THE SEOUL CHECK LIST, or a realistic guide to Seoul first-timers (part 1)

We still vividly remember that precious (not) first time we landed in Incheon International Airport, all ready and pumped up to start a new life in the land of morning calm. Oh our young seouls (bad pun), how they were overwhelmed, underwhelmed, shocked, annoyed, surprised, delighted at everything we first saw, heard, and tasted. While everyone has his own way of adapting to a new environment (don’t follow our fashion, though, as your diligent authors simply chose to curl into a corner with their antisocial fellas), we are sure that a little bit of insider advice doesn’t hurt anyone. In a desperate attempt to be a little nicer and more useful,  I have decided to create a cheesy list called “Seoul Check List” for our beloved Seoul newbies.

Yes, we all love this award-winning airport for its incredible cleanness, state-of-the-art facilities, and the staff’s ability to speak English (find it out for yourself), but we all need to leave our comfort zone and venture into the forest. Here are some tips to make that inevitable transition less painful:

1. Welcome to Incheon Intl. Airport. Now that you are here, remember to check in on your facebook first to make people jealous. Yes, the airport has unlimited, free, and fast wifi, so check in as much as you like.

2. Buy a T-money (transportation) card (2500 KRW) and add money to it if you want to leave the airport by subway. Given that the long ride from here to Hongdae (the mecca for party people), only costs 3800 KRW, there is no reason for you not to take this utterly comfy ride.
(For the record, my PASMO card to travel in Japan cost 500 yen because I didn’t have time to return the card after my journey; the OV-Chipcard I am using here in the Netherlands costs 7.5 euro. So appreciate the cheapness and beauty of the Korean public transport system, folks.)

3. If you are pressed for time, have money to spend, and are curious about the thing called “Airport Limousine,” take an Airport Limousine. I like bursting people’s bubbles, so let me break this to you: the limousine is actually a large bus. You can ask the people at the Airport Limousine counter airport which bus you should take or check for yourself here.

Choosing the right bus can be tricky, however. For example, if I want to go to SK Global House/International House at Yonsei University, I would take bus no. 6011 (fare: 10000 KRW) and get off at Edae Humun (Ewha Woman’s University Back Gate) instead of Yonsei University stop because SK Global House/International House happen to be almost opposite to Edae Back Gate. So be careful.

4. If you are a real boss, take the taxi. Taxi fare in Korea is relatively cheap (they just raised the price recently, but still cheap), but the taxi drivers are generally angry, restless, agonistic, and are brutally reckless. When you need a reminder of how badly you want to live this life, however, the Seoul-taxi-therapy is exactly what you need.


Still impressed by that awesome ride on the new, clean, comfortable, relatively few peopled Airport Subway Line? Time to get realistic. Seoul’s arguably busiest subway line–Line 2 (green)–will soon bring you back to reality. It’s ridiculously crowded, and is shaky like a 10-richter earthquake. I have motion sickness, so I get sick every time I find myself on the green line during rush hour. Line 6 has a rustic, old-schooled charm. It is generally acceptable except for the fact that stations along line 6 usually don’t have escalators, so be prepared to lift your luggage. Line 1 is old, sad, and sometimes smells bad. Despite these trivial complaints, I am still madly in love with Seoul Subway because it is cheap, efficient, punctual, and connected to almost every place of interest you may want to go.

1. Download a Seoul Subway Map to your phone and start to get acquainted to the matrix-like subway system (which looks intimidating at first but is actually a breeze to navigate through). It can also show you the exact length of time you need to get from one station to another.

Don’t have a smartphone? The Cyber Station will be your trusted friend for planning your travel. It is my ultimate favorite site and is a secret weapon I have been passing along to my friends who visit Korea.

2. If you still haven’t gotten a T-money card, it is time. You can get it anywhere, even at your local 7/11 and charge the card right there. Things can’t get easier than getting a T-money card, my dear.

3. Unless you are healthy and not prone to motion sickness, I highly recommend you take a seat on shaky subway lines. Of course, be a gentleperson by not snatching the ‘reserved seats’ for the elderly, the sick, the handicapped etc. at the end of each car.

4. But be classy when you try to get a seat. Other people are equally ambitious about being seated. They are also more experienced. Stay collected if you fail to get that vacant seat by 1/100 second to your fellow subway-rider.

5. Please, please, please don’t shove your way in. That (many) Koreans do it doesn’t mean you should do it. Wait for passengers to get out first before trying to get in. Yes, it is often the case that Koreans refuse to abide by that simple rule, but don’t let peer pressure take away the goodness in you.

6. My trick to get a seat more easily: stand in front of door 2 or 3 of each car. A car has 4 doors, at the end of doors 1 & 4 there are ‘reserved seats’ ==> your chance of getting a seat is reduced by 50%. Usually if you get into the very first or the very last car of the train, you will be greeted by much fewer people, too.

7. The 30 minutes rule: You NEED a T-money card for this trick.

You get on the bus, you TAP your T-money card at any time, then get off the bus after TAPPING the card again at any stop, it is likely that at least 1050 KRW has been reduced from your account. If you want to take the subway right after that, you will only have to pay 100 KRW extra for the subway ride, instead of the standard fare of 1050 yen. This trick only works if you tap the T-money card to get in the train area 30 minutes or less from the moment you tap your card on the bus.

8. Oh shit you got on the wrong train/line? And no you haven’t take the ride yet? Of course you don’t want to get out by tapping the card again (=losing 1050 KRW out of sheer stupidity). It is often the case that you can find a magic door (which you prolly thought that it was only for people with large luggage or people on wheelchairs, for example). Busy stations usually have that kind of door (Sinchon & Hongdae, I believe).

Tap the T-money card there, and you are free to go, boy.

Like all awesome sagas, to be continued…


One thought on “THE SEOUL CHECK LIST, or a realistic guide to Seoul first-timers (part 1)

  1. Fantastic summary for Korea newbies! All the major points hit. I would like to add that I would avoid taking a taxi from Incheon at all costs. It can run up to 100,000KRW depending where you are going in the city. The lowest I’ve ever haggled the price down to was 60,000KRW.

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