Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Traveling Korea/ Japan 2014

Long ago I promised an informative blog with travel links and tips that I spent many days of my life hunting down, translating, calling and sorting conflicting data to travel between South Korea and Japan.

The first thing that I did to really help me was make a spreadsheet with all the information from the various sources. This is a link to that and the picture below gives you a sample.

While I was traveling between Korea and Japan there were some smartphone apps that were extremely helpful. They are also all free!!! I tried lots of different apps and these were my favorite.

Currency ~ Most of the time I didn't need to use a conversion app, but this one would retain the numbers that I'd looked up even once I left an internet source. Most other apps would try to refresh and therefore lose the data I'd previously had. This app came in most handy when someone tried to rip me off and I could show them that I knew what they should be giving me.

Korean Builder ~ My favorite Korean language app. There are the general categories you can click on but you can also start typing (in English) and optional phrases and words in romanticized letters and in Hangul will appear so you can show someone the sentence or word even if you can't say it. It also has the option to use honorific, formal or polite forms. It is a free app so there aren't all the words you'll look up but there are plenty enough to get your point across and you can also update to a full version. This app also does not require internet access which in Korea isn't a huge problem, but nice to know none the less.

Korean Flashcards ~ A nice app for a few of those basics. You can choose whether you see romanticized letter or Hangul or both. And since no internet is required it's also an easy app to use when you're desperate to communicate.

Learn Korean Numbers ~ My favorite Korean numbers app. Korean numbers are tricky because there's two different sets and they use each set for different things and both for telling time, so it's important to be able to reference both quickly. Most apps only have the Sino-Korean set. This app is free and you can practice the numbers as well as practice telling time in the app. Super helpful!

Maps With Me ~ This app lets you download maps of a specific city or country to your phone so you don't have to have a wi-fi connection to see where you are. This app was really really really helpful in Japan where wi-fi is scarce and never free.

Subway ~ This is the number one app for using the subway system in Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Daejeon and Gwangju. The system is super easy to maneuver anyway with color coded number systems posted everywhere below as well as above ground. I travel a little bit and Seoul is an easy place to get around. I did not have the opportunity to use this app outside of Seoul so I can't comment on its effective in the other cities. However, this app is a must have as you can pull up the subway map with romanticized stop names so you can figure out where you are if you don't read or speak Hangul. You do have the option to use it in Hangul as well as Japanese too. The app gives you the fastest route to and from where you'd like to go and timetables for departures. I can't say enough about how good this app is!

Talking Translator ~ One of the translator apps I liked using but it does require an internet connection. It gives you options to hear the translated word or phrase, keeps your history and will even give you daily words in a language of your choice.

Translate ~ Of course Google translate is also a go to translator option but beware to only use it for basic sentences and words because it doesn't translate larger sentences correctly at all. I'm being very serious and have had ample experience when I first moved to Korea and couldn't speak a word, nor could my neighbors speak a word of English. Hours were spent trying to communicate through translator apps and Google doesn't work with anything remotely complex. Talking Translator often did better with longer sentences than Google.


The cheapest way was eventually concluded to be to purchase separate one way airline tickets to Hiroshima from Seoul and back to Seoul from Tokyo. Then purchase a JR Rail pass. They may initially seem expensive, but the trains are a great travel option and the tickets are a steal compared to the prices the locals pay. Do be aware though that you can't get the rail pass once you are in Japan. You must purchase it outside the country and have it mailed to you! 

■Prices of Exchange Orders (as of September 1, 2014)
38,880 YEN
19,440 YEN
29,110 YEN
14,550 YEN
62,950 YEN
31,470 YEN
46,390 YEN
23,190 YEN
81,870 YEN
40,930 YEN
59,350 YEN
29,670 YEN

When purchasing one way flights to Japan you'll see pop ups warning that you may not be allowed to fly or enter the country without a return air fare. This wasn't actually a problem, but it did alert me every time I went to purchase a flight. You can look for the sale flights and get some absolutely amazing deals on some of the local airlines. I've listed several of them out in the spreadsheet.

I did lots and lots and lots of research into what is called a Joint Ticket. It was apparently created for an international games event, but no one in either country and in any travel service company had any knowledge of how it works, how much it costs, what's included, and especially how to get it and use it in both countries. If this option had been attainable, I think it would have been the cheapest and best deal, but it was so complicated it was most certainly not the way to go.

There are also ferries and if you have more time to enjoy the crossing, it might be worth the trip. Be wary though because the websites aren't very clear when each boat leaves and where it goes. Definitely call and reserve the ferry you want at the time you want and verify every detail on the phone. Every time I called, the people were helpful. Sometimes not always informed, so make sure to call a few times or ask a Korean friend to call for you.

When you're in Seoul, the T Money pass is the way to go. You can't get a refund for the pass, but it makes a great souvenir and I also learned, a great zipper pull on my coat! They're very easy to buy at almost any convenience store and super easy to use. The metro system in Seoul is the best way to travel unless it's late. Taxis are usually reliable although sometimes hard to find in certain areas.

The next step is to ENJOY KOREA AND JAPAN!!!  They are amazing countries and I really enjoyed visiting them. They are very different in many ways. Read a little about the customs and manners before you go. They will not only appreciate it but show great enthusiasm that you cared to learn about them and their culture. They are kind and generous people who take great pride in everything they do. It will spoil you and you'll return to the States with a new perspective. But that's why we travel. To learn and to appreciate new ideas and perspectives.

If you find any other helpful website and/or have more helpful tips for travelers, please post them in the comments. I wish a blog article like this had been available when I was planning this trip so I want to help as many people as I can have an easier time planning than I did!