SOUTH KOREA

See our selected itineraries in South Korea

GENERAL INFORMATION

CAPITAL CITY

The capital city of the Republic of Korea is Seoul.

SIZE

Inland area: 100.210 km2

GEOGRAPHICAL SITUATION

The Korean Peninsula is located in North-East Asia. It is bordered by the Amnok River (Yalu River) to the northwest, separating Korea from China, and the Duman River (Tumen River) to the northeast which separates Korea from both China and Russia. The country itself is flanked by the Yellow Sea to its west and the East Sea to the east. There are several notable islands that surround the peninsula including Jejudo, Ulleungdo and Dokdo.

The Korean peninsula is roughly 1,030 km long and 175 km wide at its narrowest point. Korea's total land area is 100,210sq km.

Because of its unique geographical location, Korea is a very valuable piece of land and an international hub in Asia.

POPULATION

As of 2011, the population of the Republic of Korea stood at 50,600,000 with roughly 522 people per square kilometre. Conversely, the population of North Korea as of 2016 was estimated at 25,000,000.

Historically, the threat of rapid population growth posed serious social repercussions on developing countries. Yet such fears of swelling growth hardly raise much cause for alarm on the peninsula. With the advent of successful family planning campaigns and changing attitudes, there are signs that the population growth has curbed remarkably in recent years. The baby boomers of Korea’s industrialization period are now coming into their golden years, with the number of senior citizens (those ages 65 and up) reaching 5.42 million (as of 2010) and making up roughly 11.3% percent of the entire population.

CURRENCY

The currency of South Korea is the won (₩). As of January 2017, the exchange rates are approximately US$ 1 = 1 180 won and 1 EURO = 1 250 won.

Coins come in denominations of ₩10, ₩50, ₩100 and ₩500, while banknotes come in denominations of ₩1000 (blue), ₩5000 (red), ₩10,000 (green) and ₩50,000 (yellow). ₩1 and ₩5 coins, while they exist, are very rare. The largest bill currently in circulation is only ₩50,000 and somewhat uncommon in ATMs, which makes carrying around large sums of currency a bit of a chore. ₩100,000 "checks" are frequently used, and some of the checks go up to ₩10,000,000 in value. These checks are privately produced (by banks, etc.) which can be used as "c-notes".

A new series of notes was released in 2006/2007, so expect to see several versions floating around, and be prepared for hassles with vending machines which may not accept the new or old versions.

ATM are ubiquitous, but most Korean ATMs don't accept foreign cards, only Citibank ATMs and special Global ATMs do. These can be found at airports in some areas frequented by foreigners in major cities, including Hongdae, some subway stations, and in many Family Mart convenience stores. Sometimes however even the Global ATMs may not accept your foreign card so it's wise to have a second source of money for those times. Be sure to stock up on cash before heading to the countryside. Credit card acceptance, on the other hand, is very good, and all but the very cheapest restaurants and motels will take Visa and Mastercard.

Please note that some hotels may need an imprint of your credit card as a deposit during your stay, which is a normal procedure.  However, this deposit can be made in cash and will be refunded upon check-out

CLIMATE

·         Spring is a great time of year to be in Korea. The temperatures are warm, but not hot and there's not too much rain either. However, spring is also the time when yellow dust blows over from China. Some days can be horrible to breathe because of this.

·         Summer starts with a dreary rainy season (jangma-cheol) in June and turns into a steambath in July-August, with extreme humidity and the temperature heading as high as 35°C. Best avoided unless heading to the beaches.

·         Autumn, starting in September, is perhaps the best time to be in Korea. Temperatures and humidity become more tolerable, fair days are common and the justly renowned fall colors make their appearance.

·         Winter is a good time to go skiing or hot-spring hopping, and the Korean invention of ondol (floor heating) helps defrost any parts that froze outside. However, January and February can be bone-biting cold due to Siberian winds from the north. 

LOCAL TIME

South Korea is 9 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

ELECTRICITY

The standard voltage in Korea is 220 volts.

The outlet has two round holes and is the same type used in France, Germany, Austria, Greece, Turkey, and many other countries.

If you do not have a multi-voltage travel adapter, you can borrow one from your hotel’s front desk. If you want to buy one in Korea, you can do so at a duty-free shop, convenience shop at Incheon International Airport, or Yongsan Electronics Shopping Town.

WATER

A good basic rule to follow when travelling is when it comes to food, do what the locals do especially when it comes to water. Most will have it filtered or boiled before drinking. Although tap water in Korea is perfectly safe to drink, you may want to follow the local habits, if only to get rid of the chlorine smell.

 

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

 

International dialling prefixes in South Korea vary by operator, and there is no standard prefix. Check with your operator for the respective prefixes. For calls to South Korea, the country code is 82.

Mobile phone coverage is generally excellent, with the exception of some remote mountainous areas. The country has three service providers: KT, SK Telecom and LG Telecom. They offer prepaid mobile phone services (pre-paid service, PPS) in South Korea. Incoming calls are free. Phones and prepaid services can be acquired at any retail location found on any street. Second-hand phones are also available at selected stores in Seoul, also you can rent korean phones at the international airports.

