Difference between revisions of "South Korea"
Revision as of 11:12, 25 June 2017
South Korea (한국, 韓國 Hanguk), officially the Republic of Korea (대한민국, 大韓民國 Daehan Minguk) is a country in East Asia. South Korea occupies the southern half of the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea to the north, China across the sea to the west and Japan a short ferry ride to the southeast.
Prehistory and founding of a nation
Archaeological finds of prehistoric toolmaking on the Korean Peninsula date back to 70,000 BC, and the first pottery is found around 8000 BC. Comb-pattern pottery culture peaked around 3500-2000 BC.
Legend has it that Korea began with the founding of Gojoseon (also called Ancient Chosun) by the legendary Dangun in 2333 BC. Archaeological and contemporaneous written records of Gojoseon as a kingdom date back to around 7th-4th century BC. Gojoseon was eventually defeated by the Chinese Han Dynasty and its territories were governed by four outposts, but this did not last long. Natives of the peninsula and Manchuria soon reclaimed the territory, namely the Three Kingdoms of Korea, Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje. Despite repeated attempts by China, namely the Sui Dynasty and later the Tang Dynasty, to conquer the Korean Peninsula, northern-based Goguryeo managed to repel them. Eventually, Goguryeo fell to a Silla-Tang alliance, which had earlier defeated Baekje. This "unified" Korea began under the Silla dynasty, however true political and cultural unification would not be be achieved until the Goryeo dynasty, after absorbing Goguryeo remnants (Balhae) in 926. Even though Tang later invaded, Silla forces managed to drive them out, thus maintaining Korea's independence.
In an ironic twist of fate, Unified Silla was replaced by the Goryeo (also called Koryo) dynasty, shorthand for Goguryeo, from which the modern name "Korea" derives. One highlight of the Goryeo dynasty was that in 1234 the world's first metal movable type was invented by a Korean named Choe Yun-ui (200 years before Gutenberg's printing press). Goryeo was replaced by the Joseon (also called Chosun) dynasty, after a coup by one of its generals. The Joseon dynasty ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910, being one of the longest actively ruling dynasties in world history. It was during the early part of the Joseon dynasty that Korean technological inventions such as the world's first water clock, ironclad ship, and other innovations took place. During the rule of King Sejong the Great, the world's first rain gauge was invented and the Korean alphabet known as hangul was created.
Rapid modernization stirred by the Second Industrial Revolution created tension between China and Japan as they felt the pressures of Western expansionism, each wanting to extend their influence over Korea. This eventually led to the Sino-Japanese War in 1894, which took place on the Korean Peninsula, devastating the Joseon. It put Japan in a position extend its imperialism into Korea without fear of Chinese intervention. Then in 1905, Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, making Korea a protectorate until they were finally able to annex Korea in 1910, thus beginning a 35-year occupation of the country. Despite numerous armed rebellions, assassinations and intellectual and cultural resistance, suppression and a cultural assimilation policy that included forcing Koreans to take Japanese names and forbidding them to speak the Korean language allowed Japan to maintain colonial control.
The Japanese exercised rule of the peninsula until their defeat in World War II in 1945. Japan was forced to surrender the territory and the Allied Powers divided the nation at the 38th Parallel, with the Soviet Union occupying the northern half and the United States occupying the southern half. The divide was supposed to be temporary, however, the political struggle between the two nations to gain influence over the unified Korea led each to establish governments within their newly created territories.
After Japan's defeat in World War II, Soviet forces occupied the northern half of Korea while US forces occupied the southern half. North and South each declared independence as separate states in 1948, with Kim Il-Sung establishing a communist regime with the support of Soviet Union in the north, and Syngman Rhee establishing a capitalist regime with the support of the United States in the south. The disastrous Korean War, which destroyed much of the country, began in 1950 when Kim Il-Sung attacked the south. US and other UN forces intervened on South Korea's side, while the Soviet Union and China supported the North. An armistice was signed in 1953 splitting the peninsula along a demilitarized zone, with no significant territorial gains made by either side. But a peace treaty has never been signed, and the two Koreas remain technically at war with each other to this day.
Republic of Korea
Despite initially being economically outdone by its northern rival, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth starting in the 1960s under the leadership of former military general President Park Chung Hee. As one of the East Asian Tigers, the South Korean economy's industrialization and modernization efforts gained traction in the 1980s and 1990s, with per capita income rising to 20 times the level of North Korea. In 1996, South Korea joined the OECD or "the rich nations club". Today, South Korea has been recognized as an industrialized, developed economy with some of the world's leading high technology corporations such as Samsung and LG.
The downsides of South Korea's economical growth, however, included heavy censorship, authoritarian governments (i.e, the 2nd Republic led by former military leader Park Chung-Hee, which would last from 1962 to Park's murder in 1979) and multiple human rights violations (illegal detentions, torture, straight-up murder, etc., like the infamous Gwangju Massacre from 1980) Demands for greater freedom of press and human rights fomented to nationwide demonstrations that led to democratic elections in 1987, just prior to the South Korean capital of Seoul hosting the 1988 Summer Olympic Games.
South Korea is now a liberal democracy and an economic powerhouse. In June 2000, a historic first summit took place between the South's President Kim Dae-jung and the North's late leader Kim Jong-il (leading Kim Dae-jung to be awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize for South Korea), but the peace process has moved at a glacial pace.
In recent years, a phenomenon known as the "Korean Wave" (or Hallyu) in which the popularity of South Korean film, television, music, food and other culture aspects has swept most of Asia and many other parts of the world has brought increased attention to the country. The country elected its first female president, Park Chung-Hee's daughter Park Geun-hye, in 2012.
South Korea is a very homogeneous country, with nearly all native residents identifying themselves as ethnically Korean and speaking the Korean language. The largest resident minority are the Chinese, numbering around 20,000-30,000. However, there is a number of foreign laborers from China, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Southeast Asia, and other parts of world as well as English teachers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa and the United States. South Korea's large and growing economy has attracted people from all over the world and Seoul's status as a leading financial center has brought many financial workers from North America, Europe and Japan. Today, over one million foreigners reside in South Korea.
It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, but also has one of the world's lowest birth rates (1.21 children per woman). Currently there are 105.3 males for every 100 females, and that ratio is expected to reverse in 2020. There are various explanations to the cause of the low birth rate, such as more women in the work place, social conditions that do not encourage child rearing along with a career, job insecurity and long working hours, etc. About 85% of South Koreans live in urban areas. This encourages many Korean men in rural areas to seek wives from other countries such as China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe. This is also steadily becoming a social issue that South Korea will eventually need to tackle, as it hinders Korean reunification—an ideology that is based on the concept of race-nation—and the future of Korea in general.
Though East Asian tourists have been visiting Korea in droves since the turn of the millennium due to the Korean Wave (also known as 한류 hallyu), it is still largely off the radar of most Western tourists. As such, having locals stare or listen to your conversations is still somewhat a common experience among Westerners visiting Korea. Children in particular will approach you or shout a "Hi!" in passing. Much of this is done out of curiosity and eagerness to hear English spoken by native speakers. Although most Koreans have been educated in English since elementary school and most companies set a premium on possessing a certain level of fluency, English speakers are less common than one might think especially if one travels outside Seoul. However, many city dwellers can speak at a basic level and understand a substantial amount of English. Tourists will normally find Koreans to be quite friendly and helpful when trying to find their way around.
Because of the peninsula's mountainous topography and isolationist policies of the last ruling dynasty, Korea retains a distinct cultural identity from its larger, historically imperialistic neighbors. This distinction can partly be attributed to the culture's Siberian origins, a heritage they share with many Turkic and Tungusic people, whether it be linguistic or cultural. Its location as a maritime hub played a role in acting as an intermediary of spreading advanced Chinese culture throughout ancient Northeast Asia, most notably to Japan, as such Chinese influences are evident in various parts of traditional Korean culture.
During the Joseon dynasty, Korea's dominant philosophy was a strict form of Confucianism, perhaps even more strict than the Chinese original. People were separated into a rigid hierarchy, with the king at the apex, an elite of officials and warriors and a small group of nobility below him, a middle class of merchants below them, and then a vast population of peasants. The educated were superior to the uneducated, women served men, and everybody stuck to a defined role or faced severe consequences. Korea adopted its own version of the imperial examination system invented by and used in China to select officials, creating somewhat of a premodern meritocracy for government like its Chinese counterpart. Buddhism was suppressed largely due to the widespread corruption and greed of monks and temples during the waning stages of the Goryeo dynasty. While the Joseon dynasty ceased to exist in 1910, its legacy lives on in Korean culture: education and hard work are valued above all else.
Koreans believe that the things that set them the most apart from other Asian cultures are their cuisine, their language and their hangul script. Outsiders will note their extreme modernity, tempered by a well-developed artistic and architectural joyfulness. Nothing goes undecorated if it can be helped, and they have a knack for stylish interior design. South Korea also has a vibrant film and TV industry, and the country is one of only a few countries in the world in which local films have a greater market share than Hollywood films.
Korea has a significant number of Christians (31%) and Buddhists (22%), with churches dotting the towns and temples and monasteries on hills. However, slightly less than a third of the country professes to follow no particular organized religion but most, if not all, are strongly influenced by traditional Korean Buddhist and Confucian philosophies that have been seeped into the Korean cultural background.
