Here’s more stuffs about what you can expect in Seoul. Actually Singapore and Seoul are very metropolitan and have very modern facilities. The only thing that is glaringly different is the language that is spoken. Korean is very common in Korea because a lot of the people do not use English as the main language. In fact, it is taken as a foreign language and most people do not have a chance to use it outside classrooms. Another factor is that the older generation do not speak English, so it’s hard to propagate the English language into the culture or population.

Foodcourts

Yes, there are foodcourts in Seoul and quite a number of them too. They are usually located within shopping malls, pretty much like those in Singapore. The cost of food is around the same numerically, e.g. for something you can get for S$5, it’s around 5,000 wons. Typically, it’s US$1 = 1,000 won, so it’s actually more expensive to eat in foodcourts in Seoul. The alternative to this is to eat at roadside stalls, which is usually very hygenic and very much cheaper. For about 3,000 won, you can get quite a good meal; soup included. =)

The exception to this is eating at Namdaemun. They are usually out to make a radish head out of  you.

Bookstores

There are no Times The Bookshop, no MPH, no Popular bookstores in Seoul. The bigger brands are Kyobo (at Gangnam and a few other places), Yoongpoon (at Express Bus Terminal Station) and Bandi’s and Luni’s (at COEX Mall, Samsung Station). They sell international books (English included) as well as my favourite Biological Sciences books. Most books are reasonably priced, with some costing much lesser than what you can find in Singapore. However, there are also some that are pretty costly. If you want to get some books from Seoul, you’d need to:

  1. Find out how much it costs in Singapore
  2. Find out how heavy the book(s) are
  3. Find the nearest EMS post office in Seoul; Fedex Kinko is not really ideal costwise

But they do have unique books that you may not be able to find in Singapore. You should try to exhaust your search in Singapore first before contemplating about getting books from Seoul. They are not exactly the lightest things to carry back nor to check in. The overweight charges are 12,000 won per kg overweight at Incheon Airport.

Shopping and Departmental Stores

There are many departmental stores in Seoul, the most common being Hyundai Department Store (yes, they have other businesses besides making cars), Shinsegae and Lotte. However, these are big brand stores and are usually very costly to get anything. For good bargains, you should try MyeongDong for clothes and cosmetics (they have Giordano’s too), Namdaemum, Dongdaemun and all the different “underground shopping centers”. They are not “underground” as in illegal, but they are literally at Basement 1 – pretty much like the ones you find at Dhoby Ghaut and Raffles Place MRT stations. A particular stretch usually offer the same stuffs at usually the same rates.

If you are looking for shoes, clothes and luggages, you should try the underground shopping centers at Express Bus Terminal Station. It’s just outside the basement of Shinsegae (the expensive mall), and they offer good prices if you are genuine about buying – you might just need to bargain a little. You may also have a better chance with Mandarin than English sometimes.

If you are looking for electronic stuffs, you many want to consider Yongsan (Korean: 용산) (Chinese: 籠山), which is located at Yongsan Station. At the entrance of the station is I’Park Mall, which is an electronics mart cum furniture mart cum megamart all squeezed into one building. The megamart is at the basement (B1/B2) and is good for getting groceries (if you are planning to stay for about 1.5 to 2 weeks) as well as getting a feel on the prices of general goods in Seoul.

If you walk further down, there is another mega electronics shopping mall as well as a Sim Lim Square look-alike. Things there are priced variantly, so, do exercise discretion when buying stuffs from them. The general rule is, if you think it’s too expensive, it probably is. =)

The other place where more Caucasians frequent is Itaewon. This is generally a good place to look around, but beware of touts who tend to offer sky-high prices for things that are relatively cheaper in other districts. Most of the people here understand a little English and usually have a calculator for you to bargain with them. There are also a lot of International eateries here, so if you are really not used to Kimchi, or would like to try some Indian/Parkistanian/West Asian/Middle Eastern food, this is probably your best bet.

Another thing about Itaewon is that the houses are located on a slope. So, if you know the right turns to make, you can actually grasp a scenic view of the Han River in the evening. It’s simply beautiful. =)

Hotels

Okie, there are hotels and there are motels. If you know how to book, you can get hotels at motel rates. What’s the trick behind this? You’d have to email me to find out. 😉 Heh. And it usually works for other countries before. Sorry, can’t say much here.

But the best time to get hotels is during Winter and Summer. Yes, Winter. Most people will think that hotel rates peak at Winter seasons, but it’s really not the case. You just have to make advanced reservations.

Winter Sports

I don’t know how this falls under “common places and facilities”, but oh well, the nearest place you can get snow and ski is at Bears Town, which is just a couple of hours north of Seoul. Another place you can get good snow fall during Winter is YongPyeong (not PyeongYang, that is in North Korea). However, it is usually packed during Winter and it is often fully booked. If you are intending to go there for winter, do book early. Do a google on Internet and you should be able to get some bookings.

Rates are usually quite high, so the best option is to opt for the hostel, which really isn’t that bad, but you’d have to sleep on the floor though. Soft blankets and quilts are given though. The flood is water-heated, but it’s really nice because it’s around freezing temperatures outside.

There is a Starbucks and a foodcourt at YongPyeong and the rates are pretty reasonable. I tried building a snowman the last time I was there during winter. Well… didn’t turn out quite well because all I got was a stump. =( Oh well, better luck this winter, perhaps. 😉

Interstate travel

The best way to travel besides domestic flights (from Gimpo Airport) is to take the KTX. There are 3 main types of trains – the bullet train, the express train and the commuter train. I took a train to Pohang once and it was about 4 hours by express train because Pohang is a rather quiet town and not a major city – and hence no bullet trains. =( And they do not have Starbucks or McDonalds! Oh well…

Yes, so, back to KTX. You may take the KTX either from Yongsan Station or from Seoul Station, depending on your destination. Be sure to go to either station to confirm your timing and to get your tickets in advance, especially during peak periods. You may get 1 way or return tickets. I got 1 way tickets because I wasn’t sure of when I’d be returning. Haha…

Ed: Okie.. a little too long for this post. If there are more things that you’d like to know about Seoul/Korea, just drop me a comment and I’d be glad to post on it 😉



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