I’ve got all your backs – just came back from an 11 day trip and looking to share this important information with you guys. My role when travelling there is usually the travel guide and translator – so if there are some of you out there who haven’t figured your itinerary yet, I will attach an itinerary I made up at the end of the blogpost so you guys can take that and edit it according to your research. I’ve put places that are nearby each other together so that it’s easier for you access when travelling Seoul.
How to get around the city?
- Use Kakao Maps to get around as Google Maps doesn’t work for walking directions in South Korea anymore. It has an English interface so don’t worry about language. What it lacks is a live arrow to show you where you’re heading, but I found it possible to navigate with landmarks in the map. Kakao Metro is a great app for you to plan your subway routes too.
- I would suggest for you to use their subway from the moment you land at their airport as their subway system is very organised, and much cheaper than taking the shuttle buses or cabs. A one-way subway ticket directly from the airport would cost you about RM 16 ringgit for a 60 minutes trip, whereas the bus would charge you RM 36 per head. Needless to say, cabs will charge you at about RM 200-300 per car but if you have huge luggages, you may only be able to fit 3 person in each car. My favorite deciding factor is time. I was once stuck in a traffic being on the road from the airport to the city for about 2.5 hours. I’ve always stuck to the reliable subway since.
You can buy the card straight from the machines at the subway stations too
- Get their transportation card. The normal card is called T-Money and is now being sold in all convenience stores for RM 10 (2500 Won). They sell special edition cards at double the price too, but just ask for a normal one. You can top up your card as and when you need at all of their subway stations through a machine that has English and Chinese translations available too. There is also an option to choose to buy their Tourist Passes (only available at very limited areas – you can check them out here). However, they charge at an average of about RM 35 for 20 rides per day. But let’s be honest here, who takes 20 rides per day? I would average out your places to visit at about 2 areas per day and that would just mean HOTEL > VENUE A > VENUE B > HOTEL. If you follow the average visiting routes and pattern, that only makes 3 average rides a day and each ride is charged at an average of RM 5 (1250 won) per way. If you do the math, you know what I mean. Just get the usual T-money and you’re probably gonna save more money than getting the tourist pass. Of course, it depends on your style of travel.
Which area should I stay in? Airbnb or Hotel?
I always just give one option when answering this. Choose Hong Ik University aka Hongdae to stay at. I only have three strong reasons for this. Number one, the airport subway leads STRAIGHT to Hong Ik University. Number two, it is one of the busiest areas of Seoul where all the university students gather. Buskers gather every night at the main areas and you would see many high quality performances by hopeful youngsters. If you’re too tired to travel somewhere far but don’t wanna get back to your Airbnb/hotel too early in the day – you can just take a walk below and go back with food from their street side food stalls. Also a very good place to buy your last minute things. Thirdly, Hongik University’s subway line is the green line (Line No.2) and is one of the most convenient lines that leads you to most places at the fastest speed of time. Other places like Myeong dong or Gangnam does sound great to stay at – but I’m factoring overall convenience (traveling time, end of day leisures, areas of interest etc)
I would always choose Airbnb over hotel as it’s usually more fund efficient. There’s also a higher chance I would get a washing machine in the unit as opposed to a paying facility in the hotel. I like to wash my clothes there and then so I don’t need to bring many sets of clothes over – also another way to save space for more new things to bring home!
I always try to find the ones that charge at about RM 100/per head per night – and there are quite a number of good options. The Airbnb i stayed in (photo above) was only RM 2200 for 4 of us for 10 days. Pretty good deal!
How much money to bring?
This depends on your spending habits and what you’re looking to get out of the trip. I usually spend about RM 1500 over about 10 days and this includes transportation (RM 15 per day), food (RM 20-30 per meal), cosmetics and local made (good quality clothes). I’ve had a friend who managed to spend about RM 7000 in just 9 days, but like I said – it depends on each on of you individually. Most of the affordable clothes are going at RM 20-36 per piece (market rate) so you can use the above guideline to do your own math.
What to eat?
- Chicken & Beer – Feeling like some CHIMEK? That’s what the Koreans call it. It’s an inseparable duo for the Koreans, just like steak and wine. I personally like NOONA HOLDAK because their chicken is oven baked instead of fried. I do think that they fare pretty good when it comes to taste and price too. They have outlets in Hongdae and Myeong-dong. Could be worth a try.
- Bulgogi – I always go back to this place that serves bulgogi, bean sprouts, rice cake, vegetables, noodles, sausages, spicy sauce all in one pot. KONGBUL is also in Hongdae. I can’t put a finger as to why it tastes good, but its the combination that makes it pretty amazing for me. I went back to the same restaurant twice in my recent trip. (0:32 second in above video)
- Shaved Ice – I’m going to recommend the obvious – SULBING. I’m not very adventurous when it comes to desserts but Sulbing serves pretty good bingsu (better than any of the ones in KL for now) as their milk shaven ice melts almost immediately in your mouth and the toppings are just extremely generous!