Baseball was brought to Korea by American missionaries in 1905 and is the most popular sport in the country. Football (soccer) gained popularity when the South Korean national team reached the Korea-Japan World Cup semi-finals in 2002. Other popular sports include golf and basketball. Badminton, table tennis and bowling are also popular and facilities for the public are widely available in cities. Korean martial arts such as taekwondo are also popular. Golf particularly has a strong following, with membership fees for Korea's top golf clubs being more expensive than those in neighbouring Japan. Also, many of the world's top female golfers originate from Korea or are of Korean descent.
As for winter sports, speed skating (especially short track) and figure skating are extremely popular due to the repeated success of Korea in the Winter Olympics.
A long and complicated relationship, contact between the West and Korea have lead to a plethora of books on the Korean experience. Here's a list of books that would be available in the two major book centres in Korea as of June 2008.
Korea's traditional holidays follow the lunar calendar, so they fall on different days each year. The two biggest, Seollal and Chuseok, are family holidays and entail everybody returning to their hometowns en masse, meaning that all forms of long-distance transport are absolutely packed.
Korea has four distinct seasons:
South Korean households and hotels use the same dual round sockets for their electrical outlets as are found in most of Continental Europe. Anyone bringing an electronic device is advised to bring some adapter should their charger's plug be something other than the dual round type. However, some hotels may provide an adapter for you to use which you can query from reception. However, they may ask you for a deposit should you want to borrow.
South Korean electrical outlets accept appliances with a voltage rating of 220V at 60Hz. If your appliance has this rating that includes 220V (Such as 100-240V that most laptop chargers now accept), you will be able to use the appliance with only a plug adapter. If it falls below or above this rating, you will need to purchase a transformer or a voltage adapter before leaving your country.
Some very old buildings and very new hotels and apartments are dual wired and also have 110V outlets (identifiable by the smaller dual flat sockets) in addition to the regular South Korean variety, built specifically to accomodate the Japanese and Americans.
The nationals of 109 countries and territories, including all the usual suspects, will receive a visa on arrival valid for 30 to 90 days; see Hi Korea for the latest details. Rules for visiting only Jeju are even more lenient, allowing in everybody except citizens of 11 countries. Don't overstay, even by a single day — this incurs heavy fines and possible jail time, and you'll probably be banned from re-entering.
Military personnel travelling under the SOFA for South Korea are not required to possess a passport for entry, provided they hold a copy of their travel orders and a military ID. On the other hand, dependants must hold a passport and A-3 visa for entry.
Most foreigners staying longer than 90 days must register with the authorities within 90 days of entry and obtain an Alien Registration Card. Contact your local authorities for further information.
All citizens worldwide (except from Afghanistan, Cuba, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Kosovo, Macedonia, Nigeria, Palestine, Sudan, and Syria) can visit the Autonomous province of Jeju visa free for up to 30 days. However, exiting Jeju will automatically require you to have a visa for the rest of South Korea.
By a tour group
For citizens of Mainland China, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, a visa fee is waived for tour groups coming from the following countries in the period July 6 - September 30. If traveling by air to Jeju Island via Seoul, Busan, Cheongju, Muan and Yangyang, citizens of China who are traveling as part of a tourist group by authorized travel agent may stay in mainland South Korea for up to 15 days. Chinese citizens may also stay for 30 days in transit to or from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland, United States or an EEA member state with a valid visa sticker
Working Holiday Visa
Citizens from the following countries and territories; Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugual, Sweden, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States/American Samoa can recive a Working Holiday Visa or H-1 if they apply to the agreements of South Korea. Having this special visa can stay for up to one year and engage in employment and educational activities. Only people between the ages of 18 and 25 or 30, depending on the country, are eligible for a Holiday visa. However, a holder of this special visa cannot be employed in certain jobs such as receptionist, dancer, singer, musician, acrobat, or in places of entertainment due to concerns of corrupting Korean morals and manners.
Overseas study visa
A Overseas study visa or D-2 is another special visa issued to any citizen wishing to study in a undergraduate or above level school.
Corporate Investement visa
Another special visa, the Corporate Investment Visa or D-8 will be issued to foreigners who will own and manage a small to medium sized Korean business within South Korea. It can also be issued to those who had invested at least 50 million won into the South Korean economy. The perk of having this visa is so that the South Korean government will not track your investment(s) into South Korea.
Foreign Language teaching visa
The Foreign Language teaching visa or E-2 will only be issued to registered foreign teachers who will work in South Korea. Applications are required to be native residents of a country whose mother tongue is the same as the language they will teach and they are also required to hold a bachelor's degree from that country. Applications are required to submit criminal background checks, health checks, sealed transcripts, verified copies of their degree, contracts and a fee to obtain the visa
The Residency Visa or F-2 is issued only to spouses of Korean nationals or holders of the F-5 permanant residency visa. Applicants must provide documents proving financial ability and relationship. Refugees can also try and recive this visa.
South Korea has 7 international airports: Busan (Gimhae Airport), Cheongju, Daegu, Jeju, Muan, Seoul (Gimpo Airport and Incheon International Airport). South Korea experienced an airport building frenzy and today many of the smaller international airports do not have regular services.
Korean Air and Asiana are the principal full service carriers to and from South Korea that fly around the world. Low cost airlines Air Busan, Jin Air, Jeju Air, Eastar Jet and T'Way Airlines offer both domestic flights to Jeju as well as international flights across Asia.
Travel from North Korea (and hence anywhere else in Asia) to South Korea by train remains impossible in practice. There have been a few test runs on the newly rebuilt railroad connecting the two, but it will likely remain more of a political statement than travel option for some time to come. However, for travellers coming from or continuing on to Japan, special through tickets are available, giving discounts of 30% on KTX services and 9-30% on Busan-Fukuoka ferries as well as Japanese trains.
Busan Port International Passenger Terminal is the largest seaport in Korea and offers ferry rides mostly to and from Japan. There are fairly frequent ferry connections from Busan to Japan. JR Kyushu's Beetle hydrofoil service from Busan to Fukuoka is the most popular which travels to Fukuoka in just under three hours with up to five connections a day. It also offers service to near by Tsushima. All other links are slower, overnight, ferries, such as Pukwan Ferry Company's services to Shimonoseki cost ? (one-way). A Busan-Osaka ferry is operated by Panstar Line Co., Ltd..
Incheon's International Ferry Terminal 1 (Yeonan Budu, 연안부두) has services to several cities in China, such as Weihai, Dandong, Qingdao and Tianjin. The largest operator is Jinchon , but Incheon Port has full listings on their website . The Chinese ports of Rizhao, Rongcheng and Lianyungang, all in Shandong province, can also be accessed by ferry from Pyeongtaek.
Due both to its location at the end of the Korean peninsula and the political situation with North Korea, entering South Korea overland is practically impossible. The border between North and South Korea is considered the most heavily fortified border in the world, and while some crossings have occurred at the truce village of Panmunjeom, one of the cases (a Soviet defector in 1984) was shot at by both sides and, although he survived, you might not be so lucky. In the 80's and the early 90's most of those who crossed the border either way would be arrested and prosecuted for reasons mostly referred to as 'threatening national security'.
South Korea is fairly compact and you can get anywhere very fast if you fly, and reasonably fast even if you don't. Subways are available in most of the cities including metropolitan Seoul. Larger cities currently have service or are developing subways. Travel by bus or taxi is easily available, though bus service is more economical.
Despite South Korea's small size, it has a very good network of domestic flights. Flights are offered from Seoul Gimpo to Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, Jeju, Pohang, Sacheon, Ulsan and Yeosu and to Jeju from Busan, Cheongju, Daegu, Gunsan, Gwangju, Muan, Sacheon, Seoul Gimpo, Wonju, Yangyang and Yeosu. These flights are operated by full service airlines Asiana and Korean Air as well as low cost airlines Air Busan, Eastar Jet, Jeju Air, Jin Air and T'Way Airlines. The service doesn't vary significantly between full service and low cost airlines on domestic services, in fact low cost airlines offer complimentary soft drinks and 15kg of hold luggage (likely to be very different from the low cost airline service you are used to!).
National train operator Korail  connects major cities in South Korea. Neglected for a long time, a large amount of money has been plowed into the network in recent years and trains are now quite competitive with buses on speed and price. The main problem is that the network is still a little limited and services in rural areas are limited, with trains only once every few hours. If travelling long distances, train travel is usually more expensive and in a reasonable number of cases, slower than travelling by bus. As ticket prices are fixed, booking before hand will not save you money, although it is recommended as trains fill up and become sold out fast. This can be done either at a station or on Korail's online booking service . Seating or standing tickets can be bought, those with standing tickets can sit in any unoccupied seat however expect to stand if you buy one of these tickets as trains are often full. Seating tickets will always give you a carriage and seat number and you must sit in your allocated seat.
There are three types of long distance rail service in Korea, in decreasing order of speed and price and increasing order of number of services these are:
The Korea Train Express (KTX) high speed services that connect major cities with each other and Seoul. As of 2015, major cities served by KTX services include Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, Ulsan, Gwangju, Jeonju, Mokpo, Changwon and Suwon. These services started operation in 2004 and use French TGV technology to zip along at up to 300km/h. The fastest non-stop trains cover the distance in just over two hours. KTX trains offer fast, free wifi, a cinema car (on many services), plug sockets (at the end of each carriage in standard class or in each seat in first) and vending machines.
The ITX-Saemaeul are significantly slower than KTX services and mostly run on the same older and slower lines as Mugunghwa services, although stopping at fewer destinations. Onboard they feature plug sockets (at most seats) and vending machines, although lack wifi.
