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South Korea Guide & Travel Advice

Getting there

British Airways, Asiana and Korean Air all fly direct from London Heathrow to Seoul. Many other airlines offer connecting flights to South Korea including Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways, Emirates, Malaysia Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Singapore Airlines.

Flying times from UK

Direct flights from the UK take around 11 hours. Flights with stops en-route take between 14 and 16 hours.

Time zone

South Korea is +9 hours ahead of GMT.

Visa requirements

Holders of British passports can enter South Korea as a tourist for up to 90 days without needing a visa. You must have an onward or return ticket.

Do's and don'ts

Most public places allow smoking.

Drinking alcohol is socially acceptable but do not pour your own as others will do this for you. If you notice an empty glass you should return the favour, using both hands to pour and receive.

Eating in Korean restaurants is informal but follow eating etiquette by observing what everyone else does. Loud slurping and even the occasional belch is not considered rude.

Koreans study English religiously but it is often very difficult to find anyone who speaks the language. For reasons based on pride, many refuse to speak English until they feel they can do it near perfectly. It is encouraged and welcomed to speak their language.

Koreans love karaoke and at some point through an evening tend to visit a ‘norae bang’, or song room. Koreans appreciate any effort made to sing, no matter how good you are!

Money

The currency of South Korea is the Won (KRW) and comes in notes and coins. When you need to exchange your foreign currency into Korean won, visit a bank, exchange service centre, or an authorised exchange. Credit cards can be used in most establishments and in nearly all towns and cities. In rural areas though they are rarely accepted. ATMs are widely available but do not always accept foreign cards, however, those with a sign saying ‘Global’ will normally accept foreign cards.

Tipping

Tipping is generally not expected but a tip of 10% in a restaurant is appreciated. There is no need to tip taxi drivers as fares are either metered or agreed before you get in. A guideline for tipping your drivers and guides will be advised prior to travel.

Food and drink

Korean cuisine is very different from other Asian cuisine. The majority of dishes include ingredients such as rice, vegetables, fish, chicken and bean curd. Red pepper is a popular ingredient and can also be found in a number of dishes. The national dish of Korea is called kimchi, which is a combination of spiced pickled cabbage or white radish, combined with turnips, onions and occasionally fish. For meat eaters, a popular marinated beef barbecue dish is known as bulgogi. For fish lovers there is haemultang which is a seafood stew. Vegetarians can opt for a speciality called bibimbap which is a deliciously spicy dish combining rice with vegetables and chilli peppers.

There are many regional drinks in Korea. Some Koreans prefer wine, such as a ginseng wine, and can often be found at the local ‘suljip’, or wine bar, while others prefer local beer with the most popular ones being Cass, Hite and OB. A liquor made from fermented rice, yakju, is a favourite and soju – similar to vodka – is made from potatoes or grain. Milky liquor is also very popular, with two types being makgeolli and dongdongju. It is custom for Koreans to fill each other's glasses as s sign of camaraderie and respect, and you will always see the young filling the glasses of their elders.

Holidays, festivals and celebrations

There are many national holidays in South Korea. Independence Declaration Day, known as Samiljeol, takes place on 1st March and commemorates the March First Movement, one of the earliest public displays of Korean resistance against the Japanese occupation of Korea. Liberation Day, or Gwangbokjeolm, takes place on 15th August and celebrates national liberation from Imperial Japan in 1945. National Foundation Day marks the foundation of Gojoseon, the first state of the Korean nation and is the third day of the 10th lunar month, 2333 BCE. Hangeul Day on 9th October commemorates the invention and proclamation of the Korean writing system.

There are many South Korean public holidays. Seollal, or Lunar New Year’s Day, is celebrated for three days and is considered the most important of all traditional seasonal festivals. Chuseok, the mid-autumn festival on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, is celebrated for three days. Buddha’s Birthday is on the 8th day of the fourth lunar month, Memorial Day on 6th June and Christmas Day on 25th December.

Chuseok consists of thanksgiving services in which newly harvested crops and fruits are offered to the ancestral spirits. Generally held to be as important as the Lunar New Year’s Day, Chuseok is also one of the two annual occasions when all the family members gather together. Another important seasonal festival is Daeboreum, translated as Greater Full Moon, which celebrates the 15th day of the first month of the year by the lunar calendar. On that day, people eat special festival food called ogokbap, play games for the unity of the local community and perform rituals for good harvest.

Shopping

There are a number of shopping districts in downtown Seoul that can offer the shopper anything from books to arts to antiques and even designer clothing. A popular shopping district is historic Insadong which in the past was commonly frequented by artists, writers and journalists and remains the best place to look for books or a unique work of art. Myeong-dong is the location of high-end shops and luxury boutiques whilst the vast Namdaemun Night Market in the centre of Seoul – one of the largest covered markets in Asia – sells everything and anything. Elsewhere, locally produced handicrafts are common as well as tea, jewellery, textiles and leatherwork.

Suggested reading

Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and Bradt have comprehensive guidebooks on the country. Fodor’s ‘Korea: The Complete Guide with Walking Tours’ is also good. For books on the history of South Korea and the Korean Peninsula try ‘A History of Korea’, by Kyung Moon Hwang, ‘Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History’, by Bruce Cumings and ‘Korea: The Impossible Country’, by Daniel Tudor.

Health

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on staying healthy whilst abroad but current recommended vaccinations are Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus and Diphtheria. Yellow Fever is compulsory, but only if you have visited an affected Yellow Fever area within 5 days prior to your arrival. In some instances anti-malarial tablets may also be needed. For current information on health advice you may wish to visit the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) Web Site on www.masta.org.  The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website (www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk) is also a useful resource.

Travel advice

For current information on South Korea the best resource is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) which is a comprehensive resource and updated regularly. We would also recommend visiting the Safer Tourism Foundation website (https://safertourism.org.uk/) before you travel and will be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

South Korea Holiday Ideas

China, Mongolia, South Korea, Central Asia, Nepal and Bhutan Holiday Review

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SG - China, Mongolia, South Korea, Central Asia, Nepal and Bhutan - July 2018

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