Self-reflection is important and hindsight is 20/20. As such, here are a few travel tips for South Korea that I’d recommend to anyone looking to go.
1. Take the JSA Tour
When we booked the tour of the DMZ, we declined the option to add the Joint Security Area (JSA) onto the tour. The DMZ Tour cost ~$45, but the addition of the JSA drove the cost up to about $150.
Unfortunately, the JSA is the iconic blue part of the DMZ with the shared conference rooms and the guards stare at each other. We enjoyed the rest of the DMZ tour, but I feel like we really missed an iconic part by not seeing the JSA.
2. Go to Jeju Island
Jeju Island is a popular domestic and international destination. It’s home to the most iconic and tourism parts of the country including the Museum of Sex and Health (instead of the Love Museum), active lava tubes, and three (3!) UNESCO sites.
The pragmatist in me knows that we just didn’t have time to go. We were in South Korea for 11 days and with work schedules and budgets, staying much longer just wasn’t in the cards. However, when we go back, it’s a must-do.
3. English is Fine
In my Mexico City post-trip wrap up, I mentioned how knowing the local language was a boon to our trip. The same can’t be said for South Korea. Since the 1970s, the government started a massive effort called the EPIK program which hired teachers from the West to teach English in schools. And it worked. English is very widely spoken, and while some people will appreciate learning words like “Hello” and “Thank You”, no one expects you to know Korean.
4. Air Quality is a Factor
If you’re sensitive to pollution, South Korea recently joined the ranks as one of the most polluted countries. How much of it is China’s fault (which sits due west of the tiny nation) is a subject of debate, but there were more hazy days than we expected.
5. How to Talk About the North
As I referenced in my DMZ post, the people of South Korea are not antagonistic about the situation with the North. For a long time, the two countries were one and the divide at the 38th Parallel not only split cultures but also families. Most of the people we spoke with looked forward to reunification. That said, don’t bring it up; if the people you’re speaking with want to talk about it, be respectful and know that emotions run deep.
6. Seriously, Though: Watch Your Head
Doors are much lower than I was expecting. If you’re over 6’, get in the habit of ducking under things.
Have you gone to South Korea? If so, did I miss anything that travelers should know? Add a comment below.
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