5 Things to consider before you teach English in China

5 Things to consider before you teach English in China

Things to consider before you teach English in China

image via Brian Yap, CC BY-NC 2.0

A guest post by Dimitris Vlachos

If you’re interested in teaching English in China, then you’re in for an exciting and rewarding adventure. As a company which specialises in helping people like you teach abroad, we understand what you’re going through. We’ve helped hundreds of people find jobs in China and we hope to do the same for you.

But before you leave for your new country, there are a few important things for you to consider before you teach English in China. Here are a few tips so that you know what to expect before you make the big move!


1. You Have To Live On A Teacher’s Budget

While it is true that teaching salaries are on the rise in China, there is little wiggle room to live a luxurious lifestyle. Many people who teach abroad do so in order to pay back their college loans, save up, or travel. While you can do these things, you can’t do all of them at once in China like you may be able to in other countries where the salaries are higher.

You’re going to need to choose the lifestyle you wish to live before you go. If you’re teaching in China so that you can travel, then put your extra wages toward day and weekend trips, but you won’t be able to save much. If you wish to pay back your student loans, you can, but you won’t be able to travel as much as you might like. Research the average Chinese ESL salary and use a cost of living calculator to help you figure out what you’re likely to make and spend.


2. Get A Job Through A Recruiter

Finding a job in China through a recruiter will simplify the process and have a few added benefits as well. Many schools in China do not advertise for teachers online, so it’s hard to see all of the options available to you. Plus, you may never find out what the place you’ll be living in is like until you arrive. Once you find a recruiter you’ll have increased job opportunities, have a picture in mind of what the school is like, and you can earn better benefits and a higher salary.


3. There’s No Need To Speak Chinese

During your time in China, it’s likely that you’ll want to pick up the language and bring it back home with you. However learning Chinese takes time, so don’t expect to be fluent in the first few months. Start off by going to restaurants which have picture menus and invest in cheap business cards with your address on them.

When you’re ready to learn Chinese, read blog posts about how other’s have learned the language. You can also practice today by using apps like Duolingo. Once you’re there, there are plenty of schools that offer reasonably priced language classes.


4. Understand How To Say ‘No’

Since you’re a tourist, there’s always the fun fact that you’re going to be a target for people looking to make a little extra money. This happens in every country, even the United States. However, you’re likely to stick out as a foreigner and as a result people will try to get you to buy things you don’t need.

Learn how to tell people ‘no’ politely so that you can avoid wasting your money and time. It’s important to not feel pressured or you’ll make a buy just to avoid the awkward situation. It’s okay to say no.


5. What’s Your Skin Colour?

The most awkward thing to consider before your move to China is what your skin colour is. Sadly in Chinese society skin colour still holds weight and if you’re darkly complected, you will occasionally be judged. This is a common problem in many developing nations because some people believe skin colour is associated with social standing.

These situations will always be uncomfortable, but keep in mind that for every bad situation you have, you’ll likely have at least one (or more) heart-warming situation where you’re complemented or cared for. Not everyone judges based on skin colour.

Teaching English in China is going to be one of the highlights of your life. China is a beautiful country with an equally beautiful history and culture that will serve to enrich you for the rest of your life. Knowing these five things will help you to develop a broader understanding of what it’s like to teach and live in China.


Author Bio

Dimitris works as a full stack marketer at Movinhand. Movinhand helps educators get the salary they deserve. We promote teachers around the world and get them the best possible offer within 10 days of signing up.


This article was published in May 2017.


Japan Backpacking Budget

backpacking budget japan

(Map of Japan from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in Japan on a Shoestring Budget

US$65 | 7000 Yen

Japan is about as expensive as it gets in Asia and consistently ranks as one of the costliest places in the world to travel in. Our shoestring Japan backpacking budget of US$65/day certainly reflects that and to put things in perspective it is over double what we have allowed in our piece on the cost of travel in China.

Lets start with some good news. Eating and drinking out is relatively affordable and overall prices are a bit cheaper than what you might find in more expensive parts of Europe or North America. Entrance to the main attractions also tends to be really good value with minimal entry fees.

Budget accommodation is found in most of the main travel destinations and all the bigger cities with capsule style beds all the rage here and they offer more privacy than you’ll find in your average dorm. However the high cost of accommodation is one of the reasons why Japan is an expensive place to visit.

The other more significant one is the cost of transport and the two questions you really need to ask yourself when setting your budget for Japan is how much travelling am I going to do? and how I am going to travel?

If you spend at least a few days in each destination and are taking the slower trains or perhaps even a budget flight between them, you can probably scrape by on $65/day and it should certainly more than cover your costs in days when you are not travelling around. If you opt for the popular rail passes which allow you onto the bullet trains then you will find it almost impossible to stick to this budget.

See where Japan ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.


