Travel Guide to Korea for First Timer

6:09 PM



Ok, before I start this article, I assume you already know what I mean by Korea in this article is South Korea.

Korea, especially Seoul, has been a very popular travel destination. Most of people who dream to visit the country were lured by its pop culture. For you who want to tick off your bucket list of visiting Korea, especially Seoul, this article will be useful for you.

Visa
Some countries may be granted with free visa, but most countries still require visa to enter the country. If you're Indonesian, you can read my article about applying Korean visa here.

From Airport to City
South Korea, especially Seoul, is a tourist destination which is, at least for me, very convenient to explore. Once you aboard from your country, you will be landed at Incheon International Airport. However, they also have Gimpo Airport which serves local flight between areas in South Korea.

If you land at Incheon Airport, there are options of transportation you can take to the city.

  • Airport Railroad Express (AREX): there are two types of AREX, (1) all stops train and (2) express train. If you take all stops train, the train will stop at all 12 stations from Incheon to Seoul Station and it will cost 4,250 won with 10 mins interval. Express train will only stop at Seoul Station and it will cost 14,800 won with 35 mins interval. Comparing both train, if you're a saver, I suggest you to take all stop train. For me, 10,000 won is too much. The time took for both train is almost the same and also express train has longer interval. But of course, you will guarantee your seat if you take express train.
  • Airport Limousine Bus: as for the bus, there are also two types: deluxe and standard. Deluxe bus makes fewer stops, has bigger space, and more comfortable seats. Standard bus stops at every airport limousine bus stop during the route. Since my apartment is right in front of 6011 bus stop (Anguk Station), I chose to take standard bus which cost me 10,000 won. It was really comfortable and took me about 1 hour 10 minutes to Anguk Station. To take the bus, you can buy the bus ticket at a counter near arrival hall exit or simply tap your T-Money.
  • Taxi: Taxi, of course, is the most expensive way to reach the city. But comparing to Japan, taxi in Seoul is much cheaper. Please make the calculation between the distance to your hotel and the people who will be riding along with you. Sharing taxi might be cheaper than taking limousine bus. 
More information about how to get to Incheon Airport to Seoul City, click here.


Bus ticket counter at Incheon Airport


Currency and Living Cost
The currency used in South Korea is Won and stuffs in Korea are pretty affordable. Comparing to Singapore, traveling to Korea for me is much cheaper. If you eat street foods, it will probably cost you between 2,000-7,000 won (eating soondae or blood sausage will probably cost you about 7,000 won but you totally can share it with some friends). But eating in restaurant (common restaurant, not too fancy) will probably cost you about 6,000-12,000 won. Eating Korean barbecue might cost 12,000-15,000 won per person but usually with minimum 2 sets.


Weather
Just like Japan, Korea has 4 seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. But comparing to Japan, the Korea for me is colder and has more extreme weather changes. I heard from my friend in Korea, its winter in January can reach -19 degree Celsius. When I visited Seoul, I was really lucky. Even though it was autumn, but I got average temperature about 10-16 degree Celcius. Even in my last day, the temperature was only 15 degree. But the next morning, when I waited for the bus to airport, it dropped to 4 degree and getting lower to reach 0 degree. So, be careful. A wind breaker or down jacket is really life-saving.

I was there when Seoul was covered with autumn leafs

How to Get Around The City
Seoul's city transportation is very convenient. Almost most of its tourist attraction can be reached with subway. One short subway trip cost about 1,250 won and might be higher depending on the distance. Save yourself an offline subway map or if you feel reading the map is painful, you can use an app like me. I downloaded 'MetroidHD' app in my android and it's really helpful. If you're familiar with subway system in Singapore, Japan, or Taiwan, you won't be having trouble riding subway in Seoul. Beside subway, there are also buses, but subway for me is the most convenient way to get around the city.  

Transportation Card
Buy yourself a T-Money! You can also purchase subway ticket or pay in cash every time you take bus, but of course it is easier if you can just tap the card. Besides, you can get discounted price if you use T-Money. Not much, but still it's cheaper. You can buy a T-Money card at convenience store and top it up at the convenience store or any subway station. T-Money comes with a lot of cute designs. I got Line's Conny & Brown Christmas edition and it's super cute! Don't worry, you can get refund of your T-Money in any subway station, but me, I prefer to keep it if I have next trip to Seoul.

Accommodation
Just like in other countries, you can choose to stay in hotel, traditional guest house, or Airbnb. I prefer Airbnb because there are a lot of Airbnb rooms in Korea which are affordable but have an excellent facilities. I stayed at Jeremy's place and it was amazing. It only cost about 400,000 KRW for 4 nights and I can get a room for 3 people with kitchen, shower, washing machine, heater, and even pocket wifi. The location was the best! It is located right above Anguk Station, in front of airport limousine bus stop for bus 6011, and really close to major tourist spots. Insadong is right behind the apartment. I can reach Gyeongbokgung and Chandeokgung palace with only 5 minutes walk. Jeremy was a very nice host too. He helped me with everything I need and really friendly. Click here to view my apartment in Seoul.

