8 Reasons I Love South Korea
This is a guest post by top travel blogger Chris Walker-Bush of Aussie on the Road
I think we all remember our first time with fondness. We look back at that first awkward kiss or that first game that turned us into a fan, and it brings a nostalgic smile to our faces.
The same holds true for travel. My first tentative steps out of the relative comfort of Australian life took place in the chill November winds that whipped around Incheon International Airport.
Thus began my two year love affair with the peninsula country that likes to call itself the land of the morning calm.
Too few people include South Korea on their travel itineraries, but I hope reading through my reasons for loving the country will maybe get you to rethink your travel plans and give the often forgotten Asian country a chance.
There are a lot of reasons why Korea will always hold a special place in my heart, but below you’ll find the eight that stand out above all others.
#8 – Cheap Transport
Getting around South Korea is criminally easy. The country’s fantastic bus network means you can get virtually anywhere in the entire country for under $30. Shorter trips can come in at under $5! City buses, while occasionally crowded, aren’t likely to set you back more than the equivalent of $2.
While buses are cheap and plentiful, they aren’t the only way of getting around. The train network, including the super fast KTX, also provides plenty of destinations for affordable rates. It’s possible to get from Busan in the South East to Seoul in the north in less than three hours and for less than $50. Not bad at all.
Larger cities also boast subway networks of their own. Those in Seoul and Busan are particularly good, and tickets rarely creep over the $5 mark.
A string of international and domestic airports dot the country as a result of Korea’s hosting of the 2002 World Cup, and taxis (while erratically driven) can get you around the city at very affordable rates as well. At least compared to cabs in the western world.
There’s less awkward small-talk too.
All of this adds up to making Korea one of the most easily accessible places in the world once you’re there. Want to spend a weekend on the beach? Go skiing in the winter? Shop in the massive malls in Seoul or Busan? You’ve got a slew of affordable options available to you.
#7 – Jejudo
While mainland Korea is not without its charms, the semi-tropical island of Jejudo off the southern coast is a drawcard all of its own.
A volcanic island littered with lava tubes, volcanic craters, and black sand beaches – Jejudo is labelled the ‘Korean Hawaii’. And while it might not be quite the tropical paradise that Hawaii is, there’s certainly a lot to love about the island.
Grassy Sangumburi Crater is worth a look, but Seongsan Ilchubong (Sunrise Peak) takes the cake with some absolutely stunning views. The Manjanggul Lava Tubes are pretty impressive as well.
In addition to its natural beauty, Jejudo’s status as a tourist spot means it has plenty of restaurants, resorts, and tourist attractions. From the adults only playground of Love Land to kid friendly spots like Mini Mini Land and the Gimnyeong Hedge Maze, there’s more than enough to keep you occupied.
Jejudo is accessible by plane (fast, but boring) or on the more entertaining ferry. Take the leisurely route and enjoy the atmosphere on the crowded ferries that boast karaoke, restaurants, gaming rooms, saunas, and live performances.
#6 – Cheap Alcohol
This may not appeal to every traveller, but Korea is truly a land where you can indulge your inner alcoholic.
While Korean beer isn’t much to write home about, there are a number of imports available to compliment the local selection that includes soju (a distilled spirit similar to vodka), meoggoli (rice wine), and plum wine.
The night life is king in Korea. Rare are the bars with curfews and they’re of a variety that should cover all bases. Seedy soju bars, crowded foreigner friendly establishments, smoky clubs, full service noraebang (karaoke rooms)… Hell, even the convenience stores stock and sell a good selection of booze. I spent many a summer afternoon camped out front of a 7-11 sipping suds.
There’s no open bottle law in Korea either. Rejoice with wine in the park or beers on the beach.
#5 – Rich History
While Korean history may not be quite so well known to westerners as that of neighbouring Japan or nearby China, there is still a rich and proud history on the peninsula that stretches back centuries. While a lot of the ancient temples were destroyed or defaced during the Korean War, you’re still able to visit a good number of them.
Highlights include tranquil Daewonsa near Gwangju and seaside Yonggungsa in Busan.
Seoul’s Insadong area gives a tourist friendly cultural experience for those wishing to do a bit of shopping, and Gyeongju (Korea’s former capital) is steeped in history for those wanting to see Korea as it was prior to its post Korean War boom. Exploring Jeju Island is a favorite weekend getaway.
No matter where you are though, you’re likely to find a temple or historical site worth checking out. It’s inevitable in a country as old as South Korea.
#4 – Festivals
Korea is a country that loves a festival and they’ve got them for just about everything. There’s the wildly debauched Boryeong Mud Festival, the stunning Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival, the stinky Gwangju Kimchi Festival, beautiful Jinju Lantern Festival, slightly damp Jindo Moses Miracle, and the inexplicable Cheongsando Slow Walking Festival.