More Comfortable Japan Backpacker Budget

US$100 | 10,500 Japanese Yen

By far the most popular option with travellers is to get a Japan rail pass which allows you onto all the bullet trains and also covers the cost of travel on the metro systems in the cities. It is by far the most hassle-free way to get around the country and in its own way whizzing around on Japan’s brilliant high-speed rail network is one of its biggest appeals.

However as you will see from the prices below it is not cheap although it still works out better value when compared to buying a few single tickets each week on the bullet trains. If you are in Japan for only 1-2 weeks and opt for the rail pass, there is simply no way you are going to survive on only $65/day. Even the slightly better value 3 week pass still works out at $25/day and given you might spend close to that again on accommodation each night, you are not left with an awful lot left on our previous budget.

Therefore for a typical 3-4 week trip to Japan with a rail pass you might want to think about budgeting more like $100/day. It is a lot of money for sure but the speed and efficiency of the rail network means you can easily visit 10 or more destinations in that time and experience all the best things that Japan has to offer.


Sample Prices in Japan

Flight from Tokyo to Osaka (1 hour 30 mins) – from 5000¥ ($47) (plus baggage)

7 Day Rail Pass – 28,000¥ ($260)

14 Day Rail Pass – 45,000¥ ($420)

21 Day Rail Pass – 58,000¥ ($540)

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – 800¥ ($7.50)

Large local beer in bar or restaurant – 400¥ ($3.75)

Capsule Bed in Dorm – from 1500¥/night ($14) (bit more in Tokyo or cities with only a few hostels)

Budget double or twin room – from 3000¥/night ($28)

Temple Pass in Kyoto (access to all temples including transportation) – 1200¥ ($11)


Money

Currency – Japanese Yen

£1 = 154 Yen

€1 = 122 Yen

US$1 = 107 Yen

(All exchange rates are correct as of June 2016)


MFT Recommends

Booking online you can often get dorm beds for as little as 2000 Yen/night (a bargain by Tokyo standards) at the very swanky Emblem Hostel Nishiarai.


street art in Japan

street art in Tokyo, Japan (via Guilem VellutCC BY 2.0)


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Japan recently, please let everyone know your typical daily costs by commenting below 😉


This article was published in June 2016.


 

China Backpacking Budget

backpacking budget China

(Map of China from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in China on a Shoestring Budget

US$30 | 200 Chinese Yuan Renminbi

China may have risen to the status of global super power over the past 15 years thanks to enormous economic growth but the country is still on the whole very good value and prices haven’t risen as much as you might think. There is a great deal of regional variation of course with Shanghai for example considerably more expensive than the predominantly rural West of the country but even the big cities are still really quite affordable if you steer clear of the bars and restaurants that are clearly geared towards the wealthy.

A one-way ticket on the Beijing subway will set you back just 4 Yuan for example (the equivalent of US$0.60). More local geared restaurants are also great value but menus aren’t all that easy to read and English isn’t widely spoken even in the big cities. Street stalls and BBQs offer a good alternative and are found all over the country. It’s much easier to know what you are getting with them and you can often stack up on tasty snacks that won’t set you back much cash. Going out can also be good value and if you know where to go you can find amazingly cheap bars and clubs which sometimes have ‘all you can drink’ deals for under $20.

The cost of travelling between destinations can add up though if you are looking to see large areas of the country in a relatively short space of time. In that case $30 might be an unrealistic budget but if you are spending a lot of time in more rural areas you can certainly get by on that sort of amount and do a large amount of travelling around.

Our China backpacking budget of $30/day isn’t impossible on a day-to-day basis in Beijing but might be a bit tougher to stick to in Shanghai where accommodation tends to be a bit more expensive. In general though you should probably allow a bit more if you are sticking to the Eastern route between Shanghai and Beijing with perhaps a couple of other stops. Even that would be dependent on you not taking any internal flights and settling for the slower but cheaper trains rather than the fancy high-speed ones.

See where China ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.


More Comfortable China Backpacker Budget

US$45 | 300 Chinese Yuan Renminbi

Coming up with a general budget for China in an article like this is pretty tough as it really does depend quite a lot on what part of the country you are in and how you choose to travel. By upping your budget to $45/day you won’t need to stress out as much and might be able to afford the odd high speed train or flight if you are in the country for more than a couple of weeks. It should also be enough to cover your daily expenses in any city in mainland China or even Hong Kong.


Sample Prices in China

Flight from Shanghai to Kunming (3 hours 25 mins) – 450¥  ($70)

Beijing to Shanghai by High-Speed train in 2nd class (5-6 hours) – 450-555¥ ($70-85)

Cheapest berth on Beijing to Shanghai slow sleeper train (15 hours) – 327¥ ($50)

 Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – 25¥ ($4)

Large local beer in a bar or restaurant – 5¥ ($0.75)

Dorm bed in Beijing – from 35¥/night ($5)

Budget private double or twin room – 75-150¥/night (large amount of variation between cities) ($11-22)

Entrance to the Forbidden City, Beijing – 40-60¥ ($6-9)

Compare this with the cost of travel in Japan.


