Part two of the series with x instalments is here! This post will be mostly on my essentials from the 1.5 month Korea trip – I hope it helps you all with your travels too! xx
PS: This will include a lot of boliao information that my friends have asked me about as well.
Part 1: Flight Tickets
I flew to Seoul on Scootbiz, because there was a 30% UOB promotion going on that made the ScootBiz tix only marginally more expensive than the economy seats. With the 30kg luggage allowance I needed, it was a steal. No regrets up till today.
The flight was a 8-hour trip with 1 hour layover in Taiwan which is always nice. 😉 I’m not picky about flight food or seats so I was quite okay. I usually concuss the whole trip anyway. The Scoot attendants (cannot get over how they’re called Scooties, WHY) were great, and both the to and fro trip were pleasant.
Part 2: Luggages & Packing
As pictured above, I used one of the 2 suitcases I own, both from Lojel, a Japanese brand. It’s actually really worth the money if you buy it on sale. I bought one from Robinsons and one from Metro on sale – the one pictured is the 29″ Octa hardcase, also the largest I own. It’s pretty sturdy, with spinner wheels (which are an absolute necessity for me) and clip locks that can be unlocked with 2 sets of 3-digit codes. I mainly use my 29″ Octa for trips exceeding 2 week – I am not a light packer. The other one I own is a navy blue 24″ zippered Lojel Lucid for trips up to 2 weeks. Both are great luggages in my opinion, and I’ll be getting a smaller one for shorter trips soon. I’ll say it again, I’m not a light packer, somehow I always end up packing to fit the luggage. This might be too much space for you – it takes a bit of trial and error to figure out the best combination for yourself.
For my monthlong trip, I packed 2 week’s worth of clothing, without a down jacket when Seoul was just emerging from winter which was.. very thickheaded of me. I was prepared to do laundry there, so I packed a laundry bag as well. Thought I should include a note on what I would not pack on my next trip to Korea:
– Majority of my toiletries/cosmetics/skincare. Korea has literally every brand you can think of, Western ones are sold at LOHBS (Love, Health & Beauty) and local Korean brands can be found at Olive Young. Cosmetics and the like should be the least of your concerns, if anything, Korea can probably outdo your home country in terms of product variety, unless what you’re using is homemade and locally manufactured.
– Simple shirts, skirts and the like. Korean fashion requires a lot of basics and basic white tees are both of high quality as well as really affordable there. Would not bother packing.
– Socks. When socks cost 1,000won each, you don’t question, you just whack. Plus honestly what beats cute Korean socks?!
Part 3: Accommodation
When I was choosing accommodation to Seoul, bureaucracy within the family aka. Mummy’s permission led to my desired dates being snapped up quicker than I could react – thus I spent a lot more than I should have because I had to separate my trip into two legs, in two different accommodations. Also lost the monthly discount – this was such a costly error.
If you’re heading there for a trip that’s at least a fortnight or so, do ask your Airbnb host if they offer discounts. Some of them indicate on their listing that they have X% discount, but even if they don’t it’s worth a try, ya?
The two rooms I stayed in were March to April and April to May. I much preferred my March to April accommodation for long haul, but the picture above is from my April to May accommodation. I’ll do a in-depth review soon of the March to April accommodation, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
Both of these rooms were situated in Gangnam, Seocho-dong, and only upon reaching there did I realize they’re actually in the same building. This building (confidentiality preserved for the sake of future guests) is a 15-20 minute walk from Gangnam subway (Line 2/Line 5) and it’s really quite convenient. I chose this location because the private institution I was studying at, Lexis Korea, is just down the road. More on Lexis Korea in another post.
The neighbourhood around the building is quiet at night but relatively safe, with a 24-hour cafe (that has wifi! plugs! pillows!) a junction away, and a few more 24-hour food joints nearby. Do note rent is not cheap as it is in the upscale part of town, for cheaper accommodation you may want to try the university areas (near Yonsei University @ Sinchon, Ewha Women’s University @ Edae, or Hongik University @ Hongdae). Myeongdong is also a good choice. It can be a bit crowded though so if you prefer a bit of peace, stay in the subway stations surrounding these hotspots, for example Yeoksam-dong or Yangjae that’s near Gangnam.
One of the most important things to look for if you’re bringing a lot of luggage is an Airport Limousine bus stop nearby (some places spell it as Rimousine, because in Korean ㄹ is pronounced as R/L). The bus driver helps you stow your luggage and you get a really comfy ride all the way to your desired stop. The bus stops can be quite vague so do confirm with your host/hotel where exactly it is. The bus ride for me from Incheon to Gangnam (Woosung Apt) cost 15,000 won each way, taking approximately 45 minutes each time.
Part 4: SIM Card/Wi-fi Connectivity
One of the things you’ll learn the fastest in Korea is simply: do not throw away receipts. Most receipts have the store’s wi-fi ID and code on them along with the toilet (화장실) passcode, if any. Korea has wi-fi in 90% of places so don’t worry too much if you don’t manage to get a SIM card. Might be a bit inconvenient if you’re navigating but once you sit down you’ll have stable connectivity.
