Deborah Tan (most right) with her friends at the Han River during their graduation trip in South Korea. Photo Credit: Deborah Tan

It’s bitter cold at negative 8 degrees Celcius, but Deborah Tan and her travel companions were determined to join the snaking queue to enter Sinkhole, one of the most popular hip-hop clubs in Hongdae, Seoul. 

“We [didn’t] eat dinner purposely so we could make it to the club, since it closes at 9 pm,” said the 21-year-old, a former writer for The UrbanWire.

After a six-month delay, Deborah was excited to go on a 13-day graduation trip with her polytechnic classmates to South Korea through the Vaccinated Travel Lane (Air) [VTL (Air)] in December 2021. 

However, the Omicron variant situation started worsening in South Korea leading up to their trip.The Korean government announced that travellers flying to South Korea from Singapore between 29 Dec 2021 and 20 Jan 2022 would have to serve a 10-day quarantine.

“We were shocked when we heard the news because we didn’t know if we could travel,” said Deborah. “We felt quite desperate to leave [Singapore] after being stuck here for almost two years.”

They clarified their concerns with Singapore Airlines and were relieved to know that they would still be able to enter Korea without quarantine. 

They also had a good time for most of their trip, despite the hassle of going through five compulsory Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests which cost around $120 each.

At Korean hospitals, Covid-19 safety booths are set up for foreigners to take their mandatory PCR tests. Photo Credit: Deborah Tan

However, they were disappointed when barred from entering Sinkhole, the hip-hop club that charges no entrance fee and is a magnet for the youth. 

They waited in line for over 30 minutes in the cold weather but were turned away by the staff despite presenting their travel and vaccination documents, which were printed in Korean. 

“I think it’s because [the staff] were too lazy to deal with foreigners. It’s quite a hassle to write down our details especially since we didn’t have the COOV app, a Korean version of TraceTogether,” said Deborah. 

Fortunately, they were able to enter another club in Hongdae and managed to get a taste of nightlife in Seoul.

Deborah and her friends bumped into another group of Singaporean tourists at the nightclub and partied with them until 9 pm. No Covid-19 restrictions were implemented at the club. Video Credit: Deborah Tan

“It was still fun even though all entertainment clubs had to close at 9 pm. Since clubs aren’t even open in Singapore, it was fun to experience it again overseas,” said Deborah.

Cheryl Chua, 29, is another Singaporean who managed to fly to Seoul in late December on a VTL flight, and she’s happy to be able to visit iconic attractions such as Lotte World and Bukhansan National Park.

While there were no safe distancing measures implemented at Lotte World, everyone at the theme park was masked up. Video Credit: Cheryl Chua

Some hiccups occurred during Ms Chua’s trip. She and her partner were denied entry to a restaurant in Hongdae, despite repeatedly mentioning that they were tourists and did not have the COOV app. 

The couple were also unable to take their third PCR test at a hospital as it was closed on New Year’s Day. “We were [stressed] out because there was no one there to guide us,” she said.

Ms Chua and her partner were unable to take their PCR test at a local Korean hospital as it was closed on a public holiday. Photo Credit: Cheryl Chua

Instead, they had their PCR tests done at a communal tent that they stumbled upon outside of their hotel. Their PCR tests were done free of charge, which came as a pleasant surprise to them. 

Despite the tedious and costly process of travelling through the VTL, Deborah and Ms Chua agreed that their time spent in South Korea was fun and memorable.

“Do your planning wisely, break down your [expenses] and most importantly, just stay safe,” advises Ms Chua. 

Proofread By: Ruth Loo Hui En and Tay Yi Ling Stacey