South Korea uses the CDMA standard and does not have a GSM network, so most 2G mobile phones from elsewhere will not work. Even quad-band GSM phones are useless. However, if you have a 3G phone with a 3G SIM card, you can probably roam onto the UMTS/W-CDMA networks of KT or SK Telecom; check with your home operator before you leave to be sure. 4G has recently been made available in Korea; again, check with your provider.

All the carriers offer mobile phone rental services, and some handsets also support GSM SIM roaming. They have outlets at the international airports in Incheon, Seoul (Kimpo) and Busan (Kimhae). You can find service centres for KT SHOW and SK Telecom at Jeju airport as well. Charges start from W2000/day if you reserve in advance via the visitkorea website for a discount and guaranteed availability.

You will be able to find Wi-fi network in a wide range of public areas including the subway and most of hotels.

The “1330” Korea Travel Phone service is a very useful service provided by the Korea Tourism organization. It is a 24 hour service and offered in four different languages (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese). The operator will answer questions on bus schedules, accommodation, museum hours, etc.

HEALTH & MEDICAL FACILITIES

There are many hospitals where some English is spoken. International clinics at large general hospitals like Severance Hospital, Asian Medical Centre or Samsung Medical Centre are recommended.

TRANSPORTATION

South Korea has 7 international airports: Busan (Gimhae Airport), Cheongju, Daegu, Jeju, Muan, Seoul (Gimpo Airport and Incheon Int. Airport).

Travel from North Korea (and hence anywhere else in Asia) to South Korea by train remains impossible in practice. There have been a few test runs on the newly rebuilt railroad connecting the two, but it will likely remain more of a political statement than travel option for some time to come. However, for travelers coming from or continuing on to Japan, special through tickets are available, giving discounts of 30% on KTX services and 9-30% on Busan-Fukuoka ferries as well as Japanese trains. Busan Port International Passenger Terminal is the largest seaport in the country and offers ferry rides mostly to and from Japan. There are fairly frequent ferry connections from Busan to Japan. JR's Beetle hydrofoil service from Busan to Fukuoka manages the trip in just under three hours with up to five connections a day, but all other links are overnight slow ferries, such as Pukwan Ferry Company's services to Shimonoseki from cost from $US60 (one-way). A Busan-Osaka ferry is operated by Panstar Line Co., Ltd.

Incheon's International Ferry Terminal 1 (Yeonan Budu) has services to several cities in China, such as Weihai, Dandong, Qingdao and Tianjin. The largest operator is Jinchon, but Incheon Port has full listings on their website. The Chinese ports of Rizhao, Rongcheng and Lianyungang, all in Shandong province, can also be accessed by ferry from Pyeongtaek.

There are also weekly departures from Sokcho (Gangwon-do) to Vladivostok from US$270 operated by Dong Chun Ferry Co. Ltd.

DRIVING

An International Driving Permit (IDP) may be used to drive around South Korea. In general, road conditions are good in South Korea and directional signs are in both Korean and English. Car rental rates start from ₩54400 a day for the smallest car for about a week. Traffic moves on the right in South Korea.

COOKING

The popularity of bulgogi, bibimbap, kimchi, and other Korean food is on the rise, owing in part to the increased recognition of the health benefits of Korea dishes, most of which are low in calories and full of vegetables.

FLAVOURS

Korean people enjoy eating… a lot ! At every order, your food will always be accompanied by a soup and a bunch of small dishes (named banchan). Moreover there is no food that is not accompanied by kimchi (based on Korean cabbage) or marinated vegetable such as cabbage, turnip, radish or cucumber.

SHOPPING

Bargaining is common at outdoor markets and applies to everything they may have to offer. However stating a monetary amount would be a mistake. Normally what you would say is ssage juseyo. That means "cheaper, please." Doing this once or twice would suffice. The drawback is you will rarely be discounted more than a few dollars.

TIPPING

As a rule, tipping is not necessary anywhere in Korea, and is not practised by locals, although bellhops, hotel maids, taxi drivers and bars frequented by Westerners will not reject any tips you care to hand out.

VISA AND PASSPORT

The nationals of 109 countries and territories, will receive a visa on arrival valid for 30 to 90 days; see the official Hi Korea site for the latest details. Rules for visiting only Jeju are even more lenient, allowing in everybody except citizens of 11 countries. Don't overstay, even by a single day — this incurs heavy fines and possible jail time, and you'll probably be banned from re-entering.

Military personnel travelling under the SOFA for South Korea are not required to possess a passport for entry, provided they hold a copy of their travel orders and a military ID. On the other hand, dependents must hold a passport and A-3 visa for entry.

BEFORE GOING

Travellers are advised to seek medical advice about vaccinations. Specialised travel-medicine clinics are the best source of information. Most vaccines don’t produce immunity until at least two weeks after they’re given, so visit a doctor four to eight weeks before departure.

For safety reasons, we advise travelers not to leave valuables in vehicles during their journey.

 

ASIA HOLIDAYS WISHES YOU A PLEASANT TRIP