Mugunghwa services are the slowest and most common rail services in Korea, they often run long distance services (e.g. Seoul-Busan) and will stop at virtually every city, town and village in between the start and end point of their journey. Mugunghwa trains are the most comfortable to travel on (assuming you have a seating ticket) featuring large, well padded seats with plenty of legroom and space for luggage. Most trains have a staffed cafe as well as a couple of noraebang rooms. These trains lack wifi and power sockets may be hard to find on board.
There are also seven tourist trains operating in the country (the DMZ Train, Sea Train, O-Train, V-Train, S-Train, A-Train and G-Train). These services run on scenic lines and stop at popular tourist spots. These trains are also lavishly decorated inside and passengers can take part in various activities such as a traditional tea ceremony.
By Rail Cruise
Korail Tourism Development provides a series of rail cruise tour which enable customers to travel to sight-seeing destinations in Korea via specially designed luxury trains. Note that these trains are not covered by the KR Pass, below.
The KR Pass  is a special rail pass introduced in 2005 for non-resident foreigners only, allowing unlimited travel for a set period on any Korail train (including KTX) and including free seat reservation. The pass is not valid for first class or sleeping cars, but you can upgrade for half price if you wish. The regular pass costs KRW58,200/84,600/127,000/160,400/185,100 for 1/3/5/7/10 days, with additional discounts of 10-20% for youths (age 13-25), students and groups of 2-5 traveling together. The pass must be purchased at least five days before travel (preferably before arrival in Korea), and already took an incredible amount of travel (eg. Seoul-Busan roundtrip) to pay off, even prior to the 2011 jacking-up of prices. Serious limitations on usage apply during Korean holidays and peak travelling periods including Lunar New Year in February and Chuseok in September.
Joint KR/JR Passes between Korea and Japan also exist, however, considering how much of a discount the JR Pass offers, and how strikingly little the KR Pass does by comparison, such a combination in all practicality simply deducts value from the JR Pass. Do the maths.
Buses (버스 beoseu) remain the main mode of national transport, connecting all cities and towns. They're frequent, punctual and fast, sometimes dangerously so, so fasten the belts you'll often find in the seats.
There is a somewhat pointless division of long-distance buses into express buses (고속버스 gosok beoseu) and inter-city buses (시외버스 si-oe beoseu), which often use separate terminals to boot. In addition, local inner-city bus (시내버스 si-nae beoseu) networks often connect directly neighbouring cities. The express vs. intercity bus differentiation comes down to whether the nation's toll expressways (고속 gosok) are traversed. In practical terms, express buses are marginally faster on long runs, but inter-city buses go to more places. For additional comfort, look for Udeung buses (우등 버스) which have just three seats across instead of the usual four; these cost about 50% extra. A fourth layer of bus exists, which is the airport limousine bus, a separate network of express buses that ferry people directly to and from Incheon International Airport. Note that the airport limousines typically run from separate pickup points again to the intercity or express bus terminal.
Make sure to ask whether it is a or there are direct bus(ses) or opt for the express and real inter-city busses, because local inner-city busses sometime make many stops in between, which can mean 2h 45min for 120km, e.g. Jinju to Jeonju.
Korean buses have no toilets, and rest stops are not standard on trips of less than 2 hours duration, so think twice about that bottle of tea or soda at the terminal.
Korean Express Bus Lines Association : Timetables and fares of the Express bus routes in South Korea
Ferry boats surround the peninsula and shuttle out to Korea's many islands. The main ports include Incheon, Mokpo, Pohang, and Busan. The most popular destinations are Jeju-do and Ulleungdo. However even at peak times, the mostly undiscovered and scenic islands off of Incheon can seem almost deserted. Foreigners as well as locals will opt for the warmer shores of the South and East.
The legal driving age in South Korea is 18.
An International Driving Permit (IDP) may be used to drive around South Korea. In general, road conditions are good in South Korea and directional signs are in both Korean and English. Car rental rates start from ₩54,400 a day for the smallest car for about a week. Traffic moves on the right in South Korea.
However, if travelling in the big cities, especially Seoul, driving is not recommended as the roads are plagued with traffic jams, with parking expensive and difficult to find, and many drivers tend to get reckless under such conditions, weaving in and out of traffic. Drivers would often try to speed past traffic lights when they are about to turn red, and several cars (including fully-loaded public transit buses) will typically blow-through the light after it has turned red whether pedestrians are in the crosswalk or not. Driving habits in Korea, while not the best, are still significantly better than in China. Note that road courtesy is almost non-existent in Korean cities and it is best to read up on Korean road culture before attempting to drive.
Taxis are a convenient, if somewhat pricey way of getting around the cities, and are sometimes the only practical way of reaching a place. Even in the major cities, you are extremely unlikely to get an English-speaking taxi driver, so it will be necessary to either have the name of your destination written in Korean or a map to show your taxi driver. Likewise, get your hotel's business card to show the taxi driver in case you get lost.
Note that whilst technically illegal, cab drivers, particularly the lower-flagfall white cabs on busy Friday or Saturday nights, may deny service to short-distance fares. A very handy technique to counter this is to have your destination (hotel name or just gu and dong, in Korean of course) written in thick black ink on a large sheet of paper and hold it to the traffic. Passing cab drivers responding to long distance call outs, or with space in their cab in addition to an existing fare in that direction will often pick you up en route.
When hailing a cab in particular, ensure you follow the local custom and wave it over with your hand extended but all your fingers extended downwards and beckoning as opposed to upwards in the Western fashion (this style is reserved for animals).
See also: Korean phrasebook
Koreans speak Korean, and knowing a few words of this will come in very handy. Unfortunately the language is rather drastically different from any Western language in its grammar, and pronunciation is rather difficult for the English speaker to get right (though not tonal). Depending on which part of the country you go to, various different dialects are spoken, though standard Korean, which is based on the Seoul dialect, is understood and spoken by almost everyone. Most notably among the dialects, the Gyeongsang dialect spoken around Busan and Daegu is considered to be rather rough and aggressive compared to standard Korean, and the Jeju dialect spoken on Jeju island is known for being almost incomprehensible to speakers of standard Korean, although the pure Jeju dialect is becoming less common.
Written Korean uses a unique phonetic writing system called hangul (한글 hangeul) where sounds are stacked up into blocks that represent syllables. It was designed by a committee and looks like, at first glance, all right angles and little circles, but it is remarkably consistent and logical and quite fast to pick up. Many Korean words can also be written with much more complex Chinese characters, known as hanja (한자, 漢字) in Korean, and these are still occasionally mixed into text but are increasingly few and far between. Nowadays, hanja are mainly used for disambiguation if the meaning is ambiguous when written in hangul. In such instances, the hanja is usually written in parentheses next to the hangul. Hanja are also used to mark janggi (장기, 將棋) or Korean chess pieces, newspaper headlines, as well as personal names on official documents.
Learning to read hangul before you arrive in Korea will make travelling much easier, as many signs and menus are written in hangul only. Even basic pattern-matching tricks come in handy: for example, if you know that a circle at the bottom of a block is read -ng, you can already distinguish Pyongyang (평양) from Seoul (서울). Further, the Korean words for many common products — coffee, juice, computer — are often the same as the English words, but will be written in hangul. If you can read hangul, you'll find surviving in Korea surprisingly easy.
The spelling of Korean words in Roman letters can be quite inconsistent, so don't be too surprised to see adjacent signs for Gwangalli and Kwanganri — it's the same place. In 2000, the government officially standardized on the Revised Romanization system also used in Wikitravel, but you will frequently encounter older McCune-Reischauer spellings and just plain weird spellings. Notably, words beginning with g, d, b, j may be spelled with k, t, p, ch instead, and the vowels eo and eu may be spelled o and u. The letters l, r and n also get swapped often, and the vowels i and u are sometimes written as ee and oo respectively. In foreign words imported into Korean, f turns into p, so don't be too surprised by a cup of keopi (coffee) or a round of golpeu (golf).
Nearly all Koreans under the age of 40 have taken English lessons as part of their education, and the English level of the country is being improved by government policy and investments. However, due to lack of practice (as well as fear of mispronunciation), most Koreans have little more than a very basic grasp of English phrases in actual conversation. If you're in a pinch and need someone who speaks English, your best bet would generally be the high school or university students. Reading and writing comes much easier however, and often people will be able to read and understand a considerable amount of English even without any practice with real conversation. Many employees at airlines, hotels and stores catering to international tourists are likely to speak at least basic English. Consequently, travellers can get by in major cities with English only, but it goes without saying that learning basic Korean phrases will make your travel experience more convenient and enjoyable.
A common experience for western travellers in South Korea is to be approached by children interested in practicing their English skills. They will often take a picture of you, as proof they really talked to you.
Older folks may also still speak some Japanese. The city of Busan, being a short trip from Fukuoka in Japan has a larger number of Japanese speakers per capita, and the dialect itself is more similar to Japanese in the same way that the Japanese dialect in Fukuoka also has a large Korean influence. However, many Koreans (especially older ones) still resent the Japanese for the atrocities committed during the occupation, so try not to address a Korean in Japanese unless you have no other choice. Thanks to the "Korean wave" (hallyu) of Korean pop music and soap operas throughout East Asia, many shops in touristy areas have workers who can speak some Japanese, Mandarin or Cantonese.
