Why you should add Korea to your Indie/RTW trip
- You like to eat. From street food to traditional Korean BBQ to Korean fusion, whether you’re a foodie or a budget eater, you’ll find it in Korea – and with kimchee on the side.
- Korea is foreigner-friendly. Post-war Korea has had close ties to the States. Combine that with the plethora of ESL teachers, and this sets up a fairly accommodating network & infrastructure for travelers.
- From big-city Seoul, to the mountains, to Busan (Korea’s beach town), you can find a little bit of everything.
- Korea is modern and fast-paced, but be prepared for a few off the beaten path type experiences still (you will encounter the occasional squat toilet, you will encounter people who can’t speak your language, you probably won’t be able to read the menu in most restaurants, especially after you get outside of Seoul).
- The future is here, especially in the high-tech center of Seoul – and wifi on the subway!
Indie Travel Tips
- Many ATMs in Korea won’t accept foreign cards. Large banks often have one ATM with an “Outside of Korea” option. Ask your hostel or the TI for the closest one.
- Korea has a rail pass, but it may not save you a bundle on transport like the Japan Rail pass does — do the math first.
- Visit a Korean grocery store – a great way to stock up on Korean snacks and for people-watching.
- Shopping in Korea is probably midrange in price and value compared to other options in Asia.
- If you get good vibes from your hostel/hosts, ask them for food recommendations, especially with family-style dining and Korean BBQ, having the names written down of a couple food items will take you a long way.
- If you’re taking a wifi-enabled phone, be sure to search for ‘Seoul’ in apps and download subway apps for major Korean cities.
- In Seoul, buy a T-Money card for the subway, you can load money on it for transportation and even use it at convenience stores.
- Korea has seasons, so be prepared to layer if you’re going in late fall through early spring.
South Korea is home of some of the oldest civilizations in the world, and there must be something to their way of life for it to have survived intact for so long with superpowers Japan and China knocking on their doors like unfriendly neighbors. The pleasant green landscapes of South Korea infuse this nation with a feeling of balance with nature. The towering mountains lend it a sense of permanence.
What to do
Seoul is one of the highlights of any trip to South Korea, and a tour of the historical palaces and landmarks throughout the city is on most agendas. Palaces are ancient and impressive, but many monuments in South Korea have been extensively damaged during battles.
Seoul’s palaces will give you a historical perspective, but for a sense of the current military strife, head north from Seoul to the Demilatarized Zone (DMZ). Tours through the landmine strewn DMZ are available on a day trip and soldiers are reportedly very friendly and accommodating to travelers. From there you may want to travel south to Busan. Along the way you’ll discover the famous mountains of South Korea that has been the key to defending South Korea for so many millennia. Or head east to Gyeongju to explore the ancient world of the Shilla dynasty.
Be sure to read 5 Off the Beaten Track Spots to See in South Korea for more ideas of what to see and do while here.
Flights to South Korea arrive and depart from Incheon National Airport. Plan to start and end your trip in Incheon unless you want to continue your trip in Japan or China, in which case some ferries are available for travelers. Traveling within South Korea is easiest by train.
Where to stay
The best accommodations in South Korea are found in the bigger cities like Seoul and Busan. Hotels are generally more popular, and common, than hostels, but you will find hostels in South Korea.
Photos by Olivia Raymer