Seoul Backpacking 2011 – Do(s) and Don’t(s)

Annyeonghaseyo.

It’s been about five days since I left Korea (Seoul and Busan) but I think I left my soul there. Even until now, I still remember the feeling of waking up to the cool morning breeze in Namsan (Seoul) and Oryukdo (Busan). Ahhh.. how I missed that!

Woke up to this view every morning in Oryukdo,Busan

I was too tired (too much walking and traveling) during my backpacking trip to actually update on a daily basis while I was in Korea. I hope my mind will remember each and every detail of my happy yet very emotional trip in June.

Everywhere I went in Seoul and Busan, I always think of the tips that I should share with those going to Korea soon. Alas, none of them were nicely jotted down in writing or in my iPhone, hence once again, I shall rely on my mind to recall them all. LOL

It was a happy trip, but I had to endure some emotional breakdowns throughout the stay. I had to put up with some unnecessary bad vibes which kinda ruin my vacation but hey.. I’m a cool person, and Korea is way too cool too to bring me down. So as always, I IGNORED, and indeed it was a bliss.

So, what should you do before going to Korea? Don’t think too much. I hope my list will help you plan your trip better.

  1. If you’re going on a backpacking trip with your friends (or family), do plan your trip TOGETHER. List what do you wanna do in Seoul or where you wanna visit, then sit down and discuss. The key is to have each and everyone’s interest is taken into account. Remember, PLAN TOGETHER.
  2. Pack light. Like seriously. If you’re going for your first trip to Seoul, you’re bound to be tempted by all the souvenirs that you can buy for your loved ones (brooch, key chains, ‘I LOVE Korea’ t-shirt etc). And if you’re a Kpop fans, it’s even WORSE for your luggage. LOL. So pack light. You can always wash your clothes at the hotel. (Though this doesn’t really apply if you’re going in winter).
  3. Using a smartphone? Bring your travel charger for longer lasting battery life. If you’re an iPhone user, I personally recommend you to buy the MiLi Power Spring as it is very useful during my trip. I was never ran out of battery! The key is to always fully charge at night when you sleep, and you’ll last the whole day snapping photos and videos or using WiFi on your iPhone. Do Google MiLi for more products, as it supports other phone brands too, not only Apple.
  4. Bring along a universal plug adapter. You can find them anywhere in Malaysia, but if you forgot to buy it before your trip, don’t panic and don’t ever buy it at the airport (coz it’s super expensive there)! You can always buy it in Korea (Family Mart sells them at much cheaper price!). South Korea uses the same kind as Europe. Please refer here and here.

    The type of universal adapter I used

    try to AVOID this type of adapter.

  5. Bring some local food with you. Maggi cup or sambal ikan bilis or serunding. Why did I suggest the last two? Because you can easily buy the rice at the 24-hour shops like 7-Eleven, Family Mart or G25 and pop it in the microwave for a couple of minute. This is just in case instant noodle is not enough. And since Shin Ramyeon is not advisable to eat. Read here.
  6. Korea (Seoul and almost every inch of the country) is ‘built’ on hills. I can’t even recall walking on a flat ground during my trip (okay, exaggeration. LOL), but frankly most of the time you will need to climb up a hill to go somewhere. And the exits in all the subways requires you to climb lots of stairs too. So, the conclusion is..? Bring your comfortable shoes to walk around, high heels doesn’t work in Korea except for the locals. And don’t forget to bring some ointment or any kind or hot balm to massage your super-tired-and-aching-feet after a day’s walk. Seriously.
  7. Get to know the Korean subway system. It may look super confusing with all the NINE LINES, but believe me anyone can survive it. Though to save you from the aching feet I would suggest you to study the BUS route instead. LOL. But buses are not tourist-friendly like the subways.
  8. Learn the basic Korean greetings or phrases, enough to get you get by while buying stuff at Namdaemun, Dongdaemun or Myeongdong. This will make the Koreans excited to see you can speak in their language and then they will start talking in Hangugo (Korean language) and you’ll start panicking coz you only know a little bit. Don’t be, tell them you only speak a little bit of Korean. English is rarely spoken in this country, and even if some Koreans do, the pronunciations make it hard for you to comprehend.

Now that you’ve read what you need to prepare before your trip, what more do you have to do while you’re in Korea? Let me suggest some.🙂

  1. Buy the T-Money card. Go to Family Mart (or anywhere that sells it) and get the card for the price of 3,000 won. Then, you have to reload it with any amount that you want. For my one week stay, I reloaded 20,000 won and I still have about 8,000 won balance. T-money (or Seoul City Pass), not only work with subways. You can use it for buses, taxis and also as payment for entrance to some places.
  2. Rigid itinerary (travel plans) ONLY work with guided tours. If you plan on your free and easy backpacking trip with friends or family, the itinerary should be flexible. You don’t have to follow each and every one of your plan because when you’re actually there, things sometimes do not go as planned. So, flexibility is crucial. If you can’t go somewhere, perhaps it should be in your itinerary the NEXT TIME you go to Seoul.🙂
  3. As you’re traveling in a group, be considerate to everyone in it. As mentioned in #2, flexibility is important, so is listening to your friends’ point of view. Always check if your friends are doing fine during the trip. If someone looked tired or sick, take a rest. Enjoy the view. The key is to always be together. (Ironically I didn’t achieve this in my last trip. T__T)
  4. Try the local food as much as you can. Yes! You should. I’m a Muslim, and unlike what most people think, I don’t really have any problem looking for food in Korea. If you love ttokbokki (rice cake in spicy sauce), look for the ones without sausage in it. The ones I bought have fish cakes, so it’s okay. When you wanna buy kimbap (rice rolled in seaweed; like sushi), asks the ahjumma to put away the ham (sausage). That leaves you with veges and fried eggs. Alternatively, ask for tuna kimbap (참치 김밥 – Chamchi Kimbap). I failed to try Odeng (오뎅) because I always came back late, and the hawker already closed his stall, but you should try it! It’s fish cake on a skewer boiled in water or soup. 
  5. Seoul is a cruel city for the singles. Yup. You will see couples EVERYWHERE, and some are even doing ‘skinship’ like nobody’s business. LOL. So in that sense, if you’re single, or travelling without your better half, you’re bound to be a) jealous ; or b) sick of the overly-touchy-touchy couples in Seoul. LOL
  6. Walk fast. Yup, literally. Koreans walk around so fast (especially in subways) you’ll feel like you’re rushed. It may be hard to adapt at first but by the second or third day you’ll get used to this.🙂
  7. Stand on the RIGHT side of the escalator if you don’t plan on climbing it. Yes, in Malaysia, we always stand on the left, and people will walk up the escalator on the right. In Korea, it’s the other way around.
  8. Asking for discounts is not the Korean culture. So do not ask for too much discounts for stuff as it will irritate the seller. Be reasonable, and if you think the seller is okay then ask for more. The most they can give (in my experience) is about 3,000 won off the original price.

The trip ends, so what should you do after your trip to Korea? I can only suggest one, coz this is what I do each time my trip to Korea ends.

Plan another trip to Korea, coz six or seven days in Seoul is definitely not enough. There are still so many more places (and cities) you need to visit. LOL