South Korea Travel Guide 2018

South Korea - the land of skin care, beef barbeque, and kimchi. A first world country with nationalistic citizens who stay true to their roots, and with a rich history that piques the interests of many. It's a country of beauty and order, blessed with the 4 seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall.

Never in my early years did South Korea fancy my travel desires. I do not watch Korean drama, idolize any K-pop band, nor know any Korean in person, so imagine how isolated I am from their culture and country. But the global age and the onset of the millennial travel bug opened my eyes and saw South Korea in a different light.

And I am glad to have been part of their land for 6 unforgettable days.

I spent my days in Seoul, the country's capital, and Busan, South Korea's port city. These are days when I tried my best to immerse myself in everything Korean - food, language, history, KTX trains, the daily commute, and so on...

Below typically layouts my 6-day itinerary, which you may freely use as your travel guide for your first (or next) South Korean escapade. I'm going to make it short yet detailed for your easy planning.

We were in Korea at the latter days of November. The temperature dropped to -4 degrees Celcius at its lowest. Most of the time, it was at -3 to 4.

If you're traveling the same time as ours, then we suggest that you bring your pre-winter/winter wear. Assume that it's going to snow. We encountered some snow during our stay - an unexpected surprise.

Also bring an umbrella with you as there might be moderate chances of rain. I did not have mine while touring the Deoksugung Palace, but good thing I brought Coleman's emergency poncho with me! It's very lightweight and compact, so it won't be a hassle to bring. It didn't guard my feet though. Hence, it's best to wear your "thickest" rubbershoes, or boots, to better protect your feet during rainy, post-autumn/pre-winter days.

Money: We had our peso exchanged to USD in the Philippines. Upon arrival at the Incheon Airport, we had some of our USD converted to KRW. As soon as we were able to settle down in Seoul, we then had most of our USD exchanged at Woori Bank and Keb Hana.
Pocket WiFi: We did not purchase a pocket WiFi because our Airbnb provided us one for free. I do not know where you can rent, but try the one from Klook. It's important to stay connected as you might need to download some apps along the way (hello Google Translate!).
Adapter: Their standard voltage is 220v 60Hz, and their outlet has 2 round holes. Hence, bring a travel adapter with you. We found one in Handyman. If you can't find one in Manila, buy a universal travel adapter from Daiso in Seoul. It's around P225 only.

South Korea is 1 hour ahead from the Philippines

NAIA Terminal 3 to Incheon Airport
Departure: Nov. 20, 2017, 5:10PM Philippine time
Arrival: Nov. 20, 2017, 10:40PM Korean time
Incheon Airport to NAIA Terminal 3
Departure: Nov. 26, 2017, 2:30AM Korean time
Arrival: Nov. 26, 2017, 5:50AM Philippine time

Upon arrival at the airport, ride the KTX train to your place of stay. I think it's the most convenient and economical choice (cost and time-efficient). The KTX train is only open until 11PM.

There were 5 of us in the group, and we didn't make it to the KTX train before 11PM so we rode a big taxi instead. Regular taxis (sedans) in Korea only accommodate 4 passengers, so we had no choice but to take the big one. It's expensive at 82,000 KRW to Jongmyo. That's about 16,400 KRW or P740 per pax.

The KTX train will only cost about 4,700 KRW or P207 per pax.

There are also buses from the airport to Seoul, but I think the trip will take a long while.

It is very easy to commute in South Korea through the following modes:
Subway: Their subway is a very efficient line that can connect you to numerous travel destinations in Seoul. Each trip, per way, costs about P70. We highly recommend that you buy a T-Money Card for your hassle-free subway commute, and to give you a 100 KRW discount per trip. See this link for more info.
Bus: We never got the chance to try out the buses in Seoul. Click here for more information on this.
Taxi: We were only able to try the big taxi on our way out of the aiport. Click here for more info on Korean taxis.

Tourists usually stay in these areas:
Jongmyo: The historical and cultural center of Seoul. Where most of the palaces are located. This is where we stayed.
Myeongdong: Known as their shopping haven. Street food and Korean restaurants abound in this area.
Hongdae: A party place for the young crowd. Korean restaurants, bars, and clubs are located here.

We stayed at an Airbnb in Jongmyo. It's really near the train so it was very easy to hop from place to place. Insadong, a popular shopping and restaurant strip, as well as many tourist spots, can be visited by simply walking!

The view from our Airbnb unit

I highly recommend our Airbnb because everything you need is there - a convenience store at the lobby of the building, a free pocket WiFi, a fully-working kitchen, plates, glasses, shot glasses, utensils, washer, laundry detergent, soap, shampoo, tissue, hair blower, heated water, hangers, cabinet space, luggage space, sleeping area, and the owner's support.

