Touchdown in Seoul- what to look out for when you’re there!

Posted on June 5, 2011

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Following up from, what you could call “Part 1” (read that part HERE)of my inside-info on what you should know before you plan that trip to Seoul, comes this… Part 2, and what you should know and look out for when you land in the awesome city!

At the airport- Incheon

If you live outside of Asia and you’re headed to Seoul, then it’s most likely that you’ll be landing in their international airport “Incheon,” well, when you arrive there, you can get quite a few things sorted before you even step foot into your hotel.

T-Money Cards

The Seoul equivalent to London’s Oyster card or Hong Kong’s Octopus card is Seoul’s “T-Money Card,” which is a cashless method of paying for trips that you might make on the underground, buses and trains . For those of you who are unfamiliar with this cashless service, I’ll explain how it all works.

T-Money cards

A “T-Money card” comes in a whole host of designs, including the most basic ‘look’ for it, as a nicely decorated, credit card sized T-Money card, whilst other designs include key rings and phone charm (mine was a Hello Kitty shaped chard, which you can read/see HERE). To use the card, you have to firstly purchase one (the basic card costs about 2,500won), then ‘top it up’ with money which will be stored as credit on the card- therefore, whenever you use public transport, you simply have to swipe your T-Money card over the relevant scanners and the cost of the journey will be deducted from this credit you have stored on the card! Overall, it saves you having to fish around your purse for the correct change for the journey, and you don’t even have to worry knowing the exact cost of your journey since it’s automatically calculated for you when you use the T-Money card!

To ‘top up’ your T-Money card, you can do this straight away at Incheon airport, if you purchase your T-Money card at the convenience store located at the arrivals hall of the airport- I think the store was a GS-25 store, but you can also top up the card at a local 7 Eleven store or at train stations! Oh, and at the stations, it’s really easy to top up the card using the specially designated machines, because they have menus in various language choices including English, Chinese and Japanese!

Transport from Incheon Airport

As with all modern-day airports, there are the usual host of methods you can use to take you from the airport to your final destination (which you can read about HERE); so you’ll find all the usual taxi stands, buses, and trains which will take you to the centre of Seoul (Incheon isn’t located in Seoul, but is an island close to Seoul), in an hour and a half or so.

Limousine Bus

Airport Limousine Bus

However, there is one convenient method of transportation that I’d recommend you check out if you’re not too weighed down by luggage or restless children…the Limousine Bus Service! Now, I wouldn’t jump to conclusions and let you’re mind wander- the bus, isn’t really a ‘Limousine’ type of luxury like the name suggests but more like an air-conditioned coach. That being said, it’s not a shabby way to travel!

What I like about the Limousine bus is that the fare isn’t as expensive as taking a taxi (current journey prices are only 13,00 won), you don’t have to make transfers as you might have to when travelling by train to Seoul and buses arrive at a rotation, so if the bus you want is full, then you’ll only have to wait a few minutes for the next one! Also, there is the added bonus of being able to have your large luggage stored in the bus’ boot (is that what it’s known as?) throughout your journey and your hand luggage close at hand, in the designed storage ‘cage’ inside the bus. If you buy a T-Money card, as I previously suggested, then you simply have to swipe your card over the card reader at the front of the bus as you board- no need to worry about fishing out the change!

If you do use the Limousine bus then make sure that your final destination has a bus stop specifically for this service nearby, also check to make sure which bus number you have to take, and I would also recommend that you count out the number of stops to your final destination before your journey- the bus has a destination announcer in English onboard the bus, but it’s nice to be extra careful as the bus will make quite a few stops along the way before they reach your stop!

Before you board the bus, if you have luggage that you want stored, then simply hand them to the  packers (there will probably be 2) who will stick a special number ticket (used to identify the luggage as being yours) on to your luggage, give you a duplicate of this number ticket (which you should keep to later present to the driver when you want to get your luggage), before packing your luggage in the storage compartment. When you reach your stop, if you have luggage stored, then just show the driver your ticket and he’ll get off the bus and get it for you!

Shopping!

No visit to Seoul is complete without having to spend a little bit of money and indulging on some shopping! And shopping in Seoul is pretty reasonable, as you’ll be able to find YOUR place to shop, regardless of your budget! (Seoul is not an expensive place to shop!)

