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Planning Trip to South Korea

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Jan 7th, 2008, 04:18 PM
  #1
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Planning Trip to South Korea

My wife and I are going to South Korea (from the US) in the next few/several weeks and would like your input. We've looked through some tour guides, including http://english.tour2korea.com/, but would like some input from fellow Fordorites who've been there!

MUST-SEE SITES
We're going primarily to pick up the baby boy we're adopting, but we will have several days for site seeing, too. We expect to spend most of our time in Seoul (or nearby).

CELL PHONES
We use Cingular phones in the US. For travel to Korea, we've read about rental cell phones, unlocking our phones (if possible), and international roaming from our carrier. What do you recommend?

ELECTRICAL OUTLET ADAPTERS
We've read that many hotels will have adapters we can use. Is that right? Or should we bring our own? Not real sure if we'll need adapters, especially if we don't use our cell phone chargers.

CAMERA
We have a Canon PowerShot S5 IS which we will use for stills, but we may also use it to shoot a little video (meeting our baby, etc.). My concern is that we can shoot up to 1 hour of video on a 4GB card. Since I don't want to lug my laptop, I'm not sure how many cards I should take. Any input?

That should do it for now. We'll probably have more questions as the trip draws closer.

Thanks!
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Jan 10th, 2008, 01:11 PM
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We went to South Korea last April to visit our son who was teaching there. We did not go to Seoul but flew in to Busan and spent our time there and around Masan.

We loved Korea! My son went to Seoul a few times but didn’t like it as well as he did Busan or Masan. We found everyone to be very friendly and helpful. In the part of Korea we were in we were followed around like Rock Stars it was so funny, everyone wanted to practice their English.

If I were you I would take an adaptor they are really pretty cheap at Wal-Mart or AAA. DS couldn’t find an adaptor when he looked for one in South Korea. The hotel you stay in may have one you could use if you need it.

We enjoyed seeing the Buddhist temples and the museums. If you search back I wrote a trip report. Go into a Lotte mart if there is one, it is a big department store we enjoyed seeing all the Korean products. The fish and produce markets are really interesting. Not only for the fish but people watching was fun. You will be amazed at their technology. The cabs were very cheap, but they drive like maniacs and I thought NYC cabbies were wild.

About the cell phone; I could be wrong but I think unlocked US phones will not work in South Korea. I seem to remember my son saying something like that.

We loved some of the food but we had some very interesting meals that I guess I would say I won’t ever have again! We loved Shabu Shabu and all kinds of rolled up foods (I can’t remember their names). Our son had his favorites and introduced them to us. We did eat at McDonalds and KFC (I Never eat at KFC and not so much at McDonalds either; but needed a break from the interesting food.

I ordered won from AAA before our trip so we had some when we arrived. A lot of people just use ATM’s at the airport which is great but we didn’t want to mess with that after a long plane trip.

As for memory cards for your camera, I would make sure you have plenty, even overkill if necessary. This will be a wonderful time in your life that you won’t be able to repeat and I’m sure you don’t want to miss one minute of it. Memory cards are small and the cost is small compared to your life changing moment.

We will probably go back in the future, our son in broken hearted at having to leave his Korean girlfriend and is already talking about going back to live.

How exciting you get to pick up your baby! You have many, many wonderful years ahead.
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Jan 10th, 2008, 03:34 PM
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Tribal leader,
I am a Korean American who makes frequent trips to Korea. I can answer most of your questions regarding Korea but not about cameras.
First of all, cell phones in Korea use CDMA network. Only Verizon wireless phones uses CDMA technology. I have used my verizon wireless phone in Korea many times to receive and make outgoing calls. I didn't have to do anything to the phone. However, international roaming is very expensive. $1.45 per minute. If you have a GSM phone, it will not work in Korea. maybe if you have a Tri-mode phone that has the capability to use both GSM and CDMA networks, it will work in Korea.

As far as sight seeing is concerned, i don't know what your interests are but Korea is a very modern country. There aren't that many old traditional sights. But if you want to get a taste of the old traditional korean village, I would suggest that you take 1 day to go visit the Korean Folk Village in Suwon which is about 30 miles from Seoul. I am sure there is a tour bus from any hotels in Seoul.

If you have any other questions, post it here.
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Jan 10th, 2008, 08:48 PM
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Hi Tribeleader,

I don't know if this response will appear twice...sorry if it does.

I visited Korea in November 2006 and I really enjoyed my time there.

With regard to sightseeing, yes Seoul is very modern with lovely shiny highrises. Because of the wars, many of the Korean historic sites are reconstructed. However, they are still very nice and worth a visit, especially if you are there already.

