Like I mentioned in January, I went for a nice vacation over the long Chinese New Year holiday this year. I'm now back in Singapore and I'm missing the lovely cool winter weather. The mystery destination this time was probably not hard to guess at all... Korea!
서면 Seomyeon, where all the hip people get drunk in Busan 부산
Just like Japan, the first thing that pushed me to select Korea was the crazy, unbelievably good priced tickets that I managed to snag.
Actually, I had already planned to go to Korea for quite some time and I knew that tickets to Korea typically cost about $700-900. I was just browsing through the dates and options about 3 months in advance in October to travel in January (yes, that's how long ago I've been preparing and anticipating to go to Korea) and then I saw this CRAZY deal!
I managed to get a return flight on Thai Airways, with a stopover at BKK both ways, and an additional technical stop at HK on the way back, with 30kg check-in baggage allowance and onboard meals included for an absolutely ridiculous bargain basement price of... $354.90. Yup, that's right. Dirt cheap? I think so, especially considering how far away Korea is!
I found my ticket using Kayak and Skyscanner, as usual, and I booked direct with Thai Airways because they had the best price.
Usually when I travel alone, I do not stay in hotels. For me, I don't like paying a premium for a room and extra facilities which I'm barely going to be in or to enjoy at all. Therefore, I usually prefer to stay in cheaper options, like hostels. Hostels in Korea are plentiful, so I decided to stay in hostels (only if they had private rooms) and motels. Although staying in a private room is definitely way more expensive than staying in multiple beds shared dorm rooms, I value the security of my belongings and I like to have everything out in a very organized mess, so I went with private rooms.
I managed to stay in 4 different accommodations (5 if you count my overnight stay in the spa), 2 motels and 2 private hostel rooms. The weighted average rating for my accommodations was 9.16 based on Agoda and 9.21 based on Booking.com. All of them had fantastic locations, less than 3 minutes walk from the metro station. I only had 1 issue, which was that one of the motels didn't have hot water for a particular night, so I only could take a shower the next morning. But meh, small issue.
So for my 14 nights, I spent a grand total of - get this - $519.19, or an average of $37 per night for private rooms.
This wasn't my first time to Korea, but I think I wasn't too aware and just blur the last time I went. I didn't realize just how big the Seoul metro was, and also about the metro lines in the other cities! Of course, I took the metro and walked most of the time, though I did take buses, but not too often.
I got myself a T-money card (don't get the other cards, I'll explain in another post!) and throughout my entire 14 day trip, I spent 53,700 KRW ($65 SGD) on all metro travelling, which works out to about $5 a day. This is cheap! I remember that Tokyo was twice as expensive!
T-money is for inter city transportation. Since I flew into Busan and flew out from Seoul, I had to make my way across the country myself, and the natural choice is of course to take the KTX. I booked my tickets in advance online, so it was all very smooth and easy peasy. With 1 pit-stop, my journey across the country was just 60,100 KRW ($75 SGD)!
I spent A LOT of time walking when I was in Korea. I walked a total of 143km over the course of 14 days, which works out to about 10km a day. Cabs aren't that expensive, but I still felt like everything was rather nearby, I wasn't rushing to places, so I just had nice walks in the cool winter weather!
Sightseeing / Activities
When I told people that I would be in Korea for 14 days, they all told me that it was way too long and I was going to get bored. All these people were wrong because I was doing different things in Korea every single day and I still have things that I didn't manage to see or do, don't even talk about eat!
I skipped quite a bit of the usual touristy stuff. The palace in the middle? Nope. The DMZ? Nope. Hanok Village? Nope. Namsan Tower? Nope. (Well, maybe next time I'll go with a special someone and do the lock thing, hur hur)
I do like city views and managed to get some good views from Naksan Park 낙산공원, which is free, but nice! I was actually feeling a bit under the weather, if not I would've wanted to walk the whole park!
The thing about Korea that is quite different from my other trips is that I have quite a number of friends living in Korea. Instead of doing all the usual touristy stuff, I opted instead to hang out with my friends and do things that are a bit less touristy and that they would also enjoy too, instead of feeling like they are chaperoning me around! In the end, I ended up eating... A LOT and also ended up at karaokes every other day! Haha!
감천문화마을 Gamcheon Cultural Village in Busan
해동 용궁사 East Sea Dragon Temple
오룍도 Oryukdo Skywalk
광안리 Gwanganli Beach
해운대 Haeundae Beach
달맞이 Dalmaji Road
문탠로드에서 해월사 Haewoljeong Pavilion on Moontan Road
해운대 전통시장 Haeundae Traditional Market
롯대월드 Lotte World Amusement Park... it was WAY more crowded than it looks here
DDP LED 장미 Dongdaemun Design Plaza LED Roses
Ridiculous thing at Gangnam 강남
노량진 시장 Noryangjin Fish Market
광장시장 Gwangjang Market
홍대 밤 Hongdae in the evening
낙산 공원 야경 Naksan Park night view
Food and Drinks
Of course, what kind of shit Singaporean would I be if I didn't go over to other countries and raided their food supplies?
