I don’t know about you, but I searched the internet for travel tips for Korea and I got really stupid tips. As someone who just came back from a 14 day trip to Korea and can actually speak (some) Korean, I’d like to share with you my LEGIT tips about Korea!
1. You don’t NEED to buy any special train ticket to get from Incheon Airport to Seoul
Just like Narita-Tokyo which has the Skyliner train, Incheon-Seoul has the AREX which is a 43 minute non-stop train for 8,000 won ($10 SGD). However, this requires a special ticket. You do get your own seat,overhead space for belongs and luggage storage areas in each train car though.
Guess how long is the normal all-stop line that doesn’t need a special ticket? 53 minutes. It’s only 10 minuets longer, the fare is half the price at 3,950 won ($5 SGD) and you don’t need to bother with getting any special tickets. To compare it with the Narita-Tokya Skyliner, that service cuts travel time from 2 hours to 45 minutes. Very big difference, in my opinion.
A major advantage of NOT taking the AREX is that you also don’t need to take the line all the way to Seoul Station, which is especially useful if you are staying West of the station or along the central green circle line (line 2) because the all-stop station stops at Hongik, which is a transfer station to line 2.
Of course, if you really really want to have a seat the whole trip, have freaking a lot of baggage, don’t mind paying double the fare, need to go to Seoul Station straight and don’t mind bothering yourself a bit to buy the special tickets, you could take the AREX. I find myself hard-pressed to think of a situation where I would be doing that.
2. You need a good metro app, download THIS ONE
Seoul is freaking huge and it has TONS of metro stations and lines. It has 9 MAIN lines, the airport line and 8 auxiliary lines. It has a freaking a lot of lines.
Pretty much everywhere you want to go or can go, you would take the metro and just walk. And because the metro is so dense, you probably don’t need to walk more than 10-15 mins from the station to get to wherever you want to go.
You do not really want to take a bus, but if you really have to, you’ll probably be only taking it once or twice (the opposite direction), so I don’t really think there’s a need for a bus app. You’ll be taking the metro several times a day. You need a good metro app.
I strongly recommend Subway Korea (android link
). Why? It has English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese translations of the app and station names, and it also has the metro lines in not only Seoul, but also Busan, Daejeon, Daegu and Gwangju! And with the timings, fares, station exits and recommended routes. It’s freaking dope. This is hands down the best metro app I’ve used of all the cities I’ve been to!
3. For transportation, only get the T-MONEY card!
In Korea, there are quite a few transport cards and passes available. Sensepass, Hankkumi, POP, Upass, Mybi, cashBee, 3S, Hanaro, Mpass, Seoul Citypass… I’m telling you straight, unless you have a very special reason to get some other card or pass, ONLY GET T-MONEY. From my understanding, T-money is the only card that can be used on all the metro lines and buses in all the cities in Korea. Many of the others are region-specific (lol, Pokemon vocabulary?). Just get a T-money card and you can pretty much go anywhere and take anything in any city.*
*at least, I think so!
4. Ditch Google, use NAVER (if you know Hangeul)
Naver has 72% market share, Google has… 2%
If you have been searching for stuff on Google maps in Korea, you would have known by now that their map support is very lacking. Why? I hear it is because Korea does not want Google to have such a good map of their country because of North Korea.
Which is weird, since Naver maps is super awesome. I actually like Naver maps more than Google maps. They have aerial views, which are pretty cool! But I digress. Because Naver maps are more detailed, complete and updated, it’s a heck of a lot easier finding locations, addresses and routes.
Naver is Korea’s Google and things work slightly a bit different on it. Strangely, there are no aggregated websites for people to review food (like Yelp in the US, or even like HGW or Burpple in Singapore). Instead, they have BLOGS. Seriously, it’s weird, but that’s just how things are in Korea. If you want to find really good places to eat, you are going to have to search through blogs on Naver. The good thing is that any restaurant that is good and worth visiting 100% has a Naver blog post on it. If you’re going to somewhere that doesn’t even have one, you’re asking for trouble.
5. Outside of touristy areas, you are going to need to know *some* Korean
very important phrase when talking to Korean girls
I swear, there are some places in Korea where you can get by entirely speaking in Mandarin. There are even specific areas (Myeongdong) and shopping malls (Lotte FITIN) which have tons of Mandarin speaking staff, which of course caters to all Chinese people, mainlanders or otherwise. Even signage there is in Chinese rather than English! Of course, all the touristy hotspots are going to have multi-lingual support (what is this, an app? lol), but they are mostly tourist traps.
