Are you planning a trip to South Korea soon? Then this blog post is for you! Today, I share with you my ultimate advice for South Korea after having traveled for one month through the peninsula. After reading this guide, you will have all the keys in hand to prepare and enjoy your trip to South Korea to the fullest.
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Things to know before visiting South Korea
The official and national language is Korean. Its alphabet is called Hangeul with 24 letters. As of today, most of the Korean script is written horizontally and read from left to right.
Having said that, English is rarely used. In other words, there are very few translations in English, except in the subway or bus stations.
“Since English translations are rarely available, I recommend that you purchase a local data SIM card to have access to the Internet at all times in order to use the Google images translator (see below for more info).”
The currency of South Korea is composed of coins (1, 5, 10, 50, and 100) and bills (1’000, 5’000, 10’000, and 50’0000).
However, credit cards are the most widely used means of payment in South Korea. Nevertheless, you will still need some cash to pay the bus fare or food at the food market for example.
Unfortunately, no matter which international card you use, all ATMs in South Korea have withdrawal fees. When using foreign credit or debit cards, you must use an “International” ATM and not the so-called “local” ATM. Most banks offer both types of ATMs, in the same place.
“One of the cheapest banks in terms of withdrawal fees is called Woori Bank. It costs 3’500 won per withdrawal, regardless of the amount. You can easily find them all over the country.”
MOBILE DATA / WIFI
Although there are public places where you can access WiFi for free, I strongly recommend you subscribe to a local cell phone company with a prepaid plan. This way, the local prepaid SIM card will give you access to the Internet anytime and anywhere. It will be very useful to translate Korean writing thanks to Google image translation.
There are different Mobile companies, but I would recommend going for “Kt”, which offers good coverage throughout South Korea and at reasonable prices. For instance, a 10-day prepaid plan will cost you about 38’500 won. You can buy your local SIM card directly at Incheon International Airport. They have an office there.
“If you want to get a discount with Kt, you should purchase the SIM card a few days in advance on their website. Then you just need to grab it at the airport counter office once you arrived.”
One thing to know is that Google Maps is not very accurate in South Korea. The addresses are not listed correctly. That’s why you will have a lot of difficulties getting around with Google Maps during your stay in South Korea, even if you download the maps beforehand. As a solution, I strongly suggest you download the NAVER bus application, which will allow you to geolocalize yourself and propose the bus or train you should take to reach your destination.
MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION
South Korea is relatively well-developed in terms of public transportation. It will be rather easy for you to travel through the peninsula without a car.
Generally speaking, there are two types of trains in South Korea, namely high-speed trains and conventional trains. As you can see, the main difference is the speed of locomotion and therefore the duration of the trip. Not surprisingly, high-speed trains are more expensive than conventional trains. Moreover, depending on the destination, there may not be a high-speed train available.
Whatever trains you use, seats are always numbered. That’s why, it is very important to book your ticket well in advance since the rides are always crowded.
Unfortunately, without a Korean credit card, you will not be able to book your train tickets online. You will have to go to a train station to reserve your seat. Then, all you have to do is find a counter and pay either by credit card or cash.
The bus network throughout South Korea is quite impressive. Indeed, you will be able to connect to almost all the cities by bus. However, it is necessary to distinguish the two types of buses available:
- Local bus: the buses running within the same city. they are generally green, small, and without numbered seats. When using these buses, payment is made directly to the bus driver, either in cash with the exact amount or with the Tmoney card by scanning it. Always enter through the front door, then go back down through the middle or back doors.
- Intercity bus: the buses that connect cities (they are two main companies called Express Bus and Intercity bus). They are of a larger size, and seats are numbered. The payment of the tickets is done in advance by means of automatic terminals or via a ticket office counter. You can pay by credit card or cash. All you have to do is scan your ticket at the entrance of the bus.
The major cities of South Korea such as Seoul and Busan are served by subway lines. Although they are megacities, the use of the subways is very intuitive and the directions are translated into English.
Payment for subway tickets is made with a Tmoney card (see below for more details). You have to scan it when you enter the subway line station and then scan it again when you leave the station. The fare will be debited from your card at that time.
South Korea has various airlines such as Korean airline and Jeju airlines. The country is very well served in terms of internal flights. For example, you can find cheap flights from Seoul to Busan or from Seoul to Jeju island.