- Cake – This is not a place I highly recommend for its taste, but is a pretty place to be in for your Instagram Photos when you’re in Seoul – and that’s Dore Dore in Garosugil. I do have to say the strawberry cake I had during spring was pretty good, but pricy (RM 36 per palm size piece). I only stumbled upon the place cause the twins in Superman Returns were eating their cake there in the show haha.
- Gamjatang – Idaejo Bbyeodagui (이대조뼈다귀). This place is gold for me. I wish you have at least about 6 of you so you can try both different dishes they serve. It’s braised porkbone and porkbone soup but each serving (S,M,L) serves a minimum of two. It’s an extremely appetising dish I just wish I can eat it every single day!
- Jjajangmyun – If you’re staying in an Airbnb – get your host to order you your jjajangmyun, a tangsuyuk (sweet and sour pork) and some mandu (dumplings!). Feel the whole experience of locals ordering their delivery. After you’re done, put the plates back out your door (don’t worry nobody will steal them) and you’re done. Alternatively, find a restaurant called Hong Kong Ban Jeom. They have different chains too.
- Korean porridge – Porridge is made really differently in Malaysia and Korea. It’s made with real good quality ingredients and rice. Look for this restaurant called Bonjuk. There’s one in Ehwa Womens University. I personally like their beef mushroom porridge the most. Their mini sides are also to die for.
- Braised Chicken – There are two main chains that serve this dish they called the jjimdalg. I prefer Bongchu Jjimdalg over Andong Jjimdalg but they taste pretty similiar. It tastes quite familiar and many local friends have compared it to normal braised chicken dishes you get in mixed rice stalls, but the chicken here is extremely tender and is served with good quality korean glass noodles and chilli. (0:54 second in video)
- Note : Alot of restaurants only serve a minimum of two pax. So even if you’re eating alone, you gotta order two pax. This applies mostly for restaurants that have a specific menu to their restaurant. If you’re in a restaurant that serves a wide range of menu like kimchi fried rice to mandu to noodles to omurice – you’re good to go for a one pax order! Most of the Koreans don’t eat alone as its a social implication that you’re a loner (though its improving these days). Their businesses and culture is deeply intergreted into their business plans haha. Either you eat for two, or you eat somewhere else.
Where to shop for clothes?
- This depends on your style of clothes and what you seek for when it comes to fashion. I personally like minimalistic designs, or just really simple everyday wear that doesn’t have alot of designs. If you’re like me, then you’re looking at two places – Ehwa Womens University and the Bus Terminal Express Underground Shopping area. I’m recommending these two because their prices are the cheapest, for many of the similiar things you find in the streets of Seoul. The standard price in other places would be at about RM 36 per piece, but in the two places above – you can find deals at RM 30 for that same item and other deals such as RM 36 for 1+1 (what they mean by buy one, free 1) or RM 10 for 3 basic pieces. You’ve got to comb through the racks and spend your time there. Among those two, I prefer Ehwa Womens University because their choices are slightly more trendy and new, whereas at the Express Bus Station – designs can get abit old as their demographics include the people above their 50s.
- I don’t recommend spending your time in DongDaeMun. It’s one of the most redundant places to go, and prices are extremely high for so-so quality items. They do have a separate building where alot of the local designers have stores, and you can go take a look but prices range at about RM 150 – RM 300 per piece. Like I said, it depends on your style of shopping. If you’re up for something more special, go for it. I usually only spend my time there if I have absolutely no where else to go. They do have a crazy long underground shopping area (that seems to focus on selling hats and scarves) called the DongDaeMun Underground Shopping Centre.
- Haggling – Alot of places don’t do haggling now, you’ll actually see that they either put the price on boards or would state stuff like “Price Tag” – which means, their items are individually tagged so don’t ask haha. The places that allow haggling are the ones where you have to ask the price (so you have to see properly got price tag or price boards anot). Be prepared to be shooed away by stores that are owned by elderlies. The elderlies in Korea act like they’re your grandparents – they have a society power of just scolding anybody they see and the younger Koreans just oblige and give in. Places that I know for sure you can haggle is at many of the stores in AmPm Building MyeongDong & Dongdaemun, as well as the shoe stores in Ehwa Womens University.
- Get used to the term ‘service’. In Korea, this term means freebies. This applies to restaurants, fashion outlets as well as cosmetic stores. If someone gives you something, and you’re like “I didn’t order this” – you can always ask “Service?”. Well, they pronounce it as “ser-bees-seu” over there haha.
Are cosmetics really cheaper?
