Thursday, June 27, 2013

Korea Travelogue: Tips for a free & easy trip to Seoul!

I've mentioned before that I'd do this in my travelogue entries and also doing this just in case anyone needs help to survive in Seoul lol.
Please note that all these are based on my own personal experience so what may work for me, may not work for you.
Peace y'all and have fun in Seoul! :D

1. Download the Seoul subway map onto your phone

Honestly speaking, I really dislike taking the subway in Korea because it's so freaking complicated!
Take a look at this map: 

9 lines all together. Plus this is just Seoul alone (ok, you can get to Incheon too). And you say Singapore's MRT lines are bad?!
So while we were there, I was constantly trying to figure out which station we had to switch trains at etc until I downloaded this app from the app store because it was driving me crazy alighting at the wrong stations and wasting so much time. Time is so precious especially when you're on vacation no? Agreed right lol.
The app is called 'Subway Korea' and totally free.

How the app looks like and please admire my GRi background too xD

How the app looks like when you open it

This app is really a saviour! And it works perfectly fine without any internet connection so no worries if you have no data in Korea.
Now instead of trying to locate the station you want to find among all the 9082983782973892312 stations (I'm just kidding really!), you search for it!
Yes, like pressing Ctrl + F! SOOOOOOOO CONVENIENT!

For example, searching for Myeongdong station

It'll locate it for you and then you can choose whether this is your departing station or destination station. I didn't use the 'through' option. So assuming that I want to get from Myeongdong station to elsewhere, I'd click 'Depart from'.

And assuming that I want to get to Seoul Station, I select it as my 'Arrive at' option and ta-dah! The app tells you which is the fastest route to get there and even the fare and time taken to travel there. You can also select the 'Fewest' option which tells you what is the shortest (but may not be the fastest) route to your destination. 

Pretty good right? Just remember to know where you're supposed to get off or where you're boarding from!
Super easy plus it's all in English. Great for foreigners! :D
Another alternative is to print out the entire subway network of stations and play 'Where's Wally' each time to locate the station you are at. Don't say I didn't warn you :/

2. Do your homework - Plan for plan A to Z!

Planning a free and easy trip is really simple provided you do your homework beforehand.

Find places you want to visit and try to group them according to location.
Time is of the essence so don't waste time going from one end of Seoul to the other in one day.
And always have a back-up plan in case the weather changes and affects your plans!
Read up on places before you fly off and see what others say i.e. how much time you may want to spend there, is it worth visiting etc.
Save the Earth by taking a screenshot on your phone of the directions. I hated walking around with a stack of paper (our itinerary) for this trip so next time I'm going all digital please! Gonna bug the bf to get me an iPad mini just for that purpose HAHAHAHA!

I find the following websites very useful in helping to plan with my latest trip to Korea:

  • Seoulistic - Good overview of everything Korean from culture to places of interest to food and the little tips you can do to survive in Korea. Has tons of articles on things you can do in Korea.
  • KTO - Gives background information of tourist attractions
  • Tripadvisor forum - Find information from other travelers! There may be places that you probably won't find in your Lonely Planet guidebooks so here's a good place to start. Just don't procrastinate and click the 'x' button too quickly! You may find a gem or two here.
  • Blogs - Like mine! :D Bloggers give fairly accurate information but you do have to take everything with a pinch of salt. Like how we got lost trying to find Butterfingers because the exit numbers had changed since the blogger posted that entry. Be flexible! If you have a map of the place, try to orientate yourself. If you don't see it you can find the address via Google. Another option would be to practice your Korean and ask a native for help! (See my next point). Blogs are also really useful in helping you find the location of your oppas' cafes/restaurants (yay to awesome fangirls/fansites!) Remember to find entries that are closer to the date of your departure, meaning if you are flying off in July 2013, don't go and find an entry from 2008 unless the directions remain the same in every damn entry since then. Places close down, people change, buildings and roads disappear and exit numbers change too!
3. Learn simple basic Korean

