Budget: South Korea

DSC_0874Since many people often wonder how we pay for our extensive travels and for those who are about to take a RTW trip of their own, we have decided to start talking about how much travelers should expect to spend on certain things in each country so they can plan their own budgets.

We don’t keep an incredibly detailed budget or log of our spending but we know when something is too much money and we have no problem seeking out a better deal. We are actually trying to learn to track our expenses better so as time goes on, this portion of the blog may get more technical. I would say that we fall into a category of “budget travel” but we also didn’t travel halfway around the world to sit in our hostel room, eating bread and cheese. We make some sacrifices here and there, allowing ourselves to enjoy a luxurious meal or an expensive activity that is specific to the area, once in a while.

S. Korea uses Korean Won as their currency.

1,283 Won (KRW) = 1 USD
3 weeks in S. Korea = 1,060 USD for two people/ 530.00 USD each

(Ellie thinks it’s helpful to think of it as 1,000 to 1 because she feels like it’s easier for quick computation and keeps you under budget.)

Accommodation in South Korea

Seoul- We were in Seoul for 10 nights total. We couchsurfed the entire time aside from two nights after Ellie hurt her leg when we decided to get a hostel while waiting for our friend Moon to join us. The hostel was a 4 bed female dorm(though we had no roommates which was lucky) in the Hyehwa area. It cost us 16,000 KRW (12.47 USD each) each per night. It was a wonderful hostel called The Golden Pond that was very clean and modern on the inside and authentic on the outside. We highly recommend it. We saw hostels in Seoul that run anywhere from about 11 USD up to about 20 USD depending on location, rating and room size.

Seoraksan National Park- We ended up staying in Sokcho, which is 30 minutes outside of the National Park’s gates. We stayed at The House Hostel where we had a double bed, private bathroom with bathtub, television and A.C. The room was 30,000 KRW (23.38USD) a night and included a basic breakfast. We stayed for 3 nights.

Samcheok- we couchsurfed in Samcheok for 2 nights with Anna and Chance, spending no money.

Gyeongju- We stayed at a beautifully authentic courtyard guesthouse right near the Shilla hill tombs and paid 30,000 KRW (23.38 USD) a night for a traditional Korean ondol style room (meaning futons on the floor rather than beds.) We had a private bathroom, T.V, A.C. and a decent self-service hot breakfast. I believe the guesthouse was called Sang Cha Rae. I highly recommend it. We stayed for one night.

Seogwipo on Jeju island- We stayed 5 nights at the Jeju Hiking Inn and had a double bed, private bathroom, A.C., T.V., and free laundry. It was 22,000 KRW (17.14 USD) per night. Very cheap for Jeju.

Transportation in South Korea

We took a ferry from Qingdao, China overnight to Incheon, South Korea, which cost us 110 USD one-way each with our student discount.

Seoul- The subway in Seoul costs 1,000 KRW(about 85 cents) per ride but also a 500 won deposit is charged which you can refund at any station at the refund machines. Cabs in Seoul are pretty cheap, starting the meter at 2,200 KRW (1.71 USD) and rarely getting above 5,000 KRW for about a 20-30 minute cab ride. Cabs are a cheap and affordable way to get home after the subway stops running, especially if you pile four people in. The buses in Seoul coat about the same as the subway per ride.

Getting from Seoul to Sokcho: We took a bus and it cost us 16,000 KRW each (12.50 USD). The ride was about 2 hours.

Sokcho-The bus fare anywhere in the Sokcho city limits, including to the National Park costs 1,000 won per ride.

Getting from Sokcho to Samcheok- Again, we took a bus and it cost about 11,000 Won total(if we can remember correctly). It took about 2-3 hours.

Samcheok- We took cabs everywhere we went since it was about the same as getting the bus for two people. The most expensive cab ride was to the beach and cost us 4,000 Won (3.11USD) total.

Getting from Samcheok to Gyeongju- Another bus ride, which cost us 32,000 KRW (25 USD each). This ride was our longest at nearly 6 hours.

Gyeongju- The city is pretty compact and we walked mostly everywhere aside from taking a cab up the mountain to a vegetarian restaurant after dusk. The cab cost about 4,000 (3.11 USD) each way.

Getting from Gyeongju to Busan ferry port- One-hour bus ride that cost about 6,000 KRW( 4.67 USD) then a subway ride that set us back about 3 USD each to the ferry port.

From Busan to Jeju-do Island- We took the Cozy Island ferry, opting for the cheapest class of 212 people in one room. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds and only 42,000 KRW(32.73 USD) as opposed to the room with 48 people that costs about 65,000 KRW. Any amount after 20 is too much in my opinion so we opted to just go for the biggest and cheapest room since what’s another 150 of your closest friends?

Jeju- Bus fare was kind of expensive in Jeju, especially since at every transfer you had to pay again. The fares ranged from about 1,000 KRW to 7,000 KRW per trip depending on where you wanted to go. We took a couple cabs short distances and they only cost us about 3,000 KRW each time.

Food/Drink in South Korea

*We’re vegetarians and we mention this because we are not often going out for steak dinners which can rack up high bills, but we are food lovers and sometimes cost can be overlooked for value.