Money

Currency – Chinese Yuan Renminbi

£1 = 9.46 CNY

€1 = 7.45 CNY

US$1 =  6.56 CNY

(All exchange rates are correct as of June 2016)


MFT Recommends

We suggest staying at Beijing Sunrise Youth Hostel Beihai Branch on your visit to the capital. The Forbidden city is within walking distance and it boasts some of the best value beds in town.


street art in China

street art in Shanghai, China (via Marc GarnautCC BY-NC 2.0)


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to China recently, please let everyone know your typical daily costs by commenting below 😉


This article was published in June 2016.


Top 10 Budget Travel Tips For First-time Travelers In China

A guest post by Jason Blondo

Traveling across China can be pretty tough for first-timers, and even tougher if you are short on cash. Let’s face it, the days of having supremely cheap travel in China are long gone and just a distant memory. Prices for food, airline tickets and hotels are gradually increasing, with China’s economy and tourism picking up steam over the last thirty years. But with a little travel planning and research, you can have a blast and experience a cozy trip to this Asian hub, without having to starve to yourself or sleep on crappy beds.

Top 10 Budget Travel Tips For First-Time Travelers In China

1. Travel by train

A sure-fire way to save a huge amount of money, when traveling across China, is to ditch the plane, and take the train. Train tickets are usually 75 percent cheaper than airline tickets to the same destination in China. And if you travel overnight, you can also save the cost of a hostel or hotel room.

A railway map of China

2. Book your airline tickets on a Chinese trip planning site

While I recommend that you take the train as often as possible, sometimes the distances and long hours make train travel an impractical option. If flying is your best and only option, make sure to buy your tickets from Chinese travel planning sites like ctrip.com, elong.com and qunar.com since they offer far cheaper airfare deals than you would find on Kayak, Expedia and other US-based travel search engines. You can book internal flights on these Chinese sites and pay with your debit or credit card and by the way, these websites are in English, so there is no language barrier.

3. Eat like a Chinaman

Eating in a nice and fancy restaurant in China will cost you around 44 CNY (9 USD). A simple meal of street food or noodles, however, will only cost you around 7 CNY (1 USD)! China has a plethora of mouthwatering and cheap food (which is nothing like what you will find in Western “Chinese” restaurants), meaning you won’t have a problem eating on a budget here.

4. Ditch the hotels and stay in a hostel

Sounds so cliché? Of course, this is an absolute no-brainer for traditional and experienced travelers. But if you are someone who’s used to luxury travel, this may not be such an obvious tip-off.

People, for the most part, think that hostels in Asian countries such as China are loud, uncomfortable and untidy. Though there are a few hostels like that in China, I can honestly say that most Chinese hostels are just as comfortable as 3-star hotels.

If you are traveling solo, you can save a ton of cash by staying in a hostel community room. For those who are traveling with a family or a group, and want some privacy, most hostels in China also offer a private room option, which as a little more expensive, but is still cheaper by 50 percent than most hotels in the country.

Planning on taking this route? I suggest that you take a look at Hostelworld. Not only does it have a great and wide selection of hostels, but it also includes photos as well as honest reviews from recent customers.

Staying in hostels in China

5. AirBnb or Couchsurfing

Coursurfing and Airbnb are also becoming rather popular in this East Asian destination, and can be a great alternative for those who are traveling on a tight budget.

6. Buy a local SIM card in China

China’s pay-as-you-go (prepaid) SIM cards are extremely cheap, and definitely a great investment when traveling in China. With this kind of SIM card, you’ll get to save yourself the trouble of dealing with expensive and awkward overseas data plans. Plus, it will make it a lot more convenient for you to stay in touch with your fellow travelers and hostels.

7. Try to limit your time in big Chinese cities

I’m not saying that you skip out a visit to Shanghai, Xi’an, Hong Kong, Beijing and other big cities during your trip to China. After all, anyone who visits China wants to see its main and most celebrated attractions, such as the iconic Great Wall of China in Beijing and mystical Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an. What I’m trying to say, though, is don’t linger in these cities.  Based on my estimations, a day of expenses in a major Chinese city is equivalent to three or four days anywhere else in this sprawling nation.  Trust me, food, diversions and lodging all cost a lot less once you get out of the big cities.

So, when visiting a major city in China, spend a couple of days or less hitting all the attractions that matter to you the most. Afterwards, get out of there as quickly as possible.

Shanghai Bund Skyline at night

8. Visit lesser known places in China

Visiting the lesser known areas in the country not only lets you experience the real Chinese culture (not its touristy side), but it can save you money as well. In Hunan province, for instance, you can happily live paying local prices – or not paying at all because it is a great honor for the Chinese to present a foreign visitor with a gift. Plus, it allows you to see amazing natural wonders and unique sites that have yet to be featured in lifestyle and travel magazines.

