Disclaimer: Please note that this article is the personal experience of the writer, who travelled to South Korea (Seoul, Gangneung and Busan) from 19 - 26 Feb 2020. Since then, the coronavirus situation in South Korea has developed significantly and continues to change on a day-to-day basis. If you're planning to travel to South Korea, we urge you to stay updated with the latest information and check with your local government (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia), airline, travel service and insurance providers for any travel and health advisories ahead of your trip. Do weigh all your options and discuss with your family or loved ones before changing or continuing with travel plans.
I travelled to South Korea in the last couple weeks of February 2020.
In a trip that lasted about a week, I travelled to Seoul, Gangneung (a city on the east coast of the country, about 2.5 hours away from Seoul by train) as well as Busan. It was my first time ever travelling to South Korea and I went there with a friend of mine. Both of us are major BTS fans and we had been planning this trip for more than six months (!), with an itinerary that included a lot of the spots made famous because of its significance to the BTS fandom. As we started counting down the days to our trip, I remember getting increasingly excited and I couldn't wait to go!
Then, the coronavirus situation happened.
It first starting gaining traction sometime towards the end of January, especially in Singapore as the number of cases reported here started pulling ahead. In addition, the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition or DORSCON (Singapore's colour-coded framework for disease outbreak) level was upgraded to orange around early February, and everyone was generally growing more and more concerned about the situation.
So in the weeks leading up to the trip, I started getting quite worried as the coronavirus situation developed. My friends and family were also worried for me - while they didn't prevent me from going and ultimately left it to my decision, they did keep asking if I was still going. Coincidentally, the friend whom I was planning to travel with works in a hospital, and as we got closer to our trip she was also worried that she would be unable to go due to work duties. But luckily, she was able to make it!
In all honesty, the thought of cancelling our trip didn't really cross our mind. At the time, the number of cases reported in Singapore far exceeded those reported in South Korea, so we were more worried about restrictions being imposed by the South Korean government against visitors from Singapore. And since we had already planned for the trip (including paying for our flights and accommodation) and had been looking forward to it for such a long time, we still really wanted to go. After assessing the situation (including making sure there were no travel advisories issued by South Korea for Singapore and vice versa, as well as ensuring that we were feeling healthy and well), we decided to stick with our plan and proceed with our trip.
We had some last-minute suspenseful moments though. On the day of our trip, our airline carrier announced that they were cancelling/postponing some flights and we saw that our flight route number happened were included in the list of flights affected! Luckily, it wasn't for our travel dates, so we could still go as scheduled.
Preparing for the trip & arriving in Seoul
We made sure to take all the relevant precautionary measures - we got surgical face masks to use during our flights as well as while we were in out exploring in Korea. We also packed plenty of hand sanitizer and wet wipes. At the same time, I subscribed to the local news (both for Singapore and South Korea) on Telegram so that we'd be updated throughout the trip on the latest coronavirus updates for both countries.
Our flight to Seoul was quite empty, so we were able to stretch out and have a comfortable flight! When we landed at the airport, we didn't have our temperatures taken or go through any extensive health screenings.
Exploring South Korea
We started exploring and doing all the touristy things you would expect, like wearing the hanbok, visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace, exploring places like Gangnam and Itaewon, and going to Lotte World.
In Seoul, things looked pretty normal to us - businesses, shops and eateries were operating per usual with a bustling sense of activity. There were also a decent amount of visitors at all of the touristy spots we visited (including plenty of Muslim travellers like us! We spoke to a couple of them and they told us they were from Indonesia ?). The only real indicators of the coronavirus situation we saw were the fact that people (especially store and shop employees) were wearing masks and there were hand sanitizers at the cashier counters of most of the shops we visited.
Visiting Gamcheon Village in Busan - it was a rainy day!
Enjoying the food at Busan-jib in Seoul!
Disclaimer: Do note that the views expressed in this article are purely those of the writer’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect HHWT’s views.