Ahhh…so it’s been quite awhile since I’ve been to Korea. Just to provide some background, I’ve lived in Seoul, Korea a few times in my life, but all when I was a child. I lived there from 1-3 and 7-9. After being informed of the opportunity for work I was really excited! However…traveling to Asia is not usually a work thing for me, it’s always been “just for fun”, and unfortunately, I was so busy with work I didn’t get to explore as much as I would have liked to.
That being said…I do have some insight to share:
- Traveling to and around Seoul
- Cultural Differences
- Sightseeing points
- What I want to do next time
Traveling to and around Seoul
The two airports closest to Seoul are Gimpo or Incheon. Do I have advice on which one you should fly into? I flew into Gimpo…and personally, if I had to do it again, I’d fly into Gimpo again. It is closer to Seoul, bear in mind a taxi from Gimpo to Seoul will cost around $60-70 (60,000 to 70,000 KWN), and though I am there on business I wanted to get a feel for their transit system so I decided to take the subway. A friend of mine in Japan, who is Korean, informed me that the subway system in Korea is superior to Japan…I have to disagree…don’t get me wrong, it is good, but I still prefer Japan for a few reasons…
- There were more maps with clear distinction of where the line went
- When stops were translated in Romanji in Japan it stayed a consistent spelling. An example is, in Korea, in one station the next stop was written as “Sinbanghwa” on one side of the track, then on track next to it, it was written as “Shinbanghwa”. I’m a pretty literal individual so I was thrown off by this misspelling. So I just looked at the Korean word versus the English one, which made it a lot easier for me. I also don’t understand why they have two separate tracks going the same way, maybe one is for…I don’t know, so I’m not going to try and guess
- It wasn’t uncommon for the subway to be late
- The subway trains have numbers, but the exits out of the station also have numbers…so be aware of that wherever you are. Make sure the number you are following is to what you want, whether it’s an exit or a subway line.
That being said, getting around Seoul is relatively easy. Here are some tips on making it easier:
- Get a T-Card. It is their refillable subway card. It can be used for buses, (some) taxis, subways, vending machines, and some convenience stores. You can purchase these at any subway station at the ticket vending machine. They vary in price, depending on which one you get…mine was 3,000KWN…I would have bought the 10,000KWN
- Google maps works ok…but if you aren’t adverse, download Navermaps. That is more accurate and in sync with the subway timetables. There are no walking directions on Google maps 😦
- I also want to point out, public transportation stops from 12AM-1AM, depending on which line or where you’re going. So keep that in mind…you can always take a taxi, but if you are trying to save money and want to just take the subway, plan accordingly.
I took a picture of this because I thought it was hilarious…they were advertising for fried chicken on the subway.
Visiting Korea then Japan is like visiting Italy then Germany. What I mean by that analogy is…though I LOVE Italy (the culture, the food, etc), it is not as clean and orderly as Germany. Don’t misunderstand…Korea is really clean for a metropolitan city, but the cultural differences for an American can be a bit offputting. Here are a few reasons why:
- When you are getting off a train or an elevator, you don’t say excuse me. You just push your way through and off
- On the escalators, people don’t stand to one side, they stand all across the step. (This is not so in major cities in the US, such as DC, San Francisco, or NYC. People stand to one side)
- People don’t seem to care about other people’s personal space, just their own
This might sound bad, or that I’m ragging on Korea…but I’m not. I’m pointing out the clear differences. So if you go to Korea, and someone pushes you or squeezes past you and doesn’t say anything, don’t take offense. That’s just how it is.
They are very relationship oriented. It is not uncommon for everyone to hang out after work or hangout into the wee hours until the subway starts running again. And…like Japan they like cute things O_O
I was there for work…so unfortunately, I didn’t really get to do much sightseeing, though I had a list of things that I wanted to do. The only place I did manage to get around to seeing was Gyeongbokgung and the surrounding area, Korean War Memorial, and DDP. I was staying in Gangnam and it feels veeeeerrrryyyy metropolitan. To be honest, it was interesting, but not a place I’d like to live. If I lived anywhere I’d want to live in the Hondae area in Mapo-gu. I really enjoyed the feel and vibe. I was there Friday night and people were just hanging out, eating, drinking, playing music on the esplanade.
Here is a photo from the outside of DDP, this is basically a museum of the future, what architects believe the future could/would look like.
I did spend a lot of time just wandering around…and I stumbled upon this street that had a lot of vendors selling various wares. This reminded me of when I used to walk down streets of Seoul with my mom in the fall and they would sell roasted chestnuts, fried/dried squid…I wish I could be in Seoul in the fall…
At the stop to Gyeongbokgung, I passed through this free art gallery. I wonder how often they change it out? Either way, I thought it was interesting.
Not too far from the old imperial palace are places that you can rent hanbok’s (Korean traditional wear) for less than $20, many people did that and wore it to the imperial palace to walk around. To get into the palace it costs 3,000KWN.
The Korean War Memorial
Next to my hotel there was the Coex mall which had an amazing reading room! This was the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen…the book nerd in me wanted to stay here forever! The odd thing is you can’t buy the books, but there’s nothing stopping you from walking out with it…that being said…I’m pretty sure no one does that…except for me…I mean…I thought of it.
Seoul is a very art-filled city. There are a ton of parks, areas to sit, and a lot of sculpture art. I wish I hadn’t been so exhausted, I would loved to have explored more.
I also went to Jeju Island on Thursday to Friday for a work conference.
I’m not going to describe everywhere I went, but I will make the note that depending on where you go there may not be an English menu and no pictures for the food. So…if you can read Korean…and understand what you’re reading I’d go that route as the food is probably more authentic. If you’ve never had Korean food, it is usually served with banchan, which is basically sides, pickled vegetables, etc
Places I want to go to:
- Seoul Tower
- Namdaemun market, this is closed on Sunday 😦 Which is why I couldn’t go
- Lotte world
- Trickeye Museum