Here's the link to his Airbnb profile:

You may also try a traditional Korean house at the Bukchon Hanok Village, which is also in Jongmyo. I think it'll be quite an experience.

I'll never finish writing this post if I detail everything here, so I'll show you a "list" of what we did instead!

Day 1, Monday
1) Airport arrival
2) Quick dinner at GS25 (convenience store) as we settled into our Airbnb at around 1:30AM. The meal I bought cost about P200+. It was good! Worth the P200+.

Day 2, Tuesday
1) Nami Island!
The nature park with awesome views of towering trees and placid rivers. Walk along the island's peaceful trail or ride a bike to easily see each vibrant spot with ease. Restaurants, cafes, and snack shops abound in the area too.

Photo by Sese

We didn't book anything nor had any concrete plans on how we're getting there. But due to the strategic location of our Airbnb, we were able to find our way by foot to Tapgol Park at Insadong. We proceeded to the park's West Gate, where a bus was parked. Luckily, there were empty seats so we immediately booked a round trip pass and a ticket to Nami Island for a total of 23,000 KRW. See detailed costs and schedule below:

Travel time: 1 or 1.5 hour
Bus ticket, Seoul to Nami, departs 9:30AM: 7,500 KRW
Bus ticket, Nami to Seoul, departs 4pm: 7,500 KRW
Nami Island ticket, inclusive of a two-way 5-minute ferry ride, departs every ~15mins: 8,000 KRW

I suggest for you to reserve a bus ticket instead, than risk having none. Email or click this link for more details.

Tapgol Park. The bus was right outside the West Gate.

2) Brunch at a restaurant outside Nami Island. Coffee afterwards.
We didn't know that there were a lot of restaurants in Nami Island, so we settled for one of the many Korean restaurants outside before boarding the ferry. This was our first proper Korean meal! Afterwards, we warmed ourselves with a cup of coffee at the Naminara Snow Cafe located just before the ferry's boarding area. (The coffee was perfect. Try it!)

3) Korean beef BBQ dinner at Myeongdong
Upon arrival at Seoul, we headed to Myeongdong for some really good Korean beef BBQ. Best paired with soju. It's worth every bite and shot!!!

Day 3, Wednesday
1) Gwanghwamun Square (no fees)
The main square in Seoul, which gives you a great view of the Gyeongbokgung Palace. This is only around 5-10 minutes away from our Airbnb by foot! (I saved P70 by walking!)

Photo by Leo

2) Gyeongbokgung Palace (3,000 KRW per pax)*
The main palace during the Joseon Dynasty. One of the most popular tourist spots in South Korea. Walking distance from the Gwanghwamun Square. Here are important notes to remember before visiting this palace:

Closed on Tuesdays
10AM and 2PM: Changing of the guards ceremony at the main gate
11AM, 1:30PM, and 3:30PM: Free English tour

*Note: We bought a "combination ticket" at the gates of Gyeongbokgung, which costs 10,000 KRW. This gave us access to Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace + Huwon Secret Garden, Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, and the Jongmyo Shrine. These tickets are valid for 3 months.

3) Korean beef BBQ lunch at a restaurant in Samcheong-dong, beside the Bukchon Hanok Village
A must-try when in the area. Walking distance from Gyeongbokgung Palace.

4) Bukchon Hanok Village (no fees)

Get to see what a traditional Korean home looks like! Walking distance from Samcheong-dong.

5) Changdeokgung Palace (3,000 KRW per pax)

A UNESCO world heritage site. The second royal villa for the kings under the Joseon Dynasty. Walking distance from the Bukchon Hanok Village.

Closed on Mondays.

The Huwon Secret Garden is located here as well, and it costs 2,500-8,000 KRW, depending on your age. We weren't able to see this as this was already closed when we got there at around 3:30PM. We also didn't have time to go back for it anymore.

6) Changgyeonggung Palace (1,000 KRW per pax)
Built by King Sejeon for his retiring father, King Taejong. This also serves as a dwelling place for queens and concubines. This is right beside the Changdeokgung Palace.

Closed on Mondays.

7) Coffee break at Ediya Coffee
Walking all over the palace grounds in a 0-degree environment wore us out, so we stopped by a coffee shop for some rest. Again, the coffee was fab.

8) Authentic Korean dinner at a restaurant in Jongmyo, just below our Airbnb apartment/condominium

Day 4, Thursday
1) Busan Day Trip!!!
We've created separate travel guides for this:

2) Dinner at Insadong
We arrived at Seoul late at night, around 11PM, and found almost all restaurants in Insadong closed! Luckily, we found a cozy Korean noodle house near the corner of the main road.

