Even though Korean food seems to be the food trend of 2015, not many travellers are making the journey to Seoul to see the city in action. Seoul is unlike any asian city we have visited – It’s low key, the suburbs are all within decent walking distance if you wanted to attack on foot, the food is first rate, the transport system is as good as any western country and you can easily survive on $80 per day for a couple travelling. Take time out to chat with locals at bars or restaurants to find out how they see Korea going forward in the 21st century, how they view their government and where their favourite local eats and drinks are.
Depending on when your flight is scheduled to land, it’s worth being aware that the last train into the city departs at 11.45pm and the last bus at midnight. The good news is that taxis aren’t ball-breakingly expensive and it will only cost you a flat fee of $65 to get into the centre of Seoul.
Buy a T Money pass as soon as you can. It will cost you about $3 each and act like a London Oyster card which is easy to top up at machines at every station.
Highly recommend checking out Airbnb to stay in a locals area and to get a more city centre location at a much lower cost. For example we were able to get a place one stop from Seoul Station for less than $50 a night. Here’s where we stayed.
Exploring on foot is a great way to see the city, especially since the large areas of the river at flanked by pedestrian footpaths and cycle routes. It’s also easy to pick up a bike to hire at Hangang Park. The Cheonggyecheon section that runs through the city centre spitting you out at City Hall is like New York’s High Line – it was once a train line that was dug up a while back is submerged slightly below street level.
While many markets officially start trading early in the morning (or operate 24 hours) it’s from 5pm onwards that they really spring into live and offer the most exciting array of street food and people-watching opportunities. Store up your shut eye for lunch, afternoon and evening explorations – you might find yourself drinking soju into the wee small hours so best be prepared.
Coffee can be on the expensive side, so always grab yours to go and enjoy cheaper prices – usually a $1-2.5 discount. Plus serves are huge compared Australia so you can easily share your caffeine fix with someone else.
Come with an empty suitcase – Sure Korea has its fair share of Western-brand fast fashion, but it also has some seriously stylish home-grown designers producing chic pieces at wallet-friendly prices. In particular, check out boutiques in student-friendly Hongdae and the 5th floor to Noon Plaza in Myeon-dong to snap up something no one’s going to be wearing back home.
Pick up a WiFi modem at the airport for around $8.80/day – the company is called KT Egg and the device can be booked online in advance. You simply drop it off at the airport when you depart – we had no problems and enjoyed excellent connectivity the whole time, plus the battery lasted a long while.
Forget the Express train to the airport – it’s heaps more expensive than the commuter service which takes 56 minutes from Seoul Station – if you have time it will save you cash – it’s around $3 compared to $14.50.
It’s easy to Seoul is all glittering skyscrapers and impressive urban development (like the Dongdaemon Culture Park) but you don’t have to venture too far from the main drags to find some genuinely quaint village-like areas lined with hanock. Buchon is pretty touristy, but still well worth an afternoon, stop off for excellent noodle soup at Kalguksu, but the real treasure likes nearby in Ikseon-dong (see more here).
With a number of places calling themselves craft beer bars we thought we would find ourselves in hop heaven, but sadly, many were pouring a pretty average drop. In fact, we were quite happy with the mass produced lager/pilsners served at beer tents across the city. If you do want something a little classier, check out Magpie, Skim 45 and Four Seasons in Itaewon, and Beer Geek opposite Magpie who import some real crackers from around the world.
Want more? Check out our Seoul City Guide for our person recommendations of the best coffee, food and booze this city has to offer.