South Korea Travel Guide - All You Need to Know (Seoul, Jeju, Busan)
Why should you visit South Korea now?
Amidst the tensions between North and South Korea, the perks of visiting South Korea now is that there are much fewer crowds as compared to the past. They will also be having the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February that you can consider watching!
Getting to South Korea
The capital of South Korea is Seoul and the closest international airport isn't really in Seoul, but in Incheon. To get to other parts of Seoul, most travellers would enter via Seoul (Incheon International Airport) before taking a connecting or domestic flight out.
From Singapore, various airlines fly to Seoul:
Direct - Singapore Air, Asiana Airlines, Korean Air
1 stop via KUL - AirAsia, Malaysian Airlines
1 stop via TPE - Scoot
1 stop via MNL - Cebu Pacific
1 stop via SGN - Vietjet, Vietnam Airlines
1 stop via PEK - Air China
To maximise your time, we do recommend you to take a direct flight there. Also, the price difference between full-fledge carriers and the low-cost carriers aren't that much. For instance, you can get tickets for about $600 on Singapore Air and Asiana Airlines (if you book in advance), while Air Asia and Scoot tickets cost about $400. The $200 difference to while away precious time during transit may not really be worth it. But, as mentioned in our previous post on how you can get cheap tickets on low-cost carriers (Read also: How we spend <900 sgd on a 5D4N trip to Hokkaido), if the difference comes up to >$200, it is certainly a tempting offer.
Getting around South Korea
One tricky thing about South Korea is that it is quite difficult to use your google maps to get around. But not to worry, there will be handy maps that you can pick up at the tourism office. In tourist populated areas, there will also be guides where you can ask for directions!
You can either book the train tickets online, or purchase them from ticket machines and ticket counters at the train station. However, we do suggest that you book the train tickets in advance for the popular routes. For instance, the famous train to busan (Seoul - Busan), as well as the Yongsan - Gapyeong route to Nami Island.
Both Seoul and Busan have metro stations that connect to the major tourist attractions. We recommend that you get the T-money card for a small discount each time you ride the metro.
Buses are convenient to take you places which the metro does not cover (e.g. Everland, Han River Park, etc).
Taxis in South Korea also isn't very expensive when you need to get to places nearby. For instance, from Gapyeong Station to the Nami Island pier. Do consider this option if you need to get to a place that the metro doesn't.
Weather in South Korea
South Korea enjoys four seasons and how it looks and what activities to do during these different season varies. Travellers looking to South Korea should time their travels according to their needs and preferences.
Spring in South Korea (April to June)
Spring in South Korea is the best time for those looking to see the cherry blossoms. Everywhere you go, you'll find beautiful pink blossoms in its vast open spaces. This is one of the most popular season and travellers should consider the crowds. Temperatures range from 11 degree celsius in April to a comfortable 21 degree celsius in June.
Summer in South Korea (July to August)
Summer in South Korea is warm but not scorching like those in Spain, Portugal or Turkey. Yet, this season is often shunned by many as the monsoon season also falls during this period of time.
Autumn in South Korea (September to November)
We believe that this season is the best season to visit South Korea. Aside from the beautiful fall colours that paint the city, it also has much fewer visitors. If cherry blossoms isn't on your agenda, head to South Korea during this period. You will experience many days of sunshine.
We visited in the tail end of Autumn and we must say that we are thoroughly impressed with the fall colours and the crowds during this time of the year. Though it got quite chilly towards the end of our trip, a good jacket goes a long way!
Winter in South Korea (December to March)
Many travellers in the tropical Southeast Asian countries still look to South Korea as a winter destination. Especially with the korean dramas and variety shows that is now popular in Vietnam and Indonesia, you should still expect some crowds during this period. Winter in South Korea can also get really cold. Even though its lowest temperature is -4 degree celsius, the strong winds would make it feel as though it is -10 degree celsius! Do pack more layers during this season and get heat packs to survive the cold!