As South Korea is being a more popular tourist destination, it is hard to list many sightseeing spots here, it would be best to visit pages on specific cities/provinces. However a trip to South Korea is not complete without a visit to the capital, Seoul, and its famous sites, such as the palaces Kyeongbokgung (경복궁), Changdeokgung (창덕궁), Secret Garden (비원), Gwanghwamun (광화문), Seodaemun (서대문), as well as the Seoul Tower (서울타워) accompanied by the famous Teddy Bear Museum. The Banpo bridge (반포대교) turns into beautiful colours at night, and the Yeouido Island (여의도), apart from the famous 63 Building has splendid parks for rollerblading/biking. You can never miss the Han River (한강) if you cross the bridges connecting Kangbuk and Kangnam of Seoul whilst taking a taxi, subway train or bus.
The other major city, Busan, is also a common area to spend a few days. The city is perhaps most know by tourists for the Haeundae beach (해운대), which is very beautiful and, in the summer, the atmosphere is comparable to beaches in southern France. Families in Korea often take summer holidays in this area. There are also many famous temples and historical sites in the area, and as a large city, there are also many popular shopping and cultural destinations.
As South Korea is increasingly becoming a popular tourist destination, you might want to visit our individual destination pages for specific provinces/cities - an excellent starting point is Seoul.
Another mountain within the mainland is Seoraksan (설악산). There are a lot of other hiking opportunities - good website about Korean trails. All of them are excellent places for hiking/trekking and taking pictures. In autumn the leaves turn into beautiful colours, so the best seasons to go there are autumn and spring.
You can also go snowboarding/skiing in the Kangwon-do province. The province is very beautiful when it snows. Also see the Seoul guide for close to the city destinations.
Karaoke, or noraebang (노래방), is popular and hard to miss wherever you go in metropolitan cities.
You can also learn martial arts such as the famous taekwondo (태권도), hapkido (합기도), and the dance-like martial art taekkyeon (택견).
The city of Boryeong in Chunchungnam-do hosts a Mud Festival (보령머드축제) that has become a fun (and slightly notorious) pastime in mid-July. Participants drench themselves in mud and take part in everything from mud wrestling to body painting. The nearby beach becomes something of a party apocalypse. Inquire about lodging at least a few weeks in advance.
The Gyeonggi-do & Kangwon-do province has plentiful water amusement parks, such as Caribbean Bay (the park seen from the actual music video by 2PM and Girls Generation Cabi) in Yongin-si (beside Everland which is most biggest amusement park), Ocean World in Hongcheon, with a more Ancient Egyptian setting, and Ocean 700 in Pyeongchang. Tourists and locals usually go there in the summer.
The currency of South Korea is the won (￦), written 원 in hangul. The exchange rate was approximately KRW1,180 per US dollar and KRW1,255 to each euro.
Coins come in denominations of ￦10, ￦50, ￦100 and ￦500, while banknotes come in denominations of ￦1,000 (blue), ￦5,000 (red), ￦10,000 (green) and ￦50,000 (yellow). ￦1 and ￦5 coins, while they exist, are very rare. The largest bill currently in circulation is only ￦50,000 and somewhat uncommon in ATMs, which makes carrying around large sums of currency a bit of a chore. ￦100,000 "checks" are frequently used, and some of the checks go up to ￦10,000,000 in value. These checks are privately produced (by banks, etc.) which can be used as "c-notes".
A new series of notes was released in 2006/2007. As of 2013, older notes (issued before 2006/2007) are nearly non existent.
Credit card acceptance is very good, and all but the very cheapest restaurants and motels will take Visa and MasterCard.
ATMs are very common, but most Korean ATMs don't accept foreign cards, foreign bank ATMs however do, e.g. Citibank . Having said this, there are nevertheless many special Global ATMs around. They can generally be found at Shinhan (or Jeju) Bank (remember the logo), KEB banks, NH banks, airports, in areas frequented by foreigners, in major cities, some subway stations, and in many Family Mart convenience stores - most of the time indicated by the "Foreign Cards" button on the screen.
Sometimes however even the Global ATMs may not accept your foreign card, so it is wise to have a second source of money for those times or to ensure your card is fully accepted. Be sure to stock up on cash before heading to the countryside or other remote areas.
Some banks have a fee of KRW3,500 for foreign cards, especially Citibank - just opt for a different bank.
An alternative source of payment accepted widely, especially for transport, is the T-Money card. In Seoul you can buy this card at most subway stations and many newspaper kiosks near subway entrances, as well as convenience stores (7/11, CUC, GS25). The card itself costs ₩3,000 (not refundable) and cash can be charged onto the card as often as you like. You can get all but ₩500 back if you have unused credit.
When entering and leaving a subway turnstile or the bus, place the card on the reader (leaving it inside your purse or wallet is fine), and it will deduct the appropriate fare from the card. Note that if you do not tag the machine as you leave the bus, you will be charged the maximum fare possible by the route. However, be aware that on buses outside of Seoul and especially in the countryside only placing it once when entering may be sufficient - just observe what the locals are doing.
Using this card will save you ₩100 on Seoul's transfer system and it accounts for changing between subway, train and bus for up to 30min, i.e. instead of paying the full fare for each type of transport, a smaller amount or 0 is deducted the second and third time and so on, e.g. when coming from or going to the airport. I.e., for example, if you travel 10km by subway, transfer to a bus and travel a further 5km, KRW1,050 will be deducted once you leave the subway, nothing will be deducted when you enter the bus, but you will be deducted ₩100 for the extra 5km journey when you leave the bus.
Typically for most travelers staying less than 2 weeks in Korea or Seoul, purchasing this card may not be cheaper but consider: it can be used countrywide for taxi fares, buses, storage lockers, pay phones, (convenience) stores, restaurants and most transport systems.
There also exist other such cards, especially outside of Seoul and topping up T-Money can be a problem there, but at Shinhan (or Jeju) Bank (remember the logo) it should always be possible. You may need to ask the local cashier due to the Korean-only menus/buttons.
If you plan on staying in Korea for a longer time, you'll probably want to set up a local account at e.g. Woori Bank, which can then be used at the bank's ATMs throughout the country. Even some non-local accounts can do this, e.g. Woori Bank accounts set up in China come with an ATM card that can be used with all its ATMs in Korea.
Korea is fairly expensive compared to most Asian countries, but it is a less expensive than Japan and, when compared to other fully modern, developed, countries, it is on the cheaper side. A frugal backpacker who enjoys eating, living and travelling Korean-style can easily squeeze by on under ￦60,000 per day, but if you want a regular hotel and to eat your meals in restaurants ￦200,000/day is probably more realistic.
Seoul has been particularly expensive in recent years due to high real estate values, by some measures even more so than Tokyo, but this has calmed down since the 2008 financial crisis, and while the Won has recovered since then, hotels and restaurants, are still generally lower priced than they were in the 2000s.
As a rule, tipping is not necessary anywhere in Korea, and is not practised by locals, although bellhops, hotel maids, taxi drivers and bars frequented by Westerners will not reject any tips you care to hand out.
At certain retail outlets with a "Tax Free Shopping" or a "Tax Refund Shopping" sign, you can obtain a voucher and get a large percentage of your taxes refunded. When you leave Korea, go to customs and have it stamped then go to the "Global TaxFree" or "Global Refund Korea" counters near the duty-free shops. However to get a refund you must leave within 3 months of purchase.
Bargaining is common at outdoor markets and applies to everything they may have to offer. However stating a monetary amount would be a mistake. Normally what you would say is ssage juseyo (싸게 주세요). That means "cheaper, please." Doing this once or twice would suffice. The drawback is you will rarely be discounted more than a few dollars.
Korean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular outside of Korea, especially in other parts of East Asia and the U.S. However, those unfamiliar with Korean cuisine will have to be wary for the many spicy and fermented dishes in Korean cuisine. Nevertheless, it is addictive once you get used to it and Korean food is definitely in a class of its own, mixing spicy chillies and copious amounts of garlic with delicate ingredients like raw fish. Although Korean food is quite low in fat, a fact attested to by the observation that very few South Koreans are overweight, those with sodium-limited diets should beware, as Korean cuisine can be heavy in salt.
A Korean meal is centered around rice and soup and likely a fish or meat dish, invariably served with a vast assortment of side dishes known as banchan (반찬). The humblest meal comes with three types while a royal banquet may well feature twenty types of banchan. In addition to kimchi (see below), typical side dishes include bean sprouts (콩나물 kongnamul), spinach (시금치 shigeumchi), small dried fish, and much more.
The ubiquitous kimchi (김치 gimchi), made from fermented cabbage and chili, accompanies nearly every meal and may be a bit of an acquired taste for visitors as it can be quite spicy. In addition to the common cabbage type, kimchi can also be made from white radish (깍두기 kkakdugi), cucumbers (오이 소박이 oi sobagi), chives (부추 김치 buchu gimchi) or pretty much any vegetable that can be pickled. Many different dishes are made using kimchi for flavoring, and kimchi is served as a side dish as well. It is not uncommon to find Korean tourists carrying a stash of tightly packed kimchi when travelling abroad.
Two more condiments found in almost every dish are doenjang (된장), a fermented soybean paste akin to Japanese miso, and gochujang (고추장), a spicy chilli paste.
While many of these dishes can be found throughout Korea, every city also has its own regional specialities, such as dakgalbi (닭갈비) in the city of Chuncheon. See the various city articles for more details.
