Visiting a country once is a chance of a lifetime, twice is a privilege, thrice is just falling in love with the place and perhaps the fourth time is you have left part of your soul there. I guess that is what South Korea does to you, each time you visit – there is a different experience, a new vibe and every time a tiny part of your soul gets left behind in Seoul.
I have been to Seoul, South Korea for four times now. The first time was when I visited my Korean family friends for the summer of August 2014, second one was November 2015 where 3 days after we left the first snow fall of the year happened – which is such a let down, the third one was June 2017 with a couple of colleagues and the fourth was just recently, March 2018, for my birthday. Despite my fourth giving me a scare (you can read How I lost My Passports in South Korea here https://notflataspancake.com/2018/03/25/i-lost-my-passports-what-to-do-when-you-lose-your-passport-in-seoul-south-korea/), there will be more visits to make I guess and I will keep coming back.
You would probably ask why – why keep visiting when you have more countries you could explore? No it’s not just because of KPop and KDramas, here are the 13 Reasons Why I Keep Traveling to Seoul, South Korea. Yeah, I am making it 13 because I just finished watching 13 Reasons Why Season 2, haha.
Reason Why Number 1: Quick Visa Approval
You can check how to apply for Korean Visa if you are in the Philippines at http://overseas.mofa.go.kr/ph-en/brd/m_3277/list.do do note that there are new updates on the visa applications and starting this year I think they have accredited Travel Agencies for visa processing. For the past four visits, my applications were quick and approvals were easy – always single entry though but it was not a problem because application was free. You just have to go to the embassy very early. I do not know the current process now as I have yet to apply for a new one. Some tips:
- Read the instructions carefully
- Make sure all your documents are ready and up to date
- Apply for a visa about 2 months to a month before you travel as validity of the single entry from the time of approval is 3 months and you have to use it otherwise, you have some explaining to do when you reapply
Reason Why Number 2: Reasonable Airfare
My friends and I are always on a look out for travel deals and the usual that provides these are (in the Philippines at least): Cebu Pacific https://www.cebupacificair.com/ and Air Asia https://www.airasia.com/en/home.page?cid=1 airfare varies and the cheapest that I had on a good season was about PhP 8,000 round-trip. That is worth saving.
Reason Why Number 3: Reasonably Priced Apartments/Hostels
Usually I go to booking.com for these places or agoda, but mostly Booking.com because my account is more active there. You can always choose the best places to stay based on the ratings provided as well as the recommendations. Reasonably priced hostel for me is about PhP 1,000-1,500 per night per person if it goes lower and the location and ratings are great go for it. I would suggest finding places near the train stations for better access to transportation and navigating the city. Make sure you choose the ones near the best spots and just look for a better deal because if you compute the train cost plus the travel time, you’ll still be able to save.
Last time we stayed across Myeongdong and it was the best spot as we could just cross the street late at night for our street food fix.
Reason Why Number 4: Efficient Transportation System
If some of you have already read what happened to me during my last visit , I Lost My Passports in Seoul, you would know how helpful and efficient their taxi, bus and train system were. Navigating the city is great, so long as you do your research well and know where you want to go. It is intimidating at times and taxi drivers are not quite adept with the English language but are quite honest as well as are brutally honest to tell you to walk when they know the place is quite near. My usual mode of transportation is the train, it never failed getting me to the right place. Some tips for first timers:
- Buy your t-money at a local convenience store (7-Eleven and CU would have them). It would save you a great deal when you have this as its accepted by if not all, most buses, taxis and definitely the train.
- Download a train app – I usually use KakaoMetro whenever I am there because of how easy it is to use. You will see what time the train arrives and leaves. This saved my ass when I was trying to make it to my flight the day I had to process my travel document after losing my passports.
Reason Why Number 5: Food! Food! Food!
This is a no brainer. You can either go fancy or go street and they are all going to tickle your taste buds. I am no foodie but I love food, ha! My personal favorites since I can remember are Bulgogi, Dak-galbi and Kimbap. I love that whole in wall kind of restaurant bear Anguk station – I could never get the name of that place though sorry. Kimbap costs around PhP 100 and that would fuel you already for a few thousand steps. Bulgogi the expensive and the affordable ones are both to die for. Just get rice and youre all set. Others would have more favorites but those two are mine.
If you go to Myeongdong the street foods are the best – some are a bit pricey so you just have to go around and see where your 100 pesos or 200 pesos can take you. If you are up for cheaper food just go around and look for that one place where a lot of locals eat their ramen. We found one near Myeongdong Theatre – but since I am not a great tour guide, I could never remember the exact street but the cheese Tteokbokki there was spicy as hell and all worth it for 150 pesos dish.
Other street foods that I love: Gyeranppang (egg Muffin) which is about 100 pesos. If you are craving for chicken and have already tried Dak-galbi, try to look for Andong Jjimdak – a dish made with chicken, various vegetable marinated in ganjang based sauce.
The treats, chips and chocolates in local supermarkets are also a great deal. If you are looking for some stuff to bring home, buy that Honey Almond pack. It’s about 350 – 400 pesos, you have to make sure you look around because different stores sell it in different prices.
