Tips for First Timers to Seoul

I just arrived from a 5-day vacation.

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What can I say, Seoul is huge! 5 days is not enough!

Though with careful planning and strict adherence to your itinerary, 5 days may cover the majority of your Seoul travel goals.

In this blog post I will talk about Visa/Passport Requirements, Plane Tickets, Hotel, Pocket Wi-fi, Helpful Apps, Korean Money (KRW)/Money exchange, Itinerary Planning, and Transportation.

I hope that it would be helpful for 1st timers 🙂  Below are my Tips and some experiences:

  1. Visa and Passport 

Philippine passport holders require a visa to travel to South Korea issued prior to their departure date.

I highly suggest the travel agency “Rakso Travel” in Makati, where they can help you process your visa in 5-7 working days. They are polite, professional, “ma-asikaso” and easy to deal with.

Of course you should have your valid passport (not expired; at least 6 months valid on the day of your departure) already because Rakso will collect that from you, along with the other requirements.

  • Fee for their Korea visa processing is 700 php as of September 2018.

To increase your chances of visa approval, you should have a savings bank account, with money that can cover your travel expense (I suggest at least 50,000 php but this is not a hard rule).

Rakso Travel Address: 3/F, 112 Aguirre, Legaspi Village, Makati, 1229 Metro Manila, Philippines  (near Greenbelt 1, about 4 mins walking distance)

The requirements are found here:  South Korea Visa Requirements, click here

  1. Plane Tickets

The cheapest flights from Manila to Seoul (Incheon) is via Cebu Pacific or Jeju Air.

I heard that you can get a round-trip flight as cheap as 6,000 php if it is on promo fare/sale, so better be on the look-out, and also download the Cebu Pacific app on your phone for faster booking during seat sales.

Do take advantage too of the frequent flyer of Cebu Pacific called “Getgo”. Enrollment is free and you can earn points via Cebupac flights, grocery/shopping at Robinsons, hotel reservations at Agoda and many more.

From those Getgo points that you earn, you can fly for free to Seoul 🙂

In case your points are not enough, that’s ok because you can “top up” via credit card or cash to book those flights at a lower fare compared to purchasing the tickets alone with your card/cash. Take time to compare before booking.

After booking your flights, print the confirmation and keep your copy. You can also show the confirmation from your phone, but ensure that the Trip Locator is shown, as well as the bar code.

  1. Hotel/Accommodation

Don’t be intimidated by hotel options. You don’t have to spend a lot and stay at 4 or 5 star hotels (though that would be nice), if you will just sleep there and spend most of your day outside.

  • There are lots of affordable hotel/hostel options that can be found at booking.com and agoda.com

You can even filter the options to have your payment as book now, pay later, or book via cash upon arrival at the hotel.

[Picture below is a sample of the prices, discounts and the getgo points that you will earn by visiting This Agoda website for Earning GetGo (CLICK HERE) ]

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It’s best to have that type of booking, because in the event that you would need to cancel your trip, you can avoid paying the hotel reservation and not have any penalty (provided you cancel before the last day to cancel).

  •    Take time to read reviews online to set your expectation, decide which is best for you, and be familiar with the location/surroundings.

I usually read from 3 sources: blogs, Trip advisor and from the booking site such as agoda/booking.com reviews.

  •   Try to book more than 2 months in advance to have more options, and better hotel rates- the closer your travel date, the more expensive the rates will be, and some good options will be fully-booked already.
  •   Once you have booked your hotel, print a map with directions, as well as the booking confirmation because technology sometimes acts up and it’s nice to have a hard copy of important documents like this. You would need to show your booking confirmation to the front desk upon check-in.

For my first day in Seoul, since my arrival was already late night at around 11 pm, I decided to stay a night close to the airport. I decided to stay at Airbuddy Guesthouse which was a charm.

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The owner (MK) was very nice, and picked me up at the airport for a fee of 10,000 krw. For the 1 night stay I paid KRW 28,324 (roughly 1,350 PHP)- for a shared all-female room for 3 guests.

