South Korea – History, facts, and modern life on the peninsula

Last Updated on October 1, 2021 by 90 Day Korean
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As a country known for K-pop, K-dramas, and great food, the world is hugely interested in South Korea.

However, there’s a lot more to know about the Land of the Morning Calm. In this article, you’ll learn everything there is to know about South Korea, from its history and geography to seasons and modern life in the country!

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You might be interested in South Korea for one reason or another. So, read on and know more about South Korea, or you can jump to your favorite subject in the table of contents below.

Overview of South Korea

South Korea’s official country name is the Republic of Korea (ROK). It is a country in East Asia, located on the southern portion of the Korean peninsula, bordering North Korea in the north. The country’s population is around 51 million, of whom approximately 50% live in Seoul, the capital of South Korea.

Seoul is also the 5th largest metropolitan in the entire world. The official language spoken in South Korea is Korean, and most of its citizens are ethnically Korean.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Photo credit: https://www.theseoulguide.com/

The Republic of Korea is a democratic country. However, more than half of Koreans do not have a registered religion. Otherwise, Koreans are predominantly Christian or Buddhist, with other religions accounting for less than 1% of the entire population.

Geography, climate, and environment

South Korea is a country located in East Asia. Here are more facts about the peninsula in terms of geography, climate, and environment.

Geography of South Korea

South Korea is located on the southern portion of the Korean peninsula, with the northern part belonging to North Korea. On the west side, the land meets the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan on the east. South Korea’s southern tip touches the East China Sea, mainly through the Korea Strait, connecting these three seas.

The eastern region of South Korea is filled with high mountain ranges, such as Seoraksan and some narrow coastal plains. The western region, however, has broader coastal plains. South Korea’s southeastern region is commanded mainly by the Nakdong River, whereas you’ll find mountains and valleys in the southwestern region. In general, much of South Korea’s terrain is mountainous, with lowlands being found mostly in the west and southeast, covering only 30% of South Korea’s land area.

Overview of South Korea

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In South Korea, you can find three different kinds of terrestrial ecoregions. Much of South Korea falls under the ecoregion of Central Korean deciduous forests, which means temperate broadleaf and mixed forests like maples, oaks, walnut, and Korean ash. A small portion of the northeastern region is a part of the Manchurian mixed forests ecoregion, including flora like Korean pine. Finally, the southernmost regions in the South, including Jeju Forest, are classified as Southern Korean evergreen forests. Here you’ll also find broadleaf and mixed forests, with oaks and laurels, as well as shrubs.

Climate in South Korea

South Korea has four seasons, each of which is highly distinctive. Winters are cold and dry, while summers are hot and humid. Seoul’s average temperature in the wintertime is -7°C to +1°C. Meanwhile, during summer, degrees exceeding 30°C are experienced all around the country, especially in July and August. Winters and summers are usually seen to last approximately four months each, with shorter spring and autumn seasons.

A short monsoon season called 장마 (jangma) happens each summer. This is because the country is in the East Asia monsoon region. Along with the monsoon season, typhoons and floods may also occur. Droughts do happen occasionally, but there is sufficient rainfall for agriculture to occur for most years successfully. Jeju Island has a warmer climate compared to the rest of the country.

Best time to visit Korea

Environment in South Korea

South Korea once had more diverse wildlife, but today it’s most common to see bears, wildcats, deer, and wild boars, especially in the more remote and mountainous areas. This is because most of South Korea’s forests have been cut down in the past couple of centuries, leading to flooding and soil erosion.

Air pollution is among the worst in the world in South Korea, with acid rain and fine yellow dust being an issue in Seoul. However, the tap water here is perfectly safe to drink.

A lot of effort has been made towards building a greener economy. This includes reforestation, reducing energy usage, and implementing more environment-friendly fuels, energy systems, and technologies.

Science and technology

Both the technological and scientific development of South Korea have relatively new roots. Essentially, before Korean War, there was next to none of it. Then under Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship in the 1960s, rapid developments, especially in technology, started. This includes the formation of many Chaebol companies (large conglomerates), such as Samsung and LG.

Since then, much of South Korea’s economy has been focused on technology-based corporations. This has been encouraged even through infrastructural developments by the government. As a result, the country is also the leading OECD country regarding citizens graduating in engineering science.

Korean Economy

A country’s growth can be hugely evident through its economy. Below is some information on Korea’s economy and currency.

Korean Won Money

South Korean Economy

The South Korean economy is categorized as a mixed economy that has grown quickly. This result was hugely influenced by Korea’s Chaebol companies and their export-oriented economic strategy. Several sectors contribute to the South Korean economy’s growth up to the present, namely electronic, automobile, shipbuilding, construction, mining, and tourism.

The South Korean economy is the 4th largest GDP in Asia and the 10th largest globally in terms of GDP. It has also been a part of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) since 1996. Along with Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, South Korea is part of the Four Asian Tigers. These countries maintained high growth rates of more than 7% a year when they underwent rapid industrialization between the early 1960s to 1990s.

North Korean Economy

While South Korea’s economy seems to be growing continuously, the North could say the opposite. Their economy is centrally-planned, reflecting their ideology of self-reliance called Juche. Economic liberalization efforts started taking place after Kim Jong Un came to power in 2012.

