So we just got back from South Korea and had an antenatal appointment – things are all good and clear! I thought I might write up what its like travelling whilst pregnant for those who are considering it. My GP and midwife gave me the all clear, and I was very low risk, so we decided to keep our plans to go overseas. We went for just under two weeks, taking mainly daytime flights, all on budget airlines (2 for 1 man!). We took it pretty slow, coming back early most nights and taxi-ing wherever we could.
Admittedly I was pretty unfit, after avoiding strenuous exercise for the 1st trimester. Unfortunately it didn’t prepare me well to walk everywhere in Korea. Thought, it’s definitely do-able and we had HEAPS of fun. But I guess one can’t be naive about the difficulties and sacrifices that must be made…
- Timing – You obviously should check with your doctor whether you, specifically are able to travel. Second trimester is usually the safest – unless you have complications or what not. I traveled during week 16-17. If you’re expecting, you’d know that unfortunately you can’t get any vaccinations before you go. This puts you at some risk. I had booked one day tour to the DMZ (which I had REALLY wanted to check out) but since it was in a high-risk area for malaria, I had to cancel it 😦 Everywhere else in South Korea was fine.
- Hygiene – Basically I was told by the doc to drink bottled water only, and used that or cooled boiled water for brushing teeth. Of course, hygiene is SUPER important, so I brought my hand-saniitizer everywhere and used it often, especially after using public transport and before eating.
- Medical Care – Beforehand, I researched the nearby doctors/hospitals that provide care in English and prepared the numbers to call just in case something happened – numbers for Australia as well as South Korea. I didn’t think it was necessary to alert my Airbnb hosts but perhaps that may have helped. All of them could speak English so they may have been able to help too.
- Insomnia – As some of you know, I suffer from some insomnia. It was REALLY bad throughout the trip. Usually I’d pop in some natural sleep supplement but I can’t take those anymore, so basically you just have to PRAY and wait
I guess I just got used to being super clean/hygienic, its not too difficult. Cancelling DMZ tour was a small sacrifice.
- Before getting on the plane – just be aware that even though you’re generally clear to fly (up until like 28 weeks I think), AirAsia (and probably most other airlines) need you to sign a disclaimer. Because of this, you can’t check-in online beforehand, but check-in in person. This can be time-consuming, they generally don’t have the form on them and they need multiple copies. Some staff went to the photocopier, others asked me to make all the copies myself. There are 3 copies, one for you, one for the boarding gate staff and one for the cabin crew. In some places, they delivered it to the gate and cabin internally, in others I had to give it myself. Also, remember to ask for an aisle seat at this point, you don’t want to bother others when you need to constantly get up for toilet and walking….
- On the plane – Apparently flying gives you higher risk of DVT, so make an effort to walk around and move around more than usual. Or, invest in some anti-DVT clothing (I didn’t).
- Fruit & Veg – The hardest thing was, being on the road often, I found it hard to eat fresh fruit and vegetables, as all the websites tend to tell you to avoid pre-prepared and eat home-made instead. We had kitchenettes where we stayed, but they weren’t particularly well equipped. Also, because I wasn’t meant to drink tap water at all, that means you need to boil then cool down tap water, wash your fruits and veg in that, THEN eat. AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT! The 1st half of our trip was with friends. In the 2nd half, we had a bit more time to ourselves, I managed to do this for some grapes and apple ($2 each!) we got . But yeah its SUPER time-consuming + expensive. Other than that, I just tried to order dishes now and again that had vegetables in them. It was hard having Korean BBQ cause I couldn’t wrap the lettuce around the meat to eat…(the true Korean way). Admittedly, I also eased up on this later in the trip (at my own risk). I just hate eating lots of meat by itself. With regards to banchan (the side dishes), I had kimchi, but the others I avoided.
- Street Food – One of the hardest things though was avoiding street food. It was SO hard! In KL thankfully, we found Lot 10 Hutong which is a food court which gathers famous hawker stalls together. We ate there A LOT 🙂 In Korea, occasionally, they have proper stalls/shops that have street food on the menu, so I was able to try some. I eased up a little later on, and tried Hotteok and Potato Chips on a Stick. I guess taking the risk is up to you. Both of them were deep fried.
- Raw Seafood – The other thing I had to avoid was raw seafood 😦 When we were at Jagalchi in Busan, I couldn’t eat much at all…we had a seafood hotpot but I couldn’t eat much shellfish…most grilled fish in Korea is mackerel (high mercury? couldn’t find detailed info)…and I couldn’t even eat lettuce. I really wanted to try hweh so we dipped one small piece of raw abalone into the hotpot to cook and then I ate it 🙂 For other seafood, I had abalone rice porridge later which was nice 🙂
- Liquids – At restaurants, its either water, soju or soft drink – NO JUICE. Most places give you chilled water but its hard to find out if its from the tap or a machine. In those cases, I had to wait, sneakily drink from bottle or get soft drink. You get pretty sick of water after a while but the only option then is to get soft drink. You can buy water, milk and juice cheaply at convenience stores though but the prices add up.
The really dumb thing about food was – in order to AVOID some foods, I ended up eating some unhealthy stuff. Cause it was hard to find vegies, I didn’t eat much initially (later, I finally ordered a veg dolsot bibimbap to make up for it). There weren’t many quick breakfast options so I ended up eating fast-food, or bread from bread shops.
Maybe you think I was too lenient. I guess with food, you can go CRAZY trying to obey ALL the rules so to preserve my sanity, I just tried to read up, be well informed, then make my own informed decisions knowing the risks. You don’t have to follow what I did. But yeah thank God, I had no toilet trouble while I was away (you can’t take anything if you get constipated or the runs).
South Korea has a very efficient and extensive subway system. Unfortunately, their subway stations are HUGE. To transfer across lines might mean HEAPS of walking. I don’t know how old people in Korea do it. It’s pretty tiring. Also, there are a bazillion exits. Walking from one exit to another can be REALLY long. Many of those exits don’t have lifts, just stairs. Sometimes we needed to change twice and that was tiring. My husband was so nice to carry our luggage up and down stairs for me.
Also, at my stage of pregnancy, I wasn’t showing enough to be offered a seat. We didn’t travel in peak time THAT much, so most of the time, I was able to sit after all that walking. Also, there aren’t that many seats on the platforms. When there were 4 of us, it was about the same price to take a taxi so we took them often. I expected taxi drivers to be a bit crazy, but they weren’t as bad as China ones.
This deserves it own section. Amazingly, my bladder seemed kinda normal throughout. Basically, toilets can be found most places (though if its the subway, you might have to walk a bit) and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that most of them were quite clean and had toilet paper! even subway station toilets! And those in big touristy areas. Also, Korea has Western toilet system, so no squatting. (KL was an entirely different matter!)
I’m glad to be back where I can eat fresh fruit and vegetables and drive everywhere! I can only thank God for keeping me safe throughout the trip. My husband was also super helpful and a big THANK YOU to our travelling companions for looking out for my health and safety, as well as being flexible with arrangements when I got tired (and grumpy from no sleep) – I really appreciate you guys 🙂 A few times the insomnia made it so bad I wondered whether I should have gone. Maybe it sounds like it was a difficult trip. I guess its both Yes and No. On the one hand, I can’t deny it was exhausting at times. At the same time, there was no major reason why we couldn’t go (medically speaking) and we had a lot of fun.
Hope you found it useful if you ever find yourself travelling to Korea while pregnant. Of course, please get advice from your doctor as everyone is different. For the next post, I’ll be talking about certain areas of Seoul and Busan and what its like specifically in those places for pregnant women.