When I was preparing for my trip to Seoul, I thought there wasn’t a great deal of content out there helping me to understand what I could expect and how to get around an Asian country where I didn’t speak the language. I was stressed out and anxious to take on this feat solo. As a result of my experiences I’ve created a guide of tips that I hope will help you in your trip planning.
Preparing to go Korea
- Visas are not required for visits that are less than 90 days in duration
- Bring small gifts, things like a bar of dark chocolate go a long way with those you will work with, or even the staff at the hotel where you’ll stay
- Notify your banks that you’re traveling internationally
- Modify your phone plan and add an international package, so you aren’t slammed with data overages
- Easy rule of thumb is ₩1000 = $1.00 (really it’s like 1000-to-0.85 as of March 2016).
- Pretty much every place take credit cards, and you can swipe at very low increments.
- Keep in mind that if you want to buy a subway fare, you’ll need local currency. The ticket vending machines do not take cards, I learned this lesson the hard way.
Make sure to have your hotel address saved before you go to Korea since you will have to fill out an Arrival card and a Declaration Card. The flight attendants will pass these out hours before you land, fill it out on the plane and save yourself time on the ground once you land. Once you’ve cleared through customs, grabbed your bag, move pass the crowds of taxi drivers, and in the middle of the arrivals terminal you’ll see a desk selling bus, subway, and taxi tickets. They even offer a service where you can opt for an English speaking driver. If you opt for the English speaking taxi driver, you can expect a $45 cab fare. The bus is a great option for those that are budget conscious.
Are you worried about data while you’re in Korea? If you are, check out the KT Wifi Egg or LGU+’s hotspot its $5.00/day to rent at the airport and it allows you to have a battery operated wifi hotspot you can keep on your person while in Korea. When you exit through customs and immigration, you’ll see some booths along the back wall that mention phone or wifi hotspot rental. This is where you can rent the hotspot from either company. The maps below outline where you can find the rental desk.
The Android app DataEye allows you to quickly whitelist certain applications so you don’t go through all of your data in a few hours.
- Google Voice/Hangouts Dialer
The buses to and from the airport are super nice, and are an affordable option to get in and out of the Icheon Airport which is 90 min out from Seoul. You can expect to pay roughly $15 USD to get a ride from the airport. The KAL buses have predesignated stops at the major hotels in the city.
What to expect: KAL buses are equivalent to US coach buses are exceptionally nice.
ICN Airport to Seoul: there are buses that leave the airport every 20 min or so (Korean Air shuttles) that stop at the major hotels downtown. As you come out into the Arrivals curb-side pickup area, there are stands for each bus route (ex ., Ritz Carlton + Novetel are bus stop 4A) and a kiosk with people selling tickets.
Pro Tip: The KAL bus drivers take cash, which lets you skip having to deal with the sometimes long line at ticket kiosk. You can buy a return ticket from the desk of the R/C hotel, schedule with times is here
Flagging in a taxi is easy, the challenge comes when you need to tell the driver where you’re hoping to go. I had originally thought that if I had shown the driver the address, “120 Bongeunsaro Gangnam-gu,Seoul,” there’d be no issue, but most if not all drivers are unable to read latin-based letters. They would need something more like, “대한민국 서울특별시 강남구 역삼동 봉은사로 120,” and sometimes that wasn’t even enough. There were a couple of times when I jumped in a cab and the shook his head and hand at me to inform me that he couldn’t drive me. More than likely it was because I don’t speak Korean, he didn’t speak English, and that I would cause more hassle than it was worth since cabs are in high demand in a city like Seoul. The situation wasn’t offensive just highly frustrating when you want to get back to your hotel after a long day of work. As a last ditch effort I would call my hotel and ask them to give the cab driver directions to the hotel.
Leaving the hotel and getting a cab was effortless since I could show the footman the latin-based text and they could explain to the cab driver where I needed to be taken.
The underground lines here are incredibly high tech. In full disclosure I’ve never been to Japan, but 4G wifi 50ft underground is pretty amazing regardless of wherever you’ve traveled. I had a co-worker successfully take a conference call while on the subway. Yes, it’s crappy to take a call on public transit, but pretty amazing that the connection was so consistent that she was able to do it without interruption.
“Keep in mind that you’ll need local currency to purchase subway fare”
Walking Directions from Ritz Carlton to Central Seoul
- Walk out front of Hotel and walk left to the intersection
- Make a left on Gangnam-Daero
- Enter into Gangnam Station
- Walk through Gangnam Station to Exit 8.
Places to Eat in Seoul
Korean (many Korean restaurants specialize in a specific type of food – e.g., beef bbq, fried chicken)
- Kkanbu (Chicken)
- Devil’s Door (Chicken)
- “Best [flipping] friend chicken of my life”- Friend
- Oppadang (Chicken)
- Chez Maak
- MoGo Grill is great, and found in the Gangnam neighborhood
- “best dry rub pork ribs I have ever had” -Friend
- Brick Oven. 5 min walk from Ritz Carlton→ great pizza and wings.
- Cafe Mama (sandwiches) → by Samsung towers downtown Seoul
- The Place (Italian) ←yes, that is what it is called
- Dunkin Donuts by Samsung Towers
- DD has your expected staples, but for those that are more adventurous, there are bean paste filled donuts as well. The coffee here tastes like home, and somehow better then the Starbucks which does not taste right.
- Drinks at the Ritz Carlton are ridiculously expensive, $15 for domestic beer in hotel, same beer $2 cold from 7-11 around the corner. You do the math.
Places to Visit in Seoul
- Gyeongbokgung Palace
- Insa-Dong Shopping District
- Places on this guy’s blog
- Hyundai Co-ex shopping Mall
- I’m not much of a shopper, but I found it interesting to see such an expansive mall that was entirely underground.
- Visit a Dog or Cat Cafe