South Korea Travel Guide
South Korea is known to be a place of wild contradictions and stark contrasts. It’s where you will see ancient temples beside skyscrapers; experience the hustle and bustle of the city life with the serenity of nature nearby, and where both technology and tradition coexist.
While teaching English through the EPIK program, we have traveled many parts of this amazing country. From Seoul to Busan, and numerous hiking treks and festivals, we wanted to experience everything South Korea has to offer.
Important Information about South Korea
South Korea at a Glance: South Korea is home to some of the friendliest people on Earth. Here, you will find colorful hanboks and historical places in the middle of Seoul, South Korea’s capital. All around the country, you will also see temples, fortresses and palaces. When it comes to nature, South Korea boasts a lot of hot springs, sandy beaches, mountain peaks and national parks.
Currency in South Korea: won | 2018 Conversion Rate: ₩1000 = $0.88 USD
Tipping in South Korea: Korea has a no-tip culture. Everyone from cab drivers, hotel and restaurant staffs don’t expect any tip.
Language & Helpful Phrases: Korean
Hello = an-nyeong-ha-se-yo
Thank you = gam-sa-ham-ni-da
Beer = maeg-ju
Delicious = mas-issneun
Where’s the bathroom = hwa-jang-siri eodiyeyo
How much? = ige eolmayeyo?
Too expensive = neomu bissan
Don't want = wonhaji anh-a
Religion and Culture: While a little less than half of South Koreans practice a religion, there are a few throughout the country. The major three are Protestant Christianity, Catholicism and Buddism.
Transportation around South Korea: Transportation in Korea is excellent, probably one of the best in the world. Buses always leave on time, the trains are really cheap and metros are super clean. Most signs in are in English as well as Korean, so it is very easy to travel in Korea.
Best Time To Visit South Korea
CLIMATE IN SOUTH KOREA
Korea experiences all four seasons and each one of these bring different experiences. If you want to see the cherry blossom season, plan your trip around the first two weeks in April.
Seasons are similar to most northern hemisphere countries:
Spring: March to May
Summer: June to August
Autumn: September to November
Winter: December to February
Peak season for tourists is in summer. Most, if not all, things in the city get pricier and busier. The month of August is typically summer vacation from school so expect that there will be a lot of people.
Times to avoid traveling in South Korea
By all means, avoid going to South Korea in summer, especially in August. It’s the most expensive and crowed time of the year. Not only that, but the weather tends to be humid.
MAJOR FESTIVALS IN SOUTH KOREA
Andong International Maskdance Festival, late September to early October: During this festival a massive display of mask dancing takes place. People from all over the world come here to showcase different traditional mask dances.
Boryeong Mud Festival, second weekend of July: Experience something unique during this festival by taking a dip in a mud bath, try mud wrestling and mud sliding.
Namwon Chunhyang Festival, April: Basically, this festival is a celebration of one of the most famous Korean folk story characters – Chunhyang from Chunhyangjeon.
Seoul Lantern Festival, First Friday of November: Every year, the theme here changes. As a lantern festival, you can expect to see many lanterns light up the Cheonggyecheon area of Seoul.
Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival, January: This festival is voted to be one of the best in Korea. Celebrated during winter, activities during this time include catching fish with bare hands, sledding and ice sculpting.
*These festivals follow the Lunar calendar, so the exact dates vary each year
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Top Things to Do in South Korea
Get Naked at a Jjimjilbang
A jjimjibang is one of the spa retreats that you should try when going to South Korea. Here, you can relax at different temperature hot tubs or try an exfoliating body scrub. You won’t regret it when you see how smooth your skin will become. Read about our jjimjilbang experience in Busan.
Sing in a Noraebang
One of the best ways to feel Korean is to get a group of friends together (and some beers) and sing your hearts out in a Noraebang, a Korean karaoke room). You’ll have a wide variety of songs to choose from, mostly 90’s favorites, and take turns belting out the lyrics along with your friends.
See the Cherry Blossoms in Bloom
Just like Japan, Korea has its fair share of cherry blossoms, and it’s typically less expensive to see them compared to Japan. Annually, for two weeks in April, South Korea becomes a tourist spot for its cherry blossoms.
Explore Jeju Island
Most famous for its blue turquoise waters and mountain views, Jeju Island is one of the most popular places in South Korea. Here, you can experience swimming in a naturally formed swimming pool, hiking to a volcanic crater and chase waterfalls. Read about our experience in Jeju for a weekend.
Eat Live Octopus
If you love taking a bite of exotic food, you shouldn’t miss the chance to try eating a live octopus.
