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Tiny, technology-loving South Korea packs more excitement per square inch than just about anywhere else! This beautiful country embraces modernity with a fervor unequaled throughout the world. If you are looking for the newest, smartest, or brightest of anything, it’s a safe bet to assume that you will find it here.
First thing to know: bring your smartphone. Up to eighty percent of the population is glued to their devices, and they are virtually ubiquitous among young people. Smartphone technology has been integrated into more areas of life than you can imagine—from paying for purchases at the store to scanning codes at the virtual supermarket, you’ll be amazed at all the uses Koreans have for their phones. Also in every Korean’s wallet? At least one credit card. Even the cabs here take plastic.
The Korean culture values hard work, but they also love to party. It’s not unusual to catch entire work groups—boss and employees all together—downing a few rounds of soju shots after a long day at work. In their free time, many Koreans love golf, baseball, video games, and setting their single friends up on blind dates… seriously. It’s a cultural pastime! Koreans are welcoming, curious, and fun-loving, and those with similar personalities are sure to love it here.
South Korea Top Attractions
The South Korean capital is large, frenetic, and bursting with life. People here work and play with equal intensity, explaining the glittering skyscrapers and explosive nightlife alike. Here you can find the true “Gangnam style,” taking in the outsider view of how the rich and famous live their lives! You can visit ancient palaces, serene Buddhist shrines, and a huge outdoor street market. There are plenty of beautiful parks—including the Olympic Park—and lots of opportunities for some exceptional mountain hiking. The National Museum of Korea offers a look at the country’s many treasures, and Lotte World Amusement Park, one of the world’s largest indoor amusement parks, is a great way to spend the day. You can take in horse racing, skiing, and performing arts of all kinds.
This is the home of South Korea’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as many attractions of both natural and manmade beauty. Don’t miss the hiking trails of Gyeongju National Park for a look at the country’s scenic wonders. The temples and pagodas are wonderful, reflecting the glory of Korean Buddhism and the wonders of the country’s architecture. There’s also Seokguram Grotto, which tempts visitors with exceptional views and further chance to soak in the sacredness of Buddhism. Many festivals and fairs are held in this area, making it a holidaymaker’s dream. Of particular prominence: the Korean Traditional Liquor and Cake Festival, dedicated to traditional music, food, drink, and crafts.
A center of political activity in South Korea, Gwangju is also famous for the local art and culture scene. The memorial park and cemetery are dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in the 1980 uprising, and both are beautiful. The country’s largest pedestrian eating, drinking, and clubbing district is located here, stretching along the riverfront. There are any number of activities in which visitors can participate, including indoor ice skating, rock climbing, and some fantastic hiking. The electronics market is well worth a visit, and the food is outstanding. Just north of town is Jeonju, the birthplace of bibimbap, and a great place to get some of the traditional food.
Situated in a wide, flat valley, Daegu is the fourth-largest city in South Korea. Palgongsan Mountain cuts through the middle of Daegu, offering Buddhist statues and pagodas, as well as Buddhas cut into the rock face of the cliffs. Daegu is the home of the Samsung Lions, and this is a great place to take in a baseball game. The food here is plentiful and encompasses a wide range of variety. The Daegu Modern History Museum is not to be missed, with a high rate of visitor satisfaction and an impressive collection of historic artifacts.
Seoraksan National Park
Spread out over four cities, the country’s largest mountain range is absolutely beloved by Koreans. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its stunning natural beauty. Deep green valleys, soaring cliffs, and beautiful, out-of-the-way little fountains make this a veritable monument to the splendors of the outdoors. Hiking is the best way to explore the scenery, and a wealth of signs in both Korean and English make it easy to get around. You can hike independently or with a guide. Little Buddhist shrines dot the foothills, making this as much a spiritual place as one to sightsee.
|Primary Airports: Incheon International Airport (ICN), Jeju International Airport (CJU), Gimpo International Airport (GMP)|
|Government: Presidential Republic|
|Currency: Won (KRW)|
|Population: 51,302,000 (2014 est.)|
|Electricity: 220V/60Hz (German)|
|Time Zone: UTC +9|
South Korea Travel Reviews
A Vacation in the Land of Morning Calm
In the fall I took a long vacation and decided to vacation in South Korea. During my travels I visited the southwestern coastal city of Busan. While in Busan, I visited the well-known Haeundae Beach. At Haeundae Beach, I rented jet-skis, took boat tours of the harbor and coast, kayaked to a seaside Buddhist temple, and sunbathed. The water was still warm and pleasant even though it was mid-autumn. In the early morning, the beach and beachfront sidewalks were shrouded in heavy fog and mist which made early morning walks and runs seem mystical and serene. On the sidewalk adjacent to the beach was the Busan Aquarium. The Busan Aquarium housed an excellent display of fish and sea animals native to the Pacific Ocean and the East Sea. When I visited the Busan Aquarium I was able to participate in a penguin feeding event and swim with sharks. In the evenings hot spring baths along the beach were opened and the public was welcome to enjoy them free of charge. Across the street from the beach was a wide selection of shopping and restaurants. Many restaurants boasted of owning the best recipes for kimchi and panjeon, a seafood pancake, and many would even offer free samples of their dish of the day special. Visiting Busan was a wonderful, and delicious, experience that I would love to have the opportunity to enjoy again.
