Have A Good Time – Try Korea!
Traveling in Korea
- Recommendations and Advices to Have A Good Time!
The best way to experience that beautiful country is just to: ‘Pack your suitcase’, ‘Take your baggage’ and ‘Fly to Korea!’ Make your own experience and be fascinated of an old & very young culture.
I have been to Korea 7 times, and I made experiences of about 15,000 kilometers in general by traveling through the country. I made group tour by bus, tour with a German friend of mine who also had much experiences in Korean life – his wife is Korean. My last experience was by going completely alone: by train, by foot, by car and taxi.
Now I can recommend to everyone who wants to make experience of authentic life in Korea: “Go on an individual tour through the country!” If you can speak English, it is really no problem! Do not hesitate. In the cities you can find many younger people speaking English fluently. In little villages sometimes it may be a problem, but in my point of view, it’s no real problem because some ways of communication are always possible! I have been in a farmer’s house near Namwon city a few years ago – the people didn’t speak English, and I did not speak Korean – but I had 2 wonderful days, and we all had a lot of fun
Leave your personal “Glasses of View” at Home!
Another recommendation I would like to make is to leave your personal “Glasses of View” at home! If you go to another country just to look what is better or worse than staying at home, I say: “Just stay at home!” Other places are not better or worse than home, they are just different! Be open to new cultures and ways of life. See what people do, and how they live. Don’t compare it, just be curious for new. Stay together with the people all day. And try to understand other cultures and their point of view.
Today, from my practices, I can compare the different ways of traveling through Korea: Going in a group may be good for a 1st contact to Korea. If you fear the contact due to insufficient knowledge of Korean culture and traditions, it is not a bad idea to go by a guided bus tour. Also you can share your experience with other travelers from your country. But if you decide to go alone, it is also a good way – and that is my 2nd recommendation – to make always “minbak (home stay)”. Staying in a family house brings you interesting “inner sights” of Korean culture. Minbak is very good experience because you can make friends and you can be a “part of the family” for a limited time. You will have a feeling to be integrated and not to be a lonely foreigner in a hotel with hundreds of other lonely foreigners.
That can be very boring!
Traveling with friend is also a good idea. Stay in a ” yeogwan (an inn)” – that is an authentic small Korean guesthouse which is always clean even they are really cheap! No luxury, maybe no western bed – but believe me: you will survive! Koreans still sleep well and stay alive over 5,000 years with that “ondol bang” sleeping practice. If you once try it – you will like it. Or – if you and your friend both make minbak in different families, you can also compare the living style in Korea which is varying from modern western style to very traditional. That is also amazing – a modern and traditional style live peaceful together.
So less time and so many amazing places?
Out of my experiences, I must say: when traveling individually, try to have courage for a gap. You cannot see all, but if you plan well, you can see much! My recommendation is: stay in Seoul, leave the big luggage there, and go with a small bag for one or two day trip into the country! Many interesting places are also in the surrounding area of Seoul in the Gyeonggi-do province. You can find wonderful temples, picturesque art from former ages and many beautiful handcraft factories, e.g. the pottery village of Icheon (don’t mix up with the city Incheon which sounds similar).
To stay mainly in Seoul is maybe an uncommon advice, because many people think Seoul is a big ocean of skyscrapers and houses and shopping malls, overcrowded by millions of people and filled up with a 24 hours traffic jam, but I cannot agree: Seoul is a mega city and has so much more! There are so many greens in the palace gardens, in the public parks, and if you see and look around with open eyes, you will find lots of plants everywhere at every edge in the city. Look at Nam-mountain which is located in the middle of the heart of the city, or at Olympic park at the South-East: so much greens and relaxing zones and places with beautiful sight, especially in the afternoon. I walked many kilometers along the Han river bank, and you can take a ferry or a little tour ship also at Yeouido island.
Cheonggyecheon stream, connecting generations!
Or make a walk along the Cheonggyecheon stream. I explored the new attraction when it was opened in October 2005, it was so wonderful. Because Seoul is a city which is very dynamic you see many older people who do not like the hectic busy day, they prefer staying in the smooth parks, and the young ones in the city do shopping and business. But at Cheonggyecheon stream you can find old and young: Grandpa and Grandma together with grandchildren. So this little blue ribbon does not only connect the east and the west of “downtown” Seoul, it also connects the Generations!
I also have been to Bukhansan mountain in the north of Seoul where sophisticated climbing is possible also as hiking with friends. Or if you have less time you can stay in Seoul, go by Metro Line Number two next to and by foot up to Achasan mountain in the early morning, and see the sunrise in the morning dew, and realize why Korea is still – for true – called “The Land of the Morning Calm”. Later you may dip into the shopping experience of Myeong-dong, Gangnam area or Coex mall, or visit museums, theatres, galleries. Look for wonderful Korean handcraft at Insa-dong, which is so far away from any mass production and you will never miss Itaewon, which is mostly a tourist shopping and at-night-party-zone. In my deepest opinion there is no other place in Korea then in Seoul where you can change the dynamic and progressive feeling of a pulsing metropole in a few minutes to absolutely silence in a temple or secret garden, just amazing!
I always traveled a lot around: and that’s easy because Korea has a very well developed domestic Airline, Bus and Railroad system that bring you quick and comfortable to every place. I prefer the new High Speed train ‘KTX’ which makes it possible to go to Busan in the early morning and back to Seoul in the evening! So you can see the landscape changing from northern Gyeonggi-do territories up to Busan and then discover a completely different scene. I also managed to go with the “intercity” train called Saemaeul to Jeonju for a day trip to visit the famous old Hanok village there.
But also stopover visitors can see Hanok houses directly in Seoul: I? not talking about Namsangol Hanok Village which is a performance museum located at Nam-mountain, I? talking about actual living and pulsing life in the area called Bukchon, the northern Part of Seoul next to Changdeokgung Palace! It is a very special place where old architecture meet new one.
All in all I recommend for individuals coming to Korea, make experience that way: stay in Seoul, travel on with some day tours and then always come back to Seoul. Its comfortable, and very varying form of travel in Korea. Do it like I did: visit Dynamic Korea and try the taste of this extraordinary country, where the Old is Young and the Young is amazing.
Thomas, from Germany