FYI: We made separate content about Seoul!
1. Seoul is probably the safest big city I’ve ever visited – extremely low levels of crime, homelessness, drug use, etc.
2. Fantastic food! Bibimbap, bulgogi, dakgalbi, etc. are delicious, but it’s also worth ordering the set menu in restaurants – they often serve about twenty small plates with a range of different dishes. Jeonju in particular is a foodie paradise – try the local bibimbap!
3. Unbelievably efficient public transport. Seoul’s metro system is a marvel, but the intercity bus service between provincial towns is also excellent – comfortable, regular and reasonably priced.
4. Bukhansan national park is easily reached by metro, and has some great hikes
5. Maybe we were just lucky, but we spent ten days in Korea and had blue sky and sunshine every day. Cold, but great for sightseeing
6. Hahoe folk
village, near Andong. Great to visit for an afternoon, but even
better if you have a chance to stay overnight in a traditional hanok
7. If you visit Hahoe and you’re feeling reasonably active, the 5km walk to the Byeongsanseowon Confucian academy is well worth the trouble – it’s a beautiful old timber-frame academy built on a hillside overlooking a river, and perfect for a bit of relaxation before heading back into the noise and bustle of Seoul.
8. Itaewon, on the north bank of the Han river in Seoul, is very international and touristy, but still preserves a great, fun atmosphere. The place where Seoul lets its hair down!
9. Of the two main palaces in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung is the bigger and more frequently visited, but we found Changdeokgung, just a few blocks to the east, much more beautiful. The guided tour of the old royal infirmary was particularly good!
10. The politeness and kindness of the Koreans themselves. Many don’t speak great English, but we always found people happy to help us with directions, recommendations, etc.
1. Despite Psy’s catchy song, we found the district of Gangnam, on the south bank of the Han, a bit of a soulless disappointment
2. Even in the most ‘historic’ cities, the old town is generally just a couple of blocks of hanok houses and temples, which the rest of the city is the same identical modern architecture as everywhere else
3. The traditional temple buildings are very beautiful, with their elaborate green and red painted designs, but – at least to our untrained western eyes – when you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. Not a lot of variety in design.
4. There’s a strange flip side to Korean politeness – people are, as a rule, extremely pleasant and courteous in any personal interaction, but strangers on the street will barge you out of the way and push in front of you in queues, and car drivers virtually never stop for pedestrians at zebra crossings
5. A lot of confusingly similar names of cities – Jeonju, Gwangju, Gyeongju, Seongju, Sangju etc.
6. Despite the excellent public safety in Seoul, the frequent signs for bomb shelters, gas masks etc. are a constant reminder that North Korea, just 70km away, could attack at any time
7. Soju, the Korean liquor, isn’t bad, but basically tastes like weak vodka
8. Unlike China with its Great Wall and Forbidden City, or Japan with its Mount Fuji and Nagoya Castle, South Korea doesn’t really have many ‘iconic’ sights
9. While the food is great, it’s almost always spicy, which might not be to everyone’s taste, and we heard from vegetarians that it can be difficult to eat out – even vegetable dishes are often cooked in meat broth
10. K-Pop is utterly inescapable in Seoul, and while it’s now popular worldwide, it just isn’t my thing