South Korea Travel Tips

seoul south korea skyline
seoul south korea skyline

View of Seoul from Seoul Tower Photo: zukunftsalick, used under Creative Commons

South Korea is an idyllic travel destination for any individual wishing to revel in all the natural beauty the earth has to offer and enjoy the modern comforts of thriving metropolises at the same time. The South Korean flag, with its red and blue yin and yang, is an excellent embodiment of the perfect balance of old Asian traditions and modern comforts that you can find in this nation. With South Korea’s compact size and its excellent transport system, you’ll be able to travel quickly from the highly industrialized centers to gain some soul-refreshing tranquility in the mountains and forest parks. Are you ready to discover the delights that await you in this country? Then, below is everything you’ll need to know to prepare for a trip to South Korea:

Getting to and Around South Korea

Before letting your mind wander to the many sights and attractions that are waiting for you in South Korea, you need to attend to some important matters first. To start, you should check whether a visa will be required for you to enter the country. If you’re a citizen of the United States and wish to visit, then thank your lucky stars because you won’t need to apply for a visa. You just need to ensure that your passport has at least another 6 months of validity left. Upon arriving, you will be given a 90-day permit to roam around the country. The same holds true for tourists from Australia, New Zealand, almost all the countries in Western Europe, and about 30 other countries. Tourists who are citizens of Portugal and Italy also enjoy the same benefits, only they are granted permits which are good for 60 days. Canadians, on the other hand, are granted the leave to stay in the country for up to 6 months.

Citizens from Nigeria, India, the Russian Federation, Philippines, China, and about 20 other countries are not exempted from procuring a visa to visit South Korea. Hence, they must apply for one at the nearest South Korean Embassy or Consulate. Once these citizens have a tourist visa in hand, they will be given 90 days to stay in the country. This 90-day stay can’t be extended for any reason, with the possible exception of a medical emergency. The penalty fees for overstaying begin at W100, 000.

Once you settle the issue on visas and other travel documents, you can proceed to the next step of planning this trip – getting your hands on tickets to get there! With today’s highly competitive markets, there’s bound to be some great deals on airline tickets waiting for you to discover them. If you plan in advance and book tickets ahead of time, you can get even greater savings on airfare costs. Just make sure that you consider each option with care to ensure that the deal you get best suits your needs and circumstances. Of course, the internet is your best friend when it comes to hunting for promotions and bargains, but you may also want to check out conventional media like the newspaper and magazines. You might also want to consult a travel agent, especially if your trip is a bit more complex and complicated than most. An experienced travel agent will be the best source of useful information such as techniques to avoid layovers, special deals, and a host of other things.

If you want to explore means of getting to South Korea other than by flying, then you might also want to consider travelling by water crafts. There are international ferries which you can ride if you’re traipsing around North Asia. Busan Port International Passenger Terminal has ferries that cater mostly to passengers traveling to and from Japan. You can also ride a ferry into Incheon, South Korea from several ports in China. Lastly, you also have the option to catch a weekly ferry from Russia to get to Sokcho (Gangwon-do). Because of South Korea’s location and also its political relations with its “sister” to the north, it is next to impossible to get to the country by land. Air and water travel are the only options available to you.

After you enter the doors of South Korea, you won’t have much trouble getting around. The country has one of the best public transport systems you can hope for, and everything is at an affordable price. Since the country is a relatively small one and there are lots of other equally efficient transport options, flying isn’t really necessary, except to get to Jeju Island. However, if you want to indulge in the luxury, you’ll find that South Korea has a number of domestic airlines, like Korean Air, Asiana, Hansung Airlines, and Jeju Air, who would love to accommodate you.

South Korea’s major cities are also connected by Korail, which is the country’s national train operator. Recently improved, the train system is quite competitive with bus fares and speeds. They’re also a bit better when it comes to comfort and safety. The services of high-speed Korea Train eXpress or KTX are also worth considering if you want to travel to and from Seoul and Busan. These trains can travel at speeds up to 300 kilometers per hour using French TGV technology. There are first class, economy, and free seating car options, and you won’t go hungry as there are reasonably priced merchandise being sold on board.

Buses, whether local or intercity, are a great way to get around, too. In fact, most seem to favor this particular method of getting from one place to another. The lines that separate the characteristics and routes of intercity buses, express buses, and long-distance buses are a little fuzzy, but the matter shouldn’t be too difficult to sort out. Boats to and from the outlying islands, cars, and taxis are your other traveling options.

The Best Time to Visit

Pic: From Yoshi on Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/yoshis_world/ - Creative Commons

Pic: From Yoshi on Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/yoshis_world/ – Creative Commons

South Korea’s four seasons are quite distinct. Without a doubt, the most opportune time of the year to travel to the country is from September to November. This is when Autumn decides to make its glorious presence known by turning the climate to a sunny and warm one, making the sky a gorgeous blue, and coloring everything with the stunning hues associated with fall.

Another beautiful time to be in South Korea is from April to June. Spring makes everything bloom with renewed life so if you’re looking to feast your eyes on magnificent cherry blossoms, azaleas, camellias, and other wonderful flowers, this is a great time to pack your bags and head to South Korea. You might also want to bring along some warm clothes and water-proof garments as there will be a few wet and cold days.

If you’re an avid ice skater, snowboarder, or skier, then you will pleased with the snow that Winter brings during the months of December to March. The weather is generally bitingly cold, especially in the country’s northern regions. Korea’s spicy soup, saunas, hot spring spas, and under-floor heating enjoy a lot of appreciation during this season.

