Due to the popularity of Seoul to Filipino tourists, I decided to go on a weekend getaway in Seoul. You’ve probably planned to visit soon but you’re unsure on how much it’s going to cost you.
On my recent 4 days, 3 nights trip to Seoul last May 2019, I spent a little over PHP 18,000 ALL IN. If you really want to cut down costs, there’s a way on how you can further reduce your budget to as low as PHP 15,000 ALL IN. Read on to know the complete details!
Table of Contents
- Pre-Travel Essentials
- 4 Days / 3 Nights Seoul, South Korea Experience
- Arrive at Incheon, Arex to Seoul, and Dinner at 7/11
- Seoul Apple Store, Starfield Coex Mall, N Seoul Tower, Namdaemun Night Market, and Myeongdong Night Market
- Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral, Changdeokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Insadong, and Myeongdong Night Market
- Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Depart for Cebu, Philippines
- Summary of Itinerary
- Budget Breakdown
- Hotel and Plane Fare
- Online Bookings
- Terminal Fee and Travel Tax
- Seoul Expenses
- Cutting Down Costs
- Insider Tips
Although credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Seoul, it’s best to also bring cash with you on your trip. I had US Dollars notes with me and a debit card in case I need to withdraw cash from an ATM. If you’ve read my blog on how I spent 5 days, 4 nights in Taipei, Taiwan, you will know that it’s best to bring US Dollars with you and have it exchanged to local currency in your destination country. Keep in mind this only holds true if you are able to buy US Dollars at a rate lower than the average rate.
Here’s an illustration in figures showing why exchanging US Dollars to Korean Won is better than Philippine Pesos to Korean Won. The exchange rates used below was as of the time of writing.
USD 1 = PHP 51.43 (Variable)
USD 1 = KRW 1,159.80 (Variable)
PHP 1 = KRW 22.53 (Variable)
PHP 10,000 = USD 194.44 = KRW 225,511.51
PHP 10,000 = KRW 225,300
Of course, there are a few factors that will influence the conversion rates. It’s good to monitor the trend of the currency rates weeks or even months prior to your trip so you can get the best value out of your Philippine Pesos.
Weather in May
When travelling to South Korea in May, you should consider to pack long sleeve shirts as the weather is quite cold compared to our weather in the Philippines. There’s no need to bring a jacket as the long sleeve shirts will suffice.
You should store a copy of Seoul’s Metro Map in your phone. Click this to download a copy of the Seoul Metro Map. This is very helpful when navigating around Seoul’s extensive railway system. Although the railway system is quite extensive, it’s quite easier to navigate compared to Tokyo’s railway system which is extremely complex and extensive.
4 Days / 3 Nights Seoul, South Korea Experience
Getting a South Korea Visa is pretty easy. If you haven’t done so, read my blog on how I applied for my South Korea Visa. What is even better is that South Korea recently relaxed its visa requirements for Philippine Passport holders who wish to enter South Korea for tourism purposes.
I got my roundtrip flight via Cebu Pacific Air as it was the cheapest during the time I booked. If you are lucky enough, you can get a roundtrip ticket to South Korea for as low as PHP 3,500.
My trip to Seoul was my first solo travel abroad and the feeling was a mix of excitement and happiness. More of this in a different blog which is coming really soon!
Arrive at Incheon, Arex to Seoul, AND Dinner at 7/11
I landed in Incheon International Airport at around 6:45PM. The queue at the immigration was quite long and took me about 30 minutes to get through. After getting passed immigration and customs, I claimed the pocket wifi I rented from Klook at the arrival hall of Terminal 1. I decided not to have my US Dollars exchanged to Korean Won at the airport, but instead just withdraw from an ATM.
Arex to Seoul
I took the escalator to the basement level of the airport until I reached the entrance to the Arex. The area of the Arex is in color Orange and should look like the photo below.