Clothes

If you read my previous blog entries about my trip to Seoul (HERE), then you’ll probably know that I found it really difficult to shop for clothes in Seoul- I found the ‘haggling’ side to shopping really jarring, and couldn’t seem to find stores that sold clothes with a price tag on, where I didn’t need to haggle! In retrospect, I realise that my shopping experience may have been hindered by the fact that I shopped in all the touristy areas, where this ‘haggling’ style of shopping was to be expected- I’ve since discovered (through watching the Korean variety programme “Running Man,” LOL) that Seoul does have the ‘holy grail,’ type of department stores, with actual shops inside, with priced items and where you don’t have to haggle. However, these department stores might be filled with Western stores, where prices might be a bit jacked up- I live in the West, I don’t need to pay double the price for things I can buy from home!

However, here is my list of where you could shop for clothes:

Dongdaemun – I wrote extensively about my shopping experience in Dongdaemun (HERE) and how the rain nearly drowned us out, but I think that it’s a nice area to shop for clothes- particularly because you can easily hop between the 4 or so high-rise malls located within the one area. I was particularly fond of Doota mall, which had a nice layout, look and feel to it. Also, for those of you on a budget, I hear that the nearby market is a good place to shop for haberdashery, have a made and other nifty things, tho hanbok ugh I didn’t get see this for myself because of the aforementioned rain (!). Expect to haggle BTW.

Underground Malls – One thing I didn’t expect to find in Seoul were tube stations where you could quench your thirst to shop whilst commuting to work! I was highly impressed by the underground malls found at Anguk, Jamsil and Gangnam stations.

Underground malls

These underground can range from items simply display on the station floor to simply beautiful mini stores with rails and rails of clothing to choose from. The added bonus is that the clothes sold here will most likely be priced and no haggling necessary! Also, prices are so darn cheap! You won’t find masses and masses of stores to look at in these underground malls, but the atmosphere makes a nice change to the modern malls you’ll find, and it’s a nice place to kill time and find shelter if the weather sucks, or if you want to get away from the hustle bustle.

Shinsegae/Lotte Department Stores– you can find both of these department stores just across the street from the main shopping streets of Myeongdong. In terms to the ‘feel’ of these stores- I would compare Shinsegae to our Selfridges (think upmarket, premium brands) and Lotte to our Debenhams (less imitating, catering for wider budgets). Personally, I don’t like to shop in department stores too much because I somehow find clambering up and down the different floors more tiring than pounding the pavement as I shop…however, if you love department stores then these stores could be your niche!

COEX Mall- located, south of Seoul’s Han River, in the Gangnam area is (what I think) Seoul’s most famous mall- COEX. It’s famous for many things- the aquarium, the cinema, and for being Asia’s largest underground shopping mall. Walking around COEX will leave you tired and maybe confused (use the nifty interactive maps if you get lost!), but if you love shopping then it’s definitely a place you need to check out- even if it’s just to say that you’ve been there. Funnily enough, the best stores I found in COEX were Artbox (a cutesy store selling accessories and home decorations etc) and the Supermarket (I don’t know the name) where I picked up dozens of cute stationary. Clothes shopping wise, it’s a mix of the usual brands and the ‘haggle’ type stores, and I don’t suspect you could get bored quickly as you browse the dozens of stores.

Gangnam/ Apgujeong/Rodeo Drive…. for the none budget conscious! – I didn’t get to explore the richer Southern suburbs of Seoul’s Gangnam area (the rain hindered all that), but I desperately want to return to Seoul to do just that. Reading online (HERE), Gangnam’s the rich part of Seoul, with shops and a cafe culture to match. Within Gangnam is an area called Apgujeong, where you might find all the K-Celebs hanging out and living their day-to-day lives. Within this area is the shopping street called Rodeo Drive, which could be compared (slightly) to their American counterpart- this is where the rich shop and play. So, if you have a gold card and fancy seeing how Seoulites splash their cash then head to Gangam, Apgujeong et al.

For those of us with a budget, I hear that Gangnam could cater to our needs, as there are apparently some really cool and beautiful boutiques worth checking out in the Garosil-Gil (the tree-lined street) area too.

Myeongdong– Personally, I think that Myeongdong is just ‘normal,’ in terms of places to shop for clothes in Seoul, however there are a few things that make it stand out; firstly, there are some of the much-loved Western stores in the area (such as H&M, Forever 21), the place have cool stores that open up out on the street at nighttime, and finally, some of the celeb endorsed brands that you often read about are located here (like SPAO, BSX, Codes Combine etc) so those of you with a K-pop or K-Celeb obsession, (me included) can play ‘dress-up’ like your celeb here!

