What to expect in South Korea?

First of all, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to Cebu Pacific Air and Unionbank Philippines for my free flight to South Korea. I am forever grateful! While my friends paid at least 9000 for their plane ticket back and forth. ???

South Korea Travel Guide - Hanbok
The Squad in Hanbok – (Rental is 15000 won for 4 hours near Gyeongbukgong Palace)

At first, I was really excited without knowing what to expect! But as I started planning our trip, checking where to go and what to do for the first time in South Korea,  I realized that most of the tourist attractions this country is selling are “the regular stuff”. I mean, you know the usual street foods, night markets, parks, skyscrapers and towers. But don’t get me wrong, they are all beautiful. It’s just that they are nothing new(at least to me personally). They can also be found in other countries. I am at the point of my “travel” life where I would very much prefer to experience something that I can only experience on that country. However, most of the friends I brought with me were traveling abroad for the first time. So yeah, I need to adjust. ?

Here are my honest observations during my 7 days of exploring Seoul (mostly) to give you an overview of how this country looks like and some tips that might come in handy. Also to safely set an expectation closest to reality before you come here.✌️

Disclaimer: All information, thoughts and opinion expressed here are solely base on Laagan Kaayo’s personal experience in Seoul, South Korea and certainly doesn’t guarantee that you will experience the same.

If you want to experience legit Autumn and Fall Foliage, come visit on November. I repeat November.

During our flight bound to Seoul(3rd week of October), I had a little chitchat with my seatmate who is a Korean but is residing and studying in Bacolod. She mentioned that October is too early for autumn. I got sad upon hearing this but not as much sad when we started exploring Seoul and saw all the trees were still GREEN! It was a total heartbroken.? ? I’m pretty sure it would have been a different experience if we visited South Korea at the right time.

Tip: Come visit South Korea on November to experience autumn in full bloom. At least 1st week of November.

South Korea Travel Guide - Seoul Forest
For example, this photo looks like it was just taken in Family Park in Talamban but this is actually in Seoul Forest. ?
South Korea Travel Guide - Inwangsan
This photo looks like it was just taken in Baguio or Tagaytay but this is the viewing deck somewhere in Mt. Ingwangsan area.

Hiking is a serious hobby of Koreans

Mountain climbing is very popular among the locals. It’s one of South Korea’s favorite pastime. They do really have technical gears, complete and fully equipped to survive the harsh mountains. And that is one of the South Korean culture I am so amazed about. Their mountain trails are also fully developed with foot paths and stairs with railings for easier hike. Benches, fresh water source (if available) and some exercise facility can also be found along the way. And most importantly, there’s a policemen guarding at the entrance of every trail for safety.

South Korea Travel Guide - Inwangsan
Last minute exercise/stretching before climbing ?
South Korea Travel Guide - Inwangsan
The stairs going up the mountain!

Mountain trails are not open always! Be sure to check the schedule ahead

In our case, the original plan was to climb Mt. Inwangsan. According to my research, it would only take about 2 hours to reach the summit, not really that high but just enough to give a beautiful view of Seoul. When we arrived at the base of the mountain, we were shocked to see the gate was locked. The guard came over to us and said that Inwangsan Trail is close on Mondays. We were sad again ? But he offered another but shorter trail that is available for hiking on that day. So we continued our journey.

Tip: Upon checking South Korea’s official tourism website just now, it’s really written there that Mt. Ingwansan is closed on Mondays. So it was my fault then! I didn’t research properly ? So guys! If you plan to hike in South Korea, be sure to check the website first for the schedule.

Website: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/index.jsp

South Korea Travel Guide - Mt. Inwangsan
Mt. Inwangsan Trail – SO GREEN
South Korea Travel Guide - Mt. Inwangsan
The gate was closed 🙁

Most restaurants including Convenience Stores are Self-Service

I think self-service is common in first world countries. Like in a fast food chain, you are expected to return your tray together with your food waste in the designated area. In a Traditional Korean restaurant that we’ve tried, Kimchee is always unlimited. So if you want more kimchee, you have to go and get it yourself. Lastly, for the Convenience Store set up (which surprises me the most because it’s not like this in Taiwan or Japan as far as I remember),  if you buy something that needs to be heated, you have to operate the “korean” microwave yourself!