However, if you are travelling out of Seoul or hunting down secret special spots away from the regular tourist spots (Common Ground y’all basic bitches, half of the people there are from Singapore taking pictures with the blue containers? hokay, can), chances are that “English is not supported”. Unless you have studied or bothered to learn some Korean before your trip, you might have problems. While a phrasebook is better than nothing, a translator is going to really help you out here. You can just type or speak what is on your mind, let it translate, and you can tap the speech icon to make your phone read out the Korean that you most probably can’t read. Although you are probably not going to understand their reply, at least the conversation is now 50% comprehendable instead of 0%, haha!
Again, Naver kicks Google’s butt in this category. They have a phone app called Papago which is MANY MANY times better than Google Translate. As a Korean learner, you have got to trust me when I say that Korean is downright the hardest language I have learnt when it comes to translations (I have studied 5 languages). There are so many omissions and subtle nuances, literal phrases that have a different intended meaning… it’s a mess! Papago does a much better job than Google Translate, but like I said, Korean is a really tough language to translate. The bright side is that English-> Korean translations work out a lot better than Korean-> English ones. So if you are using a translator to communicate your intentions, it should work out.
6. Learn Hangeul, the Korean alphabet. I swear, it takes only 2 hours
Ice Cream. Hamburger. Hot Dog. Pizza. Pasta. Baguette. Orange. Peach. Banana. Pineapple. Coffee. Americano. Latte. Mocha. Chocolate. Coke. Supermarket. Mart. Apartment. Card. News. Shopping. Bus. Taxi.
Do you know what all these words have in common? In Korean, they are pronounced the same, or very similar! In fact, there are many words that are written in Korean that sound the same in English and has the same meaning as the English word. However, if you can’t read Hangeul, you’d have no clue about all these signs and words everywhere that are actually really easy to understand!
A bonus fun fact is that this is English-Korean hack also works for Chinese-Korean! If you are a Mandarin speaker, you are going to realize that tons of Korean words are actually from Chinese. However, the pronunciation varies a bit larger for Chinese-Korean words.
化妆室 is a makeup room, which is literally a makeup room for Korean girls lol (and toilet for men)
图书馆 is the library and sounds 90% the same in Korean
In fact, many of the historical places in Korea has direct word to word translations in Chinese. The famous seaside temple in Busan is 해동 용궁사 (hae dong yong gung sa), which is 海东龙宫寺 (hai dong long gong si) which is of course also directly translated to the East Ocean Dragon Palace Temple.
Hangeul is made up of only 40 different sound blocks. It is a created writing system, meaning that there are some very logical and functional features to the alphabet, and they even LOOK like what they sound. Take the word “Banana” for example. 바나나. Can you guess what the “a” sound is? ㅏ is the “a” sound! ㅂ is the “b” sound and ㄴ is the “n” sound! See, I just taught you 3/40 of the Korean alphabets is like 20 seconds.
Hangeul has been routinely nominated by many linguistics as the easiest written language in the world
. The King who created it has been popularly quoted to have said “A wise man can acquaint himself before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn it over 10 days”.
Although this is actually my TOP TIP, I know that 90% of people are not going to bother with this, especially if it’s just a short trip, less than a week, and if they have no plans to re-visit again. However, I think knowing Hangeul really enhances the Korea experience by multitudes and pushes you from clueless tourist to a cultural explorer!
7. If you see a waste basket beside the toilet bowl, even in the men’s room, throw your used toilet paper in there
This one was really a big shocker for me. I know that this happens in China and even Taiwan, where the plumbing system is not good enough to flush down toilet paper and gets clogged by even toilet paper ever so often.
For me, it’s hard to wrap my brain around the fact that there are MANY MANY places in Korea that do not have sufficient flush power to handle toilet paper, so they have to separate toilet paper and poop. It’s also kind of disgusting, but oh well.
Anyway, yeah, throw your used toilet paper into that waste basket. The last thing you’d want is for your crap to backflow out of the toilet. It’s not so bad if you are in an apartment (still quite bad though), but the worst would be in those small restaurants. It would be freaking embarrassing to the max. You would have brought many great shame and dishonour to your family. Shame. Shame!
