8 Things You Should Know Before Traveling to South Korea
It may seem a little off the beaten track for many people who are considering traveling to South Korea, but the reality is that South Korea is a greatly accessible country and should feature high on the must visit countries on your bucket list. Before you get on that plane and travel to far east Asia, there are just 8 things you must know before traveling to South Korea.
Take a minute to scrub up on your knowledge of the Korean culture before traveling to South Korea. This wondrous nation is exciting and vibrant and is one of the safest countries in the world to visit.
Read on to find out how easy the South Korean alphabet is, how to treat your waiter and whether or not to tip.
Flights to South Korea can be very reasonably priced. The main international airport for South Korea can be found in the capital city of Seoul. If you plan a Korean holiday to the coast or even some of the country’s beautiful countryside be sure to schedule a few days in Seoul in order to explore the buzzing capital.
#1. Personal Space, or lack there of…
Personal space boundaries that we adhere to as social norms and common courtesy in the western world are far from standard in South Korea.
South Korea has a population of over 25 million people and as such there is just not enough space for everyone, especially in the densely populated capital city of Seoul.
If you find yourself getting pushed around while roaming the streets, try your best not to be offended, it is not intended to offend and certainly not to cause harm. In fact, it is a force of habit for many Koreans. You are likely to find yourself subject to the odd shove in the queue for the bathroom and on public transport, in particular at rush hour.
Be mindful and travel throughout the city away from peak times.
#2. No need to tip
In the United States of America is it customary to tip almost everywhere you go and many servers rely on tips to survive. This is far from the case in South Korea. The standards of service in restaurants all over the country is generally pretty high, despite this, tipping is still not the done thing by locals. That said, if you do feel that your server warrants a tip or you just feel uncomfortable not doing it, then do it. Your server will certainly be grateful.
Other services you can consider tipping for are taxi drivers, concierges and barbershops/hairdressers, these groups would be grateful of a non-obligatory gesture.
#3. No need to be shy
There is no need to be shy and reserved by western standards to staff working in a restaurant in South Korea. In some countries, shouting to restaurant staff would be considered the height of rudeness, and see your fellow diners shrink back into their chairs in embarrassment. Not in South Korea. Unlike in Europe, Korean servers will not return to your table after your food has been served to do a ‘check-back’ to ensure you are happy with everything. Instead they wait until they are summoned.
To get your server’s attention you can shout ‘Yogiyo’ in their direction which translates to ‘I’m here’. Many restaurants in Seoul and the bigger cities have buttons on the table that you can press to get their attention or call them to the table to clear plates, or order another beer.
#4. South Korea is Safe as…
If you are traveling to South Korea and wondering if the country is safe, you will be pleased to know that South Korea is constantly voted as one of the safest countries in Asia. Crime rates are relatively low. However, the South Korean laws have been known to be somewhat bias towards locals.
Visitors should also be vigilant in the busy cities around the main tourist attractions, as with many major cities, sadly South Korea is not without a community of petty thieves on the look out for absent minded tourists to tout.
#5. Easy language to learn…well, alphabet!
The South Korean language is surprisingly easy to learn. Looking at the written language on paper, you may be put off by such a challenge. For starters, there is a whole new alphabet to learn but look past that and you will find the language quite agreeable for beginners.
The Korean language is known as Hangul and unlike standard Chinese and Japanese, it is constructed from a series of phonetic sounds. As such, Hangul Korean is quite easy to remember if you get the rhythm into you head. Challenge yourself to master the alphabet on the plane to South Korea, it is possible to get the alphabet into your head within a day if you really apply yourself!
#6. Bathroom etiquette can seem a little odd
Many public bathrooms in the popular tourist spots feature classic western style toilets, likewise in hotels that cater to western visitors. However, if you stray off the beaten track a little, you will be greeted by a squat toilet, a bucket of water and no toilet paper.
A top tip if you are traveling to South Korea, make sure your feet stay in line with the beveled china edges of the squat to make sure you don’t get any unnecessary splashing! and carry toilet paper with you if you’re venturing out.
#7. Getting about is cheap and easy
Public transport in South Korea is frankly some of the best you will find in Asia, if not the world. Timely and cheap, the best way to travel is to buy a T-Money card when you go to the station the first time.
The equivalent of the Oyster card in London, the T-Money card can be topped up and used in multiple cities throughout your stay. This will save you money and get you through the gates quicker.
#8. Don’t forget a gift
As with China and Japan, the traditional culture of gift giving is still very relevant when traveling to South Korea. Both in personal relationships and business occasions, it is courteous to bring a gift to a dinner, party or event.
As with in the west, a token gift of flowers or a bottle of wine is a sufficient gesture if invited to a home dinner party.
About the Author:
Linda Smith is a travel writer and the founder/main editor of easytravel4u.com. Her passion for travel inspires her to seek new places, new adventures and sharing her travel experience to everyone. You can visit her website and also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.