Key Country Facts
Korean people are quiet and noninvasive, so it considered rude to talk loudly in enclosed public spaces such as buses or subways. Confucian values play a strong role as well, so elderly persons should be given a seat on a bus or subway when there are none left. If possible, learn a few words or phrases before visiting. Korean people love it when foreigners make an effort to learn basic phrases, and will be very friendly and helpful to travelers who use Korean.
Travelers should spend time in Seoul because it is so easy to get from place to place. For those who do not know Korean, use a smartphone to download Subway Korea and Seoul Pass to get information on how to travel anywhere in Korea by subway, as well as locations where there are discount tickets or free things to do. Buses are the fastest way to see many attractions in a short span of time. Most of the big tourist sites - temples, markets, museums, parks, stadiums, cinemas, clubs, cafés and restaurants - are within minutes of each other by bus.
Another must-see is the War Memorial of Korea, an amazing museum that is free to visit and is known for the model war planes, statues, history, and architecture of the building. For travelers interested in hiking, two other places to visit are the war memorial in Incheon at the top of Chinatown, or the temples inside Bukhansan Mountain, which has truly spectacular views.
When travelers get tired of Korean food, go visit the Itaewon district in Seoul. This is where comfort foods from home as well as food from other places in the world can be found. Otherwise, be prepared to eat kimchi at almost every meal and to find red pepper paste or powder in most meals, adding spiciness.
The capital of South Korea is Seoul. About 50 million people live in here, and the main language is Korean. English, however, is growing due to tourism – many restaurants, household products, subway signs, and other locations have English translations. Koreans are primarily Christians or Buddhists, but Shamanism still plays a role. The country has thousands of undocumented smaller religions and it is not uncommon for a religious person to stop tourists to solicit their religion; politely excuse yourself and keep going. The top exports are integrated circuits, cars, refined petroleum, passenger and cargo ships, and vehicle parts.
A must-see place in Seoul is Gyeongbokgung Palace. It is absolutely huge, and incredibly beautiful. It also shows gorgeous views of the mountains contrasted with the city streets, where travelers can visit several museums right nearby. Also in this area is the historic Gwanghwamun Square, a place that today serves as place for Korean protesters as well as a place for farmers’ markets due to the long stretch of green pathway in the square. To get views of the whole city, visit Seoul Tower.
Koreans have intense distrust of all things Japanese stemming from the Japanese occupation of the 20th century. During that time Japanese leaders forbade the use of the Korean language and forced Koreans to adopt their cultural norms. Teachers even wore swords to enforce compliance.
In Seoul, there are huge skyscraper condos everywhere. My tour guide was a Tiger Man, who believed education is the answer for climbing the social ladder. Here, kids study 12 hours per day due to intense competition for the best schools. Overall, a much more intense culture than in the West. The people are very hard-driving, smart, and very tech driven– i.e. LG, Hyundai, Samsung, etc.., are outperforming the rest of Asia.
It’s complicated to rent an apartment here. One does not pay rent, instead you put down a refundable “deposit,” which the owner can use the capital to buy another. Rental market is goo, but not great. A rule imposed by government says that one can only make money on first house. But can rent and acquire more. Regardless of the renting situation, there is a high standard of living here.