Jeju island is a special place with impossibly blue ocean and black beaches
In spite of the rising popularity of Korea as a destination for Asian tourists (the food! the shopping!) and plenty of English teachers and K-Pop nerds from the western world, South Korea is still one of the less visited countries in Asia. 

As with Taiwan, I’ll never quite understand why. If I had to choose the one country in Asia, or even the world, in which I’ve had the most fun travelling, it would definitely be Korea! It’s quirky beyond the pure “cuteness” factor often attributed to Japan. Every single Korean person I’ve ever met is a real personality – even if that sometimes means a bit crass and rude. Outside Seoul, language issues can be a problem, although it’s no harder than elsewhere in Asia and for me, makes up a big chunk of the fun (except that time we were put on the bus to the WRONG airport because the driver couldn’t even be arsed to look at our ticket, because foreigners must want to go to Seoul, right… in the end, it wasn’t a big deal thanks to the very flexible airline policies in Korea).

Korea is sometimes described as something in between China and Japan, and I agree – you will notice many similarities with both – but ultimately, it’s its very own distinctive place once you get to know the people and culture and don’t stay in a bubble of the hipster areas of Seoul.

Itinerary
Korea is full of friendly dogs!
We flew into Seoul and spent almost 2 weeks there, including a day trip to Suwon. We then took a train to Daegu to meet a friend and spent 3 nights there, before we took a flight to Jeju island. We spent a week split between Seogwipo and Jeju City, the two only cities on the island. From Jeju, we flew into Busan and spent another 3 nights there.

Accommodation
Korea offers many different accommodation options. I have to admit that I’ve had less than stellar experiences with hostels in Korea as a solo traveller. This is not a very individualistic societies and Koreans will pity you if you go anywhere alone, even for a coffee. Thus I had hostel staff following me everywhere and being creepy. That said, hostels in Korea are usually cheap, new and offer a lot of amenities, so they are definitely worth it, especially IF you are looking to be social.

For this trip, we stayed in a studio apartment via Airbnb in Seoul, Daegu and Jeju City. Korean studios are all pretty cookie-cutter, but mostly very new and well equipped and have big windows (apartments in many big Asian cities can be so gloomy!). In Busan, we stayed in a hostel/hotel hybrid in Busan which was just fantastic value for money - we got our own small double room and bathroom as well as daily changing cooked breakfast. Our most expensive night was the 4-star hotel in Seogwipo, which was £50/$71 per night. Our cheapest stay was the studio apartment in Seoul at £21/$30 a night – however, this place was a bit older and more neglected than the others. I recommend spending at least $40 a night in Seoul if you’d like a spotless, modern place.
Over average, we spent £22/$33 on accommodation per night and person (not the prices above are for room/apartment in total).

Transport
Apart from a train trips and a flight to and from Jeju, we also used local subways and buses as well as a few taxis, which are very affordable in Korea and also offer a translation hotline for foreigners, which we luckily never had to use. However, you definitely want to have the name and address of your destination written in Korean – carry a card or let someone write it down for you. In Jeju, we used taxis to take us one way to the beginning of the day hikes we too. For this purpose, we circled our destination on the map and never had a problem getting to the right place.
The most expensive transport item was the flight to Jeju and back for £130. Note that you can get much cheaper flights to Jeju island, however, it can be quite tricky to book as Korean budget airlines only accept Korean cards. There are loopholes, but in the end we were happy to have gone with Asiana/Korean Air, who have a very flexible policy regarding changes. So when we were put on the bus to Seoul airport when we meant to go to Busan airport from Daegu, it wasn’t a big problem and we received a full refund even though we cancelled the flight just 3 hrs before departure!

Taxis are very cheap – even going to the airport in Busan was just £4, and most trips in Jeju were in the £2-3 range for 5-15 k trips. Public transport is also affordable, with the high speed train from Seoul to Daegu costing £25, although the slower local train is half the price. In Seoul, the subway is fantastic and most rides cost between £0.06 – 1.00.

Overall, we spent £200/$285 on transport in 4 weeks in Korea, but please note that 60 % of that was for the Jeju flights.

