Hotel, trip length, and transportation in Seoul
July 26, 2013 12:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to Korea for the first time. It'll be a very short trip because I'm just attending/presenting at a conference at Yonsei University. I need help figuring out a reasonable trip length, a place to stay, and which of the many airport-city transportation choices is best. And uh, some other stuff.

I am a little overwhelmed with tons of stuff right now, so forgive me if these are sort of stupid questions. I don't have anyone to talk it out with at the moment, so I'm turning to MeFi! Apologies for the wall of text, too.

1) The conference is the weekend of September 14. I'll be going to workshops on Friday and presenting on Saturday and Sunday. I've never been to Korea and I would LOVE to squeeze in a bit more than just the airport and campus, but the conference hasn't posted anything about excursions. Additional complication: I will be teaching at two different colleges this fall semester, and I have to minimize my time away. Based on past experience, I think that I'll be a temporary morning person due to jet lag for the first few days, which is pretty convenient. But I'll be trashed when I get back (flying east to California). Buuut I'll need to get right back to work (I teach M-Th daytime and T/Th evenings till 10pm). And there's that losing a day thing. So, what itinerary would you go with? I know this should be up to me, but I'd love to hear what you think is reasonable.

2) Since my time is short, I want to minimize travel time between wherever I stay and the conference, which is in a building near the East Gate of Yonsei [map]. (There IS on-campus lodging, before you ask, but it's apparently all been booked by conference organizers and guests.) It looks like the Sinchon-Hongdae area is party central and full of hostels. I have a budget of about $150/167000 W per night (thank you, boss!). I like accommodation with character when I get a chance (non-froofy B&Bs, boutique hotels, quirky family-run motels, ryokan). If I were traveling for fun, I'd probably take a chance on a guesthouse. Most important on this trip, though, is quiet, electrical outlets (I need to plug in medical equipment at night), wifi, and being near the conference. I'm thinking that "quiet" may rule out most hostels or guesthouses, even ones with private rooms. I'm fine with walking 15 minutes or so but probably not more given it may still be hot and I'll be dressed up. A place that's close by bus, if buses are easy to navigate for non-Korean-speakers, or not expensive and not too far by taxi would be OK. Suggestions?

(Once I find a place to stay I'll probably hit you up again for things to do nearby!)

3) There's so much info about how to get from the airport to your destination that I have no idea how to choose one. Fast, easy to find and use, relatively direct, and not $$$ are my priorities. (I think I'll have a per diem, but I don't know what it is.)

4) Bonus question: A friend who lived in Korea till this year said that many Korean restaurants are not solo diner-friendly. How can I spot places that are? In Taiwan and other places in Asia I've gone to cafes and family restaurants, which are easy to spot from outside.

5) I've read several past Asks but if you have any general advice, I'd appreciate it. :)

I'm forgetting some detail or question, but as this is already FAR too long, I'll just post it.

Thank you!
posted by wintersweet to Travel & Transportation around Seoul, South Korea (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When I was in Seoul recently I used the subway + walking exclusively and found that an excellent transportation choice. Its super easy to use, the machines for payment/etc have English as do the signs in the subway.

[from the airport, though, I used a cab --- very convenient but not cheap so probably not your best option]

In general language wasn't really a problem anywhere, btw, between good English signage (whats amazing is most of the museums have full English signs in addition to Korean, not just titles and such, which was a lot better than some other Asian countries I visited).

How can I spot places that are? [solo friendly]

I basically just looked in the windows, if its a cafe type place thats easy to spot. When I was in more of a hurry I went to several places that had a cafeteria style option that was easy to use without language issues (I think Paris Baguette is one of the places I'm thinking of, if I'm not getting it mixed up).

Can't help with hotels because I was staying up near Deoksugung palace.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:13 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1) You can spend a lot of time in Seoul if you have someone to show you around, up to a couple weeks. If you don't, I'd say 3-4 days of sightseeing is reasonable.
3) Either use a "limousine" bus, which will cost about $10, and it'll pick you up right outside the airport, or take the subway, which will cost less but might be a bigger hassle. I'd recommend the bus, personally. You can also take a cab, but that'll be considerably more expensive. Korean cab drivers are pretty honest, however.
4) You can eat most places alone in Korea. There's a bit of a social stigma, but who cares. Honestly, this won't be that complicated because you probably won't walk into places that are only 2+ anyway, since they'll have no English.

