Everything you need to know if you want to go to South Korea
How to plan a trip to South Korea? Is it difficult to organize a road trip to South Korea? These and other information in this article, result of direct experience (within the article you can find advertising links).
South Korea is one of the emerging destinations for international tourism: most tourists, however, prefer only to visit Seoul and maybe its surroundings, forgetting about a country that has a lot to offer from a naturalistic and gastronomic point of view. Not only that, because South Korea lends itself well to a perfect on the road trip with a rented car, although many prefer to travel by public transport to avoid driving. Let’s see in detail how to plan and organize a trip to South Korea by car, to be sure you’ll get the most out of your experience.
When to go to South Korea?
South Korea can theoretically be visited all year round, always taking into consideration that in winter it can be very cold and outdoor activities are impossible and in summer, on the contrary, it is very hot and even, in this case, it can be difficult to move. The best seasons are spring and autumn, for two essential reasons. In the spring, between March and April, cherry blossoms color the whole of the country every year and is truly an incredible sight to behold; the same thing happens in autumn, in October specifically, when the leaves of the trees become red making the landscape truly magnificent. This also means that these two periods, those of the blooms, are particularly popular among local tourists to move and so it is good to plan everything to avoid not finding a place (also because flights and accommodation are more expensive than normal).
How to get to South Korea?
Obviously, to get to South Korea there are many different ways, all by air. The choice of the airline with which to fly depends a lot on the chosen period and also from the departure airport: usually at least one airport stop is available that can be longer or shorter and determine the higher or lower cost of the ticket. I recommend checking prices, schedules, and airlines. I flew with KLM in the first leg, making a stopover in Amsterdam, and with AirFrance on my way back to Paris Charles de Gaulle.
What documents do you need to travel to South Korea?
If you’re from US, Canada, Europe or Australia to enter South Korea you need a valid passport valid for at least 3 months from the date of arrival. Unlike other countries, you will not have a stamp on your passport but you will be issued with a leaflet that you must keep until you return and on which they will write the date of arrival and the final date by which you will have to leave the country (3 months from the arrival, if you travel for tourist reasons). If you wanna stay longer than 90 days or if you have to work during your time in South Korea, you will need to apply for a visa. Before landing, you will be asked to fill a declaration of arrival, a customs declaration and a quarantine questionnaire: the last one is particularly important because in South Korea they are careful not to enter products that are considered suspect and that can bring diseases.
Is it safe to travel to South Korea?
The million dollar question, the one that all foreigners have in their minds: traveling to South Korea is safe and the whole country is among the safest in the world. The proximity to North Korea is not felt at all and for the Koreans and all those who live in South Korea, the news coming from Pyongyang is no more frightening than those arriving from anywhere else in the world. No danger, in short. And things are also changing fast so apparently, there will be no threat anymore in a while.
Do I need a travel and health insurance to travel to South Korea?
During my stay in Korea, I have not benefited from health care but it is a common opinion that medical care is one of the best ever (among other things, many are those who travel to South Korea for medical treatments!). That said, it is always worthwhile to have a travel insurance that also covers medical costs because the costs of hospitalization for foreign citizens are very high.
How much is a trip to South Korea?
Unlike what is believed, South Korea is not cheap and certainly not cheap at the levels of other Asian countries. This does not mean that you spend very high figures but certainly must take into account an important budget that can be mitigated by booking in advance and choosing to eat in the many markets that offer many good and cheap solutions.
Internet and Mobile: how does it work?
Just like in Japan, even in South Korea, you can buy local phone cards that work for the entire time you are in the country. There are several telephone companies through which to buy: we have chosen Telekom Korea booked through Trazy because it is the national company and has an excellent coverage. You can buy it online by choosing the length, then you receive an email with all the instructions for collection and, once at the airport in Seoul, just present the order number to receive the card that will work immediately. There is no need to bring the card back before departure but you can throw it away because each card expires at the end of the days for which it was purchased. For security reasons, you can only use the internet and not the phone to call but the VOIP works great.
Traveling by car or public transportation?
Most travelers in South Korea, those who do not stop just in Seoul, travel by public transport: they work, they are clean and connect the whole country usually starting from Seoul. However, if you love traveling by car, South Korea lends itself well to a road trip that will allow you to enjoy your time, choose what to see regardless of the time of the means and above all be free.
