Post-omicron travel to South Korea – Spring 2022

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I’ve been back from Korea for almost a week and I’m really thankful to my ‘past’ self for persisting to take the leap of faith, venturing into the unknown of omicron travel when things were somewhat getting better, but not quite yet. Somehow, despite the world slowly opening up to travel, more than half (and perhaps more) of the people around me are still hesitent in traveling as there is still too much uncertainty and risks involved. The fear of contracting covid overseas is still very real and it is still an administrative nightmare for many countires. Furthermore, popular destinations like Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Japan still remains beyond reach to tourists.

Like how I usually draft for my ‘trip reports’, I’ll start off with my expenses as budgeting is something that should come early in trip planning.

Expenses for the trip (10 days from end March to early Apr)

KRW to SGD exchange rate used for calculation is 1 SGD = 880 KRW

1. Return Air Tickets via Singapore Airlines, bought 6 months ago (when news of vaccinated travel lane was announced) @ $629.30

  • As my tickets were of the lowest ‘class’, the luggage allowance was only 25kg (not the usual 30kg)
  • One thing to note is if you are taking Korean Air, you will only be allowed to check in one piece of luggage. It is an annoying rule but it has been in placed since ten years ago.

2. Insurance @ $58 (Bought Travel Protect by Allianz from SIA website)

  • Please note that travel insurance of up to US30,000 coverage was compulsory for VTL travel.
    Since 1 April, it appears that insurance is no longer compulsory but travel insurance is very important and you should just get it no matter what. Medical cost overseas are insane. The insurance may also cover your flight changes and accommodation if your travel is disrupted due to covid.

3. Accommodation @ $748.16 (avg. $83/night)

  • Seoul, L7 Lotte Hongdae – 4 weekend nights @ $110.7/night , 2 weekday nights @ $80.4/night
    • Heart of Hongdae, 10 mins walk from AREX station (no stairs, smooth path and escalators), no bath tub
  • Busan, Hotel Foret Premier Nampo – 3 nights @ $48/night
    • Heart of Nampo-dong, right beside BIFF square, ample food and shopping around. Convenience store at level 1, no bath tub.

4. Covid related expenses @ $254

  • Pre-departure PCR test in Singapore – $96
  • On arrival PCR test at Incheon Airport – $136
    • Chose ‘West’ clinic as logo looked nicer. Price was 120,000W when I was in Korea but it has reduced to 80,000W from 1 Apr 22
  • 2 ART kits for Day 6/7 + pre-departure to Singapore – $5 per kit x 2 times + $12 for virtual session to get an official certificate
    • I used MYCLNQ – had to download app and make an appointment via app. Person ‘supervising’ my ART was a young part-timer staff but it was a no-nonsense experience and required me to show my ART kit for 5 mins. Certificate was generated and sent to my email within the next 5 mins. Printed the certificate out using hotel lobby’s PC.
    • Can refer to more options at Milelion’s virtual ART compilation article

5. Transportation @ $223

  • Return trip to Busan – $143
  • T-money card top-up – $80 (includes bus ride to and from jinhae, 2-way from incheon airport)

6. Food for 10D9N @ $576

The estimation below is given on the high side. I didn’t really keep track of my own food expenses as there were day that I skipped meals due to eating too much food in cafes and all those street food that we snack on randomly. Fun fact – coffee is more expensive than alcohol in Korea 😀

  • Breakfast @ $6; Tea/Coffee @ $8; Lunch @ $20; Dinner @$30

Total ‘damage’ for 10D trip to Korea ~$2.5k 

If you’ve been following my blog for a long time, you will realise that this is possibly the most expensive I’ve ever spent in Korea and the main reason would be because of the accommodation. I usually spend about $30/night if I’m with a friend or $50-60/night if I’m alone. Yep, now that I’m re-looking at my blog posts, my air tickets to Korea are usually under $600 during the pre-covid days because I usually book way ahead in advance.

Other random thoughts about Korea

  • You still gotta mask up everywhere. Everyone in Korea masks up and the risk of getting covid is still pretty high. The nationwide case numbers were around 300k to 400k daily when I was there and I think it is slowly dropping to the 100-200k numbers. These numbers are considered rather high but I guess given that most of the cases have mild symptoms, they are not braking on their opening measures and ‘living with covid’ will be the new norm. If you are covid positive, you will be required to self-isolate for 7 days and you would be allowed to get out after the 7th day, regardless of your test result.