Korean Currency

The Korean currency is called won. Specifically, South Korean won for South Korea, and North Korean won for the North.

A Brief History of Korea

Korea holds high regard for its culture and tradition. Although times have changed, the Korean culture built from its long history is still very much present. Here’s more to know about Korean history.

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Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/

Three Kingdoms of Korea

The Three Kingdoms of Korea are some of the most important parts of South Korea’s and North Korea’s long and expansive history. It consists of the period from 57 BC to AD 668, when Silla, Baekje, and Goguryeo had split the peninsula into three kingdoms.

Back then, the Korean peninsula reached Manchuria. Baekje and Silla reigned over the southern part of the Korean peninsula, while Goguryeo had control of the northern part. The period of the Three Kingdoms ended with Silla uniting the Korean peninsula into a unified kingdom.

Division of the Korean Peninsula

At the end of World War II, the Korean Peninsula was divided into two. The United States established diplomatic relations and supported South Korea, and the Soviet Union aided North Korea. This move was supposedly temporary and will only last until an agreement on the trusteeship has been established. However, several factors like the Cold War and failed negotiations on the trusteeship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union failed, nullifying the plan to unify the Korean Peninsula once again.

In 1948, the United Nations supervised elections in South Korea, which Syngman Rhee won. This led to the formation of the Republic of Korea in South Korea in August 1948. While in the North, Kim Il Sung took on the role of the leader in Korea, which also led to establishing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in North Korea in September 1948.

The Korean War

The Korean war is known as 6.25 전쟁 (jeonjaeng) which is read as 육이오 전쟁 (yugio jeonjaeng) in Korean or also known as 한국전쟁 (hangukjeonjaeng). The war took place when the Korean peninsula was already divided into two sovereign states, having their own local governments. The North Korean government attacked the South by going beyond their designated border, called the 38th parallel.

Division of the Korean Peninsula U.S. Army

Photo credit: https://https://www.nationalgeographic.org/

When was the Korean War?

The war began in June 1950 when military troops from the North Korean People’s Army invaded South Korea. Their goal was to unify the Korean peninsula under communist control. This attack was initiated by Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, who the USSR largely aided. South Korea was not expecting this attack which left them no choice but to retreat.

When did the Korean War end?

By July 1950, U.S. military soldiers had entered the war on behalf of  South Korea. The war continued while U.S. officials worked on creating a way to hold a treaty with North Korea. The war finally came to an end in July 1953 after a peace treaty was signed by a U.S. Army general and a North Korean military general acting on behalf of Pyongyang and China. Both parties agreed to suspend the war and established the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divided the peninsula.

Almost 5 million military soldiers and civilians lost their lives in this “Forgotten War.” The term was created because this war was overshadowed by World War I and II and the Vietnam War. Up to this day, the Korean Peninsula remains divided into South and North Korea.

Post-Korean War (1960–1990)

The first president of South Korea was Lee Seungman, who ruled the country for 12 years until he was pressured to resign in 1960 during the April 19 Revolution. This led to more than a year’s worth of instability in the government until Park Chung-hee led a coup and took control. Under his dictatorship, Korea’s economy grew exponentially, carried out through political suppression.

Although Korea’s economy strengthened marvelously during his tenure, Park Chung-hee has been criticized heavily for being a ruthless militant dictator. His rule as Korea’s president lasted for 17 years, ending in his assassination.

Several years later, instability continued in Korea’s government. In 1987, a more democratic process for choosing the president via election was finally enforced. The first president to rule South Korea through this implement was No Taewoo. And already in 1988, Seoul was the host of the Olympic Games.

Contemporary Korea

Here are more recent updates in Korea in the 2000s.

South Korea’s relationship with North Korea

Since 2000, more efforts have been made towards restoring the relationship with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or North Korea. This is called the “Sunshine Policy,” crafted by president Kim Dae-Jung. A handful of summits followed this, tightened contact and relations, as well as connected business ventures.

South Korea's relationship with North Korea

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However, after Kim Daejung’s rule as a president ended, the relationship with the North cooled as well. For example, in 2010, South Korea was met with escalations in hostility from North Korea. This meant the sinking of the warship ROKS Cheonan, in which 46 South Korean sailors lost their lives. However, once Moon Jae-in took over the office in 2017, efforts to reconcile with the North began again.

Recent South Korean history

Other recent notable moments in South Korean history include the hosting of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Additionally, in 2012, South Korea elected its first female president, Park Geun-Hye. She is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, the president/dictator who is often credited for a lot of Korea’s rapid economic growth. However, park Geun-Hye ran a hard conservative political line, and she ended up having to resign in 2016 amid a corruption scandal.

South Korea’s Transportation, energy, and infrastructure

Presently, South Korea is one of the most advanced countries in the world. Apart from their economy, it’s also shown through the country’s transportation, energy source, and infrastructure.

Transportation in Korea

South Korea has an excellent and technologically advanced network for transport. Whatever your travel plan is, it will likely be easy to accomplish. Korea overall, with Seoul as an exemplary example, has a well-built public transit system, covering most regions very well.

Traffic Of Seoul City

These are the seasons when the roads are expected to be the most jammed. It’s also tough to get train tickets to just about anywhere.

