South Korea. The land of kimchi, meat, cheap alcohol…and smartphones. One of the things you notice in South Korea is that everyone has their phone out. Constantly. No exceptions. And it’s easy to see why with all these new apps coming out that make your life so much easier.
With so many friends of mine coming to visit South Korea for the fall comebacks (We Are T~), I figured now’s a good of a time as any to talk about which apps will be the most useful for your trip to Korea.
This one was already mentioned in an earlier post here but I thought I’d go into more detail as to why it’s so necessary: everybody uses KaKaoTalk in Korea. I mean everyone. That’s because every basic thing you can do with your phone – text, send photos, leave messages, call someone – you can do for free. For those coming to study, this app is a must because of a lot of students make KaKao Group chats to make study groups and projects together. You can even send files through the app which makes it a convenient place to get projects done. I’ve found that even those who are only coming to Korea temporarily continue using the app when they go back home because it makes everything so much easier to stay connected with friends overseas – international rates can be expensive whereas KaKao allows you to do it with no charge at all. There’s even a PC version so you don’t have to be near your phone 24/7 to get all your messages. A lot of companies also send most of their promotional events through KaKao, not to mention a lot of them make having a KaKao necessary just to sign up (or at least make it less of a hassle). This app is really the right place to start when visiting Korea.
2. KaKao Metro
Look, let’s be honest – the Korean metro can be really confusing. There’s 18 lines total that span across the city and then some, with names that go all over the place. For a girl who grew up with the metro system in DC, it was fairly easy to decipher but for someone who’s just visiting Korea for the first time or coming from a place where there’s no underground subway station, it can be difficult. Luckily, there’s an app that is the one-stop-shop for all navigation apps in Korea: KaKao Metro. You’ll also need a KaKao account to use it but it’s so worth it. Not only is it available in both English and Korean but it gives you the quickest route to get you from Point A to Point B with times, distance, even the closest car number to make the shortest transfers. But my favorite part is what is also included in the package: you get ALL the navigation apps with this one. Once you sign up and log in, you’ll see a screen with the subway map and three straight lines in the upper left corner. You tap on that and you get this:
Notice all the icons? You get taxi, bus, map, and navigation all in one! No more downloading multiple apps “just in case.” Other metro apps only tell you how to get through the subway station and give one standard route which may or may not be the fastest way to get somewhere. But KaKao Metro wraps everything into one convenient virtual package and you get the best help there is.
3. NAVER Dictionary
NAVER was also mentioned in the post I mentioned earlier but there is one specific part of it which is really all you need and that is the NAVER Dictionary – a translation app that is far more accurate than Google will ever be. The best part about this app is that it works both ways: Korean to English and English to Korean without having to wait for language setting changes. You know how in Google Translate you have to put in the word and press Enter and wait? Not with Naver – you can just put the word into the search box and it will show up right there underneath it for you. It even gives you various ways you can say a sentence in Korean and breaks down the vocabulary so you can understand better. There’s also the fact that it recognizes the importance of context: meaning they give you multiple definitions for the word you are looking for, letting you know which Korean word is more appropriate for which situation. Forget Google – NAVER is your true friend.
4. Happy Cow
Okay, now some of you who are familiar with this site may be thinking What the hell? This is for vegans! Well…yes and no. It does make it conveniently easy to find vegan places in Seoul (which are far and few but growing in numbers) but it also provides locations with Veg-OPTIONS, meaning it also tells you about restaurants that serve meat and veggies. And let’s be real – we all have foods we can’t eat or that one person in the group who is picky or vegan or allergic to something. Korea is not too familiar with individualized palates so even if you request something to be taken out, they’ll probably just put it in because they can. So it’s better to find a restaurant where you’ll know what you’ll be getting and that is used to serving those who may have a stricter diet. Oh, and the best part about this app – it searches for all the restaurants and stores near where you are currently. So if you’re hungry right then, this app is your best friend.
This app is fairly new, having only launched earlier this year but it’s growing fast and there’s a reason why. This app literally allows you to make money as you walk. No, seriously – with every step you take, you get points which you can later redeem to buy things in Korea. And when you visit Seoul, you will notice that you walk a lot. Sometimes, you can even fool it just by moving the phone (heh) and you can invite friends which give both of you more points. Now if you’re visiting just for a weekend or so, it may not be get you a shopping spree. But the points do add up and you might be able to treat yourself to nice cup of Korean beverage at least! Or you can just keep it in your phone and use it while you’re abroad and treat yourself to a victory treat when you visit Korea again. The points don’t expire as long as you collect them before the app resets at midnight everyday. For those who are staying longer than that, definitely check the app out – there’s nothing more satisfying that gathering all the points at the end of the day. You don’t need a KaKao account to sign up for it though it is an option (again, an easier one) and it’s bilingual so no confusing Korean directions to decipher.
And so, here are my top 5. Whether you’re coming for one weekend, one month, six months, or forever, these apps will make your life easier while you’re here. And hey, if you’re gonna use that money and time to visit the country, why not get the most out of it, right? Hope this helps and make sure to come back for more knowledge from a local!