South Korea: Introduction
About South Korea
The Western world may be chatting away on Samsung mobiles, driving new Hyundai cars and watching Daewoo DVD players, but the country these consumer goods all come from – South Korea – remains a bit of a blank on most travellers’ maps, even though it’s one of the most compelling destinations in in the Far East.
Located on a dramatic, mountainous peninsula between Japan and China, South Korea presents a curious mix of ancient and modern. Its capital, Seoul, is a teeming megalopolis of skyscrapers and multi-lane freeways, but behind the towers of glass and concrete lurk numerous thousand-year-old vestiges of an illustrious Buddhist civilization every bit as technologically advanced, for its time, as contemporary South Korea is in today’s world.
In striking contrast to the cutting-edge modernity of the cities, this is also a country of keen outdoor enthusiasts who make the most of their national parks, where tracts of rugged mountains and pine forest make ideal terrain for treks, biking and winter sports.
While the north is alpine in appearance and climate, the south – the region’s ginseng belt – is tropical. Rice paddy surrounds snug farming villages, where you’ll see locals in baggy overalls and conical straw hats bending knee-deep in expanses of reflective water and vivid green rice shoots. And the coastline is spectacular, too, with numerous white-sand beaches, fringed by coral reefs, turquoise seas and volcanic rock formations.
The reason most foreigners travel to South Korea, however, is for a glimpse of its superb ancient monuments – the largest collection of which centres of the city of Gyeongju, whose streets are studded with magnificent historic shrines, tombs and palaces. While you’re there, be sure to sample the scrumptious national dish – kimchi – a spicy concoction of Chinese cabbage or firey white raddish, mixed with chestnuts, turnips, fish flakes and red pepper.
Area: 98480 sq km (Just less than half of the UK’s)
Population: 48.3 million (About 13 million less than the UK)
Religions: Buddhism (25%), Christianity (25%). Others include Confucianism, Shamanism and Chondogyo though around 50% of the population claim to have no religion
Languages: Korean. A varying degree of English is understood. One can get by with English in major cities but not in remoter parts
Time: +9 hrs (GMT)
When to go
The most comfortable months to visit are between late March and May and from September through to early November. The temperatures are comparatively mild (though there can be significant variance between night and day) and the skies clear. December through to March is cold and dry, though the north and east sees heavy snow. From June to September the country is hot and humid and the monsoon occurs around late June to early July. During this time the peninsula receives half its annual rainfall!
Getting to South Korea
Asiana Airlines and Korean Air offer direct flights from the UK. Indirect options are available via Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Flight time is about 11-11.5hrs
Private transfers and sightseeing
Our tours of Korea generally make use of a private car with an experienced driver and an English-speaking guide. Sometimes a ‘seat in coach’ tour is also used as private tours can be costly.
South Korea has a highly developed, fast and punctual rail system. Train travel is recommended.
A good network of internal flights link many of the major cities.
Ferries travel to Japan and China.
Korea has a good network of well maintained roads. Chauffeured car travel is used in more remote areas. Cars can be hired but you need an international licence. We advise against driving in the major cities.