I'm visiting Seoul next month -- can you give me some advice?
May 18, 2016 11:17 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are visiting Seoul for the first time next month, and I'm hoping some experienced visitors can help me with some logistical questions. Specifically, Google isn't being super helpful with transit into and around the city, and wireless connectivity. We will have two Verizon iPhones that I'd like to be able to connect while we're out and about (our hotel has free wifi), and it looks like renting a mobile hotspot at the airport will accomplish that. Is there a better option I should look into? A complicating factor is that our plane arrives at about 4:00am local time, but it appears we can get the hotspot delivered to our hotel. Is there normal transportation into the city available at that time of day? We will be making our way to Jamsil-dong, near the Sports Complex subway stop. Once in the city, is there any kind of unlimited ride pass for transit, or will we be stuck reloading cards the whole time?
posted by aaronetc to Travel & Transportation around Seoul, South Korea (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would suggest contacting the USO in Seoul or the American Embassy. Both should have information on connectivity for American travelers. Also, the American Forces Korea Network (AFKN) is the armed forces operated radio and television station in Yongsan-do, and they may have information for you as well.
posted by CollectiveMind at 11:32 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

1) Wireless connectivity. Check out this page. KT is a major telecom carrier and also provides rental services.

2) Getting to Jamsil - check out this page. There are trains, buses, and taxis from the airport.

The earliest airport train is at 05:23, and you'd get off at Hongik University, switch to line 2, and make your way to the Sports Complex station. That would probably be like 1.5~2 hrs.

The earliest airport bus (confusingly called a limousine) is at 5:30, line 6006, and takes 82 minutes to get to the Sports Complex station. Signs are in a mix of Korean and English.

Taxis will be there 24/7.

TL;DR: If you're a reasonably savvy traveler and are okay with waiting a bit, take the bus. If you'll just want to get to your hotel without much fuss, take a taxi.
posted by suedehead at 12:11 PM on May 18, 2016

If you're staying primarily in/around Seoul city center, the subway is both super cheap (normally 1000W or approximately $1) and really easy to navigate. I'm not sure if they have a refillable card or not now, but back in 2007 when I visited, it either wasn't available or wasn't a popular option, because I didn't see anyone using them.
posted by helloimjennsco at 12:32 PM on May 18, 2016

If you want to hang at the airport until public transport starts up, there are Transit Lounges on the 4th floor. The one for American Service People has AFRTS on the TV and big comfy chairs (or it did back in the day.)

There is a sauna and showers you can avail yourself of.

Or have some breakfast in one of the many cafes. Many will take US currency and give you Won in change.

Here's the Inchon Airport Site.

List of places open 24 hours

Have Fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:17 PM on May 18, 2016

There is apparently an unlimited 1/2/3 day pass you can get called the Seoul City Pass. They can be purchased at "tourist information centers," and apparently one is located in or around Jamsil.

As helloimjennsco points out, the subway is pretty cheap on a per-ride basis and so the city pass may well not be worth it unless you're going to ride it a lot every day. And yes, there are refillable T-money cards now, and they give you a discount from the standard subway paper tickets. Tourists are... ah... discouraged from using them, however, as the ticket machines do not have an English menu for those like they do for paper tickets. At least they didn't 15 months ago.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 1:19 PM on May 18, 2016

Also, when you ride the public transportation, liken it to riding the subway in NY or DC only with less personal space. I lived in Korea for a year, and where in the US, there is a consciousness for a degree of personal space, in Korea, there is none and you can expect very tight quarters. But it is part of the experience and I, personally, found it fun.
posted by CollectiveMind at 1:25 PM on May 18, 2016

I used the refillable subway cards instead of individual tickets 3 years ago. I don't remember if the machines had English or not but if they didn't it must not have been too complicated (I speak like 5 words of Korean, so thats no help).

I just took a taxi to/from Incheon, but I'm probably less price-conscious than many travelers.
posted by thefoxgod at 1:30 PM on May 18, 2016

I am 90% certain T Money card dispensing/refilling machines have an English option (I am positive the ones that top up your card do. I'm hazy on if the ones you can buy the actual cards do or not.) But the menu should be intuitive or you can go to the subway service station and buy one from the person on duty. He or she almost certainly won't speak English, but just repeat the words T-Money and they'll get the picture.
posted by FakePalindrome at 4:28 PM on May 18, 2016

Oh and if you do decide to go the subway route, I recommend this app Jihachul. It's so useful to have because you just choose which stop you want to depart from and arrive at and it'll find the quickest route for you.
posted by FakePalindrome at 4:46 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I live in Hong Kong and I go to Seoul a lot to visit friends who live there.

