Tourist Tips: SIM Cards / WiFi Egg

This is another hot topic that comes up alllll the time on TripAdvisor. Everyone wants to know where to get them, which ones you can trust, which one is the best value, etc.  So today’s post will be quick and painless, too! My two cents on having phone/internet service on your trip.

These tips are for short term tourist visits. Visiting more than one month (and less than three) – check out KT Prepaid Services. You have to go to a Global Store and set these prepaid cards up. Tourist options are unlimited. Prepaid are standard pay and top up SIM cards.

Do I Really Need It? Can’t I Just Use Free WiFi?

At my age, 34, I have done my share of backpacker traveler, penny pinching travel, budget hostels, etc. Now, by no means am I a luxury traveler. I just prefer to be prepared and comfortable.

I always recommend visitors use AirBnB as these are often cheaper than hotels, similar quality, in local buildings AND include a wifi router (egg) included in the price.

IMO, you do need it. If you’re out on the streets, yes, you can find a cafe. Yes, they do have free wifi. But if you’re stressed, stranded, hot and sweaty (or freezing)…..it’s REALLY more annoying to find a cafe. If you have your own data connection, you can just pull out your phone, step to the side of the street (TIP: bank ATM lobbies are both heated and cooled year round and serve as great waiting areas) and find the map/directions and what you need.

99.9999% of cafes will offer wifi, and it’s often on the receipt or the wall, so you will usually have to buy something…..and an ice coffee at most is around 3-4,000W…which is the cost of the device anyway.

The cost of these devices are honestly cheap, maximum 4,000W a day. And personally, I feel that if you can afford a plane ticket, can come all the way here, you should be able to afford the 4,000W a day for peace of mind. And it’s just simply worth it.

Also, there is wifi in tourist areas like “Seoul Free WiFi.” And while it’s trustworthy, it could be overloaded or slow as hell when you need it the most.

What are the Options? What’s the Difference?

The main choice is SIM card and portable pocket wifi device (WiFi egg).

Traveling alone? You can use either SIM card or Egg. Egg is better if you’re worried about your phone battery. Your phone stays on airplane mode so it lasts longer. But it’s one more thing to carry around.

Traveling with anyone else (2,3+++ people)? Absolutely get an Egg. You can share it among the entire group. If you have more than 5 people, you will need two eggs.

SIM card has two options: Prepaid SIM (Voice for Fee) and Prepaid Data SIM. The Prepaid SIM allows voice calls and you will be charged at the end of your rental. The data SIM just allows, well, data.

I always recommend you get the Data SIM. When you use Kakao Talk, Line or any of the other Messengers (including Facebook) – you can call anyone for free using those. 

Instead of paying local rates for SIM (and I know many travel to other countries) – I always get 10$ worth of Skype credit and it lasts me 1-2 years. I RARELY make any calls to local businesss when I am in the country.

Which Company Do I Choose?

There are seemingly hundreds out there.

I recommend KT Roaming . KT Roaming is part of KT, one of the largest mobile companies here. BUT the best about KT is their superior foreign language support. They offer excellent phone support AND also feature Global Stores throughout Seoul with staff fluent in several languages.

You can pick up at any airport and return at other airports (even some ferry terminals). Fly into Seoul and out of Busan? No problem.

KT Roaming Main Page

List of KT Global Stores

There are other smaller companies that offer WiFi and SIM rentals, but they still all use KT. They might be cheaper, but in my experience, everyone that has problems with the other companies says that they are not responsive and nowhere to be found.

SKT and LG are other companies in Korea that offer SIM and WiFi Egg rentals directly, but I don’t have any experience with them. I used to be an SKT Customer, and was happy with the service, but they didn’t have much English support then.

What’s the Cost?

It’s very important to pre-reserve. You receive a 50% discount. You do not pay anything until you arrive at the airport. It’s literally just typing your name in a box and your arrival date.

You will absolutely need a CREDIT CARD (NOT debit card) to pay a deposit for the WiFi Egg Device in case of damage. 

And while a 30 day unlimited SIM card may seem expensive, know that those of us that live here with a phone pay around 65,000W per month for unlimited LTE data anyway :-). So you’re not getting massively ripped off or cheated.

You can see pricing here.

What to Do with Problems?

That’s the good news about booking directly with the source. You can walk into any KT Store and get service resolved….but just know that they might not speak English. That’s why, as I said above, there are many Global Stores where they do speak your language.

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Well, that’s a short write up today, but it’s class time so it’s a perfect place to stop.

Next time I’ll start on a LONG post: an overview of Korea’s other cities (and how long to stay, etc.)

 

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Tourist Tips: Apps To Download For Your Trip

This next installment of Tourist Tips should be much shorter and simpler!  As always, I’m tailoring this series to answer common questions from TripAdvisor and other social media travel groups in which I participate.

Today’s topic: Apps. Must download, must have apps! Let’s get to it. Short and sweet today and I did this post in one sweep! Didn’t take a week, aren’t you proud?!?!?! Each heading is a link you can click to get to the appropriate webpage for download.

**NOTICE: Some Korean apps will require a Korean phone number to register. A Korean phone number is actually used as a form of legal verification matched to your ID to prove that it is you. You must request a code by SMS and then enter that on the page when you create an account.

This is not necessary for Kakao Talk, Naver Map, Kakao Map, Kakao Metro, Kakao Bus.

Navigation

Kakao Talk

Every country and even region has their own free messaging app. Kakao Talk is Korea’s. Literally EVERYONE (and I mean literally – 97% of Koreans have a smart phone) use this app.

It’s a messaging app to use between friends, but also you can do things (if you have Korean ID and phone number) like buy movie tickets, send gifts to friends, pay at stores, make reservations at hair shops, online shopping…literally EVERYTHING.