Then for the days 2-5 (3 nights) I stayed at Beewon Guesthouse located 5 minutes away from Anguk station (Insadong area).

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Great location, and I paid only KRW 48,697 (roughly 2,320 PHP) – for a shared female room for 2 guests.

The downside is that the rooms are not noise proof, so each time someone from the other room would slide their door open, i can hear it as well as their conversations if they talk outside the room. Also, it is a shared bathroom for around 6-7 girls even if I booked a room for 2 girls only. Apparently the 1 female bathroom is for 3 female rooms.

They have a resident pet cat who is 7 yrs old female and is super sweet and fat. This might be a make or break for you if you are a cat lover/ cat hater ^ ^

If you are on a budget, and hostels are not your thing, you can check-out Air BnB as well if you prefer staying at a home/condominium with more privacy and affordable rates.

BONUS TIP – Criteria in choosing a hotel/hostel:

Check for one which is:

(1) Convenient -located near a subway station and the areas that you want to explore

(2) Safe -must have lockers if you will share a room, and with cctv monitor

(3) Affordable

(4) Comfortable- has both aircon and heater, with hot and cold shower, does not have loud noises from construction nearby or party scene nearby; if you will opt for shared room with a bunk-bed look for the ones with curtains

(5) Practicalhas free breakfast and wifi

(6) Positive Reviews online Do not skip reading reviews about your hotel choices! It will save you from hotel/hostel nightmares. Aim to book a place with a checkmark for tip numbers 1-5 and lots of positive reviews.

  1. Pocket Wifi

If your booked accommodation does not have any pocket wifi that you can bring  outside, I highly recommend that you book in advance a pocket wifi because this would really help you in navigation, and in subway transfers, not to mention, instant research if you want to know if a certain café or restaurant is good.

Download the app Klook (or go to their website here, because you can get a cheap rental rate of pocket wifi at KT rental there. I rented mine for 5 days, for only around 120 PHP/day. This can be used on multiple devices and for unlimited data.

You would need to pick-up the pocket wi-fi at the Incheon airport Terminal 1 (Arrivals, basement area), and drop it off at the same place.

5. Helpful Apps

As mentioned earlier, download Klook for deals on pocket wifi, and they also have tour deals/travel sight-seeing packages (not including air).

Second, more helpful than google maps in Seoul, is the app called KakaoMap which is basically like Googlemap for street navigation. You would be able to see the locations of your sought-after restaurants or stores, and how to get there.

For the subway navigation, download the app SeoulSubway.

You would just need to type the subway where you will depart from, and the subway that you would like to go to, then it will direct you to the fastest and easiest route, including the transfers.

Lastly, as a back-up to solve language barrier, do download Google translate in Korean which works offline as well, so that just in case your pocket-wifi is drained, you can use this to communicate your questions.

6. Korean Money / KRW

Buy while in Manila

Korean Won (KRW) can be bought here in the Philippines at some Sanry’s money exchange. To be safe, try to get KRW a couple of days before your departure. I made the mistake of trying to buy 1 day before my flight, and the Sanry’s money exchange that I visited ran out of KRW.

ATM Withdrawal

You can withdraw KRW at global ATMs in Seoul located at various places, but please note that there is corresponding foreign transaction fee for every withdrawal.

Exchange in Seoul

I do not recommend exchanging all of your money at the airport arrivals Money Exchange. There are better rates found at Money Exchange found in Myeong-dong and Dongdaemun. If you would really need to exchange your money at the airport, do so but only a few dollars (such as 50 USD or maybe 2,000 PHP only).

Credit cards

Most stores/boutiques, cafes and restaurants accept credit cards.

Make sure that if you plan to use your credit card overseas, call your bank for Travel Advise, prior to your departure. Those agents know what to do. This will prevent them from putting a block on your card if you attempt to use your card abroad. That would be a nightmare if you are relying on your card and it is declined, only because the fraud department thought that your card was compromised.

HOW MUCH POCKET MONEY TO BRING?

