Korea is a mix of ancient traditions and modern technology. It is the home and birthplace of The Samsung Group, a conglomerate employing around 370,000 people across the world. Yet it is also home to beautiful temples and traditional ways.
Within the cities, it is clear that Korea is at the forefront of development and Koreans are obsessed with modern technology. During your time in Korea, try to balance your experience between the wonders of both the modern and ancient worlds because there are very few places in which you can see the two in such stark contrast alongside one another.
With the recent worldwide trend in learning English, Korea has seen a sudden influx of foreign teachers who now make Korea their home due to the lucrative benefits. Although their only joining neighbour is normally making the headlines for all the wrong reasons, South Korea is a country with a diverse range of interesting places to visit on it’s small peninsular. You can reach Korea by boat from China or Japan or by air from many places across the globe.
Food and Drink in South Korea
Korean food is particulary diverse and a haven for meat eaters (read a guide to be vegetarian in Korea). Grocery stores are not particularly cheap and when going out in a group, it is normally quite cheap to eat in Korean restaurants (expect to pay over double when eating in a non-Korean restaurant). For the ultimate budget meal, you can purchase ramen (instant noodles, ₩2,000) from a corner store, as they are all set up with hot water distributors and microwaves. When looking for the budget in sit down eating, head to an orange shop (a shop with orange signage) that you can find meals for around ₩5,000.
When drinking, beers and name brand spirits are not the budget travellers choice and if you wish to keep pennies in your pocket, always drink local. Soju (a 20% spirit, ₩2,000) and magkeoli (6-8% rice wine, ₩1,500) are Korean drinks with very low price tags, even in restaurants. One can also legally drink almost anywhere in South Korea, meaning that it isn’t uncommon to see people buy drinks from a convenience store, then sit drinking at the table outside it. As the table has been put there for that exact purpose, don’t feel bad doing this.
Accommodation in South Korea
When travelling in a group, a pension is the budget option for sleeping in South Korea. A pension is a large room in which everybody sleeps on the floor. Often they have small kitchen units as well as a bathroom. With a little more furnishing, they would be well on their way to becoming studio apartments. Cost: ₩5,000-15,000 depending on the number of people.
When travelling solo or in a small group / couple, look for love motels. A love motel is where people go to.. sleep amongst other things. It is possible to rent a room for an hour, but not much more to rent the room for the night. If you avoid the outlandish heart shaped bed themes and go for a simple room, they are the perfect budget travellers option. Cost ₩30,000-100,000 per room.
If you really want to go budget and sleep for a short time, head to a DVD bang (a private room in which you can watch DVDs). Ask to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy and you have a sleeping space for the whole night at little cost because the rooms are equipped with beds for those boyfriend-girlfriend trips as they escape their overprotective parents. Cost ₩10,000-₩20,000 per movie.
Transport in South Korea
Within cities, buses and subways only cost a little above ₩1,000 for a single ride which is a bargain when you consider the distances that you can travel within cities. Taxis are also very cheap compared to Western countries, but only really save you money when used in large groups (a half an hour ride might cost ₩10,000-15,000). If you want to explore the city by yourself and have an international driving license, you can hire a scooter for the day for around ₩30,000.
As Korea is a small country, it is easy to get around in, although the South West is less connected than the rest of the country. The ideal way to travel is to take advantage of their very cheap inter city buses. Although taking a long time (sometimes double the time), they are a fraction of the price of trains. The KTX (a super fast train) can travel from Seoul to Busan (north-west to south-east) in around 3 hours costing ₩52,000 in regular class. Taking a (non-express) bus the same route costs only ₩20,000 but takes around 5 hours.
What to See and Do in South Korea
This is an extensive section that has been moved to it’s own page. Please read The Top 10 Things to See and Do in South Korea for a full list of exciting activities in Korea. The list covers hiking in national parks, exploring Gyeongju on two wheels, getting banged up, Boryeong Mud Festival, viewing the cherry blossom in spring, seeing one nation divided, living like a monk, sharing food and drink, attending a body art festival, and getting your Bijindo on. Each of these terms is explained in detail in the article which is accompanied by pictures. The islands of Geoje and Jeju were not included because I believe them to be too busy and overpriced. Similarly, skiing and snowboarding was not recommended because it is overcrowded to the point of destroying all enjoyment.
Crime and Safety
Crimes rates in South Korea are very low although there is a risk of pickpocketing and bike theft in major metropolitan areas such as Seoul and Busan. If you are caught in possession of any drug, you may face heavy fines, detention, and possibly even a jail sentence. In the past, non-Koreans have been detained upon the basis of drug tests. Although tensions are high between North and South Korea, an Armistice Agreement has been in place since the end of the Korean War in 1953 which has halted hostilities. However, the border between the two countries is still closed and you cannot access North Korea as a tourist.
Other Reading on South Korea
The Minds of Children (work produced by Korean children in English class)