5 Travel Tips for South Korea

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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

Train Bridge into the DMZ

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

Seoul City scape from Namsan Mountain

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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Two Traveling Texans

Want to read more? There’s a whole series about my trip to South Korea:

18 Comments

  1. That’s awesome English is so widely spoken! But I would still definitely try to learn a few words! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    1. Author

      Oh of course! I tried a few like “Hello”, “Thank You”, and a few numbers. Otherwise, I was given a lot of picture menus.

  2. I have been to South Korea but it was just for a day so I really need to go back. Next time I want to go to Jeju Island. Luckily I am vertically challenged so I don’t have to worry about the doors. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Author

      Ducking and buying extra aspirin for after I hit my head on every doorway was a small price to pay for being tall.

      I recommend going back. It was a lot of fun.

  3. Awesome advice, as I know nothing about Korea. Especially with the whole North Korea being a touchy subject. This will come in handy!
    #theweeklypostcard

    1. Author

      The North was interesting. On the one hand, there were gas masks in the subway station at the ready. On the other hand, there was little to no animosity towards the North.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Author

      It really depends on the day. Some days, it was no problem at all. Just sort of sad that it was on the one day we did landscape shots.

  4. I’ve never been anywhere in Asia, but I’d surely love to go. South Korea sounds like a good place to start and you share some good tips on your post. I’ll bookmark this. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

  5. Thank you for the guide. Korea always seemed interesting to me, though the pollution would be a bit of a problem for me.
    #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Author

      Understandable about the pollution. That said, then China’s also off the itinerary. I have a video of smog clouds rolling by while I was there. It was horrendous.

  6. Awesome tips! I´d love doing the JSA tour. It was interesting to read what they think of the situation with North and how to act. It would be something I’d love to ask but wouldn’t dare to bring up.

    And I would seriously need to watch my head, cause I’m too tall for Asia lol #TheWeeklyPostcard

  7. I noted your tips about taking the JSA tour and visiting the Jeju Island UNESCO sites. Also it’s nice to know that you can get by speaking English. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Author

      Glad that someone else can learn from my folly.

      For the most part, restaurants had picture menus, although knowing “hello” and “Thank you” were helpful.

  8. I am 5’4″ so I guess I would not have to duck below the top of door entrances in South Korea! This is a country moving quickly up the economic scale, and it would be really interesting to see first-hand how the society is reacting. Also the latest news is that North Korea is extending them the hand in friendship and to end their border wars, so I think that will help them too. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  9. Really interesting. I would love to visit South Korea someday, especially since I have 3 friends who have taught English there (like you referenced) and they can recommend stuff to me.

  10. We had no idea English was common in South Korea. Also, good to know about the JSA add-on. I don’t think we would have expected it to be separate tours. Thanks for sharing your 20/20 hindsight with us on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

  11. I went to the JSA, and it was probably one of the most memorable parts of my trip. I did miss out on Jejudo though. My travel buddy didn’t want to go and I regret listening to him 🙁 I need to head back just to see Jejudo! Also, at my height of 5 ft -ish, I am lucky to have no issues with the door heights…! 🙂

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