GoBear Guide to Seoul Searching in South Korea
Travelling to foreign lands has been recommended by many as an escape from one’s routinary life. It greases your way out of the unfulfilling mechanical system of a five-day grind.
When you feel like you are just a wind-up doll that’s about to stop moving around, travelling is the much-needed nudge for you to let loose and keep going. It’s time to unhook from that clockwork motor and find your own push button.
If it is soul searching you seek, Seoul is what you need to search.
Seoul is South Korea’s capital city. It is where cultural richness meets with modern greatness.
When to go?
If you are a fan of the TV Series Endless Love, then you’ll know that there’s a time in Korea that matches whatever season you are in your life right now. Here’s a quick walkthrough for you.
WINTER - December to March
In the Philippines, it’s a big deal when the temperature in Baguio City drops to 10°C. So, you may have to bundle up with heat-generating clothing when you visit Korea during winter because the temperature usually drops to -7°C. There’s no need to be negative, though.
There’s still much to do in Seoul such as ice skating at the Plaza Skating Rink beside the City Hall and Yeoui Ice Park located near the Han River. Be sure to have your travel insurance cover winter sports to secure your activities with peace of mind. Also, there are fewer people in the streets so you will have the transport facilities all to yourself.
SPRING - April to June
Get that natural blush from a joyful vacation in Seoul. This is when Cherry Blossoms embroider every view of the city. It is also where most festivals such as Yeouido Spring Flower Festival and Seockchon Lake Cherry Blossom Festival are based.
Cheng Calimlim and her family travelled just when Seoul blooms with beauty and freshness
SUMMER - July to August
It’s sticky. It’s muggy. It’s tolerable. The temperature in Korea during the summer ranges from 23°C to 30°C. Lucky for us living here in the Philippines, we’re already used to this kind of weather where we can enjoy our Halo-Halo under the shade of a tree.
It’s the best time in Seoul to experience their version of Halo-Halo which is the bingsu, a dessert made of shaved ice and topped with fruit slices. You may also want to sip cold soup for a change.
AUTUMN - September to November
Autumn is the best time for you to make golden memories in Seoul. The red and yellow leaves and blue skies instantly make and instragrammable background. Parks and palaces always look a bit extra during this season. Autumn is a strong contender against spring in the battle of the best season to visit Korea.
Having a hard time choosing when to go. Always remember, the best time is now. Whatever you pick, you will love Seoul endlessly.
How to get there?
They say the best things in life are free. That is why you won’t have to pay for a South Korean visa. However, you can only get one via an accredited travel agency. A list of which is available in the Korean Embassy’s website.
For a single-entry visa with or without any guarantor/sponsor, the requirements such as passport, credit card statement and proof of income are also posted on their website.
Multiple-entry visas are given to frequent South Korea travellers. They are the ones who have been to Korea four times in the past two years or 10 times in total. Below is a list of the cards qualified for the promo which runs from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019.
Banco de Oro
- Gold Visa Credit Card
- Gold MasterCard Credit Card
- Gold UnionPay Credit Card
- Gold JCB Credit Card
- Platinum Visa Credit Card
- Titanium or Platinum and World Elite MasterCard Credit Card
- Gold, Platinum, Cathay Pacific and American Express Charge Cards issued by BDO
- Diamond UnionPay Credit Card
- Diners Club Premiere
Bank of the Philippine Islands
- BPI Gold Mastercard
- BPI SkyMiles Platinum Mastercard
- BPI Amore Visa Platinum
- BPI Visa Signature Card
- BPI Gold Debit Card
The process is much more convenient if you are a BDO or BPI credit card holder in good standing. This qualifies you for an application to a multiple-entry visa of up to five years. It also exempts you from submitting a bank certificate and income tax return.
From 90,000 South Korean visa applicants in 2015, the figure rose to 160,000 in 2017. If you are still surveying how many yeses you can get to affirm your decision in going to Seoul, those are the numbers.
How to get around?
There are places you can really revel in only by taking a stroll. But, if you want to make the most out of your vacation leave, you may want to consider the three readily available transportation methods.
The buses in Seoul are classified by color. The blue buses are for long distance travels within the city. The green buses are for shorter distances and for transfer to another bus route or to the subway system. The red buses are express buses that travel from Seoul to suburban areas. The yellow buses are limited to traveling only within a district in Seoul.
Your fare can be paid either by cash or a transportation card. Using the latter will save you 100 won (4.40 pesos) on each trip.
South Korea has a very organized subway system which ensures the accuracy of arrival and departure of the trains. A subway map is downloadable from South Korea’s tourism website to guide you.
