My wife and I spent seven glorious days in South Korea in November 2012 as our 10th wedding anniversary celebration. This is the first of five blog entries on our trip; it focuses on preparing for the trip.
Step One: Secure visas. Filipino travelers need visas to enter South Korea. My wife and I chose not to buy airplane tickets to South Korea before securing our visas, so that in case we were denied, we wouldn’t lose any money. (Some travelers, on the other hand, choose to buy tickets before; that’s their strategy, but I’m not particularly sold on that strategy. For one thing, embassy officials rather resent the emotional blackmail that comes with “But I already have the ticket!”) [Learn more about Filipino travelers may secure a South Korean visa.]
We submitted our application for visas on the first week of October; we got our approved visa five working days later.
Step two: Secure airline tickets. There are many budget airlines now from which one may secure tickets for great rates. Cebu Pacific is known for its piso-fare seat sales, and Jeju Air flies travelers straight into Seoul for a fraction of the cost on a major carrier. Caths and I bought round-trip tickets from Zest Air into Incheon for less than Php20,000 all-in. The flight was relatively comfortable – seats could’ve been bigger, but what do you expect on an airbus? – and, thankfully, uneventful. I can’t tell you how many times I fly airplanes and get visions of crashing. Man, I have got to conquer that spirit of fear!
Caths with a Starbucks macaroon, lounging on our IB Ville bed. Oddly enough, we didn’t take a picture of IB Ville. Maybe that’s an indication of how unremarkable the place is. But it offers the best location at the best prices in town.
Step three: Book accommodations. In choosing where to say, Caths and I had two considerations. The first was price. Spending less on accommodations would mean having more to spend on other things; since we really only needed a place to sleep, we weren’t that particular about the facilities offered by the hotel. Second was location. We wanted a place that was close to the subway because we planned to travel around Seoul.
Caths and I settled on IB Ville, a cozy little apartelle in Myeong Dong, that came recommended by Caths’ best friend, Jenna. Fantastic location in the heart of Seoul’s popular shopping district. It’s a lazy five-minute walk from the subway (two minutes if you like walking fast, like me), a ten-minute walk from the beautiful Namsan Tower (where Jun Pyo from Boys Over Flowers proposed to Jan Di, and so naturally, the Boys Over Flowers fan that is my wife needed to make a pilgrimage), and, if you cross the street – BOOM! – you’re in shopping wonderland! Shoes, clothes, technology, food, and, naturally, streets and streets of cosmetics. Fantastic location, IB Ville.
And get this. Php1,600 a night. BOOYAH.
We also decided to book hotels in Incheon because our flight times were odd (we flew in around November 10, Saturday, 7pm, and flew out around on November 16, Friday, at 11am). On our first night, we booked a room at the Incheon Airport Guest House Koreamie. On our way out, we looked at the Lazy Bird Guesthouse. More information on these hotels in the posts to come.
Step Four: Track the weather. Caths and I were well aware of the weather, thanks to AccuWeather. We downloaded their mobile app, and were able to track the temperatures and weather in Seoul well ahead of time. Because of AccuWeather, we planned accordingly and dressed for low temperatures that our tropical Filipino bodies weren’t used to. It also predicted – correctly – it would rain, and so we packed umbrellas. Always track the weather, friends; it’ll save you a world of hurt.
Even with the sun out, the temperature at Gyeongbokgung Palace, one of Korea’s top tourist spots, was a numbing seven degrees.
Step Five: Pack clothes accordingly. We were in Seoul from November 10 to 16. It was cold by no stretch of the imagination; our coldest there was around -7 degrees. So pack clothes designed to insulate and heat. We borrowed large winter jackets from friends. Best decision, because it was really cold.
Pack your shoes well too. I also brought the wrong footwear, choosing to bring my Bradford elevator shoes instead of sneakers. (Oh, vanity, thou art a pain in the butt.) While immensely comfy, the sheer amount of walking we did made those shoes impractical. I ended up buying new Puma shoes at half-price off in Myeong Dong. That inflated our shopping costs by Php2,600, still pricey despite being a steal from the original Php5,200 cost of the shoes.
Step Six: Enable roaming on your phone. Make sure to enable your phone on “roaming mode” in case you needed to make phone calls. We were able to call the Korean Tourist Office to ask questions about how to proceed to Everland when the directions we downloaded included a bus that wasn’t on the list at our bus stop. We were able to return text messages to people sending us SMS from Manila. Two considerations: the cost of calls and SMS are prohibitive: two calls totaling seven minutes cost us almost Php1000. Each SMS was worth Php20. So communicate wisely.
Step Seven: Stay wired and connected. Korea is one of the most wired places in the world. The subway, the hotels, the major tourist spots, most of them have free WIFI. Therefore, it was important to have a smartphone that could connect to the Internet. We were able to use Google Translate to converse with Korean shop owners and haggle on prices. LOL We also were able to upload pictures of the trip in real-time.
Step Eight: Bring lots of money. I’m sorry if that sounds painfully blunt, but it’s true. Food isn’t particularly cheap in Korea when you compare costs to Manila, and you will want to try all kinds of food there. The shopping isn’t like Manila’s either – the Philippine mall culture spoils us for shopping – but there are still many things you can buy, especially cosmetics, fashion, and entertainment. There are several tourist spots that will require admission fees. You may want to try out their coffee houses, their spas, their nightspots. To be completely honest, we chose to travel light and book cheap but well-situated hotels because we fully intended to shop. And it was worth virtually every Korean won.
Coming Soon: The Arrival – Welcome to Korea!
Check out pictures of our Korea trip on Facebook.