Accommodation in South Korea
Hotels, Airbnbs, Hostels, Hanok (traditional houses) stays are all available in South Korea. Some religious folks may also choose to try out the various temple stays available in South Korea.
For us, we preferred staying in hotels for a fuss-free experience. In hotels, you will get most of your amennities and do not have to worry about additional cleaning fee, late check-in fees that some airbnbs have. We also didn't want to be worrying about scams or no-shows for airbnbs.
We usually use Booking.com to book our hotels but this time, we also used Accorhotels.com since we recently became their silver members (perks like late-check out, free welcome drinks, etc.)!
Where to stay in Jeju?
Hotel Robero Jeju (61.72 sgd / night)
Jeju Stay Hotel (50.24 sgd / night)
Eins Hotel (69.45 sgd / night)
We prioritised cost and convenience in our Jeju hotels and tried three different hotels for our three nights there. Of which, Eins Hotel at Seogwipo is highly recommended!
Review of Eins Hotel: For the price paid, the room was modern, clean, and comfortable. They also provided free breakfast and valet parking services for your car. It was also a short walk to the main shopping street in Seogwipo which was great for those who do not drive, and there's also 24 hours mart a 3-minute walk away.
Where to stay in Busan?
Ibis Ambassador Busan Haeundae Beach (83 sgd / night)
Review of Ibis Ambassador Busan Haeundae Beach: We enjoyed our stay in Ibis Ambassador Busan Haeundae. We chose this hotel based on its location to Haeundae Beach and its price point. The rooms were modern and youthful. We really liked the orange theme Ibis hotels have. This hotel is also located within walking distance of the beach, and the Haeundae food market. However, do note that Haeundae Beach is a distance away from many of the Busan sights. For a one-day trip to Busan, you may wish to stay closer to Busan Station instead.
Where to stay in Seoul?
Ibis Ambassador Insadong (77.70 sgd / night)
Review of Ibis Ambassador Insadong: We chose to stay at Insadong because it is much cheaper than Myeongdong and Dongdaemun. We also wanted to avoid the crowds in the latter two locations. We also found out an added advantage of staying in Insadong during our trip! Many of the restaurants there served amazing food that were not tourist-traps and were much less crowded than those in Myeongdong and Dongdaemun.
Data Roaming in South Korea
Starhub Prepaid Travel Sim Card
If you are not a Starhub user, we do recommend getting the Starhub Prepaid Travel Sim Card. For $15, it comes pre-loaded with $18 credit, and free 5-days of unlimited 3G usage in Singapore. It is also valid for 180 days.
With the $18 credit, you can then add the Happy Roam Data Roaming Service. For short trips, we recommend the $7 for 1GB plan (7 days), and for long trips, $15 for 2.4GB (30 days). We got the 2.4GB plan and it was able to use the 2.4GB over our travels across Asia in 3 weeks.
For heavy users, you can also get the $32 Sim card (which comes with a 10-day 2GB data roaming), or the $50 Sim card (which comes with a 30-day 5GB data roaming). You can then add on another 3.6GB using your $20 credit.
We found that this option is much cheaper than if you were to get a SIM card in Korea itself. Also, using the wifi egg sometimes can be quite a hassle if its just for one person.
** Do note that you should first download the app and get the Starhub Profile to use the data roaming with the SIM card.
Starhub Data Travel
If you are a Starhub user, we recommend just getting the data travel. The benefits include not having to change out your Sim Card and it is fuss free. Just dial *100*54830# or enable it via the Starhub app. It costs $15 for 2GB, or $20 for 3GB. Both are valid for 30 days.
We found that only Starhub had data travel that made sense. Being a Singtel user, enabling data roaming add-on packs in South Korea meant that I had to pay $20 for 1GB.
4G Pocket Wifi Rental
If you are travelling in a big group, consider renting a Pocket Wifi. It connects up to 3 devices and only costs $3.80 per day. Book it online here, and you can collect them at the Incheon, Gimpo, or Gimhae Airport.
This post is part of our South Korea Travel Series, read also our other blog posts on: