Thursday, 20 October 2011

Seoul trip – Prologue

When Air Asia X (an Air Asia affiliate which fly to destinations which are more than 4hrs) launched their airtix to Seoul in Aug 10, I was very tempted as one way airfare starts from S$40. However the travelling period was from Nov 10 - Aug 11 which doesn't suit my travelling plan.

Why didnt the Singapore government approve Air Asia's application when they wanted to set up their base here years ago and now those people in KL benefited. =@ Now SIA, Singapore's own national airline wants a slice of this lucrative pie.

When Air Asia was having the annual zero airfare promotion in Nov10, I was expecting cheap airfare from Air Asia X too. The promo for Air Asia X was released a week later and one way fare to Seoul starts from S$81. Since I subscribed to Air Asia e-newsletter, I get to know when was the date of the promotion and I started to search for travel buddy. In the end, our group of 4 comprise of me, my sis, YQ and Luxiang. In the end, YQ and Luxiang pulled out and left with my sis and me.

Normally, the booking time for zero airfare promo starts at 12am. Luckily, for this Air Asia X promo, it starts at 12pm. This means that I don't have to sacrifices my precious beauty sleep to sit in front of my laptop to book the airtix. As the travelling period for this promotion is from 1 Jul - 10 Nov, I decided to travel from end Oct to beginning of Nov since it coincide with 2 Public Holidays during this period. I also wanted to experience autumn there as I didnt get to experience it in my trip to Japan last year. I booked the airtix which depart on 21 Oct and return on 5 Nov. Initially, we had agreed to fly on Sat, 22 Oct but the flight on 22 Oct departs at noon and reach Seoul  at night. The flight on 21 Oct depart at 11pm and reach Seoul at 6.20am and this means we get to save  some travelling time too. However my concern is whether we would fall asleep on the plane and feel fresh when we reach Seoul the next morning. I was quite pissed off as I had to repeat the booking 3 times before I was successful in the booking. Hence I make a mistake on the return date as we intend to return on 6 Nov midnight and not 5 Nov morning. Haiz... this is the 2nd time I make a mistake in booking again. 0_0"

The return airfare inclusive of taxes from KL to Seoul cost S$220 which is damn cheap. I decided to book the baggage allowance and in-flight meals at a later date since my priority was securing the cheap airtix first. As the flight to Seoul which I booked does not include transit flight from SIN to KL, I have to source for our own flight to KL. Not long after I booked the Seoul ticket, Air Asia came up with FLY-THRU destinations to Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Paris-Orly, Mumbai, New Delhi, Tokyo-Haneda, Christchurch, Seoul, Taipei and London-Stansted from Singapore. For FLY-THRU destinations, passengers can transit inside the transfer hall and don't have to clear immigration in KL LCCT twice. Even though I sourced for my own flight to and fro KL, it's still add up to be cheaper than the FLY-THRU airtix. =p

For the flight from SIN to KL, I will be flying with Tiger Airways as the timing is better. Even though there are many budget airlines flying from SIN to KL, only Tiger Airways and Air Asia fly to KL LCCT. Jetstar flies to KLIA and Fireflyz flies to Subang airport. I paid S$377 in total which includes: Tiger Airway from SIN -> KL & 15kg luggage, Air Asia X from KL -> Seoul -> KL, 15kg for departure flight and 20kg for return flight, Air Asia from KL -> SIN & 20kg luggage & inflight meal. This is less than half of what a full fledged airline charge.
Map of South Korea (Source: Lonely planet)

A bit of history about South Korea. North & South Korea was once a unified nation but after WWII, Soviet forces occupied the northern half of Korea while US forces occupied the southern half. In 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea which result in the Korean War. An armistice was signed in 1953 splitting the peninsula along a demilitarized zone, with no significant territorial gains made by either side. But a peace treaty has never been signed, and the two Koreas remain technically at war with each other to this day. Despite initially being economically outdone by its northern rival, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth in the 1960s and is one of the most industrialized and developed country in the world.

