Help plan my Korea trip
July 20, 2010 1:35 AM   Subscribe

Seoul and Jeju based peoples of mefi, your knowledge and experience is requested.

Off to Korea next week. It will be my first time there, and much more importantly, my partners first time back. We are taking part in the international korean adoptees gathering, so the second week is pretty booked up, but during the first week we want to roam around a little ourselves and get our own impressions. We are intending to land, hang out a day or two in Seoul before heading down for a couple of days in Jeju. We will then return to Seoul to take part in the gathering. I however will be pretty free during the days to entertain myself. To the bullet-points batman!

  • Where to stay in Jeju? We would love to try and stay somewhere a little traditional as we are staying at a very western style hotel in Seoul. Any recommendations?

  • We think we would like to go by train to Jeju to see some of the country and then probably fly back. We have not booked anything in advance but are going to look into it when we get there. Is this feasible?

  • I think we are fairly covered on the cultural end of things, palaces and kimchi museums, I will be checking out Yongsan electronics market, but where else should I get my geek on?

  • My impression is that if I get lost, I can just throw myself in a cab and be returned to the hotel at a reasonable price (someone said like 10 dollars for a half hour ride). Is that correctish?

  • My Korean skills are limited to hello, thank you, radish, mushroom, and the singing of a song about a small rabbit. I intend to trade my rendition of Santoki for soju at parties, but other than that, how much hassle am I going to have? I will have a phone with a dictionary in it, and I have an ipod touch (app suggestions), I have also heard there is a free service for tourists that is translation via phone?

  • Will absolutely be checking out the Chicken Art Museum. What other weird and wonderful things are the tourism sites not telling me about?

  • The mrs claims that Seoul is much more conservative than I have imagined it as being and that my general outfit of jeans, t-shirts and sandals will not always be appropriate. I am bringing a couple of skirts and have a dress for one of the more formal gathering dinners. Should I wear skirts at historical sites or other places or does it really matter? How about Jeju? How about the beach? I am a medium-butch western woman. My general beach attire is board-shorts and a sportsbra style bikini top.

  • What should I have asked that I didn't?

  • posted by Iteki to Travel & Transportation around Seoul, South Korea (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
     
    As far as I know, the KTX stops at Busan and does not travel the hundred or so miles through the ocean to Jeju.

    Restaurants: Sanchon (Buddhist temple cuisine) in Insadong (and Insadong in general for that matter), and Tosokchon (Samgyetang chicken soup) near Gyeongbok Palace.

    Geekology: Yongsan Market, as you suggested; there's the ratty old section and the glitzy new section attached to Yongsan Station as well. You can get lost in there with things to do (movie theaters, spa, shopping, food, etc.). There's also a really popular Jjimjjilbang (Korean sauna) attached to Yongsan station where you can sweat. It sounds boring, but going to 찜찔방 is a must for any trip to Korea.

    Attire: Don't sweat the attire, since it's crazy hot and humid this time of year and you're not going to fancy-pants formal events anyway, are you? Do expect to get a lot of stares if you show a lot of cleavage. While you may be shocked at how much leg Korean women typically show, they will be shocked at how much cleavage western women show. BRING AN UMBRELLA!

    Transportation: 10,000 won will get you most places around Seoul in a cab assuming--and this is a big assumption-- that traffic is light. Subways and buses go everywhere for 900 won (1200 for longer distances). Buses have GPS-automated voice announcements in English telling you what stop you're at. Subways do this too.

    Museums: The Chicken Art museum is a five minute walk from my office. Haven't seen it, but I think you shouldn't get your hopes up too much. However, that neighborhood (Samcheong-Dong/Bukcheon-dong) is famously photogenic, with traditional tile-roofed houses everywhere. Lovely little cafes and galleries everywhere.

    Shopping: Dongdaemun/Namdaemun markets. All the tourist areas (Insadong and Itaewon as well, although don't waste your time with Itaewon) have shopkeepers that can handle a smattering of English. But if you're Asian in appearance and don't dress/speak like the Japanese and Chinese tourists they might be used to seeing, , they might assume you should be speaking Korean and look at you funny.

    Language: Unless you can read the alphabet, translators/dictionaries are unlikely to be much help since the transliterations into latin letters never works very well. Many English teachers live here for years without learning a word of Korean (ooh, low blow), so don't sweat the language barrier.

    Flights: Should be fine to get tickets to/from Jeju; aim for weekdays to avoid weekend pressures. 1hr to/from Seoul. Try to book through Jeju Air.

    Accommodations in Jeju: You'll almost certainly be able to find a minbak or yeokwan place to crash at night. Minbaks are more like spare bedrooms, yeokwans are cheap hotels. Don't expect quaint and traditional, expect gritty and reeking of smoke.

