How to get a discount right away in Myeongdong – Buying Gift Certificates

So I am in Myeongdong at least once a week doing a Seoul city tour. While I’m there I am always checking out the great street food, the rates on the US dollar as well as the prices of sangpumgwon (상품권). That’s pronounced Sahng-Poom-Guwon. Memorize that word because it will give you an automatic discount when buying stuff in Myeongdong. You don’t need to register for anything and it’s completely legal. It’s one of the great secrets of Myeongdong that really doesn’t need to be one anymore.

So the sangpumgwon are these gift certificates that you can actually buy and sell from kiosks in Myeongdong like this one.

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Look for the Korean writing 상품권.
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This particular kiosk is located right out of Euljiro 1-ga Station (Line 2) exit 7, but you can find others inside Myeongdong.

These are real gift certificates issued by the respective company sold at a discount. People pass them up these kiosks without ever knowing they are being sold there because none of them bother to write it in English (nor in Chinese for that matter). But all you have to do is go to one and say that magic word. They will then present you with these gift certificates and you just tell them what kind you want.

There are 2 kinds: One for Lotte and the other for Kumkang Shoes.

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Lotte Gift Certificate can be used at any Lotte brand store.
Can be used to buy shoes at Kumkang Store in Myeongdong
Kumkang Gift Certificates. Big store with a wide selection of shoes in Myeongdong. Love Land Rovers.

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Common Mistakes Tourists make in Korea (part 2 of 2)

So last week I wrote up a post about the top common mistakes tourists make when they come to Korea. It was getting to be long so I broke it up into two parts. That was 1 through 5 and now I’m presenting the last 5 this week. They come in no particular order. Again, nobody is going to put you down for committing any of these, but it’s just good to know before coming here.

  1. They try to give tips – There’s no tipping culture in Korea. Do not tip your taxi drivers nor your waitresses. With customer service in Korea, you get 5 star service regardless of a tip or not because it’s already embedded in the price. It’s part of the reasons why a Samsung phone costs more in Korea than anywhere else in the world. No need to tip. The last thing we need in our economy is more inflation or worse…people expecting or demanding tips. If you really want to do something for us, a gift from where you are from is always a nice gesture.

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    15%, 25%? Pre-tax? Post-tax? No need to stress about that stuff here in Korea!
  2. Being afraid to ask for directions – When you first walk down the streets of Seoul, you may notice that people don’t really have expressions on their faces. They may seem cold or look unapproachable. But deep down inside what you will find is that the Korean people are extremely friendly. We are a society that is based on Confucian principles. One of those values is that it is considered rude to show in public, emotions that you are overly happy or even sad. People tend to mask this by maintaining the neutral face that you see. With that said, I wouldn’t just jump in front of people and ask for directions. They will run away. I suggest the slow, i-look-kind-of-lost-type-of-face approach while clenching onto a map. And don’t be afraid if you think that they might not speak English. The younger generation can speak enough to at least point you in the right direction. Don’t expect a full blown conversation, but they would be happy to help out and practice their English on you.

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    I.Seoul.U
  3. They don’t visit the DMZ because they are afraid of North Korea – I get a lot of customers who tell me they don’t want to visit the DMZ because they are afraid of North Korea. And then I look at them strangely, “Yet, you came to Seoul which is only 40KM away is perfectly fine?!?” So I’ll put it to you like this: If North Korea ever attacked South Korea, the DMZ is the last place they would start (JSA – The Joint Security Area for that matter). It is just as much a tourist spot for North Korea as it is for South Korea. If they were to attack, then they would probably start somewhere like the maritime borders like they did last time or just straight up bomb Seoul like they did at the start of the Korean War. Just go to the DMZ.