I don't know much about accommodation near Yonsei, sorry. Don't think you'll be taking city buses. That's a bit difficult if you don't speak the language. The subway is easy and so are cabs.
posted by smorange at 12:15 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My husband and I went to Seoul this past fall. I would highly recommend that you take one of the coach ("deluxe limousine") buses that go between the airport and various parts of the city. The trip between the airport and Seoul can be brutally long due to traffic, and the coach buses are nice because they have cushy seats and a smooth ride. Plus, it's nice that it will pick you up right at the airport and drop you off super close to a hotel.

Once we were in the city we got around just fine using the subway system. Signs and announcements are available in English, and the fare is cheap.

I don't have specific recommendations for solo-friendly restaurants, but I would highly recommend you check out the street food. Once the sun goes down you'll see lots of carts opening up with fried items, seafood and meat and starchy rice balls soaking in spicy red pepper sauce, fish cakes, etc. for really cheap. It's all delicious and safe to eat. We did a lot of that around the main shopping area in Myeong-dong and Gangnam.

My only other piece of advice is to be prepared to encounter lots of people who do not know a lick of English and some people who may not want to communicate with you. We only knew a few Korean words and had quite a few communication breakdowns that, to my amusement, were only resolved once I switched to my half-assed Japanese that I picked up 10 years ago.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:31 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 3) If you are staying in the Hongik University area, you can take the AREX train directly there. Otherwise, the limousine bus service is great (four general routes, routes 1 and 2 go to the City Hall area and the Namsan area respectively.

4) Koreans in general hate eating solo which is why solo diners may get a side-eye. The Kimbap Heaven chain and similar "snack shops" that serve what I think of as the equivalent of Korean diner food (stews, fried rice, gussied up instant ramen, and kimbap of course) are where a local would go to eat a quick bite by him or herself.

As for hotel location, just pick something on the subway line #2 (Green line aka circle line) and you can get to the Shinchon/Yonsei Univ. stop with ease.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:35 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Bus is great for that side of town--the first stop in Seoul is Hapjeong, which is only a few minutes from Sinchon, so, good.

There's GREAT food down behind Yonsei in the Yonhui-dong area. I could not recommend Yonhui Kalguksu (noodle soup) more strongly. Best in the city.

You'll have NO PROBLEM finding places you can eat alone in that area, actually, since it's a college town. Just don't go into a barbecue place and try to order for one!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:12 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in LA, my accidental seoul itinerary that worked well, sleep-wise: asiana flight at 11am from LAX, direct to seoul. You get in at 6 pm the day before, due to the date line, but its perfect for tired travelers cause it feels like you have been in a plane for 13 hours. Get bags, get dinner, go to hotel, bed, wake ready and rested and adjusted to time. On the way back, 6pm direct flight lands you at 11 am at LAX on the same day you left (backwards across the date line). We stayed up till 6 pm, went to bed, and my boyfriend went to work the next day at 9 am, feeling at about 90%.
posted by holyrood at 8:14 PM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh also coffeeshops with younger staff usually have some English menus or English speaking staff, and they have sandwiches all the time, and convenience stores have lots of grab n go food, so that is always options for eating if you want to eat alone or take stuff back to your room/to a park.
posted by holyrood at 8:17 PM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Funny, holyrood, that's almost exactly the schedule I've wound up with! The available itineraries started to look more reasonable once I looked at Asian airlines (going with Singapore Air). Arrive Seoul at 6:30 PM (the day after I left, on the calendar); arrive back in California just after noon. Unfortunately it means I'm only free Thursday evening, Friday morning, and Monday morning-noon (and apparently most of the tourist attractions are closed on Monday).

I went ahead and booked a private room through airbnb--my first time. It's on Line 2 and the host says a taxi is cheap.

I may not get out of the Hongdae area and I may not see a single palace or temple, but I'm pretty sure I'll have fun. :) And thanks for the Japanese tip, joan_holloway: I can half-ass in Japanese (and Mandarin) so that may be helpful.

Anyway, thanks, everyone! And if you have suggestions on what I should do with my limited free time, please comment or PM me.
posted by wintersweet at 9:57 PM on July 28, 2013

Response by poster: (And yes, everyone helped me in one way or another!)
posted by wintersweet at 9:59 PM on July 28, 2013

Glad to hear it! Enjoy your trip. Never been to that neighborhood but i am sure you will have fun and find some people who want to practice english and help you find yr way around.
posted by holyrood at 3:55 PM on July 29, 2013

Best answer: The food courts at the department stores are pretty fun too. Hyundai Dept Store is by Shinchon station. School cafeterias (as in at the university) are also entertaining and extra extra cheap to boot. (2500 won for a full meal!) I'm actually back in Seoul for a visit so I'll add to this thread as I think of things.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:34 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

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