Tuesday, September 15, 2009

DIY tour of the Soul of Asia

"But it's so expensive!"

Don't let the expensive tour packages to Korea keep you from going. It's not as expensive as the travel agencies make it out to be. We only spent $570 per person for four days and four nights, all in. And I mean including flights, accomms, entrance fees, transportation, and pocket money for pasalubong. How did we do it? DIY.

Ok, maybe it's not that comparable. Most Korea tour packages spend only a day in Seoul and then go all over the country. I saw an ad for a $800+ tour package about the same length as our trip, but it goes all over the country. We only stayed in Seoul the whole time. Still, you can book tours going out of Seoul from there, and then see the sights within Seoul on your own.

You can also take day tours that have hotel pickup, but for sights within Seoul, it's not so hard to do-it-yourself by metro and bus (more on transportation tomorrow). You save yourself a lot of money by exploring on your own. Best of all, you skip the amethyst factory and ginseng centers that the tour groups require you to visit. Sure, you have to walk a good deal more, but you can take your time and choose exactly what you want to do, not just following your guide's schedule.

But then you have to know what you want to see because nobody else is going to think for you. Do your research. The city's official tourism website, the metropolitan government's tourism page and the Wikitravel page are good places to start. When you arrive in Seoul, pass by an information office (there's bound to be one near a tourist-y area). Stock up on maps and leaflets that interest you. If you can find the free "Seoul's best 100" guidebook, get it and never let it go. It has almost everything you need to know.

Other basics:
  • 1 peso is 25 won (their currency). 1 US dollar is roughly 1200 won. You might not be an instant millionaire when you change currency (think Indonesian rupiah), but you might end up spending a million won if you stay long enough!
  • the best time to visit is the third week of October to the first week of November, when the colors of autumn are on display
  • there is a one-hour time difference between Korea and the Philippines, them being ahead
  • the electric outlets have two round pins--the widely-spaced thin ones, not the narrow-spaced fat two round pins for Europe
  • again, your GSM phones won't were here--it's CDMA country
  • the city is safe, even in the early morning hours

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