very straightforward. However, note that those machines only accept cash and they do not accept 50,000won notes unless you are topping up at least 40,000won into your card. Therefore, always prepare smaller cash to top up your card or top up at any convenience store if you do not have small cash. There are lots of convenience stores in Seoul where one can be found every two blocks. Otherwise, you can use Naver map to search for it.
While the current subway station as well as the next/previous station in the subway platform have labels in English, the full Seoul metro map located at the entrance of the subway station is all in Korean. Therefore, I used a Seoul subway map found on Google. You can use this map which is the most updated as it shows that the Gyeongchun line’s last stop is Sangbong compared to other maps. However, this map is not very user-friendly. Otherwise, you can use other maps such as this.
Note that the subway usually does not show you what station you are currently at except at the platform. Even the full map in Korean shown near the top-up machine does not state which station you are currently at. The best is to rely on the Naver map.
Another thing to note is there are not many escalators in Seoul. Most exits require you to take the stairs. There is usually only one exit that has escalators. You will need to do research first if you have to take the escalator to know which exit to go to.
3. Gyeongbokgung Palace
On our first day, we visited the Gyeongbokgung palace after leaving our luggage with the hotel staff by walking there since it is very near our hotel. Otherwise, you may take the subway and alight at Gwanghwamun (station 533 line 5). The Gyeongbokgung palace requires an entrance fee of 3,000won per adult. Only the first courtyard at the entrance of the palace is free. You may pay for the one-way ticket via credit card (self-kiosk) or via cash at the counter. Note that the staff does not accept any 50,000won notes.
Once you entered the palace that requires the ticket, there are many places to explore as the palace is very big (check out the Naver map for the palace’s size). It took us 2-3 hours to explore the palace including spending a lot of time taking photos.
The palace also shows the throne which we often see in Korean historical dramas.
During our first night in Korea, we visited Myeongdong as it is often a recommended place to visit. We took the subway from our hotel and alighted at Myeong-dong station (station 424 line 4). You can also alight at Euljiro 1(il) ga station (station 202 line 2). Actually, it is possible to walk there via Euljiro underground shopping street from City Hall subway station and get off at Euljiro 1(il) ga station if you want to save money and find the weather too cold to walk on the streets.
If you choose to alight at Myeongdong, there is an underground shopping district on the way to exit 5. The underground shopping district is an awesome place as it sells many nice clothes and other stuff at a low price. Most of the clothes are sold at 10,000won.
Once you go up the escalator or stairs, you will reach the streets of Myeongdong which it is filled with night market street stalls. There are also a number of clothes stores and marts on the side of the streets. However, those snacks sold in Myeongdong is pretty expensive as they average around 5,000won to 7,000won. If you intend to head to Nami island, the same snacks sold outside of Seoul are way cheaper around 1,000won to 3,000won.
The whole streets of Myeongdong are filled with street food stalls. However, they are quite costly as each costs around 5,000won to 9,000won. Some of the same street snacks can be found in normal streets of Seoul near Anguk station for 2,000won.
5. Anguk & Bukchon Hanok Village
On day two, we decided to visit Bukchon Hanok village in the morning. You can actually take the subway from City Hall and alight at Anguk station before taking a bus to the village. However, we decided to walk from the hotel to Anguk station to enjoy the scenery and the weather which took around 30mins.
Along the way to the village near Anguk station, we passed a number of street stalls that sells similar food found in the Myeongdong night market. These street stalls sell food for 2,000won to 4,000won.
There are also a lot of souviner shops around the Bukchon Hanok village after taking photos of the nice houses.
6. Hangang river (Yeouido Hangang Park)
During noon of day 2, we decided to head to Yeouido Hangang Park to visit the main river that cut across Seoul. You can reached there by alighting at Yeouinaru station (station 527 line 5) and cross the road to reach the park. You will see many youngsters bring their own mat and pinic at the grass in the park.
At night, we headed to Hongdae, the famous place for youngsters where there are lots of places to eat, to shop, and lots of busking, dancing and rapping performances on Friday nights and weekends. You can reach there by alighting at Hongik university station (station 239 line 2).
Hongdae is basically like Orchard road in Singapore or Times Square in New York. I prefer this place much more than Myeongdong especially with lots of rappers performing and you will see the crowds cheering.
8. Gapyeong + Nami island
The third day was kind of wasted as we only head to Gapyeong in the afternoon as we were waiting for some restaurant to open at 10:30am. If you want to explore lots of famous tourist attractions in Gapyeong, you should head there around 7am in the morning. There are lots of places like Gapyeong rail park (remember to purchase the ticket online in advance), Petite France, and Garden of Morning Calm which we did not have time to go to. To head to Gapyeong, there are many ways. You can either take the subway (what I did), a tour bus, or a private hired van. I took the normal subway as it is the cheapest option which cost me 2,250won from City Hall to Gapyeong station. You can also take the express train which is much faster.