In the entire time that we were in South Korea, all our breakfast and sometimes late dinner came from CU convenience store located just 3 minutes away from our hostel. The first time I tried the microwave oven was a disaster! There was no English instruction. I stared at the microwave oven for a couple of minutes thinking why did I even go to South Korea? What the fuck did I just get my self into?  How about the man in charge of the store? Well, he doesn’t give a shit.

South Korea Travel Guide - Self Service Kimchee
Self Service Kimchee!

‎It’s okay to eat and drink inside the train

Please correct me if I’m wrong. But so far in our daily commute around Seoul, I didn’t see any signs stating that it’s prohibited to eat or drink inside the train. I tried drinking water several times and it was fine. One time I saw one woman ate some cookies inside the train and it was no problem as well. Just make sure that you don’t litter.

Street filled with dumped garbage can also be found in South Korea

This is pretty normal for us back in Cebu where garbage collection is a major problem our city is currently facing but seeing the same eyesore in South Korea is totally unexpected.

South Korea Travel Guide - Garbage
This greeted us in our first night in South Korea. Up until I flew back home, the garbage situation was still there. Haha.
South Korea Travel Guide - Garbage
Litters brought to you by the school kids in Everland while waiting for 150 minutes for the T-Express ride.

Koreans have their “own” hairstyles, especially men

Society’s standards of beauty will get old but being comfortable with yourself never will. ?

South Korea Travel Guide - Korean Hairstyle

‎Your haggling skills won’t take effect to most vendors at the street markets

Just like in Taiwan, street markets are also one of the major attractions in South Korea. However the vendor vibe there is boring. They would always say that they’re already offering a discounted price so there’s no room to haggle. They’re not the desperate type of vendor who will do everything to sell their products like in Thailand, Cambodia, or Hong Kong. They are chill AF! ✌️

On my last day in South Korea I went back to Hongdae to look for Mr. Buckwheat plushy. My first encounter was like “Hello, how much is this?”, I asked. “15000”, the vendor replied. I tried to bargain and said how about 10000? He just said “No” and went back to his seat. I went for at least 3 vendors but they’re all the same and It was so boring. ?

South Korea Travel Guide - Mr. Buckwheat Plushy
Little Mr. Buckwheat plushy! 4000 Won in Hongdae. You can buy 3 for 10000.

Rich Koreans are staying true to the path of luxury

I’ve been to luxurious malls filled with high-end boutiques before and it’s completely normal to see no one checking inside. But it’s a whole new level of extravagant shopping in South Korea! ?

South Korea Travel Guide - Luxurious Shopping
Damn rich people!!!

SOJU and KIMCHEE is life!

In all the times that we ate in a traditional Korean restaurant, the locals dining around us were always pairing their meal with Soju. As far as I have observed also, I haven’t seen a local drinking any soft drinks like coke.

Kimchee is also imperative in every traditional Korean meal including those packed meals sold in convenience stores. So how is the taste of an authentic Kimchee so far? Just fine. ? Just enough to make you get another set ?

South Korea Travel Guide - Soju
Enjoying South Korea ?
South Korea Travel Guide
Packed meal from convenience store with Kimchee ☺️

Local “soup” tastes bland including the famous Tosokchon Samgyetang (Korean Chicken Ginseng Soup)

Perhaps the only soup that has an actual taste was the buckwheat noodles that we ordered during our visit in Nami Island. The rest of the soup that we’ve tried were tasteless. For someone like us Filipinos who are unfortunately used to putting msg or salt in almost all of our food, you can quickly distinguish the lack of taste or flavor in their soup.

