Driving in Korea

Korean drivers, if you didn’t know, aren’t the most safest of drivers.  That’s why I drive super safe lol and at the maximum speed limit – people like to overtake me lol.

I looked around and found a few map applications to use based off of other people’s blog posts about what apps you need in Korea or whatnot, but I found that the SKT’s (a major phone company in Korea, AKA: T World) “T Map” application is the best.  It’s like Google Maps back at home that gives you turn-by-turn navigation.  If Naver’s Map application has it, I have yet to find it – it’s not that user friendly then… I like to think of myself as somewhat technology savvy after all.  Plus, I live in Korea’s countryside so Google just doesn’t do the trick; Naver has accurate maps from what I’ve seen but no navigation, and the directions for public transportation isn’t quite reliable…maybe that is just a language barrier thing though.

In other words:

  1. Be f***ing safe because you can’t trust the drivers around you
  2. Use T Map or another map application from your phone company in Korea, I think each has their own

But who am I to really give advice… Just thought the map info would be extremely useful to prospective drivers in Korea.

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Getting a Driver’s License in Korea

This is not converting a driver’s license from your home country to an international license.  This is rather actually obtaining a driver’s license in Korea – I do not have my license back at home in America.

Story is my main school offered to help me get my driver’s license since they have a car that I may utilize for transportation to all 4 of my schools within this area – thank goodness I may add; one school is 1.5 hours or more out by an express bus, with a transfer!

The process is similar to how it is in America, but slightly different – it’s essentially a 3-step procedure.

  1. Written Exam
  2. Functional Test
  3. Road Test

The school sent me to an academy to prepare for all sections to get my license.  I sat for close to 5 hours reading poorly written English practice Q&As, and then went to the local DMV to take the written exam; not that the American written exam is difficult but I recall one or two questions that weren’t 100% clear – it was much worse here, but that comes with the territory.

The next step is where things deviate quite a bit.  Here you are tested on things such as turning on your lights, high beam included, wipers, signals, emergency brake, and suddenly stopping for hazards.  It’s a pretty straight-forward section but this time it was not in English.  I was panicking on the inside because it was too much Korean to memorize in such a short amount of time.  This time I had only 2 hours of practice before taking the test, but I got used to the procedure and managed to pull it off without a hitch.  We don’t have this section, and I suppose it wouldn’t hurt but it sort of is unnecessary – I guess they assume our parents teach us those small details.

The road test is very similar but the school has 4 routes that you practice on and you are actually tested on 1/4 routes of which is chosen at random.  You follow a computer-operated program telling you when to turn and such, but after 6 hours of practice you should already have memorized all 4 routes anyways.  I’m in a small town in the countryside and I turned out to be the only one out of five taking the road test for a car and not a truck so I went last.  Man, I was tired of waiting and anxious to getting it over with.  Luckily I didn’t rush through the test and all.

A couple of days later, I have the license in my hand! 🙂 This definitely opens up new doors for future travels!  Looking forward to converting this to an international driving license someday soon!  Here’s to a city-kid growing up!

Getting a Cell Phone in Korea

There are a shitload of sources out there and I wanted to briefly summarize what you’ll need to know.

Quick Tips:

  1. Shit happens all the time – Korea is a fast-paced economy and has the same kind of lifestyle so changes happen very frequently so the specifics may vary when you’re reading this
  2. You need your ARC (Alien Registration Card), or at least the print-out receipt from the office when you applied, and a bank account
  3. There are about 3 major providers – KT (Olleh), SKT (TWorld), and LG
  4. The whole process takes at least 20 minutes
  5. You’ll need to pay 25,000 KRW (may vary) since you’re a foreigner and they need some assurance

Cell Phones

You’ve got a lot to choose from if you’re thinking of purchasing a new phone.  Used phones depends on the store’s inventory.  You can purchase used phones from some stores and/or online in Korea, but I took a look and they’re not quite up-to-date; I was looking for a used iPhone 6 but there were none out – however I’m sure you can find some in America’s used market.  One thing you should know is that just like in Japan, the camera’s shutter is designed to display the shutter sound and there’s no option to turn it off, not even in silent mode is it off, but you can download an application to get rid of the annoying sound once and for all so I’ve heard.

Phone Plans

From the stores that I’ve checked-out, the posters displaying their options of phone plans are just a piece of what is available.  I spent maybe an hour or more at one store looking at plans and more than half-way through he realized that there were more options that better suit my interests; see I was interested in a low-minute and high-data plan for cheap.  In the end I settled for 100 minutes and 6GB of data per month.  It’s running me about $80/month, including the phone’s price.  Now, this is on a two-year contract.  I heard and saw something briefly on one-year contracts, but they’re rare and limited to my belief.  I think they’re only available for certain phones.  You may be able to get a one-year contract if you already have an unlocked phone.  Also, I was hoping to only get an unlimited 3G plan but they told me that it was unavailable – I don’t know if it’s because it’s paired up with an iPhone 6 or if they got rid of their 3G plans when LTE started to become prominent.  I read a couple of articles on it but they were a bit confusing to be honest; yeah, they were in English too – maybe it’s me… Best bet is to find someone who can speak English to review all your options, if you’re trying to be smart that is.  One other thing I should mention is that since it is a two-year contract, if you cancel after only one year you will have to pay the rest of your phone off.  And based on your phone plan, the price of the phone varies; the more expensive your plan, the more expensive your phone is.  This is because they give you some sort of discount based on how much your plan is and every month you’re paying off your phone for a total of 24 months – so if you cancel after 12, you have half left.

