South Korea Travel Guide: How to Prepare As a First Time Traveler
South Korea has been a growing centre of attention for many Filipino travellers, and with good reason: it houses great culinary finds, tourist attractions and a wide variety of activities anyone of all ages can enjoy. You might find yourself overwhelmed with the many options for lodging, attractions, and restaurants – but worry not: we can get you organized for your Korea tour.
If you’re planning a trip to the country any time soon, read on below for a quick guide on how to prepare for your trip.
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Step 1: Visa Requirements
Before planning for your South Korea trip, make sure you’re allowed to fly there first! It’d be such a waste to book your lodging and tours if you don’t get your visa sorted out first. Luckily, applying for a South Korean visa is a pretty straightforward process, and their processing time is pretty short too.
What do you need?
Assuming you’re employed, you’d need the following before making a trip to the South Korean embassy:
- An accomplished application form, downloadable from the South Korea embassy website
- 1 passport-sized coloured photo
- A copy of your passport Bio page
- An original copy and photocopy of all your visas to OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries
- Your passport
- If you were invited by a Korean citizen: an invitation letter and a photocopy of the passport of the one who invited you
- Certificate of employment
- Original personal bank certificate
- A certified true copy of bank statements or your passbook
- A photocopy of your Income Tax Return or Form 2316
Once you’re done compiling all of these, pay a visit to the South Korean embassy. Go as early as you can, because there’s a chance that the lines are long when you get there. After applying, you will be contacted to pick up your passport and visa within 3-5 working days.
- Address: McKinley Town Center, 122 Upper McKinley Rd, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig, 1634 Metro Manila
- Operating Hours: Monday – Friday 8:30 AM – 11:00 AM
Step 2: Fix Your Itinerary – Places to Visit
South Korea has a ton of great tourist attractions activities to choose from – you might actually find it difficult to choose where to go and what to do. Especially if you’re travelling with a group, it can be difficult to plan for an itinerary everyone will enjoy and is within everyone’s budget.
We suggest you list down all the places you want to visit and the things you want to do, then just cut back later on with the group you’re travelling with and based on your budget. Here are some highlights travellers usually have on their South Korea trips:
1. Korea Everland
Fun-filled days are ahead at Korea Everland! This resort features a wide variety of rides – from roller coasters for thrill seekers to Ferris Wheels for those looking for scenic views – festivals, theme areas and even a zoo. There are no age limits here, and you might even be able to catch a festival like Romantic Illumination, Rose Festival, Summer Splash or Halloween Festival. Animal lovers can enjoy Zootopia too, which houses over 2,000 animals.
- Address: 310, Jeondae-ri, Pogok-eup, Cheoin-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do, Korea
- Operating hours: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm (Monday to Thursday), 10:00 am – 9:00 pm (Friday to Sunday)
- Budget: Around PHP 2,000, but varies depending on where you book your entrance passes
2. Busan Night Tour
Set foot on the set (well, sort of), of the infamous thriller flick Train to Busan. Aside from being a famous set though, Busan is a very beautiful city, especially at night. From inside an easy bus ride, you can learn about Busan’s history and culture, and see the most popular viewing spots of the city where you can catch great photos of the city’s landmarks and spectacular lights.
- Address: Busan, Korea
- Operating hours: Meeting time is usually at 6:00 pm and the tour ends at 10:00 pm
- Budget: Around PHP 2,000 per person, depending on the tour operator
3. Day Tour: Nami Island and Petite France
South Korea is known for its picturesque views, and this day tour will take you straight to them. You can see Nami Island’s famous sequoia and cherry blossom tree-lined streets and tour the charming French villages in Petite France, where you can walk along cobblestone roads and see a replica of the Eiffel Tower.
- Address: Gyeonggi, Gangwon, Seoul
- Operating hours: the tour is around 9 hours long, starting at 8:30 AM
- Budget: Around PHP 3,000 per person, depending on the tour operator
4. Hanbok Experience at Gyeongbok-gung
Ever wondered what it must feel like to wear South Korea’s national costume? Try it for yourself. For 6 straight hours, you can choose any Hanbok you like and roam the streets of Seoul in it. Take photos in Seoul’s collection of temples and landmarks to recreate photos from history – or try wearing it while exploring urban landscapes for an interesting photograph.
