My trip to South Korea this autumn has been a great success. In this and the following blogs I will therefore be discussing my trip, of course accompanied by some of my best pictures. My blogs will contain detailed information about my itinerary and the do’s and don’ts in South Korea for those who are planning to travel to South Korea or still have to be convinced about this beautiful and interesting, though somewhat unknown, country. Enjoy reading and I hope my blogs will be of use to some fellow travellers. In case you have questions, feel free to contact me through the contact form.
Why go to South Korea?
South Korea is not a well known tourist destination, at least not in the Netherlands. Most people only know Korea by its large electronics (Samsung, LG) and car (Hyundai, Kia) companies and pop star Psy. And of course because of its conflicts with North Korea. So why would I want to go to a country that makes cars, electronics and crazy K-pop and is actually still at war?
Altough the most people know the country by ‘South Korea’, the official name is ‘Republic of Korea’. I will most of the time simply be referring to the country as ‘Korea’, although technically this would also include North Korea.
For me it was an easy decision: to visit a friend. While I was studying in Trondheim, Norway in 2011/2012 I had a Korean roommate, Shin. During the year we became best friends. When the year was over and he went back to Korea he gave me a gift: a Rough Guide to Korea (recommended!). At that time I made a promise to come visit him in Korea. This fall I decided to stick to that promise.
“I made a promise and decided to stick to it.”
So there’s my inspiration for this destination: a friend and a travel guide. Of course, while talking to my friend and reading in my travel guide, I discovered that there is a lot more to Korea than just cars, electronics and a threatening northern neighbour. In fact, Korea appeared to be a great country to travel, with lots of big cities, beautiful nature, sceneries and cultural heritage. Actually one could say it is one of the treasures of East Asia, hidden in plain sight. As I also never had been to East Asia before, Korea seemed like the perfect destination for me.
Unitary Presidential Constitutional Republic
₩ South Korean Won (KRW)
Additionally, with the idea of ‘while I’m in the neighbourhood’, I had decided to make a stop in Hong Kong on the way back to visit another friend who was studying there this semester.
Why go in the autumn?
I did not plan this trip a long time ahead. The idea to actually go to Korea arose quite suddenly somewhere last August. By then I was still doing my internship at Ten Cate Advanced Composites. At the end of September my internship was supposed to end. So far I had not planned anything for my graduation project yet, which was next. Then it struck my mind, why not take a break and postpone my graduation project by one month? Without much trouble I gathered a list in my mind of reasons to rectify me taking entire October off (the IJsselcup of course being one of them). Besides some personal reasons there is of course one other major reason to visit Korea in the autumn.
The autumn is, together with spring, the most pleasant season and lasts from September to November. Whereas the summer is extremely hot and wet, the autumn is mild and dry. During my trip I have not had a single drop of rain (except for some drips in Seoraksan National Park). During the day temperatures range between a comfortable 18 and 22 degrees Celsius, warm enough to walk around in just a T-shirt. In the evenings it cools down quite quickly, so be sure to bring something warm to wear.
Besides the comfortable climate there are more reasons why the autumn in Korea is so great. First of all, the autumn foliage. The autumn foliage is extremely popular in Korea, due of its intense colours. In the autumn Koreans love to go outside and enjoy the beautiful colours of the maple and ginkgo trees in the city parks. During the weekend Koreans pull away from the busy cities and enjoy their time hiking in one of the many beautiful national parks of the country. Secondly, the autumn is the season of festivals. This probably also has to do with the mild climate, but during the autumn you will see festivals being organised all over the country. Usually the festivals last a couple of days up to a week and can basically be about anything, ranging from a film festival to food or cultural festivals.
So there you have it. Why autumn? Great weather, beautiful nature and lots of festivals.
Where to go?
Until about two weeks before my trip I still had no idea about where to go in Korea yet. All I had done by then was book a ticket from Amsterdam to Seoul on the 15th of October and a ticket from Hong Kong back to Amsterdam on the 1st of November, giving me a total of 16 days. With two days spent in Hong Kong, this left me a 14 day itinerary to fill up. With a lot of tips from my Korean friend, the help of my Rough Guide and some additional blogs I was able to set up a rough initial itinerary. Basically I wanted to see all Korea has to offer, ranging from city life, cultural heritage and historical sites to the beautiful national parks. Because of my limited time of two weeks (minus some travel time), the schedule was quite packed and I had no idea if I would be able to stick to it using public transport. Fortunately I found that public transport in Korea is very well arranged (besides the language problem…) and I was nearly able to stick to my itinerary during the entire trip. The itinerary was however so dense that I was completely exhausted by the end of my trip, so be sure to plan some more rests, especially if you plan to go for a longer period then me. You can find my itinerary and route below.
Other than setting up this itinerary I did not book anything in advance, except for my hostel in Seoul and a DMZ/JSA tour (must be booked several days in advance!). I believe not booking anything in advance makes the trip more adventurous and adds to your travel experience. If you’re not the adventurous kind or don’t want to take too much risk, feel free to book your accommodation in advance or plan your trip in more detail.
Where to get your information?
Besides the local tourist information offices there are some sources I found to be very useful. Be aware that not all local tourist information offices have English speaking staff or even English leaflets, so having some additional sources can be very useful.
First of all there were my travel guides. These were the Rough Guide of Korea and the Lonely Planet of Seoul. I found both to provide excellent information, although prices and time schedules are sometimes outdated, so don’t trust too much on those.
Secondly there are a few webpages you might want to check out. VisitKorea.or.kr of the Korean Tourism Organisation (KTO) provides excellent up-to-date and detailed information on basically any tourist destination in the entire country. Also check out their Facebook page for latest updates on for example festivals. DiscoveringKorea.com is a nice blog about tourist attractions in Korea and provides detailed information. Furthermore a blog by Mariane on TheChroniclesOfMariane.blogspot.com, where she describes her 16 day trip through Korea, has also been useful to me.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, there is the Tourist Hotline provided by the Korean Tourism Organisation. By simply calling 1330 (add area code for information outside Seoul, country code is +82) you will be assisted by a lovely English speaking employee of the KTO. They can help you with basically anything, ranging from bus schedules, accommodation or the finest restaurants to interpreting service. They are also the number to dial in case of emergencies. If all else fails, be sure to give them a call!
That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the next blog on my first day in Seoul.