Many Singaporeans have travelled to South Korea but majority are with tour group. The main reason is the language barrier as most Koreans find it difficult to speak or understand despite being educated in English since elementary school. Korean is a homogenous country with nearly all Korean speaking Korean language. I dislike joining tour group so I decide to go for a Free & Easy tour despite the language barrier. From my research, Seoul is a tourist friendly city and tourist can nagivate around on their own. This cannot be said for cities outside Seoul but I have read bloggers nagivating on their own outside Seoul.

Similar to my Japan trip, I shall share my planning for this trip. Contrary to my fear when planning the Japan trip, I am more comfortable now due to the experience gained in planning the Japan trip. Mutli-destinations trip is no longer difficult. =p

The first thing is to decide which cities to visit. Korea Tourism Organisation has a detailed and comprehensive information about South Korea. Brochures from Korea Tourism Organisation can  be requested online and will be mail to you. I did so and received a map and a guide book within a week.

Seoul is the main gateway to Korea and the most visited destination in Korea. Seoul is a good base to explore the outskirt too as it is connected to other cities by domestic flights, regional bus, KTX trains (bullet trains) and normal trains.  At first, I intend to visit Jeju but after YQ & Luxiang withdraw from this trip, I dropped Jeju as it's not convenient to navigate around by public bus, rental of car would be much more preferred. Even though my sis and I have driving license, we dont dare to drive in Korea. Moreover Koreans drive on the right side of the road.  Then I researched on other places and thought of visiting Gyeongju (ancient capital of Korea) and Busan. But in the end, I decided to visit Seoraksan since the period which we will be travelling coincide with the autumn foilage. I shall reserve Jeju, Gyeongju and Busan for my next Korea trip since these are located at the southern part of Korea.

Accomodation in Seoul is much cheaper than Japan. A night accommodation in Seoul's hostel cost around ₩50,000 ~ S$58 but it cost at least S$100 for a night in Japan. Mind you, it's HOSTEL not HOTEL.

Most of Seoul backpackers are located in Jongno (Anguk/ Sinseol-dong) and Hongdae. Myeongdong is another popular choice as it is the largest fashion area in Seoul and you can shop till you drop at night. Popular hotels in Myeongdong includes Metrol Hotel Seoul and Hotel Ibis Myeongdong.

At first, I wanted to stay at Ann Guesthouse in Hongdae but the minimum pax per room is 3 unless you choose to stay in a dormintory. It's not worth paying for a triple room as we will be staying in Seoul for 12 nights. After doing research on accommodation, I decided to stay at CIARA920. It is a new hostel which is just open this year and is within walking distance to Insadong and Myeongdong. I booked a twin ensuite room which cost ₩50,000 ~ S$58 a night.

For the other 2 nights accommodation in Sokcho, I booked The House Hostel which is within walking distance from Sokcho intercity bus terminal. A double room cost ₩30,000 ~ S$35 a night.

South Korea's six largest cities — Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, Daejeon and Incheon, all have subway systems. There are 12 Metropolitan Subway Lines in Seoul which are differentiated by colours. Moreover, all directional signs at Seoul Subway are written in both Korean and English. All stations name are also announced in Korean and English, some popular stations are announced in Chinese and Japanese too. A first glance at the Metro map may looks complicated, but after I have been to Japan, this isn't difficult at all!

Seoul MTR has a subway map which can calculate the fare and travelling distance between the stations, it even list down the first and last train from the station. For those staying in Seoul for at least a few days, it is better to get their transportation card - T-money (similar to Singapore Ezlink card). The card itself costs ₩2,500, but you save ₩100 each time when you make a transfer. The T-Money card can also be used to pay taxi fares, bus fares and other conveniences.

Other than 3 days trip to Seoraksan, the rest of the trips will be mainly concentrated in Seoul with day trips to Everland, Namiseon and DMZ.