And that’s barely touching the surface. There are festivals in Korea almost every weekend and as you can see, the variety is immense.
#3 – Hiking
I don’t consider myself much of an outdoorsman, but Korea gives you plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors.
A naturally mountainous country, most of Korea’s mountains are accessible to the public with a variety of trails to walk (or climb). It’s not unusual to see a whole family out on a sunny Sunday afternoon complete with full hiking gear and heels for the ladies.
While it’s true that much of Korea’s mainland is urban sprawl, it’s only a short bus ride to get you back in touch with the quiet serenity of the natural world.
#2 – Koreans
You can’t run off a list of reasons to love Korea without including the natives!
Korean culture is a fascinating blend of old traditions being merged with western ideals. It’s a surreal juxtaposition to see a McDonalds looming ominously over a traditional tent restaurant, but it’s not uncommon at all.
Korean music, whether it’s traditional throat singing or syrupy sweet K-Pop, is another of those blends of old and new.
While there is an underlying xenophobia that occasionally rears its ugly head, I found Koreans in the most part to be polite and enthusiastic about sharing their pride in the country. There’s a real enthusiasm for learning more about western culture that extends from wide eyed kids to chatty ajoshi (old men) that is really endearing.
It doesn’t hurt that Korean girls are amongst the most beautiful in the world, either. I hear tell that Korean guys aren’t too bad either.
#1 – Korean Food
If there’s one facet of life in Korea that I miss on a daily basis, it’s the food.
Korean food doesn’t look like much at first. There’s a heavy reliance on rice and meat in the Korean diet, but there’s enough variety to ensure you’re not bored too quickly. Traditional dishes such as bulgogi (marinated beef), galbi (Korean BBQ), and bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables and egg) are relatively tame introductions to Korean cuisine.
Me? I miss spicy ddeok galbi (chicken with chewy rice cakes); savoury pajjang (seafood pancakes); and the street treats such as twigim (deep fried goodness), odeng (processed fish on sticks), and toasties (an import from America).
Korea also boasts a fascination with coffee shops and bakeries. There’s no shortage of Starbucks clones to pick from, but I’m a fan of Tom & Toms with its sweet or savoury stuffed pretzels. While Western food staples like pizza and KFC are available, they’re done with a quaint Korean twist.
Expect corn on your pizza and the offer of a kimchi side with your happy meal.
It’s not just the flavours though. Korean food is, first and foremost, ridiculously affordable. It’s entirely possible to eat three meals a day outside of your own apartment or hotel room without spending more than $20. And that’s eating big.
Maybe I’m a little bit biased because I called Korea home for two years, but I see a lot of reasons to love the place. There’s a great blend of the old traditions, temples, and cultural quirks alongside the fact that the country is one of the fastest developing technological powers in the world.
Have you been to Korea? What did you love about the place?
This is a guest post by Chris Walker-Bush, the man behind Aussie on the Road travel blog and Multiple Nerdgasms – a site dedicated to all things geeky. Chris and I share the same enthusiasm for travel and we’ve both taught in South Korea for several years. He’s a great guy and his blog posts are an eclectic mix of travel information, humour and personal reflections. Make sure to follow him on the following social media platforms: twitter, facebook and youtube.
thanks for sharing this amazing blog with us!
What a great place. I agree …
Havent been there but im planning this year
I’m really happy U like South Korea ;-D
I luv Korea,too!
I wanna travel and live in south Korea, any idea how to do so?
I’d be happy to provide you with some tips, A’laa. Are you looking to teach English there?
i wish i was korean. 🙂
Wow, that’s awesome! I mean, I’m a Korean and I never knew people like you existed in the world that loved it there just like it says on the article. What I really hate about being Korean is being mistaken by a Chinese or Japanese. It’s just so not cool. But again, it’s people like you that I absolutely respect 🙂
[Can’t wait to go back to Korea next year]
Oh and by the way, I loved your article!
I’m glad to have put a smile on your dial, Sue. How was your return to Korea? I went back myself this year 🙂
Very interesting post. My boyfriend and I are currently planning a 2 year backpacking trip through Europe and Asia. We want to visit South Korea and are thinking of spending 2 weeks there. From everything I’ve read we are thinking of going to these places: Busan, Seoul, Gyeongyu, DMZ and Suwon. And have read about but not sure which to pick from these: Andong, Haeinsa, Seoraksan, Jirisan. Any suggestions/recommendation/insights? Any advice would be highly appreciated!
