10 lessons from Korea free-and-easy trip

After nearly three years since our last family vacation, we could finally go for one. Unlike past trips, we only considered countries that did not require PCR tests or have movement restrictions.

When we booked in August, South Korea just opened up and we quickly found a great airline deal to Jeju. Alas, while the country was open for travel, we soon realised that PCR on arrival was still required.

Our hope was that that requirement would be removed by the time of our departure. And by God’s grace, it was!

AirBNB has been our go-to preference for accommodation due to the ability to house everyone in one place and cooking and laundry facilities. Having read about possible challenges communicating with hosts, we decided to go for hotels instead. Our picks were a hotel in the heart of Myeong Dong in Seoul and a resort on the southern coast of Jeju.

Sunset view from Y Resort in Jeju

On previous trips to Korea, we opted for group tours because we were concerned with language challenges. This worked well, especially with our 2011 group, who were fantastic travel companions.

This time around, however, we decided to go on our own — we booked and planned everything ourselves. Perhaps, we were emboldened by our countless hours of watching K-dramas where we learnt so much about Korean history, culture and a little of the language.

Starfield Library: A lovely place to read and have a cup of coffee.

Here are 10 lessons (not that we do not know some of them already):

  1. Koreans are friendly. They can be loud at times but are friendly and helpful. We were privileged to eat at restaurants where the locals helped us order and the owners gave us extras.
  2. Language is not a barrier. We knew only bits of Korean. When we did try to speak a little at times, the conversation got confusing because we could not understand the response. Having Google Translate and Papago help tons in bridging the gap. As did the many helpful locals who could speak English and Mandarin.
  3. Street food is SO good. Our accommodation at Myeong Dong was so on point. Immediately downstairs were street food and a night market. We tried various but the one that has left a lasting impression on us was the hand-made sausage — we went back for more.
  4. Michelin-starred dining. We’re not into ratings but found food that we wanted to try at Michelen-starred restaurants within our vicinity and at affordable prices too.
  5. Public transportation is easy and affordable. It’s so easy to get around in Seoul using public transportation. Caveat is that there’s lots of walking in the stations and the nearest elevator may be a distance away.
  6. Oranges are everywhere in Jeju. It’s said that anybody who does not have oranges in Jeju does not have friends. This is understandable as orange trees are everywhere.
  7. Car rental service is top notch. We’ve rented cars in many countries but none has provided us with a detailed briefing before we drove off. Our car rental service person was so patient and helpful. And the car’s GPS is fantastic. It guided us to wherever we wanted to go.
  8. Singaporeans are flooding Korea. On our flight from Singapore, we met a family from our church. On Facebook, a number of our church friends were in Korea the same time as us. In the streets, malls, subway, and restaurants, we saw and heard many Singaporeans.
  9. Daiso is nicely different. The Korean outlets carry many products that are not available in Singapore.
  10. Go slow when driving in the snow. Blizzardly conditions on the day we left made driving hazardous — the worst I’ve experienced even though I’ve driven in a few Pittsburgh winters. Even though I drove slowly, the car skidded at one point, struggled to move off at a couple of junctions, and the brakes took a while to engage. Overall, God must have sent extra angels to guard over us during that drive.

We will be back!

Winter is a great time to visit Korea but make sure that you are properly clothed. If you need to buy winter wear, get them in the city that you arrive in. Winter clothing is so affordable and you get to buy the latest designs.

Snow dancing on our last night in Jeju.

Your smartphone is a very important device in Korea. Emergency alerts are sent regularly — perhaps more so because we were facing the onset of a snow storm.

I’m one to check off the list and move on to other locations for future trips. But, the wonderful experience in Korea has got me thinking of making a return trip in the not-too-distant future.

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