We were enjoying our warm dumpling noodle soup, then it snowed. :)

Day 5, Friday
1) DMZ Tour (PHP 2,370 - as billed by our credit card - per pax)
A must-do when in South Korea. It was very interesting to learn about the history of North and South Korea, and see a part of North Korea too! I will do a separate post about this soon.

We booked our tour via Klook. Click on the link for itinerary details.

A glimpse of North Korea 

2) Food court lunch at Seoul Station/Lotte Mall

We tried the Korean food court for lunch and found it very efficient and organized. We ordered through their main counter (looks like a receptionist booth), sat near the food stall we chose, waited for our number by checking their queuing TV, and picked up our food as soon as our number was called. Free water was available too, with glasses stored in what seemed like a sterilizer.

Perks of living in a first world country.

3) Lotte Mart shopping!

After lunch, we headed to Lotte Mart to shop for snacks and pasalubong! This is the perfect place to buy affordable yet quality branded food items for your loved ones and friends. Free food in tasting portions abounded in each aisle - ramen, soup, seaweed snacks, nuts, and so on.

Beauty products are also available here. We found it cheaper as compared to Myeongdong, so we immediately bought!

4) Hongdae Night Life

We then rode the train to Hongdae for dinner, and to experience the Hongdae night life! We found a lot of Korean performers by the main area who were showcasing their talents in dancing and singing, numerous restaurant choices, cafes, bars, shopping stalls, street food stalls, and everything exciting! This place is a must-see for every type of tourist - even the oldies.

Day 6, Saturday
1) Proper breakfast at Insadong
We had the best pancakes at a cafe in Insadong. We haven't had a proper breakfast since Day 1 as we were always on the go!

We arrived at Insadong by foot from our Airbnb.

2) Jongmyo Shrine (1,000 KRW per pax)
Afterwhich, we proceeded to discover more of South Korea's culture and history. We headed to Jongmyo Shrine, a UNESCO Word Heritage Site. This is where kings and the royal departed are worshipped.

We visited the shrine by foot from Insadong.

Closed on Tuesdays.

3) Deoksugung Palace (1,000 KRW per pax)
Located at the busiest downtown intersection in Seoul.

Closed on Mondays.

4) Authentic Korean food...and some Dunkin Donuts wrap
We had our late lunch at a small authentic Korean restaurant outside the Deoksugung Palace. It's beside Dunkin Donuts. Their noodle soup was soothingly delicious, especially when paired with pork and kimchi.

We also tried the baked mac and cheese wrap at Dunkin Donuts. It was so good! I wish we have it here in the Philippines too.

5) Myeongdong shopping and street food
Afterwhich, we headed on to Myongdong for our last Korean street food and skin care escapade. We tried almost everything that caught our attention - giant dumplings. mochi, etc.

We also bought additional skin care goodies at Innisfree, Nature Republic, and It's Skin. I'll post more details about this soon.

6) Go to the airport
We then bid Seoul goodbye and headed to the Incheon International Airport via Seoul's efficient subway lines. It was so easy and convenient. I think we spent only around 4,700 KRW per pax, which is roughly P207.


The following didn't push through as planned. If you have more time, visit these places as well:

N Seoul Tower: This gives you a stunning view of Seoul's city landscape. The second highest point in Seoul. Where the famous love locks are located.
Noryangjin Fish Market: A seafood market overflowing with fresh king crab, sashimi, live octopus, etc. It was freezing cold in Seoul when were there; what more by the waters? We decided to skip this and we settled to eat in nearby restaurants instead.
Gwangjang Market: A lively, traditional market in Seoul.
The Garden of Morning Calm: A very scenic garden where various movies and TV shows are shot.


5 full days in Seoul and Busan is just enough, but if you can spare more time in South Korea, then do so by all means! We hope our travel guide helps you plan for your much-awaited trip. Share with us your experiences too by commenting below!

Annyeong haseyo!



Day 1
Day 2
Jongmyo Centre
Tapgol Park
Nami Island
Day 3
Gwanghwamun Square
Gyeongbokgung Palace
Bukchon Hanok Village
Changdeokgung Palace
Changgyeonggung Palace
Day 4
-Gamcheon Cultural Village
-Orkinawa Skywalk
-University Belt
-Haedong Yonggunsa Temple
Day 5
-Freedom Bridge
-3rd Infiltration Tunnel
-Dora Observatory
-Dorasan Station
-Korean Ginseng Center
Try their first-world food court at Lotte Mall/Seoul Station
Lotte Mart
Day 6
Insadong (again)
Jongmyo Shrine
Deoksugung Palace
Myeongdong (again)

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