Seoul, South Korea
Seoul, South Korea was one of the most unique architectural experiences of my life. It was the first foreign country I had ever been to where ancient buildings were still used and yet all around them were modern day skyscrapers. It seemed as if Seoul had two different cultures in one. As stunning as some of the ancient buildings were the modern skyscrapers rivaled them. We went to a restaurant and not knowing the language, we did not know what to order until a very helpful English speaking Korean waitress came to explain everything on the menu. I had a glass of wine called Oscar that our waitress said was like eating peaches from a tree. She had told the truth. My husband ordered an OB beer (Oriental Brew) and was satisfied but mentioned it was not like American beer. I ate a spicy pork dish with fried rice and it was delicious. My husband had a steak that he said was just as good as back home. Portions were well sized and steaming hot. Lodgings are critical when thinking of visiting Seoul, South Korea because here too, the lodgings had two different cultural designs. We chose a modern hotel because our waitress had warned us they did not have modern bathroom facilities in the smaller establishments. We visited ancient ruins and places that were Sacred to the Koreans. Seoul is an amazing adventure at any corner you could be visiting a different century. Parks, monuments and shrines are hidden everywhere. I would have to say I rate this visit as a 2. The culture being so different and the fact that it is a Third World Nation, Seoul did not identify with the quality I desire when on a trip.
Shopping, skiing and exploring in South Korea
My husband was stationed in South Korea and I was able to join him there twice in 2001. The international airport opened in Incheon that year, which made traveling even easier. We ate delicious Korean-style meals in local restaurants in Tongduchon. We walked the streets of Itaewon, where we got great deals on everything from purses and jewelry to ski gear. Lately, Itaewon has become an incredible buffet of gourmet street food offered by several restaurants founded by Korean-Americans. We took the local bus and subway system to suburban Seoul to go skiing on Bear Mountain, one of many skiing opportunities there. The country's largest city and its capital, Seoul, is much like any other metropolitan area. However the massive National Museum of Korea in the Yongsun District is worth a look. An entire day could be spent roaming its three floors packed with the fascinating history of this country. By far our most memorable experience was our trip to Peace Village, which sits inside the Demilitarized Zone on the borders of South and North Korea. We were given strict instructions, signed a waiver in case war broke out, and then escorted to the site. It was haunting, a stillness and quiet I'd never before experienced. Despite the tension, we were able to visit the buildings where negotiations are held and families are sometimes reunited. We will never forget the experience and hope to go back to South Korea one day!
Experiencing South Korea
I love to travel, but a trip to South Korea was never high on my bucket list. However, when I had the opportunity live there for a year, I was grateful for the experience. I flew into Inchon Airport in Seoul and grabbed a bus to my destination. The best parts of the trip south (150 miles) were the rest areas! They had street vendors selling food, drinks and souvenirs. Let me tell you, the food was amazing! I still don’t know what it was I ate, but it was excellent. FYI: The public restroom facilities require you to squat over a hole in the ground to do your business. No one told me and I wasn’t prepared for it when I rushed to the bathroom.
At Gunsan, I was able to do plenty of shopping and I had the pleasure of taking a cruise of the Yellow Sea. It was cold, but seeing the city from the water was breathtaking. Definitely a must do for everyone! Of course, no trip to South Korea is complete without a visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Visiting the DMZ will leave you speechless. Seeing such a heavily guarded border, with military members from both countries, knowing that at any moment violence could erupt…it’s quite a humbling and an amazing experience. South Korea is a fantastic country with wonderful people, exceptional food, great shopping and rich in history. No passport is complete without a stamp from South Korea.
Short Stay in Busan, South Korea
My fiancé and I took a brief trip to South Korea while we were living in Japan. We arrived at the airport in Busan, and after spending ten minutes figuring out how to buy train tickets, we sped off to Sasang Station. As we explored the city, we smelled the stench of sewage and the hundreds of papers littering the streets and sidewalks. We later found that salespeople roaming the streets were responsible for this, dropping promotional materials on the ground.
One highlight of the city was the delicious street food. Hoddeok, a bit of dough in a cup stuffed with cinnamon, brown sugar, and walnuts, is something everyone should try. I recommend going to a park or back to your hotel to eat it though, as the environment distracts you from the taste.
We did visit a few shopping malls as well. If you are in Busan looking for clothing or furniture, you have limitless options. The malls have stalls for each merchant, lined up in crowded rows. It felt like an adventure through a maze. You may even find yourself on a roof next to a defunct carnival site, like we did.
At night, we camped at the Samnak Riverside Sports Park, a beautiful place even in cold late autumn months. The view of the mountains, the cityscape, the river, and bay area cannot be beat. If you go to Busan, be sure to check this place out. It may be the highlight of your visit.