If you're new to Airbnb and you plan to create Airbnb account, you can use my reference link to get about IDR 295,000 discount (about USD 22) on your first book. Simply click here or visit https://www.airbnb.com/c/pmayasari1?s=8. 



What to Do in Korea
Below is only the summary of my amazing autumn in Korea. I will write in separate articles about each activities for you :)

Eat, eat and eat!
Eat is always number one in my bucket list, hahaha. What is more delightful than eating Korean foods in Korea! From street food to restaurant menus, for foodie like me, Seoul is heaven. Some points you need to pay attention when eating in Korea:

  • Foods usually come in big portion. For small bellies, you might consider to share your food with your friend before ordering too many. 
  • Chili paste is one of their main ingredient for many types of food. But don't worry, there are a lot of non spicy foods also.
  • Pork is everywhere. So my Muslim friends, be careful. If you're not sure what's inside your food, you'd better ask.
  • If you're eating in restaurant, you usually pay your bill by yourself at the counter or cashier, not at the table. After delivering your food, the waiter will usually put a tab of your order on your table. You should bring the tab to cashier and pay your food there.
  • If you're eating street foods, the seller might ask you to pay first or at the end. If you need to pay first, the seller will usually tell you how much it cost before giving the food.
  • Water is free. Check out of there is a water dispenser or teapot around you. But I found in some street food stalls, you can take odeng broth to drink instead of water.

Our Korean barbecue

Some of must-try street foods: 
ddeokpokki (spicy rice cake), jeon (savory pancake), bindaetteok (mung bean pancake), hotteok (sweet pancake), odeng (fish cake with broth, perfect for cold and rainy weather), mandoo (dumpling), kimbap (rice & vegetables rolled with seaweed), gyeranppang (egg bread), dakkochi (chicken skewer), tornado potato (hweori gamja), gold fish bread (boong-uh-ppang), and soondae (blood sausage. Not all people can eat it, but for me it's actually pretty good).

Eat all the street foods!

Food coma at Gwangjang market

If you want to experience food coma in Seoul, come to Gwangjang market. 

Enjoy a Dramatic Scenery at Haneul Park
Autumn is a perfect timing to enjoy the dramatic scenery at Haneul Park. You can reach Haneul Park by taking subway to World Cup Stadium and walk (err..with a little hike) for about 30 minutes. No admission is needed. However, if you choose to take the shuttle bus, you need to purchase bus ticket. Please be aware that at some seasons, Haneul Park might not be as scenery as what you see in below picture. It's also windy up there, so prepare your jacket. If you choose to hike, bring water and wear comfortable shoes. Even though it is not as high as mountain, but still, it's tiring. 
In the middle of my hiking to Haneul Park
How dramatic it is!
A cafe at Haneul Park


Embrace the Grandeur Architecture of Ehwa University
Ehwa University is a woman university with an extra-ordinary campus design. At autumn, it is really breathtaking. I feel like walking through a fairy tale castle with its enchanting forest. Around Ehwa, there are also a lot of shops, especially women's stuffs, and street foods! I bought a super warm and stylist wool coat for only 46,000 KRW. Wohoo! I might be super broke if I stay for too long strolling at their street shops. Take the subway to Ehwa and walk from exit 1 to the campus.

Beautiful campus!

Ride a Cable Car to Namsan Tower
Namsan tower is one of the checklist of you travel to Seoul. You can climb the tower, lock a love lock, or even only enjoy the city view from above. To get there, take a subway to Myeongdong Station. From Myeongdong Station there will be a shuttle bus to the cable car station but with 1 hour interval, so I decided not to wait and choose to walk 30 minutes to cable car station. The road to cable car station is pretty uphill so make sure you wear a comfortable shoes. You can also take taxi to the cable car station.
I can say taking cable car to the tower is the best way. Even though it's a bit pricey (round trip cable car about 8,000 won), can be packed during weekend or holiday season (I have to queue for more than 30 minutes), but flying above the mountain with the city view below you is unforgettable. You can hike, of course, to reach the tower. A lot of local people hike. I think Korean people love to hike.
Note: you will need to pay another admission if you want to climb at the top of the tower.
City view from cable car
Lock and lock!

Shopping Korean Cosmetics at Myeongdong
After enjoying your cable ride to Namsan Tower, before returning, don't forget to spend some money in Myeongdong. Affordable Korean Cosmetics are everywhere. So many shops so that you may be overwhelmed with that. They will give you a lot of free sample and also there will be a lot of promo buy 1 get 1. If you're not into cosmetic, you can also enjoy its street food or shopping for fashion.

