Tokyo or Seoul For Solo Traveler: Or Both?
September 15, 2018 5:12 PM   Subscribe

I was originally planning to vacation in Tokyo for 2 weeks end Oct, but having been there before, figured Seoul would be a more adventurous option. But now I find myself swinging back in favor of Tokyo, and I think I need some help.

In terms of logistics, Tokyo's cheaper to fly to (from UT) - $1000 RT, vs $1300 for Seoul - but Seoul has tons of cheap AirBnB's, and Tokyo hardly has any.

I've been to Tokyo a few times before, and I kind of like the idea of the familiarity - i.e. not having to learn new procedures, etiquette etc. - but I've never been to Seoul and it looks like an interesting deal and I'm sure worth learning new things for.

My main hang-up about Seoul is that eating alone is a completely normal thing to do in Tokyo, but my understanding is that Korean culture is more oriented towards *not* eating alone and as such could this make dining a hassle?

I guess another Seoul hang-up is that it looks like all the touristy stuff could be done in a week (and I wouldn't hit all of them) so maybe 2 weeks is too much? Or does that sound as crazy as asking "would 2 weeks in Tokyo be too much?".
posted by 7 Minutes of Madness to Travel & Transportation around Seoul, South Korea (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a non-answer to your question if you have a more stretchier budget and enjoy being in transit:

- Fly into Seoul, do things,
- Make your way south to Busan by taking the KTX (high speed rail),
- Take a high speed boat (or overnight sleeper boat) to Fukuoka
- Explore southern Japan, and/or
- Take the Shinkansen head your way to Tokyo
- Fly out of Tokyo.

Edit as necessary. I did this in reverse, and it wasn't that much more expensive, especially since the sleeper boat doubles as accommodations. Plus, falling asleep in a boat and waking up in another country is amazing.
posted by suedehead at 5:28 PM on September 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Japan recently cracked down hard on Airbnbs hence the disappearance of cheap Airbnbs all over the country.

Do you like hiking? If so, I strongly vote for Seoul! Also the eating culture is changing. It's not that weird to eat alone anymore, particularly in Seoul. If you like hiking, you should definitely take a trip to Sokcho and hike Seoraksan National Park. The fall foliage is intense. It's also next to the ocean so there's tons of great seafood and there's an insanely famous and delicious fried chicken place in Sokcho. Portion sizes in Sokcho for instance are not geared for one person but you can always just take leftovers or if you stay in a hostel, make a friend to go and eat with. You should spend several days in Sokcho IMO.

You could even fly down to Jeju Island. Flights are cheap and it's a wonderful place to explore. If you go to SK, try learning a bit of the alphabet. It's phonetic, super easy to learn, and will make your life easier when it comes to deciphering signs.
posted by bluelight at 5:28 PM on September 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Just as a note, I have done the train-ferry-train trip mentioned above from Tokyo to Seoul and in my opinion it was not worth it due to the time it took. And I love trains and boats.
posted by reductiondesign at 5:33 PM on September 15, 2018

I went to Seoul for a few days by myself, and there were a lot of hip new cafes where eating by yourself was clearly fine. It's possible that these places were in higher concentration where I was staying and where I was going every day--both near big universities--but there was everything from very Tokyo-esque cute and airy lunch cafes to a very modern-looking organic vegetarian buffet. I never went into a traditional Korean cuisine restaurant alone, though, only with former classmates and other friends. (So if you have networks to hit up, hit 'em up! It seems to me that many Korean people are pretty pleased to introduce an overseas acquaintance to some great food and/or interesting sights.)

I did as bluelight suggests and learned the alphabet using an app on the flight over, at least well enough to puzzle things out. If you've used katakana to figure out things on Japanese menus etc. before, hangul is similarly useful.

(NB: my friend who lived there previously really wasn't kidding when she said there was nowhere to go out and get breakfast. If there's nothing appealing in the nearest 7-11 and you're not near a Paris Baguette, forget it.)
posted by wintersweet at 6:42 PM on September 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Seoul's really fun and interesting! I've only been there, but I figure Tokyo will be cool in a different way. There's lots flights that go between the two cities that only take about 3 hours. You should do both! I'm actually planning a Seoul to Tokyo trip so that's how I know the prices. If you don't want to do both, Seoul's probably cheaper. It's pretty cheap to eat out especially if you're with others. And there's the Airbnbs like you mentioned.
posted by starlybri at 7:11 PM on September 15, 2018

Also to answer your question better, you could spend a very long time exploring Seoul and the surrounding areas. And that doesn't include hitting up the pretty good tourist spots. I liked Gyeongbokgung palace (or at least the entrance that I only saw), the DMZ and Namsan Tower. Everland is wonderful amusement park if you like amusement parks. There's cafes, markets, stores, bookstores, more stores, nature, animal cafes, movies, interesting neighborhoods. etc... Don't worry about not having enough stuff to do. And about familiarity, just make sure you learn Hangul and basic phrases. Like if you did when to Tokyo the first time. It's very very helpful. Feel free to Memail me if you have any questions.
posted by starlybri at 7:37 PM on September 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I stayed in Seoul for about two weeks. I am a fat white lady, so if there was a way to stick out I would! :D

I would totally recommend going to Seoul and depending on what you're interested in I think you could spend tons of time there (or take the train to nearby towns with interesting stuff). There was definitely stuff I didn't get to.

In terms of being alone, the only places this was "difficult" were BBQ places. In general I was able to do it a couple of places if I was willing to pay for 2 portions. The other thing was makali, which is a group drink. Other than that, I didn't really have any issues being alone. I ate a lot of street food and many people were alone.
posted by jennybento at 8:36 PM on September 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just as an addendum to suedehead's suggestion above, you can also take an overnight ferry from Pusan to Osaka, although it bites into the surrounding days a bit more. (Pusan itself is also a neat town, all hills and harbor...). Plenty to do in the Osaka/West Japan area, and it's 2 1/2 hours on the bullet train from Tokyo.
posted by huimangm at 2:40 AM on September 16, 2018

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