Bank Account

I confirmed that they will automatically withdraw the monthly bill from your bank account on the 21st starting from the following month.  Remember the “foreigner assurance” fee I mentioned before?  That’s all you have to pay for a brand new phone and contract, for the moment that is.  As for opening a bank account, you’ll also need the ARC or the number at least, and your passport.  I went with a co-teacher and they did all the talking while the teller kept marking signature locations on a bunch of documents all in Korean.  I must’ve signed at least 15 times in 20 minutes – awfully a lot in my opinion.  The pattern I see is that they like confirmation for each significant section of a contract, and not just the full contract where you sign at the bottom.

Providers

KT seems to be #1 in Korea and you’ll see the Olleh wifi spots everywhere.  I asked around to see which was the best in my area and they told me SKT so I just went with them.

Have fun navigating Korea’s wonders!

Can’t buy the JR Pass?

You’ve got some sort of long-term visa in Japan and thus ineligible for the JR pass – what are your options?

  • Airplanes
  • Buses
  • Trains

Airplanes
You can use your typical flight arrangement websites to set you up, but if you aren’t made of money then you’ll might want to look into budget airlines in Japan.  This is a news article for 2012 and thus a bit outdated but it comes in handy.  These budget airlines are always providing promotions, sales, and the initial ticket price is usually extremely cheap, and thus difficult to obtain.  It may be worth to subscribe to their promotional emails.

Buses
There are many kinds of buses available to travel within Japan, but I would like to briefly mention just one specific kind for travelers on a budget.  Overnight buses (夜行バス / yakou basu) are generally cheaper than airplane tickets but sometimes budget airline ticket prices are cheaper than these overnight buses.  Many people rely on overnight buses and therefore the prices increase due to that demand and you’ll especially see this for weekends; if you can, it would be best to look to take these overnight buses on Tuesday, Wednesday, and/or Thursday.  Since you’ve probably lived in Japan for some time now, you probably noticed that there are some shops around selling a lot of tickets to crowds of people at a time; these places hold tickets for overnight buses as well!

Trains
Obviously you can pay an arm and a leg for a bullet train (新幹線 / shinkansen) or you can take the normal trains at the respective fixed prices, or you can purchase a Youth 18 Ticket (精神18切符 / seishin jyuuhachi kippu)!  Japan Guide has loads of information on this useful and amazing opportunity.  But to answer a few FAQs that might have popped up into your mind:

  • Anyone can purchase this ticket!  Yes, that includes people younger and older than 18…
  • It costs around 12,000 yen (<$120) and may be used up to 5 times (5 days, once used that day, you can continue using it as much as you want that day without consequence).
  • Only available 3 times a year – corresponds to the school’s vacation periods.
  • You may purchase as many tickets as you want.
  • You may share the ticket with other people.
  • If used at 11pm and then again during the same night at 12am, it will count as TWO times as it resets at midnight – in other words you can use it the same day from 12am to 11:59pm.
  • Can be purchased at any JR office.
  • These tickets are not meant to be inserted into the regular gateways but rather to be inspected by a clerk next to the gateways.
  • This ticket limits you to certain trains, local (普通電車 / futsuu densha) and rapid trains (快速電車 / kaisoku densha).  What does this mean?  It will take longer, sometimes much much longer, to get to your desired destination.  For example it took me 3 full days of traveling from Kyoto (京都) to reach the southern most port city in Hokkaido (北海道), Hakodate (函館).  Also took me the same amount of time from Kyuushuu’s Kagoshima (九州・鹿児島) to Kyoto.

For more information, I would always recommend Japan Guide and Wikitravel.

Getting Around Kyoto, Japan

Planning a trip to Kyoto City?  Pondering how you should get around the city?  Let me break it down for you.

  • Bicycles are easy, cheap, healthy, and the best way to see and get around Kyoto.  Kyoto City is not that large and you can easily get from one point to the other without getting lost.  It is also not that small where you can just simply walk everywhere.  C’mon, experience how it’s like to be a local in Kyoto City and hop onto a bicycle and ride with the wind!
  • Public transportation is largely available, useful and decently priced.  It can be very confusing and overwhelming, especially if you are not used to any other large city’s public transportation systems.  Can be quite costly, but there are various kinds of passes to help you save your money during your trip here.
  • A car is not necessary in Kyoto.  The traffic is not bad so it’s ok if you decide on getting a car, but it really isn’t necessary.  There are many parking lots available; some for a fee, some for free.  Why not spare some gas and hop onto a bicycle and break a sweat!

