Travel Etiquette Guide for South Korea

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It was way back in April 2015 that I was invited to Korea by the journalists’ association. A country less visited by Indians, it was exciting to be a part of a global conference on peace. But more than that, it became an education to see how nations develop. Every nation has its ups and downs but South Korea is among the list that believes in standing firm and succeeding. And it has done it beautifully after the cold war, the Japanese invasions and division with North Korea. It is among the most flourishing nations in the world and I could see that in the high rise buildings, the beautifully done cities of Seoul, Busan, Daegu and more. Progress is the word and nationalism is strong. While we may be used to a certain way of doing things, Koreans have their own ways. The country is wi-fi enabled, so internet is like breath. Thanks to the government, you are always connected to the rest of the world. Glocal is truly the word here. So, here are 10 things that could help any Indian when travelling to this amazing land—what you could keep in mind and what you need to observe when there. Go glocal and you will enjoy your stay.

  1.  Koreans are the most punctual people I have ever met—8am means 8am sharp. It’s best to keep your watch in sync with Korean times and stick to the schedule. Or you could miss the bus. Even the senior government officials work by the clock. At an official dinner for journalists, the mayor too closed his dinner at 8pm. Nothing was served after that.
  2. Professionalism is appreciated. The nation is friendly and disciplined. It is best to understand that they mean business. It is among the fastest growing economies and the country has an urban lifestyle across most of the peninsula. They work hard and they party hard. I reached Seoul on a Sunday and people were camping near the river, but by evening the boats had been loaded on top of their trucks.
  3. Follow traffic rules. There are zebra crossings and red lights and the rules are stuck to. The people will cross only at the zebra crossing. They will walk only when the light turns green. There are no horns. No cars are parked in unauthorized spaces. Use the pavements while walking on the streets.
  4. Do not litter. There is a garbage can every few metres. Carry a small bag to put your litter in and then dump it at appropriate spots.
  5. The people are very polite and a handshake or smile can make you feel at ease. Please do the same and do not be loud. There is a lot of European culture at work here, for the Koreans are as sophisticated as the Europeans and you will love their manners and gentle ways.
  6. There are signboards and maps and help centres at every corner. If you get lost, do not yell for help, just calmly look around you. Something is sure to guide you. Use subways to crossroads, the cars come at quite a speed.
  7. There is no system of tips. Self-service is the norm. I wheeled my own bag in the hotel in and out. But, of course, if you are unwell or have issues, there can be help. The warmth and friendliness are supportive, not part of the deal.
  8. Seafood is primarily served here. There are salads and rice for vegetarians. But if you are one of those hardcore ones, then do carry some dry snacks with you. Also, the Koreans eat with chopsticks. If you are not well versed with these, please do ask for a fork.
  9. A lot of bargaining does not work on the street shops here. Be gentle in your approach, for a lot of street vendors are old people.
  10. The food on the streets is fresh and the vendors helpful. You can ask them to add or subtract ingredients to suit your tastes. Do not go around jumping over sculptures or touching things. The cleanliness can blow your mind. I was lucky to have travelled during spring, and the weather was simply awesome. I enjoyed my walks in the city area. Walking at night is also safe, simply follow the rules.



Busan Gwangan Bridge
Gwangan Bridge, Busan

This is a flourishing business town, the country’s financial hub. The coastal town offers everything that you need—street markets which are open till midnight, beaches, vibrant night life, and many department stores. It can be explored via bus or subway. There is a one-day pass for Busan subway.

Some good markets are Jagalchi Market (the largest seafood market in Korea located close to Jagalchi and Nampo Stations), Gukje Market which deals almost entirely with the merchandise imported through Busan Port, and Nampodong Street, Bupyeong (Kkangtong) Market, BIFF Square and Bujeon Market.

The Gamcheon Culture Village can’t be missed. With colourful roofs and buildings, it makes you like you have taken a step in fairyland. Built in the 1950s by refugees, this is for the arty and the creative.

The Busan Tower (Yongdusan Park) offers a birds-eye view of the city. Then there is Culture & Tourism Theme Street (Jungang Station), luxurious yacht club, Busan Gwangandaegyo Bridge built above Gwangalli Beach and more.


YongPyong Ski Resort, Gwangwon-do
YongPyong Ski Resort, Gwangwon-do

Located in the mid-eastern part of the peninsula, Gangwon-do is surrounded by awesome mountains (Seoraksan, Chiaksan, Odaesan and Taebaeksan) and clean beaches such as Gyeongpo Beach and Jeongdongjin Beach. The 2018 Winter Olympics has been scheduled to take place in Pyeongchang, Gangneung, and Jeongseon.

In this area lie many tourist attractions such as Botanical Gardens of Hongcheon Ginkgo Forest, Jeongseon Arirang Training Hall, Samtan Art Mine, Jongga Hoengseong Factory, Animation Museum, Wonju Hanji Theme Park, Anheung Jjinppang Village, KT&G Sangsangmadang Chuncheon, Gangneung Boksa Village, Wondae-ri Birch Forest  and more.


Gyeongju Beopjusa
Gyeongju Beopjusa

This coastal city lies in the far southeastern corner of North Gyeongsang Province. Once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla (57 BC – 935 AD) which ruled about two-thirds of the Korean Peninsula between the 7th and 9th centuries, this is a treasure house of archaeological sites. It is also called a “museum without walls” and the treasures include Seokguram grotto, Bulguksa temple, Gyeongju Historic Areas and Yangdong Folk Village. These are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites too.


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