Last month I had the pleasure of adding South Korea to my list of countries. Over 9 days, I spent as much time as possible researching and immersing myself in the culture so that you dear reader might be inspired to take a trip of your own.
I learned that Seoul is one of the safest destinations in the world for solo female travellers. Home to an incredible nightlife, mouth-watering food and low crime. I also discovered some things I didn’t expect. So before you go to Seoul here are a few things you should know.
Research visas before you go to Seoul
Before you go to Seoul your first priority should be researching whether or not you’ll need a visa. As government policies are constantly changing and vary from country to country I’m not going to provide this for you. Yup this is also me covering my ass because I don’t want to be responsible for ruining your trip! If you do need to get a visa before you go make sure you leave plenty of time to make the arrangements.
Koreans have conservative dress sense
One thing I noticed about Seoul was how conservative Korean style was. I quickly learned if I wore anything above the knee or showing even a hint of cleavage I’d be heavily judged. Although no one said anything the stares didn’t go unnoticed and at times it was actually quite uncomfortable.
Luckily I’d packed a couple of midi dresses, so I managed to avoid denim shorts for the rest of the trip. If you go in the summertime just bare this in mind before you go to Seoul and pack some cute floaty midi items.
I loved that in Seoul eating was very much a shared experience that brought friends, family and strangers together. However, a downside of this is that as a solo traveller in a lot of places you’re not welcome. Although I didn’t experience getting turned away myself, Rose (Where Goes Rose), found it pretty frustrating when she visited.
As I spent most of my time with others from the guest house I got to try loads of the shared dishes like Korean BBQ and Jokbal. Still, when I was by myself I just got the big portions anyway. If I didn’t manage to finish I just asked for a takeaway box and was thankful for the late-night munchies or strange brunch the next day!
Pricey in comparison to other Asian countries
Compared to some other countries in Asia, especially those on the typical backpacker trail in South East Asia, South Korea can be considered as quite expensive. Most of the time food was usually similar to UK prices, but I did manage to find a few cheap eats too. The trick is to go for food BEFORE you reach the brink of starvation.
The cheapest meal I had on my trip was £3/$5.50 AUD and was a hearty bowl of udon noodles with chicken and traditional pickled vegetables on the side. Although I couldn’t have eaten it every day the taste was definitely not in correlation with the price and I believe you CAN do South Korea on a budget if you plan well.
One thing that makes it easier to stick to your budget is having a great travel card. I love my Revolut card as it’s super easy to track your incomings and outgoings and set up multiple accounts for different expenditures if you’re nerdy like that (I am). An account with Revolut is totally free all you have to pay for is the card itself.
Google Maps doesn’t work
South Korea is the only country in the world where you’ll have trouble using Google Maps. While Google Maps can be effective for train and bus routes it’s pretty useless for walking. Google Maps hasn’t been updated since 2009 and it’s impossible to get directions for locations by foot. As South Korea wanted to protect data of their military bases from falling in the wrong hands *cough* N. Korea *cough* they refused to allow Google access to their map data!
But never fear there are still a number of other apps you can use that will work. Before you go to Seoul download one or all of the following – Navar, Maps.me and Kakao Maps. And remember if all else fails you can use *gasps* an actual physical map.
It’s crazy cheap to fly to Japan
When I arrived at the hostel I entered to a dorm room surrounded by plastic packaging. An animated voice hollered out from the plastic metropolis and that was how I met my Japanese roommate. As she popped another packet of sweets open she revealed that she’d come to Seoul to do a couple of days shopping. Now she was undergoing the arduous task of squeezing her spoils into her mouth/suitcase.
If you’re planning on a longer trip it might be worth flying from or into Japan as the flights can often go for as cheap as £30!
Don’t count on people speaking English
Many Koreans can speak GREAT English. But you should never go to another country and expect the locals to do all the work. Learn a few useful phrases. If nothing else ‘thank you’ and ‘it tasted amazing’ in the native language go a looong way.
Top tip – I find that just seeing the word doesn’t necessarily help me when it comes to ACTUALLY saying it. For the longest time, I just avoided saying local phrases whenever I visited another country because I was embarrassed to pronounce it wrong.
Now, I keep lists on my phone of how I’d phonetically say the word (how it sounds not how it looks). Even if the spelling is completely different. I even go one step further and give each sound an object or action that helps me to remember it.
There is no tipping culture
South Korea is really not considered a tipping country. In fact, it can actually be considered quite rude. I read that offering a tip can often be interpreted as you insinuating that people don’t know how to appropriately price their services!
The Seoul subway is the longest in the world
After what felt like MY WHOLE LIFE spent in the Seoul subway system a quick Google revealed that the reason I’d been feeling like an extra on Maze Runner was because I’d been navigating the world’s longest subway system.
However, despite the size of the subway (950km+), transport in Seoul is incredibly efficient. I never saw a single train arrive late and all the platforms were kept super clean. I’d also never been somewhere that had entire underground malls as part of the subway system. You’d be right in thinking that just adds a whole other layer to the maze.
You can sleep at a spa
Although I didn’t get a chance to try a traditional Ryokan in Seoul I did have an onsen experience in Japan that was pretty life-changing. A Ryokan is essentially a traditional Korean spa. For a set fee you can use steam rooms, saunas, gym and pools to your heart’s content.
Except it is SO much more than just a spa… think of it as a mega spa. The one I went to in Japan was actually very aptly named ‘Spa World’. In addition to all the different rooms, you can get massages, play games, eat and also sleep.
Each ticket generally allows a 12-hour entrance (check as it varies from place to place). This means you can totally rock up the night before your flight do some detoxing and chillaxing then make your way to the airport refreshed and having slept for a fraction of the cost of a hostel.
The steam rooms, saunas etc are enjoyed naked (different facilities for each sex). But in communal areas, you get cute little PJs to wear and it’s just an all-round good time.
If you haven’t yet had a chance to check out my Instagram stories you’re going to want to head over to my Instagram page and check out my Seoul series under the ‘Highlights’ section. It’s jam-packed with even more interesting facts, tips and also awkward blunders because, hello, it’s me we’re talking about.
What about you? Would you like to visit Seoul?
Let me know in the comments!
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