Traveling to Seoul, South Korea anytime soon? I just recently came from there and had a great time experiencing new stuff! If you're like me who's OC during the prep time prior to your trip, here are some of my tips and recommendations for you.
1. Book your flights early for cheaper airfares.
They say the early bird catches the good worms. More often than not, Cebu Pacific puts up the cheapest prices when they first open slots for certain destinations. I was able to book my trip to Seoul for less than P5,500 last year when they had a sale. Some people won't agree with this, since they get to find good deals as the travel dates get nearer, but for me, this always works -- most of my trips are booked a year before.
2. Similarly, book your hotel accommodation early, online, and preferably around the Myeongdong area.
Several online hotel booking aggregate websites (i.e., Agoda, Booking.com, Hotels.com, Asiatravel, etc.) offer early bird discounts of 20%-40% when you book early. What I do is to look for hotels via TripAdvisor.com, then navigate to the site with the cheapest price from there. Mostly though, I get good deals from either Agoda or Booking.com. For this trip, I got to book our 6D/5N stay at Metro Hotel Myeongdong for Php26,550 (Php2,600/pax/night), which I will tackle in another post.
3. Print discount vouchers online to save a little.
There are some sites that offer discounts to tourist spots and cosmetics or apparels. Simply look for them online and print them before your trip. Some sites that I recommend are Visit Korea and Visit Korea Committee. With myriads of cosmetics stores scattered around South Korea, be sure to know the exact store location on where to use the voucher.
4. No Korean Won? Use your ATM card to withdraw money.
Check with your bank if your ATM card will be accepted in international automated teller machines. If yes, you can conveniently withdraw money from there when you arrive at the Incheon International Airport -- ATM's are easy to follow and usually has English options. As for me, I made use of my BPI ATM. I compared Google's exchange rate vs the ATM rate after I withdrew, and found out they're almost the same. When withdrawing, you will get the money straight as Korean Won, so compute your expected amount prior to your transaction.
5. Buy a T-money Card for convenience and discounted fares.
This card is similar to Hong Kong's Octopus card, which is widely accepted in convenience stores, transportation systems like subways and buses, as well as some restaurants across Seoul. T-money card comes in different cute designs, and can be bought from convenience stores like 7-Eleven, GS 25, etc. for KRW2,500 (~Php96), which is non-refundable. Reloading the card can also be done in convenience stores or via kiosks placed inside the subway station. As an added bonus to convenience, having a T-money Card gives you KRW100 (~Php4) discount on train and bus fares (not all), and free/discounted transfers.
6. Book your tours and mobile wi-fi device ahead of time, online.
I recently discovered Klook.com, a site that offers discounted tours for several countries across Asia. We got to book our Yongpyong ski tour package for KRW110,000 (~Php4,300), Nami Island + Petit France tour package for KRW103,040 (~Php3,960), and 6-day unlimited mobile pocket wi-fi rental for KRW45,474 (~Php,800) from there. Don't be hesitant to book your tours early, since you can still cancel it without a penalty fee up to a day or two prior to the tour date.
7. Satisfy your hunger with street foods at Myeongdong.
Stroll around the Myeongdong Street during late afternoon to evening and get to try several street foods (e.g., meatballs, chicken barbecue, corn on the cob, strawberry with red beans, beef stew japchae, sweet crepes, etc.). Apart from those, you can also see clothes, socks, fruits, drinks, cosmetics, and more around the area.
8. Download offline apps for subway, buses, and maps.
Since South Korea has a ton of subway lines, it'll be very helpful to download apps that can show the list of stations, number of and where to transfer, schedule, price, and distance. I downloaded the app called Subway Korea, which is just free. For an offline map and list of buses, I used the Korea Tour app, which is also free.
9. Get the free facial masks or any freebies from cosmetic stores.
Don't be surprised if you see several beauty shops lined up almost beside each other in every block. Some of them will offer you facial masks as you pass by their store. Get it. It's free. Just exchange it with the courtesy of going into their store to look around and inquire politely. You don't have to buy anything at all. In one night, I was able to get at least three facial masks.
10. Try out something different.
Most tourists go for the usual temples and shopping. If it's your first time, spare some time to research and also try out skiing (if visiting between December to March), strawberry picking, checking out books/arts stuff, watching shows, visiting attractions outside the city, and more. If you don't have much time to read up, I'll try to help you by posting our itinerary in another entry.
Apart from these ten tips, I'd like to suggest that you prepare your mind and body to experience and learn something new from traveling. Have fun and enjoy in the process, whether you get lost or don't get to do all the items in your itinerary. Try to find time resting at night as well, so you'd feel refreshed and ready for what's to come the next day.
Lastly, please bring appropriate clothes for the weather, depending on the time of your visit. When I was there in early February, the temperature would range from 3 to -11 degrees Celsius. I would always check the weather forecast and dress up accordingly before going out. It helped that I had several pairs of leggings, jackets, scarves, and of course earmuffs to battle the very cold weather. Enjoy your trip!
Got other tips? Feel free to share it to others by commenting below.