For you the visitor it’s most important because EVERYONE will have it. The hotel staff, the tour guide…and you won’t need to use your phone to call anyone. The app features free voice and video chat. 

Naver Map

Naver Map is a Korean map service that again, everyone uses. As I’ve said over and over and over (I swear it’s like beating a dead horse) – Google Maps is not reliable. Google and the government don’t play nice together, so they have limited access. Google Maps will only work for basic transportation directions.  Walking directions do NOT work on Google, but you can still follow around the little blue dot.

Naver Map is my go to map service. The app now features English support after the Olympics. Naver Map is VERY detailed down to the exact address and subway exit to use and is always trusted.

App Store (iPhone) Download

Google Play (Android) Download

Kakao Map

Kakao Map is, as you’d guess, owned and operated by Kakao, the company that owns Kakao Talk. I use this map service sometimes, and it’s just as good as Naver….but Naver is my go to choice. Works just as well as Naver Maps.

Kakao Metro

Kakao Metro is a standalone subway app (again designed by…you guessed it….Kakao). It is EXCELLENT and above and beyond better than any other subway app.

The subways in Korea are marked by car and door number. So if you look on the ground (or the screen door) you will see a number like 7-2, 2-3, etc. Say it’s 7-3, that means Car 7 Door 3.

The car and door number are VERRRRRY VALUABLE info for finding your exit and transfer points. Some stations are huge, have 15 exits, etc. This will tell you exactly where to stand so you can be right at the appropriate stairwell closest to your exit.

I RELIGIOUSLY follow these directions and always stand at the proper door.

When you transfer, some stations only have transfer access in one way. Meaning that the transfer to a different subway line in one direction can be at the opposite end of the other direction. So the car number and door is vital to putting yourself in the right direction and place for your transfer.

Tip: If you stand at the exact door for transfers/exits, it can often be VERY crowded. Just go down one door or two over from that to have a bit more space.

Kakao Bus

Kakao Bus is an app that is designed in basic English, BUT you must be able to decipher/follow the Korean for bus stops.

This app is very useful as it tells you the bus stop information and when the bus is coming, and the direction that it is going.

It’s very popular for Koreans, but again, without Korean ability – bring your patience.

Kakao Taxi (Kakao T)

Now this is a popular app for taxi hailing, and I only write about it because everyone always asks about Uber or similar services. In Korea, there is no Uber. There are literally 5 which are registered taxis that drive black cars. They are literally about 5 times more expensive than a regular taxi.

You can generally find a taxi on the street no problem. If it is late at night in popular nightlife areas like Gangnam or Itaewon, it will be VERY hard to get a taxi. Even then, Kakao Taxi doesn’t always work.

The main catch with Kakao Taxi is that, no matter if your location is exact, drivers always ALWAYS call you.  So, if you can’t speak Korean or don’t have a working phone number, you might have your taxi cancelled because the driver doesn’t want the difficulties or hassle. It’s lazy and annoying, but sadly, it’s just how it is.

The app is in English, but again, don’t expect the drivers to speak it. They’re just regular taxis with this hooked up to a phone in their car.

There are lots of requests for info about bus and train tickets. BUT the apps only work if you have a Korean credit card, not a foreign one.

Korail – KTX, ITX, Mugunghwa (Slow Train) Tickets + Korail Passes

**Train tickets are ONLY available for purchase 30 days before departure.

SRT Rail (Gangnam Area High Speed Train To Busan, Gyeongju Etc.) does not offer any English support online at this time. The app is said to have Korean, but still requires a Korean credit card. Best to purchase at an SRT station.  99% of tourists will only use KTX as it’s closer to Hongdae/Myeongdong. SRT is only good for those staying in Gangnam as the main station is Suseo….which is a bit far out of the way.

T Money Bus Ticket Website 

This is one of two bus websites. This website features most of the routes from Express Bus Terminal (Gangnam) and a few from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal and Nambu Bus.

KOBUS

This is the original bus ticketing website that features several lines. There are sooo many buses and lines that it’s even hard to explain to Koreans. They just know which apps to use and where to go 🙂

*With Korea bus apps – enter your phone number 010-555-5555. You don’t need a number to register, but they just want a number to send a text with the reservation.

Food

There are many many many Korean delivery apps. However, these don’t offer English support AND you typically need a phone number to confirm delivery in case of problems (or to register for service).

Feeling adventurous and want to try them out? The main one is:

Baemin – App Store OR Google Play

The easiest way to use this:

Set your address by copying and pasting the Korean from your accomodation email.

Scroll on the main page to 맛집 랭킹. This means Ranking of Restaurants in your neighborhood based on reviews and overall popularity. It’s literally how I order all the time.

After you play around with delivery – be sure to hit the button 만나서 결제.  This means pay when the driver comes.

English Speaking Korean Help Apps/Sites

There are several services that exist to help foreigners with things like online shopping, baseball tickets, and food delivery. They are:

Go Wonderfully

English speaking concierge service that operates roughly 9 AM – 6 PM. They’ll help with concert tickets that don’t have an English site, online shopping, food orders, train tickets, etc.

Help Me Emo

This is a delivery assistance site for Korean food delivery. Must have Kakao to communicate with them for your order. Easiest way to get regular Korean favorites delivered to you!

Shuttle

This is a popular delivery app for foreigners that want to have their favorite foreign restaurants. As most of these places are in Itaewon, be warned that there can be hefty fees the further away from Itaewon that you are.

There are several Korean hotel apps that offer cheap “love motels” for a night at 30-50,000W. Unfortunately, you need a Korean number to register for these. That being said, I’m offering them purely as info for you to try them.

Yanolja

Yeogi Oddaeyo

 

That’s all for today’s tourist tips! I did this one so fast I can’t even think of what I’m gonna do next….it’s Saturday night and time to go out :-)!