Trust me on this, this really helps! If you're a Kpop/Kdrama fanatic like me, you're probably better off than the average tourist visiting Korea because you'd know how to read simple Hangul (I hope) so make use of it!
Go google for websites that teach you a few Korean phrases like from the KTO website or learn off any phrasebooks that you come across in the local bookstores. Better still, head to the library and try to borrow a free Korean phrasebook!
I find that learning their local language (a little) helps in understanding locals and not having any misunderstandings arise.
You can easily read the words and know what the menu means in case it doesn't have any English on it.
If you do get lost at least you know how to ask a Korean the directions or whether they could speak English and help you with directions.
I remember us asking a Korean guy how to get to Natuur Pop and he searched for it on his handphone. I asked him in Korean if I could take a picture of the map with my phone and can you imagine if I didn't know how to speak Korean? I'd totally come off as a weirdo LOL! Siao gin na trying to take pics of my phone for wat HAHAHAHAHHA.
Plus it makes a good ice breaker when the locals realise you can understand them! :D
If all else fails.... just bring a friend who can speak Korean HAHAHA!

4. Enjoy your tourist perks

Being a tourist in Korea is pretty awesome to be honest.
I printed tons of these coupons from here for myself and the girls before we went on this trip because I knew we would be spending alot of time in the makeup stores.
You can also check out Koyuki Palace for more links to print the discount coupons of various cosmetic brands that KTO does not provide.
Even if the coupon is in a different language, just print it out. It wouldn't matter to the sales assistant anyway :)
We printed out several Japanese coupons as well even though we were clearly not Japanese to begin with and they were accepted.
Another thing to take note of: The different cosmetic brands have coupons for different outlets and it can get very confusing esp those in Myeongdong. My tip would be just print the coupons for those located nearer to the subway station (there are maps in the coupon links). That way it'd be easier for you!

Remember to ask for your tax refunds too! It can amount to quite a sum if you spend alot (like me -.-").
I managed to claim back almost SGD$120 just from the tax refund amount alone  :/
There are several discount coupons available online for tourist attractions like Petite France, Everland and even for the Airport Limousine services. So make use of your passport!

5. Shop like a pro

My loss is really your gain sigh.
If you really love makeup like me, please check out Watsons over in Korea!
From time to time they have very good sale prices like how Clio cosmetics went on a 25% discount sale the next day after I bought so many things from their main branch in Myeongdong OTL.
You can find very good deals for Laniege in Watsons which differs from the Laniege main stores. 
Qiu bought tons Laniege items there just to cash in on the freebies!
We also bought alot of hair serum from there after I recommended to the girls this particular brand and it was on half price HOMG!!! From KRW9,000 plus to KRW4,500!! SHIOKKKKKKKK!
Please don't go into Artbox to buy their cosmetics because it's really expensive! :(
If you can afford the time, go compare prices at places like Aritaum, Watsons, Olive Young or at the main stores of the cosmetic brands.
See which one gives you a better value for your money before splurging!
Oh and try going to places like Edae to shop for clothes instead of like at Myeongdong.
Prices are really cheaper there as compared to elsewhere.
Even at places like the Gangnam Underground Mall you can get reasonably priced clothes! 
Mostly below KRW10,000! :D
And lastly, if you overbuy (like I always do), EMS EVERYTHING BACK TO YOUR HOUSE
I'm really speaking from experience here. EMS is so freaking awesome!
I like how the post offices in Korea provides the scotch tape and all for you to pack your stuff.
You can purchase boxes of different sizes at the post office or if you're really tight on budget, go to Lotte Mart and pick a box for free! LOL.
EMS is fairly reasonably priced and provides tracking.
My items always reach Singapore within 3 days!
No need for me to lug everything all the way to airport and pay the bloody airline the hefty excess baggage charges!

6. Get wifi on the go to survive!

I cannot stress how important this is but please do rent a mobile wifi device like the WiBro from the telecoms  (olleh, SRoaming, SK Telecom) in Korea.

