A First Timer’s Guide to Seoul, South Korea

15 Days was not enough…considering that this was our 2nd Seoul Trip (well together…) As usual, someone took way too many photos. me? I can read Hangul…or Korean alphabet so I don’t need English translations …I also feel like a local most of the time…using my Korean language skills…I just don’t know if my accent sounded funny but my make up teacher told me that my accent is perfect…funny…I was asked to give directions lots of times…this also happened in Japan…especially ladies in their 50’s or 60’s would sit beside me and start a conversation in Korean. 

My mom and I planned this trip some time ago, so you can only imagine the long and immense anticipation that built up before our flight. We all have good memories of Korea (Kyla especially, because she loves Korean fashion and Korean food), but for some reason, we haven’t been able to come back and visit in 5 years. Coincidentally, I’ve been so in love with Korean cosmetics plus I look more Korean now…

Me being me, I dared myself to not depend on any tour guide or travel agency to make us an itinerary. Nothing beats the sense of adventure that comes with traveling at your own pace. There is also a certain joy in getting lost and immersing yourself completely in another country’s culture, and I think I got this courage from my mom… who just so happened to be with me for 11 days of this trip! And Kyla will learn from me…since I have always encouraged her to put travelling around the world in her bucketlist.

Through the years, I feel like I’ve become more intense though! Sometimes I forget to stop and rest/eat/sleep, lol.

Korea is a land of rich culture…Even the corners or the alleyways offer a lot of things that will surprise you…plus the food! Who does not love Korean BBQ or Korean chicken with beer! I have been to lots of European countries but only Asian countries will make you come back for more…Believe me! or maybe because I am Asian. Europe is beautiful but all looks the same to me and I don’t like their food.

 


Planning your Trip

I would recommend going to South Korea in Spring which is between end of March to second of April and Autumn which is between last week of October to second week of November. If you are planning to go to other provinces, the peak will be a different date, either a week earlier or a week late. 

Most Nationalities don’t need a Visa to South Korea. For a quick guide whether you need a Visa to South Korea, check this link: http://www.mofa.go.kr/ENG/visa/application/ 

Filipinos need a Korean Visa. In Dubai, the South Korean Consulate is located in Jumeirah. They accept applications from 9am – 12noon. In the Philippines, the South Korean Embassy is located in Applying for a Korean Visa is free of charge for Filipinos. 

Visa Requirements

  • Application Form which you can download from: http://are-dubai.mofa.go.kr/english/af/are-dubai/visa/issuance/index.jsp
  • Original Passport
  • 2x Passport Photos
  • 3 Months Bank Statement
  • Flight and Hotel Booking
  • Trip Itinerary
  • NOC /Salary Certificate
  • Passport and Residence Visa Copy

Processing takes 3-4 Days. Once you submit all of your documents, they will give you a time when you can get back your passport.

Arrival in Seoul, South Korea 

I travelled from Dubai to Seoul and my mom and my Kyla travelled from Manila. I arrived earlier so I had a light snack while waiting for them in Tous Le Jours. There is a Tous Le Jours branch in Eastwood in Manila.

 

 

Dear Camille,

.

 

Incheon International Airport to Seoul 

I honestly prefer taking the airport limousine bus as it usually stops near the hotel that I have booked. Check your hotel which Bus Station is the nearest. Taxi will be very expensive as the travel time from the airport to Seoul is 1 hour and 30 minutes so taxi will be maybe around 88,000 Korean won.

Airport Bus Information

Airport buses run from Incheon International Airport to most parts of Seoul. Tickets may be purchased at the ticket booths just outside the passenger terminal (arrival area) on the first floor. Detailed inquiries on bus routes and bus stops can be made at the Airport Information Desk, conveniently located on the 1st floor.

☞ Airport Bus Route Information (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)

How to use the Airport Bus

Check your bus route and purchase tickets at the Airport Bus Ticket Booth inside the arrivals hall (1F) by gates 4 and 9 or outside by gates 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 13, and 9C. Find the bus stop location written on your ticket. Go to the bus stop and check the bus route and departure time. When on the bus, make sure to listen to the English recording so you don’t miss your stop. The airport limousine buses are clean and spacious. Price – 10,000 – 15,000 Korean Won

 

Where to Stay

If it is your first time in Seoul, I would recommend staying in Myeongdong if you prefer shopping, in Hongdae if you prefer to get a vibrant vibe as this is a University area, in Gangnam if you want a more upscale surrounding and Jongno, if you want a more cultural and artistic vibe as you can find traditional shops and palaces in this area. I would also recommend staying near Ewha University area, one of my favorite places, as they have shops for shoes and clothes at lower prices. We stayed in Jongno area again as I would like to just walk to the cultural sites and enjoy the autumn trees. There are also many traditional houses or Hanoks in this area where you can book a stay. I usually stay in Myeongdong if I want to fill my bags with cosmetics and clothes but this trip is more of a cultural trip. Decide what is the purpose of your travel and what you would be doing most so you know which area you will book your stay. Restaurants and Cafes are all over Seoul so you wouldn’t have to worry where to eat. There are restaurants even in the smallest corners that you can imagine.