I went to Korea on an exchange from the University of Alberta. I agree with everything on the list. The only thing I would add, and not everyone would agree, would be jjimjilbangs. So relaxing. I went to SpaWorld in Busan, and felt so amazing after! And it’s cheap!
I get how foreigners might be creeped out by the nudity part. But you can always sit in the steam rooms!
I’m a graduate from the U of A as well 🙂 I’m a big fan of the jjimjilbangs and saunas too.
I love South Korea already! 🙂
Great list! I agree with everything on here, and completely hear you on that sense of fondness. Korea is also the first place I lived abroad, and Seoul remains one of my favorite cities. I have so many wonderful memories of the country, the people I met there, both Korean and fellow ex-pats. It’s a beautiful place.
Ack! Re-reading this and seeing other people’s enthusiasm just makes me miss it more!
I’ve only been back six months, but damned if I don’t sometimes feel like re-upping and taking another teaching gig…
I’ve never been to Korea but I think Asia is a fascinating place. After visiting Japan I’ve always wanted to go back and visit some more, Korea is now next on my list!
Glad to hear it!
Japan and Korea do share some similarities on account of their history with one another, but I love the cheapness and accessibility of Korea. Japan doesn’t really manage that.
Couldn’t agree more. South Korea is a fantastic place to visit. I wish more people knew about it.
Haven’t been to South Korea, the cheap transport makes it really enticing 😉
It’s really very helpful. There was a period there where I was taking the bus to the next city over twice a week *and* taking weekend trips by train or bus to more distant locations and still not spending more than $40-$50 equivalent.
The same kind of travel in Australia would have easily hit $150-$200.
I seen Korea in telenovela on Korean movies. I do inspire on their beauty spots that make challenge in myself that someday, I will be at place. People are friendly and they practiced their culture and evolve on it. In spite of different western invaders that influence on their way of living.
Hey Cynthia, some good points you make here. Korea has certainly been influenced by the West but yet they’ve kept their own culture very much intact.
Invaders is an interesting word. While the US military presence is not a completely welcome one, there is an utter fascination with many facets of western culture in Korea. My students clambered for western cartoons, western candy, and western music.
Despite that enthusiasm, there are a lot of traditional values that persist and you get a fascinating mix of old world and western imagery all across the country.
I had certainly never consider South Korea before but you have convinced me 🙂
Yes! Glad to hear it hehe.
Totally agree. As I scrolled down I was waiting for Korean food, it really is the best in Asia and possibly the world. When you add in everything else, Korea is just an unreal place to travel.
You knew it had to make an appearance. Korean food does constant battle with Thai food to hold the #1 place in my heart and stomach.
I never really considered Korea as a travel destination either. I thought it would be really expensive. You cleared up some of those misconceptions though!
Once you get to Korea, it’s criminally cheap. I lived like a king while I was there and still managed to put some cash aside for when I came home.
Great post. Been dying to get to Korea for as long as I remember – probably since we lived in Potts Point in Sydney in the 90s and would eat out at the Korean restaurants there a couple of nights a week. Definitely high on my wish list this year.
Sydney has some pretty respectable Korean restaurants, to be honest. I have a few favorites downtown and I’ve heard good things about the ones up in Chatswood and its surrounds.
Just a shame it’s so expensive 🙁
Hopefully soon it will be easier to visit North Korea too.
I’d love that. It’s one of the more difficult items on my bucket list to someday explore North Korea.
I’ve got visiting North Korea on my rather lengthy bucket list. I’ve technically been on North Korean soil during my DMZ tour, but hoping to actually see the sights there someday.
I’m really interested in checking it out as well. Have you seen Monkeetime’s documentary on going there? Thanks for a great guest post mate 🙂
I’ve never really fancied visiting Korea, not sure why. Oddly enough, I’ve looked at the various options for visiting their less popular neighbour, North Korea.
Rob, I’d say do both! What a contrast it would offer it.
No idea! Still got some research to do… any tips?
Seoul is good if you can handle the sheer size of the place (which I couldn’t). I lived in Gwangju for two years (a regional city with a wonderful foreigner community) and Busan for six months (awesome beach town).
I’ve heard good things about Daejeon, Cheonnam, Ulsan, and Incheon too. It really depends on what you’re looking for.
Great post, thanks man. I’m planning to go end of this year to teach English. Can’t wait!
Wonderful! Do you know what city you’ll be heading to? Or have any front-runners in mind?
Wow, what a great list! #7, #3, and #1 have been my favorites over the past year as I’ve been living in Seoul. South Korea is definitely a great place to spend some time!
Megan, glad to hear you’re enjoying your time in Seoul. I checked out your photo essay on Namdaemun market – great shots!
The cheap transport sounds promising but is foreigner friendly, foreign language signs and information ?.
