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South Korea

Photo © shykid10

Travel Guide Asia South Korea

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Introduction

Korean blossoms

Korean blossoms

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South Korea, the democratic half of Korea, is in many ways similair to its northern neighbour. They share history, culture and language. But for the obvious reason of its liberal government, South Korea is a much easier place to get to.

Its mountainous landscape is ideally suited to skiing, hiking and mountain bike riding - or just viewing with 'oohs' and 'aahs', if you're not quite so energetically inclined. South Korea counts to its name 20 national parks; interestingly, though the Japanese destroyed much of the country's natural environment while they occupied Korea during WWII, regrowth is happening vigorously fast. Economic regrowth is happening at a fast pace too, as is best seen at Seoul, where skyscrapers are charging up and modern development is marching ahead. What makes Seoul captivating for visitors, though, is its wealth of historical and cultural delights, including ancient temples, palaces and pleasure gardens.

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Brief History

Korea began with the founding of Joseon in 2333 BC by Dangun. Gojoseon expanded until it controlled much of the northern Korean peninsula and parts of Manchuria. After numerous wars with the Chinese Han Dynasty, Gojoseon disintegrated, leading to the Proto-Three Kingdoms of Korea period. Of the various small states, Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla grew to control the peninsula as the Three Kingdoms. The unification of the Three Kingdoms by Silla in 676 led to the North South States Period, in which much of the Korean peninsula was controlled by Unified Silla.
After the North-South Period, successor states fought for control during the Later Three Kingdoms period. The peninsula was soon united by Emperor Taejo of Goryeo. Like Silla, Goryeo was a highly cultural state. The Mongol invasions in the 13th century greatly weakened Goryeo. After nearly 30 years of war, Goryeo continued to rule Korea, though as a tributary ally to the Mongols. After the Mongolian Empire collapsed, severe political strife followed and the Goryeo Dynasty was replaced by the Joseon Dynasty in 1388.
King Taejo declared the new name of Korea as "Joseon" in reference to Gojoseon, and moved the capital to Seoul. The first 200 years of the Joseon Dynasty were marked by relative peace and saw the creation of Hangul by King Sejong the Great in the 14th century and the rise in influence of Confucianism in the country.

Between 1592 and 1598, the Japanese invaded Korea. Toyotomi Hideyoshi led the forces and tried to invade the Asian continent through Korea, but was eventually repelled by the Righteous army and assistance from Ming Dynasty China. In the 1620s and 1630s, Joseon suffered from invasions by the Manchu who eventually conquered all of China.
After another series of invasions from Manchuria, Joseon experienced a nearly 200-year period of peace. King Yeongjo and King Jeongjo especially led a new renaissance of the Joseon Dynasty.
However, the latter years of the Joseon Dynasty were marked by excessive dependence on China for external affairs and isolation from the outside world. The Joseon Dynasty tried to protect itself against Western imperialism, but was eventually forced to open trade beginning an era which eventually led to 35 years of Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945). After the end of World War II, the Japanese surrendered to Soviet and U.S. forces who occupied the northern and southern halves of Korea, respectively. For more information also visit the Brief History of North Korea.

From the 1960s until the early 1980s, South Korea had several military coups and quite a few problems regarding politics, economics and social life. Since then, South Korea has become a stable and quite a wealthy country and in 1988 the Olympic Games were held in Seoul.

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Geography

South Korea occupies the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, which juts out of the Asian continent. South Korea is a mountainous country bordering the Yellow Sea to the west and the Sea of Japan (or East Sea as South Korean like it to be named) to the east. The southern tip of the country borders the Korea Strait and the East China Sea. South Korea is a mix of high mountain ranges, valleys, narrow coastal plains, river basins and rolling hills. The majority of the country is very mountainous making only 30% of the land arable. South Korea also has claims to over three thousands islands, most of which are small and uninhabited. The largest island is Jeju that is also the site of South Korea's highest point Hallasan, which is an extinct volcano that is 1,950 metres (6,398 feet).

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Regions

South Korea is divided into eight provinces (do), six metropolitan cities (gwangyeoksi) and one "special city" (teukbyeolsi), which is Seoul.

