Seoul After Action Report: 28 Jul - 04 Aug 2018
1. Incheon International Airport (ICN) is the airport serving Seoul. It is located about 33 miles West of Seoul. After exiting the plane, proceed through Immigrations (your passport will not be stamped, instead a landing slip will be issued) and Customs, then follow signs to the Airport Railroad (the "Arex"). Use the kiosks on the left of the Arex entrance to get a ticket (enter in your destination and the requested amount of Won - cash only). Note: you will be charged a deposit of 500 Won for the ticket, which you can get back from a Refund machine or Customer Service Center after exiting at your destination. Use the ticket to enter (35 minutes to downtown Seoul) and then at your destination to exit.
2. T Money Card: this is similar to the Oyster Card in London or the Lobster Card in Hong Kong. We purchased ours at the same store that sold my wife her SIM card. You an purchase yours at a subway station as well as at some convenience stores (look for the T-money symbol). Use the T-Money Card to return to ICN, then go to the Convenience Store (that is their actual name) at the airport to get a refund of any money left on the Card (less a 500 Won fee).
3. DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) Tour: Tried to use Insitrip to schedule a tour of the DMZ and the JSA (Joint Security Area). They initially confirmed my booking ($144 pp), but then later emailed me that I needed to schedule the JSA tour many day in advance and asking if I would like to book just a DMZ Tour only - I cancelled the entire booking (if they can’t correctly book my tour in the first place then why should I trust them in the second place). Note: if you want to visit the JSA then book your tour before arriving in Korea.
I then used Seoul City Tour to book just a DMZ Tour (I had the concierge book our tour, but you should be able to do it online). We chose the Morning Tour with Lunch @ 55,000 Won. I recommend you include the lunch option as our lunch at a small little place near the Seoul City Center was excellent.
- We were picked up promptly at 8:15 am at our hotel and then transferred to a couch bus which then proceeded to:
+ Freedom Village: Disneyland on the DMZ. Not sure what to make of this place. A little bit of history and a little bit of schmaltz.
+ Ginseng Sales Center: this was a total waste of time. A 30 minute sales job.
4. The best part of Seoul for me was the food. We ate at numerous restaurants in Seoul and never experienced a clinker. Many of these restaurants are difficult to recommend as they only have Korean names, but four stand out:
Bear That Eat Greens: a solid restaurant in the Hongdae area. Try the bibimbap or the Pollack (Hangover) Soup.
Sanchon: Buddhist temple food (vegetarian) combined with a traditional Korean dance performance (@$40 pp). The best dinner we had in Seoul.
Kongbool hongdaijeom (345-2 Seogyo-dong, Mapu-gu (palsaik.com) is a good place for Kongnamul-bulgogi. Splurge and get the beef. Kongnamul-bulgogi (Korean: 콩나물불고기, literally "soybean sprout bulgogi"): is a modern, creative Korean cuisine created after one and half year of preparation including the development and research course. It is a combination of bulgogi, bean sprouts, rice cake, vegetables, noodles, sausages, spicy sauce and etc. They are all roasted on a large grill pan altogether. This has been increasingly popular in South Korea, especially among teenagers, due to its low price and good quality.
Yuk Tongryeong (37-2, myeongdong8na-Gil): Grilled meat over red hot coals (with an supercool exhaust fan gizmo directly over the grill). Get the specialty - Jirisan Mountain Black Pork.
5. L7 Hongdae Hotel: Located in the trendy Hongdae area (nearby Hongik University). Plenty of coffee shops and young people (we never saw anyone as older than us - Logan’s Run came to mind). The hotel was even trendier as there was no one over 35 (most of the guests appeared to be singe Korean ladies in their early 20's). Reviews on TripAdvisor and booking.com gave the elevators at the hotel a bad review, which left me perplexed as I have never heard of an elevator getting a bad review. Well, they were 100% correct, the elevators were excruciating slow. So slow that when we forgot something in the room we didn't go back as we didn't want to waste another 15 minutes. The hotel also has a pool, which could be good for an early morning swim, but in the evening fills up with 20 year old posers. Also, the light just inside the door in our room was motion activated and therefore "activated" whenever someone used the bathroom. During the day this was not an issue, but at 4 in the morning it could be a little annoying (I just don't get why anyone would do this?!). I contacted the front desk about this, but they never took action.
6. Tax Refund: At the airport, foreigners can get a tax refund on items purchased. This also applies to hotel tax: upon checkout your hotel needs to give you a specific tax receipt (looks like a "classic" receipt, long and narrow). Take this receipt and your passport to Gate 27 (located after you pass through Security and Immigration). Go directly to the clerk sitting behind glass (do not deal with any of the young kids sitting in front of kiosks). You can ask for your refund in cash (Won or USD).
7. SIM Card: if your cell phone service does not offer economical connectivity in Seoul, by all means purchase a SIM card for your phone, otherwise don't bother as Seoul has pretty fast cell phone service. We have T-Mobile (@$80/month, two phones), which has a very good plan for Korea (free texts and 2G internet, $0.20/minute phone calls). We bought a SIM Card that offered 4G service for @$37, but the difference in internet speed was negligible.
8. Taxis were unexpectedly quite cheap in Seoul (especially when compared to Uber). Be forewarned though, your driver may not speak or read any English. Be prepared to show him your destination on a map on your cell phone. I did not see any International Taxis (Specifically created for foreign tourists, drivers of these cabs are proficient in English, Chinese, or Japanese, with the language indicated on the side of the vehicle). Go with the Regular Taxi, it's cheaper and more authentic.