There’s plenty of English signage across the country. The 2002 World Cup helps on that front. While most Koreans don’t speak a great deal of English, a surprising amount can get by.
I called Korea my Home for almost one year. Now, i’m back in France. And My only wish is to go back to Korea. There is so many things i love about this country. First: people. They are so nice and so helpful. I love the way they try to help you even if you don’t speak the same language.
I spent most part of my life their in Seoul. And this city literally never sleep, you can find everything you want in the middle of the night (even opened library)
This mix of modernity and tradition. My favorite place in Seoul is a temple which is just next to the big Shopping Mall Coex. You can see pictures on my blog.
I can make a really long list about the reason why I love Korea . But you already said some in your article
Glad I could conjure up some fond memories of your time in Korea. It really is one of my favorite places in the world.
Did I miss anything?
What an incredible list! I hope it inspires more people to travel there too. And I hope to visit myself someday.
I hope so too! It really is an underrated spot for tourists. Maybe not terribly exciting for younger backpackers looking solely to party, but plenty there for people who can appreciate its history and culture.
Nice round-up! Korea is on my list 🙂
I hope you get a chance to go soon Sophie!
I definitely need to visit Korea, everybody who has been there keeps saying how amazing it is. So I think I should go see for myself!
You should! I’d be happy to provide some tips if you ever do head that way 😉
I really want to do a Taiwan/Japan/Korea trip. Hopefully in 2013.
How much English is spoken?
The level of English in and around Seoul is decent, but it does deteriorate a bit the farther you get from the big cities.
That said, I got there in 2007 not knowing a word and managed to get by.
Great post Chris! I can’t say anything bad about the food either. Mmm… So are you coming back there anytime soon? 🙂
I really want to! I’ve got so many great friends back there and I miss the lifestyle so much.
Know of any good teaching jobs? :-p
I’m really enjoying living in Korea right now. I love the food and public transportation (even though here has been the very first place that I ever got motion sickness on a bus…). Good points here, even if I don’t really drink – but I know many people love the cheap booze here.
I’m jealous, Rachel. Except the bit about motion sickness. You can keep that :-p
I had two and a half wonderful years in Korea and it’s a constant struggle not to contact a recruiter and head back :-p
I think I’ll be here just a year because I have ambitious travel plans… but Korea’s been good to me so far.
I know how you feel. As much as I love Korea, I need to go to other places. Looking at Japan or China myself.
I love this! It sounds like South Korea should be on my itinerary … and other travelers’ too!
I hope you’ll get a chance to go sometime! It is definitely an under-rated place to visit and live.
And so much cheaper than neighboring Japan 😉
I never considered going to South Korea before, but Jejudo and good food sound right up my alley. Thanks for posting.
Jejudo is beautiful for sure. I’m a big fan of the beaches of Busan and the many (many, many) islands off of the west coast. Some hidden gems out there.
Wow! Great round up. I never realized that there were so much things to do in Korea. I do love the food the most about the country – so spicy and flavorful. My father’s been there many times, but I have yet to go. Maybe its about time.
Korean food is fantastic all over the world, but it’s all the sweeter (or should that be spicier?) when you’re paying chump change for it. Plus the tradition of ‘service’ (free stuff) makes any meal all the better.
I am still in high hopes that my trip to South Korea this April will push through 😀
I hope so too! Come visit MEEEEEEE! 🙂
are you in Korea right now?
Ooh! Whereabouts in Korea are you hoping to visit? Seoul is obviously many people’s favorite spot, but if you have time – there are some great spots outside of the big city that are worth a look too.
And yes, visit Samuel :-p
Great list. I couldn’t dispute any of those. Many of the reasons I love South Korea, too. It’s a great place to live and work as a foreigner. Can’t wait to get back there.
Hey Stephen, have you taught English in Korea?
I loved my short stay in Korea. I took the bus from Seoul down to Naju to meet up with a friend. The people were great. Everywhere we went people wanted to buy us drinks, have photos etc. This was my first trip abroad, so all that was a new experience for me. Guess that’s why the time in Korea will always be special…
Korea was one of the first places I ever visited (and the country where I’ve lived the most outside of Canada) so it’s definitely special for me as well.
Korea was your first as well? I have such fond memories of my first faltering steps towards exploration of the place. I believe my first day trip was to visit the Unjusa temple outside of Gwangju on a bitterly cold winter afternoon.
Great thing to have in common. I’ll never forget getting off the bus in Gwangju and my buddy not being there to meet me. It was midnight and I might have freaked out a little. I started to walk to a Best Western in the distance assuming they could help me call him, but thankfully he showed up a little later…
Oh, you made it to Gwangju! That was my home for two pretty awesome years. Did you get to spend much time there? Check out the night life?