Food


not for the seafood averse!
Oh food, glorious food! Korean food is one of my favourites, and luckily it’s very affordable. Travelling alone can be a bit more difficult, as most places serve a gazillion of side dishes and won’t accept single diners. However, most of our meals came in around £7-10 for two people. My fantastic Korean friend introduced us to Korean

sashimi or hweh, which is a true experience for real seafood lovers. Don’t expect any fancy pants sushi bar, but many half-alive creatures on your table – it also comes with a higher price tag. Our most expensive meal was a 12 course vegetarian “temple cuisine” experience in Seoul, which cost £25 per person. I have to be honest, it was not worth it at all. Chinese temple/veg restaurants as well as Japanese temple cuisine are much nicer and not as overpriced. On the cheaper end, we ate a lot of street food and market food, where a dish like spicy rice cakes, gimbap (Korean “maki” rolls) or a simple soup with dumplings and veg is usually around £1-2 each, and two of them will fill you up. You can also get cheaper items such as all the animals on a stick, sweets and other snacks.

temple cuisine

Korea has the highest concentrations of convenience stores in the world, I believe, and they are almost as good as their Japanese cousins, selling rice balls and light meals (not as much choice as in Japan) as well as snacks and booze. We used them to buy snacks for day trips and late night drinks (seriously, every building we stayed in had its own convenience store). On the other hand, supermarkets are insanely expensive in Korea. As in: Scandinavian expensive, and that’s just for local food. Anything exported has astronomic prices. No wonder Koreans mostly eat out and cook only very simple dishes at home. We did splurge on some wine and pasta, as well as frozen dumplings and veg for salads, as well as muesli and fruit for breakfast, and ended up spending £200 in total during the month for the two of us in spite of eating out at least once a day. So if you want to save money in Korea: Cooking your own food is the wrong place to start.

Overall, we feasted on Korean food and indulged in convenience store snacks and European lady comforts for £6.50/$10 per day and person – that’s also exactly the same amount of money we spent in Japan. You can definitely do it at half the price if you stick to street food, convenience stores and the occasional nice meal (and manage to drink Korean booze, which I can’t stomach except for makgeolli).

this was ONE round of side dishes...

Activities and other costs
spooky Jeju forest
Just like in Japan, most of the best activities in Korea are free! We did visit some temples and museums (all of them free) and hiked around Jeju and Daegu. We did pay £20 each for a kimchi making + dressing up in traditional clothes experience in Seoul, which was cheesy but fun, and another £20 each for a day tour in Jeju, which was infernally bad because the company insisted to run the tour although the entire day was so stormy we couldn’t really leave the tour bus. The third activity we spent money on was a guided tour of the secret garden of the Changdeokgung palace in Seoul, which was absolutely worth it. In Seoul, we had to stop at a dog café/doggy care centre in Hongdae to see what all the fuss is about – it was a fun visit with very happy dogs for the cost of only two overpriced soft drinks. We also visited two Korean jjimjilbangs, which are somewhat giant spas and leisure centres. In Seoul we went to an older one for a $5 entry fee, but I highly recommend the swanky Spa Land in Busan for around $15 (depending on time of visit).

Overall, this added up to £60 for activities in a whole month exploring the country.


Total: Our daily total travel cost for this Korea trip (26 nights) was £38 per person and day. That's currently $55 or €50.

Incidentally, this is as almost the same as we ended up spending in Japan, although we didn’t move around as much in Japan as we did in Korea. However, I definitely notice a trend here: While travel in Japan seems to be getting cheaper and cheaper, prices in Korea have been increasing over the past decade. Especially accommodation in Seoul is very expensive and can easily surpass Tokyo prices – sometimes it’s even more on a Hong Kong level! Still, I think Korea is hard to beat in terms of value for money and fun factor!




Vietnam is fantastic, but can be exhausting. Even for cats in rice wine breweries.

So... this is 2016! 2015 was completely different from what I had expected - I hadn't expected to go nomadic again until late 2016, but 2015 began with a big urge to leave London. We've been on the road since June now, and will be for quite some time to come.

Anyhow, December continued much in the same vein as November... 

Hanging out in Da Nang

NEVER ever go with airbnb in Vietnam. We had five attempts in the last weeks, and except one, all of them were a catastrophe... last minute cancellations, bug and mouse infestation, leaky air cons, broken kitchens and incessant noise made our trip a lot less pleasant than it should have been.

This was my third time in Vietnam, and the first time that people seemed rude and out to rip us off everywhere we went. I now understand why people can dislike and never want to return to Vietnam, although I'll definitely be back and see this as a one time hick up.

We ended up spending 10 days in Da Nang, a city that offers very little do to and is not very pleasant to hang out, because other accommodation options had failed us.

Discovering Dalat

We had a much better time in Dalat, Vietnam's garden city, which is popular with Vietnamese tourists but not so much with foreigners... because it looks a lot like France or Switzerland! We had a great time discovering the surrounding countryside, walking around the lake and parks of Da Lat and exploring the French quarter and the Da Lat crazy house, which is like a real life Dali painting. 

