12 days, 6 cities in South Korea for under $2000

I’m finally done the sums and I’m proud to announce that I’ve somewhat done a rather ‘budget travel’ trip to South Korea!

My total expenditure for the trip was $1,922.05 (Disclaimer: this amount has been adjusted to include the ‘treats’ that I received and gave in Korea).

Well, if I exclude the amount I spent on shopping, my travel would have been $1,616.57 which is pretty similar to the other article on Tripzilla where this blogger survived 12 days under $1,600.

I’m once again sorry for not being able to keep this article short and sweet because being longwinded is my hobby I have too much information to share/rant/whine about.


2017 has been a pretty exciting year for me and it’s barely June and I have been on 3 vacations (Japan, Bali and South Korea) and I’m expecting my next trip to Taiwan in about a weeks time. In case you’re wondering how on earth do I get so many days of annual leave, well that’s because I don’t have to apply leave from anyone (for the time being and I hope it wouldn’t be too long).

Anyway, my trip had been rather exciting (Click link to read in full detail) as it was a loosely-planned trip but the focus of this post will be on the costing and budgeting of my trip.

If you want to stop reading this super long entry from this point, the most useful information about this post is that I spent

  • $47 SGD/night for accommodation (Twin-sharing)
  • $40 SGD/day for food
  • $17 SGD/day for transportation

You can use these numbers to budget how much to bring to Korea.

My other budgeting posts on Europe and Krabi had been quite popular so I thought that I should spend some effort in doing up one for my South Korea trip though I think most travellers would rather not attempt and copy my itinerary since it was truly anyhow-whack.

My last visit to South Korea was back in August 2013 where the exchange rate was 860. This time round, the exchange rate was 805 =/ Despite the rising cost of living in Seoul, I was surprised at myself for keeping my expenditure within $2,000. When we were planning the trip (or did we not), I had no budget in mind as we had not much clue on what we wanted to do or where we were going so yea.. it was that random and ad-hoc.

Click to read my full trip itinerary instead

Okay, so here is my table breakdown and after that, I will be giving some useful tips on how to be kiasu keep your cost low.

Details

 Per Person (SGD)

Airfare – Singapore to Incheon (via Taipei)

  • Fly by SCOOT (8 hr 35 mins)
  • Includes 20kg baggage each for both ways

Travel Insurance

  • Bought MSIG (Gold Plan, 2nd cheapest) at 50% Discount

$315.88

$40.00

Accommodation (twin/double beds; amount to be divided by 2)

$517.55
Transportation – 165,500W

  • Top-up T-money card – 35,000W
  • Inter-city Bus Rides
    • Seoul – Cheongju (7,700W/normal)
    • Cheongju – Gunsan (13,000W/normal)
    • Gunsan – Daecheon (5,200W/normal)
    • Daecheon – Anmyeondo (11,300W/normal)
    • Anmyeondo – Seoul (12,500W/normal)
    • Chuncheon – Sokcho (13,400W/normal)
    • Sokcho – Seoul (21,200W/luxury)

* Normal = 4 seats per row; Luxury = 3 seats per row

  • Train Rides
    • Seoul – Chuncheon (6,200W/no reserved seats)
  • Taxi Rides (already divided by 2)
    • 40,000W
$205.59
Food – 383,538W (approx $40/day for 12 days)

  • Breakfast (6 days * 2,625W)
  • Lunch (10 days * 12,870W)
  • Snacks (12 days * 6,716W)
  • Dinner (9 days * 12,944W)
  • Supper (4 days * 10,500W)
$476.44
Attractions – 39,700W

  • Return Ferry to Seonyudo – 25,800W
  • Seoraksan Entry + Cable Car – 13,500W
  • Abai Village Ferry – 400W
 $49.31
Misc 

  • Laundry (60 Mins Wash + Dry) – 7,500W
  • Locker Rental – 2,000W
 $11.80
Shopping – 245,913W

  • Cosmetics/Skincare
  • 1 Shirt, 1 Cap
  • Lotte Mart shopping Spree
$305.48
 Total $1,922.05


Here we go..flyhoneystars tips on being super kiasu and cutting cost to the best of your ability

1. BOOK AIR TICKETS DURING PROMO PERIOD

Image result for scoot 1 for 1 promotion

Fly Budget to Incheon via Scoot (Stopover Taipei)

Well, the main reason why my expenditure was kept so low was due to my ridiculously cheap air tickets – $315.88 (includes 2-way 20kg baggage) by Scoot.