So exactly what type of transportation options do you have for your travel to Korea? What about public transportation in big cities such as Seoul and Busan?

Seoul Public Transportation

It is without a doubt that Seoul has one of the best public transportation systems in the world. The taxis are relatively cheap, especially by Western standards, and more applications such as KakaoTaxi are constantly popping up, so it’s safer to travel by taxi for travelers.

The city also has an extensive bus network, with the designated color of the bus telling you what type of routes they run. For example, green buses only run through shorter routes between a few designated neighborhoods.

Blue buses go for longer distances, from a side of Seoul to another.

Red buses are slightly more expensive express-like buses that you can use to reach the greater metropolitan areas such as Bundang and Yongin.

Lastly, Seoul has a magnificent subway network that only comes with a flaw: at the moment, it doesn’t run around the clock. As a result, not only can you reach just about any destination within the city by subway, but you can also reach just outside of the main Seoul areas including but not limited to Incheon, Suwon, Ilsan, and Pyeongtaek.

Busan Public Transportation

Busan also has an excellently designed subway network system that you can use to reach nearly every destination on your list – or at least the bus stop from where you can ride the bus to reach that destination.

Travel to Korea by Train On RailwayAs Busan is much smaller than Seoul, fewer lines make it easier to learn to navigate it. The bus network is also broad enough that you don’t have to stress about getting to where you wish to go. However, it is advised to check the route before hopping on board.

You may also consider taking a taxi, but know that the chances they’ll speak English are much lower than in Seoul. That’s another motivating reason for learning Korean!

Train Travel in South Korea

It is almost surprising just how easy it is to travel in Korea just by train. If your budget can allow it, then the KTX (Korea Train Express) is absolutely the fastest and the most comfortable way to travel.

With the KTX, not only can you get to Busan from Seoul in less than three hours, but you can also reach the other cities in South Korea with ease.

Alternatively, cheaper train options like Saemaeul and Mugunghwa also exist if you are on a low budget. Mugunghwa, in particular, is affordable and will make a stop in the smaller towns along the way if that’s where you’re planning to go.

Before buying your tickets, do not forget to do some research on purchasing a KORAIL rail pass. With the pass, your travel to Korea just may become even more convenient and affordable!

Bus Travel in South Korea

Though you may not find every destination on your bucket list to be reachable by train, not to worry! You can most definitely get there by bus.

There are four big bus terminals within Seoul alone from where you can find a bus taking you to just about anywhere in Korea. Due to traffic, it may be a bit longer to reach your destination by bus, but the fares are guaranteed to be affordable, and the buses are almost always comfortable enough.

Ferry From Jeju Island To Mokpo

Also, if the journey you are taking is quite long, the driver will stop at rest areas to let you use the toilet or buy food to eat. Several buses are offered per day for most destinations, and they are unlikely to sell out outside peak season.

Almost every city and town in the country also has its local buses, covering nearly all the areas you may want to go to. However, be aware that they may not run as frequently as buses in Seoul.

Air Travel in South Korea

Of course, a few Korean destinations cannot be reached simply by train and bus. Jeju Island, first and foremost, is one of these destinations.

In Jeju Island especially, you can fly there from any Korean airport and reach it quickly.

Ferry Travel in South Korea

You may also consider taking a ferry. A ferry is an option from Busan, Yeosu, Mokpo, and a few other towns.

A ferry can also reach the other smaller islands in Korea, which are usually easy to get on. Just buy a ticket once you reach the ferry port!

And the most exciting part? You can even reach Japan by ferry from Korea! However, you will have to purchase the tickets ahead, in this instance, as the ferry journey is also longer.

Energy and Infrastructure

Nuclear power accounts for 45% of South Korea’s electricity production. South Korea is among the five largest nuclear power producers in the world. The South is also emerging as an exporter of nuclear reactors, which it actively researches. However, due to pressure from the United States, South Korea does not enrich uranium while producing nuclear power.

Covering all the country’s regions is high-speed railways, highways, and ferry services, with bus and air routes enabling people who travel to get to just about anywhere. In addition, there are service amenities offered at regular intervals, as well as highway tolls. Some railway routes reaching the North have even been reconnected by now. Besides Incheon International Airport, South Korea has three other airports, with Gimpo near Incheon and Busan and Jeju located in the southern region.

Travel and COVID-19

Due to the current state of the world, you may also have some questions about the coronavirus (Covid-19) situation in South Korea. Including how it will affect travel for now and shortly until the global situation is entirely under control.

While we do not want to encourage you to travel for as long as you haven’t had the vaccine for Covid-19 and cases continue to be high, below, you can find some data about how to go about traveling to South Korea during the pandemic.

Traveling to South Korea during the Covid-19 pandemic

Photo credit: https://dw.com

Is it safe to travel to South Korea during the COVID-19 pandemic?

While all nonessential travels are advised against during the Covid-19 pandemic, you will not be at an exceptional risk if you come to South Korea for a reason or another. However, you are strongly advised to have the full vaccine before doing so. Additionally, it would be best to be cautious of your actions, such as social distancing and levels of hygiene, whilst there.