    You can do free translation on the phone, but I don't know anyone that's ever used it. Haggling, shopping, basic directions, taxis--all can be handled by just speaking English.

    Neat feature in many subway stations these days: enormous flat panel touchscreen displays with the Korean version of Google Earth and Street View. English menus available, giving local sites of interest.

    If you have any more questions, memail me and I'd be happy to try and help!
    posted by holterbarbour at 2:36 AM on July 20, 2010


    Korea is a fairly unfriendly city to non-Korean speakers. Very few people will speak even basic conversational English. That said, they're more than willing to help you work it out. Most major chains will have a menu in English and lots of things to point at. Places near major tourist area will usually have English menus. It'll help to learn some Hangoul- Start today and you can be literate by tomorrow, I kid you not. It's not hard. Learn the names of some common Korean foods so you can ask for them. Get a phrasebook!

    Cabs- Cabs are pretty cheap. They're metered and so it depends on traffic as to how expensive the cab will be, but in low traffic 30 minutes would probably come in around 15,000 won. They're a little bit (By about 50 cents to a buck) more expensive in the evening. Make sure you write down the name of your hotel in Korean so you can flash it at the cab driver. DO NOT GET IN A BLACK CAB- These are deluxe cabs. They'll cost about an extra 30-40% more over a regular cab. They're actually sort of nice if you have the scratch to burn.

    Getting your geek on? There are quite a few toy museums in Seoul, large collections of action figures and whatever. If you like animals, there's a bar-cafe that has dogs that just kind of roam around while you drink/sip coffee. That's a new one to me.

    As for hotels, almost anywhere you go there will be a zillion hotels ranging from nice to mangy. You'll know them either by their name (Many are called, in English, Hotel xyz or Motel xyz) and also by a symbol that looks like a steaming bowl of soup. A room will range from 25-40,000 won.

    Jeju is an island, you won't be able to take a train straight there. You can take a train to one of the costal cities (Mokpo, Busan) and take a ferry from there, although the ferry ride can be a little long and may need to be booked in advance.

    Korea is more conservative, although you wouldn't know it by looking at it. The rule seems to be that short skirts are a-okay for social, drinking outings etc., but cleavage is almost always 100% a no-no outside of Soju ads. For temple tours, palaces and museums, stick with the jeans and no low-cut tops.

    Also, sorry if I'm reading your post wrong, but as a gay-lesbian couple, expect some incredulous, disbelieving stares etc. I've been told by older Korean co-workers that "Korea has no gay people". Some famous celebrities have killed themselves over allegation about their sexuality. It's not so much that they're hateful bigots, they just. It's all very new to them.

    Any other Q's, drop me a MeFi Mail! I'd suggest a meet-up, but I'm headed back to NYC for 2 weeks on Friday :(
    posted by GilloD at 2:40 AM on July 20, 2010


    You should go to Love Land while you're on Jeju. It's a sex theme park that references the island's past as a top honeymoon destination.
    posted by Shesthefastest at 5:17 AM on July 20, 2010


    holterbarbour beat me to a few facts - didn't know you were on mefi buddy :)

    Take a flight to Jeju from Seoul, or perhaps a ferry from Busan or elsewhere on the south coast.

    # Where to stay in Jeju? We would love to try and stay somewhere a little traditional as we are staying at a very western style hotel in Seoul. Any recommendations?

    No specific ones, but there is a fairly nation-wide symbol for motels / hotels (picture a bowl with three 'heat rays' rising from it)

    # We think we would like to go by train to Jeju to see some of the country and then probably fly back. We have not booked anything in advance but are going to look into it when we get there. Is this feasible?

    Few things transportation-wise need to be booked in advance. Ferries might need to be reserved in advance, but I doubt it's needed save for the weekends.

    # I think we are fairly covered on the cultural end of things, palaces and kimchi museums, I will be checking out Yongsan electronics market, but where else should I get my geek on?

    NAMDAEMUN, baby! The camera market across the street from the (currently being renovated) Namdaemun gate is awesome. Find a place called Hyosung Camera - it's the only place I've found with an excellent English speaker and good prices.

    # My impression is that if I get lost, I can just throw myself in a cab and be returned to the hotel at a reasonable price (someone said like 10 dollars for a half hour ride). Is that correctish?

    So long as you've stayed in Seoul, try asking around for the subway system. Worst case scenario: it's after-hours and you have no idea where you are. The most I've ever paid for a taxi ride was 25,000 won ish (about $21 USD right now) from one end of town to the other.

    # My Korean skills are limited to hello, thank you, radish, mushroom, and the singing of a song about a small rabbit. I intend to trade my rendition of Santoki for soju at parties, but other than that, how much hassle am I going to have? I will have a phone with a dictionary in it, and I have an ipod touch (app suggestions), I have also heard there is a free service for tourists that is translation via phone?