Ready for my take on Korean food? Way better and way cheaper than in Singapore! This is very very different from Japanese food in Japan. In Japan, what I personally felt was that whatever I could get in Japan, I could get something of very similar quality in Singapore, with pretty much the same price or - dare I say it - even cheaper than in Japan.
However, this is surprisingly very wildly different in Korean. Korean food across the board was cheaper than any Korean food that you can get in Singapore and the quality and taste was significantly better. Korea does lack a variety of food when it comes to the budget category (under $5, or 4000 KRW), but all my restaurant meals were very affordable, kept firmly between the $10 and $20 range. This means a proper table setting, with side dishes, real utensils, wait service and access to restrooms. I kept wondering what the monthly rental and workers wages were whenever I ate at restaurants.
Korean food suits my tastebuds well because I can eat spicy food and I enjoy the occasional drink with my meals, which Koreans do fantastically well for dinners! While most people think of Korean food as "Saba Fish Set", "Chicken / Pork / Beef Bulgogi Set", "Kimchi Stew with Ramen Noodles" along with side dishes of ikan bilis and like a bite of kimchi, and the better ones can say budaejjigae 부대찌개 Army Stew, the reality is that there are lots of Korean food and I had the immense pleasure of tasting lots of them!
Never failing me, one of my best meals in Korea was Shake Shack in Gangnam. Yeah, that's right. American burgers in Korea was one of my best meals! The experience was way better than in Japan because the queue was much, much, much shorter, the seating area was quite big and the food was orgasmic as usual. Perhaps the 2 most interesting things that I ate were 번대기 silkworm pupa and 곰장어 hagfish. Tasty... is debatable, but it was for the experience!
Anyway, I'll let my pictures do the talking for the rest of my food.
오겹살 Five-layered Fat Pork, like the zhng version of samgyeopsal
섞어국밥 Pig Innards Rice Soup
새우만두하고 찜만두 Prawn and Steam Dumplings
해물파전하고 막어리 Seafood Pancake with Makeoli
부산 코라사 어묵 Famous Busan Fishcakes
전복 해물 된장찌개 Abalone Seafood Spicy Beanpaste Soup
왕갈비탕 King Beef Ribs Soup
곰장어 Bear Eel, or Hagfish (quite gross looking, fyi)
동래파전 Dongnae Pancakes and Makeoli
샤브샤브 Shabu Shabu
치즈 가리비 Cheesy Seashells (Shellfish)
게장 Fermented Salty Crabs
부대찌개 Army Stew is pretty common food, but this one was freaking delicious
칼국수 Thick Cut Noodles, apparently North Korean style
섹섹 Shake Shack. Jizzed my pants while eating this
명동교자칼국수 Apparently really famous Thick Cut Noodles in Myeong Dong
닭갈비 Chicken Ribs at... Yoogane lol. It's more than 50% cheaper than in SG
전 전 전 전 Lots of different types of panckes, re-fried and served piping hot!
I'm having some technical difficulities uploading some picutres, so that is all that you can get! I'm sure it should be enough to make you feel hungry though, especially if you crave nice, warm and comforting soups!
Transport (Inter City): 60,100 ₩ ($75 SGD)
Transport (Intra City): 53,700 ₩ ($65 SGD)
Food: 477,600 ₩ ($578 SGD)
Attractions, Entertainment, Drinks, Misc: 86,700 ₩ ($105 SGD)
I don't know if it's a fair way to do this, but I signed up for the SCB Singpost Card just so that I could eat the $138 cash credit by using it to pay for the airfare and other stuff. I think I wouldn't be too wrong to attribute the $138 to offset my spending, since I only got the card to buy the tickets and get the cash credit, haha!
My actual spending for the trip was $1,560! (rounded up from $1,559.09)
So there you have it, a 2 week trip to a winter country where I stayed in good, well-located, private room accommodations and I ate like a freaking boss, all on a very friendly budget!
This was really one of my better trips. I think I was decently well-prepared and I managed to fill up my entire 14 day schedule with loads of food, activities and friends! I'm proud to say that I only repeated 1 meal my entire trip! That means I really ate a ton of different food!
Korea was a fantastic holiday for me. I'm quite sure that I am going to head back again within the next 2 years, to catch up with friends, to eat more delicious food and to explore other areas that I haven't been to (like the Palace? HAHA I'm such a bad tourist)! But then again, even just a chill trip away to escape the Singapore heat and to bum around with friends and good food is always a good idea!
I have maybe 1 or a few more follow up posts about my Korea trip coming up next, so stay tuned for that! Comment or let me know if you have any questions!