On a budget but want to visit Kim Soo Hyun’s homeland? Don’t worry, you’re in luck because in Seoul, you can have your choco pie and eat it too. While Korea isn’t quite as cheap as it used to be, if you’re smart and follow our simple guide, you can master Gangnam Style living without breaking the bank. Scroll through the gallery for tips on how to save money on food, accommodation, transport and sightseeing so you can travel to Seoul on a budget.
Seoul is a vast, sprawling city and like most big cities, accommodation prices can vary wildly depending on location. Guesthouses are highly recommended if you’re on a shoestring budget as they’re very clean and safe. One of the biggest hubs for guesthouses is Hongdae, which is a university area known for its active nightlife (although it has since been eclipsed in the latter regard by Itaewon). Prices for guesthouses in Hongdae are often half the price of those in Gangnam, although if you prefer to stay in the famed Gangnam area, you can still keep it cheap as chips by compromising on size and opting for a “goshitel”, which refers to small rooms that have just enough space to fit you, your luggage and bathroom facilities.
Here’s the deal—traditional Korean food in Seoul is very reasonably priced. With these reasonable prices, come a no-frills approach to décor. Where to go for such a no-nonsense meal? Any Seoulite worth their Kimchi will tell you that Jongno is the place for delicious, low-priced food, and while the menus may be a little less tourist-friendly, the incomparable taste makes it worth the momentary confusion. An even cheaper alternative is to raid the convenience stores, which are well-stocked with Korean lunchboxes designed by local celebrity chefs. Be warned though, not all convenience store lunchboxes are created equal!
When it comes to airport-to-city commute, Seoul has most places beat on price and efficiency. The trains from Incheon Airport to Seoul are frequent, clean and cheap, but if you’re not keen on taking the subway, there’s a whole smorgasbord of buses to choose from, although they’re not quite as low-priced as the trains. During your stay in Seoul, it’s worth getting a transport card from the convenience store and they can cost anything between SGD1.50 to SGD6 depending on your preferred design. The Seoul subway system is a lean machine but its only downfall is that like Cinderella’s carriage, it stops at midnight and after that, it’s about as useful as a pumpkin. If you’re indulging in some Seoul nightlife and need to hail a cab, a very useful insider tip is to opt for silver private cabs. While they’re the same price as the orange ones, they’re a lot friendlier as they require investment from the driver and they have more at stake. The final tip regarding transport is to download Naver Maps as anyone who has been to Seoul will tell you that Google Maps isn’t so reliable.
With a city as big as Seoul, things can seem overwhelming—so much to see and so little time. Like most of the Asian tigers, Korea is a dynamic mélange of old and new, and activities can be divided along those lines. Most of the cultural activities in Seoul can be found North of the Han River. A few things you shouldn’t miss if you want to see Korea pre-Kpop: Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Insadong, Bukcheon Hanok Village, Namdaemun Market, and the National Folk Museum of Korea. While shopping and dining are a critical part of modern Seoul, why not get extra specific and sample the amazing quality of animal cafes throughout the city? Then, take a cable car up Namsan Tower, buy a padlock for you and your lover, add it to the wall and leave your own K-drama legacy in Seoul’s landscape.
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Text: Kelly Im