Existing Member?

nomadnorrie From Sydney to the formula 1 grand prix in Shanghai, Beijing, South Korea, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine and Europe. Final destination by train is London. Hopping on a flight to Finland, then on to Japan and finally back to Sydney.

Seoul, South Korea

SOUTH KOREA | Tuesday, 27 November 2007 | Views [4672] | Comments [1]

My Chinese visa expired a few days ago, I had to leave the country before 26th November. I decided to make a quick trip to South Korea before returning to Beijing for more Mandarin lessons. On first sight I noticed how much cleaner and more ordered it is in Seoul than in Beijing, Beijing seems like kaos in comparison. On top of that the women look classier, are better dressed, polite and not quite so skinny.

The first night I met an American in the youth hostel and asked him if there was a convenient place to get something to eat, pictures on the menu that sort of thing. He said there was nothing but I suspect he was thinking of western food. I went for a wander. I found a dozen or more restaurants to choose from and settled on a Korean dish with noodles, vegetables and lots of side dishes including pickled cabbage (Kimchi).

The next day I had to find the Australian Embassy so that I could help vote John Howard out of office. On my way I stumbled accross a DVD street stall and while I was looking at how dodgy the copies were an Arab guy came rushing up with his son and asked the DVD salesman "Where is police?" Probably not the best person to ask I thought.

Next I went to the war museum, predicably there were lots of men there, a handfull of women, plenty of "Please be quiet" signs (no doubt aimed at Chinese tourists). After that I headed back to the hostel to sort out where I would be going in the morning.

To finish the day off I popped out to get some cash. I wanted to leave the next morning and I needed to make sure that I had enough money for my trip away from Seoul. I was wandering about at something like 7pm. An hour later I was starting to get worried because I had tried half a dozen banks and all of them only worked with Korean issued cards. I checked the Lonely Planet guide that I had with me (borrowed from the hostel) and it said most ATMs do not accept foreign cards, look for the "Global" sign. Only then did I start looking for the global sign. About six banks later and I still hadn't found one that would give me some of my hard earned cash.

Further reading of the Lonely Planet revealed that ATMs stop working at 10pm for some reason. The lonely planet said go to Itaewon subway station if you have no luck finding a foreigner friendly ATM, so there I went. I was reluctant to go earlier because it was so far away. I found an information place and asked where the bank was and two minutes later I'd found it. Using one card I got the message "refer to employee", using another card I got the message "this passbook is not allowed" and my final card got the message "invalid pin". I pressed the panic button. It was almost 9pm and I had had enough. I was already starting to plan how I could manage on the money I had over my entire time in korea. Eating street food and not going anywhere I probably could have done it. 

I went back to the tourist information desk and asked for the details of another bank, she gave me the details of the nearest HSBC (my bank). Oddly from the address on the web page she couldn't tell me exactly where it would be on my map, I asked several times but got nowhere. The tourist information woman just wouldn't tell me. It is somewhere within these three buildings she said drawing a triangle on my map. I thought it's going to take me ages to search for an HSBC bank within in a square km. Clearly I was tired. I folded the map and went on. After the latest trip on the subway, I checked the local map before I exited and couldn't work out why it looked different to mine. I'd noticed this at another station, I was about to put it down to exhaustion when I spotted that north was pointing down, clearly that's just there to confuse foreigners and on me it worked a couple of times, the buggers. Out of the subway I went and I walked along 4 streets within the block but couldn't find the HSBC bank. I did however find a few other banks and popped into those just to try my luck. The third one I tried, a Korean Exchange Bank branch, accepted global cards and my HSBC card worked in it's ATM (although I didn't get a "this passbook is allowed" message). 

Which way is up? North points north-east on this map.
Which way is up? North points north-east on this map

I finally had some extra cash in my hands. I finally felt relieved. Once I had sorted my self out, popped my cash in my wallet I stepped outside and checked the time.... 9.55pm.

Annoyingly the HSBC website just gives addresses - it doesn't supply a map for it's branches. Further reading of the lonely planet says that maps in korea are a touch odd. Firstly, street names are not very well known, most people in fact do not know them. Secondly numbers on streets don't go from low to high, when a new house is built it is given the next number - basically the numbers can go up and down as you walk along the street. It seems to find a place in seoul you need to know where it is first without looking at the address.

On my way home I decided to try some street food, I've no idea what I ate to begin with but dessert was cake mix with sweet rice in the middle and cake mix with egg in the middle. Lovelly.

I tried to eat one of each but wasn't hungry enough.

Tags: Budgets & money



kaos? We'll have to get Maxwell Smart there right away...

  alex Nov 29, 2007 10:55 AM



Travel Answers about South Korea

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.