    DMZ at JSA
    The North Koreans putting on a show for us. Bravo. Well worth the price of the tour! It was better than Cats!
  4. They go with an travel agent that puts ginseng or raisin extract store on the itinerary – Or amethyst, seaweed or cosmetics store. Don’t get me wrong. Ginseng and raisin extract are great products of Korea and you should buy them as souvenirs. In fact, I live by ginseng and eat it all the time. But when you see it on the itinerary from the tour companies, you should beware. This may be a tourist trap – literally. They trap tourists in a room where a someone tries to sell you this stuff. There are no prices listed anywhere so it’s easy for them to jack up the price and they close the entry door on you. A lady will then start explaining the health benefits to it and give you a demonstration on how to use the product. Sure, there’s value in that and there’s no pressure to buy plus it might even lower the price of your tour, but you waste a lot of your limited time in Korea there. Your vacation ain’t that long!

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    If you really want ginseng, I would feel much better taking you to a Cheong-Kwan-Jang which can be found on any street corner in Korea with reasonable prices.
  5. They did not get a tour guide – As much as it seems like a plot to plug our services, it’s true. Even though Korean is a developed nation, it’s still very raw. We don’t have the tourism infrastructure that other countries have so it’s tough to go at it alone. Especially when you are trying to get outside of Seoul, you waste a lot of time with the language barrier and unfamiliar systems. A good Korean tour guide will tidy all that up for you. Sure you can read up on travel guides and blogs on how to get around, but the reality is that it’s pretty tough once you are here. And if you try to go about the palaces alone, they just become empty buildings with no character. You need a great guide to bring that all to life for you and tell you the stories that really makes these places so amazing.
    I say this because the last thing I want you to do is leave here with a bad experience or worse yet, leave here more confused than you did before coming here.

    USD Tour
    You are going to leave here so educated on Korea. You all are Korea experts now!

Some praise from our fans: Day Trip in Seoul, The Best Korean Tour Guide

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Rolling in the Deep…Mud

Just kidding. The mud is shallow and safe to play in and great fun!

What’s probably now known as the most famous mud festival in the entire world, the 10 day Boryeong Mud Festival is came to another close last week. Another successful year it was. We went through tons of mud, a slew of memory cards, and many servings of hangover soup. But if you are looking to extend your buzz, there’s a lot more mud where that came from in Korea.

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Korea is a peninsula that has beautiful beaches along the east and south coasts. But on the west coast there are these massive fields of mud, otherwise known as mudflats. People in this side of Korea know how to appreciate nature’s bounty and can be frequently found rolling in the mudflats or digging up clams and other seafood. The mud flats are then renewed and revitalized each and every day as the high and low tides brings in new life.

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Another noticeable feature of the west coast residents is their beautiful skin. A trait that is attained by frequent visits to the mudflats! A weekend for a local here is not complete without a quick roll in the mud. Cool and slick to touch, the feeling of mud on your skin is terrific.

in the mud

Perhaps, some might find the idea of wallowing in the mud like blissful piggies, distasteful. But how many times have we been taught not judge a book by its cover? Rolling in the mudflats of Korea is not the first thing that will come to mind when you think of tour in Korea, but it’s definitely worth a trip even before or after the Boryeong Mud Fest!

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The mud on the west coast is mud at it’s best. It has a clean, earthy mineral smell and the texture is thick and silky. You can dive, roll or just plop your feet in it. The mud doesn’t get too deep so you can be reassured every step you make. So it’s perfectly safe! No fear of drowning. No fear of being stung by jellyfish or other critters. And if children running around slip, then soft, cool mud is there to catch their fall.

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So spend the day at the mudflats! It’s definitely worth the experience. It’s a great way to enjoy beach activities with that added safety. Pitch an umbrella or a tent in the sandy areas. Lay out in the sun and build mud castles and of course, mud pies. There’s also areas where it’s full of crabs and other wild life to catch. You can set them back free or have a feast later in the evening. The mudflats offer much more to do than your traditional beaches.

