Seoul has a four season climate, although winter and summer are very much the dominant forces. The Korean winter is COLD. From late November to mid March it's often below freezing, sometimes well below - reaching temperatures of around -18/19 degrees with alarming regularity. If you are in Korea in the winter bring LOTS of VERY warm clothes.
In Summer Korea takes on a somewhat tropical air in stark contrast to the winter. The summer also lasts a long time. From May through to September it is relentlessly humid and muggy. During June, the monsoon, it regularly rains heavily for days on end, and flooding is common. The rest of the summer is very pleasant - sunny and hot.
Traveller's from Western Europe, Australia or New Zealand can get up to 90 days visa-free, while Canadians receive a six-month permit, travellers from Italy and Portugal receive 60-day permits. Everyone else has to extend after their first 30 days. Extensions last for around 90 days. It is recommended that you get your Visa before you come to South Korea.
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If you are arriving on an international flight you will come into Incheon Airport. This is actually in a satellite city of Seoul (Incheon) but it's easy to get into Seoul itself. Incheon airport is brand spanking new and very user friendly. There is an information desk at arrivals where you can get all the info you need on buses and other means of transport into Seoul. By road it takes about 90 mins to get into the city. Alternatively you can transfer by bus to the subway system, and then it's about 90 minutes by tube.
National flights come into Gimpo airport, which is closer to the centre of Seoul, and again connected by buses and the subway.
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Here are a few hostels I found through google, I'm not sure what they're like but they seem to be very acceptable.
Anguk Guesthouse, 72-3 AngukDong JongnoGu, Seoul
Kims' Guest House, 443-16 Hapjeong-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul.
Seoul Backpackers, 30-1, IkSun-Dong, Jongno-Gu, Seoul
For more Youth Hostels click here
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Things to do
Seoul is overflowing with great things to see. It has everything you'd expect from a city of 12 million people. Getting from one thing to another is made incredibly easy by the Seoul subway, which is clean, efficient, safe, and very user friendly.
The Royal Palaces - Gyeongbuk Palace and Changdeok Palace, beautiful oriental architecture - courtyards, pavillions, pagodas, and ornamental gardens.
(for Gyeongbuk, go to the subway station of the same name)
(For Changdeok, go to Jonggak station and walk, therefore passing by Jogyesa on the way)
Jogyesa Temple - The largest and one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Seoul. Peace and serenity nestled right in the midst of the hustle and bustle.
Seoul Tower - Atop the mountain in Namsan Park, the Tower affords spectacular views of the city, especially after dark when the neon madness begins. Go to Hoehyeon station and walk, climbing the 1011 steps to the top, or get a taxi up to the top of the mountain.
Namdaemun Market - A sprawling maze of alleys, streets and indoor areas, in which are available everything you could imagine, and quite a few things you couldn't. Incense, pig's ears, ginseng, clothes, turtles, live octopus, Gimchi, vegetables, silkworm larvae, ceramics, import goods, gardening implements.......you name it, Namdaemun has it. Next to Hoehyon station.
The old City Gates - Namdaemun, Dongdaemun and Gwanghwamun. Spectacular city gates, preserved from the 15th century, especially beautiful when illuminated after dark.
Insadong - This is one of the oldest and best preserved streets in Seoul. These days it's lined with galleries, craft shops, traditional tea houses and quaint little cafes and restaurants. Street performances are common, especially at weekends throughout the balmy summer months.
Get there before it's ruined - a Starbucks has already appeared!
Seoul has something for everyone. From culture to a quiet drink, to full on clubbing. Here are a few of the good districts and what they offer.
Daehangno - The Theatre/Arts district. Daehangno is literally swarming with theatres and other cultural facilities. In the park, street performance is common, and the whole place has a delightfully artistic atmosphere. Bars and cafes help to keep the buzz going too.
Gangnam and Apgujeong - Two of the more affluent (and thus pricey) parts of Seoul. Nevertheless, good for a night on the town, both possessing a frightening number of bars, restaurants and hang-outs. Bring a full wallet if you intend to spend all night here (especially if you want to get into the swanky clubs in Apgujeong.
Hongdae (Honggik University) This is a very much student biased area (and thus really cheap!). Again, it swarms with bars and pubs (Hofs as they are known in Korea) populated by a very friendly young crowd, always keen to practice English on you. The last Friday of the month, Hongdae goes wild with 'Club Day'. You pay the equivalent of about $10 and it gets you admission to 11 different clubs, all night, in and out as much as you want. on Club Day, Hongdae is as lively as anywhere you could find, with both Koreans and westerners. it's a great vibe.
Shinchon - The neighbourhood adjoining Hongdae is also a buzzing place, with the same kind of young, friendly student crowd, hailing from both Honggik Uni and Ehwa Women's Uni.
