Getting sent to Seoul in January
December 23, 2008 9:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm heading to South Korea next month and would like some info...

Work is sending me to South Korea (Seoul specifically) for 7 days in January. I've got a few questions.

1. It looks like my Telus (cdma) blackberry will not work there as their cdma system runs on a different frequency. What are the phone rental options there? How much is it? Has anybody ever used these guys? Are there prepaid data plans for my Macbook?
2. What kind of transit pass can I get? My research shows multiple passes (T-money and Upass). What's the main difference? As a bit of a transit geek, I collect transit cards when I travel. I'd prefer a smart card, but if it's not available to non-citizens what can I get? Where can I get them?
3. Is Visa widely accepted? Will cash be easier for most purchases? What about those cash cards?
4. There's a chance that my co-worker and I will get most of our work done in 2 days leaving us with 5 days of fun, how easy is it to get to the DMZ for a day trip? Any other recommendations for day trips?
5. What are some neat things I can bring back that I can't get here in Canada? Both electronics and booze.
posted by hylaride to Travel & Transportation around Seoul, South Korea (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
1. Phone rental options are good, I did it at the airport once I got there. Though for most of my calling home I used skype + a US phone number rental from skype (, that is.) Those people were at the airport, so they're probably legit.
2. You can get some kind of rfid or similar card in the subway without being a citizen, getting it without a translator might be difficult, though.
3. You want to have cash on you, I never used a card for a direct purchase while there.
4. Very easy, there are tours daily that take you near there.
5. Booze was almost universally awful there. Just get a few kinds of soju (sp?) and you'll be good.
posted by TimeDoctor at 11:07 AM on December 23, 2008

6. Pack WARM. You're Canadian but this California boy froze his @ss off in Seoul the November of my first winter near the Siberian airmass.
posted by troy at 11:50 AM on December 23, 2008

2. Get Upass. Upass is transit only, while T-money lets you make other types of purchases, say at convenience stores. You can get this in the subway or at kiosks near bus stops, but as TimeDoctor says, they will be easier to purchase if you have somebody who can translate for you.
3. Technically, Visa is widely accepted, but the reality is that a Visa card issued outside of Korea is not as widely accepted as one would think. I've had my U.S. Visa card basically not be processed at all at an E-Mart (a local discount store chain), and while it was accepted at a Kyobo bookstore, it took forever to process. So unless making purchases at major department stores or bookstores like Kyobo, I'd stick to cash.
posted by needled at 12:56 PM on December 23, 2008

5) Jeju chocolate is good. Go to Doota! in Dongdaemun and go to the top floor. Ginseng tea, if you're into it, is also nice. For booze, I'd get some baeksaeju, which is nice and relatively cheap. As for electronics, go to Yongsan and check out the market there.

And, yes, Korea's cold. But not that cold from my (Canadian) POV.
posted by smorange at 1:16 PM on December 23, 2008

DMZ trip is totally easy. Book it with whoever, meet the tour bus at one of the major hotels downtown, off you go.

It's been very cold and snowing in Seoul recently. Plan on anywhere from 0 to -15C, possibly above zero but maybe not, and some snow.

Cash is easiest. Visa is accepted everywhere, but I have cards issued in Korea, so the advice about internationally-issued cards is probably wise to heed. Expect a thick wad of bills, as the largest paper money denomination is still the equivalent of about $10 (10,000 won).

Yongsan station is where the major huge-ass electronics complex sits. Hop a subway there, and go nuts. In terms of booze, there are interesting (and often totally unpalatable) options in premium 'traditional' alcohols, many of them 'medicinal'. If you want to bring back some stuff to have a few fun drinks with friends, yeah, just go for some soju.

Rest of the stuff I can't help with, other than to suggest if you rent a phone, the best place to do it, in terms of convenience and the system being set up for foreign visitors, is at Incheon airport when you arrive.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:30 PM on December 23, 2008

Don't worry too much about buying a T-Money card without a translator. Go into any underground station, smile, say "T-Money" and thrust a few 10,000 won notes through the window. There's not much to go wrong. Remember to beep off with the card when you use a bus, which will allow you to transfer free within a one-hour period, iirc. Oh, and check out the Seoul bus map website, which a transit geek should enjoy. Note that T-Money can even be used in some taxis!

Although plastic is so ubiquitous that some Koreans don't use cash from one day to the next, the above comments are correct that you shouldn't follow their lead without a Korean card.

The USO DMZ day trip is generally reckoned to be a cut above the others. In the winter, other good day trips are thin on the ground, unless you're happy being outside in the cold. Exploring the city thoroughly might be a better idea.

Yongsan is fabulous, especially with someone who knows it well to show you the different parts.

Soju is not a great example of a Korean drink, imo. Sample and buy some of the following instead: Maesil ju , Makgeolli, Sansachu, Dongdongju or Sansachun. Note that is a brain dump and contains some items I can't stand, but I know others love them.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 9:02 PM on December 28, 2008

Soju is not a great example of a Korean drink, imo.

Well, soju is the canonical example of a Korean drink -- cheap, haphazardly made, slightly unpleasant, surrounded by ritual and tradition that barely rises to the level of conscious awareness. That's not to say it's a good drink. It's most certainly not.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:24 PM on December 29, 2008

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