Despite its small size, Korea is densely populated with Seoul, the capital, containing a population of over 10.5 million. In the main cities, you will see the interesting juxtaposition of modern technology--everybody holds a cellphone or watches a Korean drama on the subway--alongside preserved history in places like Gyeonbokgung Palace and Haeinsa Temple.
Koreans are very proud of their local food. The safest and tastiest start for foodies is the Korean BBQ. Galbi and bulgogi (beef rib and marinated beef) are especially popular and wrapped in lettuce with other vegetables. You can find a grill in almost every neighborhood. There are also over 187 types of historical and current kimchi, which is considered the nation's #1 side dish. Some may taste too strong or spicy, but it doesn't hurt to try different types. The cucumber kimchi is popular in the summertime for those who cannot handle extreme spice.
There are many entertaining festivals for a special experience in Korea such as the Seoul Lantern Festival in November, a beautiful parade closing off blocks of Seoul, and the handmade lanterns stretching a couple meters high and can also be found floating down Cheonggyecheon Stream. Other things to look for are cherry blossoms in the Spring, a bicycle ride alongside Hangang (Han River), and hodeok (a cinnamon-maple hot pancake) sold by street-vendors to warm you in the cold winter.
For the more outdoorsy types you can ski in winter, or hike one of the many beautiful national parks any time of the year. Several islands provide leisurely pleasure at the sea.
Highlights from South Korea
- Take a cheap flight south to Busan or the volcanic honeymooners island Jeju
- Have fun playing with mud at the popular Boryeong Mud Festival in July
- For a limitless amount of things to do, visit the capital city of Seoul
- Learn more about North and South Korea at the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)
- Witness the wondrous leaves of autumn at Seoraksan National Park
- Go skiing at Pyeongchang host of the 2018 Winter Olympics
- Visit Bulguk-sa, a World Heritage listed temple in Gyeongju
- Stroll around Hwaseong Haenggung (Hwaseong Fortress) near Suwon
- See picturesque Hahoe Folk Village near Andong
- Set sail to Ulleungdo Island with its steep cliffs and spectacular scenery
Hints and Tips for South Korea
- Despite the high influx of English teachers, locals who know English may be reluctant to speak in the language because they are shy or embarrassed.
- Avoid sticking chopsticks upright in a dish (it is better to place them atop a plate, bowl, or beside the dishes) as this is a ritual done only when someone dies.
- If you are traveling by subway, a T-Money card (available at subway convenience stores) can make the hectic subway system more efficient. For more distant travels, you can book bus tickets online or in person (bus terminals tend to be marked on the subway map).
- Finding accommodation can be near impossible on extended weekends and local holidays. Book in advance during these times or remain in major cities like Seoul or Incheon, as the usual local traffic will be diminshed.
- A helpful hotline for tourists and expats: dial the "city code"+1330 (example for Seoul: 02-1330). Useful for directions and local buses and any questions you may have.
- The Teaching-English-in-Korea Blog by Jenni Jen -- a great guide teaching English in Korea. Many ESL teachers blog, so try searching Travel Blog for bloggers with different student ages, experiences and advice.