Itaewon - Seoul's ex-pat ghetto. If you can tolerate all the GIs (until they get curfewed at midnight) then Itaewon can be a good laugh. It's as westernised a part of Seoul as you'll find, with 90% of the bar staff in all the pubs, bars and clubs speaking English. Be warned though, if you're going to get into any grief in Seoul, Itaewon is where it'll happen - largely because there are more inebriated westerners there than anywhere else. It's also the place to go if you want commercial sex. 'Hooker Hill' is as it's name suggests.
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One day trip from Seoul that should not be missed is the trip to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas. It's very informative, thought provoking, and at times both depressing and utterley surreal. This is about the last place where you can look the Cold War right in the eyes. It's a stark reminder of the reality of Korea's political situation, and has to be seen to be believed.
You can organise the trip by contacting the USO (tel no available from Korea tourist organisation). The trip leaves around 7.30 am,and returns to Seoul around 3.30 - 4pm.
Just outside Seoul in Gyeonggi Province are a number of beautiful National and Provincial Parks, such as Bukhansan and Suraksan. These offer excellent hiking through forested valleys and ridges, leading to the magnificent peaks of the mountains themselves. Possibly the best time to hike these areas is in Autumn, when the weather is ideal, and the autumn colours are spectacular. Likewise, in spring the hillsides are covered in cherry blossom. During summer, start early in the morning before the day gets too hot and sticky. Although the snowclad mountains are undeniably beautiful in winter, the bare granite of many of the peaks can be treacherous, and injuries are common. Take care if hiking at this time of year.
The parks are easily accessed via the subway system (Suraksan or Dobongsan stations)
A southern satellite city of Seoul, Suwon possesses a number of interesting historical and cultural gems. It has a folk village, where traditional life can be observed, including weddings and other events, and also has an impressive fortress and a good percentage of it's original city walls are still in place.
Suwon lies at the end of one of the branches of subway line no.1.
All over Seoul you will find establishments serving staples such as Kalbi (grilled meat), and other Korean basics. They are too numerous to list. Many of the bars and pubs (hofs) also have extensive food menus, ranging from bar snacks to veritable banquets. There's also a wide variety of such western outlets as Pizza Hut, KFC, Burger King, Subway, and Paris Baguette. For something a little better, try...
Sanchon Restaurant ( Insadong.)
This is a traditional little place in the heart of Insadong. They have an extensive menu, at a reasonable price, with lots of vegetarian stuff (a rarity in Seoul). In the evenings there are sometimes life music performances.
Come out of exit 6 of Anguk station, walk straight ahead and take your first left. Walk down Insa-dong until you see the Hakson Ceramics shop on your right. Directly opposite you'll notice the Atelier Gallery and a circular sign directing you to Sanchon. Follow the alley down and to the left, past Arirang-which is basically Sanchon for carnivores-and you'll see the ornate looking entrance with a copy of a New York Times review posted outside.
Chakra Indian Restaurant (Hannam)
This is a great find. The Chakra often does an all you can eat buffet. For 11,000 Won (about $10) you can stuff yourself silly on a range of about 35 different dishes from all over the subcontinent. All the usual suspects are there (bhajis, pakoras, samosas, naans etc) as well as about 6 kinds of rice and a good selection of entirely vege dishes.
Go to Hannam station, and then walk up the hill. You'll find Chakra on the left, about half way up. It's easilyidentified by the big Indian flag colours.
i mention this because it's about the only Mexican restaurant in Seoul. That said, it's a bit overpriced, and although the food is decent enough, it's nothing to write home about. If you find yourself gagging for a burrito, then this is the place to go.
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Bars & Clubs
Woodstock (Shinchon) Great music, from an enormous collection of 60s/70s/80s/90s rock and alternative. Requests are taken. The beer is cheap and the company is good.
Gold 2 (Hongdae) A great bar with good prices and a nice crowd. Seats by the window are paradise in summer, and you can watch the world go by beneath you.
The Queens Head (Hongdae) Worth it for the surreal value. This is the spitting image of a traditional English pub. Pricey but bizarrely noteworthy.
The Sports Pub (Itaewon) Get a table on the roof on a summer evening and enjoy the balmy atmosphere.
Hollywood Bar (Itaewon) Don't be scared off by the name. It's a nice crowd and decent prices.
Three Alleys Pub (Itaewon) Unusual for the area, 3 Alleys is usually more frequented by teachers than by GIs. Although the table arrangement makes for cliques, people are generally pretty friendly, and it's one of the few places you can get a 'pint'. They also have a good range of foreign beers.
M.I. Club (Hongdae) Trance and thumping dance tunes, with a friendly crowd, and a fishtank behind the bar.
Limelight Club (Itaewon) A mix of music, and a nice atmosphere, with an interesting mix of Koreans and westerners.
Info compiled by Carruthers.
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