My colleague is going to visit Seoul in several weeks time so I thought this might just be a good time to share a few of the things I wish I’d known before I went there. Why doesn’t anyone ever tell you these things?
Cheapest place for facial products
Now everyone knows that in Korea, facial products are aplenty and quite cheap as compared to Singapore. Innisfree, Nature Republic, FaceShop, you can find these shops along every major shopping street or mall. There are some slight variations in prices especially if you shop in a popular street vs a not so crowded one. My father has been to Seoul countless times for business trips and he told me that he once bought some facial masks (for my mother of course) for like $X. And try as I might, after visiting more than 5 different outlets of the said brand, I just could not find the facial masks being sold at the legendary $X. Instead, they cost 30% more than $X!
Well, that was until I visited the Lotte Department Store at MyeongDong. Specifically the 10th floor which houses the duty free section. When you get there, you will feel like you are no longer in Korea. The entire mall is pretty serene and orderly, but when you get to the 10th floor, it is like a mad house. It is jammed packed with people, and everyone is speaking Chinese! It is HERE, that you can find the the facial products being sold at about 30% cheaper than the shops outside! At least it was the case for those facial masks that I was buying.
How not to get ripped off at Noryangjin Fish Market
Everyone likes to visit Noryangjin Fish Market for some reason when they visit Seoul. I bet many of you readers out there have not visited your local wet market in years, yours truly included, but some how it’s different when being overseas. Visiting a wet market becomes a tourist activity.
The fish market is very old and cavernous. It’s rows and rows of stalls as far as the eye can see, although it seems most of them are selling similar things, just like how it is at our Pasar Malams these days. Language is not the barrier here as quite a number of the stallholders are able to converse in Mandarin or at least point out to you the cost of whatever it is that strikes your fancy using a calculator.
The problem of course, is how do you know that you’re paying a good price? Do not make the same mistake as me. I tried to eaves drop on the person in front of me (happened to be a Singaporean too). That person had bought 8 prawns for $25. When it was my turn, I managed to whittle it down to $15! I was so happy with my bargain and pleased with the fact that I did not get ripped off because hey I spent $10 less than the earlier guy! But then I realise 8 prawns for $15 doesn’t sound like that great a bargain for Singapore standards, does it?!
My best advice for you is to first go to a supermarket at the shopping mall and survey and memorise the prices of the items you’re likely to buy. This way, you know what the Koreans normally pay when at the supermarket. Arm yourself with this information and it will be a much more fruitful trip for you to Noryangjin Fish Market!
Oh btw you can take your raw goods up to the 2nd level for the restaurants to cook for you. My only advice is to just go for the most crowded restaurant, and just have your goods cooked simply (no need to opt for all the frills), to keep the costs down, otherwise it just feels as expensive as any other restaurant in MyeongDong.
Spare one day to visit the DMZ (Korean Demilitarized Zone)
Even if you plan to visit Seoul for just a few short days, try to spare the time to visit the DMZ. You need to pre-register for this (3 working days in advance thereabouts). It’s a surreal experience I assure you, knowing that just across the border, millions of North Koreans live in vastly different conditions. You also have to sign this indemnity form stating that you agree there is a risk of being shot dead while at the DMZ. Puts things in perspectives. Read about my visit to the DMZ by clicking on this link.
Follow the locals / Go to the business district to find good and cheap food
On the first day of our trip, we happened to be in the business district where there were few tourists. It was where we had our best meals at very affordable prices! Some of them are so hidden they look more like private residences rather than restaurants! We went there for dinner and had we not seen office workers go in in droves in the afternoon, we would not have dared to venture in. As it was, we paced the walkway 3 times before summoning enough courage. I dare say that particular meal of chicken stew was the best meal we had for the entire trip! Didn’t even know how much it would have cost either as we didn’t know if the price was for one pax or 2, but we were banking on the fact that it wouldn’t be too expensive for office workers and we were right.
In case you want to visit the same area, it’s the ”food street” that is opposite the Hotel Intercontinental COEX.
Cater for ample time to get to the airport!
This may not happen to you but when we were leaving on the last day, it took the hotel 20 minutes before they could get a cab for us on a weekday at 2.30pm. For some reason, there was a bloody jam on the road as well which cost us nearly an hour. We got to the airport at nearly 3.40pm for our 4.20pm flight and we still had to return the wifi router we had rented at the airport. I think we passed immigration at 3.55pm and thought we could at least breathe. Only to remember that you still have to take a shuttle train to the departure gates! The train took forever (ie 10 minutes), followed by 2 or 3 multi level escalators which we ran up.
We were so breathless by the time we reached the departure gates at 4.10pm. A few people were running ahead in front of us and I thought we had company, but they were in fact even later as their flight was due to leave at 4.10pm! There were some airport staff waiting at the top of the escalators shouting to them to run faster! It was the most horrendous and harrowing experience ever!! I can’t imagine what would happen if we’d missed the flight!