South Korea is one of the safest countries to live (or travel) in the world. I have lost my wallet a few times and found it with everything intact. People are very honest and helpful. This is an important aspect for me to go travel a place – security and safety, that is!
If I’m backpacking – boarding/lodging, local food, Internet, public transportation, public toilets, cell phone, and power voltage alongside sockets are a few basics that I would like to know beforehand. Since it is holiday season I thought I should do a post on backpacking in South Korea /Seoul!
Accommodation in Seoul:
One of the major concerns is boarding and lodging while travelling. If you don’t want to rent a room in a motel (cheapest comes for 30USD/35,000 won per night), a guest house (35-40 USD)or a decent hotel(90USD – 250 USD) then the cheapest way to spend a night (or day – whatever) is to find a Sauna (찜질방). Sauna’s (Chimchil- bang) are littered all over the place and the cheapest I have come across is 7 USD or 8,000 won in Seoul but the farther you go the cheaper. One of the famous spots is Hamilton hotel’s sauna located in Itaewon, Seoul. You will get a locker and unlimited time to use Sauna as well as a towel + T-shirt + Pajamas/Shorts + sleepers and also a free WiFi (if the Sauna costs 15 USD/15,000 won).
Vegetarian Restaurant / Halal Restaurants:
When it comes to food, people come with different sorts of baggage. Some are vegetarian, some like it Halal and others can munch on almost everything. Luckily, Korea caters to all.
Vegetarian Choices in Seoul: If you are a vegetarian, go for Yachae bibimbap ( vegetable bibimbap) – you can find this dish everywhere. In university neighborhoods it starts with 2.5 USD or as cheap as 3000 won and in Insadong they may charge you for 4 to 5 times more for less tastier or rather bland bibimbap in a chic restaurant. The standard bibimbap sells for 5,500 won.
Yachae kimpap is another option – its like Sushi rolls or California rolls but more handy and ready to go version and sells for minimum 2USD or 2,500 won. Some ajumonies make it fresh and ask for your preferences too.
Don’t miss soyabean products commonly fall in “tofu /dubu or 두부” category, it is served as fried, in soups and stews and also as drinks. Tofu is rich in proteins and is made in hundreds of different ways – you can go for that.
Try out the local fast food chain called LOTTERIA, they have a wonderful salad option and some other healthy choices (and halal choices such as fish, shrimp and squid burgers), I would say don’t miss a LOTTERIA visit while visiting South Korea, you will love it – it is much better than many famous fast food chains and is economical. Oh yes, chains remind me of Subway Sandwiches – they also have a good vegetarian choice as well as halal choice ( I mean tuna sandwiches)!
Halal Food in Seoul: I’ll recommend the use of seafood choices with your Korean menu. My favourite is Sangsong-gui or 생성귀 – usually grilled mackerel is served with rice bowl and a number of sidedishes. Korea has 116 types of fish and I was surprised to know that Pakistan has 630 types of fish – that’s a lot, wow!!
Well back to seafood, lots of shells, muscles, sea urchins, squids and octopus etc.are a few common choices for menu that I previously saw only in my biology book – go for it, if you are a curious foodie! How about eating a live octopus dipped in sauces and both the octopus and the person (who wants to eat it) are struggling to win over each other – it’s a memorable scene (I have only witnessed it, never tried it coz I’m NOT a very curious foodie).
People on short trips and backpackers must visit Itaewon area. It is the hub of halal food restaurant (South Asian, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, North African and Turkish) in South Korea - just about anything is found there that falls within the halal category from all the corners of the world - both cooked or groceries! I’d recommend you to visit “Foreign Food Store” – I know them from the day they did their opening in 2003. Owners are from Bangladesh, simply the best!!!
If you are NOT big on food, Korea has hundreds of ramyeon (instant noodles) from vegetarian to otherwise. Korean instant noodles are the best quality and the tastiest. They come in all sizes and forms with different price tags. Very elaborate to very very instant. Famous ones are “Samyang’s original Ramyeon, Nong Shim’s Shin Ramyeon and Outuggi’s Jin Ramyeon” – when you will taste it you will surely going to notice the taste and texutre of it. Many other Ramyeons have been introduced and one of my mother’s favourite is Curry Ramyeon by Outoggie - it is really good, belive me! Slurp it shamelessly because that’s how we do it in Seoul .
Internet and WiFi in Seoul: WiFi is virtually available in every corner of this country no matter how remote the place is! I will call South Korea the most wired among all countries. At many places it is part of the package & is free. There are certian places where you can go and use not only the Wifi but there are free internet lounges with computers. Korea Tourism offices, post offices, Korea Telecom buildings, Tourist Information centers (some have and some don’t), university’s student lounges have a free access to a computer with an internet. Most of the Korean coffee shops offer notebooks (not as take-out) and Wifi both but at Starbucks you may have acess to free Wifi (free) – no IDs or coupon numbers like in Europe or the US….Yeahhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!
Public Transport in Seoul and Beyond: Seoul and greater Seoul area is well connected with 9 subway lines. Subway is the cleanest, cheapest and the fastest way to get anywhere in Seoul. Buy a transportation card which can be used in any type of transportation. It is called T-Money card and comes in various amounts as cheap as 1USD (1,000won) to whatever amount you want to fill in. I will recommend you that buy a minimum of 15,000 won (15USD), it is rechargeable and on your return the remaining amount is refunded!! Cool, isn’t it???
Apart from subways you can do your trip in a subway+bus combination and there are no extra charges while doing that. Go for it! The key is: after coming out of exit and taking a bus the given time is about 15 minutes. If it is more than 15 minutes you will be charged afresh otherwise you keep transferring between subways and buses. Oh, don’t forget that as the zone changes you will be charged extra 30 cents to 50 cents depending on the zones (the distance covered).
Last but not the least, Korean Taxis or Korean cabs: In Sweden, West Indies and the US, I would rather prefer to walk than to take a taxi – the taxi drivers over charge you! I always tell taxi drivers in Seoul that they are the nicest of taxi drivers I’ve come across so far! Anyhow, taxis are found in a few colors so do NOT get confused. Black taxis are the most expensive (they are the luxury taxis) whereas grey (silver), orange, green and white are standard ones in which they start billing from 2,500 won (2USD)- all of them. No taxi accepts tipping. In Korea there is “No-Tip Culture”!!!
Last but not the least, cellphone on short term basis are rented out at the Incheon International Airport ONLY. Before leaving the airport get hold of one such cell phone. It is the cheapest and most economical way to get a cell phone for short term visitors. Various Tourist counters at the airport will help you locate the rental place. Also get some brochures from the tourist counters at the airport before leaving the airport, they are free as well and will be helpful in locating places.
Now, as far as public toilets are concerned, they are FREE and usually VERY VERY CLEAN so don’t worry.
Seoul has 220 volts power supply hence be prepared for convertible plugs or converter for any 110 volts gadget!
Enjoy your backpacking or simply travelling around South Korea.