A common perception amongst Koreans is that foreigners simply don't like spicy food, so you might have to spend some time convincing people otherwise if you really want to eat something hot. Also, while Korean food undoubtedly has the neighboring bland-dieted Japanese and northern Chinese breathing fire, if you're accustomed to (say) Thai or Mexican food you may wonder what the fuss is about.
Be aware that eating is deemed a group activity in Korea, and some restaurants may charge a little bit extra or up to double the stipulated price for a lone patron, or on rare occasions, be uneasy with serving them at all.
Whilst you should definitely try authentic Korean food whilst in the country, if this isn't to your taste, a wide range of foreign cuisine restaurants are incredibly common and you should be able to find restaurants serving dishes from all corners of the world. Seoul's Itaewon area is known for its international cuisine.
Koreans use chopsticks with a twist: alone among the peoples of Asia, they prefer chopsticks of metal. Typically, restaurants have stainless steel chopsticks, but fine silver ones are also available. Unfortunately for the chopstick learner, these thin and slippery sticks are not the best implements to practice with, but if you can eat with wooden or plastic chopsticks you'll manage with some fumbling. When eating as a group, communal dishes will be placed in the center and everybody can chopstick what they want, but you'll still get individual portions of rice and soup. Unless you are eating royal cuisine, most dishes are served family style.
In many traditional households, children were taught that it was impolite to speak during meals. Don't be surprised if there's complete silence while eating. People, particularly men, will use mealtimes to quickly eat up and move on to other things. This can be attributed to the short mealtimes during military service that most young Korean men must perform.
Some etiquette pointers:
Going hungry in South Korea would be difficult. Everywhere you turn, there is always somewhere to eat. Korean restaurants can be divided into a few categories:
Koreans love coffee and thus coffee shops can be seen virtually everywhere in the country (even in small countryside villages). There are a large number of Korean chain coffee shops as well as independent ones. Foreign owned coffee shops such as Starbucks tend to be much less common than their Korean counterparts. Aside from coffee, these cafes will usually sell food such as sandwiches, toasties, paninis and quesadillas as well as sweet options such as bingsu (Korean shaved ice), Korean style toast, pastries and a wide variety of cakes.
"Korean barbecue" is probably the most popular Korean dish for Westerners, split in Korea itself into bulgogi (불고기), which uses cuts of marinated meat, and galbi (갈비), which uses ribs, usually unmarinated. In both, a charcoal brazier is placed in the middle of the table and patrons cook their choice of meats, adding garlic to the brazier for spice. The cooked meat from both of these is placed on a lettuce or perilla leaf along with shredded green onion salad (파무침 pa-muchim), raw (or cooked) garlic, shredded pickled radish (무채 muchae) and some chili-soya paste (쌈장 ssamjang) and then devoured. All are optional, so be creative.
The cost of a barbecue meal depends largely on the meat chosen. In most Korean restaurants that serve meat, it is sold in units (usually 100 grams). Pork is by far the most common meat ordered. It's much cheaper than beef and according to diners tastier. You'll rarely see filet mignon, instead common cuts of meat include ribs, unsalted pork bacon (삼겹살 samgyeopsal) and chicken stir-fried with veggies and spicy sauce (닭갈비 dakgalbi). Unmarinated meats tend to be higher quality, but in cheaper joints it's best to stick with the marinated stuff.
Bibimbap (비빔밥) literally means "mixed rice", which is a pretty good description. It consists of a bowl of rice with all sorts of condiments on top (vegetables, shreds of meat, and an egg), which you mash up with your spoon, stirring in your preferred quantity of gochujang (고추장 chili sauce), and then devour. Particularly tasty is dolsot bibimbap (돌솥비빔밥), served in a piping hot stone bowl (watch your fingers!) that cooks the rice to a crisp on the bottom and edges.
Another healthy and tasty option is gimbap (김밥), sometimes dubbed "Korean sushi". Gimbap contains rice, sesame seed, a Korean variety of spinach, pickled radish, and an optional meat, such as minced beef or tuna, all neatly wrapped in dried seaweed, topped with sesame oil and sliced. A single roll makes a good snack or meal depending on one's appetite, and they travel well. Basically what differentiates Korean gimbap and Japanese sushi is how they prepare rice: Korean style gimbap usually use salt and sesame oil to flavor the rice, while Japanese style uses sugar and vinegar.
More of a snack than a meal is tteokbokki (떡볶이), which resembles a pile of steaming intestines at first sight, but is actually rice cakes (tteok, 떡) in a sweet chili sauce that's much milder than it looks.
Soups and stews
Soups are known as guk (국) or tang (탕), while jjigae (찌개) covers a wide variety of stews. The line is fuzzy, and a few dishes can be referred to with both (eg. the fish soup-stew dongtae jjigae/dongtaetang), but in general, jjigae are spicier while tang/guk are milder. Both are always eaten with plenty of white rice on the side.
Common versions jjigae include doenjang jjigae (된장찌개), made with doenjang (Korean miso), vegetables and shellfish, and gimchi jjigae (김치찌개), made with — you guessed it — kimchi. Sundubu jjigae (순두부찌개) uses soft tofu as the main ingredient, usually with minced pork added, but there's also a seafood version called haemul sundubu jjigae(해물 순두부찌개) where the meat is replaced by shrimp, squid and the like.
Budae jjigae (부대찌개) is a interesting type of Korean fusion food from the city of Uijeongbu, where a US military base was located. Locals experimenting with American canned food like Spam, sausages, and pork and beans tried adding them into jjigae, and while recipes vary, most of them involve large quantities of fiery kimchi. Most places will bring you a big pan of stew and put it on a gas stove in the middle of the table. Many like to put ramyeon noodle (라면 사리) in the stew, which is optional.
Popular tang soups include seolleongtang (설렁탕), a milky white broth from ox bones and meat, gamjatang (감자탕), a stew of potatoes with pork spine and chillies and doganitang (도가니탕), made from cow knees. One soup worth a special mention is samgyetang (삼계탕, pron. "saam-gae-taang"), which is a whole spring chicken stuffed with ginseng and rice. Thanks to the ginseng, it's often a little expensive, but the taste is quite mild. It's commonly eaten right before the hottest part of summer in warm broth in a sort of "eat the heat to beat the heat" tradition.
Guk are mostly side dishes like the seaweed soup miyeokguk (미역국) and the dumpling soup manduguk (만두국), but a few like the scary-looking pork spine and ox blood soup haejangguk (해장국), a popular hangover remedy, are substantial enough to be a meal.
Koreans are great noodle lovers too, and the terms kuksu (국수) and myeon (면) span a vast variety of types, sold in fast-food noodle shops for as little as KRW3,000-4,000. Wheat-based noodles are a staple of Korea.
Naengmyeon (냉면) are a Korean speciality, being thin, chewy buckwheat noodles served in ice cold beef broth, and hence a popular summer dish — although it's traditionally winter food! They're also a classic way to end a heavy, meaty barbeque meal. The key to the dish is the broth (육수 yuksu) and the recipes of well known restaurants are usually closely guarded secrets.
Japchae (잡채) is made from yam noodles, which are fried along with some vegetables (commonly cabbage, carrots, onions) and sometimes beef or odeng (fishcake). Mandu (만두) dumplings are also very popular and are served up in steamed or fried as an accompaniment to other foods, or boiled in soup to make a whole meal.
Ramyeon (라면) is Korea's variant of ramen, often served with kimchi (what else?). Korean ramyeon is well known for its overall spiciness, at least when compared to Japanese ones. Try shin ramyeon (신라면) for example.
Jjajangmyeon (짜장면) is the Korean version of the northern Chinese zhajiangmian, a wheat noodle dish served with a black sauce that usually includes minced pork, onions, cucumber, and garlic — kind of like a tomatoless spaghetti bolognese. Its sauce contains some caramel and therefore makes the overall dish sweet.
Finally, udong (우동) are thick wheat noodles, similar to the Japanese udon.
Since Korea is a peninsula, you can find every type of seafood (해물 haemul), eaten both cooked and raw. Restaurants where you pick your own fish — or bring it from the fish market next door — are popular, but can be very expensive depending on what you order.
Hoe (회), pronounced roughly "hweh", is raw fish Korean-style (similar to sashimi), meaning it's served with spicy cho-gochujang (Korean hot pepper sauce with vinegar) sauce. Chobap (초밥) is raw fish with vinegared rice, similar to Japanese sushi. If ordering fish as hoe/chobap, the bony parts not served raw are often made into a tasty but spicy soup called maeuntang (매운탕).
Another cooked specialty is haemultang (해물탕), a spicy red hotpot stew filled with crab, shrimp, fish, squid, vegetables and noodles.
Whalemeat may also be regionally available at festivals in the outer provinces. Bear in mind that there has been quite a media ruckus over its origin: a recent study of restaurants in Seoul traced the meat back to Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean. As international whale trade is illegal, and the species itself endangered, this is one decision to be left up your own moral compass.
Jeon (전), jijimi (지짐이), jijim (지짐), bindaetteok (빈대떡) and buchimgae (부침개) are all general terms for Korean-style pan-fried pancakes, which can be made of virtually anything. Pajeon (파전) is a Korean-style pan-fried pancake laden with spring onions (파 pa). Haemul pajeon (해물파전), which has seafood added, is particularly popular. Saengseonjeon (생선전) is made of small fillets of fish covered with egg and flour and then pan fried, and nokdu bindaetteok (녹두빈대떡) is made from ground mung bean and various vegetables and meat combined.