 

 

 

Tourist Tips: Short Layovers + One Night in Seoul

In this version of tourist tips, I’ll tackle the short layovers that many arrange for themselves. On TripAdvisor, there are tonnnnnnnnns of questions about what to do/where to go/where to stay for a super short visit.

Not sure how to get from the airport to Seoul and back? Check here.

I advise that if you do not have six hours or more for a layover, don’t bother to go into Seoul on your own. This is because it takes around two hours from landing to make it into Seoul. If you get off the plane quickly, no bags, no line at immigration, it can be faster….but it is minimum one hour from the airport into Seoul just for bus/train alone. And you should leave Seoul three hours before your next flight (one hour transit, arrive two hours early). If you have a six hour layover, as you can see, that’s barely two hours in Seoul to explore.

If your layover is less than six hours or so, consider one of the free transit tours.

Incheon Airport Free Transit Tours

There are many kinds of transit tours available through the airport. Korean Air and Asiana also list tours on their website, but from a quick glance – they’re all the same and the ones offered by the airport office themselves. These depart at various times and require a certain amount of time with your layover.

These can even be done without a visa (even though your country may require one as a regular tourist).

Please check dates and times carefully:

Incheon Airport Free Transit Tour Information

Personally, if I had enough time to go into Seoul, I’d do it myself.

Where to Stay in Seoul

My previous post and full detail on the neighborhoods can be found at the link here.

But, if you are visiting for just one evening and depart the next morning – I would choose Hongdae. Simple access from airport, lots of food/nightlife choices to get a sampling, good shopping. Easy to pop in and pop out and see a bit of something.

If you have time the next morning (flight departs in the late afternoon or evening) – stay in central Seoul. If your flight is before even say 2 PM, you won’t have time to do much. Depart at 2 so that means airport by 12 and leave Seoul by 11….and Seoul is not busy very early in the morning. If you are in Central Seoul, you can wake up really early and see palaces and walk around a bit…if you want.

What To Do/When in Seoul

If your flight lands in the afternoon (3 PM or later): Simply, you will be too late to visit any of the tourist attractions in central Seoul as they close around 5-6 and last admission is one hour before or so.

Central Seoul at night is busiest in the Jongak/Jongno 3 Ga area. This is where everyone goes after work (specifically the Jongak Avenue of Youth). The Avenue of Youth name is misleading, as there are just a few shopping stalls, BUT there are tonnnnnnnnnnnnnns of bars and restaurants. It is very much a local street for Koreans, but because it’s central Seoul, they do offer English menus….without the feeling of being in a tourist hellhole :-).

Other than that, Myeongdong for instance, is dead by 10ish. If you’re in Central Seoul, it’s a cheap taxi to Itaewon, but there’s nothing Korean about Itaewon as far as food and culture. It’s a trendy date spot for young Koreans to enjoy foreign food now.

The other area to go, as mentioned, would be Hongdae. It’s always open, always something to do.

My previous post and full detail on the neighborhoods can be found at the link here.

 

One Day Central Seoul Tour

Many people often ask what they can do for one long day in Seoul. For that, I simply answer: the main downtown area. The Jongno/Myeongdong/City Hall area is home to all of Seoul’s tourist sites, plus many major markets as well. You can absolutely 100% get a good representative feel of Seoul.  These markets and tourist sites are also in the middle of the original downtown area, meaning that there’s a mix of old Korea with the new working class.

I tried to make a Google Map with walking directions, but Google Maps doesn’t work here for walking. I included links in the bold so you can get more info on your own. So I’m just gonna do it the old fashioned way.

On that note – for Maps. I’ve said many times before, Google Maps works for basic transportation directions. For walking directions, download Kakao Map or Naver Map. They are Korean Map services that are up to date and feature street view etc. They also offer English support (as long as your phone device is set to English). For subway, download Kakao Metro.

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NOTHING in Seoul gets going until 11 AM or so. The only places open will be breakfast rice and noodle places. All other stores will be very quiet.

So, if you arrive early say 4-5 AM. Take the first bus or train into Seoul Station. From there, you can visit Siloam Sauna directly behind Seoul Station. They offer luggage storage. You can shower, enjoy a traditional sauna experience…the food is even good. Large spaces for napping, even rooms for those that snore! Honestly, this is my favorite sauna in Seoul and every time I go, I stay there for 5-6 hours.

So let’s get started on the day around 10-11 AM. I’d head to Gwanghwamun first. Gwanghwamun is a giant public square and gate that leads to Gyeongbokgung Palace. There are some memorials, statues, and even a Hangeul (Korean Language) museum underneat the King Sejong Statue.

Now you’re hitting lunch time. To the west of Gyeongbokgung Palace there are two popular choices I’d recommend: Tongin Lunchbox Cafe OR Tosokchon Samgyetang (Ginseng Chicken Soup).

If you want to have a faster or lighter lunch, go straight into Gyeongbokgung. Exit East by the Folk Museum and grab some street food/snacks in Samcheon-dong.

As mentioned, you will also be right at Gyeongbokgung Palace. It’s the main palace in Seoul. I would absolutely try to be here for an English speaking tour guide (or get an audio guide), because I think without that, it’s just a bunch of empty buildings. There is also a changing of the guards ceremony that is very popular. Follow the link above for details on times etc.

After Gyeongbokgung, be sure to exit on the east side by the National Folk Museum. Also a nice air conditioned (or heated) area with bathrooms to catch a break. Exhibitions at the museum rotate often. There is also a “traditional old Korean neighborhood” from the 50s and older in the area.

When you exit on the east side of Gyeongbokgung, you will be in Samcheong-dong. Samcheong-dong is home to many cute cafes, local shops, places to grab street food…but most importantly to tourists – the Bukchon Hanok Village. Also right outside the East Gate of Gyeongbokgung is the National Museum of Modern Art (if that’s your thing).

