Unlike most first timers, going on a solo trip to Korea was not something that scared me or made me anxious.
On previous trips I had, I planned the itinerary months prior to the trip. For this trip, I started planning for less than a month before. I guess I was less worried in preparing the itinerary because I would only have myself to blame if something goes wrong along the way. Call me crazy, but I have wanted to go on a solo trip for so long and this was the answer.
Without further ado, here’s my first ever Seoulo trip to South Korea!
Issue at the Immigration
After checking in for my flight to Seoul, I proceeded to the immigration area. I’ve been through immigration several times, so I expected it would go smoothly. When it was my turn, the immigration officer asked for several documents from me such as COE, Form 2316, Company ID, Hotel Accommodation, Return Ticket etc.
I was stupid enough to forget to print my COE (Yes, I honestly forgot to print it or even save a copy in my phone.). I got extremely nervous when I was asked for my COE, but since I don’t have one with me, I told the immigration officer that I was not able to acquire one. She started asking questions:
- Are you meeting someone in Seoul?
- Are you meeting a friend or a girlfriend?
- Who are you travelling with?
- Why are you going alone?
- When was the last time you left the Philippines?
- Who were you with the last time you left the Philippines?
- How many days will you be staying in Seoul?
- Do you have booked accommodation?
It was tense to be honest. I thought I would be refused to leave! So much for going on a solo trip. Hahaha!
Still Got Passed Though
Eventually, I was allowed to get passed immigration. I was reminded by the immigration officer to bring a COE with me the next time I leave the country. The lesson here is to always bring everything when you go abroad. You don’t want to run into issues at the immigration! I think the immigration officer took time to question me since it was my first time to go on a solo trip. I also read somewhere that several Filipinos recently went TNT in Seoul.
With over 45 minutes left before boarding, I decided to eat lunch. While eating, I asked myself, “Should I really push through or was that a sign that I shouldn’t push through?” I weighed the pros and cons, and eventually decided to push through. No matter what happens, I have myself to blame for taking this trip!
I boarded my flight and 5 hours after, I arrived in Incheon International Airport. I passed through immigration (I prayed that I won’t be questioned. Luckily, answered prayer!), got all the stuff I booked via Klook, and went to the Arex area.
I Had The Dumbest Moment At The Arex
At the Arex area, I redeemed my one-way Arex ticket to Seoul Station. I was given a receipt and a card that looked and felt like a carton. Seriously, it was really carton. No joke.
I was puzzled to be honest. How the hell am I supposed to use this thing? I politely asked the guy at the counter how to use it, but he couldn’t speak English. Bad luck for me.
I checked the entrance gates to see if there is a device where I could feed/insert the card that was provided to me. I kept checking until I saw a device at the left side of the gate which had the “feeding mechanism” for a card (later on I realized it was the refund machine). Without even thinking or double checking, I inserted the card. Right after inserting it, the guy at the counter shouted and told things I could not understand. It was at this moment I knew I screwed up. Hahaha!
Luckily, a guy who spoke English told me to just tap the card at the gate. I did that, and it worked. Shame on me! But in my defense, it did look like carton and usually in train stations, they would use a plastic card for the entrance gate even if it’s just a one-way ticket. I rushed to catch the train to Seoul and arrived at my hotel an hour and a half after.
I left my bag at the room and went out for 7/11. A lot of good stuff at the 7/11, but I opted for a quick cup noodle dinner.
I Realized There’s No Soap…
I got a little taste of traveling alone the other night, but this is the official day 1. Despite being extremely tired, I woke up early. I got my phone, took an Instagram Story, and prepared to take a bath. I was ready to take a bath, until I realized that there is no soap in the bathroom.
So I went out to buy soap wearing shorts and slippers at a 15 C weather. It wasn’t that cold but it was really something I wasn’t used to. There’s a convenience store just beside the hotel that was just about to open. First customer of the day!
I Thought I Wouldn’t Blend In, But I Did
Do I look like a Korean? I DON’T KNOW. Generally, Koreans communicate in English if they know you’re a foreigner/tourist. So does it mean I don’t look like a tourist? I don’t want to assume, but it’s up to you to decide!
Kidding aside. I have had several encounters wherein the locals would speak to me in Korean, but when I tell English only please, they would smile and speak in English.
A good example of this encounter was when I had my dinner at 7/11 on my first night in Seoul. I took the cup noodles to the counter to pay for it and the guy kept talking in Korean. I couldn’t resist it, so I told him, “English only please.” He smiled at me and spoke in English. His English was surprisingly good so I know that he knows how to speak English.
Another good example was after attending mass in Myeongdong Cathedral. I was taking some photos outside the cathedral when a family of 3 came near to me. The guy (husband) spoke in Chinese. Obviously, I could not understand him so I said, “English please.” He smiled and told me, “Oh! You’re English! Could you please take our photo?” I did and they took a photo of me too.