I’ve been observing Scoot promotions for quite a while and they usually have a ‘3-Day Boxing Day Sale‘ from 26 to 28 December every year. I highly suspect it could be a permanent fixture because this sale will allow them to end the financial year on a high since money is collected at the time of booking. Let’s hope this trend continues.

Usually, the number of promotion tickets available are very limited (perhaps less than 10 per flight) and it might be a problem if you are intending to book in a big group. Also, do take note that long weekends date (even if 10 months in advance) may be blackout dates so always prepare some backup dates. Another thing you should note is that AXS payment ($5 surcharge) is usually disabled during promotions so the additional $20 for credit card fee is kind of compulsory. In order to ‘score’ the cheapest ticket, you may have to sacrifice in some way or another. For my case, we didn’t plan to stay in South Korea for 12 days but because of the ticket pricing, we ended up having such a long trip which only meant that I had to take more annual leave.

I booked my tickets on 27 Dec 2016 (5 months in advance) when they had a “1 for 1 Promotion”.  We had to book the tickets in pairs (I was somewhat thinking of a solo trip initially). If you plan to travel alone or in an odd number group, you’ll be left out from their promotion 🙁 Most airlines promotion favours pair bookings. urgh.

If waiting till December is too long for you, you can check out the “Take off Tuesday” promotion every Tuesday morning at 7AM. The price and destination of the promotion differs from time to time so you can just observe for a few weeks before making your purchase.

I managed to book round trip tickets to Taiwan (during June holidays) at $250/pax because of their Tuesday promotion.

Fly Full Flight Airlines via Thai Airways (Transit Bangkok)

For the same travel dates, we used Skyscanner and found another affordable option by taking Thai Airways. The price was $356.70 but I did not choose it because the return flight duration was 13 hours 35 mins and it has 2 stopovers (Hong Kong and Bangkok). The additional 4 hours plus the extra exit and entry of aircraft did not make sense to me as the return leg would have been a lot more tiring since the travel is likely to be hectic and I was willing to trade my in-flight entertainment and food for the 4 hours.

Ramblings: Scoot gave us a delay of 5 hours and 55 mins so perhaps we could have been better off in the Thai Airways flight.. 

Direct Flight to Seoul

For Direct flights from Singapore to Incheon, there are 3 options – Korean Air, Asiana and Singapore Airlines.
Ticket price ranges from $650 (during promo with T&C) to $1200 (without promo)

Conclusion: Taking Budget Flights + Booking during Promotion Period can save you a lot of money.

2. BUY INSURANCE ON PROMOTION

I always emphasise the importance of buying insurance in all of my budgeting posts because it is easily forgettable in the midst of planning. With the increase in terrorism/disasters/accidents happening, buying insurance is truly a necessity.

Anyway, I’ve compiled a list of places where you can buy insurance from in my post dated back in Feb 2014. Most links are still active.

Usually, I purchase from the bank partners as there can be discounts up to 50%. For my trip (and in fact most of my trips now), I opted for the middle plan (second cheapest) which offers more coverage plus I would be taking boat rides and I somehow feel safer if I just spend the additional money for higher coverage.

I paid $40 (U.P. $80) for a 13-day insurance by MSIG/DBS. I’ve bought several times from them but (thankfully) I’ve not made any claims to date.

3. CHEAPER ACCOMMODATIONS IF YOU STAY OUT OF SEOUL

Apart from Airfare, accommodation is usually the next big spent. Out of my 11 nights in South Korea, I spent 4 nights in Seoul, 2 nights in Gunsan, 2 nights in Chuncheon, 1 night in Cheongju, 1 night in Taean and 1 night in Sokcho. Averagely, my accommodation per pax was 37,879W (SGD 47.05) per night, of which my accommodation in Seoul was the priciest at 45,000W.

Prior to my trip, I only booked accommodations for Seoul, Cheongju, Anmyeondo and Sokcho (7 nights). This leaves us 4 nights of uncertainty – which was what I wanted in my fluid itinerary.

