Travel Itinerary: A Beginner's Guide to SeoulDecember 28, 2014
If you want to read the blog/web version, here it is.
3G SIM cards are difficult and expensive to buy in Seoul. It is possible to pick one up from the airport, or get a WIFI egg, but it works out to be about SGD38 a day.
Seoul is actually well-covered in terms of WIFI access - most cafes and shops will have WIFI, and there’s also public WIFI. Pick a hotel with WIFI too and you should be well-covered in terms of data usage. There is really no need to get 3G cards.
Seoul is pretty jammed up in terms of traffic, so if you want to get around the city, the best way is to take the subway/train. Get a T-money card for 5,000 KRW and top it up with another 2,000 KRW to start. Fares are about 500-1000 KRW per trip using the card. Buying a single-use ticket is a hassle as you have to get back the 500 won deposit every time. The T-money card can be used to pay for taxis, convenience stores etc so you can finish it before you leave.
If its a short distance (e.g. Gangnam to Apujeong), you can take the taxis. Look out for orange or silver taxis - fares start at 3,000 KRW for each trip. Black taxis are English=enabled, and charge 5,000 KRW starting fare.
Tip: Show the taxi drivers the address you want to go to first and make sure they know where it is. Get the hotel to help you write the address if it’s not clear, just in case.
Download the English map pdf at: http://www.seoulmetro.co.kr/upload/station/map_english.pdf
Trains take about 5-7 minutes to arrive. They go to most popular shopping districts and tourist destinations. However, during peak hours they can get very crowded. There’s also multiple transfers you have to do, most times going up and down stairs.
Areas to explore
1. Myeong Dong (Exit No. 6)
The most famous shopping district in Seoul, filled with rows of Korean skincare shops like Skinfood, Etude House, Innisfree, and Nature Republic. Myeong Dong also has mega Western stores like H&M, F21, Zara and a giant Uniqlo. Street vendors sell Korean snacks and knick knacks like accessories, scarves and clothing. However, save your money from buying at these street vendors as prices are higher here. Just soak in the atmosphere, and spend at stores where prices cannot be adjusted.
For food, you must visit Myeong Dong Kyoja (Gyoza), which serves up only 3-4 items, of which the Kalguksu (knife-cut handmade noodles) is the star, and not pricey at 8,000 won. Order their dumplings too, served in a steam basket. Point 19 on this pdf map of Myeong Dong.
Lastly, drop by a cat cafe if you like, by looking out for the cat cafe sign. We visited a small but clean one near the Kyoja restaurant. Entrance is 10,000 won for unlimited time there. Get a soft drink instead of a house-made drink, as it is more hygienic.
2. Ewha Women’s University Town (Exit No. 2)
The second most popular shopping district particularly for ladies, will be at Ewha. Here you can find beauty masks and skincare/cosmetics going for really cheap, and clothes can be as low as 5,000 won (SGD 6.50). Walk around the streets, and if you are lost look out for volunteer translators who can guide you.
Unfortunately there are hardly any affordable or promising manicure/hair salons in Korea, if you are looking for any.
Definitely check out Isaac Toast if you can find it (sorry I can’t find address or map!) for ham and cheese toast, or even more exotic Korean flavors. It’s not too far from the station, and has a red signboard. A drink plus toast will set you back about 8,000 won.
3. Gangnam Underground Shopping
Since we are on the subject of affordable shopping, check out the underground complex surrounding Gangnam subway station. Just exit the gantry, and start walking around! You can find accessories (there’s a famous chain called Red Eye) and clothes (sweaters at 5,000 won) everywhere. There are also some eateries and restaurants you could try.
4. Garosu-gil / Sinsa-dong (Sinsa station, Exit No. 8)
A large contrast to the nearby Gangnam underground, Garosu-gil is hip, trendy and expensive. Cafes and indie boutiques line the streets amidst street photographers. If you need a break, Beansbins is a chain coffeeshop that has decent waffles.
5. Hongdae / Hongik University Subway Exit No. 5
My favorite district of Seoul has got to be Hongdae, only because of the gazillion cafes there. It is young, vibrant and filled with interesting shops and turns into a festive outdoor area at night, with popular clubs like NB2 to dance the night away.
For cafes, check out Cafe Berlin (http://4sq.com/Nnah1Q) for the interesting decor, Thanks Nature Cafe (http://4sq.com/cWN2VZ) to see two clean and well-fed live sheep (they are the owner’s pets) and 5 Extracts Cafe (near Sangsangmadang) at Seogyo-dong (http://4sq.com/fQNDxd) by a barista champion.
6. DMZ + JSA Day Tour
Well, if you really feel like experiencing some of that tension history between North and South Korea, book a day tour to the DMZ (Korean Demilitarized Zone) border.
If you can, book ahead of time (at least 2 weeks) for the JSA tour which we didn’t manage to do, that lets you visit the Panmunjeon village. We started the tour after an hour’s drive from Seoul at Imjigak, a bus terminal/amusement park where you can have lunch (kimchi chigae!) at the canteen.
From there it is a short drive to visit a fully functional train station to North Korea, a view of N. Korea from a vantage point and then to the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel dug by the N. Koreans. Quite interesting, though not mindblowing. Perhaps one day both countries will be reunited. Until then, the train station remains inactive.
7. Geongbokgung / Insadong / Bukchon Village / Samcheong-dong
A must-visit would be the magnificent Geongbokgung royal palace (closed on Tuesdays, entrance 3,000 won) which you can reach by Exit 5 of the station with the same name. Try catching the guard changing ceremony, though it is not a big deal if you miss it. Spend about 1 hour here.
After that, take a train to Anguk to get to the traditional shopping district of Insadong, where you can find arts/crafts items, and traditional restaurants.
Visit the famous Toksokchon (http://4sq.com/djC9Kb) nearby for samgaetang, or Korean ginseng chicken stuffed with glutinous rice. Try the black chicken version if you want a more luxurious experience. It’s only 15,000 won for the regular chicken. Tip: go early or late after lunchtime, or you will find yourself queueing, though the queue moves fast.
After that, you can follow a walking tour up Bukchon Village with old houses and get to the hip and trendy cafe street of Sam-cheong Dong, all within walking distance. Cafes to check out include Dodo-cafe (Bukchon-ro 5-gil 119-1 Samcheong-Dong), and Jiyugaoka (http://4sq.com/hr1ZAg) for cakes and red bean latte (must-try!).
Tip: Ask for a map at the Insadong tourist center for that walking tour.
Tip 2: Visit the huge Lotte Mart at Seoul Station for mega grocery shopping too and get your Korean snacks!
8. Itaewon / N Seoul Tower
Lastly, if you still have some time to spare, visit the N Seoul Tower by taxi and take the cable car up to enjoy a view of the city, though that’s extremely touristy. Instead check out Itaewon nearby (we haven’t had the chance) for bars, pubs and restaurants in the evening.
And that’s it! I hope you have enjoyed my beginner’s guide to Seoul, and share it with your friends!