Before one embarks on a journey to every country, much research effort has to be put into the planning of the trip. That includes many hours of surfing through the endless cyber world. The preparations for a visit to Korea is much simpler because there is the help of the Korean Tourism Organisation in summarising almost all that you need to know about the country. There are maps and a travel guide available on request, which will aid immensely in the planning of the trip and throughout the trip.
Flight & Accomodation
Seoul possessed a world class airport in Incheon International Airport, which is widely connected to many major cities in the world. The KAvenyou team embarked on the journey from the sunny island of Singapore, and it is served by various airlines flying directly to Seoul in Singapore Airlines, Asiana Airlines and Korean Air. An average return economy class ticket ranges from SGD900 to beyond SGD1000 on a direct flight. The flight from Singapore to Korea takes approximately 6 hours and 25 minutes.
The adventurous KAvenyou team opted for a cheaper alternative of flying Cathay Pacific Airlines on a one-stop flight to Seoul. This also means that the team has to make a transfer at Hong Kong International Airport, before finally arriving at Incheon International Airport. However, do note that this cheaper alternative comes at a price in terms of taking almost 10 hours before arriving at the destination country.
When it comes to accomodation, most people will realise that they are spoiled for choices. The typical tourists can go for normal hotels, while the budget travellers will have a wide selection of guesthouses, guest hostels, and budget hotels. The Korean Tourism Organisation website will give everyone a good idea of the choices available. You will be surprised by the quality of the hotels in the country, and this applies to the budget hotels as well. A decent hotel costs less than SGD100 a night, which is still way cheaper than what you can find in Singapore.
Arrival in Incheon International Airport
Upon arriving in the airport, one will probably be greeted by a very clean and spacious airport, with directional signs in major languages like English, Mandarin, Japanese and of course Korean. It is almost impossible to get lost in navigating to the customs clearance and baggage collection area.
Most major hotels in Seoul are accessible via the airport limousine, which are coaches that goes directly from the airport to the hotels. Each airport limousine goes along a standard route and stops at specific bus stops or hotels. Therefore, it is important to check if your hotel is served by an airport limousine, or has an airport limousine that stops nearby, as not all hotel names will be indicated on websites and travel guides. At least for the KAvenyou team, it was not known that an airport limousine actually serves the hotel we reside in until we arrived at the hotel the long way. Airport limousines costs around 14,000 won as compared to taxis that can go up to 60,000 won for a trip to Seoul depending on traffic conditions.
The KAvenyou team being adventurous and ignorant, took the long way of utilising the wonderful public transport system of Korea. Since the airport express (AREX) is not connected to downtown Seoul (due to be completed December 2010), the team had to transfer to the main Seoul metro system at Gimpo Airport. Tickets are available at the station itself, but obviously buying a T-Money card (EZLink equivalent) that comes with various discounts makes absolute economical sense. There is a convenient store at the arrival hall of Incheon International Airport where the T-Money card is sold at 3000 won (only the card with no value). If you missed that, there is another one inside the AREX station. However, you will need to get a temporary card from the station officer to give you access to the convenient store in the AREX station, which is located beyond the gates. Using the T-Money card typically gives you a discount when travelling on public transport.
The AREX train and the Seoul metro is pretty much like any other metros or trains in the various major cities in the world. The connection and routings may look complicated at first, but it is actually clearly indicated by various colour codings. There are also digital displays on the train to indicate the station names, but the problem is some of the displays are only in Korean.
It is definitely good to be able to read the Korean characters and pronounce it correctly even if you cannot understand the words since many a times, signs that you can find along the roads are only in Korean, which you may have problems matching back to your English map without being able to even read the Korean characters.
This brings us to the end of part 1 of our KAvenyou Korea Free & Easy coverage. Do check back often and anticipate greatly for the next part of our coverage with more exciting things to come.