“Check out why it is so important to use a TMoney card”
What is a TMoney card?
a Tmoney card allows you to move around easily around the city of Seoul by public transportation, namely buses, trains, and subways. You still can pay by cash but the fare will be more expensive. It is also more convenient to pay for your ride with a Tmoney card since you just have to tap it once you enter the bus/subway entrance and tap it again once you leave. Finally, it will allow you to transfer from one bus/subway to another without paying an additional fee if it is within the hour. On the contrary, if you pay by cash, you won’t be able to change buses freely since you don’t get a bus ticket.
Where to buy a Tmoney card?
The Tmoney card can be purchased at all convenience stores in Seoul city, namely E-Mart, Seven-Eleven, CU, and GS25. Prices vary depending on the logos of the card. However, count between 4’500 and 5’000 won per card.
How to RECHARGE a Tmoney card?
You can recharge the Tmoney card in any convenience store or any subway station with cash only. So, plan to have some cash when you arrive in Seoul to allow you to take the bus or subway to reach the city. If you don’t have cash with you, don’t worry International ATMs can be found everywhere.
I recommend that you use this comparative reservation platform to book your accommodation in South Korea. If possible, choose the option “PAY NOW”. This way, you can already pay for your accommodation by credit card. As a result, it will save you the occasional extra charge when paying at check-in with any foreign credit card.
If the accommodation is registered with the relevant authorities, the use of the Airbnb platform is allowed in South Korea. It seems that there is no minimum duration.
Korean food is known to be very spicy. However, they have also very sweet treats. To name just a few typical dishes, you will find bibimpab, bimpab (sushi), Korean pancake, Hotteok.
There are some restaurants where you will have to order directly at the counter and pay immediately. The prices displayed on the menus are net prices. You don’t have to give tips in South Korea, it is not part of their culture.
When you shop in food supermarkets, the price tag is also net. Vegetables and fruits are the most expensive items in the supermarkets.
Convenient stores in South Korea sell food products such as ready-made meals, frozen food, noodles, sandwiches, and basic necessities such as shampoo or toothbrushes. This kind of store is very popular in South Korea (as well as in Asia in general) and you can find one on every street. There are four main convenience stores in Seoul:
- Seven Eleven
- E Mart
- It is necessary to take off your shoes when you enter an accommodation in South Korea. You will get special slippers to move around inside the accommodation/hotel room.
- The shower hose is very often connected to the faucet. It is called a “wet bathroom”, which means that there is no separation between the shower, the toilet, and the tap to wash hands. As a result, the whole bathroom will be wet after showering. Special slippers for the shower will be provided to keep your feet dry.
- You will find photo booths on every street corner. When you go to a photo booth, the goal is to dress up, put on makeup, do your hair and accessorize as much as possible. They seem to really enjoy this activity with friends.
- Karaoke is an integral part of Korean culture. Karaoke is done in a soundproof room. Entire buildings are dedicated to karaoke. Koreans go there with friends or family.
- Throughout South Korea, you will find temples and palaces. As for the palaces, the entrance fee is 3’000 won per person. In Seoul for example, you can visit 5 palaces. Some temples are free of charge, while others are not. Proper attire is required when visiting temples.
- If you wear traditional clothes (called Hanbok), the entrance to the palaces are free. Overall, it costs about 10’000 won for a rental for one hour.
- Museums in South Korea are free to enter. For example, in Seoul, all these museums will be free of charge.
HIKING / NATIONAL PARKS
t is very easy to hike in the country. Moreover, Koreans are very well-equipped in terms of hiking equipment. For example, if you go to visit the Bukhansan National Park in Seoul, you will find a lot of hiking stores.
South Korea is home to several national parks, offering hiking trails for all levels. The two main national parks are Seoraksan National Park (located in Sokcho) and Bukhansan National Park (located in Seoul). Some national parks require an admission fee of a few won per person. This is the case for Seoraksan National Park which costs 4500 won. The ticket is valid for one day.
In summary, South Korea is a rather simple Asian country to travel to despite the language difference. The country is generally clean, public transport is efficient, accommodation is generally satisfactory if you put the price, and activities are varied.
I sincerely hope that I have helped you answer some of your questions and that you feel ready to discover South Korea. If you have any more questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me by email or in the comments below.
Also, check out all my posts related to South Korea to day-by-day itinerary, my best recommendations and so on.
Sending you lots of Love,