If barbequed meat is not to your taste, then try Korean-style beef tartar, known as yukhoe (육회). Raw beef is finely shredded and then some sesame oil, sesame, pine nuts and egg yolk are added, plus soy and sometimes gochujang to taste. It's also occasionally prepared with raw tuna or even chicken instead.
Sundae (순대, pron. "soon-deh") are Korean sausages made from a wide variety of ingredients, often including barley, potato noodles and pig blood.
A squirmy delicacy is raw octopus (산낙지 sannakji) — it's sliced to order, but keeps wiggling for another half hour as you try to remove its suction cups from your plate with your chopsticks. Sea squirts (멍게 meongge) are at least usually killed before eating, but you might be hard-pressed to tell the difference as the taste been memorably described as "rubber dipped in ammonia".
Vegetarians will have a tough time in Korea. As in most of East Asia, meat is understood to be the flesh of land animals, so seafood is not considered meat. If you ask for "no gogi" (고기) they will probably just cook as usual and pick out the big chunks of meat. One good phrase is to say you are chaesikjuwija (채식주의자), a person who only eats vegetables. This may prompt questions from the server, so be prepared!
Most stews will not use beef stock, but fish stock, especially myeolchi (멸치, anchovy). This will be your bane, and outside of reputable vegetarian restaurants, you should ask if you are ordering any stews/hotpots or casseroles.
Spicy (red) kimchi will almost certainly have seafood, such as salted tiny shrimp, as an ingredient. Since it disappears into the brine, you will not be able to visually identify it. Another type of kimchi, called mulgimchi (물김치, "water kimchi") is vegan, as it is simply salted in a clear, white broth with many different vegetables.
On the bright side, vegans and vegetarians are perfectly safe at Korean monastery cuisine restaurants, which uses no dairy, egg, or animal products, except perhaps honey. There has been a recent vogue for this type of cuisine, but it can be rather expensive.
There is an increasing number of vegetarian restaurants in Korea - most are in the larger or medium-sized places. Some of these are run by religious groups. The most prominent franchise is probably Loving Hut, which is vegan and rather low priced. While, you probably wouldn't make this a destination restaurant, it's a good backup plan (if you've noted the locations and closing times in advance).
The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 19, or more specifically due to the Korean aging system, you can purchase and consume alcohol from the first of January of the year that you turn 19.
Drinks are cheap and Koreans are among the heaviest drinkers in the world. Due to the strict social norms in effect at the workplace, the drinking hall tends to be the only place where inhibitions can be released and personal relationships expressed. Significant business deals are closed not in the boardroom, but in the bar. Promotions, grants, and other business advancements are secured over drinks at singing rooms, late night raw fish restaurants, and restaurant-bars. Many Korean men are what would be considered heavy drinkers in the west, and as alcoholism is being recognized as an ailment, public moves have begun to attempt to curb alcohol intake. Don't be surprised to see businessmen in suits lying around sleeping it off, and be careful not to step in the puddles of vomit common on the sidewalks in the mornings.
Koreans have adopted slightly different ways to enjoy their night out. Sure, you can find Western style bars easily, but going to a Korean style bar can be an interesting experience. Hofs (originally German, but 호프 hopeu in Korean) are just normal beer places, which serve beer and side dishes. Customers are supposed to order some side dish to go along their drinks at most drinking establishments in Korea. Recently, due to growing competition, many hofs have started to install various gadgets for entertainment.
Booking clubs are the Korean version of night clubs. What makes them interesting is the "booking" part of the name. It's basically a way to meet new people of the opposite sex by introduction of the waiters (who usually bring women to visit tables of men, but increasingly vice-versa). Booking clubs are slightly more expensive than normal bars and hofs, but can be extremely fun. These can be different from American-style clubs, in that in addition to a cover charge, you are pretty much expected to order booze and side dishes (which can be quite pricey in KRW200,000-500,000 range and up). But other than that, the dancing and atmosphere is about the same.
One of the customary things to do at a booking club is to "dress-up" your table or booth by purchasing expensive liquors and fruit plates, which signals your 'status' to the other patrons of the club (especially your gender of interest). Scotch whisky is especially marked up a great deal in Korea, so don't be surprised to pay very high prices for that innocuous bottle of Johnnie Walker. On the other hand, it is a better value overall to buy a bottle of liquor or a "liquor set" than to purchase drinks individually.
On the other end of the spectrum, many locals go out to drink and eat with their friends at the many Korean grillhouses found throughout the city. It is not uncommon for people to consume several bottles of soju (see below) each, and mixing beer and hard liquor is encouraged. Group bonding over liquor and food is a cultural feature across South Korea.
For those who love singing as well as drinking, karaoke is popular and therefore widely available in South Korea, where it's called noraebang (노래방). In addition to Korean songs, larger establishments may include some Chinese, Japanese and English songs.
There are a few etiquette rules to observe when drinking with Koreans. You're not supposed to fill your own glass; instead, keep an eye on others' glasses, fill them up when they become empty (but not before), and they'll return the favor. It's considered polite to use both hands when pouring for somebody and when receiving a drink, and to turn your head away from seniors when drinking.
Younger people often have a difficult time refusing a drink from an older person, so be aware when asking someone younger than you if they want to drink more as they will often feel unable to say no to you. Of course, this works both ways. Often times, if an older person feels you are not keeping up with the party, he may offer you his glass, which he will then fill and expect you to drink. It is considered polite to promptly return the empty glass and refill it.
The national drink of South Korea is soju (소주), a vodka-like alcoholic beverage (usually around 20%). It's cheaper than any other drink — a 350ml bottle can cost slightly over KRW3,000 at bars (as little as KRW1,100 at convenience stores!) — and also strong. Usually this is made by fermenting starch from rice, barley, corn, potato, sweet potato, etc, to produce ethanol which is then diluted with water and other flavors, and further distilled to increase the alcohol content. Depending on how it's distilled, there may be a large amount of impurities present, so be prepared for a four-alarm hangover in the morning, even after drinking a comparatively small amount.
Traditionally, soju was made by distilling rice wine and aging it, which created a smooth spirit of about 40%. This type of traditional soju can still be found, for example Andong Soju (안동 소주) — named after the town of Andong — and munbaeju (문배주). These can be expensive, but prices (and quality) vary considerably.
History tells that there were numerous brewers throughout the country in the past until late Joseon dynasty and before the Japanese occupation. However, during the Japanese colonization, grains produced in Korea were shipped directly to Japan, thus using rice for making wine or spirits was strictly prohibited. This eliminated most of the traditional brewers in the country and Korea was left with a few large distilleries (Jinro 진로, Gyeongwol 경월, Bohae 보해, Bobae 보배, Sunyang 선양, etc), that basically made synthetic soju. Brewery distribution and markets were regionalized, and until the 1990s it was difficult to find a Jinro soju anywhere else than Seoul (you would have to pay premium even if you found one), Gyeongwol soju outside Gangwon, or Sunyang outside Chungcheong.
Also, there are soju cocktails such as "socol" (soju + coke), ppyong-gari (soju + pocari sweat - ion drink), 'so-maek (soju + maekju(beer) which adds a bit of a kick to beer) and such, all aimed at getting you drunk quicker and cheaper.
Yakju (약주) or cheongju (청주) is filtered rice wine, similar to the Japanese rice wine sake. The fermentation of rice is sustained for about 2 weeks or longer, strained, and then is kept still to have the suspended particles precipitate. The end result is the clear wine on top, with about 12-15% alcohol. Various recipes exist, which involves a variety of ingredients and when and how to add them accordingly. Popular brands include Baekseju (백세주) and 'Dugyeonju (두견주).
Those with an interest in the wine production process and its history will want to visit the Traditional Korean Wine Museum in Jeonju.
One expensive but tasty type of alcohol you can find in Korea is Korean ginseng wine (인삼주 insamju), which is believed to have medicinal properties and is particularly popular among the elderly. It is made by fermenting Korean ginseng, just as the name implies.
Western-style lagers are also quite popular in Korea, with the three big brands being Cass, Hite and OB, all of which are rather light and watery and cost around KRW1,500 per bottle at a supermarket. Korea's version of the beer pub is the hof (호프 hopeu), which serve pints of beer in the KRW2,000-5,000 range, although imported beers can be much more expensive. Note that you are expected to order food as well, and may even get served grilled squid or similar Korean pub grub without ordering, for a charge of KRW10,000 or so. Imported beers from around the world are incredibly popular in Korea although as you'd expect these are slightly more expensive than the local beers.
Tea and coffee
Like their neighbors, Koreans drink a lot of tea (차 cha), most of it green (녹차 nokcha). However, the label cha is applied to a number of other tealike drinks as well:
Western-style black tea is not common; looking at packaging in grocery stores, you should know that its Korean name hongcha (홍차) translates as red tea, not black.
Coffee (커피 keopi) is also widely available, especially from streetside vending machines that will pour you a cupful for as little as KRW300, usually sweet and milky, but there is often a "black" option. Canned coffee, while not as common as in Japan, is also widely available (and consistent).
Those looking for high quality coffee can always default to Starbucks which is ubiquitous in Seoul and common throughout the country, and there are a number of similar chains. Those looking for independent shops can also find them, but it can be difficult without local assistance.
