Fan of the Show Squid Game? Here are My Tips on Planning a Trip to South Korea
5 minute read
Here at Card Curator, we’re big fans of the new Netflix show Squid Game, a South Korean drama series. After watching the season, I began reflecting on my trip to South Korea that I took with a few friends back in 2017. So, I decided to share a few tips from my trip for our readers who are interested in traveling to South Korea after watching the series. Read on to see what they are, and I hope that you can use my tips when planning your trip.
Flight: My friends and I flew Korean Air First Class from JFK to Seoul, by using Korean Air Skypass miles. However, Korean Air Skypass miles are much more difficult to earn now as they are no longer transfer partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards. Although, you can earn Skypass miles directly with Korean Air’s credit card with US Bank. Our round trip flight on Korean Air First Class cost us each 160K miles and $120 in taxes for off-peak dates.
Additionally, Korean Air has their own business class and first class lounges, but they’re mediocre. I wouldn’t recommend arriving at the airport too early because there is not much to take advantage of in Korean Air’s first class lounge. However, I do recommend boarding as early as possible as their aircrafts are very nice. Korean Air’s 747-8i has the newer layout with fully enclosed suites; but the A380 has a bar in business class located on the second deck, with a smaller one in the nose of the plane, which is for first class and on the main deck.
My friends and I enjoyed the bar located in Korean Air’s first class section.
The flight was over 14 hours long; so, my strategy was to stay awake as long as possible, enjoy the dinner service on Korean Air (as pictured here), but also try to get a little bit of sleep until landing.
Seoul Hotel: For our stay in Seoul, my friends and I stayed at the Aloft Seoul Gangnam. The hotel was so affordable that we decided to pay in cash and save our points. This hotel was a Category 3 SPG hotel (Starwood Preferred Guest) and was worth 7K SPG points per night. Now, the hotel is a Category 3 Marriott hotel and costs about 17.5K Marriott points.
The hotel cost my friends and I $70 per night, out-of-pocket. I recommend the Aloft Seoul Gangnam for not only affordability, but for its great location as well. There are a lot of bars and restaurants in the area. Not to mention, if you’re a Marriott Platinum member, you can receive the free daily breakfast (it’s decent).
Photos of the Aloft Seoul Gangnam hotel interior.
Things to do in Seoul: Here are the top locations that I highly recommend when visiting Seoul:
The Jongmyo Shrine is the oldest preserved Royal Confucian shrine, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It can only be seen through scheduled group tours. My friends and I took an English speaking guided tour of the Jongmyo Shrine; the tour was about an hour long and filled with a lot of great historical information on the shrine.
Located near the Jongmyo Shrine, the Gwangjang Market is a must on any foodie’s bucket list when planning a trip to Seoul. There’s a lot of food variety at the market, but I personally recommend the Korean fried pancakes (whether with meat, veggies or seafood, all of them are delicious). Not to mention, the kimchi is phenomenal and you can also see the vendors making it, which is very cool!
The Gyeongbokgung Palace costs 3,000 won ($2.53 USD) to enter, but can be seen as a tourist trap. However, it’s worth visiting as you can see the beautiful views of the Bukhansan National Park.
Seoraksan National Park
The Seoraksan National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site and the perfect place for any hiking enthusiast. It took my friends and I approximately one hour and 10 minutes to climb to the top of the Ulsanbawi Rock Mountain Ridge. Before you begin your hike to the top of the mountain, you will see a large, bronze Buddha statue at the entrance of the hiking area. While the hike can be tiring, the breathtaking views from the top of the Ulsanbawi Rock Mountain Ridge make it absolutely worth it. However, I highly recommend fueling up on some food before starting your hike; there are lunch and snack options available upon entering the park. The fried chicken sandwiches were very tasty!
Honorable mention: Busan Busan is a large port city in South Korea, and is about a little over two hours away from Seoul. My friends and I decided to visit the city for one day and stay overnight. We traveled to Busan via the KTX bullet train and stayed at the Park Hyatt Busan, an incredibly beautiful hotel that has sweeping views of the port city. What’s very cool about this hotel is that the lobby is on the 31st floor, and has an awesome bar and lounge located within that floor. At the time, the hotel was a Category 4 Hyatt and cost about 15K Hyatt points for a one night stay. There was also the option to use the annual free night certificate, which is offered to Hyatt credit card holders. However, the hotel is now a Category 5 and costs 20K Hyatt points for a one night stay; the free night certificate is also no longer eligible.
During our visit to Busan, my friends and I went for a walk along Haeundae Beach, and then grabbed some drinks at one of the many bars on the main street. Next, we proceeded to a local fish market area located along Dalmaji-gil street. The fish market area is very local, and also a cool, unique experience. As per the recommendation of our hotel, we decided to go back to the fish market area for Korean sushi at Haeun Maru. This restaurant was a truly phenomenal local experience. We were brought multiple plates of food when we ordered from the sashimi menu. Forewarning, there are a lot of exotic options served, like wiggling octopus' legs, so be prepared.
Want to read more about my trip to Korea? Check out this latest blog postthat talks about it in further detail, as well as about the founding story of Card Curator. This trip was actually the inspiration for my app!
If you want to also step up your planning for your South Korean trip, be sure to download the Card Curator app! It’ll guide you on your daily card spending by telling you which cards to use for every purchase, and the best cards to apply for so you can achieve your travel goal sooner with the right credit card sign-up bonuses. The app will help maximize your credit card rewards, and can make your trip to South Korea basically free (just like my trip). The Card Curator app is available on both the Apple App Store and Google Play.
Written by John Garner John Garner is the founder & CEO of Card Curator. John spent 5+ years as a volatility trader for Merrill Lynch before deciding to start Card Curator and follow his real passion: credit card rewards and travel. To date, he has visited almost 90 countries by using rewards earned from 100+ credit cards. He’s an expert in all things related to credit cards and free travel, and loves helping others crack the code in the points and miles game.