South Korea

In the West, South Korea’s culture is the least well-known of the cultures of the East Asian “big three” (the others being China and Japan). Those who visit this country, however, will find it a rewarding, traditional, pleasant, and easy country to explore. South Korea’s combination of developed infrastructure and cheap eats makes it a great option for first time travelers to Asia.

 

Travel-worthiness verdict: A great country that is well worth a visit for any traveler to the region.

Cultural Icons: K-Pop, K-Drama, Traditional Ceramics, Confucian values, large christian population, online gaming, smartphones and TV’s, spicy food, American military presence

Prices: Moderately expensive

You’ll love: The unique and rich visual culture, the temples, the food, the many national parks, the public transportation, the conveniences of 24-hour stores and restaurants everywhere, the cheap eats

You’ll hate: The ugly apartment buildings in cities, the spiciness of the food (for some)

Difficulties traveling: The only major difficulty traveling here is the language barrier.

Language(s): Korean

Culture, Arts, and Society: Korea is a society strongly influenced by confucian beliefs. There is a strict hierarchal system in Korean family values. There is a lot of emphasis on respect for elders, especially for the older men. As the country is becoming more modernized/westernized, however, this is starting to change, and the younger generations are far less traditional.

When it comes to visual arts, Korea is known for its gorgeous ceramics. Though Korean art has taken influences from Japan and China over the centuries, it still has distinct looks of its own.

Ethnic Makeup: Korea is a very homogenous society. 96% of people are ethnic Koreans.

Food: A great joy of traveling in Korea is the food. There is not as much variety as there is with Indian, Chinese, or Japanese cuisine, but what they have is great, and iconic dishes are often available for less than 6,000 korean won (approx. 6 usd). This makes it far easier to eat on a budget in Korea than in neighboring Japan. BiBimBap is a mix of rice, vegetables, egg, and sometimes meat. Bulgogi is a very tasty marinated beef dish. And almost all dishes are served with sides of Kimchi, fermented vegetables of which many varieties are available. On the coasts, many seafood dishes can be found. Korea’s variant on noodles is Ramyeon, which is often served in spicy broth. Korean food can be very spicy, but many visitors get used to it. In general, though, Korean food can be more of an acquired taste than other Asian cuisines.

Top Destinations

Seoul: The capital of South Korea, this massive city is a fast-paced, extremely high-tech capital with a variety of great attractions for tourists.

Gyeongju: The region surrounding this town is distinctly traditional. It has many great temples and parks, and is one of South Korea’s most rewarding regions to visit.

Busan: South Korea’s second city, Busan is a modern coastal town with numerous sights and activities. Jagalchi fish market is a highlight.

Jeju Island: Some may find it overhyped, but there’s still plenty of sights that help make it a popular vacation destination for Koreans. Jeju Island features the highest peak in South Korea, Hallasan, at 1950 m.

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Types of Sights: Many of Korea’s best sights are temples, though palaces and museums are also numerous.

Adventure: Hiking is Korea’s major outdoor pastime. Many national parks exist, and while they often have great views and are dotted with interesting temples, the limited variety of wildlife may be a disappointment. Also, national parks in Korea are very crowded, and none are especially big. That being said, hiking in Korea is still well worth doing for visitors.

Getting Around: Very easy. Domestic flights, buses, and trains are all very frequent and efficient.

 

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