After you explore the village and Samcheong-dong, continue south to Insadong. Insadong is a tourist area, yes, but there are tons of small restaurants and cafes with a very traditional vibe in the alleyways around the main road. If you stay on the main road, it’s just tourists. Venture out and around and you’ll see lots of cute stuff.  Another area that’s REALLY HOT these days is Ikseon-dong that’s nearby. 

You’ll be walking along all day, but by this point you’ll be in the main Jongno area.  There are a few more areas to see in the Jongno area depending on time:

Jongno Avenue of Youth – a small shopping street of 0 importance BUT surrounded by TONS of restaurants and bars with English menus, but very local feel (chicken, BBQ, everything is here)

Cheongyecheon Stream – famous park and stream running right through the middle of Seoul

Gwangjang Market – Seoul’s oldest operating market. Famous for bindaedeok, mayak kimbap, and all kinds of other foods and dishes

These are all close by to Insadong and depend on how much time you have left.

Presuming it’s the end of your day tour – hop on the subway just 2-3 stops to Seoul Station. Taxi can be fast, but traffic can be BRUTAL in the downtown area. Catch the AREX back to Seoul Station (either Express or All Stop) around 3 hrs before your flight. Takes one hour back to the airport, and arrive two hours early before your flight as recommended.  I always risk it and stay a little later, but that’s my risk and mine alone 🙂

Other Popular Areas of Central Seoul

Many people always ask – Can I go to Dongademun in a day? Myeongdong?

The answer is yes. But you’ll have to edit your day to revolve around those areas unless you want to run around A LOT. The tour course I’ve listed above is very general, come in, knock it out, head back to the airport.

As far as Myeongdong, I say skip it BECAUSE it’s just big brand makeup shops and clothing stores. This can be found everywhere in other areas of Seoul where you go on your day tour. AND not to mention the food is for tourists, so the street food isn’t the cheapest or most authentic.

Dongdaemun isn’t really that special, IMO. Again, tourists love to go, but it’s nothing I’d recommend going to in one day. Just shops and shops and shops. More to see than the inside of a mall for a day.

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That’s all for today’s tourist tips – up next I’ll cover SIM cards, WiFi and apps!

 

 

 

 

 

Tourist Tips: One Day in Gangnam – An Introduction

I recently wrote a nice blog post for the team at Trazy! Trazy is a wildly popular travel services site for Seoul. They offer any and everything – private cars from the airport, tickets to Nanta, day trips to the countryside and ski resorts…even entry passes to Club Octagon!

Since I focus on tours in the Gangnam area, I wrote up some information about Gangnam, the history, the neighborhoods, transportation etc.

I always recommend visitors enjoy the Gangnam or Jamsil area for the day before our meetup. There are many things to do for the entire afternoon…and then stroll on over to Sinnonhyeon to meet me for dinner!

So this post is kind of shameless. Just copy and pasted with some links for you to get more info on the places…..here goes!

What Is Gangnam?

Anyone that comes to Seoul is already familiar with Gangnam, thanks to the suuuuuuuuper popular song from 2012, Gangnam Style:

Yes, it’s home to wealthy people, fancy cars, and celebrities, but that’s just one tiny pocket of Gangnam. Gangnam literally means “South of the River” and encompasses basically the entire southeastern region of Seoul including Seocho and Jamsil, not just Gangnam Station area. Gangnam was actually farm land until the 1970s or so and did not really become fully developed until the 80s (or later, depending on your definition of developed). So everything you see in Gangnam is “new” by Korean standards.

Gangnam itself is divided into several main areas (dong means neighborhood in Korean):

Cheongdam-dong : True Gangnam Style, home to all the celebrities, fancy cafes, expensive cars.

Nonhyeon-dong: Standard Gangnam. Offices on the main roads and tons of quiet neighborhoods, residences and local restaurants/bars on the back streets.

Sinsa-dong: Home to plastic surgery clinics, more businesses, more residences. Also home to Garosu-gil.

Samseong-dong: Another residential area of Gangnam. Home to COEX, Bongeunsa Temple.

Seocho-gu (Gu Means District): Standard Gangnam. Home to many businesses and high rise apartments.

Fun fact. Gangnam-daero (Road) is actually the dividing line between Seocho and Gangnam Districts. The average visitor won’t notice a difference, but for residents it’s a matter of where you pay your taxes and who provides services.

Songpa-gu: Songpa is actually a huge district that is considered Gangnam, but it spreads east verrrrrry far. Many, many, maaaaaaaaaaany high rise apartments. Also home to Jamsil Station and Lotte World.

Hotspots & Places of Interest

***The bold titles of each section are also links to Google searches for more information, pictures, etc.***

Gangnam Station:  Gangnam Station is actually the busiest subway station in Seoul and has a huge underground shopping center. Great for cheap women’s clothes and accessories!

Gangnam Station Exit 9 and 10: Major shopping street. Every major Korean and foreign brand AND a GIANT Kakao Friends store!

Gangnam Station Exit 11 and 12 (behind the main road): Looooooooooooong alleyways with TONS of restaurants, bars and cafes!

Garosu-gil (Sinsa Station Exit 8): Garosu-gil means “Tree Lined Street.” The main street is home to more Korean and international brands. Also home to Korea’s only Apple Store. The highlight of Garosu-gil is actually off the main road – there are TONS of dessert cafes, tiny restaurants, cute bars, and more to explore!

Hallyu K Star Road (Apgujeong Rodeo Station Exit 2): Also home to the Galleria Department Store and Apgujeong Rodeo Shopping/Nightlife Area, this road features many of Korea’s fanciest luxury brands. Fun Fact: This neighborhood is SO fancy, all of these luxury brands have giant stand alone stores here AND even a store right down the street inside the Galleria Dept. Store…..which makes you wonder, WHO buys all this stuff!?  But, K Star Road features many cute character statues for your favorite K Pop groups. If you’re wanting to find a celebrity, it would be here. They live and shop in this area.