9. Learn a few important Chinese phrases

You don’t have to become fluent in Mandarin, but mastering a few simple and basic phrases will help you save a ton of cash. Folks and locals in China will treat you better if they notice you making a great effort in speaking their native language. If you try to learn and speak their language, they will sometimes offer their house or apartment as a place to stay overnight. In addition, they will take you for a dinner, lunch or karaoke show, and they will pay for everything.

10. Teach in China 

Teaching English in China

One of the best and cheapest ways to travel around China is to work there as an English teacher. Not only will it give you free accommodation, but it also lets you know China’s culture on a more intimate level. Plus, the salary is decent, and it gives you a home base for affordable weekend trips.

Here are 5 things to consider before teaching English in China.

 


This article was published in December 2015.


Visiting the Secret State – How to Travel in North Korea

Visiting the Secret State – How to travel in North Korea

pyongyang airport

Note – This article was published in February 2013. Things may have changed since!

Can you visit?

In a nutshell, yes you can visit but travel in North Korea is not like it is anywhere else on the planet.

Unless you fancy illegally crossing at heavily patrolled borders where officers have shoot on sight instructions, independent travel in this highly secretive state is impossible. The only options are ‘guided’ tours where you will be supervised and monitored at all times by at least two ‘tour guides’. Their objective is to showcase the country in the best possible light and they will only take you to places they want you to see. Even if you opt for an individual tour as opposed to a group one you will still be allocated two guides and a driver.

From time to time the tours are stopped when tensions on the peninsular are particularly high. Tour companies, mostly based in China such as Koryo Tours run the trips and as of April 2013 contrary to media rumours they seem to still be running. Most cost in the region of 1000-1500 Euros with trips varying from 3 days to a couple of weeks or more. In recent times they have began to include previously off-limits areas of the country meaning visitors get to see more of the real North Korea.

Koryo Tours have an informative website and a large range of tour options for visiting North Korea

Young Pioneer Tours offer similar trips and are slightly cheaper.

The Sights

Capital Pyongyang has been described as a thriving metropolis by the North Korean government. It is not. The streets are practically deserted and visiting the city is a quite bizarre experience. Only a select few North Koreans (those from a high class and deemed extremely loyal to the state) are allowed to live here and most others find it impossible to get a permit to visit. Even for North Koreans it is impossible to freely travel around their own country and many have barely moved more than 20km from their hometown

Pyongyang is a surreal place and in no way reflective of a typical North Korean city. The main sights are pretty much all related to Kim-Il Sung and Kim-Jong-Il with no doubt Kim-Jong Un statues and monuments coming soon. The giant 100-story Ryugyong Hotel dominates the skyline but when the economy crashed in 1992 so did the funding and it is still to be completed. The Arch of Triumph celebrates Korean liberation from Japan in 1945 and is a replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris only bigger.

north korea showOther sights include the North Korean Film Studio and rather oddly a funfair. For all it’s aggressive anti-imperialist rhetoric, the North Korean powers that be are desperate to put on a show for foreign visitors. Intricately planned shows often including thousands of performers are regularly put on for tourists and for the leaders of the Communist party. The Rungnado May Day Stadium hosts the performances (right) and is reportedly the largest in the world holding 150,000 spectators. It is also used for major sporting events with the odd execution thrown in for good measure.

The few westerners that do visit Pyongyang are normally put up in an otherwise empty hotel in the middle of a lake, to prevent anyone wandering off in attempt to freely explore the city. In any case unless you happen to look and dress North Korean, the sight of a foreigner wandering around alone is likely to quickly draw attention. The fact is you are likely to be caught and arrested potentially on espionage charges so it’s best to do as your guides say (as frustrating as that may be).

The country does however boast a few hidden gems and is probably more scenic than it’s southern neighbour. Depending on the current situation Kumgangsan is visitable on tours from South Korea. Literally it means Diamond Mountains and boasts many impressive peaks, lagoons and sizeable waterfalls.

north korea borderThe North Korean side of the DMZ (a 4km wide de-militarised zone that separates the two Koreans which technically remain at war) is another popular place to visit and a common inclusion in the official tours. The DMZ can be easily visited from the South but the perspective is very different when you approach from the North Korean side. The village of Panmunjeom which happened to lie on the front line when the truce was signed has been deserted ever since and serves as a bizarre reminder of the dark days of the Cold War. 1km east is a jointly policed zone which is the only thing that resembles an actual border point. For the most part South and North Korean soldiers stare at each other not daring to step foot over the line that separates the two countries. Soldiers on the two sides of the border used to communicate by phone but in March 2013 the DPRK cut off the lines effectively ending any formal contact between the two Koreas.

At the other end of the country close to the Chinese border is Mount Paektu, the tallest mountain on the Korean peninsular with a huge crater lake (below) at the top. It is supposedly the mythical birthplace of the Kims who have controlled the country since the Korean War. In a land where religion has no place, founding father Kim Il-sung is the closest thing North Koreans have to a God and the state media frequently speak of super-human achievements by him and his son, Kim Jong-Il.