How to rent a car in South Korea and what are the requirements to be met?
Renting a car in South Korea is simple. You have to respect some rules including an international driving license but the costs and operations of renting a car in Korea are simple. More to come, in the meantime, have a look here.
Hotel and accommodations
Choosing the right accommodation when traveling is essential and in South Korea, I would say it is imperative. There are different types of facilities in Korea:
- Big chains’ hotels: they offer high-quality services, continental breakfast usually included, western rooms with almost always western grips.
- Local hotels: Korean property facilities, which usually offer spacious and very clean rooms, Korean breakfast and lower prices than the classic international chains;
- Apartments: everywhere there are apartments for rent, at different conditions and different prices. They are usually new apartments with everything, ideal for those who want to cook and be able to feel a minimum at home;
- Hanok: these are traditional Korean homes, with futons, small bathrooms, and unprecedented hospitality. The landlady usually rents 2-3 rooms, all with bathroom, in her house and offers guests Korean local breakfast. An incredible and very economical experience;
- Yeogwan: apparently the cheapest form of accommodation in South Korea (and apparently they are disappearing slowly), you sleep on the floor and they do not stand out for cleaning.
- Minbak: rooms inside apartments inhabited by the owners. Another form of very cheap accommodation, often include a bathroom but also these do not stand out for cleanliness and comfort.
- Love Hotel: these are motels that are rented even hours and are usually intended for a local clientele looking for “leisure” for a few hours, at low prices.
- Guesthouse: the classic and European version of the minbak. A room and a bathroom inside a house inhabited by the owners, you get what you pay for.
- Resort & Luxury Hotel: nothing to explain in this case, since these are high-level or high-level accommodations that offer a whole range of services, even these high-level ones.
So said, how to choose your own accommodation? The first thing to evaluate is the budget that could make you shift towards cheaper solutions. In fact, just spend some time and find excellent hotels at really good prices to take advantage of a high-quality service; for example, if you are in Seoul, I recommend this hotel that has a very good quality/price ratio and an exceptional location.
We also experienced a guesthouse in Gyeongju, definitely of a high standard but definitely an experience to recommend.
Do not miss a night in a hanok for a unique and incredible experience: in Geonju we have stayed here and it has been one of the most beautiful experiences ever.
And do not forget that you can also choose a luxury hotel without spending too much: for example, the Grand Hyatt in Incheon is perfect if you have to leave very early in the morning or arrive very late in the evening, and the price is never excessive if you consider the quality.
Remember to bring along a pair of swimming slippers: in some hotels and traditional houses, the shower is placed in the middle of the bathroom and therefore it is necessary to wear slippers for hygienic reasons.
What about the language?
Most Koreans do not speak English. It is good to be prepared to use a translator to make yourself understood (Google Translate is perfect) but also try to be flexible in case you are not understood. I advise you to learn some words, those of courtesy:
- An-nyeong-ha-se-yo: Hello/Goodbye
- Kam-sa-ham-ni-da: Thanks
- Chway-seong-ham-ni-da/Mi-an-ham-ni-da: Sorry
- Ju-se-yo: Please
What’s the food like in South Korea?
The food is delicious and you eat a lot. But food in South Korea deserves a separate chapter. If you love coffee as I love it, South Korea is a real paradise on earth.
Other things to know before going to South Korea
Mondays: the great problem of South Korea
Monday is a day of closure for many shops, tourist attractions and much more in South Korea: make sure you have a plan B in case the things you decided to do are not feasible.
No tip required
Leave a tip at the restaurant, when you take a taxi, for a service you use it is not required.
In the bathroom
Korean bathrooms may be in some cases special: toilet paper may not be there and often it is required to throw it in a garbage basket next to the toilet.
There is no idea of personal space: pushing, getting wide and sometimes even screaming are not seen as rude gestures. It is the culture of the place.
Confucianism and social life
Without going into too much detail, you just need to know that Confucianism still dictates the social rules in South Korea. You are judged by age, work, and social background so if you meet someone and this person asks for your age, do not be scandalized and respond politely (if you can understand!)
How to dress?
Local culture allows people to stare at other people if these do not respect certain standards. You can be stared at if you’ve your shoulders uncovered but the fact of being Western, alone, is enough to be looked at with insistence, especially by adults. Smile if it happens to you.
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