[UPDATED 1 July 2019]
If you’re standing at the crossroads between a backpacking adventure in Japan and a budget getaway in Korea, you’re not alone. Exploring these high-priced travel destinations on a low budget can take a bit of work, but leave the homework to us. With Japan and Korea placed side by side, we cover everything from the array of free attractions to budget shopping to ease your selections. By the end of the article, you will discover one destination that is friendlier to your travel budget.
1. Free Attractions
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but free attractions – yes! In Japan, you can catch a real-life sumo training session, explore the Imperial Palace East Garden with a guided tour, walk amidst the bamboo forest of Arashiyama, discover the old world charm of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, and more without costing any yen – and the list doesn’t stop there! Check out our handy guides to free attractions in Tokyo here.
Credit: clio1789 on Flickr
Brimming with cultural and historical sites, Seoul has a good amount of free attractions to keep your travel itinerary packed too. Our favourite is the free hanbok experience at Seoul Global Cultural Center. Followed by a chance to explore a traditional Hanok village, listen to Seoul-ful stories from the free walking tours, visit the bustling Dongdaemun after sundown, and catch the Seoul Lantern Festival and other festivities. And that is just a summary of our full compilation – check out our round-up of the absolutely free things to do in Seoul near halal food!
P.S. Heading to Seoul but not sure if you can do it on a budget? Our 5D4N Seoul Muslim-friendly itinerary under RM1800 will be perfect for you!
Verdict: Korea may have the upper hand in cultural experiences, but Japan wins this round for the huge amount of free attractions in Tokyo and Kyoto.
Whenever we have the four seasons experience in mind, it’s difficult to shake off Japan from our daydreams. Spring and autumn seasons are the best times to visit Japan, but this advice comes with an entourage of tourist crowds and high priced accommodations. If you’re fine with skipping out on the widely popular cherry blossom and koyo (autumn foliage) season, pay a visit within a week or two after the viewing weeks and public holidays.
But if you’re planning to visit Japan during these hugely popular seasons, make sure you check out these tips:
- Muslim-Friendly Guide To Japan’s Cherry Blossom Season
- Muslim-Friendly Guide To Japan’s Autumn Foliage Season
Credit: Yoshikazu TAKADA on Flickr
With manageable flight tickets and accommodation rates, experiencing spring in Korea will be lighter on your pocket compared to Japan. Remember to research and reserve early because the cherry blossom months also remain as everyone’s favourite time to visit Korea. Other affordable months to consider include autumn and winter, where hotel rates and airfare are generally lower. Due to the array of local festivals in the summer, expect to fork out high travel expenses during that season that is subsequently a huge no-no for your tight budget.
Check out our tips to having your best cherry blossom or autumn experience in Korea:
Verdict: Japan may be the ideal destination for spring and autumn, but if you have a budget to care about, the equally beautiful Korea is your best bet.
3. Accommodation costs
Major cities in Japan are generally known for their expensive hotel rates. If you’re in Tokyo, go for areas such as Ikebukuro and Asakusa for hostels (starting from around USD16/SGD21/MYR66 per night) and budget hotels (starting from USD61/SGD83/MYR256 per night). Spending the night in Kyoto won’t cause a dent in your wallet, especially in areas like Central Kyoto and around Kyoto Station where convenient public transportation is also guaranteed. Hostels are normally priced from USD12/SGD16/MYR50 per night and budget hotels starting from USD35/SGD47/MYR143 per night.
P.S. Looking for affordable accommodation in Tokyo? Check out these 9 affordable Tokyo hotels near halal food for your next vacay!
Credit: Khaosan World Asakusa & Ryokan on Facebook
Staying the night in a backpackers’ hostel is a true way to keep your accommodation budget to a minimum. When in Seoul, focus on areas such as Dongdaemun, Myeong-dong, Hongdae, and Itaewon for hostels with rates starting from as cheap as USD6/SGD8/MYR25 😱 If you’re planning to call it a night in Busan, popular areas such as Jung-gu (starting from USD5/SGD6/RM20 per night) is filled to the brim with affordable hostels, and same goes to Seo-myeon and Sasang-gu for budget hotels (starting from USD7/SGD9/MYR25 per night). Check this link out for 12 affordable accommodations in Seoul near halal food for the perfect stay!
Credit: @artravel.myeongdong on Instagram
Verdict: It’s a challenge for Japan to shake off their reputation for costly accommodation stays, so it’s pretty easy for Korea to take this category in the bag, in terms of their larger network of budget-friendly stays!
Never let your tight budget stop you from doing a little shopping on the side. One of the best places to shop cheaply in Japan is the famous Don Quijote (for snacks, electronics, household products, and make-up), Tokyu Hands (for leather goods, packaged food, and cookware), and lastly, Loft (for quirky homewares, stationeries, and accessories). If you have more time on your hands, saunter casually around Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa for a hot cuppa in an indie cafe, as well as window shop in vintage and secondhand shops. Check out our Japan budget shopping guide to get more bang for your buck!
Credit: hans-johnson on Flickr
While you’re on your shopping spree in Japan, don’t forget to drop by one of their many drugstores and get these 16 items!
Korea definitely has the upper hand when it comes to the value-for-money shopping experience, and more so when you’re shopping on a budget. Hit up the flea markets in Seoul such as Seocho Saturday Flea Market (for clothing, books, and household products), Gwangjang Vintage Market (for vintage goods), the Seoul Folk Flea Market (secondhand items, leather goods, hiking/outdoor gear/Korean music CDs) and more. If you want to see what else is in store, check out our guide to 7 shopping hotspots in Seoul near Muslim-friendly eateries!