I really enjoyed the main palace of the Joseon dynasty – Gyeongbokgung. You can join a guided tour in English at specific times (admission included this guided tour when I was there), and the grounds are spacious. I love traditional Korean architecture, very colourful and distinct. The buildings in the palace are not huge like the ones in Europe or China, but they have their elegance and beauty. The museum on the grounds is worth a vist as well.

There are two world heritage sites in Seoul I visited and enjoyed as well – Changdeokgung (another palace) and Jongmyo (the royal ancestral shrine). The secret garden at Changdeokgung is very pretty.

For neighbourhoods, Insadong and Myongdong are great for browsing. Don’t miss the Namdaemun market!

Getting around is very easy with Seoul’s excellent subway. There are English and Chinese signs for place names at Subway stations.

For day trips, a visit to Panmunjeom is recommended. You have to join a tour to visit the border. Korean folk village and the world heritage Suwon fortress are nice as well, and these two sites can be done on the same day.

I heard that USO tours are supposed to be good, but I did not join any of their tours. They offer many tours covering sites discussed under this thread.

For food, I like bibimbap (rice with lots of little dishes) and Gimbap (Korean sushi – I ate this as breakfast). They have burgers with buns made of rice!

I don’t know about cell phones…but for adaptors, I wonder if you need this for your camera battery charger? I have a Canon digital camera, and I need a battery charger to charge my batteries (hence I need an adaptor).

Finally for memory cards, while I have no specific recommendations, there are many places in Seoul that sell memory cards in case you do need more. I bought one memory card at one of the huge electronic markets, and just walking at the market is quite an interesting experience.
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Jan 13th, 2008, 11:03 AM
  #5
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Thanks for the replies.

I think we'll pick up an adapter just to make sure we're set.

We'll probably rent a cell phone to use there (we use Cingular here, which won't work there).

Still deciding on memory cards. Problem is, we're not accustomed to shooting video. We should be in great shape for stills, just not sure about video (which will mostly be baby-related).

Thanks again, especially for the advice and recommendations!
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Jan 25th, 2008, 07:39 PM
  #6
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Thanks again.

A couple more questions ...

1. Any limits or adjustments on things to do (especially outdoors) or places to visit in the winter months (like Feb)?

2. Also, we understand it's the custom to bring a small gift to someone's house. We'll ask our agency, but would be interested to hear from others on this.
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Jan 28th, 2008, 03:34 PM
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Tribeleader, When we went to South Korea we took a bunch of little gifts. I took things from our area, which is Washington State. I took frango candies and Almond Roca; I bought a lot of different kinds and mix them up and put them in special fabric gift bags. We also took Starbucks coffee and special jelly and jams from our area. We live in apple country so I took boxes of applets and cotlets (which I personally can’t stand) but everyone said I just had to take them. My son said the girls he worked with loved Burt’s Bees wax so I also brought gift sets of Burt’s. Everyone really appreciated the gifts.
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Jan 29th, 2008, 12:47 PM
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Thanks, hester!

BTW, we just got the call and we're now making arrangements to go to Korea to pick up our baby!

However, we will need to plan around the Lunar New Year which will cause the adoption office in Korea to close on Feb 5 and will reopen on Feb 11.

We're thinking of going during the holiday and do some sight-seeing so that we're ready be there for the adoption-related stuff on Feb 11.

Question: Anyone know what it's like to be in Korea during this holiday? Is that a good or bad time to be there? Do many places close for the holiday?

Thanks. Again, we're hoping to make travel arrangements in the next couple days after we've gotten some input (here and there).
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Jan 29th, 2008, 02:35 PM
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Tribeleader, When I talk to my son later on today I will ask him about the holiday. He was there last year at that time. I bet you are so excited about your baby!

As I said before we were not in Seoul, but we found the Korean people to be so helpful and kind. The only thing that was somewhat crazy were the taxi rides. Although very cheap, they make NYC taxi rides a ride in the park.

Leslie
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Jan 29th, 2008, 06:35 PM
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TribeLeader, I talked to my son this is what he had to say. Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday of the year in South Korea. He wasn’t in Seoul he was in Masan but this is what he saw there. Transportation was a mess everyone trying to get to see their families. He actually thought that Seoul itself might not be as hectic because everyone is probably leaving to go to see their families so buses and the airport could be very hectic. As for shops and the like they might be closed for a day but he didn’t remember everything all closed down for the whole celebration. I hope this helps.

Leslie
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Jan 29th, 2008, 09:06 PM
  #11
 
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I just wanted to say I am thrilled about your adoption from Korea. My husband and I live here and Koreans are amazing people. I think you got most of your questions answered. Have a wonderful trip.

