Quick Guide to Korea

The quick guide to Korea covers all your basic traveling needs to Asia’s hottest destination!

IN A NUTSHELL

Korean Fever has taken over the planet.

Ever since Psy’s breakout hit of ‘Gangnam-Style,’ the world just can’t get enough of South Korea. From beauty products and barbeque to the return of boy bands, Korea is exploding on the fashion, food, and entertainment scenes.

Quick Guide to Korea Seoul

The skyline of downtown Seoul from Bongeunsa Temple \\ Copyrighted by Shutterstock

After living in Korea, I’ve come to understand how this frenzy came to be. Seoul, Korea’s glamorous capital, is becoming Asia’s coolest city. As you step out the gates of Gyeongbokgung, Seoul’s oldest palace, you are greeted by dazzling skyscrapers and streets teeming with people, a small representation of the 10 million strong in the greater metropolitan area. There are three main things for the traveler who ends up in Korea to remember.

Number 1: the party NEVER stops. I learned why Korea’s nickname is “The Land of the Morning Calm” during the first time I stayed out until sunrise. When you step out of the club at 7 am, dehydrated and haggard beyond belief, it’s unusually eerie to see quiet, empty streets. The “morning calm” is indicative of the time when the whole nation of partygoers call it quits and head home (finally). Fridays in Korea are called “Bul Geum,” literally meaning “Fire Friday”. It’s a term used to describe the excitement the entire nation engages in just as the work week ends and the weekend begins.

Quick Guide to Korea

I told you its a thing. The equivalent of America’s TGIF. \\ Credit: Webjet.au

Number 2: you WILL shop until your drop. South Korea is consumerism at its finest! There are shops above ground, below ground, and ten-stories up in the air. People love to buy, buy, buy here. Shopping is not a pastime in Korea; its an actual lifestyle and you better be up for spending the moolah or else you’ll be missing out on the action.

Number 3: prepare to eat like a champion. Korean cuisine is spicy and savory and will take your tastebuds to places it has never been before. Scraping sizzling rice from the bottom of a hot stone bowl while grilling your own marinated pork ribs over a bed of charcoal as you pound shots of soju will be THE experience you talk about in years to come. Eating here is not about sustenance, it’s more of a social activity! Friends become family around the table. And I cannot tell you how much of a shock it came to me that Korea not only serves up its own cuisine as good as it gets, but that it has taken favorites from all over the world and made them (dare I say) better?!! From pizza to pastries to good ol’ fried chicken, you won’t even believe me until you try it yourself.

Quick Guide to Korea Seoul

Gyeongbukgung Palace surrounded by stunning fall foliage \\ Credit: Have Halal Will Travel Blog

It’s not just about partying and shopping and eating. Apart from high-tech, modern cities, South Korea’s countryside is filled with rolling mountains and sandy beaches lining the peninsula. In the springtime, cherry blossoms rain down from the sky. After summer passes, lush greenery transforms into fall foliage that could even outmatch that of my beloved New England. It is a destination where one can experience all four seasons in their truest state. And fear not, getting around Korea is a piece of cake! With a hyper-speed train system similar to that of Japan’s bullet train for half the cost, you can get around quickly without breaking the bank. From Busan to Seoul on the KTX which are on other sides of the country, it would take you only 2 and a half hours! If you wanted to take the slower Mugunghwa train, you’d be subjected to many more stops but at an even cheaper rate. Inner-city bus systems available in all the major cities are reliable and the Seoul Metro at first may overwhelm even the bravest of adventurers but once you get in the habit of figuring out the last stop on the lines, you’ll be navigating the underground like a pro!

Korea is not just a passing craze. It’s here to stay – question is, are you ready for it?

HOW DO YOU SAY?

Quick Guide to Korea Advice

Hello – 안녕하세요 (ahn-yeong-ha-seh-yo)

Thank you – 감사합니다 (kahm-sa-ham-ni-dah)

Yes – 네 (ne)

No –아니오 (anee-yo)

Learn Korean Quick Guide to korea

Can’t find a restaurant? Just learn the phrase for “I’m Hungry.” Courtesy of Tumblr

I’m hungry – 배 고파요 (bae go-pa-yo)

Excuse me/just a moment – 잠시만요 (jam-shi-man-yo)

Please (Please give) – 주세요 (ju-seh-yo)

Where is the (something) – 어디예요 (…. o-di-ye-yo)

Beer/Soju – 맥주/소주 (maek-ju/so-ju)

How much is it? – 얼마예요 (ol-mah-ye-yo)

Learn Korean Quick Guide to korea

ㅋㅋㅋㅋ is the Korean shorthand for “hahaha.” Very useful for texting newfound friends.