Some other traditional drinks worth keeping an eye out for:
Whilst not as popular as in Japan or China, many Korean men and an increasing number of Korean women smoke, and it's fairly cheap compared to much of Europe and America. A 20-pack costs around ₩4,500 (domestic cigarettes) or ₩4,700 (foreign cigarettes), and cigarettes can be bought from all convenience stores. Koreans favour mild cigarettes (around 6mg tar) so Korean-made cigarettes may taste bland and flavourless compared to those from America or Europe, and even the Korean-produced Western cigarettes are much lighter than the originals (e.g. Full-strength Marlboro Reds in Korea have only 8mg tar, the same as Marlboro Lights in the US). If you prefer stronger cigarettes it's wise to bring some duty-free cigarettes with you. However, there are a few vendors in Itaewon and Gunsan that do sell American cigarettes, although you will probably need to look around a bit to get the brand you like. Fortunately, the ubiquitous American military personnel in both cities can usually point you in the right direction.
Smoking is forbidden in most public buildings, public transport and restaurants, although it's permitted in most bars. Karaoke parlours, DVD-bangs, hotels etc give you a choice of smoking or no-smoking rooms. Effective since July 2013, most Internet cafes (except with completely sealed smoking room) are non-smoking areas legally.
Also, make sure you familiarize yourself with the local ordinances on smoking. Smoking in public is prohibited in certain places of Korea, and although police will generally let foreigners off with a warning, you still run the risk of getting fined.
There's plenty of accommodation in all price brackets in South Korea. Note that prices in Seoul are typically about twice that of anywhere else in the country. For making a hotel, motel, hostel or guest-house reservation simply consult the place's or your favourite website.
Some higher-end hotels offer a choice of both Western-style and Korean-style rooms. The main feature of Korean rooms is an elaborate Korean-invented floor-heating system known as ondol (온돌), where hot steam (or, these days, water or electricity) heats stone slabs under a layer of clay and oiled paper. There are no beds; instead, mattresses are laid directly on the floor. Other furniture is typically limited to some low tables (you're also expected to sit on the floor) and maybe a TV.
Some of the cheapest accommodation in South Korea are in what are locally termed motels (모텔 motel) or yeogwan (여관), but these are rather different from motels in the West and closer to Japan's "love hotels". Motels in South Korea are generally very cheap hotels targeted at young couples aiming to spend 'time' together away from their elders, complete with plastic beds, occasionally vibrating, with strategically placed mirrors on the ceiling, with a TV and sometimes a computer. However for the budget traveller, they can simply be inexpensive lodging, with rates as low as KRW30,000/night.
The easiest way to find a motel is to just look for the symbol "♨" and gaudy architecture, particularly near stations or highway exits. They're harder to find online, as they rarely if ever show up in English-language booking sites, but Hotel365  (Korean only) has comprehensive listings for the entire country. Pretty much every train station or bus terminal in the country has a selection of motels within a 5 minute walk.
When you walk in there will be a frosted window with someone behind it. If it's late at night they might be sleeping, but you can wake them up. You pay for your room in advance (KRW30,000-50,000, cash only) when you enter, and will be given a room key and a kind of 'welcome pack', consisting of a toothbrush, other toiletries and condoms. When you leave, just leave the key at the window. Typically there are no receipts or records of names as the system is designed to be discreet and anonymous, although they will give you a receipt if you ask for it.
Full-service hotels can be found in all larger towns in Korea. Cheaper hotels blend into motels with rooms from ₩40,000, while three and four star hotels are closer to ₩100,000-200,000 and five-star luxury hotels can easily top ₩300,000. Outside peak season you can often get steep discounts from the rack rates, so be sure to ask when reserving.
While not as common in South Korea as in other parts of Asia or the world, hostels and guesthouses can be found. Major cities, such as Seoul, will have a few dozen, while smaller cities may have a handful. Prices can vary widely, even within one hostel. In Seoul, mixed dorms average ₩15,000 to ₩25,000 per person; private rooms with a shared toilet and shower average ₩20,000 to ₩30,000 per person; and private ensuite rooms average ₩25,000 to ₩40,000 per person. Many hostels will have a common room with free TV, games, computers, and internet; some will have a public full kitchen and other amenities.
In rural areas in and near national parks, you can find a minbak (민박). Most of these are just a room or two in someone's home - others are quite fancy and may be similar to yeogwans (motels) or hotels. Generally, they have ondol rooms with maybe a TV and that's about it. You don't usually get your own bathroom in your room, although some of the fancier ones do have an en suite. Minbaks usually run around KRW20,000 off-season though the price may go up quite a bit during high season.
Very similar in concept to a Minbak, these aren't limited to just rural areas or near national parks. Since the World Cup in 2002, many families around the country have opened their doors and hearts to foreigners looking for a good place to sleep. These can run between KRW30,000 and KRW35,000 per night and sometimes include breakfast.
For the budget traveller public bath houses known as Jjimjilbang (찜질방) offer a great and very relaxing way to sleep, bathe and take a sauna. The entrance is ₩5,000-15,000 and includes a short pajamas or robe to wear. The facilities can be expansive, including showers, public baths, restaurants, computer/video game rooms, a room with DVD movies, and a warm hall to sleep, mostly with mattresses and soft head rests available. These places are generally for families or couples coming in for the day, but traveller are still very welcome. They are also used by Korean men from the country side working in the city for resting over night. There is no secure place to leave your things except for the mostly two lockers, one for the shoes (at the entrance) and one for your cloths (near the mirrors and bath entrance). Sleeping hall and mixed facilities are entered with pajama, the baths are garment-free. A Jjimjilbang is no more awkward than any western public bath - so go ahead. Ask whether overnight stay is possible if needed, because some Korean Spas don't offer this option, e.g. like the "Spa Land Centum City" in Busan, which however is no Jjimjilbang. When you leave you have to take everything with you, and pay to get back in.
Jogye (조계사), Korea's largest Buddhist sect, runs a popular Temple Stay program where visitors get to spend 24 hours living at a Buddhist temple. Korean ability helps but is not necessary at some temples, but you will be expected to work at the temple and get up at 3 or 4AM to participate in morning prayer. In exchange for three meals and a basic bed for the night, a "donation" of KRW50,000-80,000 is expected. Reservations are necessary and can be made at the Temple Stay site  or via Korea Travel Phone, tel. +82-2-1330
With its natural mountainous landscape, there is little wonder why Koreans love to go trekking and set themselves amidst the scenic mountains or river streams aplenty of the Korean peninsula. This is especially so for the majority urban dwellers of bustling Seoul during weekends. Apart for the fun getaway with family and friends, health and beauty conscious Koreans often regard such activities as a mean to stay both physically and pyschologically balanced. A growing trend in recent years has been that of Glamping which is a portmanteau of 'glamorous' and 'camping'. For the fashionable Korean teens, glamping with friends means party away having BBQ and soju with the fantasy of camping and the comfort of a hotel. For the family-oriented Koreans with young children, glamping means a fuss-free trip to the countryside with all amenities and food provided for. Glamping locations are often near to ski parks, mountain trekking courses and places of interests, hence providing a good accommodation option for visitors considering to explore outside of Seoul to see and experience the real local Korean lifestyle.
Education is taken very seriously in South Korea, and the country is home to several world class universities, many of which have exchange agreements with various foreign universities, and are a good way for foreigners to experience life in the country. The most prestigious comprehensive universities are Seoul National University, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Yonsei University, Korea University, and Pohang University of Science and Technology(POSTECH).
Work as an English teacher is available through various companies, with the desired minimum level of education being a Bachelor's degree. Schools prefer native English speakers. In most instances, native English speakers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, and the UK are the only applicants that can be considered because the South Korean government usually (information has been inconsistent) just accepts those from the aforementioned pre-approved English-speaking countries.
Native speakers of English who have BA Hons degrees may find it easy to obtain employment in one of Korea's many private academies (hagwon). These schools have proliferated in response to perceived failings of the public education system, although there are also hagwons aimed at adult instruction. Often, people interested in these teaching positions find them via professional recruiters. There are pros and cons to teaching ESL in the hagwon system. On the plus side, the money can be quite good. As of late 2005, the average monthly salary is approximately 2 million KRW, and housing is usually provided. It's possible to live comfortably on half of one's salary, and to save the rest. However, it is important to evaluate each prospective employer before accepting an offer; tales of unscrupulous academy owners and incompetent directors abound.
University employment is also possible. Those who have a graduate-level degree, preferably in TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language) may find professional opportunities at the postsecondary level preferable to teaching in private academies.
Caution: Discrimination based on race is legal in Korea, and there are few protections against any types of discrimination. Korean employers tend to be more discriminatory towards people with darker skin, and especially people of African and south Asian ancestry. Korean job applications usually require you to attach a photo of yourself, along with other information usually considered private in the Western world, such as height, weight and marital status; if you are a person of color, your application will be more likely to be denied. Please be advised when looking for jobs. However, the public schools typically are more colorblind in regards to accepting applicants compared to hagwons.
Year-long public school positions are avaialble though the government-funded EPIK Program  in most provinces (now including Seoul as a subsidiary) and the rapidly contracting GEPIK Program in Gyeonggi, with a small number also handled by recruiter companies. Alternately, the TALK Program runs 6-month and 1-year rural public school positions for those who have completed a 2-year university degree or have completed 2 years of study for a 3-4 year degree. As of April 2015, described in a press release on EPIK's website, the official recruiting agency partnerships with EPIK include Reach To Teach Recruiting, Korvia Consulting, Korean Horizons, and Canadian Connections.
