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Sunday, March 27, 2016

South Korea travel diary: Part 1- Travel Primer

Annyeong haseyo! We just came back from our short vacation in the land of kimchi and K pop and and I must say we really had a blast! I am a huge fan of K dramas, tv shows and Korean food so this trip was definitely a dream come for me. South Korea was everything I imagined and more! Are you planning to visit Korea soon? Read on for more :)

We got promo tickets for this trip last September 2015 but weren't able to meticulously plan for it because we just started processing our Korean visa requirements the same week we had to fly there. Not exactly a great move but to our defense, we had a company trip just 2 weeks before and our passports got held up at the Swiss embassy for about a month. We didn't want to do any planning until we were sure we were flying haha. 

We booked our Air BnB rooms on the day same day we left, and fortunately we found decent places at really affordable prices. We flew in via Busan (Gimhae Airport), stayed there for 2 nights, took the express train going to Seoul, and flew back to Manila via Incheon Airport. 

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan

 Spicy street food for the cold weather

I'm happy to say we were able to make the most of this visit- we covered most of the popular tourist attractions like the grand palaces (Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung), a traditional Korean village (Bukchon Hanok Village), the N Seoul Tower, Nami Island, Hongdae, and the shopping districts (Myeongdong, Insadong, Dongdaemun). In Busan, we visited the Gamcheon Art Village, BIFF Square, and the Jagalchi Fish Market . No theme parks because it really isn't our thing, and due to time constraints we didn't go to the DMZ as well. 

Colorful declarations of love

Nami Island

Sun setting over the N Seoul Tower

Before sharing with you our itinerary and budget sheet, here's a little travel primer so you know what to expect when planning a trip to Korea.

Links to other parts of this series:



Visa requirement: 

Yes, for Philippine passport holders. The Korean embassy is located at 122 Upper McKinley Road, McKinley Town Center, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City. Visa processing takes 3-4 working days for frequent travellers or those with visits to the OECD member countries for the past 5 years, and 5 days for first time applicants. For those in the provinces, personal appearance is not required but make sure that all requirements are current and complete. We processed our visas with the help of a travel agent since we live in Iloilo City. 

Download the visa application form here:

And prepare the following documents found here:

Currency: Korean Won (KRW). 

KRW 1 = PHP 0.04. Sounds confusing? For the mathematically challenged like me, an easy benchmark for this is that KRW 10,000 is roughly equal to PHP 400. This helped me a lot, because I didnt have to whip out my calculator before deciding if something was too expensive haha.

Flight duration: (Philippines to South Korea): average of 3 hours and 45 minutes

Time difference: South Korea is one hour ahead of Philippine time


Korea has four distinct seasons:


November to March- Ok to visit if you enjoy really cold weather and snow. January is considered as the coldest month, so arm yourself with clothes, coats and accessories (scarves, beanies, gloves and ear muffs) that provide a lot of warmth during the winter season. 

We stayed here from March 18-23, the skies were sunny and spring was already starting but the winds were still quite chilly, and temperatures tend to drop during late afternoons and evenings. Temps ranged from 2 deg C to 19 deg C. I brought light spring coats, thermals and sweaters that are easy to layer depending on the temperature.


April to May- still fairly cold with sunny skies. This is the best time to visit if you want to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom.


June to August- Summers are hot and humid; it is also the start of monsoon season so heavy rains are expected in between.


September to November- also said to be a very good time to visit Korea, as the fall season carries with it beautiful weather and spectacular foliage. Several festivals are also held during this period

Signs of spring! :)

Outlet Type:

Type F power plugs and sockets are used.


There was no need to buy a local sim card as there are a lot of open wifi connections both in Busan and Seoul, and almost all hostels/hotels provide wifi access as well. In Seoul, our Air BnB host Seho provided us with a wifi egg (portable router) for free that we took with us when we went out so we had unlimited internet access. Useful for those times we needed to consult google hehe. 

Useful Apps:

If there is only enough space for one extra app on your phone/tab, make it the Subway Korea app. A must-download lifesaver! I don't know how we could have survived without it haha. Sure, the printed MRT map is OK but the Seoul subway network is so expansive (just imagine HK or SG subway system then multiply it by 10), it's difficult to locate the name of a certain station unless you are very familiar with the subway lines. With Subway Korea, you just click on your departing station, then search for the station you are supposed to arrive at, and voila! The app provides you with a route that will get you there the fastest, and with the least transfers.


Other Guides:

We took printed tourist booklets from airports and from various tourist information centers located in the city. I also did some research on for Korea travel tips from a local.

Transportation Card:

Get a T-money or CashBee card (KRW 2,000) to make train and bus rides a breeze. This does away with the hassle of having to purchase single journey tickets each time you take a ride. You can also use these cards to pay for transactions at convenience stores and at major retailers.

 This is it for the first part, hope this was helpful :) IT and budget on the next posts... 

Thanks for reading!