Seonjeongneung Tombs: (Seonjeongneung Station Exit 3 / Seolleung Station Exit 8): Home to two sets of tombs, this is actually a very beautifully landscaped and relaxing park.

Bongeunsa Temple (Bongeunsa Station Exit 1): A traditional Korean temple right in the middle of the city. Great contrast between past and present, traditional and modern!

COEX (Bongeunsa Station Exit 7 / Samseong Station Exit 5 or 6): The world’s largest underground shopping mall! Home to a giant Megabox movie theater, tons of shopping and food, Kimchi Museum, Aquarium…even a Convention Center, TWO Intercontinental Hotels, a Casino….and even the City Airport Terminal that offers Check In, Immigration, and Bag Drop for your flight.

Jamsil Station: The area around Jamsil Station is often called Lotte Town by locals. It’s home to Lotte World, the amusement park, as well as Lotte World Tower, the123 floor skyscraper. Lotte World Tower features not only a giant shopping mall with duty free shops, restaurants, an aquarium….but a luxury hotel, residences, and the observatory at the top.  There is also a Lotte Hotel next door and TWO Lotte Department Stores literally across the street from each other. The CEO of Lotte Group lives in Lotte Tower and the company has all of various HQs in buildings surrounding the entire station.

Gangnam – Transportation & Getting Around

Traffic in Gangnam can be quite brutal. Gangnam is the business hub of Seoul, so many people from all over Seoul and the suburbs come here for work. There are buses available to literally every corner of Seoul and the surrounding area (and buses to other cities at Express Bus Terminal). The subway lines in Gangnam run east to west, so it’s easier to pick a subway line and walk the remaining distance north or south. Don’t really try to transfer in Gangnam subways as you’ll go out of your way. You’ll spend more time changing lines than if you just walked.

Subway Line 9 is perhaps the best part about Gangnam. It has an Express train that can take you all the way across to Gimpo Airport in roughly 30 minutes…but it is PACKED at rush hour! You can then just cross the platform at Gimpo Airport to change to the AREX and be at Incheon Airport in another 40 minutes.  There are many airport limousine buses to Gangnam, but be warned in bad traffic it can take almost 90 minutes!

Where to Stay

Most people that stay in Gangnam are business travelers for work. I strongly believe Gangnam is the best neighborhood to live in (infrastructure, neighborhood cleanliness, services offered, etc.), but perhaps not the best for a tourist.  As a tourist, you’ll be hopping around all day and it’s at least 40 minutes to Myeongdong and central Seoul, and 45 mins – 1 hr to the other side and Hongdae depending on where you are going.

BUT if you stay near Subway Line 9, it is very easy to transfer to other subway lines by Express train. You can be at Seoul Station in 15-20 minutes, Hongdae in 40, and so on.

Try to stay near Subway Line 9 and an Express Stop (Sinnonhyeon Station, Sonjeongneung Station, Bongeunsa Station).  Most of the action (shopping, nightlife, 24 hour vibe, busy streets and activity) is around Sinnonhyeon Station.

 

 

Tourist Tips: From The Airport to Seoul (and Back) + Other Areas in Korea

For part two of my tourist tips, I’m going to tackle the various transportation options for Seoul. There are two main airports in Seoul, Gimpo and Incheon.

Looking for where to stay in Seoul? What to do on a short layover? Click those links.

Gimpo Airport is the domestic airport with 100+ flights per day to Jeju alone, as well as other cities in Korea. Note that with travel to cities like Busan, it’s almost easier to just take the KTX since you have to arrive early to the airport AND the main tourist areas are further away from the airport.

Gimpo Airport also has international flights to/from Tokyo, Osaka, Taipei, Beijing, and Shanghai. If you’re flying internationally, you’re in for one of the easiest, pain free experiences of your life.

Incheon is the main international gateway and definitely the shining star. It’s roughly one hour from Seoul. I could write a whole post on Incheon airport amenities….but, later! There are some domestic flights from Gimpo, BUT they are only available for connecting passengers from other countries and must be bought together. You cannot fly from Incheon to Jeju at this time.

Gimpo Airport

Gimpo Airport has literally five gates in the international terminal and barely any traffic. While there may even be a wait at immigration, it takes longer to get your bags :-). When departing from Gimpo Airport, DO NOT arrive two hours early. You will be so damn bored. Gimpo only has a few flights a day, so you can show up right before check in closing (I always say 1 hr and 15 mins), have no wait for check in and security….and STILL have 20 minutes to sit and wait. I’ve shown up 1 hr and 5 mins before departure…no wait…no stress from the staff either. Totally relaxed. There are really no big facilities inside the airport…but there is a recent renovation with new paid Sky Hub lounge if you need it.

Gimpo is very well connected by subway, but has very few limousine buses. Perhaps the best connection is Subway Line 9 with the Express train…you can be in Gangnam in 30 minutes! Subway Line 5 and the AREX All Stop trains also stop at Gimpo. To navigate the subway from Gimpo Airport, download Kakao Metro. It is the BEST subway app – tells you exactly which car and door to use so that you can be nearest your exact exit number or transfer direction….that way you walk less with bags inside some of the larger stations!

Going to Jeju? You’ll leave and arrive from Gimpo. Domestic terminal is separate, but generally just as easy to navigate. It’s busier as there are 100+ flights to Jeju a day alone, but you can arrive as late as 20 minutes before departure and check in

Incheon Airport

Which Terminal?

There are two terminals at Incheon Airport.

When departing from Incheon, pay attention carefully!

