1) Money (listed in KRW - won) to bring if you are traveling on a budget:
accommodation could be 15000 ~ 50000 won per day depending on where you book
-food will run you about 5000~10000 won per meal (remember no need to tip)
-shopping is per your own choices and tastes:
--cheap clothing can be found 5000 won and higher
--cheap backpacks and bags can be found 25000 won and higher
--electronics vary greatly and may need to be researched because foreign markets may be cheaper
-transportation - subway tickets can be bought on multi-passes for average cost of less than 1000 won per ticket
2) How to Get around: transportation is easy in Seoul, but if you don't speak Korean, I would stick to the metro since it is the simplest to understand and still gets you everywhere. With that in mind, you are never more than a couple metro stops from any neighborhood or destination.
3) where to Stay: Depending on how tight your budget is, you may be able to stay just about anywhere. Single cheap rooms can be 15000KRW. Cheap rooms large enough for a family may be 60000KRW. With a tighter budget, you will most likely have to stay just outside of the main tourist areas. Your best chance will be to stay at the more economic motels, often referred to as 'love motels'. Don't let the monicker scare you, they are clean and offer good services. There are hundreds, if not thousands of them everywhere. The main problem there is that most do not have websites or anything that you can book in advance, and if they have a website, it will be in Korean. If you want to be assured a roof over your head, I recommend you book something over the internet for the first 1~2 nights and when you are walking around, stop in and look at several of the love motels.
Look at the Seoul travel guide for reasonable discount accommodation. There are lots of guesthouses, hostels and cheap hotels.
4) Renting room as foreigner. There is absolutely nothing in regards to safety that you will have problem with by renting a room by yourself as a foreigner. However Korea does not commonly have short term rentals. The system in which Korea does key/deposit money and then monthly contracts does not usually make it worth while for short stays. And typically unless you find a lucky connection, most temporary apartments may not be furnished.
I like to be a well informed and prepared Free and Easy traveller in Seoul, below are some great websites that provided me with very useful information.
I read lots of travel pages in both Virtural tourist and tripadvisor too.
When it comes to Free and Easy, planning is very important to me. Hence having a good tourist guidebook would be very helpful. To prepare this F&E trip, I visited major book stores like Kinokuniya, Borders etc and find that in general, in the context of Seoul, Chinese tourist guidebooks are far more informative than those English tourist guidebooks. And guidebooks that are from Hong Kong or Taiwan are some of the best. Hence, if you are someone who knows how to read Chinese, I strongly recommend Chinese tourist guidebooks about Seoul.
Well, one main difference about those guidebooks. Chinese guidebooks has lots of coloured pictures of the places, food, products that they recommend. Some even have prices and very details directions given.
Favorite thing: English is not widely spoken or understood here in seoul and in south korea, so if you plan to use taxis or other local services like the bus or subway, it is wise to have instructions written down in Korean by your hotel front desk or receptionist as to not get lost!
Favorite thing: Shopping in Seoul asin other areas depends on the budget. if you go to high end areas like Myeongdong, be prepared to spend much and haggling is not done but if you go to budget areas like Namdaemun, Dongdaemun then you can haggle to your hearts delite buy YOU MUST HAVE A KOREAN INTERPRETER or TOUR GUIDE or FRIEND with you so you know if you are getting a good deal or not.
The Korean language uses 24 characters (or sounds). There are about 5 English consonants they do not have. Some are B, F, & V. But then, in the Korean language they have sounds that cannot be formed with our English consonants and vowels. So, example Jangsan - I would pronounce as jang (like bang, rang, sang, hang) and san (like ban, Dan, ran, tan). But it's actually more like jee-ang or gee-ang and za-eeng. It's very difficult to describe.
What I found helpful was to plan out where we were going and asked our concierge at the hotel to write down our destinations in Korean for us. So, if I needed to come back to our hotel, I had a piece of paper with "Hilton Hotel" written down in Korean. I wanted to go to the "National Cemetery" , I had that written down in Korean.
I didn't use this type of public toilet but I took a photo of it for your reference. There are public restrooms that can be found in the underground shopping areas. See my warning tip on how to get the toilet paper.
I didn't see too many of these types of toilets but this one was located in the Namdaemun Market area.
So you want to visit Korea, meet people, sightsee, but you think that not speaking Korean could be a problem. Well, if you want to really experience Korea (especially Seoul) like a native, try the Goodwill Guide program. The guides are volunteers who through the Korean National Tourism Organization can be assigned/reserved for you when you arrive. These people come from all walks of life, speak your language (mostly English) and love showcasing their country to tourists. There is a minimal cost to use this service. You only have to pay the transportation cost, meals or tickets to shows that that the guide attends with you. They will take you anywhere you want to go and act as your personal guide. In the process you can make a fast friend. Here is the link to arrange for a guide:
Fondest memory: My wife and daughter used the guide program to see a traditional show at the Sejong Cultural Center. They had never been there and the guide gave them directions, met them at the subway stop, and got them seats in the front row of the theater. She even translated the show for them while in progress as well as giving them tips about how and when to see other performances throughout the city.