8. Know where your toilets are
On a related note, you should always know where your toilets are. Unlike Singapore where it is easy to pop into any shopping centre and use the restroom, shopping centres aren’t on every street in Korea.
Surprisingly, all metro stations will have a toilet and every metro station toilet that I have used has had very acceptable toilet standards!
Of course, shopping centres will have them. Not all restaurants and F&B have their own toilets, and it is not unusual to have to walk some distance to a shared toilet by all the surrounding businesses.
Remember, the 3 magical words of hwa jang shil, 화장실, 化妆室 will be your best friend. It’s okay, you don’t even need to make a full sentence. Just say that those words and raise the tone at the end, give your shoulders a shrug and have a confused face! Then follow their hand actions to the nearest toilet!
9. Calling people the right way
Unless you are going for the HEY IM A TOURIST style, it would be best to call people in the right way, instead of “HEY HEY DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?”. Even if you can only start the sentence in Korean and say the rest in English, they are going to be a lot happier, nicer and patient to help / talk to you!
Personally, I use the flattering rule of minus one. It’s not a real rule. I just made it up on the spot. But basically, whatever you think the person is, just minus one to their “title”.
An old grandmother (halmoni) -> call her ahjumma
A middle aged lady (ahjumma) -> call her yi-mo (aunt)
An old grandfather (hallaboji) -> call him ahjuhssi
A middle aged man (ahjuhssi) -> call him saam-chon (uncle)
If you are under 20, you can also go another level lower by calling people in their 20s as older brother (oppa for girls, hyung for guys) or older sister (unni for girls, noona for guys)!
For people same age or younger, just a simple “Excuse me” to get their attention is usually good. It rhymes a bit like Tokyo, but it’s chor-ki-yo 저기요 .
10. Enable M1 Data Passport if you are on M1, it is freaking awesome
I have a local monthly data plan of 7GB. With just $10 freaking measly bucks, I can use all that data in Korea without having to deal with any SIM card nonsense. Screw those wifi eggs. You need them to be charged to use them as well! Unless you are travelling in a group (which I think the wifi eggs might also have data and speed caps), getting this kind of ultra cheap data roaming is the way to go. Let’s see the plan by other carriers.
Singtel Ready Roam – 1GB for 30 days, $20, 11 APAC countries
Starhub DataTravel – 2GB for 30 days, $15, 9 APAC countries
Starhub DataTravel – 3GB for 30 days, $20, 9 APAC countries
Compared to M1 Data Passport, $10 for 7GB (because of my regular monthly plan), I think we can safely say that Singtel is absolute shit while Starhub is only half shit and M1 is golden.
Data Passport is the BEST thing about M1, and it is the only reason that is keeping me from switching telecomm carrier.
*THIS IS NOT PAID ADVERTISING THOUGH I WOULD APPRECIATE IF M1 CONTACTED ME AND GAVE ME SOME MONEY KTHX.*
11. Convert money quickly – Rule of 1000 and 20%
Having to deal with other currencies is always a pain. You could pop out your smartphone and pull up your currency app or calculator, but I find that the quickest way to give you a fairly accurate estimate is using the rule of 1000 and 20%.
You just divide the amount by 1000 and add 20% to it to get the value in SGD.
Let’s use the tickets to Lotte World (the amusement park) which costs 52,000 won as an example.
Divide by 1000 to get 52
Add 20% and get about 62
Using spot FX rate, you get $64.71, but you get what I mean. Not perfect, but really, good enough.
12. Bring your passport if you are going shopping
Korea has their own version of GST. Most proper shops, especially those in the tourist areas will allow you to claim immediate tax refund, but only if the total amount is more than 30,000 won (~ $37 SGD). If you bring your passport, they will give you the refund immediately and you can save the time and hassle of claiming the tax refund at the airport and then packing it into your luggage there!
I had a freaking great time in Korea. In fact, it has been one of my best holidays to-date, up there with Japan
and New Zealand
Korea can be a bit daunting because of it’s very distinct culture and different language. However, it is a very modernised country, crime is low and people are friendly enough. Arm yourself with my tips and you won’t be the most noob, I promise!
Anyway, I hope that my tips are useful to you if you are planning to go to Korea soon. Let me know which tip you are going to use, and if you guys have another good tips about Korea to share!