Monday, January 26, 2009

Ask a Korean! Wiki: Visiting Korea

Dear Korean,

I will be visiting Korea in a few weeks. Are there any must see places in Seoul and the rest of the Korea in general? Is it safe? Do you have any other tips and advice in general?


Another chance for you the readers to answer some questions. Off the top of his head, the Korean thought of the following places to visit in Seoul: The palaces (there are several), business district near Gwanghwamun, traditional district at Insadong, shopping at Apkujeong (modern, expensive) Myeongdong (modern, cheap), Dongdaemun (modern/traditional), Noryangjin (traditional/fresh seafood), theatres and galleries at Daehakro, clubs and eateries at Shinchon/HongIk University, Seoul Tower at Namsan for a sweeping view of the city.

Any tip about traveling in Korea would be much appreciated.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Koreans will welcome you with open arms!!!

    I dont think Seoul will offer you a true sense of Korea. After all, it is one of the most developed, populated capital around the world. I recommend you caravan out to Cholla or Pusan areas to explore South Korea. In Cholla, there are many beautiful cites to see. For example, there is a century old folk village, a inter-Korean battlefield, and many other sites that will provide you with memories that will last a life time. However, if you want to stick with night scene, Seoul or Kyungido are the best places.

    Good luck!

  2. You will see korea is great. I seoul go to Insadong and visit this nice building called Samgigil.

    Also don't go to Itawon, it's the place where foreigner meet, so lots of western restaurant, and shops.

    Please eat lots of local food.

    Motels are a cheap alternative to hotels. It's the price of a youth hostel and the quality of normal hotel.

    Also go to Pusan or smaller cities, you will see less foreigner there so the experience will be greater.

  3. I love it when people say "Seoul isn't [South] Korea." Nevermind that half the population of South Korea lives in the Seoul area. They're ALL FAKE people. Nope, not Korean at all.

    Having said that, the tea fields in Boseong are gorgeous and it's an easy day trip from Seoul. You can find tours online quite easily. Be aware that most guides don't speak any English and just sort of follow the crowd.

  4. The Korean believes that Seoul represents Korea just as much as Jeolla-do does. (The Korean does not think the previous commenters meant to say that Seoul isn't real Korea -- just that it is not a full representative.)

    That said, it is a good idea to venture out of Seoul. The hyper-modernity of Seoul and the traditional countryside are both representative of Korea -- which truly is a land of thousand contradictions.

  5. May I humbly suggest SeoulPodcast episode #19: Top Ten Things to See and Do in Korea

  6. Krianne,
    I suspect Korea will have more for you to see than you'll have time for. Heck I've been in Korea for over 10 months, making it a point to see one new place every weekend. Start at and see what interests you. Wanna see parks? palaces? spas? mountains? OK, you get the idea.

    Regarding Seoul, yes it's big - and sometimes it's nice to get out of the behemoth and see life at a slower pace. Depending on your available time / budget, try to see both sides of the country - the fast paced, modern side, and the slower paced, more traditional side :)


  7. Having traveled a bunch around Korea, my favorite tourist experiences have been: 1) the USO tour of the DMZ, 2) visiting a traditional village--I went to Andong that has the traditional mask dance, but I have heard there is also a good one a bit south of Seoul, 3) Gyeongju, the ancient Shilla capital called "a museum without walls," that takes at least 3 days to fully take in, though is worth it even if you only go for one (it's often compared to Kyoto in Japan as Korea's cultural/historical capital), 4) Jeju island, a volcanic island that is very touristy, but has lots of beautiful natural scenery, and 5) the palaces in Seoul. Festivals here are fun and there is almost always one happening somewhere. See if you can figure out what will occur at the time you visit and catch it.

    As you can see, I tend to favor cultural/historical sites in natural settings. I've heard good things about taekwondo demonstrations in Seoul, temple stays (which I plan to try soon), and driving along the coasts (either in the north east or the south west).

    I agree about eating lots of yummy Korean food.

    Have a great time!

  8. I second Gyeongju. The city has a lot of amazing historical sites... definitely check out the museum there... It's amazing and free!

    I'm also partial to Jeollanamdo, since I live here... If you head south, check out Suncheon (Green Tea Fields, Folk Village, Wetlands), Yeosu (Hyangilam Hermitage, Odongdo, Dolsan Bridge), Gwangju is also a really cool city... biggest in the province!

    Have a great trip!

  9. Getting around elsewhere is fairly easy compared with other countries.

    Except in Seoul, you will find less English spoken than in many other more touristed destinations, but the English signage is generally very good. It only takes a few hours of study and a few days practice to learn the Korean writing system and that is well worth the effort. Even if you don't know what a word means, being able to read a place name or menu item helps a lot and a surprising number of signs have familiar English words written in Korean.

    The trains are cheap and amazing. You don't generally need tickets in advance (except busy holidays). Intercity buses go everywhere and are pretty good as well. Many people will tell horror stories about driving in Korea, but that's mostly in the cities. Rental cars are relatively cheap and the driving laws are very similar to the US or Canada. You can use your US license too. I'd recommend a rental for places like Jeju Island or Gyeongju where the sites are pretty spread out.