If I had to paint a picture for you, picture this: you are riding a bicycle through Kyoto, along a river, along a beaten path, breathing the beautiful air, seeing traditional structures, awing at the urban downtown center.  Or, picture yourself staring at maps, checking the internet for directions every hour, getting on the wrong bus/train, transferring at the wrong station, accidentally missing your stop, amongst commuting crowds.  Or, you can also picture yourself seeing Kyoto from the other side of a window on a road/street rather than on the sidewalks, riversides, etc.

There you go!  How to get around Kyoto City in a nutshell.  A more detailed post on Kyoto’s modes of transportation is on the way!

5 Bicycle Tips (Kyoto, Japan) Part 1

There’s no doubt that the best transportation option for getting around Kyoto is by a bicycle!

For that purpose, here are 5 tips to keep in mind.

  1. You obviously do not need a license to ride a bicycle, but what you do need is to register your bicycle when purchasing it either new or second-handedly.
  2. If there are no bicycle lanes on the sidewalks, ride on the side closest to the street.  Remember that the traffic is the opposite way so try to pass on the right.
  3. You are legally required to stay on the left side of the streets.  You may notice many Japanese do not exactly obey this, but I recommend trying your best to.
  4. Bicycles are legally treated as vehicles therefore the penalties are graver than you would imagine.  Thus, it’s best if you obeyed the lights and other traffic regulations.
  5. You cannot park your bicycle just anywhere you wish.  Bicycles are a huge part of the Kyoto lifestyle and therefore there are places to avoid parking your bicycle at so as to maximize traffic flow and minimize accidents.  These no parking or no standing spots are clearly marked by signs so be sure to double-check the area before deciding to park your bike there.  If you do happen to park in such a spot, the police may confiscate it and transport it elsewhere.  If you were that unlucky, check the nearest no parking sign to check where the location is and head there to pick it up.  You will be fined at least $20.  I heard that some places where you can rent bicycles from reimburse you, but you should re-confirm that before renting and relying on that piece of info.

And that’s it for now!  Look forward to the following 5 tips as I’m sure there will be at least 5 more!

In the meantime, what do you think about the bicycle registration regulation in Japan?  Do you think it’s ridiculous?  Let me know!

TT – How to plan a trip

Quick review on how to plan a trip!

  1. Who are you going with?  Why go with anyone, go solo!  If you can’t go solo, make sure you pick people that you can travel with; people who are like you when you travel.  So that means if you’re like me on vacations and like to rise early and make the most out of your day, sleeping late too, make sure your travel partner(s) does too!  This also entails activities, sights, capabilities and whatnot.
  2. When are you going?  Peak or non-peak season?  Make sure you research the climates, weather, activities, seasonal differences, prices, natural disasters, and limitations.  This is very important because if you decide to go during non-peak season to save money or whatnot, you may be expecting paradise but it could actually be a nightmare thus being the non-peak season; not always the case though, but it can be!  Also, activities and sights may be unavailable during non-peak seasons so be wise and research thoroughly!
  3. Where are you going?  By the way, these are not in any particular order!  I usually start with one and move onto another.  If you’re like me and want to go everywhere, then just pick a spot and start planning!  Of course during your research if it’s not the best idea, you can always switch and continue to do so until you find the perfect trip for your preferred time period.  Pay attention to location, climate, culture, environment and customs!
  4. Why are you going?  This is quite essential to any trip, especially if it isn’t open-ended!  I think that only open-ended trips can have an open-ended reason for going!  Try to match your location and activities with your purpose, if that wasn’t obvious enough.
  5. What are you going to do?  Kick back on the beach, drink/smoke all night long and party, outdoor activities like rafting and hiking, or maybe just sightseeing?  These should be match everyone’s tastes in your group, unless sometimes you split up; which is completely fine and actually preferable if you know each other well enough!
  6. How? How will you pay for the trip?  How will you get to your destination/what form of transportation suits your needs?  How will you get to the airport or station?  How will you get around your destination?
  7. Book the trip!  Use several sights to look at flights like Hipmunk, BookingBuddy, Expedia, Orbitz, CheapTickets, Priceline, etc.  Same goes for accommodation, there are many options like Couchsurfing, House Sitting, Pet Sitting, renting apartments from others like on Airbnb, hostels, hotels, motels, friends and family.  Think about your trip purpose, group and activities as everything should complement one another.
  8. Post-booking preparation entails little significant details like:
  • Whether or not to use cash or credit cards
  • Getting your passport, papers and documents required to leave (your country and enter another).  Make sure your passport doesn’t expire during your trip, you may not be allowed to even leave.
  • Take off from work!
  • Do you know how much you’ll be charged, if any, if you use your card internationally?  Can you even use your cards internationally?  Tell your bank/institution of your trip and make sure that they’re capable of being used, even if you don’t need them; you never know what may happen!
  • Also, as mentioned above make sure to look into tips, customs, culture of the destination so you’re not an ignorant tourist pissing off locals; you want to be friends with the locals as you get the best tips from them on food, activities, locations, etc.

Hopefully you found something you didn’t know about earlier or maybe the whole thing is useful for you!  This post more or less represents what goes through my mind when thinking or planning a trip of any sort.

Is there anything that I missed?  Maybe you plan your trips a bit differently?  If so, let me know! 🙂