Provinces (do):

  • Chungcheongbuk (North Chungcheong) - landlocked province filled with mountains and national parks. Notable Places: Danyang, Cheongju.
  • Chungcheongnam (South Chungcheong) - central western part of the country. Flat area made up of rice paddies. Point where main train lines and highways converge and known for its hot springs. Notable Places: Daejeon, Gongju, Boryeong.
  • Gangwon - natural wonderland; Seoraksan National Park, east-coast beaches and ski resorts. Notable Places: Chuncheon
  • Gyeonggi - surrounding Seoul and covered in its urban sprawl. Notable Places: Korean Demilitarised Zone, Suwon.
  • Gyeongsangbuk (North Gyeongsang) - largest province and richest area for historical and cultural sites. Notable places: Andong, Gyeongju and the islands of Ulleungdo.
  • Gyeongsangnam (South Gyeongsang) - known for its gorgeous seaside cities and most respected temples. Notable Places: Busan, Haeinsa Temple, Jinju.
  • Jeollabuk (North Jeolla) - Great Korean food. Notable Places: Jeonju
  • Jeollanam (South Jeolla) - Lots of beautiful small islands and landscape, fantastic food (especially seafood along the coast) and good for fishing. Notable Places: Gwangju, Boseong, Yeosu.
  • Jeju - Special Autonomous Province; Korea's honeymoon island, built by a volcano. Great scenery with wild flowers and horseback riding. One of the few places you may need a car.

Metropolitan cities (gwangyeoksi):

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Cities

  • Seoul - The nation's capital, dynamic and over 600 years old, a fusion of the ancient and modern
  • Ansan - a city in Gyeonggi province on the coast of the Yellow Sea
  • Busan - second largest city and major port in the southeast
  • Chuncheon - capital city of Gangwon province, surrounded by lakes and mountains and known for local dishes, dakgalbi and makguksu
  • Daegu - a cosmopolitan city, rich with ancient traditions and sights
  • Daejeon - a large and dynamic metropolis located in Chungnam province
  • Incheon - Seoul's port city neighbour, also home to the major international airport
  • Jeju City - on the island with the same name
  • Gwangju
  • Gyeongju - the ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom
  • Jeonju - once the spiritual capital of the Joseon Dynasty, now a leading center of the arts filled with museums, ancient buddhist temples, and historical monuments
  • Ulsan
  • Yeosu - one of the country's most picturesque port cities especially at night. Famous for its seafood and beaches, you can visit some of the islands in Hallyeo Ocean Park with cruise or watch sunset from its fabulous Dolsan Bridge or romantic cafes near marinas.

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Sights and Activities

Jeju Island

Located a short flight, or a long ferry trip across the Korea Strait, south of the mainland, Jeju combines beautiful volcanic landscapes with fantastic beaches and is one of the favorite places for South Koreans to spend their holidays during the warm and humid summer months. If you can, avoid the busier months of July and August and come in May or October when crowds are less, temperatures are much better and humidity is lower.

Mount Seorakson

Mount Seorakson (설악산) is the highest mountain in the Taebaek Mountains and the third highest mountain in all of Korea. Located in a national park near the city Sokcho this mountain is one of the most visited tourist spots in all of South Korea. There are great hikes, stunning waterfalls and insightful Buddhist shrines to be enjoyed while visiting Mount Seorakson. The best time of year to visit is during the autumn in order to enjoy the wonderful yellow leaves.

Nightlife and Shopping in Seoul

If looking for a great night out or some new designer digs Seoul is the place to go. This Asian Tiger has shot up in the last decade as one of the hottest towns in the world for drinking and shopping. Start off a night in a tent drinking soju and eating Korean food then progress to one of the hot clubs, maybe even running into a Korean pop star along the way. After waking up with a massive hang over head out to the main shopping district and spend even more money then the previous night out on some high end cloths or electronics.

Taekwondo

Taekwondo (태권도) is a very popular martial art and the national sport of South Korea. It is also the most popular martial art in the world with the most practicers world wide. That means while travelling around South Korea remember that most people might have learned to kick some butt along the way. Taekwondo has vanished from Korean culture several times during its history but has always come back in some form or another. After the Japanese occupation ended taekwondo became really popular again because of its nationalistic appeal. Taking a couple of taekwondo classes on a trip to South Korea could be very worthwhile. Taekwondo is also an official Olympic sporting event.

Other Sights and Activities

  • DMZ Tours - Day trips to the demilitarized zone with North Korea can be arranged for foreign visitors to South Korea.
  • Beaches - Enjoy one of many South Koreas wonderful beaches on a really hot Korean day.
  • Kimchi Museum - Learn the history of kimchi at the Kimchi Museum in Seoul.
  • Islands - Go off the beaten track and see some of Korea's islands that haven't changed much in 200 years.
  • Gardens - Explore some of the traditional gardens in the palaces of Korea's royalty.