Favorite thing: The city of Seoul has 10 million people in a compact 605 square kilometers area. The metropolitan area has some 23 million people, making it the second largest metropolitan area in the world after Tokyo. Seoul's downtown occupies the heart of the old Joseon Dynasty city, and is where you will find most palaces, government offices, corporate headquarters, hotels, and traditional markets. Gangnam (meaning south of the river) is the newest and wealthiest area of the city. Yeouido, a former airport, is the financial heart of the city, with the stock market, as well as the major television studios and the National Assembly.
Favorite thing: Korea's MND is their version of the Pentagon in Washington DC, though much smaller and in multiple buildings. It is the headquarters of their military and includes their civilian defense minister and the joint chiefs of staff, along with all of their support staff. They are responsible for the defense of South Korea by utilizing the nation's 700,000 active duty troops and its 4.5 million reserves. The Korean MND is just across the street from the US and United Nations headquarters in Korea, underscoring the importance of their relationship.
Double-decker Tour Details
- Departure Location: In front of Dopngwha Duty Free Shop in Gwanghwamun area (Exit 6 at Gwanghwamun station on subway line 5)
- Departure Hours: Daily (except Mondays) at 10:00 a.m., 12:00 (noon), 14:00, 16:30, 19:00 (One tour takes approximately 100 minutes to 2 hours to complete, depending on traffic.)
- Maximum capacity: 74 people (20 on the first floor and 54 on the second floor)
- No double-decker bus tour on Mondays (service is available however on holiday Mondays)
- Tour fees: 5,000 won for adults; 3,000 won for high school students or younger
- Trained tour guide service to be provided during the ride
Fondest memory: http://www.visitseoul.net/english_new/index.htm
My personal opinion is YES, most definitely. Korea is a very safe country, and Seoul is relatively friendly and quite easy to get around. I never owned a car while there because the public transportation was about among the the best I have seen in the world. There is a lot of history and culture in the city from modern theater and amusement parks to ancient palaces and temples... no excuse for getting bored unless you are too lazy to leave the house. Koreans generally treat westerners very well, and there are many, many other westerners there due to the US military, US corporations, US/UK/AUS/NZ English teachers, and of course other foreign students. This is a very modern country with the highest cell phone usage and high-speed internet usage in the entire world, not to mention the modern subway and brand new express trains. To me this is a great opportunity that would be hard to pass up.
The negatives? People tend to do a lot of drinking over there, and the drinking age is ... uh, I don't know if there is a drinking age, maybe 19? Drugs are relatively common among the university crowd, but certainly less than at any American university. Korean men are less "inhibited" than most Americans when it comes to things like prostitution, then again, so is the rest of the world (I think the Korean government just officially closed down the last red-light districts last year). Finally, remember the Korean War never ended...each side has 1 million people in uniform just in case. The odds of anything happening are slim, but Seoul is only about 15 miles from the border between the two countries.
In a nutshell, Korea is a great country, and 99% of the problems I mentioned are problems you will find anywhere else in the world if you hang out with the wrong people! It would be a great chance to learn a lot about another culture, while still enjoying many of the comforts of home. Like most experiences, you will enjoy it if she keeps an open mind. I highly recommend it!
Favorite thing: Korean is a hard language for native English speakers to learn, but there's no reason why visitors to Seoul shouldn't learn the alphabet. Like Russian and English, Korean script is made up in letters, though the letters are combined into blocks of syllables tat may look like characters to the inattentive. Once you learn the simple rules for what sounds these symbols represent (rules with many fewer exceptions than English) you can read (but not comprehend) any Korean word. This is useful when finding subway or bus stops and may allow you to pick up a few Korean words that you see written everywhere (hajinshil == toilet is one equation I learned from reading). Furthermore, there are many Korean words that come from English (banana, ice cream) that you'll be able to read. So take the time to learn! Literacy is a great tool!
The United States has maintained an enormous presence in Seoul since the end of the Korean War. Though initially welcomed as an ally who helped ensure the country was free from communism, the US is no longer welcomed by many Koreans. Now that Korea's military is well trained and well established, the need for our military is gone. The US soldiers in Korea often cause trouble from drinking too much to the occasional vehicular homicide. And of course the area around the base caters to the miltary, while going against traditional Korean values.
Yongsan is the largest US installation in Seoul with some 7,000 people stationed here. It is the HQ for the US forces in Korea as well as the United Nations Command.
Favorite thing: The government seems to be making a concerted effort to promote Seoul as a tourist destination -- especially since South Korea co-hosted the 2002 World Cup. There seems to have been a marked increase in tourism-related construction and an outlay in tourist-related won. The refurbishment of the palaces and the number of changinng of the guard ceremonies everywhere are evidence of thais. THe newest manifestation of this apparent movement (I only know of it from what I observe) is the relandscaping of Namdeamun (Great South Gate). It used to be in the center of a traffic circle (see the picture I posted under Things to Do) but in between January and July 2005 they eliminated one quarter of the roadway so now you can walk in a park like setting right up to the gate. Even more surprising, they have posted 15th Century guards! Do they have a changing of the guard ceremony here, too? Let me know if you find out.