I had my Klook voucher for the Arex exchanged at the ticketing booth. Take note that you need to pay a refundable deposit of KRW 500 at the ticketing booth. You will receive 2 pieces of paper: One that looks like a receipt and the other is a color Orange ticket. The ticket looks and feels like cardboard paper, but don’t get deceived! You can actually tap it in the IR-Reader at the entrance of the Arex. Check the receipt to see which car number and seat number you are assigned to.
Inside the Arex, you can store your bags at the overhead compartment (if your bag is hand carry size) or at the storage area near the entrance/exit of the train (if your bag is big). The train ride is approximately 41 minutes to Seoul Station. I did a transfer in Seoul Station from the Arex line to a local train line.
Getting Cash at Seoul Station
Most ATMs charge withdrawal fees for international debit cards. In my case, I was charged KRW 3,500.
After withdrawing, I purchased a T-Money card from a vending machine. The T-Money card is an IC card primarily used for the metro in Seoul. There are certain establishments such as convenience stores that accept T-Money card as mode of payment. Getting a T-Money card is highly encouraged to make it easier for you to get in and out of the metro. You can easily add value to your T-Money card through the reloading stations found in the metro.
I arrived at the hotel, checked-in, and left my bags in the room to have dinner at the nearest 7/11 which was about 3 minutes by foot.
Seoul Apple Store, Starfield Coex Mall, N Seoul Tower, Namdaemun Night Market, AND Myeongdong Night Market
I woke up early and decided to take a bath before having breakfast. I realized that there was no soap provided in the mixed dormitory room I was staying in. Luckily, there’s a convenience store beside the hotel. I took a bath and had breakfast at the hotel restaurant.
After breakfast, I left the hotel and looked for a money changer to have my US Dollars changed to Korean Won. I asked assistance from the nearest train station on where I could possibly have my money changed. The guy from the station spoke English and even drew me a sketch on how to get to the nearest money changer. I followed his directions and was able to find a money changer near the hotel.
Seoul Apple Store
The first item on my list was to visit the Apple Store in Garosugil. I have this thing towards Apple Stores and I make it a point to visit at least one Apple Store in every country I travel to. While walking towards the Apple Store, I noticed that coffee shops can be found in almost every corner. Coffee must be a huge thing in South Korea.
After spending an hour in the Apple Store, I left for Starfield Coex Mall to visit the Coex Library. Since the nearest station from the Apple Store is Apgujeong Station (336) in Line 3, I took the train to Seoul National University of Education Station and transferred to Line 2. After transferring, I took the train to Samseong Station. Again, it’s really easy to navigate around Seoul Metro if you have a copy of the metro map.
Starfield Coex Library
By this time, I was extremely hungry. I saw a McDonald’s just outside the station’s exit nearest to Starfield Coex Mall. I had burger (which was extremely huge), fries, and soda. Trust me when I say that fast food chains outside the Philippines offer great food! I’ve had the same sentiment in my previous trips abroad.
I made my way to the Coex Library. For your information, the Coex Library is found in the Ground Floor of the Starfield Coex Mall. If you’re entering via the entrance beside the Starbucks Reserve Store, walk straight until you see the library.
The Coex Library isn’t really a legit study place. It’s more like a place where you can take Instragram worthy photos of yourself “studying”. LMAO. For tourists, it’s really just for the ‘gram. I took my time in this library and even sat down a few times to observe what people usually do. Most people came to the library to take photos.
N Seoul Tower
N Seoul Tower was the next destination on my list. I took the train to Dongguk University Station along Line 3 and went out at Exit 6. Once you’re out, you should look for bus 02, 03, or 05. You might get confused where these buses stop. There’s an intersection with stop lights near Exit 6. You should be able to see that these buses stop nearby. Wait at the bus stop to ride the bus to N Seoul.
The bus ride took about 15 minutes and the road up was steep. You also have the option to take the cable car straight to the tower area or just walk. The cheapest option was to walk, but that’s not an option for me.