I bought the EG Sim Card, which is their traveller’s SIM Card, valid for 1 month from date of purchase. My modus operandi for almost every trip I make is to try to buy their local SIM card from Changi Recommends, or if they don’t stock, buy Singtel’s roaming for 1 day (approx. S$19) to tide over the first day until I can get to a shop. Singtel’s roaming is relatively reliable so it’s a great option if you know you won’t feel like making the trip out to buy on your first day (like me). I don’t use wi-fi eggs simply because I don’t like to carry too many devices – I already have a huge Xiaomi portable charger, phone, iPod, Kindle, laptop as well as all their cables that go with me everywhere.
Their EG Sim Card can be purchased at Incheon Airport’s AREX (Airport Rail) station, but there will inadvertently be long queues, so try the phone/stationery shop next to the AREX counter instead. #cutqueuehack I usually get cards for friends either here or the AREX Travel Centre at Seoul station. Both of these stations close around 7-8PM so make your trip down early. You can get cards at GS25 (convenience shops) around the city, or ask for delivery to your hotel, but they don’t help you to install the card.
Their office in Singapore is at Hub Synergy Point, 70 Anson Road #13-01 (Tanjong Pagar MRT, Exit C, walk straight past Twenty Anson and Mapletree, it’s the green building along that road) which is where my office is located so.. if I’d known earlier I would’ve gotten it from there. Evidence above to cover my ass in case people say I give wrong info. Haha, what has the working world done to me?
Source: EG Sim
These are the different price plans they have. The first month, I bought a 5GB plan and was shocked to find after the first two weeks that I still had 4.95GB of data left despite being constantly connected. Seoul is bathed in wifi and I love it. So my advice is not to waste money, buy the 2GB and top-up later if you need. This card is only valid for 1 month, no matter what value you have left in it. According to a friend studying in Seoul National University, if you get it from SNU, it’s valid for 3 months. Just that SNU is quite out of the way. 🙂
Part 5: Etiquette
Seoul is very similar to Singapore so the culture shock is minimal but there are some fundamental differences that would be best observed.
Quite a few countries practice sorting their trash, and Korea is one of them. Look for the recycled sign on your trash. They usually have some Korean character in them that could be these:
음식류 Food waste
비닐 Vinyl (plastic)
일반 쓰래기 Regular waste
Again, not an exhaustive list cos I can’t remember most of the terms already. Basically, anything that has the recyclable sign goes into the recyclables trash bins. In cafes, pour away your coffee in the liquid waste basin they provide before throwing the cup into the recyclables bin. Usually out of the house their bins are only categorized into recyclable and non-recyclable so that’s not too hard to decipher. The complicated part comes when you have to sort the trash in your apartment.
First of all, you should be familiar with 2 types of trash bags: the 일반 쓰래기 regular waste and 음식류 food waste bags. They come in different volumes and can be purchased at any supermart or GS25. They likely won’t be on the shelves so you should ask the counter staff for 쓰래기 봉투 (sseu-rae-gi-bong-tu) trash bags. These trash bags are not for recyclables. For recyclables, just sort them into their types and dispose in a clear plastic bag. There should be designated areas around your place of residence for you to do so.
Food waste is any leftovers that you have. Life hack: you might not accumulate enough food trash to fill even the smallest 1litre bag at one go, so don’t waste the bag by bringing to throw half-full. Instead, chuck it in the freezer, that way the waste won’t go bad and stink up your place. All food wastes go in here except things like bones (fish, chicken, etc.), all kinds of shell (egg, prawn, lobster, clam, oyster, mussel, what have you) and oil.
Regular waste is for anything that can’t be recycled. Note: tissue paper, cotton sheet masks, etc. do not count as paper. These are regular waste.
They do impose fines for not adhering to these rules so try your best to do it. Again, don’t give yourself unnecessary stress and pressure. Just try your best to fulfill this knowing that it’s a good initiative to help recycling efforts. Plus, after a while, you get so aware of the trash you accumulate that you find yourself throwing less and less.
Also, rubbish bins are not widely found in Korea – mostly in food joints, shops and maybe 1-2 bins in the subway if you’re lucky. Keep a small plastic bag with you for trash, and if you see a rubbish bin, remember where the hell it is. In Singapore we’re so used to having bins everywhere that it doesn’t occur to us that we may have to look for one.
In a bunch of toilets around Seoul, the low water pressure in the flushing system causes the toilet to choke if you throw anything in it, like toilet paper, not to mention pads and trash. Don’t do it. There are bins around, and while it might seem odd to do so at first, cultivate the habit. I assure you it’s very easy to throw in your toilet paper but if it chokes, it chokes on the next person, not you. And you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a Korean choked toilet because A LOT of waste surfaces. Trust me on this.
Bow when you greet others, it’s only courtesy. While they won’t fault you as you’re a foreigner, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Also, if you speak the language, even if you fumble, 요 your way through everything. It doesn’t matter if you’re speaking to someone younger, older, etc. Just add -yo to everything. Better if you know how to use honoric verbs, but -yo is the basic.
Be ready to jostle and be jostled. I don’t think I’ve heard an excuse me in the entire time I’ve been in the Korean subway. Be wary, be very wary of the ahjummas (especially if they’re holding umbrellas). Give way, if not out of Confucian respect then for the fact that they really do pack a mean elbow.
That concludes Part 2 of Episode X of the guide! 🙂 Hope this helps you in your travels. More coming up soon!