Terminal 1 = ALL airlines (Gates 1-50 or so)

EXCEPT

Terminal 2 = Korean Air, Delta, Air France, and KLM  ONLY (Gates 200 and up)

Flights also arrive at the Concourse Terminal (Gates 100-130 or so)…..The Concourse Terminal is home to foreign LCC budget airlines, some Korean LCCs, and Chinese/other SkyTeam airlines (to be close to T2).

If you arrive at the Concourse Terminal, you will take a train to Terminal 1 and arrive there for Immigration, Baggage Claim, Customs and transportation to Seoul.

You cannot freely switch between T1 / Concourse / T2. If you are transiting to other airlines, you must have a boarding pass and scan through a security gate (or have itinerary to show staff at transfer desks).

If you are departing and go to the wrong terminal, you can take a free shuttle bus between the two, approximately 20 minutes one way.

How Much Time To Get To Seoul?

My experiences are only with Terminal 1 (Gates 1-50 or so) and the attached Concourse (Gates 100-130 or so) you reach by train from T1. I have not yet used Terminal 2 (Gates in the 200s) home to Korean Air, Delta, Air France, and KLM)…but I have heard and seen that it is an empty, easy to use terminal since only four airlines are there!

As everyone arrives at different times throughout the day, it’d take years to explain and provide the best advice. But plan it this way:

Arrival time is when you touch the ground at the airport. Plan for 30 minutes to get to the gate, get off the plane, and walk/train to immigration depending on where you are.

Immigration lines can vary wildly. There’s really no good guess, just only knowledge of the busy times which are: super early morning 5-7 AM when many flights from SE Asia arrive and late afternoon 3-5 PM when alllllll the flights from Europe and America arrive. I have Smart Entry Service, so I use the automated kiosks, but I’ve seen lines with no one and lines with TONS of people at all times over the years. So to be safe, plan for 15 -30 minutes in line at the worst.

That’s because you’ll have to get bags. Even if there is no immigration line, by the time you get out to collect bags…and wait for them…it will still be 15-30 minutes until you’re out the door.

At the simplest: if you arrive at 6 PM, expect to be out of the airport with bags by 7 PM, and into Seoul by 8 PM. So, plan for two hours from the time your plane lands until you arrive in central Seoul.

How to Get to Seoul?

Terminal 2 has its own access with limousine buses to the entire city and train. Terminal 2 and Terminal 1 are six minutes apart by train. So just take AREX train from Terminal 2. Express train stops only at T2 and T1 and then are nonstop to Seoul Station.

If you want to go to any other station OR transfer on the AREX line, take the All Stop Train.  There are many limousine buses based on your exact destination, so check them carefully with your hotel. You do NOT have go to T1 if you are at T2 to take any buses/trains (or vice-versa).

For those on a short layover in the same day, I ALWAYS recommend taking the AREX train to avoid any surprises with traffic.

I also only recommend the bus in the early morning (before 8 AM), after rush hour (10 AM – 12 PM), and mid-afternoon (3-5 PM).  Rush hour traffic can be toooooooooooo messssy and unpredictable and you could really be screwed and wasting time.

Staying in a Myeongdong/Central Seoul hotel? There are MANY MANY limousine buses. Check with your hotel directly. They will know the best way. There can be many small changes to limo bus routes/schedules that I don’t know about, so I’m certainly not going to write a Bible about all the buses here.

Limousine Bus vs. Train?

I always prefer to take the train TO Incheon Airport since I am always departing during rush hour. The roads during rush hour, particularly the expressway, can be VERY clogged. On a good journey you can be at Incheon in 40-45 mins, but a bad one? 90+ minutes.

I also take a lot of weekend trips, so I do not have many big bags….

BUT

If you have large bags, I always recommend the limousine bus over the train. The train stations do have escalators and elevators, but they’re not always right where you need them to be. That means carrying large luggage around.

Also, the train station at Incheon Airport is about a 10 minute walk from arrivals to the platform. The limousine buses are literally right outside the door. You can take a luggage cart to the bus. The staff will load your bags onto the bus with a luggage tag to check.

The limousine bus has very wide, spacious seats. Very easy to nap as it’s pin drop quiet on the bus. On the AREX Express train, you are guaranteed a seat….All Stop is like a normal subway, so don’t expect a seat.

AREX –  Express vs. All Stop Train?

The Express train leaves from one side of Incheon Airport Train Terminal building, with the All Stop train on the other side.

From KTO: AREX Time/Price Details

The Express train is priced around 9,000W (1,000W = 1 US $ roughly). Takes around 50 minutes or so. It is a proper train with proper seats and free wi-fi. It ONLY goes to Seoul Station and nowhere else. You cannot transfer at any other station to subway EXCEPT from Seoul Station.

The All Stop train is around 4,000W and takes around 60 minutes. You can transfer at many stations and get off at places like Hongik Univ. Station.

The Express train only comes every 20 minutes – check the timetable carefully when you arrive. If you wait more than 10 minutes for the Express train, you’ve lost the time savings compared to All Stop and are essentially wasting the extra cash.

Late Night / Midnight Arrivals and Departures

The last train from Incheon Airport to Seoul is at 11:40 PM. BUT don’t worry! There is a Midnight bus to Seoul. There are two that leave every hour, one to Gangnam and the next one the next hour to Seoul Station.

Don’t wait two hours for the Seoul Station bus. Go to Express Bus Terminal and take a taxi from there. Just around 8-10,000W from Gangnam to Central Seoul area hotels.

Details about the late night bus times and destination can be found here.

The last BUS FROM Seoul to the airport is around 8 PM.

The last TRAIN is around 11:40 PM.

Late at night, the airport is DEAD. You absolutely don’t need to go 3 hours early because there’s nothing to do.

Airport Sleeping Options / Overnight Accommodations

Some people prefer to stay in the airport or nearby.  To be honest, I personally wouldn’t do this.

