South Korea, Asia - Stein Travel
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South Korea

An intriguing land of ancient ruins, romantic legends, natural wonders, breathtaking landscapes and teeming modern cities, the Republic of Korea can trace its history back half a million years.

Tourists are discovering with delight the hidden treasures of the southern half of the mountainous Korean peninsula, which pokes southwards from the eastern end of the Asian continent. South Korea has been separated from North Korea by a demilitarised zone since 1953, and has flourished to become a stable and mature democracy, home to 50-million people who are spread across its nine provinces, concentrated in seven mega-cities. Previously dubbed 'the hermit kingdom', South Korea is now flaunting its bright plumage like a proud peacock.

Largest of the metropoles, and the area most frequented by visitors, is the capital, Seoul, the world's tenth largest city, where ancient shrines nestle beneath soaring skyscrapers. This seething city, ringed by mountains, offers hundreds of attractions and experiences, vibrant nightlife and unforgettable dining.

The least populated area of the country is Gangwon-do Province on the eastern side of the Peninsula, where remote forested mountains and valleys are studded with small towns. This area, which played host to the Asian Winter Games in 1999, is fast becoming one of the worlds most sought after skiing destinations. The rest of the year visitors are drawn to the province's magnificent beaches and scenic hiking trails.

Another area rich in tourist attractions is the south-eastern region, with its wealth of archaeological treasures. Gyeongju, ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom, is an open-air museum boasting tombs, temples, pagodas and ruins dating from as early as 57 BC. The Bomun Lake Resort with its luxury hotels is a fine base from which to explore the area. New resort complexes are currently under construction to open up this fascinating area even more to tourism.

Those seeking a romantic getaway should head for South Korea's resort island, Jejudo, known as 'little Hawaii' because of its subtropical vegetation, volcanic landscape, sandy beaches and sparkling waterfalls. The island is dominated by the towering Mount Halla volcano, but visitors need not fear a natural disaster - the volcano was last active in 1007!

Information & Facts


The increase in trade with Western countries has meant that Koreans do not expect visitors to understand all the nuances of their culture, however they are appreciated. Koreans dress conservatively and formally and it is important to do the same. Koreans like to do business with people whom they know and often introductions via a third known party are necessary. Greetings often consist of a bow, followed by a handshake. Introductions are very important and ascertain the hierarchy, often according to age, which is to be observed and respected. Often the most important person will be introduced first. Greeting in Korean, 'an-yong-ha-say-yo' (hello), and 'kam-sa-ham-ni-da' (thank you), is a good way to earn respect. Business card etiquette is vital; they should be given and received with both hands, with the details translated from English into Korean or Chinese on the alternate side, and must be treated with the utmost respect. Each one is to be read carefully and the name acknowledged. It is important, when issuing cards, not to stack them or keep them in one's wallet or purse. Koreans are referred to by their surnames or family names first and then their given names second and it is best to ask in advance how to address the person. The giving of gifts is appreciated and often reciprocated. Business hours are generally 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday.


The climate in Korea is temperate with four very distinct seasons. South Korea has a continental climate characterised by very cold, dry winters and very hot, humid summers. Spring and autumn are relatively short and temperatures are mild and generally quite pleasant making autumn and spring the most comfortable seasons to visit South Korea. Koreans pride themselves in their four distinct seasons. Spring is generally quite short and occurs in late March and early April. South Korean summers arrive suddenly in late April and are warmed by moist, warm prevailing winds from the Pacific Ocean. Typhoon season is from June to September and while South Korea doesn't experience typhoons like those in Southeast Asia the southern parts of the peninsula do experience a lot of rain. In fact, most of the rain falls in summer during a monsoon season known as 'jangma'. Autumn passes through the peninsula from late September through October with the winter setting in sooner in northern areas such as Seoul, and autumn lasting longer for the southern cities, such as Busan. South Korean winters are harsh with temperatures dropping below freezing and icy winds blowing in from Siberia. Mountainous areas as well as the northern areas of the country experience some snowfall but the southern parts and costal regions experience little to no winter snowfall.


The international dialling code for South Korea is +82, and the outgoing code is 001 or 002 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 00144 for the UK). The outgoing code when using some mobile phones is 00700. City or area codes are in use, e.g. (0)2 for Seoul. Telecommunications are well developed and call boxes accepting both cash and cards are prevalent. Internet cafes are widely available. Although mobile telephones are widely used by locals, there is no GSM network and foreign phones will not usually work in the country, even when on international roaming. Local mobile phones may be rented.


English is not widely spoken or understood, so if you plan to use taxis or other local services it is wise to have instructions written down in Korean. It is advisable to carry some form of identification at all times. Social harmony is crucial, and public anger or criticism that causes an individual to 'lose face' or dignity is a serious breach of etiquette. Koreans will go out of their way to maintain a comfortable situation.

Duty Free

Travellers (over the age of 19) arriving in South Korea may bring in the following items free of customs duty: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco products; 57g perfume; 1 litre of alcohol (only those over 20 years old); and gifts valued at not more than 400, 000 won. Products from communist countries are prohibited, as are fruit, seeds and any published or recorded material deemed to be subversive or obscene.


Electrical current is 110 or 220 volts, 60Hz. Most hotels operate on 220 volts.


There are no required vaccinations for entry to Korea and standards of medical care are high. Payment for treatment is usually expected in advance. Medical insurance with provision for repatriation is also recommended. Hepatitis A and typhoid inoculations are recommended, and there is a small risk of malaria is some areas. Outbreaks of bird flu have been confirmed throughout the country, but no human infections have been reported. The risk to travellers is low, but as a precaution visitors should ensure that all poultry and egg dishes are well cooked, and contact with live birds is avoided. Tap water is chlorinated but may cause stomach upsets, therefore it is preferable to drink bottled water. Food should be well cooked and milk boiled.


The official language is Korean.


South Korea's monetary unit is the won (KRW). Currency can be exchanged at most banks and at casinos, and travellers cheques cashed at authorised banks and hotels. Most merchants in the cities accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express credit cards, but Koreans traditionally prefer cash. ATMs at banks are usually accessible only during banking hours, and instructions on the machines are generally only in Korean. Public ATMs at convenience stores and subway stations are generally available 24 hours. US Dollars are an accepted form of foreign currency and can be used as US Dollars in the areas around the American Military bases in South Korea.

Passport Visa

All visitors require a valid passport, a return or onward ticket, sufficient funds, all documents for the next destination and a contact address in South Korea. Those requiring a visa should obtain one from a Korean Embassy or Consulate before entering the country. Visas are not required if passenger holds an APEC Business Travel Card, provided the back of the card states validity for travel to South Korea. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.


Most visits to South Korea are trouble-free. The crime rate against foreigners is low, but it is still advisable to use sensible precautions particularly in safeguarding passports, money and credit cards in crowded areas. There has been an increased number of rapes reported in the nightlife areas of Seoul, as well as in private homes and travellers should be cautious, particularly at night, travelling only in legitimate taxis or public transport. The political situation is generally stable but since the Korean peninsula was divided by a demilitarised zone in 1953, tensions have risen and fallen on occasion. It is wise to be informed about current conditions. You should carry some form of identification at all times and ensure your next-of-kin details have been entered into the back of your passport.


Local time is GMT +9.


Tipping is not customary in Korea. Sometimes, expensive restaurants and luxury hotels may add a service charge of 10%. Taxi drivers are usually tipped if they assist with baggage.

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