South Korea is one of the least visited countries in East Asia but has one of the continent’s most fascinating histories and cultures, as well as breathtaking landscapes. Without forgetting the charming Korean people, who will not fail to befriend those who travel. Offering a wonderful contrast between the old and the new, South Korea has a lot to explore, and below is a list of five things not to be missed when visiting the country.
Visit the ancient capital of Gyeongju
As the capital of the oldest kingdom in Korean history, a trip to discover the history of South Korea would not be complete without a visit to the ancient capital of Gyeongju. Here you will find what is often called a “ living museum ”, with many parts of the city designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Discover Gyeongbokgung Palace
Said to be the largest of the five palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty, the magnificent Gyeongbokgung Palace aptly bears its name of “ greatly blessed from heaven ”. Over time, the palace which was originally built in 1395 has been restored several times, due to damage from fires and war. However, on a visit today, around 40% of the original palace buildings are still visible, and are a wonderful way to experience the history and culture of South Korea.
Get on a high-speed train
Unlike the old buildings mentioned above, driving one of the high-speed trains provides an excellent insight into modern life in South Korea. Climb aboard one of the trains in the capital, Seoul, the starting point of the Gyeongbu line and head to the metropolitan city of Busan. By taking only two hours to reach Busan, the train will reach speeds of up to 177 mph.
Explore Mount Gaya National Park
Designated as a national park in 1972 because of its magnificent landscapes, Mount Gaya National Park is also home to famous temples, the highest peak in Korea and a standing Buddha carved in a rock wall. This remote part of South Korea has been largely spared from the Korean wars, and its untouched beauty is widely appreciated by those who come to visit it. You will find valley after valley, including the Hongryudong Valley, which has red water due to the reflection of crimson foliage.
Relax on Haeundae Beach
Considered the best beach in South Korea, Haeundae Beach is popular with tourists and attracts tens of thousands of visitors during the summer months. Overlooked by tall buildings, the beach is surprisingly clean and hosts a variety of exciting events throughout the year. The beach is well known for its thousands of umbrellas that cover the beach during peak periods and has picturesque white sand made up of seashells that have naturally eroded.
1. Comfort Food and Spices
Every culture has its own selection of chocolate, chips, and snacks that they grew up with and find comforting when far from home. Whether yours are peanut butter cups, McVities digestives or Vegemite, you’ll be hard-pressed to find them in Korea. And given that Korean snacks are too-often shrimp-flavored (and with little warning) you would do well to bring a stash of your own, at least until you’ve had time to experiment with the local stuff.
As for the foodies, spices much more exotic than basil, oregano, and thyme are going to be hard to come by. Consider bringing your own red pepper flakes, curry powder, or whatever else tickles your tastebuds.
2. Flat sheets
Traditionally, Koreans sleep on the floor on a thick mat called a Yeo (여). As with everything else in this country, this is changing rapidly, but bedding in Korea still doesn’t feel quite right. Beds tend to be (extremely) hard, necessitating a sleeping mat, and all bedding is unnecessarily expensive (and often garish), but the one thing you simply cannot find is flat sheets.
3. Large towels and deodorant
Two things Koreans never use: large towels and deodorant. Even in a fairly decent hotel, you’ll find your room stocked with three or four tiny hand towel-sized towels. Also, apparently, westerners stink more than we realize.
4. Large-sized shoes and clothing
Personally, I find Korean shoes and clothing fits me perfectly and so over three years I’ve replaced most of my wardrobe with stuff from here, but I’m a fairly normal-sized man: Medium clothing, size 10 shoes. If you’re any bigger than a large, with feet bigger than a US 11, you’re going to find it harder to buy clothing and, if you’re a woman, well, make sure you bring all the shoes you’re going to use for a year.
5. Gifts for coworkers
If you’re starting a new job in Korea, a little bit of forethought goes a long way in setting a good tone with your coworkers. It’s more traditional in Korea to give gifts when departing than when leaving, but screw that noise: Your cash is best spent on gifts that will most benefit you by engendering goodwill amongst the people you’re going to have to work with for the next year.