Hunting for Traditional Souvenirs at Insadong
Insadong (right behind my apartment) is a perfect place if you want to find souvenirs with Korean touch. For key chain, figurine, t-shirt, fan, cloth, painting, snack, and many more. Not just souvenir, there are also a lot of street foods. You should also explore the small street in between it to find an unexpectedly unique Korean restaurant with tasty foods and overflowing side dish.
Small streets at Insadong. Full with Korean Restaurant

Drink Soju and Makgeolli
Drinking is the part of Korean culture. If you want to try their Soju, you can easily get it from convenience store, street food stalls, or even restaurant. But me, I prefer Makgeolli or their rice wine. You can find in convenience store but I prefer the traditional one in one of my favorite restaurant in Insadong. The taste of traditional makgeolli is extraordinary. Mild but warm with a bit of sparkles.
Traditional rice wine. I miss you so much!

Visit Chandeokgung Palace and Walk Inside The Breathtaking Secret Garden
Chandeokgung Palace is one of the main palace in Seoul to visit. From the main street it looks a bit ordinary, but when you walk inside, you will be speechless. It is a big palace, not to mention including the Huwon secret garden. Huwon secret garden is really breathtaking when in autumn. It was like walking in a dream forest. The admission for the palace itself is 3,000 KRW. But if you want to enter the secret garden, it will cost you 8,000 KRW (including the admission). You cannot enter the secret garden without the 8,000 KRW admission. I suggest you to visit the palace early in the morning (it opens from 9 am) for less crowded. Ride a subway to Anguk Station and take exit 3, walk for about 5 minutes from there.
Changdeokgung Palace
Entering the secret garden

Explore the Grandeur Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeongbokgung Palace is the biggest palace in Seoul. Don't be tricked with the gate size because you will be surprised of how big the palace area is once you enter it. The admission is 3,000 KRW. You can continue to Folk Museum, Bukchon Hanok Village, Samcheongdong, and Insadong from there. To reach there, take a subway to Gyeongbokgung station or Gwanghamun Station. You will see the gate there. If you come to the palace at 10 am and 1.30 pm, you can witness the changing guard ceremony.

The grandeur Gyeongbokgung palace


Wear a Hanbok
I personally think Korean Hanbok is really pretty. The colour and the design really caught my attention. It is cute and pretty at the same time. The dress is long and big, so you don't have to take off all your clothes when wearing it. Palace visit is the perfect time to wear Hanbok. You will see a lot of people wear hanbok to Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung. You can match your hanbok colour with your friends or your boyfriend. Hanbok rental can be found around Insadong, Myeongdong, and Gyeongbokgung. If you don't want to spend money to rent it, you can find a free rental at some tourism centers, like near Gwanghamun gate. But of course, free rental will give you really short amount of time or even you can't wear it outside. 
Cute hanbok!

Act Like a Royal at Unhyeongung Residence.
I choose not to rent a chic hanbok because I wanted to save my money for eating (yeah, I prefer to have a huge feast at Korean restaurant, hahaha). After scrolling down some blogs, I found a cheaper alternative. Rent hanbok in Unheyongung Royal Residence is only 3,300 KRW for 20 minutes! You will get a choice of unusual hanbok, which is hanbok used in royal family: courtesan's, princess' prince's, king's, guard's, or servant's. You can wear the hanbok around the residence which mean you can get a realistic setting for your photo, not only a photo studio background. To get to Unhyeongung, take subway to Anguk and take exit 4. It's only 5 minutes walk.

Do I look like a royal family now? Hahaha.


Enjoying Nami Island and Petite France
Nami Island and Petite France are not located in Seoul. So to get to those places, there are extra effort and will consume a 1 day trip. Tiring, but fun. To get to Nami Island, you should take almost 2 hours train ride to Gapyeong Station (ITX or ordinary subway, not much time difference). From Gapyeong station, take Gapyeong City Tour Bus for 15 minutes (a hop bus with 6,000 KRW cost for one day ride). The bus will stop at Nami Island Wharf. You should take a ferry for 10 minutes (it will cost you 8,000KRW for foreigners) from there to reach Nami Island. Nami Island is actually a beautiful huge botanical garden with many family activities. But because it is so touristy and crowded with people, it is so hard to get a good photo without people around you. Oh, you should eat sambap in one of Korean restaurant there!
It is almost winter here

All leafs were fallen out :(

From Nami Island, you can continue to Petite France. If you love Korean drama or the fan of running man, you will be familiar with this place. Take the same hop bus for 20 minutes (the hop bus will come only every 1 hour). Petite France is only a small French village with puppet show, small cafes, cute houses, guest house, painting exhibition, and museums. I don't really like it. There's not much to do there.

Iconic houses at Petite France

After Petite France, you can continue to Garden of Morning Calm, or return to train station with the same bus. For the train station, you can return to Gapyeong Station or go to Cheongpyeong Station, both have train to Seoul. 

Please note that Nami Island and Petite France is way colder than Seoul. Winter is coming earlier there than Seoul. So if you expect autumn leaves, please be careful with your timing. I went there when Seoul is still covered beautifully with autumn leaves, but in Nami, almost most trees are falling out or turn brown.    

See you in my next post!

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