I can’t speak Korean well – 한국말 잘 못해요 (han-guk-mal jal mot-hae-yo)

Foreigner –외국인 (way-gook-in)

NAVIGATE A MENU

Quick Guide to korea

My food habits in Korea every day

Bibimbap (비빔밥)

The name literally translates to “mixed rice” which denotes the entire premise of the dish. If you order it dolsot-style, the rice, dried seaweed, sautéed vegetables, meat and eggs are served in a hot stone bowl.

Quick Guide to Korea Korean Food

My first taste of samgyeopsal and I’ve been hooked ever since!

Samgyeopsal (삼겹살), Galbi (갈비), and Bulgogi ()

The triumvirate of all gastronomical delights in Korea. A do-it-yourself experience as you grill sweetly marinated beef ribs and fatty cuts of pork strips on a hot plate. The perfect accompaniment to a charbroiled dinner is the Korean rice liquor, soju, which makes everything taste so much better. Warning: beware of drinking too many shiny green bottles – it’s highly potent and will induce stupidity beyond your wildest dreams.

Quick Guide to Korea Soju

You have been warned.

Chimaek (치맥)

When chicken meets maekju aka beer, the most beautiful union is formed. This is the secret (South) Korea has been hiding all these years. Korea makes the BEST friend chicken in the entire world! There is simply no contest. Don’t forget to munch on the sugar radish cubes that come as a side dish.

Quick Guide to Korea Korean Food

The best place to find Naengmyeon is Gwangjang Market

Naengmyeon (냉면)

If the first time doesn’t charm you, try it again. This meal is the reason why Koreans actually look forward to their muggy hot and humid summers. You will find the icy soup of cold buckwheat noodles garnished with cucumbers, egg, and radish strangely delightful, especially on a hot summer’s day.

Pajeon (파전)

The suffix “jeon” refers to a Korean pancake made of wheat and rice flour and a variety of other meats and vegetables. Its usually recognized by the specks of diced green onion which is the perfect treat for vegetarians looking for some solace in this meat-heavy culture. My personal favorite is haemul pajeon, a seafood variety of the jeon where pieces of squid and clam are fried into the battery goodness.

Quick Guide to Korea Korean Food

They come in triangle shapes at local convenience stores too! \\ Courtesy of Imagur

Gimbap (김밥)

Although it looks a lot like sushi, there are major differences between the two recipes. First and foremost, gimbap rice is lightly seasoned with sesame oil whereas sushi rice is soaked in vinegar. Also the closest thing you’ll get to raw fish in gimbap is a sliver of imitation crab. Gimbap are usually stuffed with pickled vegetables, meat (bulgogi being my favorite addition), and eggs. It’s a snack food rather than fine dining.

PLAN YOUR JOURNEY

Seoul

When I first moved to Korea, I never imagined Seoul would become my favorite city in the world! There’s a lot to do and see in Seoul so I’ve drafted up an extensive guide to the city here.

Quick Guide to Korea Namsan Mountain

Catch the sunset during your trek up Namsan

The one thing I suggest you cannot miss in Seoul is an afternoon visit to Namsan Mountain, the highest point in all of Seoul. Climb Namsan Mountain to get a bird’s eye view of the mega-city which is especially great for those who don’t have enough time to see it all by foot. It’s a bit of a cheat (not to mention a legit rip-off) to take the cable car to the top of the mountain so if you’re in good enough shape, I suggest putting in the hard work and trailing up the mountain. You’ll be rewarded with hidden lookout points, Korean-esque gazebos to rest up, and a great glute exercise. It’s quite a romantic spot so if anyone is anti-Valentine’s Day all-year-round, invest in a pair of blinders. The giant N Seoul Tower sticks out like a sore thumb as you summit. Once you’re at the top, you can elevator on up to the tower’s observatory deck. But if you stay grounded, you get to hang with locals and tourists alike who are all snapping selfies with their significant others holding their Locks of Love, padlocks that testify to a couple’s enduring love, as the sun sets in the background.

Quick Guide to Korea Namsan Mountain

This padlock was for me and my mom. All kinds of love are welcomed!

Busan

Quick Guide to Korea Busan

Get in touch with your spirituality at one of Busan’s temples \\ Copyrighted by Shutterstock

Too much partying not your style? Busan, the second largest city in Korea is located on the waterfront and has a much more chilled-out vibe than that of Seoul. With beaches to mellow out on and the possibility of a temple stay at nearby Buddhist temples, you get to work on your soul in Busan as opposed to losing it in Seoul. With its close proximity to the ocean, the seafood here is cooked fresh. Busan also has a pretty fancy submarine-themed aquarium with a great Korean spa close by. For you artsy types, take a short trip outside of Busan to the Gamcheon Culture Village and soak in all the pretty colored houses.