Or.. just rent a phone from them if you need to make local phone calls.
I know that Singtel has a overseas data roaming service at a fairly reasonable price ($15/day) but M1 and Starhub do not :( boooooo.
Couldn't use my M1 phone at all in Korea and we didn't get the pocket wifi device either because the girls didn't feel the need to (even though I secretly wanted to).
I'm a social media addict so wifi is a must for me to access all my social media platforms (You all don't lie, everyone is like that too please!).
Sure you may say there's free wifi provided at cafes and if you're lucky at the subway stations so why waste additional money on mobile wifi?
But I felt like a teletubby the entire time trying to search for a connection just so I could google the directions to places and you know how frustrating that can be?!
And if you wanna use the wifi over at the cafes, most of them time you'd have to purchase something from them to gain a receipt because the password for their wifi connection is printed on their receipts (TIP! Pls take note lol).
So yeah, split the cost with your friends for the device and you're all set to go! :D

Well, I think that's pretty much what I've learnt and picked up from this trip to Korea. 
Free and easy trips offer you the flexibility a tour package cannot give you but it also comes with problems like having to take your own transport and facing language barriers at the restaurants or cafes.
But I really enjoy taking free and easy trips because I hate being restricted by the tour packages and all that hard selling they do at duty free places to force you to buy and let them earn commission.
I hope this guide will be useful for you, feel free to add on if you feel I've left out anything.
Will be posting up reviews of the makeup I bought from Korea so stay tuned! :D
Update Feb 2015: I've moved my blog over to Hop on over there for my trip to Korea in Dec :)


rainbow-flipflop said...

Hi! Thank you for the informative post! :D
I was wondering though, do they accept coupons if they're not printed in color?

Paula said...

Hi, they accept it as long as the words are eligible! Don't worry, I printed all in black ink and some even on the back of recycled paper :)

Jane Lim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jane Lim said...

Hi, how do you manage to claim back the tax refund if you are going to EMS back the item to sg? The korea officer at incheon airport wont check on the item which you will claims for a tax refund? What is the procedure like?

Paula said...

Hi Jane

Well for tax refund, you have to check in first and inform the staff you want to do tax refund. He/she will then direct you to the tax refund counter after issuing the ticket to you and you go over to the other counter where you have to open up your luggage and show the officer the items you want to claim. Next they will chop all your receipts and then you will deposit your luggage at the counter beside it to be checked in. After which you can claim you $$ at the tax refund counters after clearing immigration.

I had too many items for the person to check 1 by 1 so I did place some items in my luggage and the heavier ones in my EMS box. But it depends! If you buy 1 or 2 items yes they'll ask you to show them. If you buy like a gazillion items like me, they'll just peruse it briefly.

Jane Lim said...

Thanks for the info. But I am still abit confuse. if I am going to use the EMS for all my items before back to sg. Let said im going back to sg on 24jan and I use EMS on 21jan? Am i still available to provide the receipt for tax refund? Correct me if I am wrong. Thanks.

Paula said...

Hi Jane

If you are gonna EMS all your items back, you can still show them your receipts to get the chop but they will definitely ask you to show them some items to see if you really bought them.

My advice would be: Keep some of the things that you bought in your checked in luggage and EMS the bulkier ones back to SG. My friends and I have done this countless of times. Ultimately, the officer would still want to see some things.

I had an experience where this officer asked me to show her my items one by one and when she realised there were way too many things to check one by one she just looked at the makeup and clothes (part of them) that I had bought and just let me through. Sometimes when the queue is very long the officers are more relaxed and just chop the receipts so as not to hold up the queue.

Depends on your luck really :)

ivan lim said...


Is there a minimum amount to be spent on a single receipt etc in order to do Tax Refund?

Like in Bali they needed us to spend a few hundred $$ in a single receipt before we can do the Tax Refund

Paula said...

Hi Ivan,

Yes if I am not wrong there is a minimum amount required before you can claim VAT. You can check with the sales assistant in the store. If I am not mistaken, it is KRW 50,000 but don't quote me on it :)

May said...

Hi Paula!

Your korea travelogue posts have been really useful! I just have a quick question, would you recommend changing money from my own country ahead of time or exchanging in Korea?
Many thanks :)


Paula said...

Hi May,

I would suggest changing ahead because money changers are more easily available around Myeongdong area. If you are staying elsewhere in Seoul, it could be quite difficult to find a place to change your money.

Have a good trip to Korea!

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