Korea is, in my opinion, a mix between Japanese and Chinese culture. Like Japan it's organized, clean, friendly, and helpful but with more of a Chinese feel in terms of the buildings and infrastructure. This all makes sense because the Koreans were ruled by the Japanese for 35 years. I spent time in Pyeongchang, Jinbu, Gangneung, and Seoul. Of all the places I've visited in Korea I found the language barrier in Pyeongchang and Gangneung is stronger than Seoul.
Things to know Before you go.
- Google Maps does not work in South Korea so you are going to have to download KakaoMap for all your navigation needs.
- There is NO Uber. If you need an app then Kakao Taxi is the recommended one, but I just hailed taxis everywhere.
- Korean won $1000 = approx $1 USD
- Airport is clean and modern but large so leave yourself some time because it can be a hike to get around.
- Taxis are metered — no negotiating before you get in the car BUT make sure the meter is turned on!
- Outlets are C socket (2 round prongs)
- Terminal 2 is the new station for the train departure of KMX train. Down to B1 then quick security checkpoint and down another set of escalators. It also stops in T1 though. You only need to be at the trains 10 mins in advance. They leave on the dot! No tardiness!
- No tipping. It's not disrespectful to tip like it is in Japan but it’s never expected.
- Typically showers are the ones that get everything wet. Shower head coming out of the wall, not a separate shower and toilet area. If you stay at a western hotel you won't find this, but it’s normal in Airbnbs.
- Make sure to stock up on your skincare needs in South Korea. Their love for skincare is amazing. I am working on a good list of brands/products and can pass along when I create it!
- Wifi is everywhere and usually free. But I love GoogleFi and do not buy SIM cards because of it.
- Pushing and shoving in crowded spaces is the norm, as it is with most Asian cultures. It's not rude, just a way of life. So buck up, kids.
- It’s very safe. I saw people leave their computers and phones on the table, walk away and no one touched it. But still don’t let your guard down.
- Wave with your hand down, like a child would. They never expose their palms. This is the best way to get a taxi. I tried both and was passed by each time I did it the American way but snagged the first cab when I used the Korean approach.
SOUTH KOREAN MUST DO'S
- Namdaemun Market is the largest traditional market in Korea and definitely a must do.
- JSA and DMZ are demilitarized zones and the place you can look over and view North Korea. It's definitely fake N.Korean town, for sure, but cool none the less.
- War Memorial of Korea
- Gyeongbokgung palace is the biggest palace in Seoul. Commonly compared to Forbidden City in Beijing.
- Traditional Tea Houses: I just love experiencing tea in the east, they have such a love for the beverage and it’s always a to-do.
- Myeongdong— a great shopping district to wander through.
- Lotte World is the world's largest indoor theme park. Need I say more?
- Gangnam Neighborhood— the one that inspired the song and has always been one of the most hip neighbourhoods in Seoul. What can I say? Gangnam has got style.
Neighbourhoods in Seoul
- Myeongdong: Major shopping district. Korean and international brands. Great middle spot to get anywhere in the city.
- Gangnam: The neighborhood that inspired the song... remember that?! Tons of business buildings but also a big party culture.
- Itaewon: Where the foreigners live. This is where the US Military base is and one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods.
- Hongdae: Nightlife, hippie, touristy, fashion forward. A bit less expensive and its where a lot of students are. Street art.
Cool Places to stay
- Banyan Tree Club and Spa: Nice hotel with a great spa. Urban retreat and beautiful architecture.
- The Plaza: Beautiful centrally located hotel. Great restaurants connected to it as well.
- Golden Tulip Hotel SkyBay in Gangneung: A Marina Bay Sands wannabe with beautiful beach views and a pool to die for.
- Kimchi, Bibimbap, Bulgogi, and shaved ice are my fave Korean dishes so far. Hotpot and Korean BBQ are also delicious.
- Get used to chopsticks they use them everywhere here. Practice before you go! Take out party!
- Korean food is pretty cheap! It depends on where you are of course but for the most part, it’s very affordable.
- Your cutlery will be on your table in a brown box. Chopsticks on one side and spoons on the other.
- They have call buttons on the table to get the staff’s attention in most restaurants.
- The Rice Wine is delicious. It's milky and odd at first but really good and low in alcohol; 4% usually. The clear rice wine is higher in alcohol, its called Soju. Both are incredibly cheap.
- You may order one dish but it comes with tons of sides and small dishes. Rice, kimchi, seaweed etc are common.
- If you have not tried bubble tea aka milk tea with pearls definitely try it. Usually you can customize the level of ice and sweetness. I like mine with regular ice and no sweetness added.
Tons of WeWork locations and I always like WeWork
Have you been to South Korea? What's on your list? Leave a comment below or comment on my Instagram @lizmercer_ I would love to hear your tips!