South Korea is a bewildering place. Capital Seoul is a bustling, 24-hour modern city – yet turn a corner and you’ll stumble across a 14th-century palace or quaint tearoom.
Hard-working Koreans know how to party and you can easily spend your days grilling your own food at Korean barbecue restaurants, murdering your favourite song in the Korean version of a karaoke bar or partying in Seoul’s Hongdae district.
If cities aren’t your thing, holiday on an island, ski the slopes around Gyeonggi or potter around the temples of Guinsa.
As many Korean dishes are made for sharing, food courts and Korean fast food chains are good for solo travellers.
Avoid July and August during the rainy when it’s hot, humid and sticky. December and January are very cold. For most visitors the best time to come is either during the cherry blossoms of spring (late March to May) or the irresistible colours of Autumn (September to early November).
Seoul – Incheon (SEL) 52km from the city, Seoul – Gimpo, 17km from the city, Jeju (DJU) on the island of Jeju-do. Gwangju (KWJ), 11km from the city.
Public transport in Korea is excellent and affordable. Buses and trains form the backbone of the transport infrastructure and are relatively easy to use – most main stations will have an English-speaking information desk. The domestic flight network is extensive with Seoul and Busan the hubs. Driving is Korea is dangerous, frustrating and expensive. A ferryTaxis are cheap.
service serves the islands.
Top-end hotels are available in the major cities. Budget travellers are spoilt for choice. There are thousands of motels, tourist hotels and guesthouses. Cheapest of the bunch are yeoinsuk, where you’ll get a few blankets and a TV, and little else. Hostels in Korea are aimed at the young and have a boarding-school vibe. Camping is possible in the national parks. For something different try staying in a sauna, a 24 hour DVD room (perfect for siestas) or a temple.
Eating out in South Korea is reasonably cheap. Look out for the Lotus plaque outside restaurants – it’s a sign of quality. Korean food is spicy – almost everything involves red pepper paste. Try cheap and tasty bibimbap, a mixture of rice, vegetables, meat, shoots and leaves topped with egg and, yes you’ve guessed it, spicy pepper sauce. Naengnmyeon is noodles, egg and vegetables served in a cold soup. And of course no meal is complete without kimchi – spiced, fermented vegetable, most commonly cabbage. Surprisingly, South Korea is tricky for strict vegetarians. Although lots of vegetables are used in dishes, a little meat is usually added. Be prepared to pick ham out of your food with your chopsticks.
Korea is one of Asia’s safest countries in terms of crime and health. However, don’t’ suspend usual sound judgement – keep belongings secure. South Korea has one of the worst road safety records in the world, so exercise extreme caution on both roads and pavements.
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