South Korea is a very safe country, with reported crime rates much lower than in the US and comparable to most European countries. Crime rates are comparable to other safe places such as Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong and it is safe to walk around at night even in the major cities. Violent crime is rare toward locals and tourists alike. For the most part, the only foreigners who encounter trouble in South Korea are drunken ones that provoke fights at bars or clubs. If you do happen to encounter any trouble, police stations are located in every district, usually in walking distance from subway entrances and bus stops. While most officers won't understand English, they do have interpreters on-call that can assist you.
South Korea is a very homogeneous country, and for very a few Koreans, this is a point of pride. Racism in South Korea is relatively non-existed compared to any other Asian, Europe even African countries.
Korean motorists will sometimes speed through pedestrian crossings, jump red lights and come within a hair-width distance to pedestrians and other cars alike. Even when the light turns, drivers will not stop. So, beware. Motorcyclists are particularly reckless weaving in and out on crowded sidewalks. It is up to you to avoid them.
Pedestrian crosswalks stay green for a very short period of time. When the walk signal is yellow and you are still at the curb do not cross. Instead, you should wait and be ready for the light to turn green. The moment it turns green, wait for about 3 to 5 seconds and see if other pedestrians start to cross, and if all the traffic has indeed stopped, then walk briskly to cross safely. It is safer to take underground passageways at busy intersections.
Don't expect the cars to stop for you at the zebra crossings and it is important for you to stay alert while crossing the roads.
In the heart of the political centre of Seoul, near Gwanghamun, Yeouido (National Assembly) and City Hall, you may witness political activists of one sort or another in the city center. Rarely, demonstrations may get heated when crowds grow to tens of thousands. You'll have to use discretion as violence during political demonstrations is rare, but large crowds may pose safety issues.
Ignorance of the law here is no excuse for breaking them and can even be seen as a reason for harsher punishment. Penalties concerning drug offences may seem particularly harsh to westerners. They include heavy fines, lengthy jail sentences and immediate deportation. Submitting fraudulent documentation for obtaining visas can result in the same and detainment as well. Even giving somebody an English lesson can get you deported (you have to get a special visa to be allowed to teach English, and then only at your place of employment).
The principle disaster risks are typhoons (hurricanes). While South Korea experiences fewer natural disasters than its neighbours, you should note that its much smaller size makes that a little misleading, and the geology and geography give it a similar risk profile to its neighbours. That said, typhoon risk is not as high as Japan's eastern coast. On average, one typhoon hits Korea each year. You should also note that Typhoons are seasonal, so the risk is largely limited to the summer months. Earthquakes are a very rare occurrence and are mostly observable in the southwest of the country.
Conflict with North Korea
Though an armistice was established between the two Koreas in the 1950's, the two countries are still, officially, at war. Recent events have made the tension between the two countries very high. A re-ignition of the war between the North and South is potentially calamitous and would result in many casualties, military and civilian alike. Be aware of current events in the region before travelling.
Emergency-service English interpreters are available 24 hours a day.
The quality of healthcare will vary depending on where you are and it is generally very high. The sheer number of hospitals and specialized clinics in the country will also offer you plenty of choice. Treatment is high-quality; Korean healthcare is known worldwide for its excellence in both research and clinical medicine.
As a land of Confucian hierarchy and etiquette, Koreans are a reserved and well-mannered people. As a visitor, you will not be expected to know every nuance, but making an effort will certainly be appreciated. Following these rules will impress the locals:
The further you are away from metropolitan areas the more conservative the people are.
Reverse swastikas are commonly seen in Buddhist temples. They are a religious symbol and do not represent Nazism or anti-Semitism, so visitors should not feel offended when encountering them. Remember that swastikas are left handed and right handed and that most religious swastikas are the opposite face to those used by the nazi party.
Homosexuality is a mixed bag in South Korea. There are no laws against homosexuality in South Korea, and same-sex relationships are neither recognized nor ruled against by the government. Gay clubs and bars exist in the larger cities, though openly displaying your sexual orientation in public is still likely to be met with disapproval. Conversely platonic displays of physical affection between same-sex friends are very common, particularly when alcohol has been consumed, and holding hands with a same-sex romantic partner may be viewed in this light.
Note that it is common to see pairs of same-sex people publicly walking arm-in-arm. Usually, if not nearly always, this is an expression of platonic friendship.
International dialling prefixes in South Korea vary by operator, and there is no standard prefix. Check with your operator for the respective prefixes. For calls to South Korea, the country code is 82.
Mobile phone coverage is generally excellent, with the exception of some remote mountainous areas. The country has three service providers: KT , SK Telecom  and LG U+ . They offer prepaid mobile phone services (pre-paid service, PPS) in South Korea. Incoming calls are free. Phones and prepaid services can be acquired at any retail location found on any street. Second-hand phones are also available at selected stores in Seoul, also you can rent korean phones at the international airports.
There are offers for prepaid simcards in korean mobile network specially for tourists. This is the cheapest method to make and get phone calls, cause you don't need to rent a mobile and don't have to use expensive roaming. The korean company evergreen mobile offers as mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) in the network of kt telecom a simcard for phone calls and even internet usage. You can use 3G+ internet and kt/olleh wifi. The mobile phone should be working in the UMTS standard. You get a korean mobile number - incoming calls are not charged. There is an offical distributor in europe with international shipping: Distributor of EGSIM
NeoKOSIM is a start-up company that has recently launched a partnership with KT to offer a 4G LTE unlimited data plan prepaid SIM card for travelers coming to Korea. Sales Agent of KT
Data-only pass : You can order online on their website and will receive a PDF voucher via your e-mail after payment. SIMs can be picked up at Incheon airport, at the Olleh KT roaming center (gate 6) inside in the arrival hall 1F. These SIMs are for purchase and not to be returned.
Voice & data pass: You can order online on their website and will receive a PDF voucher via your e-mail and will pay when you pick up the SIM. They can be picked up at Incheon airport, at the Olleh KT roaming center (gate 6) inside in the arrival hall 1F. These SIMs are for rental and are to be returned: Voice and text consumptions will be billed extra.
South Korea uses the CDMA/ WCDMA standard and does not have a GSM network, so most 2G mobile phones from elsewhere will not work. Even quad-band GSM phones are useless. However, if you have a 3G phone with a 3G SIM card, you can probably roam onto the UMTS/W-CDMA networks of KT or SK Telecom; check with your home operator before you leave to be sure. 4G has recently been made available in Korea; again, check with your provider.
If you have a phone that supports the 2100Mhz WCDMA frequency, you should be able to buy a prepaid SIM for it using olleh. All newer unlocked GSM iPhones (iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, GSM iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5) will work. The Verizon iPhone 4 and the original 1st generation iPhone won't work. However, all iPhone 5's regardless of model (both GSM or CDMA) will work if unlocked, and as it's a world phone, any unlocked iPhone 4S will work. Check [] for more details. You must have been in Korea for more than 3 days to buy a SIM card.
All the carriers offer mobile phone rental services, and some handsets also support GSM SIM roaming. They have outlets at the international airports in Incheon, Seoul (Kimpo) and Busan (Kimhae). You can find service centers for KT SHOW and SK Telecom at Jeju airport as well. Charges start from KRW2,000/day if you reserve in advance via the visitkorea website  for a discount and guaranteed availability. Also avalible for rent are the 4G WiBro eggs. However 4G WiBro coverage is weak, and almost non existent outside of the bigger cities and motorways.
The 1330 Korea Travel Phone service is a very useful service provided by the Korea Tourism organization. It is a 24 hour service and offered in four different languages (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese). The operator will answer questions on bus schedules, accommodation, museum hours, etc.
South Korea is the world's most wired country and Internet cafes, known as PC bang (PC 방, pronounced BAH-ng), are ubiquitous through the country. Many customers are there for gaming but you're free to sit and type e-mails as well, typical charges are about ₩1,000 to ₩2,000/hour. Like anything, it may be more expensive in more "luxurious" places. Also, snacks and drinks are available for purchase in most PC bangs. PC bangs are often divided into smoking and non-smoking areas.
Due to the sensitive situation with North Korea, certain websites or links such as North Korea's twitter account are blocked. Websites and links that contain any form of indecency; un-rated games, illegal pornography, or internet gambling will be redirected to a warning page. Tor is available in South Korea.
Any connection made with North Korea will be monitored in case of espionage. Praising North Korea, Communism, or doing any espionage with those in North Korea will get you arrested. Posting any anti-government comment(s) will automatically be deleted.
In order to combat internet gaming addiction, the South Korean government has enacted a curfew law that forbids anyone under the age of 16 to play online from 00:00 to 06.00. However this only affects computers, and public Wi-Fi areas. Consoles and mobile phones remain unaffected.
Korea Post is fast, reliable and reasonably priced. Postage for a postcard anywhere in the world is ₩660, while letters and packages start from ₩480. If you want actual traditional stamps, be sure to ask for them, or else you will just get a printed label. On request, fancy "tourist" cancellations (Gwangwang Tongsin Ilbuin) for your stamps are available at selected post offices without additional charge. Korea Post accepts Visa and MasterCard for purchases over ₩1,000.
Most post offices are open weekdays only 09:00-18:00. Larger post offices also open Saturday mornings, and central offices in the main cities stay open late and are open on Sundays as well.
Korea has several English language media sources for daily news and other information.