Jeju-do

Quick Guide to Korea Jeju

‘Dol hareubangs’ are large statues found on Jeju Island and are believed to have mystical powers \\ Credit: hihaholidays.com.my

Jeju Island is one of the elite seven that make up “7 The New Natural Wonders of the World”. Also called the “Island of the Gods,” it is home to Hallasan Mountain, the tallest peak in Korea (and also a dormant volcano), the famously sweet hallabong tangerines, and its bizzare sex theme park, which is not actually all that peculiar considering the island is one of the top honeymoon destinations for Korean newlyweds.

Korea definitely surprised me with all it had to offer and I’m lucky to have lived there as an expat. Do you have anything to add to this quick guide to Korea? Leave a comment below! xoxo Izzy

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Izzy Pulido is a Bostonian by way of the Philippines who loves to vagabond. At twenty-seven, she's traded in gallivanting around Europe for the 9-to-5 grind... but don't count out the vagabonding! With a new long distance relationship, she's bringing American travel to the forefront. She lives for good times, good food, and good peeps.

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  1. Gina

    2 March

    This is a fantastic beginners guide to Korea and well written from someone who has been there! I’ve always wanted to visit Busan! One of the great things about living in Korea is the awesomely delicious food. I loved all the gifs you put in too! I found the crash course in survival Korean is also helpful! Great guide!

    • Izzy Pulido

      2 March

      I am so conscientious of my writing so thank you for the compliment! It honestly keeps my spirits up! And I just recently learned how to make gifs on photoshop so its been fun. Kind of keeps the content more animated and lively. 🙂 Thanks for posting it on your wall again! I really appreciate it!

  2. Megan Indoe

    2 March

    Great post and super helpful for those about to come to Korea! You nailed it on the head with the konglish! I couldn’t believe adding the “uh” or “eee” at the end of words would help people better understand me! Haha! The only information I would have added is how easy and convenient the local transportation is to get around the city or the entire country! Also, my favorite korean drink makgeolli! 😉 but that’s just a personal favorite! Thanks for sharing such a helpful post!

    • Izzy Pulido

      2 March

      OMG!!! :O just edited the post to include information on the transportation in Korea! How could I completely forget such an important thing? This is why this blogging community is so amazing! You guys are the best proofreaders 🙂 And makgeolli is my drink of choice too but its such a niche drink so I figured I would write about it on a more in-depth post about Korean food. Thanks for always lending a helping hand Megan.

  3. Wendy

    4 March

    2 Things I’ve noticed when i arrived here: the efficient transportation system and waste segregation. Admirable. And the Korean moms. Well-dressed, high-heeled moms. As if carrying a baby isn’t hard enough. Appearances count a lot. Not that it’s bad. I admire it!

    • Izzy Pulido

      5 March

      I do admire the waste segregation in Korea. I think its a huge step forward in creating environmental consciousness among the people. And I do applaud how well people take care of themselves, I myself hated feeding into the idea of always looking so presentable. I found it a bit exhausting in all actuality.

  4. Chelsea

    7 March

    Numbers 1-3 got me smiling so hard! I arrived in Korea on a Friday, and was quickly introduced to “Bul Geum”, as I stayed out until the wee hours of the morning. I literally live for weekends here in Korea! Also, I’ve grown very fond of the shopping and can’t get enough of Korean fashion! It’s amazing! I live in Busan Seomyeon is by far my favourite place to shop. I need to hit up Seoul next! Also, love how you added Gamcheon Culture Village, as I recently visited there and fell in absolute lust. Great post! And I love how you paired each point with a strong picture 🙂

    • Izzy Pulido

      9 March

      My boyfriend and I met on a bulgeum night! Just crazy to think how you can find love in as hopeless of a place as Korea 😛 And I can’t believe how much I spent on cute things in Korea… almost to the point I was like omg why did I even buy this?! I’m glad you really connected to the post! If you get the feels from the quick guide actually living there, then my advice is doing its job!

  5. Sarah

    26 April

    I love the morning calm. Now I have a phrase for that time in the night. On this side of the world though, it’s usually leaving a techno warehouse party in Brooklyn. I’m going to S. Korea for the first time in August! This will come in handy. Thanks!

    • Izzy Pulido

      26 April

      Yes there are many different morning calms in the world although experiencing in Seoul is incomparable to anywhere I’ve ever been! I think they’ve rightfully earned that nickname 😛 Oh you will love Korea! Where are you going while you’re there???

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