Oh, the Lunar New Year is a huge holiday for them, so most things will be closed the 5th-8th. Just wanted to let you know.
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Jan 30th, 2008, 09:29 AM
  #12
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Thanks, all!

We plan to talk to our adoption agency today before purchasing plane tickets tomorrow morning (if not today).
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Jan 30th, 2008, 07:41 PM
  #13
 
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TribeLeader,

Congratulations on your new family!

My son is in South Korea right now and has been trying to arrange travel over the holiday in both South Korea and Japan and has had a hard time booking things. Not much available and prices are high. Best of luck and please post a report when you get back...I know how busy you will be, but I know everyone would love to hear about your experience!
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Jan 30th, 2008, 08:13 PM
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Hi Tribeleader,

Here is what I found online from Life in Korea regarding the Korean Lunar New Year:

“The Lunar New Year holiday, also known elsewhere as Chinese New year, is second in importance only to Chuseok (the Harvest Moon Festival). Every year, family members make a grand pilgrimage to their hometowns. During the 3-day period, Seoul is almost deserted a most people leave the city to return to their ancestral roots.

Although many of the younger generation take advantage of the time off to go skiing or travel abroad, Korea's roads, railways, and skies are full of homeward bound travelers. People line up for hours when the bus and train tickets go on sale, about 3 months prior to the holidays. For those masochistic enough to try driving, taking over 24 hours to drive from Seoul to Busan is not unheard of! (Normally, it takes 5-6 hours. However, the family bond runs deep in Korea culture, and it seems that people gladly make the journey.”

And

“during the 3-day holidays for the Lunar New Year (Seol-nal) and Harvest Moon Festival (Chuseok) when just about everything shuts down except public transportation.”

For the tour2korea website, it lists a bunch of activities that you can do during the holidays as well as the hours of operations (I described many of the places listed in my previous posting):

http://english.tour2korea.com/03Sigh...4134&kosm=m3_8

http://english.tour2korea.com/12Home...=1&iPageToGo=1

I was in Seoul in early November and yes it got pretty cold already, especially the first day of sightseeing…it dropped to zero degrees Celsius with light wet snow. According to my Lonely Planet guidebook (I found the guidebook very useful), winter can get pretty cold – like minus 10 degrees Celsius. The palaces, Fortress and the Folk Village are all mainly outdoor activities, so be prepared. For Gyeongbokgung, there is a National Folk Museum on the grounds (admission included with the palace) that you can visit when the outside gets cold. For the Korean Folk Village, they have Korean cultural performances that are very interesting – the performances usually start around 11:00 am and 3:00 pm.

I have posted my photo trip report on Fodors as well if you are interested in what Seoul looks like through my eyes…

Congrats on the adoption!
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Jan 31st, 2008, 11:37 AM
  #15
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Thanks for all the helpful info so far!

If we can, we will probably try to arrive during the holiday (possibly on 2/8) then stay through the following week.

We will be sure to post a report. We're both actually in doctoral programs that require a "cross-cultural experience," and this trip will fulfill that requirement, too. We will have to do some journaling, reflection writing with that, and of course, will want to document as much as we can since we're adopting from there.

Thanks again!
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Feb 7th, 2008, 02:11 PM
  #16
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Greetings from Seoul, Korea!

FYI, my wife and I are keeping people posted on our trip and experiences while we're in Korea, in case anyone is interested ...

http://www.williswired.com

Thanks again. You've been very helpful!
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Feb 7th, 2008, 02:21 PM
  #17
 
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Tribeleader, I was wondering how you were doing. I enjoyed reading your blog. Have fun in Korea and enjoy your baby.
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Feb 7th, 2008, 08:48 PM
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Hi Tribeleader,
Thanks for your blog, and I would love to read more about your experience in South Korea.


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Feb 8th, 2008, 11:52 AM
  #19
 
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Wow...just found your post and blog. Hope you're enjoying your time there!

I'm a Korean-American adoptee (which I definitely had to learn how to say on my trip there this past June!).

Although you're already there and probably don't need anymore advice, I thought I'd also add about maybe staying at/visiting Jakwangsa, a Buddhist temple in Daejon...it's a great way to learn about the religious culture of the place.

And definitely make the DMZ tour if you can...if the USO one is filled up, they'll refer you to another reputable operator.

Jayna
travels at www.ususbaby.com
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Feb 8th, 2008, 03:15 PM
  #20
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Jayna! Thanks for posting.

BTW, I saw your post about your visit to agency where you were adopted from. If it's the same agency where our son is being adopted from, you probably saw him on your visit -- we believe he was there then!

How cool!
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