Difference between revisions of "Seoul"
Revision as of 03:22, 5 March 2006
Seoul (서울) is the capital city of South Korea.
With over 10 million people, a figure that nearly doubles if you include neighboring cities and suburbs, Seoul is by far the largest city in South Korea and the unquestioned economic, political and cultural hub of the country.
Seoul suffers from a partly unwarranted reputation for pollution and traffic jams. These days, strict emissions laws have brought the pollution under control (but then again, it's certainly no worse than, say, Tokyo) and, while traffic jams do still snarl up Seoul's streets at rush hour, the extensive subway network means that the traveller can easily shortcut through it almost all of the time. With beautiful palaces, great food and a hopping nightlife, Seoul is worth a visit.
Nearly all international flights to Seoul land at the brand new Incheon International Airport (ICN) west of the city. The airport is well signposted and caters to most traveler needs. There are two tourist information offices and many Global ATMs.
A train link to the airport is under construction. Continual delays have pushed back the scheduled opening of the section between the airport and Gimpo to March 2007, the final stretch to Seoul Station projected to open by 2010. For now, the options are to take a taxi (around W40000/60000 regular/deluxe), or one of the various shuttle buses (60 minutes plus, W8000-12000). There are two main varieties of shuttle bus: one operated by Korean Airlines which services major hotels directly, the other being part of Seoul's public transport system and going to various points in the city. Consult the big maps to figure out which route best suits your needs; you can then find the shuttles outside 1st floor arrivals. An alternative is to take a bus to Gimpo Airport station and take the subway in to the city.
As both buses and taxis are subject to traffic, allow extra time for rush hour delays; one possible shortcut is to take the subway to Gimpo and transfer to a bus there (see below).
The more centrally located but older Gimpo Airport (GMP) caters only to the shuttle service to Tokyo and domestic flights within South Korea. Gimpo Airport is easily reached on subway Line 5 (W1100 and 50 minutes to downtown). There is also a direct bus service between Incheon and Gimpo every 10 minutes, which takes about 30 minutes and costs about W5000.
Seoul is the western terminus of the KTX high-speed line to Busan.
Traffic jams are all too common in Seoul and drivers like to release their pent-up frustration by mowing down pedestrians, so be careful on the streets.
In Seoul, you can visit most places by using subways. There are currently 8 lines (10 if you count the Bundang Line and Incheon Line), with a 9th under construction. The lines are numbered and distinguished by different colors. All signs in the subway system are in Korean, Chinese, and English. The signs leading to the platform for a particular direction of travel on a given subway line typically list the names of a number of stations in that direction. Stations each have a 3 digit number, however Koreans don't really make use of these numbers and they're not on most subway maps, so don't rely on them.
Subway fares are based on the distance traveled, but the shortest ride costs 900 Won when using a magnetic ticket, or 800 Won when using a T-money card. Small magnetic stripe tickets are available for single trip or multiple trips, but the vending machines accept only coins; if there's no manned ticket office, there's usually a bill exchanger lurking nearby. Hang onto your ticket until the end of your trip, as you'll need it to get out.
If staying for more than a day or two, consider purchasing a T-money stored value contactless smart card. You can buy this card at most subway stations and many newspaper kiosks near subway entrances. The card itself costs 2500 Won and cash can be charged onto the card as often as you like. When entering and leaving a subway turnstile, place the card on the reader (leaving it inside your purse or wallet is fine) and it will deduct the appropriate fare from the card. When using a T-money card you can transfer between subway and bus at a reduced fare.
Although there is only one subway network, lines 1-4 and 5-8 are run by two different companies, so information is available on two websites:
Seoul also has an extensive bus service. There are four different kinds of buses. The color and size is different for each of them. The color (blue, green, red or yellow) describes the kind of route the bus takes. For example, red buses are long distance routes, and green buses connect subway stations to the surrounding areas.
There are three kinds of taxis in Seoul: regular taxi, deluxe taxi and call taxi. Deluxe taxis are colored black with a yellow sign, and are more expensive than regular taxis but provide better and more comfortable service. Regular taxis are silver. It easy to hail a taxi any time of the day or night along any relatively major Seoul street.
You can call a deluxe taxi wherever you are by calling 3431-5100. Sometimes you can find a visitor's guide taxi which is a kind of deluxe taxi, the drivers of which know English and Japanese and can guide you around Seoul city.
The basic fare for regular taxis is 1900W, with additional fare of 100W applied according to time and distance. In deluxe taxis, the basic fare is 4000W and the additional fare increases in increments of 200W.
If there is more than one passenger, and you are traveling only a short distance (eg 1-2 subway stops) it is usually cheaper to catch a taxi than to take a bus or subway.
Another kind of taxi is the AAFES taxi, although this type is mainly used by US military personnel on post. These taxis generally speak English better than the local taxis and take US$. The basic fare is $1.80 with additional fare of $0.30 according to time and distance. You can call for an AAFES taxi by calling 0505-736-5113.
As the ancient seat of Korea's royalty, there are no less than 5 major palaces in Seoul, and some are definitely worth a visit.
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There is an immense demand for ESL (English as a Second Language) instruction in Seoul. See the main South Korea article for details.
Fashion shopping in Seoul isn't a mere industry, it's an art form. Myeongdong is probably the largest and best-known area.
Apkujong-dong, widely known as "The Beverly Hills of Seoul" is the land of the brand name goods. International brands like Gucci and Prada sit alongside Korean designer brands. The fashionable people of Apkujong are often inspired by celebrity style.
Near the Cheongdam Intersection lies the heart of the Korean shoe scene. Cutting edge shoe shops include Sue Comma Bonnie, Hyaang, Heels and Namuhana.
Trends often begin in University areas like Hongdae. Hongik University boasts Korea's most famous art school, thus fashion in this area is often influenced by the students' artistic sensibilities. The shops in this area feature funky, punky, boho, and vintage style. Ewha Women's University also has a big shopping area in front of it’s main gate. Many trends also originate here. There are even sewing ladies who can help you make your own designs come to life.
Duty free shops: You can use United States＄, Japanese ￥or Korean W. There are clerks who can speak Japanese in nearly every shop. Also the following credit cards are accepted: American Express (AMEX), JCB (Japanese credit card), Mastercard, or Visa. There are duty-free shops in both the Incheon airport and in Myonodon.
It would take a determined man to starve to death in Seoul — although you may still befall this fate if you insist on English menus and meals consisting only of easily identifiable, familiar ingredients.
Seoul has plenty of budget places to eat. Everything from convenience store junk food and noodles to street stall food and lots of 24 hour Korean fast food restaurants. The 24-hour restaurants are great because they've usually got a wide variety of foods. Some great stews, soups, rice rolls, rice stir-fries and pork steaks with gravy. Prices do vary from about 2,000won to 9,000won at these restaurants.
Itaewon is Seoul's most famous nightlife district, catering largely to foreigners and locals who want to meet them.
Seoul's unofficial backpacker district is Anguk (subway line 3), located just to the north of the city center, within walking distance of the Gyeongsandong and Changdeokgung palaces. You can also reach the area directly from Incheon Airport with bus 602-1 to Anguk-dong stop (W8000, 80 minutes).
Love hotels are also a great option. They cost around W50,000 a night, more on saturday nights. They are usually in pretty good condition and they sometimes have a PC in the room.
Internet cafes known as PC bang (PC 방) are ubiquitous in Seoul, and usually cost just 1,000 won (about 1 USD) per hour.