Mount paektu north korea

Is it dangerous to visit?

Bizarrely North Korea is probably one of the safest countries in the world to visit. The risk of a traffic accident is low as the roads are deserted because virtually no-one owns a car. In a land where image is everything yet nothing is at seems, every effort is put on to ensure foreigners are treated well and stay safe on their visits to the country. Should anything happen to a tourist it would be a PR disaster for the government.

The other slight concern that you may have heard about is the possibility of nuclear war. North Korea has a huge military and a sizeable weapons collection but very few remaining allies. It would in all likelihood be totally annihilated should they decide to launch into any military action against South Korea, USA or Japan. Despite recent declarations of war and aggressive threats to its enemies, Kim Jong-Un and his cronies are surely aware of this and it seems probable that his bark is significantly louder than his bite.To cut a long story short, while the new leader appears to be something of a fruitcake, a war is still very unlikely to break out any time soon.

Should you travel to North Korea?

North korea wandering swallowThis is a difficult one. North Korea’s human rights record is frankly horrendous, people have been starving to death for almost two decades and yet in a ridiculous attempt to prove otherwise vast amounts of food are often put on for visitors while children living in the streets go hungry. Little is known about what goes on in North Korean prison and labour camps but whole families have been sent away to these Soviet styled gulags. North Korean defectors who make it South Korea do so with the knowledge that any family members left behind will probably be sent away to the camps and will potentially spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

Many people are passionate about the state of North Korea and some foreigners have visited on numerous occasions. They believe it is important to visit and the few journalists who have snuck their way in feel they are bringing greater attention the humanitarian situation inside the country. One of those is Barbara Demick who wrote the excellent ‘Nothing to Envy’ which follows the life stories of six North Korean defectors and is well worth a read to understand life in this most isolated of states.

Before choosing to visit it is worth learning a bit about what is probably the most difficult country in the world to understand. Although extremely secretive it is clear some terrible things have happened in the country and the Kim Dynasty are arguably the worst dictators in modern times.

That said atrocities are committed all over the world, many in countries that attract millions of tourists each year. It is ultimately a personal choice, but those who opt to visit North Korea are in for a truly unique and unforgettable experience.

pic of border by kalleboo on flickr

 


This article was published in February 2013.


Getting Around South Korea

Getting Around South Korea

by Michael Geer

One of the greatest struggles with exploring a new country is getting from point A to point B. Deciding when one should walk, drive, or ride to a place isn’t always clear. However, that doesn’t mean you need stay fearfully contained in your hostel. Here is some information about getting around in South Korea.

By Bus

Korea has an extensive bus system! Not only is it extremely affordable and comfortable, but it can take you nearly anywhere (though not always directly). You can chart a bus trip through South Korea by checking the tourism website.Simply plug in your departure and destination and you’ll learn the general times for buses throughout Korea. There are three basic kinds of bus travel in Korea, intercity, metro, and express buses.
Intercity buses are typically larger and more comfortable than metro buses. Long trips (four hours or more) will stop at least once at a rest stop before reaching it’s destination. Just be sure to get back to the bus before it leaves!

Navigating metro buses can be difficult, as few metro buses show their destinations in English. However, Google Maps has become better about plotting routes through major Korean cities. It’s not perfect, but can help you track down the right bus to where you’re going.

Express Buses are what they sound like, express. They stop less and go to fewer locations often linking Seoul to popular weekend destinations. It’s important to remember that Express buses have their own terminals separate from intercity/metro buses!

When asking for a bus ticket simply state your destination (ex. “Incheon”) and add the Korean word “Ju-sayeo.” So if you want to go to Incheon ask a cashier “Incheon Ju-sayeo.” “Ju-sayeo” generally translates to “Please give me” It’s a polite way of asking for anything, be it bus tickets, kimbap, or beer.

bus stain busan


By Subway

Several major cities have subway systems. Few are as complicated as Seoul, however maps and English directions are available everywhere. Subways are clean, efficient, but can be crowded during rush hour.

For smartphone users, download the “Jihachil” subway app for your phone.

This free application will give you all the subway maps in Korea, in several languages. It’s also interactive, allowing you to chart your path, telling you train times, transit stations, and how long a particular path will take.


By Train

Train travel in Korea is limited in destinations when compared to bus travel. However, the speed and lack of traffic makes it well worth the extra money when going long distances. Korea has both slow and high-speed (KTX) trains. The KTX trains are more modern and can travel upwards of 290 kilometers per hour! The high speeds easily shave two hours time traveling great distances, like from Seoul to Busan.

