Getting to Korea
One of the best things about teaching English in Korea is that you get free flights here. The only problem is that in most cases you’ll have to fork out the cash to pay for the flight upfront, and you only get refunded after a couple of weeks in Korea. So finding a well-priced flight on a good airline becomes important. One-way flights are the way to go, since the schools in Korea have a habit of refunding the full price of a one-way ticket, but only half the price of a return ticket, EVEN IF IT WAS CHEAPER than a one-way flight. Bizarre, I know.
There are a number of airlines that offer flights to Korea from South Africa. I haven’t come across any direct flights, not that I would want to sit in an airplane for that long. If you are looking for flights, take a look at the following airlines (in alphabetical order):
Cathay Pacific offers regular flights from Johannesburg to Seoul, via Hong Kong. This was the airline that I used, mostly because they offered the shortest flight and were also the cheapest I could find. I found the service to be very good, with the staff at Johannesburg airport (OR Tambo, or whatever they are calling it this week) going as far as to offer me and my wife a whole row to ourselves so we could stretch out and sleep.
I have flown with them before to China, so I had a chance to add some miles to their reward programme, Asia Miles. I now have enough miles for a free return flight between Seoul and Beijing. Very cool.
Emirates flies via Dubai, and I have some friends that are big fans of this airline. Emirates also had very reasonably priced tickets, and the prices in the weeks just before I left for Korea were very good. Their return flight prices were better than any of the other airlines that I looked at.
I struggled to find good prices on Malaysia Airlines for flights to Korea. All I can say is that they fly via Kuala Lumpur.
Like Malaysia Airlines, I struggled to find well-priced flights with SAA. My experiences in the past with SAA have not been stellar, so I wouldn’t easily fly with them again, especially not at the prices they offer.
I would have loved to fly Singapore Airlines to Korea, since my last experience with them, on a flight between SA and Shanghai, China, was fantastic. They are a little more pricey than Cathay Pacific, so I couldn’t justify the extra cost, but I will definitely look to see if they have any specials next time I want to fly.
Qatar Airways flies to Korea via Doha. When I started looking for flights, they had some of the best priced return flights, but their one-way flights were not that great. And the flight times were all a little long. However, I have heard some really good things about this airline, so I will also check it out for a return flight to SA.
A lot of people who come to teach in Korea make trips to China. It’s easily accessible from here, and you can buy a lot on your earnings in Korea.
Depending on where you want to go in China, you can fly or take a ferry. While the ferries tend to be cheaper, they take WAY longer. The average trip is about 12 hours. You can take a look at the prices and journey times here and here.
If you are like me and don’t necessarily want to spend that much time on a boat, then flying is probably the way to go. A number of airlines fly between Seoul and destinations across China, including Beijing and Shanghai. The prices on the different airlines are pretty similar, but you can get some good deals, especially if you book early. For some of the airlines, you will need to book flights through a travel agency (see below), as their English websites are bloody useless. Also, strange as it sounds, it seems the travel agencies offer better prices than booking directly through the airlines.
The following airlines offer direct flights between Korea and China:
Visas for China
South Africans (and I think most nationalities) need a tourist visa to visit China. These aren’t too hard to come by, but from what I’ve heard the Chinese embassy in Seoul no longer takes tourist visa applications directly from the public. Instead you need to work through an approved travel agency. Since I’m not working in Seoul, I don’t mind this too much. The tourist visa (a L-type visa) should cost around 50,000 won, and take four working days to process.
I sent my passport, one photo, and a copy of my ARC to Jongho at Soho Travel. I used the Korean post office – I phoned them up (well, one of my colleagues did), they collected the envelope in the afternoon and delivered it to Jongho the next day. Only cost me 4,000 won. The processing took 4 working days, and I had the passport with visa included back in my hand a week later. Very efficient, and a lot less hassle than the last time I had to get a visa for China back in Cape Town.
English-speaking Travel Agencies
Life is made much easier by having a travel agency organise parts (or the whole) of your trip to destinations close to Korea. I have found them good for arranging flight tickets, visas and sometimes accommodation, though I prefer not to go on organised tours. They freak me out. Normally I’d arrange flights and visas on my own, but I have been finding this hard going in Korea, with the airline websites not particularly user-friendly (or cheap), and visas a hassle to arrange.
Below are some of the English-speaking travel agencies that I’ve worked with or which have been recommended by other South Africans. This is not in any particular order.
Tel: 02 322 1713/4
Tel: 02 795 7771
Shin Wha Travel Service
Contact: Sancho (Yonghun Kwon)
Tel: 02 773 5091
One of the best local trips to do is a day visit to the DMZ. Several tours are available, but the USO tour is by far the best, and also one of the least expensive.
You can arrange to go on one of these tours by contacting the Camp Kim USO office in Seoul. The best way is to phone them. Try (02) 795 3063 or (02) 795 3028. It costs US$44 for civilians, and you’ll need to take your SA passport along when you go.