If you want to live the fast life a little more, then it
would be best to budget for about $40 US a day, This allows
you to stay in clean and comfortable hotel yogwans ($20 US),
take a taxi or two and splash out on a Bulgogi meal in the
Pack according to the time of year - South Korea has the full
range of weather from freezing cold in the winter to boiling
hot in the summer. If you intend to go climbing mountains,
good hiking boots and a waterproof jacket are very desirable.
Smart but casual clothes is the best option as Koreans are
naturally quite conservative. A jumper/fleece for the evenings
as well as a jacket is also a must. Bring a pair of non-jean
trousers if you plan to take a trip to the DMZ as jeans
are not allowed.
Some ideal clothing for trekking and travel is produced by
The North Face, Lowe
Alpine or Bridgedale.
South Korea is a very modern country and has a comprehensive
health system. To be safe and sound, travellers should consider
vaccinations for Hepatitis (all forms - the virus is
endemic in Asia), Diptheria, Tetanus and Typhoid.
Malaria pills and other medications should be administered
only at a trusted doctor's advice. It is recommended that
you see a doctor at least six weeks before you travel.
Transit Visa: With an onward tickets, vistors from
virtually anywhere will be granted a stay of up to 30 days
without a visa. This applies to all countries except: Cuba,
China, the Phillipines, Mongolia, Nepal, India, Iran, Sri
Lanka, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Nigeria, Ghana, Albania, Macedonia
and the 12 CIS Republics.
The good news for travellers from these countires is that
you will be granted a 30 day stay if you have already been
issued with a visa to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand
or Japan. The bad news is that the 30 days are not extendable
and there are steep fines for trying to stay on longer.
Visa Exemptions: If you are from a West European nation
you will be given a 90 day permit, or 60 days in the case
of Italy and Portugal. If you are from New Zealand, Israel,
Singapore, Thailand or Mexico you can also benefit from this
three month deal.
Tourist or Business Visas: All other country nationals
(including Australia, Canada and the USA) require visas for
stays of over 30 days. Check with your local Korean embassy
The mainstay of Korean cuisine is kimch'i - grated
vegetables mixed with chilli, garlic and ginger and left to
ferment. Whatever you order, kimch'i will probably arrive
with it. The national dish is pulgogi, or fire beef.
Strips of beef are marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic
and chilli and cooked on a hotplate at the table. The most
popular street food is pancakes, including p'ajon (green
onion pancakes) and pindaeddok (pancake with bean sprouts
and pork). South Korea's social life revolves around tea and
coffee rooms, and the country is famous for its herbal
teas. If you're keen for something harder, keep an eye
out for makkoli jip, the Korean version of the local
Getting lost - When wandering around, remember to
take a map or business card of where you are staying with
you. The house numbering system in South Korea is not, as
in most parts of the world, based on a logical geographical
sequence. Many streets don't have names and many houses don't
have numbers. The best way around this is to make sure you
have a map of where you are staying, so that you can get home
Telephones - some of the city dialling codes that
you may require are: Seoul 02, Busan 051, Geongju 031, Cheju-do
The Koreans are a deeply religious people who see nothing
contradictory in professing to adhere to several faiths at
once. Around 25% of the population are practising Christians,
and nowhere else in Asia, with the exception of the Philippines,
have proselytising missionaries been so successful. The religious
make-up is around half Christian and half Buddhist,
with minorities practicising Confucianism, Shamanism and
Chondogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way).
Some of the religions can get quite weird - devotees of the
religious cult leader Park Tae-Sun used to drink the
water he washed your feet in. And a sect called the Two
Incantations believes that South Korea is a large phallus
and that Paraguay is 'like the pubic region of a woman' .
The leaders of the sect have visited Paraguay and held healing
sessions there. Shamanism is a major issue in Korea
as well, and there even used to be a shaman who venerated
Douglas MacArthur (legendary US General who led troops
in the Korean war).
To get a full understanding of the Koreans' spiritual longing
pay a visit to the Full Gospel Church, which boasts
the largest congregation in the world with 700,000 devotees
praying every weekend at the central church. Such a logistical
exercise means that the church has to take 50,000 worshippers
in turn in a constant, 24 hour rotational vigil.
Seoul is the place to party when you are in South Korea
and it certainly can get wild. Koreans are said to be the
Irish of Asia, because they love to croon a tune, dance a
jig and make merry. There are a dizzying array of drinking
establishments that can make up an evening, depending on your
mood - from the makkoli jip saloon bar to the karaoke
bar and theme pub. Drinking is a main and inescapable
part of Korean culture, so much so that some job contracts
nowadays even account for liver failure and sickness due to
alcoholism as being part of the job description. Just as an
indication for the riotous nature of Korean drinking culture,
two highlights include a Nazi bar (where all the waiters
are bedecked in Black shirts and swastikas) and a fancy
dress bar where you can don a costume of before you head
in for a drink. The favoured drink in Korea is Moet
Hennessy - so you may well find yourself enjoying
this tipple before the night is out!
There is a feeling of Korean 'jeong' - a propensity
to feel and demand loyalty and trust from the people within
their small group - tribalism is quite developed here. There
is also a real sense of 'che myun' - saving face. Essentially,
Korean society is based on the tenets of Confucianism,
a system of ethics developed in China around 500 BC. Confucianism
is centred around devotion and respect - for parents, family,
friends and those in positions of authority. Confucius also
emphasised justice, peace, education, reform and humanitarianism.
In modern Korean society, Confucianism is most noticeable
in relations between people. The Five Relationships
prescribe behaviour between ruler and subject, father and
son, husband and wife, old and young, and between friends.
If you fall outside any of these relationships, you do not,
effectively, exist. Many travellers to South Korea find the
locals rude: they're probably not, chances are they just haven't
noticed you. Once you're introduced to someone, you'll fall
within the rules for friends and things will start looking