Traveling need not be expensive. It just takes a lot of research, patience and self-control.
Wherever I go I want to explore local markets & food stalls that serve authentic local cuisine. I especially like to eat where the locals eat.
I like walking. I like watching people. It takes very little to please me, but I appreciate a good meal, architecture and history.
For 5 days in Seoul, we (Rod & myself) only had a budget of AED 1,800 (PHP 25,000) to spend on going out. That included our meals, transportation, entrance fees, and shopping for some souvenirs & pasalubong (FYI: our accommodation, flights, NANTA show & hanbok rental were pre-booked via Agoda.com, Cebu Pacific & Klook.com, respectively).
We also spent some of the money to buy goods which we sold back home, like flavoured almonds and Korean cosmetics. The revenue somehow made up for some of the expenses.
Given this challenge, we thought of ways to enjoy Seoul without breaking the bank. Here are some of the highlights of our budget holiday:
- Use public transportation. I love the trains in Seoul – they are everywhere! It was so convenient to go around the city. We had a map with us and in some places there were tourist aids who helped us navigate, free of charge. Get a T-Money Card and use it to pay for public transit fares (buses, trains, taxis) in the city.
- Grab a sandwich for breakfast/lunch. There is a hole-in-the-wall called Isaac Toast located near the hotel we stayed at. We saw the long queues in the morning and we bought our breakfast-on-the-go out of curiosity. I was pleasantly surprised at how quick they prepared my food, so this AED 11 sandwich is definitely a winner. It was heavy enough to last me ’til afternoon.
- Visit Seoul City Hall. With its interesting modern architecture, there is no way you will miss this site. Inside it has the Green Wall which is a vertical garden that climbs up from the first to the seventh floor. While exploring the city hall we stumbled upon Gungisi Relics Exhibition Hall, an open lounge, Sky Plaza and even a library.
- Visit Gwangjang Market and sample free Kimchi. Like any other traditional markets, Gwangjang has a lot going on. I especially liked the part where you can just sit down and order whatever you can see, and the aunties will slice the food for you and serve them in small plates. I would have preferred if they heated the food prior to serving. I was not a big fan of the blood sausage too, but I still think this was a unique experience.
- Relax and take pictures at Haneul Park. This park gives you that romantic Korean drama feels. It was nice place to be after days of being in the city. Haneul (aka “Sky”) Park is a garden full of beautiful tall Eulalia grass, which gives it its unique character.
- Share Dessert at Sulbing. Even at 9 degrees Celsius, we could not resist giving this Korean dessert a try. We had 3 varieties – Mango Cheese Snowflakes Sherbet, Green Tea Choco & Strawberry Cheese Melon. We enjoyed all 3 flavours but my favourite is the green tea!
- Eat Street Food at Myeongdong. We stayed in a hotel that is only a block away from Myeongdong, which meant we were there every single night sampling street food! From lobster tails to pancakes to steaks – it was a foodie’s heaven!
- Pre-book Hanbok Rental. When we got to Bukchon Oneday Hanbok Rental, there were so many people lined up and waiting for their turn to start fitting. Had I not booked earlier, it would have driven me mad. It was a good idea to prebook and schedule the timings as I was their priority as soon as I arrived.
- Wear Hanbok to the Palace for Free Entrance. Wearing our traditional clothes, we walked around Gyeongbokgung Palace without having to pay entrance fees. It felt really nice walking around and taking pictures looking all made up!
- Try seaweed & other food samples at Lotte Mart. We had to check the big Lotte Mart at Seoul Station and try whatever samples we saw. I left with a big box of Korean snacks – Banana Milk, Honey Butter Almonds, Wasabi Almonds, Honey Butter Chips, etc.
- Spend time with fluffy cats. We stumbled upon this small cat cafe called 2Cats while walking around Insadong. We loved it, especially Rod who is a certified pet lover. We spent a good hour (or maybe 2, or 3 hours?) sipping coffee while petting and playing with the kitties and a bunch of cute Korean kids. This experience made me happy and relaxed.
- Have fresh seafood at Noryangjin Market. One of my favourite spots in Seoul is this clean, spacious market with fresh seafood! I regret not having tried more dishes (I was full after the plate of oysters), especially the King Crab. If I were to go back to Seoul, I would stay a bit longer here and eat!
- Try more street food at Insadong. This is another good area to try our street food. We tried the grilled barbecues and sweet fried buns.
- Take free make-up samples. Hundreds of make-up stores are lined up along the streets of Myeongdong and almost all of them were handing out face masks and other samples just to entice you to visit the store. Since we were staying near the area, we were there almost every night, so I have a bunch of these samples, most of it I gave away to friends!
- Enjoy a Sampgyeopsal feast for dinner. I love Samgyeopsal! Hot and steamy freshly grilled pork belly wrapped in veggies and dipped in spicy pepper sauce. Everything is fresh and flavourful, and served with a variety of appetizers. So simple yet so good!
- Catch up with friends over chicken & beer. When traveling I always check if I have friends currently in the country and I reach out. I met a dear friend whom I haven’t seen in more than 10 years who happens to be training in a hospital in Seoul! Such a good way to catch up, especially with sweet/spicy chicken, a glass of Cass Beer & a few shots of grapefruit soju!
- Rent a Segway in Nami Island. We arrived at Nami island via the first trip (our call time was 6:30am!), so it was not crowded and we felt like we had the whole island to ourselves. As we were there in autumn, the leaves were either red, orange or yellow. Everything was so beautiful! We rented segways and a family bike to go around. It was a bit tiring but so worth it.
- Appreciate traditional Korean architecture in Bukchon Hanok Village. It was like going back in time to see how houses looked like. This side of Seoul displays the contrast of old and new, crowded and peaceful, traditional and modern. It was a beautiful place for a stroll.
- Watch Cookin’ Nanta Show. This show is one of the best, most interactive shows I’ve seen with very talented actors/percussionists/dancers! I enjoyed it a lot and I highly recommend it. As mentioned, I booked the show ahead of time so I just went there with my vouchers and not have to worry about the payment.
- Walk around the city. On our last day, we had a few hours to spare in the morning before our afternoon flight. We took this chance to walk around the area and breathe fresh air. The colorful leaves were so relaxing to look at. This also gave us a a chance to speak with locals and learn a few Korean words along the way.
I kept track on our spending every night so I have an idea how much we have left, and also to remind myself to take it easy.
We are proud to share that, yes, we survived the challenge! We were focused on being in the moment and making memories, and not on shopping for things that we don’t really need. Most of the meals were shared, so we didn’t spend too much on that either.
With a little extra, we were also able to buy us fridge magnets as souvenir and seaweed snacks to share with friends and colleagues back in the Philippines and Dubai.