If you’ve been reading me recently, you’ll know that I went to South Korea! I had an absolutely incredible time, and definitely picked up some tips and tricks along the way. If you’re thinking of going, make sure you have a read!
–Subway/public transport stops at midnight. We learnt this the hard way and had to get a cab home to our airbnb – we got there in the end but our taxi driver spoke zero English so it definitely was a mission! Although everything is open quite late, just be prepared that the subway stops at midnight. Speaking of, have your address screenshotted on a map on your phone – if I hadn’t done this who knows how we would have gotten home!
–Get the subway app. This app is a lifesaver and will make your train trips so much smoother. Once you get the hang of the trains you get where you need to go a lot quicker!
–Not everyone can speak English. There is some weird misconception that because everyone learns a bit of English at school, everyone can speak it. This. Is. Not. True. In touristy areas, sure, a lot of people can speak to you, but for the most part you end up communicating with pointing, looking at registers for prices, etc. A little politeness goes a long way, so learning the basics (hello, thank you, etc) really made our trip a lot better. You can see people’s eyes light up when you say thank you in their language!
–You will get stared at. If you are coming from a Western country, you may not be used to this, but definitely as a couple of white girls speaking English, we had people stare at us all the time, especially in areas further out from Seoul. It’s not an issue at all as no one means any harm by it, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind when travelling!
– The KTX at peak hour will not reserve seats for you and you will have to stand. When we caught the KTX to Busan, we thought we had seats both there and return, but when we went to board at 5.30pm to go back to Seoul, we were told we’d have to stand in the sections between carriages. We made it work by sitting on the floor (someone near us actually stood and slept the whole time – how???), but it’s 2 & 1/2 hours that would be better of sitting through. Moral – don’t expect a seat if you’re catching the KTX at peak hour.
–WiFi is pretty much everywhere, so you don’t need an international simcard. The subways, most major shopping spots, starbucks, etc – everyone has WiFi. We got on just fine with screenshotted directions, our subway map and WiFi hot spots. Save your money!
–Use blogs – there are blogs on directions from/to everywhere! Any time we wanted to go and see anything (especially places related to K-pop or K-drama, specific stores, etc) we just looked up someone’s blog and found exact directions with landmarks and everything. It worked a treat for us!
–If you’re going to see DMZ, do the JSA too. The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) is cool and all, but the really cool part is the Joint Security Area where you “technically” get to cross the border into North Korea. If you’re interested in going, make sure you book a tour (they aren’t that expensive!) and get both places in there. They take you to a whole heap of different locations and help you out with what is customary to do when visiting and facts.
–Food is super cheap, so take advantage of it! Go to grocery stores and get a whole heap of snacks to try as well as eating the local food. The street food in areas like Myeongdong and Hongdae is also amazing!
–Stay at an Airbnb instead of a hotel. They are really cheap (I think around AUD$250 pp for our 8 nights there) and very secure. Seoul is a very safe city and our Airbnb host made sure we felt as comfortable as possible.
–Google Maps doesn’t work properly (satellites, North Korea, etc), so download Naver Map which is the Korean version of Google Maps for all your directions.
–Do a layover tour! Depending on where you’re coming from, Seoul usually requires a stopover somewhere, and for us it was Beijing. For around USD$100, we got a personal driver to take us to the Great Wall of China and Tienanmen Square, because why not! Put your layovers to good use and visit another country while you’re at it.