1) Rent your pocket wifi/mobile hotspot/egg online and collect it at arrivals at Incheon - there's no reason to wait until you get to your hotel. I've used these people (one of the big Korean telecoms) and it's excellent value - just leave your phone in airplane mode and use Skype to call home if you need to.

The rental kiosks are open 24 hours a day. If you have one, bring a power bank/battery pack and micro-USB cable from home as the chargers do a good but not perfect job of lasting all day perhaps this is rentable?

2) There are "limousine buses" (this is just a nice coach-style bus with reclining seats and little water cuplets) from ICN to Jamsil Station, two stops from Sports Complex Station. You want the Korean Air-branded (you can take it regardless of the airline you arrive on!) bus #6705 from stop 4A outside exit 4.

There are buses at 04:53, 05:20, and 06:05 and more through the day. Shoot for the 5:20 - that gives you time to clear immigration (the lines are very long in the early morning with all the long-haul overnight flights coming in - budget 30-60 minutes for this!) and pick up your wifi egg.

Buy your bus ticket from the window right outside the door at 4A; just say "Jamsil" and you'll be fine; it's probably possible to pay with T-money or cash on the bus but I've never done this and can't recall how it works. It's about a 60-90 minute journey into the city; at that hour traffic shouldn't be too bad. Bring an eye mask and snooze.

This will drop you at the massive Lotte hotel/shopping mall complex at Jamsil station around a mile east of Sports Complex Station. By the time you arrive the metro will be running, or you could just take a short cab ride.

From Jamsil, if you hail a cab, remember to print out (or display on your wifi-enabled phone!) the hotel's address to give to the taxi driver and they'll pop it into their GPS and away you will be; Seoul cabbies don't have reliable-enough English yet though the odd driver is near-fluent!

3) T-Money is amazing and even our Octopus system in Hong Kong isn't as good; in Seoul you can pay for cabs with it! Get a card at any metro station or convenience store. You can top up in English according to this guide.

Even if you stick a lot of money on your card for your visit you can use it to buy more than just transit. Go for 20,000 won at first (about $16 USD) and see how you get on with that - rides under 10 km on the metro are 1250 won for adults using T-money and 100 more won for every 5 km after that.

Have a great time! Don't miss the lovely hanok/traditional house village area in Bukchon, incredible fried chicken and barbecue and mandu, and all the amazing Korean-branded cosmetics and face masks that we don't get at home (avocado! ginseng!)
posted by mdonley at 6:34 PM on May 18, 2016

Get the Korea Subway app for your iPhones (free -- has in-app purchases that I've never used). It is multilingual. The UI isn't the most intuitive but will make sense if you play with it for a while. I found it invaluable when traveling in Seoul this past winter because it will not only plan routes for you, but also provide time estimates and displays the station exits at street level.

Riding the subway is easy because the stops are announced in Korean and English both through the recorded announcement and the electronic signage (some stops also announce in Japanese or Chinese). People are generally very mindful of personal space, you just don't get a lot of it. I've felt much more closed-in and intruded-upon when walking in Manhattan.

All the subway kiosks operate in English as well as Korean. I do not speak Korean and did not have difficulty with the machines. After topping off your T Money card a couple times, you'll probably have memorized the process and the language mode won't matter any more. A native Korean speaker helped get my T Money card at a 7-11, so I don't have anything helpful to say about that part, other than if you're staying at a hotel, ask the concierge where to buy one.
posted by ardgedee at 2:37 AM on May 19, 2016

A couple more thoughts... reloading T Money cards is cheap and easy, so unless you're doing a lot of riding every day (or staying exactly three days, or such), it'll do. The T Money cards can also be used for things besides the subway, such as bus rides and purchases at some convenience stores, so if you have credit left on them before you leave, get some snacks.

Get acquainted with the following, they're very useful and kept current:
Visit Korea
Time Out Seoul

memail me if you have further questions. I know a good pizza place :)
posted by ardgedee at 2:46 AM on May 19, 2016

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