Are there any travel restrictions for South Korea during the COVID-19 pandemic?

There are restrictions for people who wish to travel to South Korea as long as we live in the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the entry requirements that people who travel here is a negative Covid-19 result, taken at most 72 hours before departure. You will also be tested once at the airport and will be required to quarantine for 14 days upon entry regardless if you’ll test positive or not, so do consider that if you’re planning for a trip right now.

As long as Covid-19 is present, you are also required to wear a mask wherever you go. However, South Korea is not in lockdown mode, with bars, restaurants, shops, and public transportation operating relatively normally.

Korea International Travel

Korea provides an excellent base from which to explore other foreign countries. Alternatively, you may be planning a backpacking trip across Asia, with Korea as one of your destinations. Though travel from here may not happen with as much ease as country hopping in Europe would, it is still an excellent choice to make your base. Additionally, due to its location, being further from most countries besides Japan and China, it’s essential to know the best way to travel from Korea to maximize your adventurous fun.

Travel from Korea to Japan

Japan is, of course, the easiest and cheapest country to get to from Korea. As such, there is more than one way to travel there. From Busan, for example, you can ride a ferry to Fukuoka. The ferry ride takes less than 3 hours. Next to Fukuoka is Tsushima, another city in Japan that you can reach by ferry from Korea. Additionally, you can also reach Osaka by ferry from Busan!

But while ferries might be a new and exciting way to travel, it is still more common to fly. Several small airlines, both Korean and Japanese, can bring you to just about any place in the country for a low fare and short travel period.

Seoul, South Korea - April 8, 2018: A Korean Air Boeing 747 PrepUsually, you can get these plane tickets for as low as $100 if flying to Osaka in the off-season, even if the trip is short notice. Tokyo will also amount to less than $200 for a round trip, short notice, or planned. In addition, the flight duration is often less than two hours to a maximum of three hours.

Sapporo and Okinawa are also among some regions that are cheaper and faster to fly to than Tokyo. In either case, if you are looking for a quick weekend getaway to a foreign country, Japan is absolutely the perfect choice if you will travel from Korea. Just keep in mind that things are much pricier in Japan than in Korea!

Travel from Korea to China

Another foreign country fairly close to South Korea is China. Although flying there seems to be just about the only option, it’s not time-consuming. The plane tickets are a little bit more expensive than Japan, at $200 or more, but still very affordable compared to international travel elsewhere in the world.

The main downside of traveling to China is the need for a visa for most countries. Therefore, if you are a traveler just passing through Korea as one of your stops, you’ll likely have to do your research and make preparations before arriving in Korea.

Travel Agent Holding Tickets In Travel AgencyBut for those with valid visas for staying in the country, you can submit your Chinese visa applications right in Korea. In that case, the most you have to think about is applying early enough to complete the process.

This makes China not so good a choice for a spontaneous trip. However, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau are all within easy reach from South Korea and don’t require a visa for most countries. And flying to these countries can be quite cheap.

For example, a round trip plane ticket to Hong Kong will cost you less than $200!

Travel from Korea to South East Asia

Now, there’s no point in denying it: Asia is a vast continent. And while China and Japan might be reachable in under 3 hours from Korea, the rest are not. However, as long as you stay in Korea, Asian countries are still far more affordable to reach than if you flew there directly from home.

In comparison, flying to the Philippines from Europe can easily take $1000 out of your pocket, and the flight still wouldn’t be a direct flight! But travel from Korea? The ticket price ranges between $200 and $400, with many Filipino airlines flying the distance without stopovers.

And as far as continental Southeast Asia goes, many of them are close enough to each other that you only need to fly to one, and then you can use local transportation methods to visit the rest.

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In Vietnam, you can get to Hanoi for as little as $250 on a direct flight, making it a great place to start, especially as it is the easternmost point. Alternatively, in Thailand, Bangkok is less than $300 from South Korea and with no stopovers! Vientiane in Laos is just shy of $300.

Of course, the prices rise as we go further into the peak season, but that’s not the only time of year that’s good to travel!

However, in Indonesia, it is best to take a flight with a stopover, typically in Malaysia. The flight might be longer, but the cost of the flight will remain less than $400.

Note that, oddly enough, a direct flight to Kuala Lumpur costs about as much as using Kuala Lumpur as a stopover point on your way from Seoul to Jakarta or Bali. For Singapore, you will also save a lot of money by not flying direct. Once there, you can take a bus to Malaysia or a ferry to Indonesia!

Best time to Visit Korea

Each season has something different and exciting to offer visitors, so it’s important to determine whether spring, summer, fall, or winter visits would be in your best interest to set yourself up for success and ensure that you have the vacation of your dreams. You may have plans to visit during Korean Thanksgiving, Lunar New Year, and Buddha’s Birthday.

Best time to visit Korea

Read on for some insight into the best season to visit and travel to South Korea when it is already encouraged, and good luck planning your upcoming vacation!

Visit South Korea in Spring

Birds chirping, cherry blossoms blooming, long and warm days – what’s not to love about spring? The country has four distinct seasons, so they experience a proper spring (rather than a couple of temperate weeks between winter and summer). You can generally experience the best parts of Korean spring anytime between early April and mid-June.

In those months, you’ll see cherry blossom trees blooming everywhere you look, and you’ll enjoy warm (but not too hot!) weather, so you’ll be able to explore national parks and outdoor markets without sweating your face off. There are also some pretty amazing outdoor Korean festivals out in the hills away from the cities. Many coincide with the spring because it’s the best season outside without worrying about extreme heat or inclement weather.

You should visit Korea during the spring if your interest is split between indoor and outdoor activities — it’s the perfect season to enjoy shopping and restaurants and then heading out for a hike or festival to wrap up your trip.

Visit Korea in Summer

Summer temperatures will leave you drenched in sweat and running for the air-conditioner every chance you get, so do not book a summer trip if you’re not a fan of the heat. Not to mention, most of the best Korean dishes are spicy, so you won’t have much relief from the sweat while you’re indoors either!

The latter half of summer is the monsoon season, which affects China and Japan more than Korea. That being said, the country still traditionally experiences at least two or three big storms during this season. Fear not, though! A monsoon passing through while you’re on vacation doesn’t mean it’s ruined by any means – it just means you’ll have more time to shop, enjoy restaurants, and experience the best indoor parts of Korean culture.

Best time to visit Korea

There are some benefits to summer travel — due to being an off-peak season, summer flights are usually much less expensive than spring and fall flights from most parts of the world. Therefore, you should visit Korea during the summer if you’re not afraid of the heat and you’d like to save some money on plane fare, so you have more to spend while you’re in the country– you’re still bound to have the best experience ever!

Visit Korea in Fall

While spring is a popular season to visit Korea, the fall is even more popular – the trees turn brilliant colors ranging from rich red to vibrant yellow. The summer heat dissipates and leaves cool, crisp days, and festivals are even easier to come by. Fall is usually warm enough that you can enjoy a stroll about town in a tee shirt and jeans, but it’s also cool enough that you won’t be uncomfortable and can pop on a sweater if you’re so inclined. One of the best parts of visiting Korea is wandering around the city streets to check out different shopping districts and generally explore. It’s best to do that in September through November when the days get shorter and cooler.

If you’d like to be outdoors on your upcoming vacation, consider making your trip in September or October – both months have an average temperature ranging between 50 and 75 degrees, so by then, it’s best to get outside and see what this interesting country is all about!

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Visit Korea in Winter

Without sugar coating – winter sinks its claws into Korea at the beginning of December, and it makes it pretty miserable to go outside for a solid three months. While it’s not impossible by any means to venture outside in this period, your skin will definitely be a bit red from the brisk temperature when you make it to your final destination!

Because the Korean culture has so much to offer in terms of music, movies, and indoor shopping, there’s still plenty to do in the winter – if you’re not afraid of the cold and come well-equipped with multiple layers and a good winter coat, you’ll have an amazing experience. Also, don’t forget that most Korean food is pretty up there in terms of spiciness – eating spicy food is a hundred times more fun in the winter than it is in the summer, so you’ll have to eat your way around town to counteract the cold.

Winter is also an off-peak season to travel, so you’re bound to find similar deals on airfare and lodging as you would when you travel in the summer. Consider making your trek in the winter if you’re used to winter and can’t be scared off by a little snow – you won’t be disappointed!

What is the best month to visit Korea?

The fall and spring are the best seasons to visit Korea. September, October, and November have mild temperatures with little rain. On the other hand, the spring months of April, May, and June are great for clear skies and seeing the cherry blossoms.

Nami Island

Best Places to Visit in Korea

Make sure you add these spots to your itinerary for your next South Korean trip!

Gwangalli Beach (광안리 해수욕장 | gwangalli haesuyokjang)

When people first head to Busan, they usually head straight for Haeundae Beach. However, if you fancy a less crowded, more authentic experience, you should head to Gwangalli Beach instead.

Gwangan Bridge, Busan (광안대교 | gwangandaegyo)

At night-time, Gwangalli comes alive as locals visit the many fish restaurants on the beachfront. Looking out to sea, you can see the Gwangan Bridge, which is lit up in different colors, making for some great night photos.

Busan’s annual fireworks display is also held on the bridge, meaning that the best views are had from Gwangalli beach. The beach is within walking distance from Gwangan subway station (광안역 | gwanganyeok).

Kyeonghwa Station, Jinhae (경화역 | gyeonghwayeok)

If cherry blossoms are your thing, then visiting Jinhae during the cherry blossom festival is a must. One of the most scenic spots to see the cherry blossoms is Kyeonghwa station, where the track is lined with cherry blossom trees, ready for budding photographers to grab the perfect snap of the falling white and pink blossoms.

Gongryong Ridge, Seorak Mountain National Park (공룡능선 | gongnyongneungseon)

Its name literally means “dinosaur ridge,” and it certainly lives up to that description. The jagged peaks of the ridge sour above the clouds look like the back of a stegosaurus. It may be a tough climb at over 1,200 meters above sea level, but the views from the top are worth it.

For climbers with not quite as much time or energy, the nearby Ulsanbawi (울산바위) is an easier (though still very very vertical) climb with spectacular views at the top. After the climb, you can take a rest in the nearby hot springs or relax on the beaches at Sokcho, and you will definitely feel as though you deserve it.

Nami Island, Gapyeong (남이섬 | namiseom)

Nami Island 01

Made famous by the hugely successful drama Winter Sonata (겨울연가 | gyeoullyeonga), which was the first internationally popular Korean drama when it was launched in 2002, Nami Island is still visited by fans of the show. The tree-lined road where Yonsama and Choi Ji-Woo rode their bicycle, or the bench where they made snowmen, is the most popular photo spot, but the rest of the island is equally picturesque.

Gapyeong is easily reached from Seoul, and from there, you can either take a ferry to the island or, if you are feeling adventurous, reach the island by taking a zip-line across the river!

Ulleung Island (울릉도 | ulleungdo)

If you manage to visit here, you will definitely earn some kudos from any Korean you speak with. Ulleung Island is located in the middle of the ocean, halfway between the Korean mainland and Japan.

To reach the island, you need to take a four-hour-long ferry from Pohang or Donghae. The trip is certainly worth it though, entering the harbor makes you feel like an extra in a pirate movie. The island’s fresh food, clean air, and sea breezes will refresh also the most tired visitor, and the views are unforgettable. If you truly love adventure, then Ulleung Island is a must-visit.

Bulguksa, Gyeongju (불국사 | bulguksa)

If you are interested in Korean history, Gyeongju will likely be one of the first places on your “to-see” list. The old part of the city contains no skyscrapers, and within a certain area, all buildings must have a traditional Korean roof, even gas stations!

Bulguksa Temple

Gyeongju’s main attraction is Bulguksa Temple, the spiritual home of Korean Buddhism. Along with the temple, the Seokgulam (석굴암) grotto, located halfway up a nearby mountain, is also a must-see when visiting Gyeongju.

Seopjikoji and Seongsan Sunrise Peak, Jeju Island (섭지코지) (성산일출봉 | seongsanilchulbong)

There are so many places to visit on Jeju Island that they could almost warrant an article by themselves. One of the best places to visit on the island (and in the country) is Seopjikoji. This coastal walk has been featured in many dramas, and you will find many young couples taking romantic strolls along the cliff-top. From here, you can also see a famous site on Jeju Island: Seongsan Sunrise Peak. This volcanic crater has almost sheer vertical drops on three of its four sides and looks spectacular at dawn when the sun appears from behind it.

Boseong Green Tea Field, Boseong (보성 녹차밭 | boseong nokchabat)

Boseong Green Tea Fields

This corner of Jeolla province is where almost all of Korea’s green tea comes from, and the hillside around the town is covered with rows upon rows of luscious tea plants. The greenery makes for great photos, but a visit to the fields also lets you taste the green tea at its absolute freshest. A trip here is a must for tea aficionados!

Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan (자갈치시장 | jagalchisijang)

오이소, 보이소, 사이소 (oiso, boiso, saiso) reads the entrance sign in classic Busan dialect: Come! Look! Buy! It didn’t mention “smell!” which is surprising for anyone who has ever visited a fish market before. The fish market and nearby international market (국제시장 | gukjesijang) are the best places to experience the hustle and bustle of this dynamic port city.

You can also eat the freshest fish possible here, or if that isn’t fresh enough for you, you can try the live octopus (산낙지 | sannakji) whose tentacles are still wriggling and squirming even when your chopsticks are holding them. The market can be reached by taking a subway to Jagalchi subway station (자갈치역 | jagalchiyeok).

Is South Korea Safe?

Generally, South Korea is quite safe. However, there are some things you should know before you head out to this part of the world. Here’s what you should be prepared for.

Violent Crime in South Korea

The good news is that the South has very little crime for you to worry about compared to some other popular tourist destinations. In addition, guns are not legal for citizens to carry on them, so you don’t have to worry about being mugged or robbed while you’re out and about on the town.

People at the check-in area of an airport

Believe it or not, tourists are rarely targeted even when these crimes do happen – it could be because you never really know what to expect when interacting with someone from another place! As long as you keep an eye on your valuables as you would in any major city that you’re not familiar with, you’ll be totally fine.

Traffic in South Korea

However, just because you don’t have to worry about being cornered in a dark alley doesn’t mean you should let your guard down! Be particularly aware of cars when you’re navigating the city as a pedestrian. You haven’t seen aggressive driving until a distracted driver has almost hit you in Seoul, so make sure cars see you before you cross the street – yes, even in a crosswalk! Just because you have the right of way doesn’t mean the driver of that fast red car isn’t going to try to cut you off.

Taxis in South Korea

Make sure you are particularly conscious of taxis – not only do taxis seem to ignore the most common driving rules, but South Korean taxi drivers also got a bad reputation a few years ago for being involved in tourist muggings.

People walking across a crosswalk

Something you can do to keep yourself away from surprises is to have your GPS on your phone while you’re in the backseat of a cab so you can see for yourself that you’re on the right route. That’s not to say that all taxis are dangerous by any means – just keep your street smarts about you, and you’ll be fine. If a situation feels weird to you, leave. That’s all there is to it!

Daily life in Korea

What if, after your South Korean trip, you’re so in love that you feel the need to move to the city on a more permanent basis? No one will blame you – there’s so much to love! That being said, if you’re planning on staying in the South for more than a few months, you’re probably wondering about some other safety issues that don’t pop up if you’re just stopping by on vacation. We’ll cover them below!