For your transportation, food, shopping, pasalubong, entrance fees, and activities:

To be on the safe side, for 5 days I would suggest having a pocket money of at least $250 — $300 USD per person (provided that your tours and tickets to major sightseeing is paid for and the cash you bring is only for Food, shopping and transportation -ex. Nami Island, Lotte world, Everland paid for already).

That is a modest budget/budget travel, and depending on where you eat and how you spend, that budget can either be too little or too much.

It would be better if you have back-up money with you in your ATM card, and/or credit card.

Once you exchanged your money to KRW, immediately set-aside your money for your return bus to the airport, plus extras (snack/lunch) ~roughly 30,000-50,000 KRW per person.

This will save you some stress of being all-out and having to withdraw funds from ATM.

7. Itinerary Planning

WHEN TO GO: For me, the best time to visit would be during Spring or Fall/Autumn

  1. Spring: Between April to June when the flowers are blossoming
  2. Autumn: September to November when the beautiful trees turn red/yellow

(The weather will not be too cold, nor will it be too hot)

Itinerary planning is so important in order to make the most out of your stay, and to enjoy a certain season.

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Believe me in this, you will not complete your perfect itinerary in 1 sitting, not unless you are there for only 2 nights.

Try to do your itinerary planning in a span of 2-3 days and it doesn’t have to be consecutive days. Research and learn about the places you want to visit as much as you can. You can finalize your itinerary after a few drafts, then be flexible about it. You are not doing an amazing race, but an amazing trip for yourself, for your memories.

When planning, try not to be pressured in going everywhere and taking pictures everywhere. What matters most is that you will have a memorable, relaxing, and fun time. If you are not the type who would like to ride roller-coasters, there is no need to force a trip to Lotte world, and spend money on the entrance fee, just so you can say you went there.

The most memorable trips are the ones you enjoy the most, with little stress and enough time to explore and experience what a place has to offer. So pick 3-4 places, plan well, and make sure that the next destination is on the way, or nearby so that you do not need to spend so much going back and forth.

Shopping for Skin-care/Make-up

For girls/ladies we usually want to buy skincare/beauty products, and no doubt Myeong-dong is the place to be, as it is like a mini Time-square of Beauty shops selling skincare products and make-up. There are also a bunch of coffee shops, restaurants, cat cafes and money exchange stores.

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TIP – It is better to consolidate your shopping in a store until it reaches 30,000 KRW because in that way, you get to shop tax-free. For example, instead of buying 15,000 KRW worth of items in store A, and another 15,000 KRW worth of items in store B, it would be better if you buy 30,000 KRW only in 1 store which offers TAX FREE so that you will have less to pay.

To be sure a certain shop offers tax-free shopping, ask the sales lady, or look for the sticker at the store which shows TAX FREE. You would need your passport with you for them to verify that you are a foreigner.

Wearing Traditional Korean Clothing/Hanbok and Visiting the Major Palaces

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A “Hanbok” is a traditional clothing for men and women in Korea.

Hanbok rental is usually availed by girls/ladies but it is also available for men, and it is quite cute for couples.  There are a bunch of Hanbok rental shops located nearby Gyeongbokgung station, with an average rate of 15,000 KRW for 4 hours.

The only difference would be the available designs, quality of clothing, and whether or not hairstyling is included (for the girls). My tip is to go early morning around 9-9:30 am so that you will be the first customer and get to pick the best outfit and be assisted right away.

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It is really fun to dress-up in Hanbok and take pictures. You also get to visit the major palaces without having to pay entrance (it will be FREE! =) ).

I adored the palace called “Changdeokgung” which was very close to Beewon Guesthouse. If you will travel you need to take a subway to Anguk station, or take the bus towards Changdeokgung bus stop.

Pasalubong

You definitely want to visit Insadong where you can find keychains, magnets, fans, stationary, small buddha statues, and such. Check out also for pasalubong Dongdaemun Market (but you would need to haggle) and Ewha Women’s University where there are a few shops which sell affordable socks, snacks, more beauty shops and some clothes.