As a foreigner in Korea, there are actually more options for train travel than are often apparent. Here’s some tips to train travel that can save you money if you travel a lot! If you visit the English version of the Korail website you’ll find several options. One is to purchase rail tickets online. The menus are easy, simply select the date, destination, train, and time. The website will indicate if there are seats available. If you’re traveling to a popular destination (like Busan) on a holiday BOOK EARLY! KTX tickets often sell out quickly, especially on major holidays like Chuseok. American credit cards are good for booking KTX tickets online.

However, there is another option for booking train tickets that is open to foreign nationals exclusively. This is the KR Pass option. The KR Pass allows the holder unlimited access to standard class seats on any train for as long as the pass is valid. They can order the pass online, print their receipt, and present it with their passport at any KTX station. With the pass they can select any available seat on any train they wish. So, if one were traveling from Seoul to Busan for a weekend, one could either book two train tickets, or buy a 3-day KR Pass. As of current prices, KTX seats cost around 53,000KRW a ride, going to and from Busan would cost about 106,000KRW (approximately $100). However, a 3-day KR Pass is only 93,000KRW for an adult (74,000 KRW for a youth pass if you’re under 25). Additionally, the KR Pass provides flexibility when coming and going by train. Just remember, the pass is good for claiming available standard class seats! If a train is full you might get stuck standing, or paying extra for first class seats. It’s not a perfect alternative to booking specific tickets, but it can save you a few bucks when you have flexible travel plans!
Lastly, you can book train tickets in person the same as at the bus station. Simply tell the cashier where you are going and they’ll inform you which trains are available.

south korea train


By Taxi

Unlike other developed countries, taxis in Korea are extremely cheap. Most starting the meter at 3000KRW or less (about $2.95). When traveling around in a city taxis are a great way to get around when you can’t find a specific spot and don’t want to deal with subways or buses. When getting in a taxi, simply tell the driver where you want to go.

Taxis are precarious and intimidating in Korea because few drivers speak English and often have a difficult time understanding foreigners. Speak as clearly as you can, but have your destination written in Korean in case he can’t understand you. If staying in a hostel or hotel always take their business card or information with their location and address in Korean. That way if you get lost (or have a few too many at the bar) you can always get back to where you are staying.

A word of caution, Korea is a remarkably safe place to walk around, even in major urban areas. However, it is not impossible for cab drivers to try and take advantage of foreigners who are lost or drunk. ALWAYS be sure the driver starts the meter when you enter the vehicle and NEVER FALL ASLEEP IN A TAXI! Cab drivers aren’t con artists, but you can’t put it past them to take you for a ride to run up your fare. Additionally, some may short change you if they think they can, so mind your money and don’t let yourself be taken advantage of in a cab. If you feel you are being mistreated, GET OUT OF THE CAB, photograph the driver’s license and information (it’s always on display in taxis) if the driver gives you trouble. Remember to always exercise good judgement and never do anything illegal, as the police are not known for their sympathy for English speakers.


When all else fails, call the English Tourism Hotline! Korea has a 24-7 hotline that can be dialed from any phone in Korea. The number is 1330 from a landline, or 02-1330 from a cell phone. Simply dial and access the English menu, operators speak excellent English and can perform a number of tasks. Want bus times? They can tell you. Need a translator in a pinch? They can help get your message across. Need information on where to go? They’ll direct you. It’s an especially excellent service if you’re using a cell phone in Korea, but if you don’t have one, never fear! Korea possesses plenty of payphones in subway stations and on streets!

Now go out there and explore!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael is a resident English teacher in Busan.  Educating my day and adventuring by night (and weekend) he fills his time with writing, photography, and exploration.

Read more about his experiences in and out of the classroom.


 


This article was published in June 2014. Some of the prices quoted may have changed since.


Funky 100 – 5 Things to do in Seoul

TAIPEI | SEOUL | SINGAPORE

Help the Funky 100 grow!


Funky 100 – Number 54

5 Funky Things to do in Seoul


Why you should Visit…

Seoul is the capital of South Korea and one of the post populated metropoli on the planet! This sprawling city is loaded with sites both ancient and modern to explore. Here are five sites I think are most worth visiting on a trip to Seoul:


1. Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace

gyeongbokung palace

One of the largest and most well known of the ancient palaces in Seoul. This sprawling palace complex is a must see for visitors to Korea. With it’s iconic gates and palace halls, it’s a photographer’s dream. Additionally, traditional processions are often played out within its grounds, Gyeongbokgung Palace is a place to step out of the modern world and into the old. The palace is near exit 5 of the aptly named Gyeongbokgung Subway Station (Orange Line).


2. Insadong Street Market

insadong market

Located near Gyeongbukgung Palace is another iconic destination for Seoul. Insadong is a traditional market street that caters to foreigners looking to gather mementos and traditional souvenirs from Korea. It’s a charming and well manicured place with lots of tea shops and souvenir vendors (not to mention plenty of street food). Though I wouldn’t recommend doing all my souvenir shopping here, it is certainly the easiest place to do it (unless you want to haggle). You can find Insadong by exiting Anguk Station, exit 6 (Orange Line).