If you have a SUPER early flight, there’s always a bus to take if you want to stay out. If you are going to get accommodation, ok sure. Staying near the airport can be simpler. But I know most want to enjoy everything to the last minute!

There are three options inside the airport

  • Transit Hotel – located airside near the gate, don’t need to exit the airport…can just follow transit signs
  • Capsule Hotel – in the train terminal building – you must clear immigration to get here so be careful about visas
  • Spa on Air – Traditional Korean Sauna in Basement Level of Terminal 1 ONLY

If you are looking outside the airport, check the area around Unseo Station on the AREX line. Many hotels also offer free shuttles to the airport.

Taxis/Private Car

For many large families visiting, a taxi or private car is simply the best way to go.

You can get a Jumbo Van directly at the airport when you arrive. ALWAYS USE THE COUNTER. DO NOT EVER EVER EVERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR take a taxi or ride from anyone walking around the terminal that stops you randomly. DO NOT.

If you have a problem with your taxi driver or feel you were cheated/ripped off, ALWAYS get a receipt and call 1330 IMMEDIATELY. This is the tourist help line. They can report and investigate. They take it seriously. Any cab driver who is found to have done wrong pays like 300,000W fine and will lose their license after three violations.

The safest way is to use the government sponsored International Taxi for a flate rate. Click here for the rates and details.

If you want a private driver on your own, there are MANY companies like Korea Travel Easy and Trazy that offer their own drivers and arrangements. Prices vary based on size and needs. Click here for Korea Travel Easy’s page to see an estimate of price.

How to Get to Busan/Gyeongju/Other Cities?

There are buses available to EVERYWHERE in Korea. Check the airport website for your terminal and timetable and destination…..

You can also take the AREX train to Seoul Station and catch a KTX high speed train from there if you like. Tickets are available here.

 

 

 

Tourist Tips: Where To Stay in Seoul

Since I’m finally able to start back up, instead of trip reports and activities, I wanted to focus on the basics. As you know, I am verrrrrry active on Trip Advisor and am asked the same questions over and over. So, in the interest of simplicity, I wanted to create my version of what’s already out there…but simpler. To the point.

So you’ve decided to come to Seoul. But you have to decide where to stay, what’s important, how much you can spend, literally everything can be overwhelming. So, I’ll be breaking down the four major areas that tourists stays: Central Seoul (Myeongdong/Jongno/City Hall – all north of Namsan), Itaewon (Central, South of Namsan), Hongdae (West), and Gangnam (Southeast).

What I won’t be doing is 100 pictures and videos and hotel reviews. All of that is up to you. Your exact price, your exact location preference, everyone is different. If you’re looking for reviews, always check Trip Advisor, Hostel World, etc.

In my Mega Map below, you’ll see not only neighborhoods, but other categories you can filter so you can check in relation to a specific place you want to go or what’s your style.

How to Get a Free Hotel

Flying Korean Air or Asiana? Free hotels are available for those on a forced overnight stopover. There are several conditions, but the basic one is this: you are flying on the airline with a layover in Seoul, BUT there is no available flight that night. You are forced to stay over the night in Seoul. You cannot choose this option. You can’t choose a longer layover to get a hotel.  You must also have a ticket purchased through the airline directly, not an award ticket or codeshare from another airline (generally).

Most of those flying Australia to Europe will qualify since Australia flights land in the evening, but almost all flights to Europe and the USA leave in the morning/early afternoon.  Those flying from the US to almost everywhere in Asia will essentially not qualify as most of the flights are set up to connect from US to other points anyway. Do check your schedule and you must contact the call center!

Hotel choice may vary. You must contact Korean Air or Asiana customer service over the phone directly and inquire about the Stopover Hotel.

This document explains the rules for Korean Air.

There are many blog posts for the Asiana hotel, but nothing official I can find.

 

How to Use The Map

In the top left corner of the map, you’ll see a window icon with an arrow. This shows the drop down menu so you can filter out other categories as you wish. The far right rectangle makes the map bigger on its own Google Maps page.

 

Central Seoul – Myeongdong

Myeongdong is technically a very large around right in the middle of Seoul. While most people think of Myeongdong Station itself, it extends in a large area all around the station.

In the immediate area to the north of Myeongdong Station, you will find major, large hotels around 150 USD per night, give or take. You will also find the swarms of tourists in the shopping alleys until sundown, when the streets fill up with even more street food vendors.

If you head further north, you will find the Jongno 3 Ga area. This is home to the tourist sites and has both a business district feel on the main roads…and very old school Seoul in the alleys and backstreets.

Positives:

  • Easy airport access with many airport buses in the entire region AND easy subway access to everywhere (multiple subway lines)
  • Walking distance to all major tourist sites
  • Central shopping district with all major Korean brands for fashion and Korean beauty and skincare
  • Established tourist district means Tourist Volunteers in red coats and Tourist Police to help with any problems or if you’re lost

Negatives:

  • Myeongdong is 100% touristy. No doubt about it. And dead at night.
  • Myeongdong Street Food is not traditional. It is completely designed for tourists.
  • The area south of Myeongdong Station is kind of random. Not much there to do or see…..AND it’s on the side of Namsan, so there are lots of hills.

 

Central Seoul – Jongno 

Jongno is actually made up of several areas, running from Jongak Station (Line 1, Dark Blue Line) all the way to Jongno 5 Station.

The areas around Jongak and Jongno 3 Ga Stations have the most activity day and night. There are many businesses, parks, and offices during the day…and bars, restaurants, and street tents at night.

While Dongdaemun Plaza is to your far east, the area in between Jongno 3 and Dongdaemun is verrrrrrrrrrry quiet (around Jongno 4/5 area, for instance) after dark. Like a ghost town.

