The Republic Of Samsung, Hyundai/Kia or Kimchi would be fitting alternatives should Korea ever be renamed. It’s funny but true. Ubiquitous across Korea are Samsung televisions, Hyundai and Kia cars, and barrels of Kimchi. And it was through these brands and others like them, coupled with a uniquely korean sense of social solidarity, that Korea ascended to its current economic might. So although it’s not as cheap as it used to be, Korea is still pretty low cost, and not to mention loads of fun for the runaway backpacker.
By Plane: The cheapest way to get to Korea is to fly to Seoul’s primary airport at Incheon. However, you may also be able to find flights to it’s secondary airport at Kimpo, which is located 30 minutes closer to downtown Seoul. Flights from Europe and North America generally average around 1000$. For general information on finding cheep flights, check out this guide, How To Fly For Cheap.
By Boat: If you are coming from Japan, the ports of Fukuoka and Shimonseki offer the most frequent services to Korea’s main port and second largest city, Busan. There are two types of ferries. The Beetle, a high speed hydrofoil boat or a conventional ferry. The Beetle takes only 3 hours to traverse the 100 mile straight and costs around 120$. While the conventional night ferry costs around 70$ for a second class floor spot and takes up to 10 hours. If you are coming from China, you can catch a night ferry from Qingdao to Incheon (Seouls Port city) for around 120$. Additionally, the Shangai Shiping Company offers night ferries between Shanghai and Mokpo.
Price Index(2013): 1 USD = 1067 WON
Bottle of Water: 0.80$ / 1000 won
Pack Of Cigarettes: 2.20$ / 2500 won
McDonalds Meal: 5.40$ / 6000 won
Coffee at a cafe: 3.80$ / 4000 won
Beer at a Bar: 5.40$ / 6000 won
Eat Cheap In Korea: Food prices in South Korea are, relative to the USA and Japan, fairly inexpensive. By far the best way to get by for the budget runaway is by shopping at the street market and pigging out on street food. While most Korean street food is quite strange for the Westerner, all of it is delicious. Additionally, Korea is known for eating dog, so if your interested, check out this article first, Save The Cows, Eat DOG Instead.
Sleep Cheap In Korea: If you are in Seoul or any other large city, the “Gosiwon” is your cheapest bet. Originally established for impoverished or serious students, the “Gosiwon” provides a small yet cozy room for as little as 10,000 won/ 10$ a night. The bathroom and kitchen is shared, an ethernet internet connection is often available and there are usually laundry facilities on site. More, depending on your Gosiwon, they may provide a complimentary traditional spicy soup. A perfect hideout for a runaway.
Sleep The Street In Korea: In Seoul, you should be able to find safe spots to sleep for the night. Although it is an urban jungle, there are many parks and alleys in which a runaway can tuck away for the night. Even if you are discovered by the police, if you look like a backpacker, you generally shouldn’t have a problem. Alternatively, you can seek shelter at large train stations, buss stations and in metro stations. Check out this guide for more general information on sleeping on the street, How To Sleep On The Street.
Getting Around Korea:
Seoul: The cheapest and most convenient way to get around Seoul is through it’s extensive metro system. Ticket fares range from 1100 won/1.40$ to 2300 won/2.10$. If you are staying in Seoul for an extended period, you may want to consider buying a public transportation card such as a T-money card. Although it costs an initial 5000won/4.30$ fee, it will save you the hassle of manually calculating ticket fares and buying a ticket for each ride. Metro tip: If you ever make a mistake and need to re-enter the turnstiles, you can press the help button and a gate will open automatically.
Outside Of Seoul: There are many busses that depart from Seoul to nearly every corner of the country. There are two types of busses. The regular and express buss. The express bus isnt any quicker but sports business class seats for only a few thousand more won. The second and much faster option is Korea’s high speed rail known as KTX. With speeds equivalent to Germanys ICE, it makes the trip between Seoul and Busan in just about 2 1/2 hours.
Hitchhiking In Korea: Like much of Asia, hitchhiking in Korea is a far from common practice. If you are in the country side, you might be able to score a ride but I wouldn’t count on it. Check out this guide for general hitchhiking advice, A Guide To Hitchhiking.
Train Jumping In Korea: If you are really broke and need to get around Seoul, it is possible to enter and exit the metro without a ticket. All you need to do is go through the handicap gate by pressing the help button. However, ticket prices are usually very cheap and so it probably isn’t worth the bad karma. On the KTX high speed rail, it is possible to jump the train since your ticket is not checked when you board. Since I have never tried it, I do not know what the potential repercussions of being caught would be, so I can’t recommend it. Ticket prices are significantly lower than those in Europe, so it’s definitely worth the fare. Check out this runaway guide for European train jumping, How To Jump Trains.
Drugs & Alcohol In Korea: Like other countries in Asia, Korea has a very strict policy concerning marijuana and other drugs. And it is enforced as vigilantly. If you are caught in possession, there is a good chance you will be deported.
Korea has a strong drinking culture with the traditional drink of choice being So-ju. One popular and unique variety is called Makgeolli. It is usually around 6% alcohol but provides a mellow tipsiness that can’t be beat. It tastes like a mixture of sprite and yogurt. While it sound disgusting, it’s actually quite good.
Free Things To Do In Korea:
1) Visit one of Korea’s many beautiful temples. Try Haedongyonggungsa temple in Busan.
2) If you’re a foreigner, head over to Hongdae, Seouls nightlife district, and take advantage of free entrance fees at many clubs.
3) Hike to the top of Mt. Nam to experience great views of Seoul.
4) Explore the Han river that traverses Seoul. Talk a walk or bring a picnic.
5) Pick up free food samples in large markets such as Homeplus.
6) Search out the free promotional offers in Shinchon and Kangnam.
Korean Slang and Phrases:
1) Wha yi ting: A play on the English word fighting, this word expresses good luck or work hard. It can be used to encourage your friends to drink.
2) Service up seo yo?: Meaning can I get something on the house? Often times, if you buy a lot of food, they will throw in desert for free. Buy a bunch of clothes and maybe a free pair of socks.
3) Kack kka joo se yo: A useful phrase meaning, Can you make a discount?
4) Jeo gi yo: Use this phrase in any setting to get attention.The equivalent of “Over here” or “Excuse me.”
5) Mee chut seo: Meaning wacko or crazy person.
6) Babo: Meaning fool or idiot. Can be used playfully or as an insult.
7) Nalang gat chi ja go ship po yo?: Meaning, would you like to sleep with me tonight?
Recommended Readings & Films: