Travelling in South Korea - Emma Jane Explores

What you need to know before travelling in South Korea

Travelling in South Korea has always been something I’ve wanted to do. South Korea is swiftly climbing the ranks of up and coming tourism hot spots, but there is a lot less known about this country than neighbouring Japan or China. So, to make sure you have the most enjoyable and stress-free trip in South Korea possible, I’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions and important tid bits of information that will help you on your travels.

Getting around in South Korea

How to navigate in South Korea?

Most travellers have come to rely on a good wifi connection and Google Maps to get around when they’re in a foreign place. Well, in South Korea, Google Maps won’t be much help to you at all.

In fact, Google isn’t able to map South Korea as the country disallows exporting local map data to foreign countries for security purposes. Luckily, there are a couple of local navigation application options available that will help map your journey via public transport or by foot.

I used Naver Maps which is available in the App store, but Kakao Maps is also highly recommended.

Naver Maps allows you to search in Korean or English and also gives you a cost and time estimate for Taxis and public transport rides so that you can budget how much you’ll be spending and how long it will take you to get there.

Naver Maps - Travelling to South Korea - Emma Jane Explores
Naver Maps and Kakao Maps

How to use public transport in South Korea?

Like most countries, South Korea has a cashless option for using public transport that makes getting around simple. Use Naver Maps to estimate how much the fare will be, load up your card with money at a 7-Eleven or other convenience store and then simply tap on at the station to get on your train or bus.

An added bonus is that the T-Money card gives you access to discounted rides and can also be used at other Korean attractions or shopping malls. Just look for the purple and orange T Money sign – anywhere this appears, you can use the card to tap and pay. 

It definitely saved me heaps of time at railway station, made catching a bus so much easier and I felt much better without having to pull out my wallet and try to find the exact change.

TMoney Cards - Travelling to South Korea - Emma Jane Explores
With our cute TMoney cards!

What’s the best way to travel between cities in South Korea?

South Korea has excellent public transport that will ensure you arrive in your destination right in the heart of the action. One of, if not the most popular routes is the Korail service between South Korea’s most populous cities Seoul and Busan. Travelling between cities is incredibly easy, with tickets available online and at the major stations. Other notable South Korean destinations serviced by trains are Jeju Island, Suwon, Chuncheon, Jeonju, Andong and Gyeongju.

Air travel is also easy in Korea, with Korean Air, Jin Air, Air Busan and Jeju Air all servicing domestic flights.

Travelling to South Korea - Emma Jane Explores
A trip to South Korea should include Busan

Eating in South Korea

What sort of food should I expect?

Korean food is one of the most unique cuisines in the world and therefore can feel a little daunting. However, there are many Korean dishes that are more subtle for the less-adventurous amongst us such as grilled meats cooked at your table dipped in salt or soy, beef rice bowls, fried chicken and plenty of seafood.

Most (if not all) meals will come with kimchi, arguably South Korea’s most famous export made of fermented cabbage and an assortment of other small side plates. Usually the side plates are complimentary and will continue to be re-filled throughout the meal.

For those with a sweet tooth travelling to South Korea, I recommend trying hotteok, a sweet filled pancake that is sure to warm you up in winter.

South Korea has a great street food culture and its definitely worth strolling through the markets and sampling the food from the different stores to really try a good variety of local food.

Travelling to South Korea - Emma Jane Explores
Egg Bread in Busan

Do I Need to Tip?

No, South Korea is not a tipping country. When eating out, a service charge is usually included in the price of your meal.

What do Koreans drink with dinner?

You’ll often see Koreans sitting down with a bottle of beer and a bottle of soju to share over a meal. Soju is actually the most consumed drink in the world, so its definitely popular outside of South Korea as well. Beware though, soju is more potent than it looks – the delicious rice potable is usually 20% alcohol. I know my mum got a shock when she stood up after drinking it at dinner one night!

Makgeolli is also popular; a sweet rice drink that looks milky and is thicker than soju. This is apparently the oldest Korean alcohol – so perfect to enjoy a bit of Korean history!

Beer is readily available in most restaurants, though you will have more of an issue locating wine in local eating places. Often, restaurants will have a plum wine or similar available – but these wines are usually not the same as the wine you’re used to drinking – again, they can be way more potent. In major cities, there are plenty of bars that serve glasses of wine, though, so don’t despair if you’ve got a hankering for a good pinot – you’ll definitely be able to find one after tea.

Side Plates - Travelling to South Korea - Emma Jane Explores
So many side plates!

Safety and Culture Shock

Is it hard to travel in South Korea if I don’t speak Korean?

No. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the excellent levels of English in Korean cities which makes it easy to ask for directions, order food and converse. Signs are usually in English and Korean and many restaurants have English menues available.

You’ll probably find Korean people are very friendly and many may come up to you to practice conversation or find out where you’re from.

Is it safe to travel to South Korea?

Many people hear the word Korea and immediately get nervous imagining the long stretching tensions that exist with North Korea. The good news for people travelling to South Korea is that the crime rate is low and though there’s always a risk that things flare up between the North and the South, the two countries have existed side by side for years following the Korean War and military exchanges are rare.

Earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis are also a risk to travellers, however Korea seems to see less of this activity than neighbouring China or Japan. To be aware of any risks whilst travelling to South Korea, download the government’s ‘Emergency Ready’ App which will alert you to any potential dangers.

Emergency Ready App - Travelling to South Korea
Emergency Ready App – Travelling to South Korea

South Korea is an amazing country full of unique and exciting experiences, food and people. It’s clean, safe and easy to travel around the country – perfect for travellers who want to travel a little off the beaten path but without extreme culture shock.

I hope this post has been helpful for you if you’re considering travelling to South Korea. If you have a question I haven’t answered in this post, please reach out and ask – I’ll happily answer your enquiry and may even add it to this post!

Things To Know Before Travelling to South Korea - Emma Jane Explores
Things To Know Before Travelling to South Korea – Emma Jane Explores
Things To Know Before Travelling to South Korea - Emma Jane Explores
Things To Know Before Travelling to South Korea – Emma Jane Explores

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