Beauty Stores

In Seoul, you’ll be able to indulge in your love for beauty products wherever you shop- from the ‘old streets’ of Insadong, to the underground malls in Jamsil. In short, you can pick up beauty products from your favourite Korean beauty brands (Missha, Etude House etc) everywhere! However, if you want to completely overdose on beauty products (shopping for them I mean!) then just head to Myeongdong! You can read about my visit to Myeongdong HERE

The area gets more lively as the day goes on (I recommend heading there at around 3p.m) and on the weekend. And for beauty-product lovers, you’ll find it hard, not to visit every single beauty store- especially since they’ll be many salesgirls donning mini mics tempting you into their store with free samples, and during my visit, ice-cream- thanks Nature Republic :). Also, if you do happen to make a purchase at their store, you’ll probably be loaded up with freebies as you leave too- bonus!

Food

I think that any holiday abroad, and the experience you get at the end depends on many things- one of these things is definitely who you go on holiday with. My trip to Seoul was a fab break away, but one thing that I deeply regret about my visit, is not being adventurous enough to try more food! I am a deep foodie at heart and have to eat whenever my belly calls- but my trip to Seoul left me on a ‘diet’ because I was held back from indulging in my foodie nature by my (then) not foodie adventurous sister and the fact that Korean food are not (quite) yet, foreign friendly i.e no English menus. That factor makes me sound ignorant to culture and stuck up, but I will (try) to justify my non-adventurous nature during my trip to Seoul, by saying that it feels pretty intimidating trying to find a place to eat when you just don’t know what’s on the menu!

On your trip to Seoul- don’t make the same mistake I did, and grab the bull by the horns and just eat like mad! Here is a very short list of foods I recommend you check out- I got to try (some) of these and recommend them- the other things, I just drool when I read about, but have yet to try!

Kimbap– the most Korean and basic street/convenience food item. Simply put, the fillings can vary, but the general set up are rice (and other) filled seaweed wrapped rolls of yumminess! There was an Ahjumma, who sold these at the end of the street near our hotel and we indulged on these snacks whenever we could- although the fillings were a (fun) mystery as we couldn’t read Korean… I want some now…

Bibimbap– this is a rice based dish, served in a hot stone bowl to give a crispy coating or sometimes in a gold metal bowl, with mixed ingredients such as beef, bean sprouts etc. My first taste of Bibimbap was on the plane ride over to Seoul- it tasted great on the plane (plane food is usually mediocre) and I realised two things: 1) you have to mix all the ingredients together before you eat the dish 2) Korean’s love their’s REALLY spicy, as I found when I officially ate the dish at Gogungs in Myeongdong…ouch.

BBQ – we’ve all seen it on Korean dramas- our protagonists eating awesome BBQ’s in restaurants with big ass vents sticking up and out of the restaurant’s ceiling. The meats can vary from pork to beef etc, and are consumed by placing into lettuce (or other) leaves, accompanied with sesame oil or other seasonings. I didn’t get to try the whole BBQ setup… but must…..

Side Dishes (Banchan)– no, they are not actual meals, but I think it’s worth pointing out that if you happen to eat in a Korean restaurant, you may want to take into account the fact that you’re order will also come with many (free!) side dishes to accompany your meal… I say that’s a win!

Sightseeing

South Korea, in general is an amazing country, with a nice mixture of traditional and modern landscapes. It’s no surprise that your trip to Seoul will include visits to a similar mix of eclectic sights. What you decide to see or do is up to your own tastes and preferences, but I will include a list of my top picks of places that you must visit!

1) Gyeongbokgung Palace– if you only have time or the mentality/patience to visit one traditional palace in Seoul, then it has to be Gyeongbokgung! This palace has pretty much all of the definitive features of the other palaces in Seoul crammed inside it’s walls; the palace guards, their changing of the guards ceremony, the lush landscaped gardens, lakes and old buildings to admire.

2) Myeongdong– My favourite area of Seoul- where you can find an ever-changing crowd depending on when you visit. My personal view is that it gets better at night and on the weekends, when hoards of people gather and the streets come alive with stalls of food and clothes to browse.

3) Lotte World– a beautifully designed theme park, with a large indoor and outdoor area. The perfect place to spend time regardless of the weather- if it’s sunny outside then you’ll have the added bonus of being able to explore the outside ‘world,’ but if it’s drizzly, then the indoor ‘world’ will keep you just as amused with its parade and games! I particularly remember it for being the place where I finally was able to indulge in a bit of Korean style karaoke or Noraebang!

4) Insadong– some people say that this street is overrated and a tourist trap, but I think, as a tourist, you have to visit it. Yes, the whole are is catered for tourists, but it’s a nice place to walk and admire the traditional old buildings too. Also, the whole vibe of the area is a visual feast.

Well, that’s the end of my very long post about what to expect, do and see from your trip to Seoul- I think I’ve covered everything? If not then just comment and lemme know and I’ll update the post! Also, remember that you can always read more about Seoul through my past posts about my trip there (HERE)!

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Posted in: Seoul