Travelling to South Korea: What You Need to Know

Travelling to South Korea: What You Need to Know

Written By: Oly

I’ve always been fascinated with Korean culture and cinema so a trip to South Korea was something that had wanted to do for a long time. I spent some time working as a freelance photographer over the summer and picked up a job working with a company in South Korea, so it was the perfect opportunity to cross a country off my bucket list -- but I definitely wanted to spend some time researching the country and some of the customs before I arrived.

South Korea was the first chance I had to go to any of the Asian countries, so even though I had an interest in the culture I still didn’t know what to expect once I arrived. As much as I tried to prepare myself before I departed from Sydney, I have to say that I learned so much on my excursions to South Korea and I thought I would share them with other travellers who are venturing into the region.

When I travel to other countries, I try to eat all of the local cuisines as much as possible. In a country such as South Korea, luckily the food is not only very delicious but also extremely affordable for even the budget traveller. Choosing to eat local foods is also a great way to save money as opposed to finding more Westernized dishes -- I also think that eating local cuisines and ingredients is a great way to learn more about the culture and destination you’re visiting. One drink I experienced with each meal was Soju -- and though I’m not a big drinker, it’s a fairly common occurrence in South Korea and often featured with many meals.

There are also some etiquette points to learn before visiting South Korea, which may vary from different Asian cultures and destinations. While I learned some of these by reading tour books on South Korea, my host for the trip also enlightened me to some of the other customs while I was eating at a restaurant. Some of the things I learned was that you always pour the drinks for the elders of the table before you do your own drink, and always consume the soup before you eat anything else. Also don’t pick up the rice bowl, as it is considered rude -- this differs from other Asian cultures. My host also told me not to leave my utensils or chopsticks in my dishes as I ate. Many of these were mentioned in the tour books, but if you’re travelling to South Korea and you want to make sure that you’re being as polite as possible, be sure to check some of the etiquette procedures before travelling.

One important tip for travelling to South Korea is to try to learn some of the basic Korean words. A phrasebook is a good way to start because it gives you all of the essential words that you need to know on your trip in case you come across someone who doesn’t speak your language. While some restaurants and shops in English-speaking areas do feature a range of languages, if you’re visiting more rural destinations then coming across English will be a little harder to find -- which is exactly why learning some Korean could be beneficial. Older Koreans are also less likely to speak English so it helps you if you need to communicate. If you still don’t know any basic Korean words, many of the restaurants have picture menus so you are able to do basic communication -- but you’ll have to trust that you’re ordering exactly what you want!

Wearing comfortable clothing is also one of the most important tips I have for anyone travelling South Korea. If you’re visiting any cities in South Korea, you’re going to be doing a lot of walking even if you choose to do the mass transit -- walking is the way of life and you’ll definitely want to have some comfortable shoes. Many of the cities are also rather large and spread out, so you’ll be getting a lot of walking in during your visit to the country. Even those who live in major cities like Sydney or even New York City will do far more walking in Seoul, if that’s even possible!

You also want to check in at the hotel during the designated time and check out on time -- most of the accommodations are fairly strict on when you’re able to get into your room so always check beforehand if you’re anticipating getting inside. You can also leave your luggage at the front desk and come back at the time you’re allowed, if that’s a concern!

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