Once you’re at the bus stop in N Seoul, you have to walk for about 5 minutes to reach the base of the tower. There’s an area that offers a great view of Seoul. If you’re planning to do the love lock thing, I would suggest that you purchase your love lock before going to N Seoul as love locks sold in N Seoul are quite expensive.
Make your way to the observatory deck entrance located at the 5th floor. You can either take the elevator (which is usually crowded) or the stairs. I opted to take the stairs. I presented my ticket at the entrance and entered the elevator which took me to the observatory. The observatory offers a 360 degree view of Seoul. Each window pane is labeled with 1-3 countries facing that direction. If you are into collecting ref magnets, this is the best place to purchase a ref magnet. The souvenir shop in the observatory sells high-quality ref magnets as well as key chains.
Myeongdong Street Night Market
After spending over 3 hours in N Seoul, I decided to leave for Myeongdong. While taking the bus, I checked Google Maps and noticed that the bus was near Namdaemun Night Market. I made a spontaneous decision to go down. Several stores in Namdaemun open at night. When I got there at around 7:00PM, most of the stores were still about to open. My objective in Namdaemun was to purchase key chains. Don’t buy key chains from vendors in the outer part of the market because it’s quite expensive. The deeper you go in the market, the cheaper the key chains are. All you need is a little patience.
I spent roughly an hour in Namdaemun before I decided to go to Myeongdong. After exiting Myeongdong Station, I was greeted with a street filled with shops and food stalls. The rest is history.
Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral, Changdeokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Insadong, AND Myeongdong Night Market
I woke up early to attend the 9:00AM mass in Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral. I skipped the free breakfast at the hotel just so I can make it on time. It took me a lot of walking before I reached the cathedral. I arrived just 5 minutes to 9:00AM and I was lucky enough to find a vacant seat despite the cathedral being filled with churchgoers!
After hearing mass, I stayed for a few minutes to take photos of the cathedral. I passed by Starbucks for a quick snack before proceeding to the nearest station.
The first palace I visited was the Changdeokgung Palace. I expected it to be extremely crowded but it wasn’t which was good. Took a few photos and sat for about 15 minutes. I decided to transfer to Gyeongbokgung Palace by foot. While walking, I passed through the Bukchon Hanok Village area in hopes of finding its exact location. I came across a street filled with food and my attention got distracted. So I ended up eating jjamppong in a restaurant.
After having lunch, I continued walking until I reached Gyeongbokgung Palace. There was a significant crowd of people in this palace compared to the first palace I visited. I took photos while walking around. I even witnessed a guy propose to his girlfriend. Ain’t that sweet! I got tired of walking so I decided to go home and rest for a bit.
At around 7:00PM, I went out for dinner. I took the train to Jonggak Station near Insadong. There wasn’t much to see since most of the stores were about to close when I got there. I figured maybe because it was a Sunday and it was getting late. Luckily, I managed to grab some food to go. My tip is to go early and avoid going on a Sunday if you don’t want to end up like what happened to me.
Myeongdong Street Night Market
The final stop of the day was Myeongdong Night Market. Yes, again. The street food here is just great. The entire street is occupied by food stalls in the middle of the road. It was the perfect place to go street food hopping. I stayed until 11 in the evening.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza AND Depart for Cebu, Philippines
I woke up a little late because I slept late last night and my flight back to Cebu, Philippines was still in the evening. I packed my bag and took a bath before eating breakfast. After breakfast, I checked out of the hotel and went to the list item in my itinerary, Dongdaemun Design Plaza.
I took my bags with me and left it in the locker at the station nearest to the design plaza. The architecture of the design plaza was just stunning in every angle. There is nothing much to see inside the design plaza though.