Is it dangerous to be close to North Korea?

So, what about North Korea? If you’ve heard anything about the northern part of the peninsula in the news lately, it has probably been about the potential of nuclear attack or threats of war from the North Korean government. To put it mildly, North and South Korea aren’t huge fans of each other – but, that being said, how worried should you really be?

North Korean government building

If you’ve lived in the Western world until now, you should know that the media in the West depicts North Korean threats as crazy, serious issues that should be dealt with RIGHT NOW. On the other hand, South Korea is way more relaxed about North Korea’s empty threats – they’ve been dealing with various North Korean officials trying to intimidate them for seventy years on and off, so it’s nothing new to them.

Don’t let the tension between North and South Korea keep you from experiencing South Korean life – it’s not as huge of a threat to day-to-day life as you think. Also, don’t forget that the North is threatening most of the Western world every now and then, too – it’s not like the South is the only one they’re directing their anger at!

Weather in South Korea

If you’re thinking of moving to Korea, you’re also probably wondering about extreme weather. The most you’d have to worry about is a typhoon (better known as a tropical storm) – typhoon season happens throughout the summer and fall every year.

While typhoons result in a ton of rain and can occasionally result in some lasting property damage, it doesn’t happen all that often and won’t be something you have to deal with regularly. Just know whether you live in an area that can be affected by flooding and be prepared! Preparation is 90% of safety.

Whether you’re planning on moving to South Korea or making a quick trip, you’re bound to have an amazing experience a way of life that’s unlike anything you’ve experienced before. Use these tips to feel excited and comfortable about your stay – there’s nothing to worry about if you’re knowledgeable, prepared, and aware!

Things to do in South Korea

There are plenty of things that you can do when you visit the South. However, it may depend greatly on when you plan to visit and what you plan to do.

Sunny day at Gwanganli Beach in South Korea

If ever you’re visiting during summer, there are different beaches you can go to for some sunbathing! However, if you prefer indoor activities, you can watch movies in movie theaters or visit Korean museums. If you’ve arrived in Korea but you’re unsure what you can do there, worry not, for we have compiled a list of the fun things you can do in Korea. It may become difficult for you to decide where to go and may end up missing the great spots for tourists to visit, so it’s best if you plan out your itinerary carefully for your next Korean trip!

Moving to Korea

Moving to an entirely different place can be quite nerve-wracking but also exciting! If you plan to move permanently, it’s best to know what to pack for Korea ahead. This is especially important if you came from a country with a different environment, especially when it comes to the seasons in Korea. Unless you already have a place to stay, getting an apartment in Korea is also considered beforehand.

Everyday Life in Korea

Curious about what everyday life is like in Korea? It’s a unique country with lots of opportunities for everyone. Adventure or relaxation, young or old, short trip or permanent move—all is possible!

Before you consider living the Korean life, you might be curious about the cost of living in Korea or if the country is safe. Like many places worldwide, there are interesting facts you can find out in South Korea. You’ll be able to know about those when you read or watch stories about South Korea but most especially when you’re living there.

Life in Korea for foreigners may be challenging at first, given the adjustment to a different country. You need to set up plenty of things, like opening a bank account in Korea, or if you plan to have one, you should also know about the Korean credit card. These are relevant for your daily life in Korea, which may help you purchase food via delivery services or order online via GMarket. There are also Korean apps that are helpful for your everyday life in Korea that you should have on your phone!

What does the Korean expression 금연구역 mean near “no smoking” areas?

Festivals & Events in Korea

There are plenty of Korean festivals to attend, no matter which season. We’ve got them all covered for you!

Since the country has four seasons, there are respective festivals and events to look out for too! One beautiful event in Korea during springtime is when cherry blossoms start to bloom. If you’re planning to visit soon, it’s best to consider going when festivals happen to make your vacation extra memorable!

Jobs in Korea

You might be headed to Korea to work. If that’s the case, some recruiters can help you land the perfect job in Korea. The majority of the jobs in Korea for foreigners are English teachers. Teaching English also covers different areas like teaching at a University, working as a tutor, or teaching English online. However, it’s always best to learn about the Korean work culture beforehand regardless of your job.

Food & Drink in Korea

If you’re a foodie, you’re going to love Korea. But, with so many tasty options, the main thing you’ll run out of is space in your stomach.

Hanjeongsik meal in Seoul, south Korea

The country is known for its amazing cuisine. What’s great about it is that you can find the best food from famous restaurants and street food carts. If you haven’t yet, you should try the popular Korean dish, bibimbap. Perhaps after a pleasant stroll, you’re up for coffee or desserts like ice cream instead of a heavy meal. Also, if you’re only staying in Seoul, there are still plenty of choices of restaurants that you can visit for dinner or brunch, or anytime you prefer!

Korean Language

Everything in this guide is jam-packed with stuff you’ll need, love, or both! We also include some essential Korean words, phrases, and descriptions inside the articles to help you understand Korean. We do that because everything is still written primarily in Korean, so it’ll help you communicate better.

