South Korea

 Bright lights of Seoul  Spring blossoms

Why South Korea?                                                             Click here to view video

The quantity of beautiful national parks, remote beaches, islands in the south, and rugged mountain peaks make Korea a stunningly diverse country and one that is great for outdoor adventures. Tradition juts up against technology as skyscrapers and temples coexist. No matter how much you know (or don't know) about Korea’s customs or etiquette, if you arrive here with a friendly smile and a sincere and respectful attitude, you will be welcomed with open arms. Koreans are fiercely proud of their country and have good reason to be.

Until relatively recently, Korea was an insular place, existing under dynastic rule for centuries, with hundreds, some say thousands, of invasions over the centuries. However, the 35-year Japanese occupation from 1910, the split of the peninsula after WWII and the subsequent Korean War shattered all that. Difficult times have however made the Koreans a resilient lot, succeeding economically whilst still holding onto their unique traditions and fascinating culture. The demilitarised zone, the border between North and South Korea is an eerie place - the tension is so trumped up it seems it should be a Hollywood film set, yet there is no denying the barbed wire or the potential attack by the North. In the rest of the country, Korea is littered with fortresses, temples and palaces, many of them UNESCO World Heritage sites, making a trip here rich with discovery.

  • When should I travel?
South Korea's weather is temperate but can be extreme -- the summer can be as hot as 45 C with humidity in the high 70s. Nights in November can drop suddenly and be sub-zero with Siberian winds. It's best to bring layers or (even better) take advantage of the great shopping malls and buy clothes that suit the season while you're there. It is important to note too that weather in Seoul (in the north) can be quite different from that of Busan or Jeju.  Moderate climate with four seasons, making any season a fine time to visit as long as you wear appropriate clothing. The hottest part of the year is during the rainy season between July and August, and the coldest is December to February. Occasional typhoons bring high winds and floods. Spring and autumn are mild and mainly dry and are generally considered the best times to visit.

  • Is it safe to travel and are there places to avoid?
South Korea is a relatively safe country, with reported crime rates significantly lower than in Western countries, although theft, assault and hotel burglary might happen in major cities such as Busan or Seoul. Take care especially in known tourist areas. Nevertheless, violent crime is especially rare and you are unlikely to be a victim of one as long as you stick to your commonsense and do not go around provoking people. Use only legitimate taxis. Illegitimate taxis run even from the airport, and their safety and honesty cannot always be guaranteed.

  • What money should I take?
The currency is the Won (KRW). American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted at major hotels, shops and restaurants in the larger cities. You may not be able use credit cards at small businesses and in rural areas. You may also want to check whether your credit card is accepted by looking at door signs before you enter an establishment. ATMs are available in all major cities, but not all of them will accept international cards. Just keep trying different outlets until you see a logo you recognise on the machine. Cards with the Plus and Cirrus logos are the easiest to use and most widely accepted in Korea. Travellers cheques are accepted, but may be difficult to change in smaller towns. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in US dollars.

  • What language will they understand?
Korean (Hangul), with English widely taught in school and generally understood in major centres.

  • How about my health?
High quality medical care is available in Seoul, Pusan and Daegu, but may be difficult to locate in rural areas. Comprehensive health insurance is recommended, as are the international clinics at hospitals like Seoul's Severance Hospital, Asan Medical Centre or Samsung Medical Centre. Almost all hospitals require payment and registration prior to treatment. Most nurses and receptionists do not speak English. Though tap water is potable and thus safe to drink, tourists often avoid it due to taste but bottled water is readily available.

  • Public Holidays

2012

January 01 New Year
January 23 Sollal (Lunar New Year)
March 01 Independence Movement Day
May 01 Labour Day (not an official public holiday but many companies and financial markets close)
May 05 Children's Day
May 05 Buddha's Birthday
June 06 Memorial Day
August 15 Liberation Day
September 30 Chuseok (Harvest Moon Festival)
October 03 National Foundation Day
December 25 Christmas Day

2013
January 01 New Year's Day
February 10 Seollal (Lunar New Year)
March 01 Sam Il Jul (Independence Movement Day)
May 01 Labour Day
May 05 Orininal (Children's Day)
May 18 Buddha's Birthday
May 27 Memorial Day
August 15 Kwang Bok Jul (Independence Day)
September 19 Chuseok (Harvest Moon Festival)
October 03 Kae Chun Jul (National Foundation Day)
December 25 Christmas Day

  • Do I need a visa?
No visas are required by South African passport holders if travelling up to 30 days.

  • Will I need any innoculations before I depart?
Yellow Fever is required if coming from an infected area.