10 Fun Things to do in South Korea
Are you Coming to South Korea to teach English or Travel?
You can make your trip to beautiful South Korea a memorable one by checking out my list of 10 things that you need to while you're here.
Many of these things are easy to do in whatever neighborhood you find yourself in so don't worry too much about where to go. You can sample some delicious BBQ, eat some spicy cabbage or radish Kimchi, soak naked in the sauna or visit the Singing Room when you're out for a night on the town. I'm confident that you'll have a fantastic time exploring, shopping and playing in this amazing country.
I've been living in Korea for the past 10 years, working at a university out in the rice fields of Chungcheongnam-Do and now in Busan. It's been an amazing decade filled with the funniest, craziest and most unforgettable experiences. I hope you love this country as much as I do and have an awesome time in South Korea.
Eat some BBQ during your stay in South Korea
Expats in Korea rank Korean BBQ as their favorite Korean food. You can get pork or beef, cut up into small pieces. In the center of your table, you'll have a fire or flame of some sort and you BBQ your own meat. When it's done, dip your meat into salt or spicy red pepper sauce, and wrap it up with some garlic, kimchi and rice in a piece of lettuce or sesame leaf. It's probably the most delicious thing that you'll ever eat. The best part of it is the atmosphere that comes along with it. Have some shots of soju with your friends, and watch the couples out on dates. Even better is to find some Koreans to take you and they'll make sure it's done up right.
How to eat your Korean BBQ
Have a soak in a Korean Sauna
Koreans love going to the sauna, and most of them will head to one at least once a week for a good clean and soak. There are local ones in every neighborhood, where less than $5 will gain you admission. There are also ultra-luxurious ones with all kinds of themed pools and room, as well as sleeping rooms where you can spend the night. Some are strictly single-gender, since you bath naked, while others have areas where you put on a robe and everyone can relax together.
In Seoul, there are 2 very nice one outside of Seoul Station and Yongsan Station. Ask tourist information at the stations for directions. Or, if you feel like getting outside of Seoul come to the Asan (Onyang-Oncheon) area, an hour South of Seoul by KTX Train. It's where the kings from days gone by used to come for holiday and most of the resorts there take advantage of the plentiful natural hot springs in the area. You could spend days checking out the hotels with saunas in the area, but a couple of the best are Dogo Hot Springs Resort, and Spavis.
Go Hiking to see the fall colors
Seoraksan is best, but any mountain will do
Korea is full of mountains, and in fact 70% of the country is mountainous. Every weekend, even during the winter and heat of summer, Koreans are out in full-force to get their exercise and recreation. However, the best time to go is during October and early November to see the changing colors on the trees. Mountains and endless valleys with amazing reds, yellows and oranges. The best part of it is perhaps the crowds of Koreans out in their Swiss Family Robinson attire. Drink some Makeoli (Korean rice wine), served warm along with pajeon (green onion pancake) to complete the experience.
What's your favorite thing to do in South Korea?
Go to Jeju Island: Korea's Hawaii
Or, at least that's what all the tourist brochures say. And actually, it's really true. It is indeed a semi-tropical paradise filled with palm trees, and scuba diving, tallest peak in South Korea, white sandy beaches, and a million other adventures. It's truly a must-see if you're in North-East Asia.
Martina's Trip to Jeju Island
Dance and Sing the night away at the Norae-Bang
Norae-Bang, in English in translated as "Singing-Room." It's like your own mini Karaoke room for you and a few friends. It's where the Koreans go to finish their night off after a few hours of eating and drinking. You can find them on any street and they're only a couple dollars per person per hour. The nicer ones will offer free drinks and snacks, as well as alcohol you can buy. They might have a stripper pole and music makers too!
Get your party on in Hongdae
Hongdae (Hongik University area) in Seoul is where the young and hip Koreans and foreigners go to party the night away. You'll find plenty of restaurants, and a bar to suite every taste. A good place to start is the "Park" near the Hongik University main entrance, where they have live entertainment on weekends. Activity seems to center around here. You'll be able to party until the sun comes up and then stagger home to your sauna or love motel for a few hours of sleep before getting up and finding yourself some Hae-Jung-Guk, a soup that is reputed to cure a hangover.
Partying in Hongdae
Experience the past in a folk village
Korea is now an ultra-modern, first-world country, but it wasn't so long ago that they were an agricultural society. However, Koreans seem to want to forget their not so spectacular past so you'll be hard-pressed to find anything left from 100 years ago, except in folk villages. The folk villages in Korea are very well done, low on the kitsch and high on the authenticity.
My two picks are:
1. Suwon: Nobody lives in the houses, but it's the biggest one in Korea. There are lots of ceremonies, performances, old-fashioned food and drinks, as well as games you can play.
2. Andong: Hahoe Folk Village. As opposed to the village in Suwon, people actually live in the houses and the best part about it is that you can stay overnight in the village. It's located in a picturesque part of Korea, nestled among a beautiful winding river. Head there during the fall rice harvest for maximum beauty. As a bonus, it's home to Korea's mask dance group, which you can see perform on weekends.
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Shop till you drop at one of the famous markets in Seoul
Every town will have a market where you can buy all kinds of produce, meat, and kimchi. It's a fascinating place and a glimpse into the daily iife of Korea, with ajumas (older women) out shopping for their family's dinner. Be sure to sample some of the street food in these places, it's usually delicious. If you're an expat in Korea, shopping here is certainly more interesting than going to the local E-Mart.
If you're in the mood for clothes, gifts, or just about anything check out either Dongdaemun or Namdaemum in central Seoul. They are two of the biggest markets in Asia and you can find some great deals. But, be sure to bargain as the first listed price is usually a bit too high. There is amazing food to be found in the little alleys between the stores. But eat quick, or you'll get some dirty looks from the ajumas running the place!
A Trip to Namdaemum Market, central Seoul
Sample some Kimchi
Kimchi is Korea's national dish. It's usually made with Chinese cabbage or radish, but sometimes other vegetables as well. It's mixed with spicy red pepper paste, garlic, onion, ginger and other spices and left to ferment for up to a few months. The longer it ferments, the spicier and more sour it gets. Koreans eat kimchi with every meal and you'll be able to sample it at every restaurant you go to. If it's too spicy for you to eat alone, have it with a bit of rice, or cook it on your grill at Korean BBQ. It might suit your palate better. Foreigners who've been in Korea for a year or two are generally thoroughly addicted and wonder how they'll ever live without it when they go back home.
Enjoy the foreign delights!
There are plenty of expats in Korea, with about 1% of the population being foreigners. This brings with it the ghettos that cater to everything foreign and the festivals that are mostly foreigner ones.
You can find a taste of home outside any of the US army bases here, but the most well-known area is Itaewon, outside of the Yongsan Base in central Seoul. Restaurants, shopping, and English bookstores await you!
Another area is Songtan, south of Seoul which is outside a major air force base that has more Americans than Koreans on the main street. This is the place to get cheap, custom made clothes and shoes.
A festival to check out is the Mud Festival in July at Daechon Beach, on the West Coast of Korea. Foreigners flock to it in hordes and it's acceptable to throw mud at your friends, or wrestle them in the mud pit. Your dreams can come true!