Reason Why Number 6: Cosmetics Haven and Shopping
I am no where a make up enthusiast, I like it free and easy. Slap a lip balm or gloss and powder up and I am good to go. But the people around me are and visiting Seoul would mean I have to leave space in my luggage for all these cosmetics and skin care products otherwise I will have a headache of how to get them all home. Myeongdong is a haven for these cosmetics products but you have to be careful going around still as some stores provide better deals and freebies.
I would usually go to Olive Young to find those CosRx and the rest of skin care products that people ask me to buy. You could also check out Innisfree. Facial masks are everywhere and you have to also be careful of the panic buying because of the promos and all. My friend brought me to SeaNTree for these and they have good cheaper deals. Quite heavy though if you get a lot.
Tip: Bring your passport for tax deduction. Just don’t lose your passport along the way like I did. haha
Reason Why Number 7: Great Urban Planning
The streets are well kept for one. The trains are well managed as well as other modes of transportation. People follow the traffic rules despite having very few visible police / traffic enforcers – unlike what we currently have in Manila. Their street CCTVs are very visible though – was told that if you run a traffic light, expect to get a letter from the government and pay your fines.
But other than that, I am in awe of the time and effort their government put in their urban planning. The design complements the nature around it and the other way around. Pathways are bigger than what I am used to. You can run along Han River, walk and be one with Skyscrapers if that is your thing and then at the end you get Parks to hang out and breath fresh air. Historical places are preserved and in the heart of the city. They get the attention they solely deserve and more.
When you try to appreciate this, make sure you are wearing your trusty sneakers.
Reason Why Number 8: Places to Visit
As I have stated in 7, the places you have to visit in Seoul are quite near each other. By walking around, you can visit a lot of places. Usually what we we do is we wake up quite early to see the palaces: To visit Gyeongbokgung Palace: from your starting station get off Gyeongbokgung Station and go to exit 5. It will take you directly to the back entrance. If you have more than enough time you can visit 3- 4 palaces in one price. Forgot how many because we usually pay for each entrance since we do not have much time – too much time used up taking pictures. Afterwards, you can go to Bokchon Hanok Village – now this is tricky so make sure you read the signs carefully. I do not have much visuals because we got lost haha – after how many times of visiting this place, I only was able to go on the 4th visit.
Then walk some more and reach the streets heading to Insadong. This is also one of the popular places to buy some stuff. Then head towards further down on your right after exiting Insadong and you will be able to head to Changdeokgung Palace. I would want to go on the details but that is for another post I guess. The reason I keep coming back to these palaces is that every visit is a different experience. Granted, the structures never change but the season does and they have different vibes every time.
The other place I usually go to is Nami Island, those perfectly lined trees are a beautiful but there is more to it. This island gives a sense of calm despite the busy surrounding. Tip to get the perfectly lined trees shot, okay I’d share it with you if you haven’t figured it out yet: head down to the end of the path near the lake and get your shot from there. Not the usual spot where people crowd and take their pictures near the statues, go to the far end there is a manageable slope that gives your photographer friend a better angle of the trees and you.
Again, I would post how to navigate to these places but I am afraid that is a different kind of story all together and I am already blabbing about a lot of things here.
Reason Why Number 9: Sense of Safe
Despite losing my wallet with my passports in it – yeah because of my own stupidity and tiredness, I generally feel safe going around the city despite the time. I can wear my backpack the usual way and not be wary about pickpockets too much. Do not be too complacent though as it would still require you to be very vigilant with your things and attend to them properly, you will never know. Another reason why is because I could ride the train, taxis and buses without a hitch even on a late night trek home.
Reason Why Number 10: The Seasons
I guess I visit the weirdest time of the year or the best time depending on how one views it. I have tried summer and autumn as well as nearing spring but never really full on winter. I do not think my tropical self can handle another negative as what happened in my travels in Turkey for Cappadocia and Ephesus and Pamukkale. I love it especially during autumn here as the colors of the trees are so vibrant mixing in urban jungle.
Summer here is a different story, although I am tropically acclimated, I still feel the scorch in a whole new level. One still needs wind and sometimes it’s scarce.
Reason Why Number 12: People and their Nationalism
Generally the people are quite helpful with directions when they are comfortable conversing in English. I have had a taste of this during my last visit when I had to take off the bus as well as get on the train with a heavy luggage. Koreans are also very nationalistic and you can vividly see it in how they live their lives day in day out.
Reason Why Number 13: The Coffee Shops
I have to throw this in. I am no coffee addict, just one that loves a good sip and the aroma mixed with silence while hanging out in the coffee shop (which rarely happens). The local coffee shops thrive in this city. I see a few Starbucks and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf but I always head on to Angel-in-us (owned by the Lotte group) for a good cappuccino or latte. There are others like Hollys Coffee too, one would school me on the best coffee shops in Seoul, South Korea and I would surrender to whoever will do that because google says there are more best coffee shops out there. Goes to show that the coffee business is taken seriously in this country.
I figure I would have more reasons and I could elaborate further but the thing is, this is already a six pager in word file and if you have reached this far and have patiently breezed trough my blabbing – thank you. I wish I have given something that was worth your while.
Enjoy your travels to South Korea! Note: The pictures used are from different visits, I will try to add some more if necessary.