I don’t know if I’m Korean, Chinese, or Filipino. But one thing is for sure, I can physically be any of the three! Hahaha!
There’s A Library Inside A Mall… Wait, What?
It’s the first time I’ve heard of a library inside a mall. A library and a mall are complete opposites and putting them together doesn’t seem right to most people. That’s not the case in South Korea.
I knew I had to visit this place. I’m no big fan of libraries, but this was an exception because it’s not common to see one everyday. There were a lot of people and I was surprised to see that people are actually doing library stuff while in the Coex Library.
I Met A Filipino… Malaysian!
I was going around the Coex Library taking pictures. I’ve been to almost every corner in both the ground and second floor. The last thing I wanted was to have a good photo of myself. But how could I? I was on a solo trip!
I took a couple of selfies using my phone and camera (Yes, I used my camera) but it didn’t look right. So I decided to take some final selfies around one corner until I noticed 2 ‘Filipinas’ who wanted to take a photo just right where I was.
I smiled and gave room for them to take photos. It was when I was about to leave when one of them said, “Would you like us to take a photo of you?” I was extremely happy they offered! I smiled at them and said, “Yes, please!” They took a couple of shots and we talked for a short while. I asked where they’re from and they told me they’re from Malaysia. I told them I’m from the Philippines! We parted ways shortly after. I forgot to ask for their names. 🙁
Aim for the Observatory at N Seoul Tower
While I was on my way to N Seoul Tower, I had doubts about whether I should go up the observatory or not. The bus ride took about 15 minutes and the road was steep. Upon arrival, I immediately went to the base of the tower. The view was incredible! Photos won’t even give justice to how incredible the view was! If the view at the base was amazing, what more when you’re up the observatory! This is when I decided that I should go up the observatory.
It’s also here where I met a group of Korean women. I was taking a couple of photos at the famous love lock viewing deck when the group approached me and asked to take a photo of them. Of course I said yes because after taking their photos, I would ask them to do the same thing! Hahaha!
Extensive Street Food At Myeongdong Night Market
I haven’t been to the other street markets in Seoul, but I know for a fact that Myeongdong is one of the best! However, don’t expect it to be cheap since it’s within the heart of Seoul. When in Myeongdong, you will find yourself surrounded by food stalls and shopping boutiques! The food stalls are literally in the middle of the road at night. I spent 2 straight nights in Myeongdong just because I love the vibes of the place.
If you’re looking or a go-to place to grab something to eat, Myeongdong is the place to go. Just be ready to shell out more cash!
Sunday Mass At Myeongdong Cathedral
So I left the hotel at around 8:40AM and the mass I was planning to attend was at 9:00AM. With only 20 minutes left, I had to make each decision on which direction to take right.
I arrived at the nearest station to Myeongdong Cathedral at around 8:55AM which meant I only had about 5 minutes to walk to the cathedral! The ‘nearest’ station is super far from the cathedral. I arrived at the cathedral a few minutes past 9:00AM.
During the offertory, there’s no basket that gets passed around for the collection of money. Instead, each row would have to form a line at the center to drop their donations. What’s even more amazing is the level of discipline that the mass goers had while doing so. It left me speechless. After hearing mass, I had a few minutes to take photos of the interior of the cathedral.
Palace Hopping And The Hanok Village
The palaces and the area around the Hanok village is a great place to stroll around. There weren’t many people so wasn’t crowded when I visited.
When you’re visiting this area, be sure to just walk when transferring between palaces so you can enjoy the view and appreciate the place even more. When hunger strikes, there’s an area near Hanok village that’s filled with stalls and restaurants.
Dongdaemun By Day, Departure By Night
I was on my last day in Seoul. The morning before my departure, I had one last place to visit – Dongdaemun Design Plaza. I saw a lot of photos online and I was really fascinated by the building’s structure.
I decided to check out from the hotel and just leave my bags in a locker at the train station. Doing so saved me time from going back to the hotel just to fetch my things.
Now that you’ve reached the end, here are a few things to remember:
- Always bring all your documents when going abroad. In fact, TRIPLE CHECK if you have everything with you a day or two before your trip.
- Bring toiletries especially when you’re staying in a dorm or hostel.
- When meeting strangers along your trip, don’t forget to ask for their name! Bridging connections start with knowing a person’s name.
- Don’t be afraid or shy to ask strangers to take your photo.
- Trust your instincts. You only have yourself anyway.
- Koreans are super helpful! You just have to ask.
- Here is a detailed guide on how I spent my weekend in Seoul!
- You can apply for a South Korea Visa in Cebu!
- Check the latest announcements from the Korean Consulate in Korea
Lastly, enjoy your time and go through the trip at your own pace. The last thing you want to do when you’re on a solo trip is to rush.