If you aren’t a fan of hot and humid climate conditions, then try to avoid the period from late June to late August. Summer is the high season for tourists, and the scenic spots can become unpleasantly crowded. Plus, the rates for accommodations are sky-high during this time.

Famous Tourist Attractions

South Korea may be a compact country, but it squeezes a lot of to-die-for tourist attractions into its relatively small territory. There’s a lot to keep you fully occupied, regardless of whether you’re a history buff, a city lover at heart, or a nature enthusiast. Here’s a list of the South Korean tourist attractions you shouldn’t miss:

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Constructed in 1394, the palace was built in compliance with the orders of the Joseon Dynasty’s founder and first king – King Taejo. The palace, which had an astounding 330 buildings and over 5,000 rooms, used to be a massive complex. However, a lot of these structures were ruined in the years between 1910 and 1945, around the time of the Japanese occupation. Thanks to the efforts of the Korean government, the destroyed structures are now in the process of being rebuilt.

Irrefutably the most beautiful of its four sister palaces today, Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul is certainly a must-see for everyone. You’ll find a lot of buildings within the compound including the Gangnyeongjeon Hall, which served as the main living quarters of the king. You’ll also find the National Palace Museum of Korea and National Folk Museum housed within the Gyeongbokgung Palace.

The Korean Folk Village

Situated at Yongin-si of the Gyeonggi Province, The Korean Folk Village is a 243-acre living museum that you’ll certainly get a kick out of. Within this astonishingly large area, you’ll find numerous houses that are a reflection of the traditional Korean homes that existed in the later part of the Joseon Dynasty. You’ll also find several types of buildings that represent South Korea’s many social classes and the country’s various regions. There are plenty of workshops that display traditional Korean crafts, a traditional market, traditional restaurants, an amusement park, an Art Museum, and a Folk Museum. On top of all that, you might even get to see traditional dances being performed. With all these in store for you, you’ll surely want to devote a day to exploring this village.

Demilitarized Zone/DMZ

If you’re itching to get as close to North Korea as possible, then the DMZ is your best bet of relieving that itch. A trip to South Korea isn’t complete without getting to stare at the hermit-like country and its seriously guarded border posts from across the DMZ. While you’re at it, don’t be surprised to find yourself reflecting on the effects of such a political situation on the culture of the people living in the land you’re visiting. The land separating the two countries has a somewhat ironic name since it’s as heavily guarded as any other area in the planet.

Jejudo or Jeju Island

The Island of the Gods, which Jeju is also known as, is the Hawaii of South Korea. This famous vacation destination is popular not only among the Koreans but also with plenty of visitors from abroad. Korean newlyweds absolutely love to pick this island as the venue of their honeymoon, and with its heavenly and natural beauty, Jeju Island certainly deserves being chosen. There are lots to do in this island. Hikers can rise to the challenge of taking on Halla-san, the country’s highest peak. Beach lovers can take it easy and just lie on the beautiful sands. Budding equestrians can choose to have fun by riding majestic horses. Even the typical sightseer will appreciate a moment of silence as he enjoys the breathtaking view of the sun rising and setting over the ocean.

Seoraksan National Park

If you happen to find yourself in the country during autumn, there’s no better place to appreciate the turning of the leaves’ color than in the country’s most visited national park – Seoraksan National Park. Even when you’re visiting South Korea during other seasons, this wonderful park still warrants a spot in your itinerary as there are plenty of other sights to explore. Aside from checking out Baekdam-sa and other equally renowned temples contained within the park, you might also want to indulge in a few vain moments as picture-perfect scenes around you scream for you to take your photo with them in the background.

Namdaemun Market

Have you ever seen a 10-acre market filled with just about any type of item you can imagine? If not, then a trip to the Namdaemun Market might be worth your while. Found in the downtown area, the market got its name from the nearby Great South Gate or Namdaemun. If you’re a devoted shopper (or even just a dedicated window shopper), you’ll be amazed at all the things you’ll find in the 1,000 plus stalls, shops, and stores in this market. Toys, vegetables, tableware, shoes, watches, ginseng products, flowers, fabrics, clothes – the list of goods is almost endless!

Yongpyong Ski Resort

South Korea isn’t just magnificent during the warm seasons. As a matter of fact, winter in South Korea can be just as (or more) pleasurable. So if you chose the cold season to visit the country, then a trip to the Yongpyong Ski Resort is in order. Located approximately 200 kilometers from South Korea’s capital city, the 4,300-acre resort is the perfect destination for a group of friends or the entire family to enjoy facilities such as ski slopes, a golf course, European-style condominiums, premium hotels, and a host of other luxurious amenities. Nothing makes a vacation more memorable than sharing a cup of warm tea with buddies or loved ones while taking in the fantastic panoramas after a busy day of skiing and doing other fun activities.

As promised, you’ll find that there are a myriad of tourist attractions you can pay a visit to in South Korea. So whatever type of trip you’re planning – be it a cultural trip, a beach vacation, a skiing excursion, a shopping spree, a hiking expedition, or even a gastronomical outing – you won’t regret picking South Korea.

Budgetary Issues

Although daily expenses in South Korea is going to be cheaper than Japan, it is a bit more expensive than many other Asian countries (Vietnam, China, and the Phillipines for instance).  But anywhere else besides Seoul, you can probably get away with living comfortably off of $40 a day.  However, if you want to visit the capital, you might be looking at a lot more, especially if you plan on going out or staying in hotels.

Tri

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