Tell me about traveling to South Korea?

I might need to travel there on behalf of a client. Anything thing I should know concerning travel (from U.S.), culture, safety? What are the better hotels like?

Anything else I should know?


Have you ever traveled to Asia before? Beijing? Tokyo? Hong Kong? SK is a thoroughly modern country and is relatively easy to get around in. It’s fairly safe and the culture is very western so you shouldn’t have any problems. Seoul is a large city and it’s easy to get lost if you don’t know where you are going, fortunately many people there speak English.

As far as hotels go they have a large variety from the very basic to the exceedingly expensive. It really depends on what you are looking for. A large American business hotel chain, such as Hilton, Sheraton or Marriott is probably a safe bet.

What city are you going to? Or are you going to be out in the countryside somewhere? If you’re going to Seoul, think of it as New York except safer, cleaner, and more technologically advanced. The better hotels are identical to better hotels in the US or anywhere else.

I spent about a week last year in SK, visiting Seoul, Daegu, Gyeongju and Busan, then taking the ferry to Fukuoka in Japan to spend about 12 days there.

  • It’s a safe, modern country, with pretty much all the facilities you’ll need. (Though I did have a bit of trouble finding a coin laundry in Busan). People at tourist-oriented facilities will almost always speak English, and signs and announcements (e.g., on trains) will often be in Korean, Chinese, Japanese and English.

  • Take the subway from Seoul-Incheon Airport to downtown Seoul: it’s fast and cheap considering the long distance. Take the Korea Train Express (KTX) between most of the major cities: it’s very similar to the Shinkansen in Japan, but much cheaper.

  • Much of the food is very spicy, and a typical meal includes several side dishes, always including kimchee (pickled cabbage). If you don’t like spicy food, then bibimbap is a safe choice: it’s a variety of dishes served with rice that you mix together in your bowl – they supply you with some chili sauce to add. But you don’t need to add it.

  • Prices have lots of zeroes in them, because 1 US dollar is worth about 1,200 Soth Korea Won. To get a rough idea of how much things really cost, just delete the last three zeroes.

I lived there for almost two years.

Hotels come in two basic types: the nice ones, and the cheap ones called love hotels. There’s not much at all in between. Love hotels have this distinctive mark on their signage:

So that’s probably not what you want. (Actually despite their reputation and the weirdness of paying through a slot so you’re face can’t be seen, the rooms themselves are pretty much the same as budget hotels back home.)

If you want kimbap, bibimbap or rice dishes, look for orange signs that typically have anthropomorphic food characters on them like this one:

You’ll also see a lot of "HOF"s which are more like bars/pubs but they do have pretty good food.

If you want Western food you’ll find TGI Friday’s, Outback, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Dunkin Donuts, KFC, Burger King and McDonalds. There’s another fast food place you’ll see a lot called Lotteria which I do not recommend.

If you want anything you’d normally find in a Wal-Mart, look for E-Mart with their yellow signage: E-Marts will usually have a food court of some kind.

Don’t tip in South Korea, it’s not done there.

The country is incredibly safe for visitors as street crime is very rare. Most crime in South Korea is of the institutional corruption kind. You might be surprised to see the number of children running around alone after school.

You can check this site (in Korean, get a tourist help desk rep to help you) to find them. When I stay in Busan, I usually stay at a 여관 (inn) because it’s super-cheap, clean, and conveniently located, but has no laundry service or washing machines. I usually use the coin laundry near Kyungsung University–Pukyong National University Station on Line 2.

Every tourist help desk I’ve been to in the big cities has one person fluent in English, one person fluent in Chinese, and one person fluent in Japanese. Sometimes the one fluent in English is on break and you’ll have to wait a moment, but that’s not so bad.

On my last vacation in Korea this past June, I noticed that you can take the KTX from the airport in Incheon all the way to Busan.

You might need to ask for the 고주장 (hot pepper paste) to be on the side. Usually, it’s already plopped into the meal. Either that, or before you mix the veggies and rice up, you can spoon it out.

In my years in Korea, that’s exactly what I did.

Well, there are the expensive love hotels (often simply called 모텔 (motel) which have garish neon lights all over the exterior, and can be pricey for an overnight visit. Then there are the 여관 (inns) which are rather nice for the price (anywhere from (35,000 to 40,000 won, depending on number of days stay). The latter are not as fancy and the former tend to kick you out in the morning to make room for the “hourly customers”. That’s a generalization, but not far off the mark.

The salad’s not that bad, but I don’t go there often since they got rid of the “salad sandwich”. There are plenty of buffets, Italian restaurants, Japanese restaurants, Vietnamese restaurants, and even Chinese restaurants.

You can also try Home Plus, a joint venture between the UK’s Tesco and South Korea’s Samsung conglomerate. That place is all over the country.

Yep. The one place that it’s expected is in bars catering to foreigners. You still shouldn’t tip because you’ll be getting ripped off anyway.

If you’re a female traveling alone, be very very careful with taking taxis, though.

I’ve been to Seoul twice and it was a piece of cake. The hotels were nice, everything was easy to do in English, and lots of helpful people were around.

The subway in Seoul is one of the easiest I’ve used in the world. Piece of cake and you can see the whole city very easily.

Sequential threads!

Loudspeakers heard 10 miles away in North Korea…Huh? and this one.

When visit North Korea, bring ear muffs.

The roads may be a little more precarious than you’re used to, pizza delivery bikers sometimes ignore traffic lights or use the sidewalk. I’d ridden on many buses which ignored red lights and saw delivery truck drivers do the same, although this was out in the countryside.

The local Lotteria chain of fast food restaurants is appalling, quite a lot of Korean cuisine is unique so it’d be a good time to try some.

It’s been mentioned that getting around is fairly easy in South Korea (or Seoul, at least) for an English-speaking traveler. How about for a Spanish-speaking tourist?

I’ve a friend who is enamored of South Korea and has made it one of his life goals to visit. He is from Mexico City. Would a traveler who speaks only Spanish have a difficult time getting around in South Korea?

I may have missed it, but if you’re concerned about safety, it looks like nobody’s mentioned the current saber-rattling going on between North and South Korea. Not too likely to amount to anything, but consider that if your travel plans include Seoul, there may be artillery involved.

My issue exactly, I’m sitting here ready to pull the trigger and purchase two tickets to Asia that take us into Seoul. Hmmmm…

I keep putting it off, ‘just a few more days’, but in a week or two I’ll have to make a choice. I’m of the opinion it will all amount to nothing…but still…I hesitate!

The two sides have come to an agreement. Really, folks; this is nothing new.

When someone tells you ‘Incoming’, it might not mean mail. :smiley:

Seriously though, things have calmed back down, this happens a lot, and it looks to be just more saber rattling. I think Seoul would be an absolutely amazing place to visit.

It is. In fact, I’ll be there for two weekends, a long weekend in September and a short weekend in October. Send me a PM if you’re interested in a formerly-local guide!

Okay, just another reason to bring those ear muffs.

Not to be argumentative, but that’s a sign for a mok-yok-tang, or public bath…

The same sign is used by both public baths and many inns, including so-called “love hotels”.

Huh. Never noticed that when I lived there… was always just for the public baths.