Well, 572 pictures later, here we are back in Germany! South Korea proved to be one of our greatest vacation destinations yet. No plans to live there, though. We think the pace of German life suits us much better.
Before I hammer you with posts about our trip, I’d like to mention a few things I wish I had known before I visited Korea.
Recycle your guidebook. I hunted around reviews online to find the best travel guidebook for South Korea. The few products that do exist had very mixed reviews, most of which were negative. I searched half.com and found the cheapest. I paid 75 cents plus shipping and got great advice like, “The area behind the Kyobo Building is full of restaurants.” Which restaurants? What kind of food? What price range? Not listed. Much better information can be had on websites like iTour Seoul and in the TripAdvisor forums.
good GREAT airline if you can afford it. Luckily, I didn’t screw this decision up. When choosing an airline for our trip, I decided to spring for the nonstop option even though it was more expensive. The cheapest of the nonstop carriers was Asiana. After doing my homework at skytrax.com, I discovered Asiana is a five-star airline. As I will outline in my review of Asiana in a few days, a few small amenities made all the difference in traveling such a long way with two little boys.
Seoul is a ridiculously humongous city. We really lucked out in connecting with old friends who graciously allowed us to stay at their flat during our vacation. However, I had no idea it would take 45 minutes to get to the center of town from their place. And even if I would have known, it would have been hard for me to imagine. I can get from my house to the center of my city in 10 minutes or less, depending on how fast I furiously pedal.
Because of the sheer size of the city (uh, even the subway system is one of the largest in the world), we had to cross off things from our itinerary because getting there and back would have taken almost a half day.
Seoul is NOT stroller friendly. While I would consider South Korea kid-friendly, Seoul is definitely not a stroller-friendly city. In fact, I don’t think I saw more than 5 or 6 strollers (besides my own) in the two weeks we were there. Mamas in Seoul use baby carriers or baby backpacks. Fortunately, many attractions have strollers to lend or rent. If you can, leave poor Phil & Ted behind.
Get a T-Money card. T-Money is a prepaid card system for public transportation. In addition to the sheer convenience of just swiping your card instead of fumbling with change for fares, users get small discounts such as 700W if paying cash versus 600W if paying with T-Money. Reloading the card in subway stations is very simple, and there is an English language option on the machine.
Clothing, shoes, and accessories are expensive. Okay, granted, we all have different ideas about what’s cheap and what’s not. But even in my vacation mode when I’m willing to spend more on items just because they’ll have a memory attached, I was very reluctant to buy any clothing in stores. I found a few bargains in the Myeongdong and Namdemun markets. But even here, bargains can be found in the streets, not in the stores.
Be prepared for your kids to become celebrities. If you are toting fair-haired, blue-eyed kids, get used to the idea that you’re now the center of attention. Western-looking foreigners are definitely a minority in South Korea, so I guess it’s only natural that we were stared at all the time. What I didn’t expect, however, were the schoolgirl (and sometimes schoolboy!) screams at the sight of my two boys or the gawkers shoving all sorts of sweets in my boys’ hands and pockets. T-Rex and Screech collected an arm full of candy, money, and marriage proposals during our visit.
Free postcards. If you arrive in Korea via Incheon Airport (which, hello, who doesn’t), stop by the tourist information booth in the arrivals hall. Pick up their FREE postcards. Fill out the postcards during your trip. Then, take the completed postcards back to the tourist information booth where you picked up the blank ones. Stuff the mailbox full (I mailed at least 10), and the Korean Tourism Organization will mail the cards for free! My family in the US received theirs in a little over one week. Score!
Visiting South Korea? See my trip report on Seoul Part 1 and Part 2 and read about our experience at The Blue House and flying to Jeju Island with Kids as well as how to have your own hanbok experience.