- To be honest, it depends where you’re from. If you’re from Malaysia, make sure you do some research because online markets like Hermo actually sells their products at prices that are EXTREMELY similiar to the ones being sold in Korea. When I find that prices are only at a slight difference of about RM 5-RM 10, I save that space for some other products that is more worth that luggage space. Always check before you buy – I like to spend the first 2-3 days just writing down prices and comparing before splurging all my money at once.
- I personally find many of the Innisfree products not worth getting in South Korea. The price is very similar to retail prices here in Malaysia. I’m saying this when putting brands like ETUDE HOUSE or APIEU as comparisons. These products can have a 50% difference when it comes to retail price locally and in Seoul.
- One of my recent favorite places to get products would be NATURE COLLECTION. It holds three brands – The Face Shop, TOMARU and Beyond. I don’t know the latter two, but they have really good seasonal deals in there. I got a Face Shop Mango Serum for RM 30 because they were having an end-of-season sales. They told me the promotion was only ongoing for about 5 days, but when I went back a day after the promotion – prices resumed back to RM 50! They don’t just sell the three brands I mentioned, but actually do carry quite a few more other dermatologically certified products – but I don’t remember the names.
- Many people are attracted to this one store called BAVIPHAT in Ehwa Womens University. When I first saw it years ago, I was so shocked with the prices they were offering. They would be selling products from the different make up brands at about 30-40% lower than the original retail prices. It was too good to be true so I did some research. Apparently, the store only takes foreign customers and NOTHING in the store is in Korean. There have been many, many reports saying that their stuff isn’t authentic, and also testimonials of people bringing home faulty products. I was really tempted to just get basic stuff like lip tints from ETUDE HOUSE (that were only selling at RM 5) but after the research, I decided I didn’t want to risk the money on stuff that may potentially harm my skin. I also asked the neighbouring cosmetics stores what they thought about the store – the friendlier ones of course recommended against it. Of course, you can still walk in and decide for yourself.
- Get your Wifi Eggs. You can always rent local wifi hubs but I personally prefer the ones in South Korea as the speed is great. I use the one it KT and rent it through one of my favorite travel experience sites, KLOOK. They charge at about RM 11 per day, for unlimited use but if you rent it there and then over the counter, it will be about RM 30 per day. If you want to get even cheaper, here’s a referral link for you – RM 12.50 OFF. Actually the discount applies for any other travel experience there lah, not just the wifi 🙂
- Head to Myeongdong without stopping at Myeongdong station! If you’re really staying in Hongik University like I recommended, you’ll be on the green line. Don’t have to transfer to diff lines to get to Myeongdong – just stop at Euljiro 1-ga aka Euljiro Ibgu, get out of Exit 6 – walk straight for 3 minutes and you’re there! Can save traveling time too.
- Before you get on the train to a nearby area, do some research – most of the time, if the station is just 1 or 2 stops away, you should be able to walk there instead of taking the subway. I have personally walked from Hongik University, to Sinchon, and then to Ehwa University. It doesn’t feel far at all as there’s always so many things to see along the route.
- It sucks to say this but it’s a silent known fact that alot of the cosmetic storekeepers in Seoul pretty much have something against the Chinese. They sort of have a love-hate relationship with the Chinese. The moment you walk in and don’t look Korean, they’re just going to throw Chinese greetings at you with a face that shouts ‘Get out’. Most of the time, if you would like a more pleasurable experience shopping in the store – I personally like to shop in Korean or English. The attitude changes 180 degrees, trust me on this. It doesn’t apply for 100% of them, but 80% I dare say. Also, I just realised since going back recently – that SO many of them have switched their staff from Koreans to Korean-speaking Chinese nationalities.
- Forget about grabbing the collars of the person who just hit you hard on the shoulder for an apology. Koreans are really used to brushing past each others shoulders and they’ve gotten to the level where they’re so used to it and have grown extremely immune to the feeling – it’s not even a thing anymore. You would get 1-2 younger generations apologising but ya, just forget it haha.
List of Places To Tick Off Your Seoul Checklist
- Hongik University
- Ehwa University Station
- Commonground (Shopping Venue)
- Bukcheon Village
- Seoul Station – Lotte Mart
- Dongdaemun – DDP Plaza
- YeouiNaru Station – Han River Park
- Gyeongbokgung Palace
- Itaewon (Foreigners Street + Halal Area)
- Namsan Tower
- Myeong Dong
- Nami Island
- Cheonggyecheon Stream
- Everland / Lotte World
- Inhwa Mural Village
- Gwangjang Market
- Noryangjin Fish Market
And that is about it for now – I will update the list as and when I find more things to share. Here is a 10-day itinerary I drew up in 2015, but it covers most of the main places in Seoul if you’re a first timer. CLICK TO VIEW.
Let me know if you liked the post – or if you have any questions that I may be able to answer. It may be quicker to reach me through my IG DM’s so follow me at @thenatstory and we’ll chat from there!