Top events in South Korea

April
01

The National Theatre of Korea provides monthly opportunities to experience traditional Korean narrative songs or 'pansori'. In this traditional...

April
01

Foodies will enjoy this Seoul event showcasing the best traditional and new cuisine from Korea and around the world. Cooks compete in various...

April
07

This curious event occurs due to a once a year low tide, which causes a walkway to appear that offers passage from the mainland to an island...

Seokguram Grotto, South Korea
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Seokguram Grotto, South Korea

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South Korea Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

99,720 sq km (38,502 sq miles) excluding demilitarised zone.

Population

49 million (2013).

Population density

490.9 per sq km.

Capital

Seoul.

Government

Republic since 1945.

Head of state

President Park Geun-hye since 2013.

Head of government

Prime Minister Lee Wan Koo since 2015.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 60Hz. Round two-pin plugs are used.

South Korea can come across as inscrutable at first glance. It’s a land of stark contrasts and wild contradictions; a place where tradition and technology are equally embraced; where skyscrapers loom over ancient temples; and where the frantic pace of life is offset by the serenity of nature. The country’s unique customs and etiquette can seem like a trap laid for foreigners, but arrive with a smile and a respectful attitude and you will be welcomed with open arms by some of the friendliest folk on the planet.

Koreans are fiercely proud of their country, and with good reason. The Korean peninsula has a storied history and this colourful heritage is woven into the fabric of this land. The capital, Seoul, is home to a number of historic highlights, including the spectacular Joseon-era Gyeongbokgung Palace, “the great south gate” of Namdaemun and the eerie Seodaemun Prison – all tucked away amid gleaming offices, giant shopping centres, world-class restaurants and hipster bars.

The rest of the country is also littered with fortresses, temples and palaces. Visitors will enjoy the grassy burial mounds of ancient kings in Gyeongju, the Seokbulsa Temple in Busan, which has been carved out of a rock, and the infamous demilitarised zone, a biodiverse no-man’s-land separating South and North Korea. It is a scary place, where acres of barbed wire are patrolled by heavily-armed guards on both sides, yet the tension is so trumped up it feels like you’ve stumbled onto a Hollywood film set.

But it's not all about history. When it comes to nature, South Korea is wonderfully diverse, with spectacular national parks, remote sandy beaches, hot spring islands and rugged mountain peaks. Gastronomes are well catered for, too, but you may have to open your mind before your mouth; local specialities include kimchi (pickled cabbage) and makgeolli (rice wine).

South Korea can sometimes seem like the most foreign place on Earth; an unfathomable destination of curious customs, strange food and jarring paradoxes. Ultimately, that’s what makes it so exciting.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 31 March 2015

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.


Crime

Although the crime rate in the Republic of Korea is low, pick pocketing, purse snatching, assault, burglary (in hotel rooms and private residences), and other crime occur, particularly in major towns and cities. Take normal safety precautions and make sure valuables are secure especially in tourist areas, like Itaewon and other large markets.

Incidents of rape have been reported in popular nightlife districts of Seoul, as well as in private residences. Take care when travelling alone at night and only use legitimate taxis or public transport.

For emergency assistance, call 112 for police (an interpretation service is available during working hours) and 119 for ambulance and fire. The Korean National Police operates a 24-hour, 7 day a week central interpretation centre where foreigners can report crimes telephone: 112).

Political situation

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean peninsula has been divided by a de-militarised zone (DMZ) separating the DPRK and the Republic of Korea. Peace has been maintained under an Armistice Agreement.

The level of tension on the Korean peninsula can change with little notice. It increased after the sinking of the South Korean Navy Ship Cheonan and an artillery attack against Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, when DPRK carried out two missile tests in 2012, and a nuclear test in 2013. More recently the DPRK threatened to nullify the Korean War Armistice Agreement in April 2013. However, in recent months the level of tension has reduced.

Civil emergency exercises

The South Korean authorities normally hold nationwide civil emergency exercises on the 15th day of the month, eight times a year (not January, February, July or December). Sirens are sounded, transport stopped and some people are asked to take shelter in metro stations or basements. Shelters in Seoul are marked with a special symbol. Participation by foreign nationals in the exercises is not obligatory but you should familiarise yourself with the procedures and check local announcements for further exercises.

Road travel

You’ll need an International Driving Permit to drive in South Korea. Make sure you have fully comprehensive insurance.

Car and motorbike drivers are presumed to be at fault in accidents involving motorcycles or pedestrians. Criminal charges and heavy penalties are common when accidents result in injury, even if guilt is not proved. Watch out for motorcycles travelling at speed on pavements.

Taxi drivers tend to speak little or no English. Have your destination written in Korean, if possible with a map.

In 2012 there were 5,392 road deaths in South Korea (source: DfT). This equates to 11 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2012.

Mobile telephones

Older (non-3G) phones bought outside South Korea will not normally work in the country, and fitting foreign phones with local SIMs (e.g. to avoid roaming fees) is not usually possible.

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