Standard taxis in Seoul also have different colors: orange is the common regular taxi; blue sedan taxis are environment-friendly electric cars; while yellow taxis are operative by Taxi Cooperative Network. The regular taxis increase fares by 20% after midnight until dawn.
Meanwhile, a modern taxi is black with a yellow sign on the top. There’s more wiggle room for passengers but they charge higher than regular taxis. However, there is no late-night surcharge.
Most taxis in Seoul accept credit cards and transportation cards.
Tmoney and Cashbee cards are some of the transportation cards accepted by subways and buses. For taxis, however, you have to make sure that a Tmoney or Cashbee logo is present. The cards can be bought in convenience stores such as GS25, CU, 7-eleven, Ministop and Buy The Way.
You may also want to take advantage of being a tourist and buy a Korail (KR) pass. This could be booked ahead of your travel time which is offered at a discounted price. There’s also an additional discount in accommodations and tourist attractions when you purchase a KR pass.
How not to get too lost?
Let’s face it. We can’t really live without internet access. I mean, how can you not be tempted in posting #SeoulSearching photos during your stay in Korea? Also, this will be very useful in accessing online maps. Take note that Google map is useless in South Korea because it does not export local mapping data to foreign companies for security purposes. So, you will have to download other applications such as Kakao Map while you are in there.
Your local telecom provider won’t extend their services to South Korea so you may as well rent portable routers known as “eggs” to create Wi-Fi hotspots anywhere you go. They can be reserved online and picked up at airports and service desks of the provider.
This will cost you 5,000 won (219.80 pesos) to 10,000 won (439.59) per day. If it isn’t in your budget you can opt to enjoy the 10,000 free Wi-Fi hotspots that Seoul boasts of in public places.
Where to stay?
If your goal is to reward yourself for working so hard, then to not feel too guilty in splurging for luxury hotels in Seoul and feel royal in their modern amenities. Save yourself from a stressful hotel hopping in one of Asia’s most visited cities by booking online. There are great deals which you can review first
Online booking sites do not just present you with luxurious hotels. They also offer reservations for those who want to stay in a hanok, a traditional Korean house built in the 14th century during the Joseon Dynasty. Imagine tile roofs and wooden floors. It is usually built with a heating system called “ondol,” which is a layer of a stone laid out below the flooring.
The most popular hanok village in Seoul is the Bukchon Hanok Village which is surrounded by the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, and Jongmyo Shrine.
What to do?
Binging on Korean dramas is not enough for you to experience Seoul. But it helps to give you a picture of what you would want to experience when you get there.
Soak in culture
Staying in a hanok is just a glimpse of the rich culture and history that Korea has to offer. Seoul has more than one palace because the royal family had to move to another while one palace is under repair.
The Gyeongbokjung Palace is considered the legal palace because it is where the king lives. Its Gwanghwamun Gate is where the coronation of kings and important court events take place.
Joseph and Nicole Barrozo at the "Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven"
The Changdeokgung Palace, although considered secondary, is more popular because of the inviting gardens located in between buildings.
The Changgyeonggung Palace was built for elder members of the Royal family. It has a greenhouse designed after the Glass Palace in France. It’s an ideal photo op location for tourists.
Lastly, the Deokgusung Palace is where Korean and Western architecture meet. It served as a meeting and resting place for banquet guests.
Shop til you drop
Ironically, we will never get tired of this expression.
Namdaemun Market is a maze of fashion and gear stalls. It’s a haven of bargain-hunters where you can buy cheap finds for you and for your friends at home.
Dongdaemun is Seoul’s shopping district which offers both flea markets and modern shopping establishments. It closes at five in the morning.
Myeongdong is a must-visit place for those who want to achieve the popular Korean glass skin. The popular skincare and makeup brands such as Innisfree, Klairs, Cosrx, and Banila Co are here. The upside is, you will also be given free samples when you buy beauty products in Korea.
Eat your stress away
We do have a lot of Korean restaurants in the Philippines, but we bet they taste better when you are in its place of origin. Whether you’re craving for just kimchi, Korean barbecue or stew, Seoul has the right restaurant for you.
The trick is “less is more.” If the restaurant offers so many food items in their menu, the tendency if that you might stumble upon a dish that’s cooked mediocrely. If the store is selling a single dish, that’s your cue to try it. It means the shop is confident enough to make a living out of one delicious and carefully crafted dish.
Sir Jan Vincent Galvez capped his Seoul searching with a basin-full of kimchi goodness
Booking your accommodation and transportation online and way ahead of time will help you carefully lay out your plan in experiencing everything Seoul has to offer. We also understand that travelling to a foreign country might put you in an apprehensive mood. We recommend that you compare and avail travel insurance offered by companies which assure you of assistance in case of trip cancellation, trip termination, loss of baggage and personal belongings and other untoward incidents.
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