Korea May 2022

Korea May 2022

Breaking out of my COVID travel-less funk to go to Korea was the best thing that happened to me since quarantine. Never before had the urge to see unfamiliar sights, immerse oneself in a language they don't know, bite at me strongly as it did.  

Before going it was only recently announced that Korea had lifted the 2 week quarantine so there were a lot of unknowns when it came to how to actually follow through on what happens when you get there so I'd like to share some pro tips on my trip.

Before leaving the states I was able to use lhi.org in San Diego to do free COVID testing that was accepted by the airlines and Korean officials. This was clutch as it was done just a hair over the 48 hour mark and they didn't seem to care that much. The results came back within a day and a half though if you want a more reliable turnaround you might want to pay for it.

Things you must ABSOLUTELY do upon/before landing:

  • Bring a portable battery pack that carries at least 1.5 charges for your phone.
  • Buy a Korean sim - This is your key to getting COVID results in Korea, receiving communication from the government, and is literally a requirement for pretty much everything. Do this as soon as you land at the airport. (T-Mobile data is garbage out here and the high speed pass is barely passable).
  • Buy a transit card from one of the vending machines in the Airport. This is your key to getting around the public transportation and can be a bitch to find later. Load it with 20-25K which should last you about a week. FTR I hit 22K with heavy use.
  • Download Kakaotalk (Main messaging app), Naver Maps(google only works for public transit and not general navigation), and Uber(slow but sometimes does work out there).

Useful tips to know:

  • You can pull out cash from banks using your debit card. I was charged 3600 won (~$2.68) and an additional foreign transaction fee by Chase (y doe) so it isn't too bad. I used Woori bank
  • Public transit closes around midnight to 1 AM. It opens back up at 4AM if you're willing to tough it out at a bar/club until then.
  • Don't fly into Korea late Saturday night or on Sunday. Nothing is basically open or available. We missed taking our mandatory COVID tests within the first 24 hours when landing because none of the centers were open and had to spend time searching in the city to find testing centers. Airport COVID testing closes at 6PM and costs $80 for a PCR test. The mandatory testing didn't seem very enforced at all though its better to be safe than sorry and just do it.
  • There are designated public centers you can go to that will do it for free. You MUST Bring your passport.
  • I took out 200K won which was helpful in many situations since it my card wasn't always reliable.
  • Most things open at ~10-11AM
  • Every bus has free wifi that's pretty fast.
  • Learn to spot subway exits/entrances to cross streets that don't seem to have clear crosswalks
  • Stay in Hongdae, Itaewon, or Gangnam. Jung-Gu was dead and Myeondong was not as vibrant as it usually is due to COVID.
  • Cabs are plentiful and not too expensive though you might get kicked out if you aren't Korean ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . It costed me ~$10 to get to most places in Seoul.
  • When leaving Korea to go back to the US you only need an antigen test but it MUST be taken in front of some sort of authority. Take home tests are not valid. If you do it at the airport you can present the PDF they send you from the clinic. MAKE SURE YOUR PASSPORT ID IS CORRECT.

Useful phrases to know:

  • kam-sa-hab-ni-da - Thanks - 감사합니다
  • ann-yeong-ha-seyo - Hello - 안녕하세요
  • mool-ju-seyo - Water Please 물 주세요
  • maek-ju-ju-seyo - Beer Please 맥주주세요
  • hana, duel, set - 1, 2, 3
  • yeong-eo hal jul ahrayo - Can You Speak English 영어 할 줄 알아요
  • yeong-eo-menyu-ju-seyo - English Menu Please 영어 메뉴
  • hwa-jang-sil-eo-di-yeyo - Where is the restroom 화장실 어디예요
  • More here

Recommended places to check out:

  • Namsan Park - Get the Seoul Tower experience without going to Seoul Tower.
  • Any of the Samgang parks. I went to Jamwon next to Banpo bridge
  • Hanbok rentals for Gwangbokjung
  • Apgujeong for partying in our age bracket (late 20's early 30's) bring ear plugs
  • Hongdae for younger college kid scene and buskers
  • Itaewon for international feel. Lots of English speakers here and there is supposedly a bar that is geared towards language exchange (something like this perhaps?)
  • Hike bukhansan (very difficult one on of the routes) but it has a beautiful view
  • Pregame at a convenience store with soju and drink it anywhere
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