Back in my 2011/2013 trips, I did the “find accommodation when we reach” method and we were successfully 99% of the time (There was once in Jeonju we almost couldn’t find a decent available accommodation). However, this time round, our brave souls were put to the test on our first night of uncertainty – in Gunsan.

Read my long-winded story about our Gunsan accommodation search

I’m pretty sure 99% of my readers haven’t even heard of Gunsan cause I only found out about the place and this island called “Seonyudo” few days before the trip. I thought it would be interesting if I did some island-hopping in South Korea (but this was not the case eventually). After the wedding in Cheongju, we bought bus tickets to Gunsan and on our way there, we found this accommodation online (from some Korean app, but we are unable to book) which looked pretty decent and it was near a famous bread shop. We took a taxi to the hotel but urgh crap, it was full for the night. Okay, so it was about 8PM at night and the weather was slightly less than 10 and the wind is blowing and we had 5 days worth of clothes with us and we were ‘stranded’ on not very well-lit roads. There was an old-school 70s looking Disco, random old uncles on the street and the remaining accommodations either looked too sleazy/old or.. somewhere that you just won’t feel comfortable entering. To be honest, I didn’t feel too scared that night but my friend who could read Korean was panicking quite a bit because the signboards around the area possibly meant that there were adult clubs (all of which I was oblivious to). Oh wells.

As we did not do much research prior to the trip, I had absolutely no idea what Gunsan had or where the popular areas were or whether there was any red light district area. So there we were, two girls combing the streets trying to find an accommodation that we felt comfortable entering.

Finally, we decided to try our luck on one which looked old but the neon lights were rather inviting and the name does not sound sleazy.

We were lucky! There was one remaining room and the ajumma was so impressed happy that my friend (a foreigner to them) could speak good Korean. Furthermore, two random foreign girls roaming the streets looking for accommodation at night is not very common. Thankfully the accommodation looked decent and it had the usual basic necessities – TV, hair dryer, soap and shampoo. In fact, the bed even had a warmer which we turned it off before we sleep.

Anyway, just a tip for you: It is perfectly normal to ask to look at the room prior to committing. We did that a few times and the owners are more than happy to do so.

 

Note: At $47.05/night, this number is slightly on the steep side as we travelled during the ‘golden’ week of Korea – 1st week of May (3 Holidays in the same week – Labour Day, Buddha’s Birthday and Children’s Day). I’m pretty sure it can be lower if you’re not traveling on such ‘golden’ dates!

11 nights of Accommodation: $517.55

4. BUS RIDES ARE USUALLY CHEAPER THAN TRAIN RIDES

In all of my trips to Korea, I have never once taken the KTX train. Instead, we will take the buses (usually opting for the economy bus (40 seater vs 30 seater) instead of the luxury bus, where the prices will be 25 to 30% cheaper.

Just for comparison sake (Seoul to Busan)

  • KTX will take 2 hours and cost 59,800W (with assigned seats)
  • Bus will take 4.5 hours and cost 23,000W (assigned seats)

You can read this post to find out how to travel from Seoul to Busan by bus.

Another reason why I favour buses to train is because train tickets (at least the one with seats) are usually sold out early. Well, the safest method is to book early but I’m someone who prefers flexible timing and OTOT (Own time own target) at my own pace. Buses on the other hand are generally less popular (except for popular holiday/weekend dates), so the likelihood of securing a ticket after reaching the terminal is higher.

The only train ride I took in my trip was from Seoul to Chuncheon via ITX as the prices were quite similar to bus. We opted for the free standing option but we were lucky to get those foldable seats at the train door area. There should be 6 to 8 seats at every door so you need to be quick when you enter the train.

We spent a total of $205.59 on transport (inclusive of local buses and trains, inter-city buses and taxi)

This averages out to be $17/day which is pretty reasonable given that we visited 6 different cities. Furthermore, as we were exploring the smaller cities, the bus schedules were less frequent and we had to take taxis on multiple occasions because of my anyhow whack itinerary (ventured to unknown places after seeing photos on instagram).