We then spent a week in Hanoi, my favourite city in Vietnam and SE Asia, in a fancy but extremely noisy flat. Pollution in Hanoi was terrible. My favourite thing came at the end of the trip: We took a trip to the countryside with Bloom Microventures, about which I will blog in a while. Then it was off to Thailand

From Bangkok into Isaan

sometimes the path less travelled is less travelled for a good reason
We hadn't planned to spend time in Isaan or Thailand, but general unhappiness with South East Asia and lack of reliable internet stopped us from going to Laos or Burma, as planned initially. Isaan is the poorest and least visited area of Thailand (only 2% of tourists come here). While it's a relief to not be pestered by vendors and embarrassed by drunk, scantily clothed backpackers, I understand why nobody comes here. The food sucks, it's pretty much all meat and rice, plus terrible muddy fish sauce that goes into ALL local food. I've never seen to many cockroaches and rats in my life. Transport is terrible. Local buses are crammed to the brim with no aircon or even fan. Even tuktuks refuse to take us places. Yes, there is a lot of stuff to see and do, but all this puts a damper on it.

The verdict: SE Asia is still my least favourite part of the world, but I tried. I'm just unable to relax and enjoy the "easy life" you can have here as a weahlthy foreigner, when I see to much social injustice, and especially the sexpats with their Thai wives and girlfriends. I just can't. We've been focusing on work, studies and using the pools and gyms that seem to be included in most accommodation we stay at. 

We're in Isaan for another few days, and will fly back to Europe after a week in Bangkok. I'm happy to be leaving. 



There is this myth that won't die, that travel in Japan is expensive. And it can be, especially when you visit Tokyo and Kyoto, all the temples that charge an entrance fee,  and take the bullet train between the two cities. It can also be very cheap. Japan has so much to offer and so many other, more affordable forms of public transport. Also, please note that prices in Japan have barely risen since the early 1990s, when the bubble economy collapsed. This means that Japan was a very expensive place to travel in the 80s and still for a good part of the 90s, but not in this century.

I have travelled extensively in Japan and spent now over half a year there within the past 4 years, and can confidently say that on average, travel in Japan costs about the same as in Eastern Europe. I always find travel in Japan way cheaper than in Germany and France, and much cheaper than the UK, US or Scandinavia, It's no Thailand and definitely the most expensive country in Asia to travel, but affordable and more than anything: Very good value.

Here's the proof:


Itinerary

My girlfriend and I have both been to Japan several times, and I am aware that this doesn't reflect a typical tourist itinerary, especially since we spent 32 out of 40 days in Osaka (although we did a lot of day trips within Kansai, so this will help you if you plan to explore that particular region, which I highly recommend). We flew into Tokyo Narita and escaped for Nikko right away. That's right, Tokyo is th one place in Japan I don’t like and will avoid at any cost. We spent 4 nights in Nikko and then took a bus to Hida Takayama, where we stayed 2 nights, with a day trip to Shirakawa-go and Gokayama. From there, we took another bus to Kanazawa and stayed for 2 nights. Then we took a train to Osaka, where we rented an apartment for a month and took day trips to Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, Koya-san, Arima onsen and also went for a few day hikes in the surrounding areas.


Accommodation

our very own old timey farmhouse!
We started with a guest house in Nikko, which turned out to be a small studio apartment with kitchenette, at £37 a night. We then spent two nights at a small country side cottage nearby (Nikko Inn - make sure to get a house away from the train line, though!) - these two nights were our most expensive ones, at £90/$135 a night... however, it was a great experience that I would absolutely recommend and well worth the money. We also stayed during "Silver Week" and paid peak prices, they are a bit cheaper usually. In Hida Takayama, we stayed at a traditional but basic inn, in a tatami room with shared toilet and traditional Japanese (read: share it in the buff) bath. The lady running the place included an amazing Japanese breakfast featuring the local beef, which sells for top dollar in the restaurants in town. In Kanazawa, we spent 2 nights at the Dormy Inn, which is an amazing business hotel chain that not only offers a great breakfast buffet, but also a free late night bowl of noodles (!!!) as well as a traditional Japanese bath, for about $30 per person and night. I've stayed at Dormy Inns as a solo traveller before and paid around $45 a night.

We then spent 33 nights in Osaka and rented two different airbnb 1 bedroom apartments. Both were in downtown neighbourhoods with great public transport and very spacious for Japanese standards - the kind of apartment a professional couple would live in when both are making decent money, not a single person or student. Osaka is my favourite city in Japan, which is great, because it's also the cheapest for just about anything. So our cheapest nights were those spent in Osaka at £37 a night for both of us - but note that we paid the same for the guest houses we stayed in (and just $5 more for the business hotel).

On average, accommodation cost us £24 per person and night, that's $36 or €33.