The other reason is there is a lot of meaning embedded inside some of the everyday languages, so knowing a few words and phrases here and there will help you understand Korea better.

Can’t read the Korean Alphabet? Not to worry! This complete guide was written, so you don’t need to know a single Korean letter. And if you like to learn Hangeul (Korean Alphabet), we’ve got an awesome guide that teaches you in 1 hour. Knowing how to read the Korean alphabet will make it easier to learn how to speak Korean.

If you like to learn the Korean language, you can also check out language exchange cafes!

Can't read Korean yet? Click here to learn for free in about 60 minutes!

Shopping in Korea

Polish up your shopping shoes, and bring out your Sunday best--it’s time for the shopping good times to begin!

There are various shopping areas in Seoul and throughout the country. You can buy stuff from luxurious items to beauty products under $20 in different locations. Clothes, beauty products, souvenirs to bring back home can be found in shopping districts and night markets in South Korea. If you’re into Korean fashion, these are the areas you should visit!” The Land of the Morning Calm

South Korean National Pension System

Like many other countries, the pension system in South Korea seeks to offer benefits to citizens after reaching a certain age. However, it is also intended to provide relief to families and those who have lost their household’s primary salary maker to death. The structure is built on taxation and relates to income.

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Photo credit: https://charactermedia.com

There are currently four categories through which these pension benefits are distributed: national, military personnel, governmental, and, lastly, private school teachers. For the national pension, citizens between 18 and 59 residing in South Korea are eligible.

The national pension scheme is further divided into four categories enumerated below:

1. Workplace-insured

The amount of monthly earnings that go into the national pension is 9% of their salary. 4.5% of this is paid by the employee and 4.5% by the employer.

2. Individually insured

To qualify for this scheme, the person must be not employed, over 60, or otherwise excluded from the National Pension Act.

3. Voluntarily insured

This scheme mainly consists of retirees who have chosen to get additional benefits, the spouses of those covered by the other three primary pension schemes, and those under 27 without an income.

4. Voluntarily and continuously insured

Citizens under this scheme are individuals over 60 who wish to fulfill the minimum 20 years insured to start receiving old-age benefits.

Now that you know more about The Land of the Morning Calm, including the current Covid-19 situation, check out the other great articles we’ve got on the Korean language and culture here!

    17 replies to "South Korea – History, facts, and modern life on the peninsula"

    • Avatar for dhilsha dhilsha

      I want to live in south korea and to follow their culture and also to speak their language fluently

    • Avatar for Karen Leanne Sandberg Karen Leanne Sandberg

      About South Korea guided is South Korea is a country that is located in East Asia.The official name for the country is the Republic of Korea. A population of over 51 million makes this the 27th largest country in the world based on population.Seoul is the country’s capital,and it is also the most populous city in the country.Korean (한국말 hangungmal in South Korea, 조선말 chosŏnmal in North Korea, or 우리말 urimal (our language) as a neutral denomination) is spoken in South and North Korea.This guide is based on the standard in South Korea.Most Koreans are very proud of their country and language, and would love it if more people could speak Korean.As a result,there are plenty of people who are willing to teach you Korean.Especially in Seoul,South Korea,it is quite easy to find free Korean classes.Korean used to be the neglected language among the East Asian group.There is a lot of interest in Korean.That is why I put together this guide on how to learn Korean and speak like a native Asian people.Since the writing part of Korean is relatively simple,you can spend a lot more time developing your speaking skills.Here you can take a look at a list of courses to learn Korean at different levels. (Bonus tip: many Koreans will want to try out their English on you and this is perfect if you want to speak with them in Korean.It’is the perfect opportunity for language exchange:You learning Korean and they will learn English!Korean is a great language to learn at the moment.The country is growing and its culture is becoming more and more popular.You will be glad you made the choice.And last, the secret ingredient is: practice, practice, practice.Yes, it will be hard work to learn Korean.But it is very rewarding when you finally understand your favorite drama or sing along your favorite song. And even more so when you go to North Korea/South Korea and everyone is surprised and asks you: “Where did you learn Korean so well?!”

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        Wow! Thanks for your detailed explanations, Karen! ^^

    • Avatar for malyke malyke

      how do you say malyke in korean

      • Avatar for Malyke Malyke

        can so one tell me how to say malyke in korean

        • Avatar for Sandy Davidson Sandy Davidson

          Malyke, names are proper nouns so there isn’t going to be a Korean translation. Unless your name happens to be a common adjective, verb etc. such as Chase, Grace, Sandy, Amber, Iris and such. While those “names” would have a Korean equivalent, your name wouldn’t change to said equivalent word.

          It’s a bit of an un-glamorous answer but hope that helps.

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        Hi Malyke! Please follow our instructions: 1. Try to sound out and write your name in Korean (한글). If you can’t read Korean, you can learn the Korean alphabet here, 90daykorean.com/learn-korean-alphabet. 2. please tell us how to pronounce your name! ^^

    • Avatar for Mukhtiar Singh Mukhtiar Singh

      I need the job

    • Avatar for Avagelina Avagelina

      I love Korean and I want to live in Korean and speak in Korean language?

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        Great! 화이팅, Avagelina! ^^

      • Avatar for Korea Korea

        I love ? everything about Korea and its culture

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