5. FOOD IS CHEAPER WHEN SHARED

This is such a ‘duh’ heading but it is absolutely true in Korea, a country which discourages dining alone.

In my attempt to complete my “No Repeat Korean Food Challenge” (View my hashtag on instagram), I went out of my comfort zone and even ate innards (urgh).

Anyway, the point is that there are many delicious food in Korea which requires diners to order a minimum of 2 portions.

  • Fried Chicken (at least for the really nice ones) – You have to order the whole chicken. There isn’t option for half or 1/4 serving.
  • Andong Jjimdak – There’s only one serving size and even for 2 person, it can be a strugle to finish.
  • Dakgalbi – I love this dish so much but you can only eat it when you’re not alone. Even the korean restaurants in Singapore don’t serve 1 pax serving.
  • Grilled Meat – Most restaurants requires you to order 2 portions of the same meat. Technically you can eat alone – as long as you order more.

Not sure how true this article (http://www.koreaboo.com/buzz/south-koreans-are-starting-to-dine-solo-in-honbap-trend/) is but I hope that the trend increase so I can travel comfortably in Korea alone next time.

Then again, even if you’re alone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have to spend more money on food. You can reduce your food options to fast food, kimbab, street food (please, not in myeongdong; the prices are insane) or noodle dishes which are served individually.

Food for Thought: Now that I’m looking back on my expenses, I realised I made irrational decisions like paying more money for a cup of latte (7,000W) than my bibim naengmyeon lunch (6,500W). At the same time, I paid 2,800W for a macaron that I can finish in 15 seconds, which is about the average price I usually pay for breakfast at the convenience store. Sighs.. but I don’t think I’ll give up on hipster coffee joints anytime soon.. #firstworldtroubles

Averagely, we spent about $40 on food per day. To ‘save’ even more money, you should opt for accommodation that provides breakfast! However, sometimes I prefer the Kimbab and banana milk combination from the convenience store. On a random note, I think the amount of rice I ate in Korea is x2 my usual average. I have no idea why but their rice tastes super delicious!

Total amount we spent on food: $476.44

6. VISIT FREE ATTRACTIONS

There are many things you can do for free while travelling without spending a single cent. There are many articles off the web and some are more useful than others:

Just so you know,  wearing a Hanbok will grant you free entry to many Palaces – including GyeongbokgungChanggyeonggungChangdeokgung and Deoksugung! There’s an awesome article by VisitKorea which gives you tips on photo-taking with your Hanbok.

You can consider renting Hanboks from Trazy or Klook.


My favourite observatory in Chuncheon where you can watch the sunset.

In Chuncheon, we didn’t spend a single cent on any attractions because we did not visit the popular places like Petite France and Nami Island. We didn’t even get to do rail-biking because my anyhow whack itinerary did not pre-empt us to plan ahead and book. As a result, it was obviously full since it was a public holiday. On the other hand, because we failed to complete the touristy ‘been there done that’ checklist, we found super hidden gem cafes off Instagram that I really love (and will return) and ended up at a famous (to locals) dakgalbi restaurant (which we had to wait 60+ queue numbers for) because I made the decision to hop on the bus without checking if it was the correct direction. Life, is full of surprises. Sometimes the wrong decisions end up being the best ones. #randomthoughts

Of the $49.31 that I spent in this category, the main bulk (25,800W) was for a ferry ride to an island (Seonyudo) I only knew about few days before the trip. Visiting that island was an impulsive decision (it kind of looked on the way) and I went with the intent of cycling from island to island, thinking it would look cool. But I guess expectations and reality were in stark contrast due to my lack of research and.. terrible scenery from the yellow dust storm. Prior to visiting, I wanted to film some ultra cool video of my visit to this #randomisland but the weather was just so disappointing. It wasn’t rainy or anything but the skies were just too foggy/misty. The only thing I did was to video my friend doing a zipline across the beach. We also had our most expensive meal (70,000W for 2 pax) in Korea (seafood sashimi + fish soup) on that island. and that was it.

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Click to read my full trip itinerary in greater detail

I will be back with more posts, especially on my off-the-beaten-tracks Chuncheon explorations together with my #norepeatkoreanfoodchallenge.

If you like what I’m writing, feel free to comment and share the love <3

Other posts you may be interested in:

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