Insider Tip: You can head to any fish market in South Korea and ask for some ssanakji. They will give you a live octopus and give you details to a nearby restaurant where it will be prepared and served to you with some side dishes. We have more details in our Top Things to Do in Korea article.
Are you thinking about teaching English in Korea? Check out our guide to Teaching English Abroad and how to get your TEFL Certification.
Best Food to Eat in South Korea
All around Asia, South Korea has one of the best cuisines. Often, the first things that come to mind when you think of Korean food is Korean BBQ and Kimchi. These are a must try, but trust us, there is so much more!
When it comes to Korean cuisine, the typically meals are a combination of rice, vegetables and meat. So without further ado, here are some of our favorites:
Samgyeopsal (Korean BBQ): To eat samgyeopsal, you are the grill master and you’ll doing the cooking from the grill on the table. You can either order pork or beef and many side dishes will also be served here.
Jjim dak: Created in the historic city of Andong, jjim dak is a mix of flat noodles, potatoes, delicious sauce, chunks of chicken and some peppers. You can also add some cheese for that heavenly taste.
Kimchi: Kimchi is probably the only food in Korea that you’ll see everywhere you go. It’s the staple food served with every meal all year round.
Bulgogi: For all you meat lovers out there, you’re definitely going to love bulgogi. This is a pile of marinated beef and mixed vegetables that you grill at your table.
Bibimbap: When roughly translated, bibimbap means ‘mixed rice’. It is typically a mixture of greens, mushrooms, radishes, carrots, bean sprouts, gochujang sauce, and of course, rice.
Kimbap: Kimbap are Korea’s rolls of goodies. It can be considered as the sushi of Korea and comes in several varieties like bulgolgi and shrimp. Great for a meal on the go or picnics.
Typical Budget for South Korea
The cost of living in South Korea is realatively low, but it is increasing. Travelers can find many options to suit their travel budgets.
Good to know: For transportation, you can save some money when you get yourself T-Money to pay for your fares on the bus, taxi and subway.
HOW MUCH TO BUDGET IN SOUTH KOREA PER DAY
Budget traveler: If you are on a tight budget, watch your spending closely, $30 - $40 could be a sufficient budget.
Mid-range traveler: If you want to have a few splurges and stay in nicer accommodation, plan to budget $50 - $100 per day.
Dorm bed = $18-$30
Jjimjilbang = $6-$13
Budget room = $40
Mid-range = $60
Luxury hotel = $170+
Street food = $1-$5
Restaurant = $5-$17
Local beer = $3-$9
Soju = $1-2
Train = $6-$7
Subway = $1-$2
Bus = $1+
Taxi = $3-$4
DMZ Tour = $50-80
Jjimjilbang (Scrub and Massage) = $20-$70
Everland = $50
Lotte World = $45
Nami Island = $7
Responsible Travel Tips in South Korea
We are passionate about sharing tips anyone can use to travel more responsibly. Here are some easy ways you can travel better in South Korea.
1. leave no trace
Only leave your footprints. Nothing else. Bring all your waste and dispose them properly. There are tons of trash bins in the bigger cities in Korea. However, in smaller towns street cleaners come by frequently to collect trash piles. If you have rubbish and you can’t find a trash can, please place it in a trash pile. (I know, not ideal, but it is part of their culture.)
2. be aware
Check the restaurants and shops before buying or eating there. Only choose ones that don’t promote exploitation or cruelty of endangered species.
Before you leave your accommodation, check that appliances and lights that are not in use should be unplugged. Please turn off your A/C as well.
4. hang hotel towels
That’s right. Do you even need them replaced every day? Help conserve water.
5. do your research
While this is a travel guide, you can tweak it to your liking. Also, read about the country’s culture, religion, language and rules before your trip.
Related Article: Eco-Friendly Travel Gear Packing List
What to Pack for South Korea
You might feel a bit overwhelmed about which stuff to bring when planning your perfect trip. Don’t worry, we got you covered. And if you’re moving to South Korea to teach English, we have exactly what we brought (and what we wished we left at home) in our Moving to Korea Packing List.
Here are some South Korea-specific items we'd recommend packing:
bug repellant (solids are the way to go)
insulated water bottle (we love our Hydro Flasks)
reusable straw & reusable bag (say no to single-use plastic!)
fleece jacket (for fall or spring)/hardshell jacket (for winter)
rain jacket (it can rain during any season, so you'll want to be prepared!)
Skyroam Pocket WiFi (10% off Coupon Code: TWOWANDERINGSOLES)
Chaco sandals (we'd recommend these instead of hiking boots as they are less bulky and are good for walking through water)
South Korea Articles
To help you plan your dream vacation to South Korea, here are some of our articles to guide you. From fun things to do to detailed itineraries, we’ve got it all!