Similar to most travel destinations in Asia, bargaining is the ultimate rule to stretching your shopping money. Since we have a couple of secrets up our sleeves, here are 11 tips to help you experience the best shopping spree in the shopping area of Myeongdong!
Credit: @lyna_hpy on Instagram
Verdict: This is a tricky round to decide! If you’re a bargain shopper just like us, you will definitely find the utmost pleasure when shopping in both Japan and Korea.
5. Halal Food
Ah, the thought of Japanese food is enough to stir some cravings. Dining shortcuts like Family Mart and Lawson’s Station may offer very little Muslim-friendly meals, but there’s a lot of halal ramen (starting from JPY750/SGD9.50/MYR29), yakiniku (starting from JPY3000/SGD37/MYR114 per set), sushi set (starting from JPY2400/SGD30/MYR92 per set) and udon noodles (starting from JPY400/SGD5/MYR15) waiting out there. Just throw your diet out of the window and fill your tummy with the help of these guides:
- Guide to Halal Japanese food in Tokyo
- Guide to Halal Japanese food in Kyoto
- Guide to Halal Japanese food in Osaka
Rule of thumb: Lunch sets are typically priced lower than the average dinner menu. For instance, some sushi sets can go as low as JPY1300/SGD16/MYR50 Feel free to indulge in your mid-day meals and save up during dinner!
Otherwise, if you’re really on a tight budget and don’t wish to spend a lot on dining in a restaurant, then check out these 9 Muslim-friendly Japanese convenience store snacks that’ll surely fill you up as you travel around Japan!
If you’re feeling famished in Korea, always remember that there’s a halal yeoipbap (lotus leaf rice), tteobbokki (soft rice cakes), and patbingsu (shaved ice dessert) lurking around the corner. The Muslim-friendly meal options may not be as many as Japan’s and if you’re in Seoul, halal food options are mostly concentrated around the Itaewon area. Check out these halal food guides in major Korean cities before your visit:
- Guide to Halal Korean food in Seoul
- Guide to Muslim-friendly eateries in Jeju
- Guide to Muslim-friendly eateries in Busan
For those of you who still think that dining in a restaurant can be pretty expensive, fret not! Spend your moolahs on one of these 15 Muslim-friendly Korean street snacks which are not only cheap but filling too. Or else, you can also pop by any of the many convenience stores around Korea to fill your tummy with these Muslim-friendly convenience store snacks!
Verdict: Considering the variety of Muslim-friendly local dishes and its affordability, Japan definitely takes the lead on this one.
Scoring an affordable flight ticket to Japan and Korea can be tricky because they aren’t generally cheap. However, with the right tools and a bit of luck, you can maximise your chances of snagging a good deal. Look out for mobile apps like Google Flights, Kayak or Skyscanner for trusty flight promotions. Of course, we have more secret hacks to uncover right here.
If you have Tokyo in mind for your Japan trip and are travelling from Kuala Lumpur, July (starting MYR504/one way) has lower airfare prices on average while December and Mar/Apr can be rather expensive with one-way tickets costing MYR600-800+. For those travelling from Singapore to Tokyo, September seems to be the cheapest month with one-way tickets selling from just around SGD200. June, March and April can be quite expensive with one-way tickets costing at least SGD270 or even more.
Planning to go Osaka instead? The flight fares from Kuala Lumpur are the cheapest in September, starting from MYR399 one-way. December and April seem to be the most expensive months, with prices hovering around MYR700-800 one-way.
If you’re travelling from Singapore to Osaka, October seems to be the cheapest month with one-way flight prices starting from SGD172. March to June (spring to summer) seems to be a more expensive season as prices for one-way tickets start from SGD240 and can go as high as SGD300-400.
Travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Seoul, the months of July-August and October are the cheapest (around MYR364/one-way) while Dec and April-June are the more expensive months where flight prices can go for at least MYR600/one-way. If you’re travelling from Singapore to Seoul, September is the cheapest month with prices starting from SGD179/one-way. This is great because the heat of summer would be winding down so the weather will be pretty cooling before autumn kicks in. Try to avoid the months of December, Mar/Apr and June as prices are more than SGD230 one-way.
If you’re from Kuala Lumpur and travelling to Busan, we recommend picking April as prices are the cheapest around MYR460/one-way while in May and June, prices tend to be from MYR580-700/one-way. Flight prices from Singapore to Busan are the cheapest in September, around SGD200/one-way while prices in June are the most expensive, starting from around SGD250/one-way.
For those heading to only Jeju, there’s a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Jeju and the cheapest month is July with prices starting from MYR326/one-way while prices in December can be as high as MYR800/one-way.
Verdict: If you would like to maximise your chances of experiencing spring and autumn, the steady flight rates to Korea will keep your holiday affordable.
Japan and Korea may have a reputation for being one of the most expensive travel destinations, but vacationing on a budget is certainly doable with helpful research. It’s a tight comparison and judging from the verdicts alone, Korea leads only by a slight margin with affordable seasonal rates, accommodation costs, budget shopping, and yearly flight fares on their side. However, if you’re a traveller who can’t resist the temptation of local cuisine and free sightseeing tours, Japan may be the one for you.