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Korean snacks and grocery products

Be sure to visit Lotte Mart located at Seoul station. It is a huge supermarket where you can buy delicious Korean coffee, tea and Korean snacks such as Honey Butter Almond (my favorite this is so addicting! though a little pricey), Lotte almond chocolate, Korean seaweed (called Gim or Laver).

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(HONEY BUTTER ALMOND IS LOVE!!!!)

Art and History

For a little History, do visit the free museums such as the National Museum of Korea

and The National Folk Museum of Korea (near Gyeongbokgung Palace).

If you like going to Art galleries, Insadong area is not to miss. They do have a lot of art galleries, and I enjoyed going to Kyung-in Art Gallery. 

You can also visit a Kimchi Museum in Insadong, called “Kimchikan” for a small fee of 5,000 KRW (cheaper if you are a student or for children). They also offer kimchi-making classes (for 6,000 KRW or around 290 PHP), but it must be booked around 5 days in advance and is subject to cancel if not enough students sign-up.

Check the website here – Kimchi Museum in Seoul, click here

Temples

There are 2 Buddhist temples that are beautiful and accessible in Seoul:

  1. Bongeunsa Buddhist Temple – in Gangnam, next to COEX mall
  2. Jogyesa Temple – in Insadong, near Anguk station

I was only able to visit Jogyesa Temple, as it was walking distance from Beewon Guesthouse in Insadong. It was so beautiful, and the Buddhas inside the temple were HUGE. It felt so light and peaceful, conducive to praying and meditation.

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(Picture above is the Buddha statue outside of the temple)

For respect, I did not take any pictures of the Buddhas inside the temple, but took some shots outside of the temple.

SPA

There are spas in Korea called Jimjilbang where you can experience the hot pools, sauna, body scrub and massage. The 2 famous ones in Seoul are (1)  Dragon Hill Spa (2) Siloam Spa

Supposedly, I was going to try the spa Siloam Sauna near Seoul Station, but I just finished doing crazy grocery shopping (it’s a foodies comfort zone) at Lotte Supermarket, and did not want to carry 3 big shopping bags back home with subway transfers and long walks – after going to a spa.

I made a mental note/promise that when I do visit Seoul again, this will be part of my priority to-do =)

Nature

I wasnt able to do this, but try to visit Nami Island for a quick get away from the city and appreciate the beautiful nature and trees especially during autumn/fall.

If you have more time, like 15 days in South korea, do visit Jeju Island for more nature and sight seeing. 🙂

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

There are so much more places to go and visit, and places to eat/drink. Make sure to do your homework/research! The ones I listed are only a few suggestions.  =)

Consult Trip Advisor, youtube vlogs, google, blogs, and even check-out instagram (IG) with #seoul #seoultravel for inspiration for your itinerary.

[ PS – I don’t really like clubbing or bars, so I did not bother researching on where to go for a night life. If this is your thing, I’m sure you will find ways to find the best night spots 🙂  ]

8. Transportation

T-card

First of, as a tourist in Seoul I just want to say that one of your best investments will be purchasing a T-card because it is so convenient to use. You can use it in the subway, bus and even at convenience stores.

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Try to purchase one in a convenience store (the one at the airport as of October 2018 is the limited edition Line Friends T-card which will cost 4,000 KRW for the card alone, or almost 200 PHP). Make sure to load it up as well/recharge. You can start with 20,000 KRW and if in case this is not enough for your rides, you can just “recharge” it later at subway stations.

There are 3 affordable ways to get to Seoul city, from Incheon International Airport:

  1. AREX train
  2. All stop Train
  3. Airport limousine bus

Note/Tip – If your arrival time at Incheon Airport is around midnight, there is a chance that you will miss the last airport limousine bus, and it would be better to arrange an airport pick-up from your hotel, or you can also get a a taxi/cab, but rates might be too expensive.

