For the past few years, it has been my goal to go to at least one new destination every year. For 2014, that place is South Korea… where I spent a total of 11 days. Honestly, it still wasn’t enough too see everything I wanted to see; but I think me and my companions made the most of it.
Since there are a lot of places to cover, I will spread my Korea sojourn across a number of entries. However, I will only pick certain highlights from my trip which could also serve as my recommendations when you do decide to take a trip in the near future.
I will kick things off with an overview of my recent trip… From plane tickets and visa application to basic transportation and food.
PISO FARE Never Fails
Year round, Cebu Pacific holds a number of Piso Fare Promos that could save you thousands in plane fares alone. Other airlines like Air Asia and even Philippine Airlines also hold frequent seat sales. It always pays off keeping your eyes peeled for a promo.
Thanks to a Piso Fare Promo, the round-trip tickets to Incheon International Airport set me a back a mere Php8,000++. It was a really good price given the destination.
I applied for my tourist visa without coursing it through a travel agency; and I’m proud to have gone through the process myself. A month before your trip is an appropriate allowance to apply. Offhand, here is the list of requirements:
1. Application Form
2. 1 piece Passport size colored picture
3. Original Passport (should be valid for more than 6 months)
4. Photocopy of Passport Bio-page (page 2)
5. Original & Photocopy of valid visa/s and arrival stamps to OECD member countries for the past 5 years (If applicable, and Korean Visas will not be counted)
6. Original Certificate of Employment (with contact number/s & address of company and date of issue)
7. Original Personal Bank Certificate (NOT Bank Statement)
8. Photocopy of ITR (Income Tax Return) or Form 2316
•If personally invited by Korean : Invitation Letter & Copy of invitor’s Passport
•If invited by Company in Korea: Invitation Letter & Copy of Korean Company Business Permit
■ Processing Time: 3 working days (for those who have visas of OECD member countries); 5 working days (for those who do not have visas of OECD member
■ Visa Fee: 59 days (or less) stay in Korea — GRATIS; 60 to 90 days stay in Korea — PHP1,800.00
Source: Embassy Website
Submission of documents is between 9-11am during weekdays; and claiming of visa/passport is between 2-4pm during weekdays.
The requirements are fairly easy to complete. What’s important is that you check and double check everything before submitting it to the consul. It’s also important to make sure that your documents proving source of income (Certificate of Employment, ITR) and savings (Bank Certificate) are substantial enough; so that they won’t doubt your ability to sustain yourself for the trip. It also helps if you’ve had a couple of out of the country trips stamped on your passport… better if you’ve been to other OECD member countries in the past 5 years.
CURRENCY: Korean Won (KRW)
The unit of currency in South Korea is the Korean Won (KRW). KRW1 is approximately equivalent to Php0.045; and USD$1 is approximately equivalent to KRW1,013. The best rates for foreign exchange could be found in Myeongdong area.
ACCOMMODATION: Rio House Hongdae
We stayed in a really charming and affordable inn called Rio House Hongdae. Its location is really great. It’s near a subway station. It is also walking distance from the hustle and bustle that is Hongdae (great area for night life/food/shopping). The rooms are cozy and comfortable and it had all the basic amenities one could ever need when staying in Seoul. There’s no breakfast offered; but there’s a kitchen, free WiFi and assistance from the manager/owner when you need it.
My friends and I stayed in the Deluxe Family Room; and together with a portable WiFi rental (one of the most useful items we had on hand the whole trip), we spent an average of KRW40,222 (or Php1810) per day per person. The rooms offered may go up to a maximum of 6 people sharing. The more people in a room, the cheaper it will be per head.
TRANSPORTATION: Seoul Metro/Korail System
From our arrival to our departure, the Seoul Metro and the Korail served as our go-to means of transportation. It is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to go around the city without getting lost (most of the time). Compared to Osaka Subway, I found the Korean subway/train system fairly easier to navigate. If you need an easier guide, however, they actually have an app for that —
This app is available on the App Store (iOS) and on Google Play (Android). Aside from an overview of the subway system, you could also click on your source and destination to know which is the fastest way to get there. It also provides transfer timetable, station and area guide. You could also determine the nearest station based on your current location.
In some instances, taking the bus or taxi would be a more practical way of getting around depending on your destination. However, about 95% of our trip involved riding the subway.
The easiest way to pay for transportation is the T-money card. I was able to purchase mine from a convenience store at the airport for KRW3,000 (approx Php135). I then reloaded an initial amount of KRW30,000 (approx Php1350) with reloading machines at the station. This covered for about 5-6 days of riding the trains/buses including the Airport Railroad.
FOOD: Spicy to Sweet
Koreans love food. It is evident from the numerous street food stalls to various restaurants to coffee shops that are present in almost every block. If you want to cover the extremes, be ready to eat some really spicy food and really sweet desserts. You will inevitably encounter some type of alcohol as well… either beer or soju. Just don’t be afraid to explore the streets for something new and different.
Must-try: Korean BBQ in all its forms (chicken, beef, pork, octopus), bibimbap (rice dish), chicken and beer (get the local beer such as Cass), chicken ginseng soup, any form of ice cream, any egg dish (steamed egg or egg roll), any street food (hotdogs and assorted fried food), any appetizer (especially kimchi), shaved ice dessert, any coffee or dessert from a local cafe.
SIGHTS: Past and Present Collide
What definitely stood out from my exploration of Korea is how historical sites exist in the midst of a busy metropolitan setting. Hanoks (traditional Korean houses) are in line with modern residences. Palaces are preserved within their own gates; but it’s surrounded by busy intersections and high rise buildings. South Korea has also preserved a number of areas and turned them into places where everyone could just hang out or walk around. One would never run out of places to see and things to do. It’s a really beautiful country.
I will cover more of these sites in my next entries. I can’t wait to share more about my epic trip!
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