There is a nomadic spirit in some that longs to pursue all the sights that the world has to offer. Leaving footsteps on unfamiliar pavements, and sleeping with the view of a different skyline is a pleasure I’d come to regularly indulge in, since the first time I’d visited a foreign place.
In fact, I’d just gotten back from a wonderful vacation in Seoul, the land of amazing skincare, bright music, and culture so rich, I’m still feeling the weight of the hanbok on my shoulders.
I’d also made it a point to not carry around much cash during my travels for safety reasons and convenience’s sake. Seoul was the perfect place to test that to the limit, since it’s largely known to be a credit card society, and I had zero issues using minimal cash!
Prior to the trip, I purchased my tickets for a direct flight from Brunei to Seoul via RBA and booked my hotel room using my Standard Chartered Bank (SC) credit card, which was the only thing I carried as a form of payment during my trip.
Read on for a breakdown of my five, incredibly fulfilling days in Seoul:
Arrival + Myeongdong
I arrived at Incheon International Airport at six in the evening and picked up my 72-hour Discover Seoul Pass, which I’d bought online beforehand with my SC credit card as well. The pass, which had a one-time free use for the airport railway express, also proved to be useful for free admission to a lot of attractions. The train stopped at Seoul Station, and I used the hotel shuttle bus to go to my accommodations in Myeongdong.
If you’re a Korean beauty lover, then you absolutely cannot miss out on Myeongdong! Rows of Innisfree, Missha, Etude House, Holika Holika everywhere you turn, and brands that aren’t as known internationally can also be found here.
It was easy to walk into any store, grab a bundle of face masks (and five other items), and with my credit card, transactions were quick and simple, which was helpful as tourists flowed in and out of the stores like no tomorrow.
Insadong + Gangnam | History, Culture & Gorgeous Cafes
Thanks to the Discover Seoul Pass, I began my morning by immersing myself in Korea’s history with a tour around the Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, Changgyeonggung and Changdeokgung palaces, as well as Jongmyo, the royal shrine. I also tried out a beautiful hanbok, a Korean traditional dress at the tourist centre. From there, it was a walk through the hilly Bukchon Hanok village, and the afternoon was spent in Insadong, where Korean culture thrived through the beautiful handicrafts displayed in the art galleries.
For lunch, I made my way to Halal Kitchen in Samcheong-dong, which is popular among Seoul’s Muslim community for its Halal Korean cuisine,and certified by the Korea Muslim Federation. With its simple yet delicious menu, I was spoiled for choice! I tried some of the most popular items, the bulgogi (marinated beef) and the bibimbap (mixed rice bowl). And while the street food vendors in Seoul only accept cash, I also managed to sate my cravings for my favourite Korean street food, tteokbokki (rice cakes in spicy red sauce) here at Halal Kitchen.
The entire meal came up to about 21,000 won (BND25), and because I paid with my SC credit card, I was also eligible for double reward points when I shop overseas till 31st December, which I’ll probably be redeeming to enjoy some more excellent food back home too!
I took a taxi across the Han River to do some much-anticipated cafe hopping around Gangnam afterwards, and somehow, each cafe was more unique than the last. Because of how widespread the use of credit cards are in Seoul, even taxis are equipped with a payment feature for them when you have no cash on hand! So I had no issue flagging down one, or paying for the ride with my SC credit card.
Over the course of the evening, I’d consumed too much coffee and tea to even contemplate the thought of sleeping, so by midnight, it was time to head to Dongdaemun for an experience like no other: all-night shopping.
Dongdaemun + Hongdae + Edae | Shopping For Days
Seoul’s nightlife is a thriving bustle of crowds and the perfect place for me to lose myself in the downtown malls. Nothing was as surreal as seeing fresh-faced shoppers at three in the morning in Dongdaemun, and dawn broke over the cityscape as I returned to the hotel with a taxi, sleepy but satisfied with my purchases.
After half a day’s nap, I hit up Hongdae, the area around Hongik University, where students congregated and indie, upcoming artists entertained the crowds.
The streets were alive with buskers, bands, and dancers; every few feet was a new song and I also grabbed some more items of clothing and skincare, (I’d convinced myself I still had space in my luggage). From there, it was a quick hop over to Edae, short for Ewha Women’s University, and meandered through the maze of even more shops and cafes.
City tour + Coex + SMTown + Myeongdong | Sights & Shops
I had a free pass for the city tour, thanks to the Discover Seoul Pass I’d bought, and spent the morning on top of a double decker bus, watching Seoul come to life. Additionally, the Discover Seoul Pass also gave me admission to a number of attractions, and so the rest of daylight was dedicated to exploring the Coex Aquarium, the National Museum of Korea, and living my dreams of being a K-pop star in the SMTown Museum.
I did some last-minute shopping when I returned to Myeongdong, and after my heavy indulgence on Korean coffee, I found myself walking into the nearest Starbucks for something more familiar.
Starbucks Korea had started increasing the number of cashless stores which accept Visa payWave a few months back, due to the decline of cash payments in the stores. This meant that even as both of my hands were weighed down with a venti-sized latte in one, the other with my shopping purchases, I could still easily pay for them with a quick swipe of my SC credit card, precariously balanced with just a couple of fingers.
Departure | Farewell, Seoul
After enjoying my last breakfast at the hotel, I used a taxi to go to Incheon International Airport, as the driver serenaded me with some charming trot music during the ride.
I couldn’t leave Seoul without checking out the duty free shops at the airport, and so I did some extremely last-minute shopping here too! With a 5% to 10% discount applicable for Visa payment, my SC credit card saw some more retail action as I perused the array of high-end luxury brands like Sulwhasoo, Lancôme, and Shiseido, to name a few.
And so, I left this extraordinary city with two heavy luggage bags, a full memory card in my camera, and a wallet blessedly free of any foreign currency.
Seoul is purported to have one of the world’s highest rate of credit card usage, and I discovered that to be extremely true during my holiday here.
I’d found throughout the trip, payment with my credit card was truly hassle-free: from my meals, purchases, taxi rides, and even my Starbucks latte! Some merchants only accepted a minimum purchase of 10,000 won, which rounds up to about BND12, but that amount was easily surpassed. It was really just a matter of what establishment I had the opportunity to enter, and how much I could carry back to the hotel!
Overall, I was extremely satisfied with the ease of using my SC credit card as payment for my experience in Seoul. The whole vacation cost a little over BND2,000, and since I had no leftover foreign currency, I didn’t have to worry about converting any cash back to BND.
My Seoul trip was an incredibly memorable one, and going cashless had eased my travel by a great deal! I’ll definitely consider repeating the entire experience, and travel to another country while depending solely on my credit card.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A Bruneian writer with a penchant for never finishing
her stories, because there’s always more to be discovered.
Enjoys travelling and coffee.