9 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Visited South Korea

Last year, we were given the opportunity to visit South Korea, and we hopped on a plane towards Seoul.  We spent 3 days in Seoul and Pyeongtaek, and we absolutely loved it—the landmarks were beautiful and the people were friendly—so much so that we wanted to revisit again this year, and spend a longer amount of time to see more sights.  Well, we’re back from our 8-day trip, and…well, we think the extra days gave us more interaction with the culture resulting in a different reaction from our initial feelings.  Now, don’t get me wrong; South Korea is a wonderful country, but here are a few things I wish I knew (and understood) before visiting:

1)     Excuse You.
I’m not sure what it is, but people seem to bump into each other like they’re saying hello, but they’re not.  I completely understand how you could accidentally bump into each other in crowded places, such as train stations and busy crosswalks; but we could walk down a less crowded sidewalk, and, out-of-nowhere, someone (even children included) would walk right into us, and then fall back into their regular step.  No, “Excuse me.  I’m sorry.”  Just bump and walk away.  Near the end of our trip, my hubby decided to partake in this little ritual, and it was pretty amusing.  Hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. 

2)     Be Aggressive.
This is not the place to be polite and patiently wait your turn.  People who are completely capable of using the escalator (which is 5 feet away, mind you) will bum rush you so that they can get into the elevator, and then they’ll look at you while you determine whether or not you want to shove your stroller into them.  (This is not the first time we’ve experienced this—sadly it’s happened in Japan and Singapore, too—but it’s definitely one of our biggest pet peeves.  If you can run past us to jump in the elevator, then you can take the escalator or use the stairs.)  Or, when it’s your turn in line, someone will rush forward and cut you.  Is it just me?  Is this how we're supposed to act?  Because it's terrible.  There's a difference between aggressive and rude; and I'd like to say it's aggressiveness, but it just seems rude.

3)     Watch Out.
It seems that a complete stop during a red light is optional in this country.   We have witnessed several vehicles, including public buses, rolling through the light.  Doesn’t exactly make you feel comfortable when you’re pushing a stroller across the street!  Definitely take a second (or third or fourth) look before you step into the intersection.

4)     Learn Some Korean.
I’m not sure what happened in the past year; but it seemed like during our first visit in Seoul, there were a lot of Koreans who spoke English.  Whenever we needed help, people were really friendly in trying to help us—even if they only knew a few words.  Plus, there were also many people who would start a conversation with us; so we were surprised this year when many of the people we encountered didn’t speak English.   Actually, they do know one English phrase, “I don’t know.”  Luckily, we learned a few basic Korean phrases and had a guidebook with a translation dictionary; but I think the fact that everyone was so helpful and friendly last year made us disappointed with the lack of helpfulness this year.

5)     Do Your Research.
I always heard about the great shopping trips in Korea because of the cheaper prices and bargaining power, but, to be honest, I rarely feel like I know I’m getting a good deal. I suggest making a list of things you want to buy and finding out how much they cost before you visit, so that you can determine whether or not it’s a good deal.  For example, I only wanted to buy my son a Cars toddler backpack, and I saw it advertised in a Korean store for 50,000, which is about $44.  I could find the same backpack on eBay for $9.   That’s a huge markup!  However, I read somewhere that you’re supposed to start negotiations at 1/3 the price, which now I understand why the initial quotes sound so expensive.

6)     Get a Korea Rail Pass.
We traveled by train between Seoul and Busan; and because we’re foreigners, we get the lovely option of purchasing a Korea Rail (KR) Pass.  You can use it on all trains of the KORAIL and the KTX as well as the Saemaeul and Mugunghwa trains (just not the subways).  There are different types and prices of the KR Pass, and it ended up being cheaper than purchasing individual trip tickets.  Oh, but you must purchase it before you enter the country.  Click here for more information.  

7)     Appreciate Latte Art.
We were really surprised to find so many cafés around the city.  It felt like café after café lined up next to each other, and they all had a cool vibe to them, so it was hard deciding where to stop.  We figured that they’re all great as long as we can relax and enjoy a good cup of java.  Plus, if you order a latte, most places surprise you with beautiful latte art!

8)     Stay Connected.
I can only speak about Seoul and Busan, but for most of our trip, I was usually able to find free Wi-Fi.  Even though I need to learn to cut myself from technology during my vacation, it came in handy when I was trying to research prices of items I wanted to buy [see #5] as well as getting directions to our next stop.

9)     Exact Change.
It’s a no-tipping culture, but there were several times where we learned that our taxi drivers had tipped themselves.  We have no qualms with tipping, but this method just made us feel robbed.

Despite my rantings experiences, we really enjoyed our time in Korea.  We saw some beautiful sights, ate some delicious food, tried new cuisine, sipped on the prettiest lattes in the most relaxing atmospheres, and enjoyed our time getting lost and ended up where we were meant to be together as a family.  In fact, we're thinking of revisiting...just not anytime soon.   

1 Comentarios

  1. Haha - yeah. I forgot about the English thing - not much spoken outside of Seoul now that I think about it......and the bumping thing - is way worse in mainland China. Its kind of a sport I think. For the record, they a usually nicer to - foreign looking people my Chinese American friend often found herself pinned against the wall of the bus or subway. I just got shoved - sometimes out of the subway..... But not usually pinned against the wall. I think it has to do with all the masses of people, I'm not sure they even know they are doing it. In Seoul I even got shoved on my way in and out of church! I guess I was taking too long......


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