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Events and Festivals

  • Shinjeong, means New Year's Day: on the 1st day, January. Shin(신) is a Korean word that means 'new'. January 1st is named 'Shinjeong' because after Korea adopted the Gregorian calendar it became the new way to mark the New Year.
  • Seollal, Lunar New Year, also known as "Korean New Year", or "Gujeong." Families gather together, eat traditional foods-especially Ddugguk (떡국) and perform an ancestral service. The public holiday lasts for 3 days, which includes the eve and second day. Many shops and restaurants close for the 3 days, so this might not be an ideal time to visit.
  • Sameeljjeol - 1st March, in commemoration of the March 1st resistance movement against the invading Japanese Imperial Army in 1919.
  • Orininal is children's day on the 5th May

Buchonnim osinnal or sawolchopa-il: means Buddha's birthday, 8th day of the 4th month in the lunar calendar.

  • Hyeonchung-il - means memorial day, 6th June. In commemoration of the people who gave their lives to the nation.
  • Gwangbokjjeol - is Korea's independence day on the 15th of August. This day is actually the end of the second world war with the official Japanese surrender to the allied forces, which also meant Korea gaining her independence after many decades of Japanese colonialism.
  • Chuseok, often translated as "Korean Thanksgiving", this holiday is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the year (usually September-October). Koreans celebrate by eating traditional foods, notably a rice cake called songpyeon (송편) and playing folk games. The public holiday lasts for 3 days and much like Lunar New Year, everything shuts down which makes visiting rather boring.
  • Hangeulnal - 'Hangeul Proclamation Day' anniversary for the Korean alphabet system on October 9th.
  • Gaecheonjeol - 3rd October. In commemoration of the first formation of the nation of ancient Korea.
  • Christmas is a significant holiday in South Korea, although it is mostly celebrated by young couples spending a romantic day together. Since a significant proportion (approximately 30%) of the country is Christian, there are no shortages of celebration in the thousands of churches whilst everyone else takes a well deserved rest at home.

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Weather

Korea is a small country and the weather tends to be the same everywhere. That being said the weather can be extreme in Korea. There are brutally hot summers that have a temperture range of 22 °C to 29 °C with very high humidity. This does make for nice beach weather, and the Korean beaches can get very crowded during the height of summer heat. The cold winters are not better than the summers with a temperature range of -7 °C to 1 °C. Due to the cold here there tends to be a lot of snow fall, especially in the northern parts of Korea. This makes for some pretty good skiing in Korea. Other than that walking around Korea in the winter time can be a very chilly experience.
Weatherwise, the best times to visit Korea are spring and autumn. The weather is mild and enjoyable April through May and September through October. In April, gorgeous flowers abound, especially cherry blossoms, azaleas, and lilacs. In the fall, the brilliant hues of red, orange, and yellow can be seen all around in the trees.

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Getting there

Due to North Korea not allowing any people to cross its border with South Korea has caused an interesting situation. It has made this peninsula country really into an island. With no overland borders that will let anyone cross them, South Korea has an island like transport system with heavy reliance on air and sea travel.

By Plane

Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN) serves as the gateway to Seoul and South Korea. It is one of the busiest airports in the world, located around 50 kilometres west of the capital and has been ranked one of the best airports in the world, together with the ones in Hong Kong and Singapore. Korean Air serves dozens of destinations in Japan and China, as well as other cities and countries in Asia. It also has connections to about a dozen cities in North America and even more to European cities. It has flights to Australia, Sao Paulo and Pacific destinations like Fiji and Guam on top of that.
Another big airline is Asiana Airlines with just slightly less destinations further away but even more in both China and Japan.

The old Gimpo International Airport now mainly functions as a center for domestic flights although there are services to Tokyo, Osaka and Shanghai.

Other international airports:

By Train

The South Korean government built a railroad all the way to the border of North Korea. The North Koreans have not finished it yet or are just going to ignore it. Therefore at the present time it is impossible to get in and out of South Korea by train.

By Bus

Other then day trips to one mountain in North Korea it is impossible to take a bus in and out of South Korea. This bus line is cancelled from time to time by the North Koreans as well.

By Boat

There are several ferries linking different Korean cities to other countries. It is possible to take ferries from Busan and Incheon to Osaka, Tianjin and Shanghai. Usually the boats have several different classes and the lowest class is usually filled with Chinese migrant workers while the highest class is private rooms with wonderful views.

  • South Korea - Japan vv

There are dozens of sailings on an almost daily or twice daily basis between Japan and South Korea. For example with Korea Ferry to and from Busan. Mirajet has high speed ferries between Busan and Fukuoka, taking only 3 hours. Japan based JR Beetle offers the same service.
The Camellia-line ferry service is much slower (15 hours) but almost twice as cheap.
The most popular and cheapest route is between Busan and Shimonoseki. The Kampur Ferry Service's vessels Kampu or Pukwan leave Busan at 6pm and arrive in Shimonoseki at 8:30am the next morning on a daily basis.

