Seoul, South Korea travel guide 2019
If you are planning to visit South Korea, this travel guide will help you plan your trip to Korea step by step along with the best places to visit in Seoul and how to get visit visa for South Korea.
July 2019, I planned my first ever trip to Seoul, capital of South Korea, home to 9.7 million people. For those of you who mix North and South Korea, it’s a complete misconception. They’re nothing alike. Unlike North Korea, South Korea is a truly modern, advanced and one of the safest countries to visit. It is full of greenery, futuristic architecture, tons of bridges and Seoul on its own is a huge city.
Unlike many other metropolitan cities, Seoul has managed to keep it’s cultural values and sites with a calm vibe to everyday life.
Population, race and gender statistics
Seoul South Korea is a densely populated city with 9.7 million residents. Most of which are Korean locals and a small proportion are foreigners and tourists that can be seen in specific areas. I didn’t get into the numbers but for gender ratio, it seemed to have a higher number of women than men.
Getting there (Visa, Flights, Hotels)
A lot of countries still do require a visa to visit South Korea. South Korean immigration is known to be very picky about who enters the country and what they are allowed to carry. there are rumors that some nationalities of due to some reasons, immigration officers also do send the tourist back from the airport. But all that is very rare. The Koreans are friendly in general, they do try to make things easy, be it with the use of technology or their systematic procedures.
If your passport requires, you’ll apply a visit visa for South Korea directly through the South Korean embassy in your respective country. South Korea immigration doesn’t deal with third parties (like VFS Global or Gerry’s).
The documents required are the usuals, photographs, bank statements, employer’s NOC, hotels and flights reservations. Some travel agents may suggest you do it through a local Korean sponsor, but I’d say to avoid that practice and just apply for a normal tourist visa.
There are many direct flights (from Dubai in my case) to Seoul. However, you can also take a connecting flight (if you want to save some bucks) that goes through Hong Kong. I took Cathay Pacific Dubai > Hongkong > Seoul with a 3hour of layover in HongKong.
For the first time visitors some of the best areas to stay in Seoul are
- Myeongdong (If you are a shopaholics or foodie)
- Hongdae (If you are a shopaholic)
- Gangnam (If you want some city vibe, restaurants and high-end nightlife experience)
- Itaewon (for streets full of bars)
I personally stayed in Gangnam. It is a good balance of all things and has couple of Subway stations nearby to every hotel from where you can easily navigate to any area.
• Getting from the Airport to Hotel
is super easy. You can, of course, take a taxi or request for transfers from the hotel but since Incheon Airport (Seoul) is quite out of the city (2 hours) it might cost you $200 – $300 for a one-sided ride. To avoid that you have multiple and easy options for getting to your hotel.
You can take the airport train that goes to multiple stations and connects to the subway from where you can go to your desired subway station (closest to your hotel)
OR my personal favorite is the KAL Limousine Airport Bus Service. It goes from the airport to all the main hotels and areas. its a smooth peaceful 2 hours drive to the city. it has 26 spacious seats with USB charging stations and you can sleep in there for 2 hours. The bus stations are announced in English, Korean, Mandarin and Japanese.
To use either of these services, you can either get a ticket for the bus from the airport (there are Airport Limousine bus offices/counters) or get your T-Money card and load it within the airport. T-money card can be used throughout the subway network as well as the KAL limousine (airport bus).
A rough cost of KAL Airport Limousine will be $16 from the airport to your hotel.
The city seems young and energetic. Everywhere you see, there are young couples, students and tourists walking along the streets of Seoul. You’ll barely see many old people however studies show that South Korea does have a high number of old age residents but they can barely be seen in public areas. The shopping districts, bar streets, and tourist attractions are buzzing with youngsters having the times of their lives. Mostly Koreans hang out with Koreans, you’ll mostly see them smiling, joking or just happy in everyday life. One of the reasons for which is Korean law with a high minimum wage.
Below are a few images from everyday life in Seoul
Subway in Seoul is pretty cheap ($1.2 roughly for each trip) and very well connected. Just download the Kakao Metro app, enter your destination station and select “from” station name and it will guide you for your journey. Another useful app to download is Kakao Maps which is alot like Google maps but has accurate directions of Soeul. Google maps DOES work in South Korea but may not have some places listed on there.
As I mentioned above, Seoul is a young city. So the nightlife scene in Seoul is very vibrant and big. It has some of the world’s top-rated clubs. Also, there are some highly skilled Korean DJs (EDM, House) you must not miss. Some of the clubs in Seoul you should visit on your trip are:
• Octagon (in Gangnam, Rated in top 10 clubs in DJMag)
• DStar (now known as Intro GLAD LIVE Hotel)
• BoomBar (Yongsan)
• NB2 (in Hongdae)
The entry fee to the clubs vary between $20 to $30 with 1-2 free drinks and entry for ladies is usually free. Pay attention to your attire when you’re going to the clubs as Koreans can be very picky with their door policy and you can’t get in if you don’t look fancy enough that night.
Best places to visit in Seoul
Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁)
Bukchon Hanok Village (북촌한옥마을)
Namsan Seoul Tower (남산서울타워)
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (동대문디자인플라자 (DDP)
Library in Starfield COEX Mall
Photography is allowed all over the city. Usage of drones is also allowed in Seoul (except for airports and similar areas). So feel free to carry all your photography gear and take as many amazing photos as you want. If you are new to photography, you can refer to my guide to learning photography as a beginner article
General code of conduct for South Korea
There are certain things to be careful or aware for your trip. Some might be mandatory and some are just some tips from my general observation and experience:
• Do not get into a fight. There is a high chance that the police will favor the Koreans over you. Just avoid it, especially considering the fact that Koreans are such polite people, do not make a mess there.
• Don’t even think of drugs or other illegal stuff. They’ll kick you out!
• Do not carry any animal products when you are going there. Korean immigration laws are strict about these things. You’ll be given a form to fill upon your arrival that asks questions about (A) if you are carrying any animal or illegal products (B) if you have any health issues or spreadable disease. Read about their immigration laws before booking your flights.
• Very important …… Enjoy your trip, try Korean food and culture. It will be one of the best and most different trips you’ll ever make.
If you have ANY questions regarding Korean immigration, travel tips, day to day life there, visas, just drop me a message on my Instagram @mustafa_sheikh and I’ll try my best to answer all your queries.