I blurted the idea out there and never thought it would come true. So far, I’ve only arranged trips to Singapore and Malaysia. Penang and Bangkok are the furthest away we went on our own itinerary. Well, there was this Western Europe trip half a decade ago, but my brothers took the lead on scheduling. All I had to do was showing up at Heathrow. So this is a big jump from our regular Southeast Asian traveldates.
Question #1: WHEN?
The best time to visit Korea is Autumn (or I call it “Fall” cos I studied in the U.S.). The falling leaves, the changing colors and the not-so-cold weather made Korea an ideal destination in September and October. Sometimes early November too. So, if you’re not familiar with these scenes, have yet to experience autumn, don’t think twice about when. Yes, it’s pricey but it’s worth the view.
But between us, we have enough Autumns and Thanksgivings that we’re not into falling leaves anymore. “I want to see snow,” Andrew had said. Several times, too. I’ve showed him pictures from when we’re stuck snowed in for days. He argued back that he was too young to remember anything about winter time. Well, the truth is I miss Winter air too. Snow is another thing but breathing the cold air is happiness for me.
And it’s been 10+ years since I last see them (cos watching Frozen on movie theatre doesn’t count).
It’s Winter for us, then. Cheaper too. When it comes to price of our return ticket, there was 50% gap between the two seasons. Winter being cheaper. With the two of us, a 50% gap combined equals to another return ticket. So Winter it is.
Counting in school holidays and Christmas – New Year day offs I can take from work, we finally settled for December 31st departure. New Year’s on the plane didn’t sound as bad. And in reality, it wasn’t that bad. We flew Garuda Indonesia (our national airline). Hats and party equipments are available to cheer for New Year, 30 minutes after our boarding time. Once in a lifetime indeed.
Question #2: WHERE?
If I can redo my itinerary, I wouldn’t pack so many tourists spot on one week. It’s either Seoul, with a side trip to Sorak Mountain and Sokcho or Busan with a few days in Jeju. The thing is we never know if we’ll go again.
On second thought, we’ll go again. This trip, we had to scrap off “Train to Busan” from our itinerary in exchange with a day in Everland.
So, I would recommend you to start your K-itinerary with Seoul. Because there are so many things you can see in Seoul and you can filled a week worth of activities by being in and around Seoul. Stroll through the different neighborhoods and theme parks, the palaces and the shopping areas. Give Nami island a day or book an early morning bus trip to Sokcho, visit Mount Sorak and return to Seoul the next day.
With Winter, and thanks to the recent Olympics, trains are available from that part of South Korea. The ski resorts are within reach too. Wish I had known these things before scrambling to visit everything. But again, we didn’t know if we ever will come back to South Korea. So at least we’ve been to Jeju, to Sorak and everywhere in Seoul.
Question #3: HOW MUCH?
This is a little hard to justify because I can only speak for departures from Jakarta. But I bought my tickets at a travel fair, which cost me half the regular return ticket price. There are budget airlines with similar price of the Garuda Indonesia ticket I purchased. I wouldn’t recommend them because Garuda Indonesia flies non-stop to South Korea, a 6-7 hours trip. Some of the budget airlines schedule includes an overnight stop at either Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. Although it won’t be a problem with me and Andrew, I wouldn’t recommend them for family travel in general.
Yes, ticket-hunting is a must for us.
Tickets on hand, now it’s time to talk about accommodation. It’s best to book them 1-2 months in advance to ensure you get the best prices possible. Check on local festivals and avoid them if you’re not planning to participate. Check everything. A hotel in Dongdaemun isn’t always more expensive than Myeongdong. Look at different hotels, check the facilities and see how much a room without breakfast is. Also check if they have deals on extra nights. I figured that 4 nights in a Dongdaemun hotel are cheaper than others I browsed through because they had this 3+1 discount night.
Food in South Korea depends on where you dine. My favorite mini market Gimbab cost about 2000KRW. I’m addicted to them and always have them in my backpack. The Onigiri is around 900 – 1000KRW. But I traveled with a bunch of Asian families (including Andrew) and we had to search for rice along with Lotteria fried chicken we ordered. The microwaved rice bowls are 1000 to 1500KRW each at mini market. Eating in restaurants can be costly. Pork noddle (guksu) in Jeju cost 9000 – 10,000KRW while Rose Latte in Insadong cost 6500KRW. A portion of fried chicken (shared among us) cost 24,000 – 26,000KRW. I personally love going to Lottemart and shop for bread, pork cutlets, milk and the so-called food supplies. Pack sandwiches for lunch or dinner on the go. It cuts your food cost and save you time cos you don’t have to stop and eat while you, for example, browse through Myeongdong.
So it depends.
Well, we managed to round up a 10-day trip to South Korea (including 3-day in Jeju). It costs us roughly 15 million Rupiahs (a little over 1000USD) for two persons sharing hotel rooms, excluding meals, attraction tickets and personal shopping.
Unfortunately, 10 days aren’t enough. We want to go another round to Busan. Hopefully sometime soon, and in a different season.