  • South Korea - China vv

There are many options of travelling by boat between China and South Korea.
Huadong sails between Incheon and Shi Dao, while http://www.weidong.com/english|Weidong]] travels between Incheon and Qingdao. Dandong Ferry plies the route between Incheon and Dandong and Musung has boats between Busan and Yantai.
Other possible connections to and from the South Korean port city of Incheon include those to and from the Chinese cities of Yantai, Dalian, Shanghai, Tianjin and Weihai. These cities can be reached from Busan as well, including Yingkou.

  • South Korea - Russia vv

Dong Chun Ferry runs two trips a week in winter and three in summer between Sokcho in South Korea and Zarubina (south of Vladivostok) in Russia.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Asiana Airlines, Korean Air and Jeju Air are the main carriers and together have an extensive domestic networks. Cities served include Seoul, Incheon, Cheongju, Gwangju, Jeju, Gimhae, Daegu, Seoul Gimpo, Wonju, Gunsan, Phang, Ulsan, Sacheon, Mokpo and Yeosu.

By Train

Korean National Railroads has a fast reliable network of domestic services. There are three types of trains. The Korea Train Express (KTX) is the country's high-speed train line between Seoul and Busan, Seoul and Yeosu, Seoul and Mokpo and Seoul and Masan (with new services opening all the time) which use a combination of French TGV technology and Korean technology to travel at speeds in excess of 300 km/h. The fastest non-stop trains travel between Busan and Seoul in just over two hours (check route map online). It has both first and second class carriages.

Non-KTX trains are poetically ranked as Saemaeul (새마을, "New Village"), Mugunghwa (무궁화, "Rose of Sharon") and Tonggeun (통근), corresponding roughly to express, semi-express and local services. All Saemaeul/Mugunghwa trains can speed up to 150km/h. Saemaeul trains are a little pricier than buses, while Mugunghwa are about 30% cheaper. However Saemaeul trains are extremely comfortable, having seats that are comparable to business class seats on airplanes. Though with the introduction of the KTX, there are much fewer Saemaeul and Mugunghwa services, they are worth trying them out. Tonggeun, formerly Tonggil, are cheapest of all, but long-distance, non-aircon services have been phased out and they're now limited to short regional commuter services. Most longer-distance trains have a cafeteria car with a small cafe/bar, computers with internet access (W500 for 15 minutes) and a few trains even have private compartments with coin-operated karaoke machines!

The KR Pass is a special rail pass introduced in 2005 only for non-resident foreigners staying less than 6 months in Korea, allowing unlimited travel for a set period on any Korail train (including KTX) and including free seat reservation. The pass is not valid for first class or sleeping cars, but you can upgrade for half the price if you wish. The pass must be purchased at least five days before travel (preferably before arrival in Korea). It’s not cheap as it needs a substantial amount of travel (e.g. Seoul–Busan round trip) to pay off and serious limitations on usage apply during Korean holidays and peak traveling periods including Lunar New Year in February and Chuseok in September. Up-to-date prices and reservation are available on Let’s Korail website.

By Car

Many international as well as local companies offer rental cars at major airports and cities. You need to be 21 years of age and have an international driver's licence as well as at least one year of driving experience. Roads are generally in a good conditions and signs are often in both Korean and English. Still, driving can be chaotic and you might want to hire a car with a driver if you feel the need.

By Bus

Buses (버스 beoseu) remain the main mode of national transport, connecting all cities and towns. They're frequent, punctual and fast, sometimes dangerously so, so fasten the belts you'll often find in the seats.

There is a somewhat pointless division of long-distance buses into express buses (고속버스 gosok beoseu) and inter-city buses (시외버스 si-oe beoseu), which often use separate terminals to boot. In addition, local inner-city bus (시내버스 si-nae beoseu) networks often connect directly neighbouring cities. The express vs. intercity bus differentiation comes down to whether the nation's toll expressways (고속 gosok) are traversed. In practical terms, express buses are marginally faster on long runs, but inter-city buses go to more places. For additional comfort, look for Udeung buses (우등 버스) which have just three seats across instead of the usual four; these cost about 50% extra. However, Some inter-city buses use Udeung buses without extra fares on highly competitive lines such as Seoul-Andong routes. A fourth layer of bus exists, which is the airport limousine bus, a separate network of express buses that ferry people directly to and from Incheon International Airport. Note that the airport limousines typically run from separate pickup points again to the intercity or express bus terminal.

No Korean buses have toilets, and rest stops are not standard on trips of less than 2 hours duration, so consider thinking twice about that bottle of tea at the terminal. Unlike trains, the bus terminal staffs and drivers are less likely to speak or understand English.