[Cheapest route] Train: City Hall (line 1) -> Seokgye (line 6) -> Sinnae (Gyuongchun line) -> Gapyeong (station P134) Cost: 2,250won Duration: 1hour 30mins or more Note: Train waiting time duration for Gyuongchun line is around 20-30mins [Express train (ITX)] Train: City Hall (line 1) -> Yongsan (ITX) -> Gapyeong (station P134) Cost: 6,900 won Duration: 1hour
8.1 Gapyeong supermarket
Once you reached Gapyeong, be sure to check out the supermarket opposite the subway station across the street. Everything sold is pretty cheap compared to Seoul. A number of biscuits in Myeongdong that cost 5,000won-7,000won will only cost 1,000-3,00won in that supermarket. It is the best place to buy lots of snacks as gifts for family, friends, and colleagues while saving you lots of money!
8.2 To Nami island
To go to Nami island from Gapyeong subway station, there are a few ways. You can either take the Gapyeong City Tour bus, taxi, or public bus 10-4. I took the public bus 10-4 which cost 1250won that took 15mins to reach Namiseom, the town area that has the ferry terminal to Nami island. However, bus 10-4 has a very long waiting time of 30mins if you miss the bus. If you have many friends/family members going to Namiseom, taking the taxi is cheaper as they charge 4500won. The Gapyeong City tour bus, located at the bus stop in front of the subway station, is rather expensive as it cost 8,000won/adult. However, it has unlimited rides as long as you show the bus driver the ticket. It is only worth it if you are taking the bus to multiple places such as Namiseom, Gapyeong rail bike, Petite France, Garden of Morning Calm, etc.
Below shows the route and timetable for the bus 10-4. Check the red box column for the bus timing that I have drawn on the timetable. You can use your T-money card to make payment for the bus fare. Note that bus 10-4’s bus stop to Namiseom is located opposite the subway station across the road. Let me say it in another way, the bus stop is basically right in front of the supermarket.
Once you reached Namiseom which is the last stop of bus 10-4, follow the Naver map and you will see the ferry terminal shown below.
There are self-kiosks or counters where you can purchase the ferry ticket which cost 16000won/adult. Sometimes there is a young man going around selling at a cheaper rate. He is trustworthy as he will purchase the tickets online at a student price and sell it to you. Note that coming back to the mainland does not require you to show the ticket.
In Namiseom, there are lots of restaurants where you can have your lunch or dinner before heading back to Seoul or other locations. Do take note of the last bus’ timing. Otherwise, you will have to take a taxi back to the subway station.
8.3 Nami island
Once you reached Nami island, there are lots of nice sceneries. You can in fact book a motel there to stay over the night. I have seen some Koreans carrying luggage to Nami island to stay over.
In Korea, there are a number of stuff to take note of. It took us a while to take note of all these cultures. These tips may be helpful to you if you are going there for the very first time.
- Bin under the table
- Many restaurants in Korea actually have a bin under each table for you to dispose your tissues. Coming from Singapore, this is new to me as we only noticed it on our 3rd day in Korea as we tend to put our used tissue on the table under our bowls/plates. Please dispose your tissue in the bin! In our first few days, we did not do so and were wondering why the restaurant staff had a 180-degree change in attitude towards us after we dine for a while. My guess was the staff noticed we left our tissues on the table while dining and became upset with us.
- The subway lift’s close door button does not work
- During our first few days, I was wondering why every subway lift’s closing door button is faulty. Later on, an ajumma explained to us that they disabled the closing door button for the safety of the disabled and elderly. So you just have to wait until the lift’s door closes which will take a while.
- Change enough currency before living the airport
- Throughout 4 days in Seoul and Gaypeong, I did not see any currency exchange shops around after leaving the airport. We were so afraid of running out of cash that we did not spend much as we do not want to travel back to the airport to change currency. The Naver map showed that are only a few currency exchange stores in Seoul which are mostly in Myeongdong. However, I did not check them out.
- Expensive food
- The cost of living in Seoul is expensive, especially for food. The lowest price for food are those more rundown-looking restaurants which cost around 9,000won. Therefore, if you are really short of cash, you can eat at Mcdonald’s which has the same price as Singapore or probably the same as your country. Each set meal costs around 6,000-8,000won. The cheapest ala carte burger cost 2,000won.
- If you have not noticed, Soju in Korea is very cheap! It cost 1,980won. If you are from Singapore, a bottle of Soju costs around SGD$10-14. Be sure to try it out!
- Saying goodbye to the restaurant owner
- Usually, the stall/restaurant owners will be happy if you, as a tourist, are able to say goodbye to them in Korean. However, note that there are two forms, annyeonghi gyeseyo and annyeonghi gaseyo. You can check out this blog for the explanation. Those two forms are in the top two pointers in that blog.
I hope these tabs have been helpful to you. Feel free to leave any comments below. If you like my content, do follow me via email. You may also send me some tips if you like my work and want to see more of such content. Funds will mostly be used for my boba milk tea addiction. The link is here. 🙂