Korea is a diverse country filled with ancient culture are modern tack. Some things you should only ever do once to say that you’ve done them, whilst others can be done over and over again.
After a year of living there, these are what I would recommend all visitors do at some point in their travels of this little country.
This page is an extension of the budget guide to South Korea page.
Go Hiking in a National Park
Seoraksan, Jirisan, and Wolchulsan National Parks are three personal highlights of Korea, although there are many national parks all across the country. Some countries are famous for beaches, but it is Korea’s mountains that encapsulate it’s beauty. You will be surrounded by a colour blind assortment of elderly Koreans who will hike up the mountain faster than you can, but even their horrendously bright clothes cannot detract from the beauty of the mountains. If you go in summer and take a sleeping bag, you can spend the night sleeping at a mountain lodge on Seoraksan in order to reach the top. Jirisan offers similar accommodation and Wolchulsan is famous for the suspension bridge photo often featured on South Korean travel guides.
Explore Gyeongju on Two Wheels
Gyeongju is one of the most interesting and least developed cities in Korea. Hire a bicycle (or moped if you have an international driving license) and enjoy the city. Don’t miss visiting Bulguksa temple, one of the most famous and beautiful temples in Korea.
Get Banged Up
When in Korea, do as the Koreans do. Korean’s love to visit all sorts of ‘bangs’ (rooms). Noraebangs are for singing, PC bangs and Playstation bangs for playing video games, and DVD bangs to watch movies in private. Many a foreigner can be found stumbling out of a noraebang in the early hours of the morning after singing their hearts out like tipsystars. If a simple video game bang isn’t enough, hire yourself a multi-bang which has a combination of movies, games, and karaoke to play with. And finally, be careful in the DVD bangs. They have leather beds in them for good reasons. Most Koreans are not allowed to bring their boyfriend or girlfriend home before marriage, so a cheeky trip to a private DVD bang for an hour or two isn’t uncommon.
Boryeong Mud Festival
Can you imagine the joy of pushing your friends into mud pools? How about pushing over complete strangers without negative social repercussions? These day dreams become reality once a year at Boryeong mud festival which is an absolute must attend for all visitors who happen to be in Korea over the summer. Read the full post about Boryeong mud festival here.
Have Your Senses Overloaded by the Cherry Blossom
It is hard to put into words how beautiful these flowers are as they emerge in the spring. The smell fills the air and everywhere you go, you are hard pressed to forget what is going on all around you. The flowering of the cherry blossoms is an annual event and if you check the tourist boards, you can find exactly which days will be most spectacular as they are sensitive to the weather conditions of the particular year in question.
See One Nation Divided
Although there isn’t a whole lot to see, visiting the DMZ (de-militarised zone) between North and South Korea is an interesting experience. Technically the countries are still at war although hostilities have ceased in recent years. In certain places, you can see the guards standing almost face to face with one another. There is a huge, modern train station on the South Korean side that is ready to send trains North into North Korea when boundaries are opened. The giant station is fully equipped and has a somewhat eerie quality due to the non-existent commuters.
Live Like a Monk
Numerous temple stays can be found all over the country in which you participate in all of the monks daily activities. These involve meditation, bowing, and eating together whilst following all the traditional codes of behaviour. Each temple stay has unique features and I have experienced martial arts, eating in silence, 108 bows, and archery at temple stays in the past.
Share the Food and Drink
As a meat eater, you’re in for an absolute feast. Head to a galbi restaurant and cook up a barbecue storm. With a hot grill in the middle of the table, you will be bought round after round of raw meat to cook and share until you feel the meat sweats and beg them to stop. Next, try pajon (Korean pancake) restaurants in which your heavily fried pancakes can be filled with all sorts of meat, fish, and vegetables. There are a few other types of Korean restaurant involving soups and noodles, but one of the key features in Korean restaurants is that you share your food with everyone on the table. Almost all the food is communal and you dig in with your chopsticks. For budget food, head to an ‘orange shop;’ a small restaurant where all the outside decoration is orange. Here you can try bibimbap and gimbap amongst many other foods. There is also a great plethora of Korean street food including strange fish concoctions, roasted chestnuts, and insect larvae. If you’re a vegetarian, read how to be a vegetarian in Korea.
As for Korean drinks, it’s hard to eat without them. Order a pot of makgeolli and fill cup after cup of rice wine accompanying each cup with a shot of soju. When the shots of soju become too much, you can switch to soju cocktails. Mixed with a little bit of fruit juice, the 20% alcohol becomes hard to notice which is a very dangerous mix when combined with the £1 a bottle restaurant price tag (I ended up in hospital with several stitches in the back of my head, when post soju, I took on a batting cage for the very first time). Please drink responsibly.
See some Body Art
Daegu body painting festival is a free attendance, annual event in which competitors from all over the world use human bodies as their canvases. Come marvel at the incredible designs both on and off stage as they compete for prizes before parading through the assortment of tents and attractions for visitors to enjoy.
Get Your Bijindo On
Jeju and Goeje are the most famous of the islands and for this reason, they also have the most visitors. At times it becomes oppressive and the enjoyment of the beach is lost to the overwhelming number of people. Instead, head to Bijindo (Bijin Island) where you can legally camp for free or book into a cheap pension. You will have a fair portion of the beach to yourself, a nice bay for swimming, and a small mountain to hike for some of the best views in all of Korea.
Times up, that’s ten.
Don’t forget to check out Korea’s seasonal events (I saw an international art exhibition, a trick art exhibition, and the athletics world championships where Usain Bolt and co smashed the 4 x 100m relay world record),visit a love motel, and get involved with Korean cultures including K-pop and angry birds. Hiking is one of the main past times in Korea and if you ask around, you are sure to be pointed in the right direction of some lovely mountains, no matter where you are.