The Korean Express Bus Lines Association have timetables and fares of the Express bus routes in South Korea on their website.

By Boat

Port cities with ferry terminals are Incheon, Gyeokpo, Mokpo, Yeosu, Jeju, Gunsan, Wando, Tongyeong, Geoje, Donghae and Boryeong. Most of them have connections with either eachother or to some of the smaller islands. Ferries connect Busan with Jeju Island and there are also car ferries operating this route.

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Red Tape

Nationals from most countries are exempted from having to apply for a visa for a visit of up to 180 days. [1][2]

  • 180 days - Canada.
  • 90 days - Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Peru, Poland, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, Venezuela.
  • 60 days - Lesotho, Portugal.
  • 30 days - Andorra, Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brunei, Croatia, Cyprus, Ecuador, Egypt, Honduras, Fiji, Guam, Guyana, Kiribati, Kuwait, Macau, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Monaco, Montenegro, Nauru, New Caledonia, Oman, Palau, Paraguay, Qatar, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Solomon Islands, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uruguay, Vatican City, Yemen.

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Money

See also Money Matters

The Korean unit of currency is the "Won" (ISO: KRW) with the symbol "₩".

  • Coins: ₩1, ₩5, ₩10, ₩50, ₩100, ₩500
  • Banknotes: ₩1,000, ₩5,000, ₩10,000

(US$1 = ₩1,100 - 1,200 approx.)

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Work

Working in Korea can be a great way to experience the country. For English teachers the hours and pay are reasonable, however for other professions do bear in mind that South Korea has some of the longest working hours globally, and frequent obligatory after work evening drinking can be demanding. In addition, Korea isn't yet really set up to make entering the job market easy for foreigners. Reading and speaking Korean will definitely open up many more opportunities for you.

Foreigners must obtain an Employment Visa in order to legally work in South Korea, and will usually require a company based in South Korea to sponsor your application. Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan may apply for a one year Working Holiday Visa which allows for short term employment whilst on holiday in Korea.

Work as an English teacher is the most common type of work available to foreigners from English speaking countries, with the requirements of being able to speak English and a minimum level of education being a Bachelor's degree. Schools prefer native English speakers and many prefer North American accents. In most instances, native English speakers from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, and the UK are the only applicants that are usually considered.

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Study

Education is taken very seriously in South Korea, and the country is home to several world class universities, many of which have exchange agreements with various foreign universities, and are a good way for foreigners to experience life in the country. The most prestigious comprehensive universities are Seoul National University, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Yonsei University and Korea University.

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Language

South Koreans speak Korean, and knowing a few words of this will come in very handy. Unfortunately the language is rather drastically different from any Western language in its grammar, and pronunciation is rather difficult for the English speaker to get right (though not tonal). Depending on which part of the country you go to, various different dialects are spoken, though standard Korean, which is based on the Seoul dialect, is understood and spoken by almost everyone. Most notably among the dialects, the Gyeongsang dialect spoken around Busan and Daegu is considered to be rather rough and aggressive compared to standard Korean, and the Jeju dialect spoken on Jeju island is known for being almost incomprehensible to speakers of standard Korean.

The Korean writing system is deceptively simple. Although it looks at first glance to be as complex as Chinese or Japanese, it is a unique and simple phonetic writing system called hangul (한글 hangeul) where sounds are stacked up into blocks that represent syllables. It was designed by a committee and looks like, at first glance, all right angles and little circles, but it is remarkably consistent and logical and quite fast to pick up.

Learning to read hangul before you arrive in Korea will make traveling much easier, as many signs and menus are written in hangul only. Even basic pattern-matching tricks come in handy: for example, if you know that a circle at the bottom of a block is read -ng, you can already distinguish Pyongyang (평양) from Seoul (서울). Further, the Korean words for many common products — coffee, juice, computer — are often the same as the English words, but will be written in hangul. If you can read hangul, you'll find surviving in Korea surprisingly easy.

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Eat

Korean food is definitely in a class of its own, mixing spicy chillies and copious amounts of garlic with delicate ingredients like raw fish. Although Korean food is quite low in fat, a fact attested to by the observation that very few South Koreans are overweight, those with sodium-limited diets should beware, as Korean cuisine can be heavy in salt.

A Korean meal is centered around rice and soup and likely a fish or meat dish, invariably served with a vast assortment of side dishes known as banchan (반찬). The humblest meal comes with three types while a royal banquet may well feature twenty types of banchan. In addition to kimchi (see below), typical side dishes include bean sprouts (콩나물 kongnamul), spinach (시금치 shigeumchi), small dried fish, and much more.

