I thought I’d do a post on some tips on visiting Seoul that might be useful to everyone. Hope you find them useful.
Research & Plan
Before any trip I usually do a little research and planning. You’re probably thinking that takes the fun out of exploring a new city and doing things on the fly but trust me that a little planning goes a long way to making a trip a little less stressful. While it’s a good and well to decide what to do when you get there by having a look at a map to see what things you could see and do in a certain area but then you’d also have to spend time trying to figure out to get from Point A to Point B. And then there is of course the problem of getting to a place, only to find that it’s closed on that day. Or sometimes it’s best to go to a certain place on a certain day and time. I don’t plan my every single detail but I do try to figure out what are possible things that can be done together but my plans are still somewhat flexible and subject to change.
I usually try to put together my own little guidebook that contains maps of key areas, information of attractions, information of places to eat and shop and some useful phrases. All the information is readily found either from official tourism websites or guidebooks. I sometimes buy my guidebooks or I borrow them from the library. Here’s one I put together for my Seoul trip.
The first picture is of my little guidebook (I did this one A6 in size but I usually make it A5 in size because of the maps), the second picture is showing you the size comparison between my little guidebook and a Lonely Planet one and the bottom shows you the difference in thickness. It may be small but it had all the information I needed for my trip.
If you’re worried about not being able to speak Korean then you might want to invest in a little phrase book like the one below.
But to be honest, I didn’t have really much of an issue because all the street signs are written in English. Announcements on subways and buses are usually in 4 languages (Korean, English, Mandarin and Japanese), ticket information at tourist attractions are written in the same 4 languages and people working in tourist areas tend to be able to speak English too. In certain areas like Myeong-dong, you can find volunteers who provide assistance to tourists and taxis usually have access to an interpretation service. The only time I had a problem was when I was in Dongdaemun and needed to know how much a jacket was but not to worry, the store uncle grabbed the calculator and problem solved.
If you’re planning on taking public transport then I strongly recommend you get a T-Money card. They actually come in two forms – a card and a mobile phone dangle.
These can either be purchased either at a vending machine at the subway stations or at convenient stores that display the T-Money logo. The card on the left cost 2,500 won while the mobile phone dangle on the right cost 3,000 won. I got mine at the subway station vending machine and got one of each but didn’t put any money on the card one – kept it as a souvenir. After purchasing the card/dangle, you’ll have to “recharge” it, which basically means adding value to it. You can recharge them at the same location as you purchased them. The vending machines at the subway stations have an “English” language option so it’s easy to just follow the instructions on the screen.
There are many benefits to having a T-Money card. You don’t waste time queuing to purchase a ticket at the subway station. You don’t have to worry about having the right amount of change for the bus fare.You enjoy a discounted fare whenever you use it and can even enjoy transfer discounts. It can be used on public buses (including the airport bus), the subway and certain taxis (look for the logo) and even at select convenience stores. Another great thing about them is that they never expire, so if you plan on revisiting Korea, hold on to it as the unused balance will remain there until it’s spent! If you don’t think you will, you can easily get a refund from either a partner convenience store (for amounts less than 20,000 won with a service charge of 500 won) or at the T-Money headquarters (for amounts greater than 20,000 won). I believe you’ll get to keep the card after the refund is done but I’m not sure as I held onto mine for a future trip.
Special Tourist Tickets
Whenever you go to an attraction, do have a look at all your ticket options because there are sometimes combo tickets that are really worth it. I came across two combos that I thought were worth it.
The first one is the Integrated Ticket of Palaces. For 10,000 won, this ticket grants you entry to Changdeokgung Palace (including the tour of the Secret Garden), Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Gyeongbokgung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine. If you were to have purchased the tickets individually, it would cost you a total of 14,000 won. Even if you only went to Changdeokgung Palace (including the tour of the Secret Garden) and Gyeongbokgung Palace with the Integrated Ticket, you would have already saved 1,000 won. The great thing about this ticket is that it’s valid for one month so you don’t have to rush to see everything on one day. The Integrated Ticket can be purchased at any of the palaces.
The other combo ticket I came across was the one at N Seoul Tower. Admission to the observatory at N Seoul Tower is 9,000 won while admission to the Teddy Bear Museum is 8,000 won. The package deal for the two is 14,000 won, so a saving of 3,000 won.
Websites and apps
Visit Korea – Operated by the Korea Tourism Organization, this site is filled with lots of information about Korea. They have a whole slew of free e-books covering different topics that can either be read online or printed out. They even have a printable map. The site also has a number of free mobile apps available with the main one being the Visit Korea app which is available for iOS and Android.
Visit Seoul – This is another really good site that purely focuses on Seoul. It’s operated by the Seoul Metropolitan Government. It also has a number of free e-books that can either be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF and a free mobile app called i Tour Seoul.
Jihachul Subway app – This free app is a life-saver when trying to navigate your way on the Seoul Metropolitan Subway. Just select your departure station and your arrival station and it will work out all the available routes but showing you the fastest route first based on train timings. It ‘s available on both iOS and Android.
Some other sites recommend a few map apps like Daum and Naver but unfortunately all the words on the maps are in Korean so not that great to use.
Other Tourist Resources and Freebies
The Korean Tourism Organization has 4 tourism centers located at it’s headquarters in downtown Seoul, Incheon International Airport, Gimhae International Airport and Jeju International Airport. You can get leaflets, brochures, books, maps etc providing you with information about Korea all for free. The staff here speak English, Japanese and Mandarin.
If you need to speak to someone, you can always call the 1330 Korea Travel Hotline. It operates 24/7 and are multi-lingual (Korean, English, Japanese and Mandarin). They can provide you with travel information, medical assistance, and such. While in Korean, just call 1330 while international callers can use +82-2-1330.
While in one shopping mall in Myeong-dong, I came across a monthly magazine that was free that had some really good maps as well as some tourist information and some ads. I also spotted a copy in my hotel. I preferred using the maps that were in this magazine than the ones I had or even the large foldable map that I picked up at my hotel because rather than having one big map for the whole of Seoul, it had individual maps for various areas and with so much more detail.