Korea: Know Before You Go

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.

Pick a 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.

Sprawling Seoul.

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.

Crossing the Han River… one day we ventured south of the Han and it took almost 2 hours total to get home. Yikes!

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.

Bathrooms accommodating children and families were more frequently found than elevators in subway stations.

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.

The airport limousine bus was the only place I found that did not take T-Money.

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.

Myeongdong market – look for bargains in the streets and be ready to haggle.

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.Signature-Marigold

11 thoughts on “Korea: Know Before You Go

  1. Pingback: Trip Report: Seoul (Part 1) « Thrifty Travel Mama

  2. Pingback: Jeju Island with Kids « Thrifty Travel Mama

  3. Pingback: Trip Report: Seoul (Part 2) | Thrifty Travel Mama

  4. Pingback: 35 Tips to Help Your Family Pack Lighter for Air Travel | Thrifty Travel Mama

  5. i’m currently just finishing one month in Seoul with two small boys too, and we also had a great time and have been the center of attention with the teenage girls! I would note though, that we’ve found Seoul very stroller friendly. We brought an umbrella stroller and never leave home without it. Most subway stations have elevators and most buses don’t have steps. At least in the neighborhood where we’re staying, there are tons of kids in strollers. Thanks for the tip about the postcards — we’ll send some on our way home!

    • Hi Allison, I’m so glad to hear you have had a great time in Seoul! And thanks for the note about Seoul being stroller-friendly. When we were there, we stayed quite a ways out from the center and only had our big Phil & Teds. It was worth it to have while walking around all day long, but quite cumbersome to get in and out of minibuses and subway stations without elevators. You’re right that many of the stations do have elevators but some stations where you have to change lines only have steps in between or the elevators are hard to find. A light umbrella stroller sounds like the way to go🙂

  6. thank you for this post!
    i have just purchased a travel bag for our huge bugaboo stroller—im so glad i found your blog! i will be leaving it here! do you think bringing a small umbrella stroller is worthwhile?

    i will be travelling to seoul in april with my family. my son will be 14 months at the time and we’re trying to decide between 2 hotels—fraser place in namdaemun or fraser suites in insadong. we will be there for 9 days and want to be centrally located, or at least very close to the subway! the hotel in insadong has 2 bedrooms, which would be ideal, but from what i hear the hotel in namdaemun may have more going on nearby (closer to myeongdong etc). decisions decisions! :o)

    also, did you shop for groceries at all while you were there? my son has a lot of allergies so i will likely be buying/making the majority of his food for him while we’re there. wondering if i will stumble into any difficulties finding grocery stores that i can navigate easily or with organic options..

    i havent yet read all your posts about travel in seoul, so apologies if this is covered in any of those! thank you again! :o)

    • Hi there! You may be okay with an umbrella stroller in some parts of Seoul, but honestly, it is hard to navigate the subway with any kind of stroller. There are many stairs and if there is a lift/elevator, it can be hard to find. A a baby or backpack carrier usually works best. I can’t comment much on hotels because we stayed with friends in Seoul, and their home was far from the center. But, if i I had to do it again, I would make a list of what I absolutely wanted to see, and then check which hotel was closest to the most things on that list. You will have to travel some because the city is HUGE, but it would be great to only have to travel far on a few of the days as opposed to all of them. I did go grocery shopping once with my friend to a supermarket (either E-Mart or Lotte Mart, can’t remember exactly). It had tons of products, though not many western options. They have Costco in Seoul though, and my friend bought many Western-style foods there (albeit at a premium). I’m not sure what kind of allergies your son has, but many Koreans are lactose intolerant (doesn’t help if he has a true milk allergy, but it’s good to know), so you should be able to easily avoid dairy. Wheat may be a problem in soy sauces. You may want to see if you can find an expat board there and ask if someone could recommend some popular branded food that would be safe for your son’s set of allergies. Sorry I don’t have any more specific tips on food allergies in Seoul. Let me know if you have any other questions, and I’ll dig back in my memory and see if I can help🙂. Enjoy your trip!

  7. Pingback: Ten Tips to Make Your Family’s Istanbul Adventure a Smashing Success | Thrifty Travel Mama

  8. The Korean Travel Organisation is VERY proactive. They sent me (for free):
    – Korea Travel Guide (compact 132 pages)
    – Korea Tourist Map
    – “Keywords to Korea” Great Summary or “Best of” Brochure
    – Hansik, a beautiful book about Korean foods
    I’d look up (and call) your local KTO before you go and see what they have.

We want to hear from you! Share your thoughts here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s