3. Hit Hongdae after dark

hongdae station

Hongdae is near one of the most popular universities in Seoul. It’s particularly known for it’s nightlife. Hongdae is loaded with plenty of bars, restaurants, and noisy nightclubs. During the weekend it is a hub of evening activity with people from around the world out drinking and partying all the way until dawn! If you’re looking for a fun night out, grab a friend and check out some Korean clubs! If you need to make a friend, buy some drinks in a local convenience store and head to Hongdae Park, a small playground in the midst of the nightlife where many people gather to drink and socialize between bars. It’s easy to meet people here and you might even spot the legendary Makoli Man, an eccentric local who appears in Hongdae at night and pours paper cups of Korean rice wine (Makoli) to whomever wants to say hello! Hongdae is located near the Hongik University Station, exit 9 (Green Circle Line). To find the park leave Hongik University Station by exit 8, take the first right, then left at the next intersection. Following the road on the left as it forks, the park will be on your right.


4. Climb up Namsan Tower

lovelock

.Standing atop Namsan mountain is the aptly named tower that shines brightly in the night sky. The hike up the mountain is a series of steep and winding wide staircases, but it’s quite enjoyable if you’re not too tired on a temperate afternoon. The tower looks over the city and you can ride the elevator to the observatory for 9,000 won (about $9 US). Namsan Tower is also a traditional location where lovers go to profess their affection. You’ll see hundreds of locks inscribed with names of couples who declare their love by clipping a lock with their names to the fences. They then chuck the key over the edge and down the hillside. You can still buy locks there today to similarly seal you and your lover’s names to the wall. Yet, signs politely ask people not to toss their keys onto unsuspecting hikers below! Namsan Tower can be reached a number of ways through hiking trails or a cable car (near Myeon-dong Station, Blue Line). There are also shuttle buses up the mountain, read more about it here.


5. Visit The Korean War Memorial/Museum

war memorial korea

The Korean War Memorial/Museum: Located near the foreigner district (Itaewon) is the Korean War Memorial. Here is where brave soldiers from around the world who served in the Korean War are remembered. The Memorial has many pieces of art and statues on display, as well as the names of fallen soldier from the war inscribed on memorial plates. Inside is the quiet memorial and an adjoining military history museum. The Memorial and museum are free to the public and contains exhibits of warfare from ancient Korea to the present day. The displays have English translations and can be very informative. For those looking for an interesting view into Korea’s tumultuous past, this is definitely worth a few hours of your time.

To visit the Memorial go to Samgakji Station, exit 12 (Brown Line) walk straight until you find the main entrance on your left.


Seoul is loaded with other places to visit. The Chungmuro Royal Shrine, the Han River walk, and shopping at COEX Mall or Myeon-dong, are all wonderful things to see! There are even more places to visit if you venture beyond the extent of Seouls far reaching subways!

BIO

Michael is an English teacher for a Korean public school in Busan. He has lived in Korea for two years and explored much of it during that time. When not traveling, he occupies himself with writing, photography, and occasionally teaching.

Read more about his journeys here


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This article was published in August 2014.


Funky 100 – 5 Things to do in Taipei

ISTANBUL | TAIPEI | SEOUL

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Funky 100 – Number 47

5 Funky Things to do in Taipei


Why you should Visit…

I’ve never been surprised by a city like I was surprised by Taipei.  Taipei is hardly the largest, newest, or most beautiful city in Asia.  Yet this city, more than any other, has stolen my heart.  Taipei is a bustling metropolis packed with people, culture, and incredible food!  Not only is Taipei a world class city, but it’s remarkably inexpensive!  In only a few days, I began to feel right at home wandering the wide, clean streets of Taipei.  Not only would I recommend seeing Taipei, but I’ve got five things I insist you find!


1. Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

things to do in taipei

This massive memorial museum sits within the same central park that houses the National Theater and Concert Hall. These buildings are impressive and the grounds are gorgeously manicured. You can explore the history of Taiwan and the Republic of China in the Memorial Hall, or simply enjoy the scenery if history doesn’t interest you. The park is a wonderful place to bask in the shade on sunny day and watch locals practice Tai Chi. If you make friends, you might even get to join them!


2. Taipei 101

taipei 101

This towering marvel was once the tallest building in the world. Despite being dwarfed by other architectural marvels, Taipei 101 is still worth a visit. If high end shopping is something you enjoy, you’ll have a heyday inside the mall attached to the tower’s basement. The tourist desk at the top of the mall offers tickets to ride up to the tower’s observation deck. I can’t speak for the view, given the $15 entrance fee was too steep for my budget. However, the restaurants here are wonderful. I’d highly recommend having some Xiao Long Bao (pork soup dumplings) at the illustrious Din Tai Fung restaurant. For a star restaurant Din Tai Fung is remarkably affordable, and worth the wait, even during lunch rush. Trust me!