Transport

I mentioned that it's really not that expensive to travel in Japan if you ignore the super expensive and fast train option. The shinkansen, as well as the Japan Rail Pass, are useful if you want to travel long distances return trip in a short time. Other than that, you can get away with much much less.
The most expensive part of our trip was the train from Kanazawa to Osaka, which cost £36 for a 3.5 hour ride. You'd get this kind of price in Europe only if you booked your tickets weeks in advance, whereas we bought this on the spot. Trains from Tokyo to Nikko were about £15 one way, the buses between Tokyo and Hida Takayama as well as Kanazawa and were around £15-20, all well under $30 for 3-6 hr trips on very comfy buses.
most fun means of transport: Swan boat

Local trains, subway and buses in Kansai are very reasonable - you can go from Osaka to Kyoto, which is a 30-60 minute journey, depending on train type, for less than $10 one way. The most we paid for transport during our 5 weeks in Kansai was from Osaka to Yoshino and back, which ended up being around $30, and that includes taking a super fancy train back because we were freezing at night.

Overall, we did take some kind of public transport almost every day (although many days it was just the subway in Osaka) and spent £210 each on transport for 6 weeks. That's about the same price as for the Japan Rail pass for 10 days, and we did actually travel between Tokyo and Kansai and many other places (a lot of which are on train/bus lines that are actually not covered by the rail pass).

Food

Food in Japan is always amazing, no matter at which price point. I also love cooking, including Japanese food, so we did not eat out an awful lot during our time in Japan. We did, however, go for a fancy sushi + yuba meal in Nikko, which at £11 each was by far the most expensive food we had during our time in Japan.

dazzling Osaka supermarket
We did go to a lot of noodle and set meal places in Japan, which usually open for lunch and dinner. Prices at places like this are usually between $7-10 for a filling meal that includes a main (noodles and/or rice, fish and meat), miso soup, salad and pickles plus tea/water. You rarely need to order drinks in Japan, as water or tea is usually provided for free. Local beer is very affordable, though, and even exports will cost you less than in the UK, US or Scandinavia.

Other than that, we sometimes bought food from the convenience stores and food courts (recommended!) and cooked a lot ourselves. In Hida Takayama and Kanazawa, our accommodation included fantastic breakfast. We did sample a lot of Japanese microbrews and there might have been wine, too (which is cheaper in Japan than in the UK or US!). In the countryside, we bought a lot of groceries from farm shops, which is WAY cheaper than the supermarkets. We also indulged in a few "western" restaurants (Japanese-French and Japanese-Italian fusion is amazing) and visited the foodie streets and markets in a few cities.

Now here might be the catch about eating out: Apart from one or two places, nowhere we dined had an English menu posted outside. I think even if you are not familiar with Japanese food or language/writing, you should just go to whichever place looks good, don’t look for an English menu (although many places will surprise you find one somewhere). I've never had a bad meal in Japan and people are so welcoming and go out of their way to make sure you get something you like!

Overall, we spent £6.50 per day and person on food, which is just under $10 or €9.

Activities and other costs

This one surprised me, too: We spent very, very little, although we saw so  much! My attitude towards temples and shrines in Japan is: Why pay if you can see hundreds of thousands for free? We did a lot of walking, hiking and general exploring and were really never bored.

However, these are the things that we did pay for:
- Some of the temples and shrines in Nikko
- A swan paddle boat ride at Lake Chuzenji, Nikko
- A day tour of the UNESCO world heritage villages of Gokayama and Shirakawa-go
- Visiting an old samurai house in Kanazawa
- Some temples and shrines in Nara, plus deer cracker
- Spa World in Osaka
- Museum of Old Farm Houses in Osaka
- Instant Ramen museum in Osaka (actually, that's free, but we paid to make our own individual noodle cups)
- A traditional Japanese music concerts in the outskirts of Kyoto
- visiting the "gold spring" onsen at Arima
temple at Nikko

Apart from the Gokayama tour and Spa World, nothing cost more than 600 yen (£.3.50, €4.50 or less than $5). Overall, we spent just £75 per person in over 6 weeks. That's $110 or €100, and does not take account of visiting the amazing old districts of Hida Takayama and Kanazawa, wandering around Nikko, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara, eating and drinking ourselves silly in Osaka, or the many walks and hikes we took - the best things in Japan are always free!


Total: Our daily total travel cost for this Japan trip was £37 per person and day. That's currently $55 or €50. 

We didn't really watch our money and stayed in pretty nice accommodation. Our transport options were always comfortable. Staying in Kyoto or Tokyo or using the fast trains can easily double or triple that cost (we were so shocked by some of the food prices in Kyoto a few times that we just waited until we got back to Osaka. Even a bowl of ramen while changing trains in Tokyo cost as much as a nice meal anywhere else!). Other than that, I think this is a fairly good representation of the cost of travel in Japan. I've travelled in Southern Japan (Kyushu, Shikoku as well as Okinawa) by myself before and just paid a bit more as a solo traveller - rooms are usually priced per person, not per room, which makes Japan a good deal if you are alone.

Are you surprised by these numbers? Do you still think Japan is an expensive destination?
The amazing view from Yoshino, pretty even without the famous cherry blossoms




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