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And don’t worry about cleaning up. There are showers within walking distance and guesthouses all along the beach area. Rent one out for the night and you can get all spic and span in the comfort of your own room. Most of them are nicely renovated and offer a variety of different amenities including hot tubs. Let us know if you are interested in us taking you there. It makes for a great tour of Korea.

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And remember that the mud fest is only a fraction of the multitude of activities to be enjoyed in Korea. There’s yet a whole new world to be discovered here!

Jeju Island – A Cheaper Alternative to other cities in Korea

It’s about as cheap as it gets. 49,800 Korean Won or close to $45USD.  That’s all you pay when you book a round-trip ticket to Jeju Island from Seoul around this time of the year. That is way cheaper than taking a KTX Bullet Train going down to Busan just one way. Jeju is now a super cheap alternative when thinking about different places to travel in Korea. We are talking about getting on a plane for 1 hour on a Tuesday, enjoying the lovely island of Jeju for 3 nights and coming back on a Friday in time to party it back up in Seoul. Check out Jeju Air, Jin Air or Air Busan for discount airliners.

A view from Hyeobjae Beach during the wintertime.
A view from Hyeobjae Beach during the wintertime.

Granted it is still cold and the ticket is for the weekdays, but quite frankly, who cares cause we are going as tourists! Practically, everyday is a weekend for us! Plus if you were planning on vacationing at sunny beaches, you probably wouldn’t be in Korea in the first place.  We have that in the summertime, but Jeju is far more known for its beautiful scenic trails and natural formations. And it’s all even far more charming during the winter seasons here. Jeju is a small island, yet it’s home to Korea’s tallest peak. And seeing other oxymorons like snow on palm trees leave us with impressions that this is a place is not like too many places you’ll see. 

Sand and Snow
Sand and Snow

I love Jeju because it’s enough. You stay there a few days and it’s enough. You’re not overwhelmed or regretting when you leave because you didn’t make the most out of your time.

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How to go Ice Fishing in Korea

I finally got out to visit one of the many ice fishing festivals that take place in Korea’s wintertime. Through one of my tours, I was able to take a group to the Jaraseom Sing Sing Ice Fishing Festival in Gapyeong. The things to do here is to catch fresh water trout and eat it immediately! Many back and forth thoughts on these festivals, but the bottom line is that they are just flat out fun! There are at least half a dozen ice fishing festivals taking place in parts of Gangwon and Gyeong-gi Provinces right now and will mostly end sometime towards the last weekend in February. I came onto a lesser advertised festival called the Jaraseom Sing Sing Winter Festival near Nami Island in Gapyeong just a little over an hour from Seoul.

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When we got there, they let us park on an empty field. Because its not paved, watch out for puddles and mud when walking towards the festival’s main area. Walk towards the ticket booth to get your entry into the frozen stream. Tickets were 13,000 won (a little less than $13), but they give you a 5,000 won gift certificate to be used on anything at the festival, including food and fishing equipment.

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As you are walking towards there, several things come to mind. On one hand you are wowed by the shear number of people standing on top of that frozen pond. And to think, there are drilled holes in the ice about 3 meters from one another where you stick your fishing rods in to catch fish, so the ice has to be super thick.

On the other hand, you notice that there is a massive river right next to the pond and NONE of which is frozen at all! What’s up with that?? That’s when things start to kick in about the authenticity of the ice festival. Being on the 38th parallel, we have volatile weather conditions, so its not going to be frozen over the entire winter. Instead we artificially freeze the part of the stream to ensure the safety that no one plops through.

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Authentic or not, it’s not the point of the festival as there are still tons of people out there having a great time. So as soon as you pay for your entrance, follow these instructions to get the most out of your ice fishing experience:

1. They’ll give you a sticker ticket and a fastener. Loop the fastener into one of your zippers and peel the sticker portion of your ticket onto it, much like you would for a ski lift ticket. Make sure it’s visible for the personnel to see. A picture of the ticket is shown at the top of this post.

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