    Outside Seoul, I would recommend Gyeongju -especially Bulguksa- and the three "jewel" temples -Haeinsa, Tongdosa, and Songgwangsa. Jeju Island is well worth it as well, if you have the time.

    A good resource for more info by expats living in Korea is

  10. Several folks have mentioned busan, or other places you can visit by train.

    If you come from the US, make sure to take the KTX to busan (or wherever).. it's a wondrous train compared to those in the US.

    this is a post Brian guest-wrote for my blog, about traveling in Jeolla Province.

    Here's a google map of a whole slew of my favorite places to eat in the downtown Seoul area, which I sent to Brian when he mentioned he's coming to Korea.,126.982899&spn=0.025135,0.040941&t=h&z=15

    I also highly, highly recommend the "Seoul City Bus Tour" -- it's a bus tour that goes on a circle through just about ALL the worthwhile places in central seoul north of the river: from there, you can pick which of the stops on the tour you choose to visit, according to your interests. There are lookouts, folk villages, museums, shopping districts, palaces, eating districts and party areas all on the tour, depending on what you want out of your time in Seoul, and the all day pass is only about 12000 won.

    I also highly recommend climbing one of the mountains in Seoul: there are some nice ones in the north end, in the direction of Nowon and Uijeongbu. They're pretty, with well-maintained trails, it's hard to get lost, and people are really friendly on the mountains.

    (other than COEX, and possibly Lotte World and Olympic Park, I'd advise you to stay north of the river, unless you have a lot of time in Seoul - in my personal opinion, the north side has more culture, texture, and uniquely Korean feel than the south side, which is too rich, too expensive, too well planned, too squeaky clean, and just has less soul, than the much older north side)

    If you're going out of Seoul, I'd also recommend Andong and Gyeongju, the heartland of old, old, old Korea, but Jeolla province has the best food.

    I also second Joe Zen's suggestion that you listen to his "top ten things" podcast: there's enough there to keep you busy for a four month stay.

  12. I don't believe my note insinuates Seoul is not part of Korea. If it did, I apologize. After all, Seoul the CAPITAL city of Korea. Hence, it is one of the most important cities in Korea if not the most important -- administratively :-).

    I believe Seoul is a great city to visit. It offers myriad of entertainment opportunities that rural places can't match. IMHO, however, Seoul seemed as a gigantic metropolis which lacked the essential "flavors" of Korea. For example, there are too many commercial high rise buildings, apartments, and bars. Of course, these types of establishment does play a pivotal role in all sprawling cities, especially if its the capital. Nevertheless, Seoul was just TOO MUCH. It was too congested. I felt like I was in "Gotham City" from the Movie Batman. Walking in downtown Seoul, I didnt feel as if I was in Korea. I just felt as if I was in NYC. In all seriousness, I was not expecting to see Koreans wearing hanboks, smoking long pipes, and riding on chariots; however, I did expect to see traditional Korean villages meshed together with the modern architectures surrounded by beautiful mountains. But my wishes were no where in sight.

    Maybe the disappointments I felt in Seoul was because I had this notion of Seoul which I knew and thought to be correct -- I am considered Korean SME amongst my friends. Maybe it was because I was raised in America, so seeing 700 story buildings really didnt have an impact that would have on someone who is from a developing world. Maybe it was because I studied Korean history in college, so witnessing hyper-modernity at its peak in my motherland was not a huge surprise. Whatever the case may be, Seoul didnt provide me with lifelong experiences. However, I have so many stories that happened to me outside of Seoul. To make my blog shory, just like life, Korea is WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT!!!!! ;-)

  13. whoa Robo, the Korean is from the heart of the southside Seoul. You can't go around talking trash about the southside, son. Gangnam, woot!

    Btw, your map is tremendous. Thank you so much for that.

  14. The traditional dance and song performances at the Chongdong Theater (very close to Deoksu-gung) are an absolute must-see.

    I also second everyone who recommends Gyeongju. I would add that going to see the Deosan Seowon Confucian academy, while kind of a chore to get to especially without someone who can speak Korean, is very much worth doing. Plus you'll be in Andong, so you can pick up some 80-proof soju and go to the Soju Museum.

  15. Kanghwa-do (Ganghwa-do, 강화도) is an interesting day trip if you have a car or someone who can help you navigate the bus system. There's a lot of neat little historical places there, too, and it's only about an hour west of Seoul. If you're interested, I can email you a write-up I did. Click on my profile to get my email.

  16. Dear roboseyo, your map is great. I will be visiting Seoul for 2 days in approx. 7 weeks.

    This thread comes in handy; thx TK and contributors.

  17. Namdaemun was a hoot. (Shopping/food...)

    Highly recommended.


  18. Apgjeoung is cool, but right next door there is Sinsa-dong, which is cooler. (I guess I just like the quietude and the tree-lined sidewalks.)


    Sulak-San is close to Seoul, and it is nice. Also, I recommend Min-Sok-Chon

  20. I'm planning on going to South Korea soon, i've been studying and doing my research. I lived with my moms friend who is Korean for 2 years and learned a lot about the culture and simple sentences! I've made my mind up and want to go to South Korea. I'm going to be going on my own, with my own money. Hopefully the people treat me well, as i know i will treat the locals with the ut-most respect and hopefully i can meet some great like minded musicians!!!


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