How can a trip to Seoul be complete without visiting Korea DMZ? It's impossible to visit the JSA (Joint Security Area) without the companion of a license DMZ tour guide. There are quite a number of tour agencies offering day trip visit to DMZ. Some of the popular tour agencies offering DMZ tour are Koridoor and  International Cultural Service Club. I decided to join the DMZ tour with International Cultural Service Club which offers a combined tour of 3rd tunnel and Panmunjom. The full day tour cost ₩120,000 ~ S$140 (includes lunch). Normally a foreigner can apply the tour one day in advance but those countries under the USFK Regulation need to apply at least 7 days in advance. Singapore falls under the USFK Regulation and we need to email a colour copy of our scan passport at least 7 days prior to the tour.

I also booked a free tour to Cheong Wa Dae, South Korea "White House". Advance reservation must be made at least 10 days prior to the tour.

I decided to include watching one musical performance in Seoul. Seoul ranks 3rd in the number of performance after New York and Paris. The most famous are NANTA and Jump. Others include Sachoom, Baby, Ballerina Who Loves a B-boy, MISO, Fanta-stick and Drawing show. My sis watched NANTA when they came to perform in Singapore. I decided on Jump as I saw the actress in "Hello Stranger" watching the performance and it looks comical.

Itinerary for the trip:
Day 1: Flight from SIN -> KL then flight from KL -> Seoul

Day 2: Noryangjin fish market 노량진수산시장, Shopping at Hongdae, Yonsei University Street & Ewha University Fashion Street

Day 3: Bongeunsa Temple 봉은사, Kimchi Museum 김치박물관, Bank of Korea museum/ Postal Museum 한국은행 화폐금융박물관, Seoul Central Post Office, Namsangol Hanok Village 남산골한옥마을, N Seoul Tower 남산서울타워, Shopping @ Myeongdong

Day 4: Seoul -> Sokcho, Abai Village 아바이마을, Daepohang Port 대포항포트

Day 5: Seoraksan National Park 설악산

Day 6: Seoraksan National Park 설악산, Sokcho -> Seoul

Day 7: Gwanghwamun Square 광화문 광장, Cheong Wa Dae 청와대, Gyeongbok-gung 경복궁, National Folk Museum & National Palace Museum 국립고궁박물관, Rainbow fountain at Banpodaegyo bridge 반포대교와 잠수교, Shopping @ Dongdaemun

Day 8: 3rd Tunnel and Panmunjom Tour, Shopping @ Sungshin Women’s University

Day 9: Wongudan Altar 원구단, Deoksugung 덕수궁, Gyeonghuigung 경희궁, Shopping @ Namdaemun & Myeongdong

Day 10: Bosingak Bell Pavilion 보신각, Jogyesa Temple 조계사, Changgyeonggung 창경궁, Jongmyo Shrine  종묘, Shopping @ Insadong

Day 11: Namiseom 남이섬, Watch Jump performance

Day 12: Everland 에버랜드 리조트

Day 13: Unhyeongung 운현궁, Changdeokgung 창덕궁, Biwon 비원, Dongdaemun Gate 동대문, Shopping @ Dongdaemun

Day 14: National Museum of Korea 국립중앙박물관, Shopping @ Gangnam Underground Shopping & Gasan Digital Complex

Day 15: Cheonggyecheon Museum, Cheonggye Plaza, Cheonggyecheon Stream, Shopping @ Dongdaemun

Day 16: Flight from Seoul -> KL and KL -> SIN

Budget for the trip is S$1,700:
- $400 for accomodation
- $200 for transport
- $300 for admission fees & DMZ tour
- $400 for meals
- $400 for shopping


Betty and Ling Shing said...

Nice. I am thinking of a trip to Korea. Great sharing!

somboi_sweet said...

OH NO!!! I've fallen in love with your blog already!!!! =) because it's very informative for me to plan my free & easy trips!!!

OMG!! Are you going to post daily itinerary for Korea?? Day 3 onward are missing. i'm so sad =(

Hopefully you will update them. hehe.. =)