  1. Express Train:  AREX (Airport Railroad Express) – “Express Train Pass”
  • From terminal 1 and terminal 2 Direct to Seoul Station with no stops – 51 mins
  • LAST TRAIN – 10:45 pm

Adults: 9,000 WON  (about 440 PHP)  / Children 7,000 WON  (about 340 PHP)

Discount available: A discount is available for customers who present flight tickets from Jeju Air, Korean Air, Asiana Airlines, T’way Air, or Eastar Jet for departure within seven days.

  • Ticketing booths: AREX Travel Center at Incheon Int’l Airport Terminal 1 Station (Transportation Center B1) / AREX Travel Center at Incheon Int’l Airport Terminal 2 StationPayment: Credit card and cash both accepted
  1. All stop Train
  • From terminal 1: Adults 4,150 WON  (about 200 PHP)  – 58 mins
  • From terminal 2: Adults: 4,750 WON (about 230 PHP) – 66 mins
  • LAST TRAIN – 11:30 PM
  • Payment – You can use your T-money card/T-card; Cash only
  • Ticketing booth – Transportation Center on B1F of Incheon Int’l Airport Terminal 1 & Terminal 2 (Single-journey transit card), convenience stores inside Incheon International Airport (Tmoney card), Tourist Information Center near Gates 5 & 10 on 1F of Incheon International Airport Terminal 1 (MPASS)
  1. Airport Limousine Bus
  • Ticketing Booth
  • From terminal 1:  You can purchase bus tickets and get information at ticketing offices next to Exit 4 and 9 in Arrival Hall Floor 1 (indoors)
  • From terminal 2: You can purchase bus tickets and get information at ticketing offices indoors on Traffic center/Transportation Center (B1)
  • Note – According to my research, some buses will accept T-card, but not all buses will have the scanner for the T-card
  • 2 Types
  • – Deluxe     (travel to major hotels in Seoul; 15,000-16,000 KRW/way or about 715 PHP-762 PHP)
  • – Standard bus   (10,000 KRW/way or about 480 PHP/way)

Final tips:

  • Packing tip/Baggage– Do not store your folding umbrella in your carry-on, it will be confiscated. Also, any liquids more than 100 ml is not allowed in your carry-on. This must be checked-in.
  • Charger must-have– Electronic sockets in Korea are round. Make sure to bring a universal adaptor to charge your phones.
  • 1 week before Departure – try to learn a few Korean words and phrases, and read up on their etiquette. It will help you and you will also be accepted more positively with your effort in speaking their language and respecting their culture. Also, make sure your bags are already packed. Do not do last minute packing or you will just stress over it, or forget important things.
  • Conversion cheatsheet- in a small card or index card, create a table of conversion so that whenever you shop you will have an idea of how expensive or cheap it is
  • 1 day Before Departure, do your online check-in by either clicking the link sent to your email for online check-in, or going to the website of the airline and click manage my booking for your online check-in (you would need your booking confirmation which consists of letters and numbers). Do not skip the online check-in – the lines of regular check-ins are longer
  • On the day of departure, Be there at the airport 3 hours before your flight, wearing presentable clothing and closed shoes. Once at the airport, pay for your International Travel Tax First (1,620 PHP) before lining up to the online check-in line.
  •    > >>  Immigration lines for international flight is long, and it is sometimes time-consuming because some officers ask too many questions from other Filipinos traveling.  Also, it is better to give yourself allowance from sudden crazy traffic and/or long lines from both check-in and immigration.

So I guess those are the tips that I will be sharing for now.

Seoul is a safe, clean and interesting city, which I can see as the make-up/skin care mecca of Asia, and home of the K-pop stars/K-drama stars. I’m sure there is more to Seoul than that, as I have only explored the surface and hopefully I can go back in the future.

They offer the Best Fried Chicken in Asia no doubt, and the Best Ice Cream in Asia as well. I also really love their coffee! Make sure to try a hot or iced latte while there and you will taste the difference.

Japan is still my soul’s 2nd home, but I wouldn’t mind coming back here in Seoul, as there are so much more places that I have not seen.

I had a great time in Seoul, even if I visited the place alone. Solo travel can be great too with the right planning and mind-set.

In case you visit, or if you have any questions, tell me about it in the comment section below 🙂

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