3. Ximending

ximending

Ximending is a popular district attached to Ximen MRT station. This area is very popular with young people in Taipei and the streets are packed every night with restaurant goers, shoppers, and foreigners exploring. No matter your predilections Ximending is a pleasure to explore. Ximending is also home to Taipei’s cinema street, where you can catch a film in one of it’s many theaters. There are many, many affordable hostels and hotels here. I’d highly recommend staying in Ximending. It’s a happening place in the center of Taipei, with lots to see in do!


4. Shilin Night Market

things to do in taipei at night

Taiwan is known for it’s night markets, Taipei has many of them. The largest night market in Taipei City is the Shilin Night Market. This night market is both above and below ground. The city created this underground space in the interest of containing the market’s unprecedented expansion. You can shop for cheap wares above ground, or head down to dine at one of the many food vendors. They have all kinds of great food for the equivalent of 1 or 2 US dollars. Try everything from fried soft shell crabs, to beef noodle soup, or oyster omelettes. I recommend taking a few friends and sharing anything and everything that catches your eye!


5. Longshan Temple

Longshan Temple

This is Taipei’s most popular temple and is still heavily used. If you’ve ever wanted to see how people worship at a traditional Chinese temple, this is the place to go! The ornate architecture is fascinating and overflowing with statues, paintings, carvings, and symbols. Many people gather here to pray, burn incense, make offerings, or have fortunes interpreted. Tourists are welcome to mingle and explore the temple, even when it’s in use. I found Longshan Temple to be a fascinatingly enigmatic experience.


 

AUTHOR BIO

Michael is an English teacher for a Korean public school in Busan. He has lived in Korea for two years and explored much of it during that time. When not traveling, he occupies himself with writing, photography, and occasionally teaching.

Read more from Michael on Octavrian Press


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This article was published in February 2015.


Funky 100 – 5 Things to do in Busan

BUSAN | PHNOM PENH

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Funky 100 – Number 2

5 Funky Things to do in Busan


Why you should Visit…

Busan is an incredible city! Though not as large as Seoul, it possesses a vibrancy and vitality that Seoul often lacks. Here the weather is milder, the people friendlier, and the sites have that sweet, sandy charm only a beach city can claim. Here are five awesome things to enjoy in Busan! (In no particular order)


1. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple: The “water” temple

lantern festival busan

Perched on the rocky cliffs a short hike from Sonjeong beach, Yonggungsa Temple is often high on the list of “must see sights” in Busan. Accessible by bus, taxi, or foot, Younggungsa is worth the trek out of town to see this charming temple. Photo of the temple was taken during the Lotus Lantern Festival, May 5th 2014 “Buddha’s Birthday”.


2. Gwangalli Beach

gwangali beach

Nestled between Gwangan and Geumyeonsan subway stops is Gwangalli Beach. This is the site of the annual international fireworks festival. The Gwangan (Diamond) Bridge is a hell of sight at night, as the entire bridge is illuminated and even features a light show on special occasions. Gwangalli is also near Kyungsung University (KSU), where most foreigners prefer to do their partying and clubbing. Yet, that doesn’t mean Gwangalli isn’t loaded with great bars and restaurants worth visiting day or night!. Great for a day at the beach or an evening drinking on the shore, Gwangalli Beach is a favorite!


3. Jagalchi Fish Market

jagalchi fish market

Near Busan International Film Festival Square is Jagalchi Fish Market. This massive area contains both indoor and outdoor fish markets where one can haggle for the freshest seafood in Korea. The indoor fish market even contains upper floors where one’s freshly caught fish can be prepared to your liking. Few visits to Busan can be called complete without one visit to Jagalchi.


4. Geumjeong Mountain

geumjeong mountain

This mountain runs north to south along the norther half of Busan. Running from Beomosa Temple south to Dongnae, one can hike along the ancient fortress wall atop the ridge. Here spectacular views of the city can be seen. The fortress runs in a circle around the mountain and provides dozens of paths from challenging to easy. The easiest path being the cable car from Oncheonjang to the summit near the South Gate. Perfect for a diverse day of hiking!


5. Seokbulsa Temple

seokbulsa temple

For those who find most temples boring, this might be a challenging alternative. Hidden away in Geumjeong Mountain is Seokbulsa Temple, the oft forgotten gem of local Buddhist architecture. Even if one were to take the cable car from Oncheonjang to the top of Geumjeong mountain, one would still face another 2 hours of hiking to reach Seokbulsa. However, it’s worth the climb. This small, remote temple is unique in that it has been carved into the cliff side! If you’re looking for a unique experience off the beaten path, Seokbulsa is a daylong trek worth investigating!


BIO

Michael is a resident English teacher in Busan.  Educating my day and adventuring by night (and weekend) he fills his time with writing, photography, and exploration.

Read more about his experiences in and out of the classroom.


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This article was published in May 2014.