Before anything else, here's a summary of all the blog posts I wrote about my South Korea trip:
If you are planning a trip to South Korea, and I really think you should try to visit if you can, here are some travel tips:
Tip #1: Spend more than 2 full days!
As mentioned, my mom and I arrived there on Friday night and left on Monday morning, so we only really had two full days to go around. While we managed to see quite a few places even in that short period of time, it will be worthwhile to spend maybe an extra 2-3 days here if you have the time and funding.
Tip #2: Seoul has a lot of places of interest.
Aside from Changdeokgung, Seoul has four more palaces. In Changdeokgung Palace itself, you can spend time taking the tour inside the palace apart from the Secret Garden Tour. I also think they have a changing of the guard that would be great for photo ops. You can also visit Lotte World, an amusement park and shopping haven all rolled into one that can very easily and quickly fill your day (or a couple of them).
Tip #3: Visit in Autumn.
Our tour guide in the Secret Garden told us that autumn is the most popular time for tourist visits there. Since Filipinos don't get to experience the four seasons unless we travel abroad, seeing the vibrant hues of red, yellow, and orange in the foliage definitely made for a great experience. Best time to go would be the last few days of October to first few days of November (past this, I think too many leaves may have already fallen off the trees, and before this, the leaves might still mostly be green).
Tip #4: Bring US dollars to South Korea and exchange them for KRW when you get there.
If you exchange Philippine pesos to South Korean Won (KRW), you will get hit with the exchange rate (whether you change it here in the Philippines or in Korea). I checked out a few ATMs in an attempt to use my international ATM card, but I wasn't sure they would work. And since the few ATMs I saw didn't have English options, we decided to just use the USD we had.
Tip #5. Keep your credit cards handy.
Very useful cash substitutes, they are accepted practically anywhere in Korea.
Tip #6. If you are flying out via the Incheon Airport very early in the morning, it's advisable to stay in Airport Town Square.
Airport Town Square is just 10 minutes from Incheon airport, and an airport taxi will cost KRW11,000 (~P420). I think the first train starts at around 530am, so if you are flying out before 8am, taking the train might not get you to the airport in time. A taxi from the heart of Seoul to the Incheon Airport will cost you a fortune.
Tip #7. Don't confuse Incheon with the Incheon airport when booking your accommodations.
Time-wise, Incheon proper is just as far from the airport as Seoul. When booking hotels, you are actually better off booking one in Seoul than in Incheon because the Airport Railroad goes straight to the Seoul Central Station while the trip to Incheon will require you to switch trains at least once. I would suggest holing up in either Airport Town Square or in Seoul then paying a visit to Incheon if you fancy a trip there.
Tip #8. Duty Free shops in the airport open at 6:45am.
If you are hoping to do some last minute shopping in the airport and you are taking an early morning flight out, please take into account the fact that most shops in the airport open at 6:45am. Our 730am flight had a 645am boarding time so we really didn't have enough time to shop. If you are flying out at around the same time, you might not be able to do last minute shopping in the airport anymore. (My mom was lucky, one store very kindly allowed her to do some shopping before they opened, and she managed to purchase a couple of shirts before they officially opened and before we boarded the plane.)
Tip #9: Unless you are up for the physical challenge, take the cable car going up to the N Seoul Tower.
As I wrote in one of my previous posts, it was a huge physical challenge to really go up the hill to the N Seoul Tower. Taking the cable car is a much better option if you want to conserve your energy for other activities you plan to do while in Korea.
And now for some final, random thoughts:
1. Seoul is the city of cafes! There are so many different cafes scattered all over Seoul. For someone like me who loves coffee and pastries, these cafes provide the perfect pit stop to recharge from all the traveling and touristy stuff and enjoy some hot coffee and sweet treats.
2. I love Dunkin' Donuts in South Korea. If you can, I suggest you try out the Cappuccino Chewisty. They don't have this item in the Philippines. My mom and I both tried it and we loved it!
3. The rush of going around meant that we didn't have a lot of opportunities to enjoy some local food. Our first night, we had Mexican food. Both days, we had breakfast in Dunkin' Donuts. Lunch on our first day consisted of sandwiches in a Nescafe Coffee Shop in front of the Changdeokgung Palace, and dinner was in a burger place in the N Seoul Tower. Lunch on our second day consisted of Chinese dumplings. As we returned to Airport Town Square on our final evening, I made sure that my mom and I enjoyed some authentic Korean food. I can't recall what we had but it was a cold night and the hot food we had was very hearty and a great way to end our Korean trip.
4. I loved hearing Charice's song 'Louder' while having dinner in the N Seoul Tower. :)
5. My mom and I both tried the Spam Musubi in our Cebu Pacific flight going to Korea. It was surprisingly quite good so on our trip back, we both ordered it again. :)
6. I visited the Duty Free Fiesta Mall in the Philippines for the first time in years. I ended up buying a few microwavable Gourdo's dishes, new Sleepcare pillows, and a few bottles of wine LOL.
Reading through these tips and experiences and looking back again at my photos makes me want to pay South Korea another visit actually. Maybe I can gather some of my friends and take a trip to Seoul with them in 2012. Or maybe take my mom and other family members here again. Either way, it should be a lot of fun.