The ubiquitous kimchi (김치 gimchi), made from fermented cabbage and chili, accompanies nearly every meal and ranges from mild to roaringly spicy. In addition to the common cabbage type, kimchi can also be made from white radish (깍두기 ggakdugi), cucumbers (오이 소박이 oi-sobagi), chives (부추 김치 buchu gimchi) or pretty much any vegetable that can be pickled. Many different dishes are made using kimchi for flavoring, and kimchi is served as a side dish as well. It is not uncommon to find Korean tourists carrying a stash of tightly packed kimchi when travelling abroad.

Two more condiments found in almost every dish are doenjang (된장), a fermented soybean paste akin to Japanese miso, and gochujang (고추장), a spicy chilli paste.

While many of these dishes can be found throughout Korea, every city also has its own regional specialities, such as dakgalbi (닭갈비) in the city of Chuncheon.

Noodles

Koreans love noodles, and the terms kuksu (국수) and myeon (면) span a vast variety of types available. Often sold in fast-food noodle shops for as little as ₩3000. Wheat-based noodles are a staple of Korea.

Naengmyeon (냉면) are a Korean speciality, originally from the north, being thin, chewy buckwheat noodles served in ice cold beef broth, and hence a popular summer dish — although it's traditionally winter food! They're also a classic way to end a heavy, meaty barbeque meal. The key to the dish is the broth (육수 yuksu) and the recipes of well known restaurants are usually closely guarded secrets. Generally comes in two distinct styles; Pyongyang naengmyeon and Hamhung naengmyeon.

Japchae (잡채) is made from yam noodles, which are fried along with some vegetables (commonly cabbage, carrots, onions) and sometimes beef or odeng (fishcake). Mandu (만두) dumplings are also very popular and are served up in steamed or fried as an accompaniment to other foods, or boiled in soup to make a whole meal.

Ramyeon (라면) is Korea's variant of ramen, often served with kimchi (what else?). Korean ramyeon is well known for its overall spiciness, at least when compared to Japanese ones. Try shin ramyeon (신라면) for example.

Jajangmyeon (자장면) is considered to be Chinese food by Koreans, being somewhat related to northern Chinese zhajiangmian, a wheat noodle dish served with a black sauce that usually includes minced pork, onions, cucumber, and garlic. Its sauce contains some caramel and therefore makes the overall dish sweet. A popular combination with 'Chinese' sweet and sour pork.

Finally, u-dong (우동) are thick wheat noodles which are effectivally the same as Japanese udon.

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Sleep

There's plenty of accommodation in all price brackets in South Korea. Note that prices in Seoul are typically about twice that of anywhere else in the country.

Some higher-end hotels offer a choice of both Western-style and Korean-style rooms. The main feature of Korean rooms is an elaborate Korean-invented floor-heating system known as ondol (온돌), where hot steam (or, these days, water or electricity) heats stone slabs under a layer of clay and oiled paper. There are no beds; instead, mattresses are laid directly on the floor. Other furniture is typically limited to some low tables (you're also expected to sit on the floor) and maybe a TV.

Next to pensions, guesthouses, homestays and hostels, the following options are available.

Motels and Hotels

Some of the cheapest accommodation in South Korea are in what are locally termed motels (모텔 motel) or yeogwan (여관), but these are rather different from motels in the West and closer to Japan's "love hotels". Motels in South Korea are generally very cheap hotels targeted at young couples aiming to spend 'time' together away from their elders, complete with plastic beds, occasionally vibrating, with strategically placed mirrors on the ceiling, as well as a VCR and a variety of appropriate videos. However for the budget traveller, they can simply be inexpensive lodging, with rates as low as ₩25,000/night.

Full-service hotels can be found in all larger towns in Korea. Cheaper hotels blend into motels with rooms from ₩40,000, while three and four star hotels are closer to between ₩100,000 and ₩200,000 and five-star luxury hotels can easily top ₩300,000. Outside peak season you can often get steep discounts from the rack rates, so be sure to ask when reserving.

Hanok

Hanok (한옥) is the name for houses built in traditional Korean architectural styles. Once considered to be old fashioned and an impediment to modernisation, in recent times many of these houses dating back to the Joseon dynasty are being renovated and opened to paying guests, and serve as Korea's equivalent of Japan's ryokan and minshuku. Amenities range from very basic backpacker-style to over the top luxury, with prices to match. Higher-end establishments typically provide the option of having a traditional Korean dinner, as well as a choice of either Western or traditional Korean style breakfast. Similar to their Japanese counterparts, guests would usually sleep on mattresses on the floor. Hanok accommodations can typically be found old towns such as Bukchon in Seoul, as well as historical towns and cities such as Hahoe and Gyeongju.