We booked 5 nights in BeeWon Guest house which is just a walking distance to Changdokgeung Palace and Bukchon Hanok Village. I will write about these sites so you can check it out. The nearest Station is Anguk Station. The airport limousine bus is also a 5 minute walk to the hotel. We met people from other nationalities in the guest house and had breakfast with them. I was surprised that the Indonesia friends we met knows a lot about Filipino dramas (I thought only Korean dramas are popular). We were supposed to move to Ewha area but we just decided to stay there for another 6 nights as we had lots of bags. I usually just book online but this time, I booked through a Travel Agent, South Travel and Tourism (04-2965452 and look for their pretty Supervisor Jur Perez).

To check accommodation options, I would recommend Booking.com and AirBnB Seoul or you can go directly to the hotel’s website if you already have an idea which hotel you would like to book.

 

This building was near our Guest House.

 

One of the Hanoks near our guest house. Why is Kyla wearing make up?  haha 

 

Hello Autumn! Trees are starting to change colors 

These trees became yellow after 7 days 

 

My mom…looks like she just watched a Korean drama! What’s with the emote? 

 

 

Getting Around 

If you are travelling as a group or more than 2, I would recommend getting a taxi as it would be less expensive. Some Taxi Drivers speak in English but most of them don’t. However, most of the taxis now have an English translation system.

If you are alone or only with one companion, then getting around by Seoul’s clean and very organized subway is better. Seoul has one of the most modern and well connected underground train systems in the world. It’s very clean, orderly, easy to get around, safe and affordable. Plus, people on trains are very polite and take giving their seat to the elderly, disabled, and pregnant very seriously.  You can buy your tickets through a machine located in the station. The stations are very clean and have lots of shops selling accessories, shoes, clothes, cosmetics as well as cafes. There is an information center located in each station. There is free wifi everywhere so you can easily check the google map as well. Subway maps and stops are written and announced in Romanized characters, so it’s easy for foreigners to recognize them and type them into apps for directions. There are also restrooms in every station and have heated seats and also function as bidets. So comfy and clean!

Where to Eat 

Seoul literally has thousands of restaurants and cafes located in every corner you would imagine. They have an extensive selection of great food that most of us are familiar with. I am big fan of Korean food especially their street food. I personally wouldn’t recommend a particular restaurant but I will share some of the places where we ate during our stay. We like to walk around so we just eat in a restaurant we can find whenever we get hungry. For those who haven’t tried Korean food in their life, here is a quick guide.

Banchan (side dishes)

Do not be surprised if they put a multitude of mini plates on your table which you did not order. This usually is a mark of the start of a Korean meal. These are called banchans or in English, side dishes. The most common banchans are different kinds of kimchis – cabbage, cucumber, radish.

 

Gogigui (all things grilled meat) or Korean BBQ

One of the ultimate Korean meals are pieces of meat typically pork, beef and chicken, grilled on your table before you with all the side dishes and dipping sauces. Korean barbecue is incredibly delicious.

We ate in a restaurant in Insadong and we came back the following day.

 

 

Pork Belly 

…started grilling the pork

Tip: you should only flip the meat 3x

 

 

ready to eat!!!! so yummy

 

…eat with rice or greens 

 

 

Price: 11,000 won per order

This popular restaurant is located near the Gangnam area. They have many branches in Seoul.

Celebrities visited this outlet. My mom looks like a Korean actress here.

Quite expensive though…but price is worth it

Wagyu Beef

 

Chimaek (Chicken and Beer)

I came to know about this combination in the hit drama My Love from Another Star which starred Kim Soo Hyun and Jun Ji Hyun. I heard that this also became very popular in China.

 

Samgyetang

We wanted to try Samgyetang, a chicken ginseng dish so we went to Tosokchon located just a few minutes from Gyeongbokgung Station.  It produces their own ingredients like Tojongdak (Korean chicken), 4-years ginseng, chest nut, jujube, garlics, ginger, adlay, perilla seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seed, nuts, pine nut, black sesame, and etc.
Even though one has to wait to enter during lunch time, do not worry about long wait as the restaurant is spacious. Besides Samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup), it serves Ogol-samgyetang, otdak, pajeon (green onion pancake), Rotisserie chicken, and other menus.

 

 

 

Cafes 

Korea’s coffee culture is very popular. There are hundreds of local Cafes located everywhere. I will be highlighting a lot of Cafes in my next blog. Most of the cafes have really cute interiors so allocate at least an hour or two of your day here as drinking coffee in these places really feels so different.

 

 

A small window serving coffee and pastries. The cafe is connected to the owner’s residence. 

 

I will be writing more about places and things to do in Seoul in my next blog posts. 

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camillearoundtheworld@gmail.com

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