 

  • The tourists crowd is almost non-existent (when I was there during end March) but this has changed drastically since 1 Apr, after they open up to all vaccinated travelers regardless of nationality. I spent two weekends in Seoul and the difference of crowd between the weekend before 1 Apr and the one after was pretty mindblowing. On the second weekend, I could hear fellow Singaporeans while shopping/walking through the streets of Hongdae and it was definitely a lot livelier as my second weekend had better weather (warmer) and the flowers were just starting to bloom. I’m pretty sure things will get crowded really quickly and as I type, it seems that Singapore plans to double the number of flights to Korea from next month. Sounds pretty crazy but I like the speed at how fast we are opening up. The tourism industry needs it badly.

 

  • Myeongdong is.. dead. If you’ve been to Myeongdong during the pre-covid days, you’ll be greeted with rows of shops, especially the cosmetic brands and the street will be lined with street carts selling food and random stuff. Now (dated 30 March), I believe that about 75% of the shops have all been vacated. I see such emptiness even at the myeong dong underground shops, and also at Edae station too. It felt pretty sad to know that many businesses (and some cafes that I visited in the past) no longer exist.

 

  • As it is the changing of seasons right now, the weather is pretty crazy. It is single digit in the morning and night and it freezes the shit out of you whenever the wind blows. However, during the day where the sky is clear and sun shines brightly, it is so hot that I feel like I could remove my outerwear and just move around with summer top. So for me, I travel with 3 jackets everyday – I have an outer Kathmandu windbreaker and for my inner jacket, I switch between a thinner nylon jacket and the thin uniqlo ultra-light down jacket (the one with feathers). I also ended up buying a hat there as the sun was so intense that I felt my hair was heating up too much. The happy/sad thing was that because the mask covers up like 3/4 of my face, I didn’t have to be too concerned with sunblock for my face.

 

  • Based on the photos that I’m seeing from Seoul right now, it seems like Seoul’s cherry blossoms peaked between 7th to 12th April. For me, I managed to see 60% bloom in Jinhae during my dates and perhaps 10% blooms in Seoul. It was mainly magnolias and plum blossoms for me. To be honest, the timeline to catch cherry blossoms in full bloom is really unpredictable and random. The only guarantee you can have is to stay in Korea for a month from 3rd week of March till 3rd week of April – and slowly travel up from the south. Not sure if I’ll ever get that luxury to spend one month traveling in Korea again (since my student days).

 

  • Filming locations hunting – I didn’t really plan to cover this exploration in my trip as I didn’t have any plan at all. There were thoughts to visit Pohang for the Hometown ChaCha filming spots but the transport logistics was too much of a pain for a solo traveler and I gave it up – retreated back to Seoul for a more in depth experience. However, I did chance upon the graffiti tunnel (featured in Goblin) while I was walking from Edae to Sinchon. By chance, I also walked past a filming location for Temperature of Love, a 2017 drama, which was in Yeonnam-dong, this popular cafe area near Hongdae.

Post-trip thoughts

While I am one of the lucky ones that manage to return back to Singapore virus-free (despite having many close shaves with possible exposures), I can now say that it is really alright to start seeking for the lifestyle that you have badly missed because of covid. For me, it means maximizing my leave days and going for vacations multiple times a year. There’s something about overseas travel that keeps me excited, refreshed and addicted. Perhaps it was the absolute freedom that I crave, the chance to speak to local friends and understand about the ongoing situation – everything from covid measures, covid reliefs to housing situation and even the kids education (yep, I do have friends that are now mothers). I also like beign able to temporary breakfree from my daily routine of work/sleep/entertainment and there’s a 1001 benefits that travel can bring to your life.

Normalcy will return soon 🙂

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  • I keep seeing the cherry blossoms in my Korean dramas, but I will never see them in real life. I’m always blown away by the beauty of the mass plantings of cherry trees in Korea. I just google-trip around! I think when you live in a city-state, is is only natural that you would be a country of travellers, and I’m glad that Spring is offering you some more freedom. Aja!