Minbak

In rural areas in and near national parks, you can find a minbak (민박). Most of these are just a room or two in someone's home - others are quite fancy and may be similar to yeogwans (motels) or hotels. Generally, they have ondol rooms with maybe a TV and that's about it. You don't usually get your own bathroom in your room, although some of the fancier ones do have an en suite. Minbaks usually run around ₩20,000 off-season though the price may go up quite a bit during high season.

Jjimjilbang

For the budget traveller public bath houses known as jjimjilbang (찜질방) can offer a great way to sleep. Entrance costs around ₩5,000-₩10,000 to get in, and includes a robe or pajamas to wear. Inside the facilities can be expansive, including showers, public baths, restaurants, computer/video game rooms, a room with DVD movies, and places to sleep, although this often means little more than a quiet, warm room with maybe some wooden blocks to rest your head on. These places are more often meant for families or couples coming in for the day and as such are not perfectly catered to travelers. When you leave you have to take everything with you, and pay to get back in. There is no secure place to leave your things except a single locker. Aside from these drawbacks, jjimjilbang offer a very relaxing place to sleep and bathe.

Temples

South Korea offers many Temple Stays in all parts of the country. The basic idea is that you stay for one or more days living with the monks and participating in some of their rituals. Jogye (조계사), Korea's largest Buddhist sect, runs a popular Temple Stay program where visitors get to spend 24 hours living at a Buddhist temple. Korean ability helps but is not necessary at some temples, but you will be expected to work at the temple and get up at 3 or 4AM to participate in morning prayer. In exchange for three meals and a basic bed for the night, a "donation" of ₩50,000-₩80,000 is expected. Reservations are necessary and can be made at the http://eng.templestay.com/Temple Stay site.

Drink==

Green Tea===
References to the "calming and stimulating' effects of drinking Green Tea in South Korea date back to between the 2nd to the 4th centuries. By the 6th and 7th centuries, Buddhist monks had a tradition of tea rituals (Cha-rye) and since then they have been the custodians of the 'Way of Tea' throughout Korean history. A revival in recent times of the drinking of Green Tea was sparked by the liberation of South Korea from the Japanese in 1945.

Although tea has been made differently in places such as China and Japan, in South Korea it has traditionally been processed in six steps; first, the top 3 leaves of the new shoots are 'Picked' early in the morning, ideally on the eve of a full moon; the leaves are then 'withered' by resting them outside overnight and bathing the picked leaves in moonlight; next, the leaves are 'steamed' at very high temperatures until they have wilted, preventing fermentation; then 'rolling' or rubbing leaves against a coir mat, which adds flavour to the finished product; 'drying' to reduce the moisture in the leaves; and finally, 'roasting' the leaves slowly for 2-3 hours, often with grains such as brown rice, barley or wheat.

South Korean Green tea leaves are divided into categories based on when the leaves are picked. The first leaves, called Ujeon, are picked in the middle of the third lunar month (sometime in April). The second harvest of leaves picked is called Gogu, followed by Sejak and Jungjak. Ujeon is considered the highest quality amongst the types of green tea and it is the most fragrant.

The revival of green tea consumption by the general public has been fueled by the 'well being' movement which took off in South Korea in the 1990's and as a result of the drinking of green tea reputedly having major health benefits. One of the major Green Tea attractions can be found at the Boseong Tea Plantation and surrounds in the South Jeolla Province.

Soju

Along with beer (Mekju), Soju (much like Japanese sake) is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in South Korea. This popularity is probably due to its great taste, many different varieties, an alcohol content between 10% to 20%, ready availability and its great overall value for money.

Soju is traditionally drank from small shot glasses then someone should always makes a toast before drinking. Most of the time the drinker finishes the drink in one go. Because of these customs it is very easy to get extremely drunk within in a few minutes while drinking with South Koreans. A traveller can tell how much damage someone has done to their body in one night easily by counting the number of empty little green soju bottles are on the table. The count of bottles goes up much quicker then you would think because soju does not have a strong taste therefore be careful on a heavy soju night.

Rice Wine

Traditional unfiltered rice wines in Korea are known as takju (탁주), literally "cloudy alcoholic beverage". In the most basic and traditional form, these are made by fermenting rice with nuruk (누룩), a mix of fungi and yeast that breaks down starch in rice into sugar, for a short while (3-5 days usually). Then this is strained, usually diluted to 4-6% and imbibed. However, as with the case of traditional soju, unless explicitly stated on the bottle most takju are made from wheat flour and other cheaper grains. Makgeolli (막걸리) is the simplest takju, fermented once and then strained, while in dongdongju (동동주) more rice is added once or more during the fermentation to boost the alcohol content and the flavor. Typically you can find a couple of rice grains floating in dongdongju as a result.