Food in Seoul: Seoul has any variety of food you could ever want at any price range. The two most distinct differences are whether or not you want Western cuisine or Korean cuisine? We ate at little Korean restaurants for under 6,000 KRW (4.67 USD each) for a very large meal and all the kimchi we could handle. Remember that side dishes are plentiful especially once you leave Seoul so it’s easy to fill up on these free accompaniments. We ate ex-pat Mexican for 8,000 KRW (6.24 USD each) for a fairly unfulfilling meal. We went to a crazy place that was only 14,000 KRW for all-you-can-eat mussels for the whole table and with loads of fancy Soju drinks and other appetizers, the dinner only cost each of us 8,000 KRW (6.24 each). We went out with Moon-Sook to a very fancy, highly gourmet Italian restaurant and it cost us 20,000 KRW (15.85 USD each) for a meal including crab, scallops and shrimp, but no wine or appetizers. We went to a vegetarian buffet that included all you can drink soft drinks and juices and cost us 10,000 KRW each (7.80 USD). We found chains such as Subway to be similar to the US. Basically, the standard is different depending on what kind of cuisine you are craving. Eating local specialties will always be the cheapest and often most rewarding option.

Food everywhere else in S. Korea: We mostly stuck to regional cuisine rarely spending more than 6,000 KRW per person on any meal, aside from a couple of pizza endeavors (which were surprisingly expensive in comparison) and our amazing multi-course meal at Baru in Gyeongju which was 15,000 KRW (11.69 USD) per person.

Drinks in S. Korea: The prices really don’t vary very much for drinks across the country. Fancy coffees in coffee shops are pretty expensive in S. Korea. They often cost about 5,000 KRW, which is a lot when you can get a whole meal for this much. Domestic beers in convenience stores were about 2,500 KRW, regardless of it being in gigantic Seoul or tiny Samcheok. Import beers in convenience stores were often about 4,000 KRW per can. Domestic beers at bars were about 5,000-6,000 KRW for a small can or bottle. Import beers start at 7,000 KRW and work there way up very high. Soju (Korean vodka) is cheap at both convenience stores and restaurants, often costing the equivalent to 1 or 2 USD per bottle. Definitely Soju is the way to go on a Friday night on a budget. Makelli, Korean rice wine is very cheap as well, costing only 2-3 USD for a decent sized bottle. Regular wine is absurdly expensive often priced at 30,000 KRW to start at the convenience store or restaurant. The cheapest bottle of red wine we found was for 19,000 KRW (14.80 USD) at a bar in a student area of Seoul. A bottle of water costs about a dollar and soft drinks are very small in South Korea and cost about 2 USD per can.

Sights/Activities/Side trips

In Seoul:

Palace: 3,000 KRW/ 2.30 USD with a guided tour

Jjimjilbang Spa: 10,000 KRW/ 7.80 USD for unlimited time

Dr. Fish: 2,000 KRW with coffee purchase

National Museum of Modern Art: Free for permanent exhibits

Noraebang Karaoke: 10,000-20,000 KRW depending on size of room and group number for one hour total/ 7.50-15.00 USD total

Side Trip to MudFest: 95,000 KRW/ 74 USD each for the whole weekend including our transportation and hotel accommodation for 2 nights.

In Sokcho:

Seoraksan National Park Entrance: 2,500 KRW each

There is a cable car that is considerably more expensive if you don’t want to trek.

In Samcheok:

Beach: Free

Limestone Caves: We went for free due to going with the middle school but we think they’re normally under 5,000 KRW per person.

In Gyeongju:

Shilla Hill tombs: Around 2,000 KRW each

Anapi Shrines: 1,000 KRW each

In Jeju:

Waterfalls: They normally run about 2,000 KRW per waterfall site, but try your student card.

Sunrise peak: 1,000 KRW each with student discount

Ferry to Udo: 6,000 KRW (4.67 USD) each round trip.

Beaches: Free

Overall, is South Korea a budget travel destination for Americans?

Coming into South Korea from China, I would have laughed at you because everything seemed much more expensive initially. However, when calculating these numbers, spending under 600 each for 23 nights is pretty cheap. We did couchsurf 8 nights, which helped keep our costs low, especially since it was mostly in Seoul where accommodation can get expensive quickly. In Seoul, we really partied without worry about money and ate a lot of delicious and gourmet food when Moon was around. On the flip side, during the mud festival, we pretty much ate Ramen in convenience stores because we couldn’t be bothered to find anything else. The sights in South Korea are incredibly cheap, rarely costing more than 5 USD a head, maximum. The bus transportation is certainly cheaper than the states with shorter distances to go due to the smaller size of South Korea . The shopping in S. Korea is also super cheap, such as in subway underpasses, you can find really trendy shops selling dresses for 10,000 KRW, which would be wonderful if you were taking a short holiday in South Korea. We kept our budget low by using Ellie’s theorem, most of the time, of applying the 1,000 to 1 ratio. This makes things look much more expensive. Overall, I would say that S. Korea is much cheaper than the US as you will rarely pay more than 6 USD for a nice local meal. Drinking can get expensive quite quickly so maybe learn to develop a taste for Soju which is cheaper than any alcoholic beverage I’ve ever seen back home. You would also be hard-pressed to find a hotel room for 20 USD a night in the States.
On a whole, I would say that even if you were eating at a mixture of gourmet and local restaurants and going out a few nights a week mixed in with a few sights and a trip from top to bottom of the country by bus, you could keep your costs much lower than anywhere in the States and even in Eastern Europe.

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2 Responses to “Budget: South Korea”


  1. 1 translator December 21, 2009 at 4:12 am

    thanks for this. i googled ‘soju cost krw’ and got your blog, which answered exactly what i was wondering. please continue to share your thoughts — they are imho well-written and interesting & informative.
    thanks again!


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