The area around Jongno 3-Ga station is actually the OG Gayborhood and is home to many Korean gay bars and street tents for drinking (most active on weekends). This is not like your standard western gayborhood with cafes, etc. It’s just where they go out. Korean society is still on the hush hush with the gays.

If you stay here, definitely stay in the immediate area around Jongno 3-Ga Station. There are many guesthouses and affordable motels.

Warning: These motels are actually “love motels” where many Koreans (young and old….I’ve shared elevators with couples in their 50s) go for some “alone time.”  They’re not sketchy, or really dirty or in bad shape, these places. It’s that most Koreans live with family, so they go there for a few hours in the afternoon (30$! 6 hours! From like 5-11 you get the palace…..and only like 50-60$ on weeknights. 70-80$ on weekends).  When you travel, in smaller cities, this is often all you have anyway.

So, in short, if the motel looks “cheesy,” covered in neon, or decked out with weird wallpaper with weird things like Marilyn Monroe quotes or fake plant pictures….it’s probably a love motel. And it’s definitely a unique Korean experience.

Central Seoul – City Hall/Namdaemun

To the West of Myeongdong is the business area surrounding City Hall and Namdaemun Market. To be honest, I don’t know much about this area. It’s a normal area, totally fine, but for night time action and food, you’re still going to end up over in the Jongno area.

Itaewon

Itaewon comes up often in the discussion. Itaewon is a perfectly fine neighborhood for those seeking trends. Itaewon is no longer the “foreign ghetto” it used to be. All of the old dive bars that were once full of foreigners (aka white people)…..are now trendy, fairly expensive restaurants and lounges.

There’s actually realllllllly good foreign food here. My friend Gemma runs Fat Girl’s Food Guide which is the go to source for all foreign food in Itaewon and Seoul, so definitely check that out. If you’re looking for Korean food, it’s simply just not in Itaewon.

Itaewon does have cheap guesthouses…..but it does not have good transportation. It is only connected to Subway Line 6, which means you’ll have to do a transfer or two on the subway to get around. It is on the other side of Namsan from Myeongdong and that area, so a taxi is easier. There are buses in Itaewon, but they don’t really go where you need them to as a tourist.

Gangnam

Shout out to my hood! Gangnam is where I’ve called home for the past three years now. Gangnam technically means South of The River, but for tourists it’s simply the Sinsa/Nonhyeon/Sinnonhyeon/Gangnam Station corridor and the surrounding areas. Gangnam has the best transportation to literally everywhere in Seoul (a bus to anywhere!) and has all the same food and nightlife options as Hongdae….

BUT……..

As a tourist, it’s much harder to navigate. This area just doesn’t see many tourists. Mostly business men with translators and corporate contacts. Since it’s a business area, to most visitors, they only see the offices and main streets (which are quiet after 6 PM). The real neighborhood and restaurants are in the back streets. There are some great places, but you’ve gotta know what to look for…..and some language skills help, too.

Also, as a tourist, Gangnam is kind of far. To get to any tourist area, it’s going to be about 30-40 minutes one way on the subway. Yes, there are buses, but at rush hour the traffic can be bad and the buses PACKED.

Hongdae

Hongdae is kind of THE go to area for all tourists now. That doesn’t mean it’s a shitty tourist neighborhood…but it’s because it’s the most vibrant. There is ALLLLL KINDS of food, shopping and nightlife open all day and all night. Daytime is a bit more quiet, but at night time Hongdae is on 100.  There’s literally all kinds of Korean food, street food, dessert cafes, you name it! The bars and clubs are open every night and somebody is always out.

Hongdae is on Subway Line 2 which runs a circle around the city. This means that you can get to central Seoul in just 20-30 mins or so depending on which stop you use.

Hongdae is also on the AREX line, making it easy to get in and out of the city to ICN and GMP airports. There are also a large number of AirBnBs and guesthouses keeping the accomodation costs down.

Up Next: One Day Layover and Tour Ideas for a Quick Seoul Visit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018: What’s Ahead + Tourist Tips

Greetings everyone, I’m back!

As we all know, 2017 was a roller coaster of emotions, jobs, and income. I changed to a residency visa, had to quit my job suddenly, find a new one, and then take two months off in between….before going back to my old one!

Then I got F visa fever and got 100 jobs and burned myself the fuck out….so bad I couldn’t do a damn thing for this website!

As an after school English teacher, to make it even more exciting, every January/February is filled with doubts and uncertainty about your future. The school you’re with has to re-sign a contract with your company….if you’re lucky. You can be the best teacher around (I had perfect satisfaction surveys for two years), BUT the schools can change their mind for any reason. It’s also typically when you get a new prinicipal, which my school did.

I was toying with the idea of quitting after school teaching, BUT then I got an offer I couldn’t refuse! So now, instead of a 20 minute walk to work…I have to take the subway just five or six stops. Not the end of the world for a commute, about 35-40 mins door to door (15 mins of which is walking to the subway), so it could be worse! And only FOUR classes taught per day!

I was also offered a job at the Korea Tourism Organization, but I decided against that job. It required me to move three hours away by bus (so no commuting), but the job started five days after I was offered it…..and I was NOT ready.

So I’m going to be doing my after school job on weekday afternoons. I’m sticking to doing private classes near my home without any bullshit commuting back and forth ten times a day. I really wanna go back to the old company I used to teach adults, but that won’t start until April. So for now, it’s just me and the after school gig.

Also, if I did the tourism job, I couldn’t do this website and build up my business. And this is what truly makes me happy. So let’s get back into it, shall we?

******************

I decided to start with some very generic tourist information….but it’s stuff I get asked EVERY DAY, a thousand times per year! There’s a lot of information out there, but I want to make it simple.  I don’t want to overwhelm with pictures and video….just concise info!

So let’s begin with the FIRST of many tourist tips……..The Neighborhoods of Seoul and how to choose where to stay!