Yakju (약주) or cheongju (청주) is filtered rice wine, similar to the Japanese rice wine sake. The fermentation of rice is sustained for about 2 weeks or longer, strained, and then is kept still to have the suspended particles precipitate. The end result is the clear wine on top, with about 12-15% alcohol. Various recipes exist, which involves a variety of ingredients and when and how to add them accordingly. Popular brands include Baekseju (백세주) and 'Dugyeonju (두견주).

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Health

See also Travel Health

South Korea has a great health care system. With some of the best hospitals in the world getting sick or injured in South Korea is no issue to worry about. Remember that in many hospitals the doctors will be able to speak English but the staff may not be able to.

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to South Korea. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to South Korea. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid.

If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. Only in rare cases is vaccination against Japanese Encephalitis recommended.

Malaria does occur in South Korea, but only in remote areas in the northern remote areas of provinces like Kyonggi and Kangwon. Malaria pills are not necessary; just use mosquito repellant and wear long sleeves if you can when it is dark.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

One of the advantages of South Korea is its extremely low crime rate. One can expect to feel very safe in South Korea, even in the mega-metropolis of Seoul. As with any city, use common sense and don't leave valuable items unattended. In the end, you will feel very safe among the kind and gentle people of Korea.

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Keep Connected

Internet

South Korea is the world's most wired country and Internet cafes, known as PC bang, are ubiquitous through the country. Most customers are there for gaming but you're free to sit and type e-mails as well, typical charges are about ₩1,000 to ₩2,000/hour. Like anything, it may be more expensive in more "luxurious" places. Also, snacks and drinks are available for purchase in most PC bangs.

There is also a lot of free wifi available throughout South Korea. Just check for an unencrypted signal, although using open wifi hotspots is a potential security risk anywhere in the world so be careful what you use it for. Many coffee shops offer free wifi with no registration required.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

International dialing prefixes in South Korea vary by operator, and there is no standard prefix. Check with your operator for the respective prefixes. For calls to South Korea, the country code is 82. Emergency numbers include 112 (Polie) and 119 (Ambulance and Fire).

The country has three service providers: KT, SK Telecom and LG Telecom. They offer prepaid mobile phone services (pre-paid service, PPS) in South Korea. Incoming calls are free. South Korea uses the CDMA standard exclusively and does not have a GSM network, so most 2G (GSM) mobile phones from elsewhere will not work. Even quad-band GSM phones are useless. However, if you have a 3G phone with a 3G SIM card, you can probably roam onto the UMTS/W-CDMA 2100 networks of KT or SK Telecom; check with your home operator before you leave to be sure. 4G LTE has recently been made available in Korea; again, check with your provider. Mobile phone coverage is generally excellent, with the exception of some remote mountainous areas.

If you want to buy a prepaid SIM card, you should be able to get a prepaid SIM card at one of the olleh expat locations. However, you must have been in Korea for at least 3 days, and you must bring your passport. The fee for a prepaid SIM card is ₩5,500, and you have to charge at least ₩10,000 at the spot. You must also have a compatible phone. All modern iPhones (3GS and later) should work.

Post

Korea Post is the national postal service and has fast, reliable and well-priced services. Postage for a postcard anywhere in the world is ₩370, while letters and packages start from ₩480. On their website you can find more about pricing details, as there are many different rates, depending on the zone (which country) you want to send it to, how much it weighs, wether it is air or ground service etc. Generally, post office hours are from Monday to Friday 9:00am to 6:00pm, though the larger central post offices tend to be open until 8:00pm and sometimes also on Saturday or even Sunday, usually only mornings. If you want to send package internationally, you might also check international companies like TNT, FedEx, UPS or DHL, as they have fast, reliable and competitively priced services as well.

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References

  1. 1 Countries under Visa Waiver Agreements. Hi Korea. e-Government for Foreigner (24 July 2008). Retrieved on 2008–11–02
  2. 2 Visa Free Entry for Foreigners. Hi Korea. e-Government for Foreigner (01 February 2008). Retrieved on 2008–11–02.

Quick Facts

South Korea flag

Map of South Korea

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Local name
Daehan Minguk (대한민국)
Capital
Seoul
Government
Republic
Nationality
South Korean
Population
48,289,000
Religions
Buddhism, Christianity, Shamanism
Languages
Korean, English
Currency
Korean Won (KRW)
Calling Code
+82
Time Zone
UTC +9

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South Korea Travel Helpers

  • dream.big.

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Accommodation in South Korea

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