a 5 minute crash course on Seoul

Ok, maybe 10. or 15. Depending on how quickly you read. Anyway, we believe this post will serve as a good base for those doing research on Seoul.

My second trip to Seoul in 2 years; I don’t normally visit a holiday destination twice within such a short span. The good news is, having these 2 trips so close apart gives me an excellent chance to revisit what I did in the previous – and here’s what I have to say.

P.S. This post is specially dedicated to you, GZ. Have fun in Korea!

Where We Stayed

  • Seoul I
    Accomodation: Airbnb, near Seoul Station
    Type: Apartment, up to 6 pax
    Price: S$32 (USD 22) /pax/night
    Good: Up to 6 pax, central location (direct line from Airport, direct/easy connection“ to most tourist places)
    Bad: 1 toilet (with 4 ladies. NOT good), hot water wasn’t consistent
  • Seoul II
    Accomodation: Loft8 microsuites
    Type: Hostel-like apartment/hotel
    Price: S$ 34 (USD 24) /pax/night
    Good: Walking distance from Hongik University Station, many small shops/cafes nearby
    Bad: A little far from station; small room
    Loft8 Room
  • Vivaldi Ski Resort
    Accommodation: Maple Family Suite
    Price: S$23 (USD 16) /pax/night
    Good: Spacious, near amenities
    Bad: 3rd guest and beyond will sleep on mattresses (Korean blankets). Note if you are particular or have back problems.

egg-tip: Stay near Seoul Station on the day before you head to the airport, or risk standing the whole journey to the airport.

Here’s an egg-tip: Try to stay near Seoul Station on the day before your return. This way, the probability of you getting a seat for the 50 minute ride back to Incheon Airport is much higher. We boarded the train at Hongik University and I had to stand the whole way to the airport. Also, in the event that you are running late, you always have the option to hop onto the airport express train at Seoul Station. Read the section below for more details.

Getting Around – From Airport to Seoul

If you’re flying into Incheon, I would suggest that you find an accommodation near one of the stations that is connected to the airport train. You can get from the airport to the city via bus, express train (AREX) and the all-stop train. I would take the train because it’s probably the most convenient (unless you are staying at a place that has an airport bus stop nearby). The AREX and all-stop train runs on the exact same line, except the express train stops only at Seoul station, and nothing else in between.

AREX vs All-Sop Train
AREX vs All-Stop-Train. Note that Yeongjong station was not in service at the time of writing.

The savings in travel time is 13 minutes and it costs 14,800 won (~USD14.80)*. The all stop train costs 4,250 won (~USD4.25) and takes 43 minutes to get to Seoul Station. You can decide if the additional cost is justified. You do get the comfort of reclining seats and spacious leg room on the AREX, while the all-stop train is simply a normal subway car.

Note that the airport trains (both the AREX and All-Stop Train) are very punctual. Refer to the time table for the exact times.

More details can be found at the visitkorea website.

*The AREX had a promotional ticket price of 8,000 won, but it ended on 31 Dec 2015. You may wish to check if this special price has been extended.

Getting Around – Seoul

Seoul uses a contact-less stored value card (like Singapore’s EZ-Link) called T-Money. It costs 4,000 won (USD4.00) and can be purchased at any convenience store (you cannot buy it at the ticketing machines or passenger service counters). You can ask for a refund at the airport at the end of your trip, but you cannot get back the card price of 2,500 won. You can also get your refund at convenience stores, but that will cost you an additional 500 won.

egg-tip: Borrow T-Money card from a friend. You’ll save yourself a couple of dollars.

Seoul is very accessible by public transport. In fact, I strongly recommend taking public transport (train is easy to navigate. Buses, though, may take some effort). And when the need arises, you can always take a cab (it’s not expensive. A 10 minute ride will probably cost you 10-15 USD, assuming no jam and you avoid the black luxurious and orange tourist cabs). A warning for you, though: traffic is bad in Seoul. We took a cab once and got stuck in traffic. It didn’t feel any quicker than the train.

Another egg-tip: Download a Seoul sub-way app – you will thank me for it. We used “Subway” by Malang Studio Co Ltd (iPhone). You can search for stations, set them as the start or destination, and it will show you how to get there.

egg-tip: Download a subway app.

The minimum price for a train ride is 1,250 won. You can expect to spend about 50,000 won (~USD50) for one week. Reload stations are common, so I would suggest loading 30,000 won the first time round.

Getting to…

Now you know how to get around, where should you be going? Here’s a summary of the areas:

Myeongdong
Myeongdong before sunset.

 

    1. Myeongdong
      A very popular area for the ladies. Myeongdong is packed with shops selling cosmetics and facial products (and fashion shops). Shops used to throw in loads of freebies, making one wonder if the freebies cost more than the items purchased as she walks out of the shop. This time, however, they were more conservative with the freebies they hand out. Myeongdong also has many other Korean brands such as MCM, Bean Pole, SPAO and also international brands such as Uniqlo, H&M and Lacoste (just to name a few). Take a walk yourself!
    2. Ehwa University
      Located right outside the Ehwa Women’s University, no prize for guessing what the area specialises in. It appears that the Ehwa area is the cheapest amongst Hongik, Myeongdong etc, so you can head straight (or last, depending on your type) because one can easily find the same stuff at every market!
    3. Hongik University
      This is the area that probably has the most stuff for the guys. You’ll find shoes, clothes and bags. There are also shops selling lady’s fashion. The area comes to live at night and on Saturday, with street buskers entertaining shoppers at night and artists selling their creative wares on the weekend market (note: March to November only). And when you’re hungry, there’s an abundant choice of restaurants and eateries for you to choose from!
    4. Express Bus Terminal
      A long stretch of underground walkway that is lined with shops (I’m estimating it stretches about 150-200 metres). Mainly female fashion as well, but you can also find shops selling men’s shoes, unisex items like ear muffs, gloves, socks and bags. It appears that the stuff here are slightly cheaper than the other areas. There is also an authorized Spigen distributor (yes, the phone case Spigen) here.
    5. Gwangjang Market
      Must visit for foodies. Find out more in part 2!
    6. Dongdaemun Shopping District
      We skipped Dongdaemun this time. Shopping malls are open 24 hours, and the open market opens after 10pm. One can literally shop till you drop.
    7. Seoul Station
      Home to Lotte Mart, the mega supermarket, and Lotte Outlets. A good place to grab goodies for friends and relatives before you head home. They offer free carton boxes at the packing station. Also, remember to get your tax refund if you spend more than 30,000 won. You can also catch the inter-city trains from here.
    8. Insadong
      Culture is strong here – both the traditional Korean and modern. You can find traditional clothing (hanok), traditional paper art (hanji), tea (note: Osulloc), pottery, and Korean souvenirs. I bought myself a pair of handmade porcelain figurines as a wedding gift. The Ssamziegil is a lively shopping mall that houses shops selling fashion, art, food and many more.

      P1110692
      Handmade figurines in traditional Korean costumes. About 28,000 won (remember to shop around and ask for a little bit of discount!)

With this I’d say a brief plan for Seoul can already be formulated. Check back for part 2 for food!

Share your tips and advice with us! Drop us a comment below! Follow us on facebook, too!

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