    Call 1330 from any cell phone for tourist assistance and help with translation. They're not mind readers, but they're extremely helpful. App suggestions? Search for a Korean Food app with pictures and descriptions, along with the Korean names for them.

    # Will absolutely be checking out the Chicken Art Museum. What other weird and wonderful things are the tourism sites not telling me about?

    In Seoul: check out the Korean Film Archive in the Digital Media City (western Seoul). My blog is all about travel and life in Korea (google "Chris in South Korea" to find it)

    # The mrs claims that Seoul is much more conservative than I have imagined it as being and that my general outfit of jeans, t-shirts and sandals will not always be appropriate. I am bringing a couple of skirts and have a dress for one of the more formal gathering dinners. Should I wear skirts at historical sites or other places or does it really matter? How about Jeju? How about the beach? I am a medium-butch western woman. My general beach attire is board-shorts and a sportsbra style bikini top.

    Generally speaking, local women show off plenty of leg, but are a bit shy from showing cleavage (then again, few Korean women have what we might call a sizable chest). You'll get stared at no matter what you wear. Beach-wise, women wear bikinis, cover-ups, etc.

    # What should I have asked that I didn't?

    Ee-go all-ma-ee-yo? That is, how much?

    Be happy to chat further - MeFi mail if you like :)
    posted by chrisinseoul at 9:17 AM on July 20, 2010


    Other people have offered you good advice. However, if I understand your post, you're a woman and so is your partner, yes? There's little-to-no PDA in Korea to begin with, and outside of Itaewon, I've never seen a same-sex couple PDA-ing. Two women holding hands is commonplace, but anything more and you're asking for stares and snide comments (in Korean).
    posted by smorange at 10:02 AM on July 20, 2010


    Just came back from Seoul. It's really hot there right now, with frequent (warm) rain, just as an fyi. My husband told me I'd be out of place in shorts and flip-flops, but I saw plenty of shorts-wearing women. Jeans are definitely not as commonplace as in the US, but you wouldn't feel out of place in them (maybe just hot!). The shorts women were wearing were somewhat dressy (and short!), not cargo shorts, often with a nice top and heels. Heels are almost the norm for women, though cute sandals were somewhat common; flip flops less so but definitely saw them. I wore skirts a lot (casual, not dressy) mainly because of the heat, and because I'd left my shorts at home. But you don't have to wear skirts or dresses to fit in. Capris might be a good option; I saw lots of those.

    I saw lots of pairs of women holding hands, and kept wondering if they were lesbians but I guess that's a common practice among friends. So you wouldn't really be out of place if you two held hands, I'd guess.
    posted by JenMarie at 10:36 AM on July 20, 2010


    Oh, sorry, meant to also add that the subway system is extremely easy to figure out. The ticket machines all have an English option, and the maps are pretty self-explanatory. I found it much easier than in other cities I've visited (for some reason Frankfurt really stymied me initially, and even many of the locals I asked couldn't figure out how to buy a ticket for the stop I needed). Just make sure to carry a good city map. Also, street names won't do you any good getting around, you can only place yourself by the names of the buildings...
    posted by JenMarie at 10:40 AM on July 20, 2010


    There are also lots of good iPod apps for the Seoul subway system- Get one! English signage can be inconsistent.
    posted by GilloD at 3:05 PM on July 20, 2010


    Interesting, marking best answers clears this textbox.
    Bests to everyone due to excellent and helpful information all round. I have saved this thread to my ipod and will use it for reference.

    For some reason we had thought Jeju was much nearer the coast, I have no idea why we thought this! Train to Busan, ferry to Jeju, fly back sounds like the plan.

    I have unfortunately bought a long but lowcut dress, the exact opposite of what I should have, but I think I can work something out. We are indeed a queer couple, but not much given to PDA anyhow. Hangul learning resources have been acquired and will be put to use.

    Many thanks once again, I may post a meetup suggestion when I have worked out my schedule if anyone is up for a beer or so.
    posted by Iteki at 12:14 AM on July 21, 2010


    Late as usual to the thread and it looks like you've got all the answers you need and are probably in Korea already, but just in case:
    • Yongsan is a bit of a maze, so if you want to see it thoroughly in a short time, go with someone who knows it
    • If you look Korean, you will probably want to be careful about exposed cleavage and shoulders, especially off the beaten track or in a more formal setting. Obvious foreigners may get comments behind their backs, but probably nothing more.
    • If you have an iOS device, get the Seoul Bus app, which is useful and pretty darn geeky.

    posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:40 PM on August 3, 2010


    I also meant to mention that some of the odder museums were linked to in this comment a couple of years ago.
    posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:42 PM on August 3, 2010


    « Older Name-that-song filter   |   Paging Dr. Fat-Friendly in Denver, STAT. Newer »
    This thread is closed to new comments.