Thousands of South Korean visitors rave about Tosokchon Samgyetang online! And of course, who wouldn’t be curious? We tried the famous Korean Ginseng Soup on my last day in South Korea and it was a kind of…OK? Well, the soup tasted bland as well. ? Although the serving is huge with one whole baby chicken stuffed with sticky rice inside and the meat is really soft, the 16000 won is still not worth it. In my opinion.

South Korea Travel Guide - samgyeopsal
Our dinner in Hongdae. You can see that the soup is full of pepper. hahaha. It’s really tasteless. I can’t even.
South Korea Travel Guide - Tosokchon Samgyetang
Tosokchon Samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) – JUST DON’T EXPECT TOO MUCH.

The locals don’t speak English by default

When I say “locals”, I am referring those south Korean in their middle age who aren’t exposed to the outside world and can’t afford to study English.

We met some Koreans who are rude and violent

While it’s completely normal for them to shout at each in a regular conversation, it’s still traumatizing for someone like me who is not used to receiving such actions. In fact, it’s shown in all the K-Dramas that I have watched before how Koreans act on a daily basis but My God! It’s still different when you are in the actual situation. ?

For example, watch the video clip below.

On our first night in Seoul around 1AM we arrive from the airport, we went to the convenience store near our hostel and bought some food, mostly noodles. The man in the counter was very rude and shouted us because we can’t understand each other due to language barrier. We were just asking where is the hot water located and he got pissed. It’s written all over his face. Terrified by the commotion,  we finished our food quickly.

Another encounter was at the airport. I was on my way to the immigration. I saw some girls cut the line because people weren’t evenly distributed and got stuck on this one officer when there were so many other officers available on the other side. They pushed through and it was fine. So I tried to do the same. I already pulled the strap above from the crowd control post when a security woman coming from my right side slapped my arm, hard! I got startled and hurriedly put it back and said sorry. Damn bitch!

We also met some super nice Koreans along the way! Thank God!

We got lost on our way to Iwha Mural Village and this grandpa came over to us and offered some help. He tried his best to give directions in English and exerted some effort to draw a map so we would really know where to go! He was the nicest local we met so far! ???

South Korea Travel Guide - Kind Koreans
Grandpa giving directions 🙂
South Korea Travel Guide - Kind Koreans
The map though! ?

While exploring Gyeongbukgong Palace wearing Hanboks, we run into these super cute little kids falling in line wearing a traditional Korean attire as well together with their teacher. I immediately asked if I could take pictures of them but the teacher offered to take the photo of us with the kids instead! I was so happy we were attacked by little humans and it was super fun! ???Haha This little girl cling over me, wanted to sit on my lap and wrapped her little arms around my neck and I was so kilig!!!! She’s the sweetest baby ever, my heart melted!!!!!

South Korea Travel Guide - Gyeongbukgong Palace
This is my favorite memory in South Korea ???
South Korea Travel Guide - Kawaii Korean Kids
Met these two while waiting for our ride in Everland ?
So far, all the Korean babies that we met were nice and sweet and always game to pose in front of the camera. If you get a chance to meet some of them, be sure to say Hi!

So that’s how I experience South Korea for the first time. Overall, it was fun and memorable because of my crazy friends! Bottom line is, just be open to all possibilities that might happen. And of course, enjoy! Will I comeback? DEFINITELY YES, for the real Autumn? and truly hike one of their mountains⛰️. I will make sure to visit at the right time.

How about you? Thrilled to visit South Korea already? What are you waiting for? Book your flights now and check my complete guide in applying South Korea Tourist Visa: https://www.laagankaayo.com/south-korean-visa-guide-for-filipinos/

6 thoughts on “What They Won’t Tell You About South Korea – Travel Guide For First Timers”

  1. Good read! Btw yes you can eat/ drink in trains, that’s why they have food shops & convenience stores even after you pass the gantry. It is a great way to have a quick bite on the go in between appointments. 😉 I always find it amazing that the trains aren’t filled with food trash despite this.

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