Thursday, February 20, 2014

Starting Up in Seoul

Aloha from the Land of the Morning Calm, South Korea!

Kevin Tangonan, former assistant at the HPU Office of Study Abroad. I'm majoring in International Studies and minoring in Diplomacy & Military Studies. Enrolled at Soonchunhyang University in Asan, South Korea, this semester on a Cultural Internship Program.

After an exhausting twelve hour journey from Wednesday morning till Thursday night, I made it! The grueling eight hour journey to Narita, Japan and the two hour layover followed by another two hour continuation to Incheon, South Korea made for one helluva' night.

I couldn't sleep as always on long international flights especially when a large selection of free movies are involved. In Narita, I was greeted by a holographic welcoming party, squat toilets, manga shops, and a lot of Japanese (which I was most afraid of, knowing really nothing about the language). I should have at least studied up at one point of the trip. Of course, I was also pretty scared of the high taxes of souvenir items as well. I was pretty lost and ended up wandering around most of my layover time before finding the right terminal.

Reached Incheon around 9pm and had to sit through Immigration for a good thirty minutes. The Tourist Police in the area were really helpful in directing and guiding all of the tourists throughout the process. No wonder why Incheon International Airport is one of the best airports in the world for a consecutive six years according to all of the boastful posters and billboards throughout the building.

45 minutes after the thorough airport procedures, I reached Seoul Station via the KORAIL AREX Express. At around 10:30pm, a short ten minute walk uphill and across the street, I checked-in at the Siloam Sauna. Siloam is a well-known jimjilbang (or temporary guesthouse-hot spa) with local Koreans and tourists alike due to its affordable and welcoming atmosphere. It was a really traditional experience and conveniently located despite the awkwardness of a communal bath. It was hard sleeping in a capsule enclosed matted area, but over the course of two days I've gotten use to it.

After the first night, I've also gotten the hang of using the rail and my T-Money card to get around the city. Having used my first day in wandering around the streets of Namdaemun Market and haggling for various bits of souvenirs. It truly has been an interesting beginning of my trip thus far.

To those who are planning to go or have not left yet, as a scout for study abroad, here are some tips:
  1. Wear layers- it's cold. If you like twenty degree Fahrenheit weather or the sniffles, then by all means wear casual, but that's really not recommended.
  2. Lost after arrival? My best bet for both Incheon and Narita is to follow some of the Westerners (since for the majority they were US servicemen and English instructors I found out).
  3. As soon as you leave the airport lobby, taxi hawkers will follow you (especially if you're an independent traveler). Walk fast to avoid them or pretend you're part of a group. They'll take great advantage of a foreigner especially at night when fares can increase tenfold.
  4. If you're ever heading to South Korea, exchange rates in Incheon International Airport are bad, Seoul Station is a tad better but well away from the airport. The best exchange rate from USD to Won was surprisingly in Waikiki at the DFS Galleria Department Store. In Seoul and Incheon- it was about 1000-1050 won to 1 USD. In Waikiki it was 1140-1165 won to 1 USD. That was a shocker for me.

Best of luck fellow travelers!

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