At around 1:00PM, I took the Arex to Incheon Airport, returned the pocket WiFi I rented, and waited for the check-in counters to open. 3 hours prior to departure, the counter opened and I checked in for my flight to Cebu. After passing through immigration, I bought chocolate scones at Starbucks and had some fried chicken for dinner in one of the restaurants. I boarded my flight to Cebu and arrived at around 2 in the morning.
Summary of Itinerary
- Depart Mactan Cebu International Airport
- Arrive Incheon International Airport
- Clear Immigration/Customs
- Claim Klook Bookings
- Arex to Seoul Station, Transfer Line
- Check-in at Hotel
- Dinner at 7/11
- Hotel; Sleep
- Breakfast at the hotel
- Seoul Apple Store
- Starfield Coex Mall
- N Seoul Tower
- Namdaemun Night Market
- Myeongdong and Myeongdong Night Market
- Hotel; Sleep
- Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral
- Changdeokgung Palace
- Bukchon Hanok Village
- Gyeongbokgung Palace
- Myeongdong and Myeongdong Night Market
- Hotel; Sleep
- Breakfast at the hotel
- Dongdaemun Design Plaza
- Arex to Incheon Airport
- Depart Incheon International Airport
- Arrive Mactan Cebu International Airport
Here’s a breakdown of my budget divided into 4 main categories.
Hotel and Plane Fare:
- Roundtrip Ticket via Cebu Pacific Air = PHP 5,473
- Agoda Accommodation = PHP 2,867
- TOTAL = PHP 8,340
- Pocket WiFi Rental = PHP 428
- Arex One Way (Incheon Station to Seoul Station) = PHP 239
- N Seoul Tower Observatory Pass = PHP 241
- TOTAL = PHP 908
Terminal Fee and Travel Tax:
- Philippine Travel Tax = PHP 1,620
- Terminal Fee (Cebu) = PHP 850
- TOTAL = PHP 2,470
- Average cost per meal = KRW 10,000 x 2 times a day (since breakfast is free at the hotel) x 4 days = KRW 80,000
- Transportation Expenses in Seoul = KRW 20,000
- Arex One Way (Seoul Station to Incheon Airport) = KRW 8,000
- Miscellaneous Expenses = KRW 20,000
- Changdeokgung Palace Entrance Fee = KRW 3,000
- Gyeongbokgung Palace Entrance Fee = KRW 3,000
- TOTAL = KRW 134,000 = PHP 5,941.66 (Exchange Rate: KRW 1 = PHP 0.044)
GRAND TOTAL = PHP 17,659.66
Cutting Down Costs
At this point, you might be wondering how you can further cutdown costs to PHP 15,000 ALL IN. With the above itinerary and budget breakdown, you can further reduce your overall budget by manipulating two factors – airfare and accommodation.
If you are lucky enough, you can book roundtrip flights to Seoul, South Korea for as low as PHP 3,500 via Cebu Pacific Air during their piso fare sale. When it comes to accommodation, Seoul has a lot of cheap accommodations to offer. You can find a decent hostel for as low as PHP 600 / night.
- Apply for a South Korea Visa at least 3 months before your intended date of departure.
- Download a copy of Seoul’s Metro Map. Get the link at the Pre-Travel Essentials section above.
- Keep the Orange ticket when taking the Arex as you can have the deposit refunded in your destination station through the self-service refund machines.
- It’s usually cheaper to pre-purchase stuff in Klook!
- The average cost of the metro in Seoul is KRW 1,100 per way. This should give you an idea on how much you need to allocate for your transportation expenses.
- Purchase your love lock before going to N Seoul. Love locks sold at N Seoul are quite expensive.
- There’s an entrance fee of KRW 3,000 for each palace you will be visiting.
- I highly suggest that you extend your stay in Seoul for 1 to 2 days. Doing so will give you time to visit Nami Island, Garden of the Morning Calm, and the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). I didn’t visit these places in this trip which gives me a reason to come back to Korea soon!
Don’t forget to visit my other blogs at JasperRamirez.com.