- Address: Gyeongbok-gung, Seoul
- Operating hours: 9:00 am – 7:00 pm
- Budget: Around PHP 900 for 6 hours
5. NANTA Show
The NANTA Show is pretty popular among South Koreans and tourists alike, mainly because it features two of our favorite forms of entertainment: comedy and cuisine. The show features a 90-minute sketch with chefs playing with pots and pans, acrobatics and martial arts to Korean folk music as they tell the story of the country’s culinary heritage.
- Address: Myeongdong NANTA Theater, Unesco Building 3F, 50-14, Myeongdong 2 Ga, Jung Gu, Seoul
- Operating hours: 5:00 PM, 8:00 PM (Monday to Friday), 2:00 PM, 5:00 PM (Sundays), 11:00 AM, 5:00 PM, 8:00 PM (Saturdays)
- Budget: Around PHP 1,300
Step 3: Lodging
You can book a lot of different kinds of accommodation in South Korea – especially since it’s a rising star in the travel scene. You have vacation rentals like Airbnb, your classic hotels and hostels too if you’re the type to travel light and you’re okay with sharing a bunk with a fellow traveler.
We recommend going to hotels on Agoda.com and Booking.com though for two reasons: first, you’re sure they can answer any and all of your questions. South Korea tends to favour their local tongue over English, so booking a hotel where they’re used to travellers from all over the world would make it easier for you. Second, you can get great discounts on hotels with ShopBack!
Step 4: Packing
Once you’re done with planning your trip’s itinerary and lodging, you can go ahead and proceed with packing. We suggest you check for all the things you need to bring a week before your trip so you have time to visit the mall and buy items you may not have.
Check for the weather
South Korea has four seasons, with wildly varying climates: spring, summer, fall, and winter. The fall and winter seasons can get pretty chilly, so you’d need thick coats and scarves, but the spring and summer seasons can turn warm and humid (especially during summer) so you can afford to wear shirts. There are many guides you can check online for what kind of clothes to wear best during each season in South Korea.
Pack the essentials
Bring anything and everything you want – but don’t forget to pack these!
- Clothes and toiletries
- Passport, documents and ID’s
- Any makeup and skincare products you’d want to bring (though we suggest you save space to buy these in Seoul)
- Your laptop, tablet, camera and/or phone (make sure your phone has a translator – outside Seoul, most people don’t speak English)
Step 5: Be culturally sensitive
While it’s easy to think that tourists can get away with anything in the country they’re visiting, it makes for a better experience if you knew the do’s and don’t’s of the culture you’re exploring. Here are some of them for South Korea:
- DO pour someone else’s alcohol and let someone else pour yours. In South Korea, you should never pour your own alcohol!
- DON’T assume you can call someone by their first name. In South Korea, how you address someone is based on the social hierarchy.
- DO excuse yourself if you need to blow your nose. It’s not that big of a deal, but South Koreans do find it unpleasant if you blow your nose at the dinner table.
- DON’T wear low-cut or off-shoulder tops. These are considered provocative in South Korea. If you must, bring a cardigan with you.
- DO give up your seat on the subway for the elderly, the handicapped and pregnant women. Respect, especially for elders, is a big deal in South Korea.
- DON’T stab your food with your chopsticks or plant your chopsticks upright into your rice. These gestures are seen as threats. You’re better off placing them side by side on top of or beside your bowl.
- DO be mindful of where you eat. Some restaurants require you to take off your shoes before you enter – make sure you do as a sign of respect.
Enjoy your Korean adventure to the fullest!
Whether you’re a fan tickling your taste buds with exciting new cuisines, or you’re a history buff looking to explore one of the most beautiful and story-filled countries in the world, you’re sure to find a gem in South Korea. It might take some time to earn for a trip here, but luckily, you can shop smart and find the best travel deals on ShopBack – whether it’s for lodging, plane tickets or tours (in fact, you can get the tours we mentioned with a special discount here)!
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Featured Images credit: Pixabay.com
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