9 Useful South Korea Tips If You're a First-Time Traveller

9 Useful South Korea Tips If You’re a First-Time Traveller

These tips will keep you from guessing.

South Korea is officially open to all vaccinated tourists and you’re probably raring to go after more than two long years of delaying your SK dreams. Many of you will be travelling to South Korea for the first time and finally fulfilling that K-drama filming location bucket list. Some of you will be in it for the scenic nature destinations and historical landmarks. But wherever your love of South Korea will take you, keep these South Korea tips in mind if you’re flying there for the first time!

Also read: Why Do Travellers Love South Korea? Let Us Count The Ways

1. Learn basic Korean words and phrases

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Let’s not just rely on our English-speaking Korean tour guide for help. Why not help ourselves by learning a Korean word or two when travelling to South Korea? We already have a headstart thanks to the exposure we get from K-dramas and K-pop, so there’s virtually no excuse not to thank or say hi to locals in Hangul when you explore the bright streets of Seoul or breathe the fresh air of Jeju Island

2. Be aware of the things that might rub off as rude

South Korea tips

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No country is completely the same and there will be cultural behaviours you’re used to that might not sit well with other nationalities. For instance, Koreans don’t like it when you get touchy with them right off the bat. They also discourage calling someone by their first name. There are a lot of customs to consider when interacting with elderly Koreans too. Review some South Korea travel tips about what makes Koreans upset so you don’t have to stress!

3. Make sure you’re packing for the right weather

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It goes without saying that you should be checking the season and weather in South Korea in time for your trip. South Korea has four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. If you want to catch the cherry blossom season, it usually takes place from the end of March to April. On the other hand, you can witness Korea’s beautiful autumn leaves from September to November; and of course, catch the snow from December to February.  Always check the weather forecasts in the case of rainy weather.

4.  Experience wearing the traditional hanbok

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Speaking of dressing accordingly, there’s no better place to see what you look like in a traditional Korean hanbok than in South Korea. Don’t be shy, because this is a legit tourist experience you can pay for. In Seoul, there are places where you can rent a hanbok for six hours while roaming the streets, passing by shops and taking photos of temples, which all embody traditional Korean architecture. Think of it as a way of transporting yourself into your favourite Korean period drama! 

For similar South Korea travel tips, check out our breakdown of where you can rent hanboks and the price range here

5. Save your money for the shopping districts and flea markets

South Korea tips

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Whether you’re on a budget or not, you’ll thank yourself later when you have more than enough money to splurge in Korea’s shopping avenues. The shopping districts and flea markets have it all: fashionable coats, tops and scarves of great quality, designer-like bags, on top of the Korean cosmetics, accessories, and of course, tasty street food. 

As part of our South Korea tips for beginners, we suggest you visit the places that aren’t typically in the limelight. The shopping districts near Ewha and SookMyung Women’s University would be good places to start for the ladies. If you’re on the go, Goto Mall might be a convenient market for you as it’s located underground a bus terminal. However, if you’re looking for a shopping mecca, head to Dongdeamun, the country’s largest wholesale shopping district!

Also read: 10 Tips for Shopping in Seoul, According to Frequent Travellers

6. Join a kimchi-making workshop

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We’d be remiss if we didn’t include a kimchi-making workshop on this list of South Korea tips. Koreans love their kimchi. It’s pretty much a staple dish in all the K-dramas we’ve watched, and we’ve definitely eaten some in our favourite Korean barbecue joints. You can immerse in Korean culture all the more if you actually learn firsthand how Koreans make their kimchi through the cooking classes available in Seoul. 

These classes will only take up about 40 minutes of your time and will provide all the ingredients you need. Some classes will even give you the option to wear a hanbok while you’re making your kimchi. If that isn’t an authentic Korean experience, we don’t know what is!

Also read: The Dos and Don’ts of Eating At An Authentic Korean BBQ Restaurant

7. Go on a historical walking tour

South Korea tips

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With just how beautiful South Korea is, riding a bus or taking cabs from place to place just won’t cut it. To appreciate its cities, you need to dedicate a significant amount of time to walking tours, whether it’s a DIY or a paid and guided tour. But here’s a piece of not-so-secret advice: You can book free walking tours all around South Korea. 

In Seoul alone, there are more than 25 free walking tours to choose from. These tours consist of trained guides from Seoul tourism offices, as well as Korean university students who want to practice their English. Notable free walking tours include the Sky Park and street food tour, the Gyeongbokgung Palace Tour, and the Bukchon Tour where you get to see traditional Korean homes. 

8. Shout for your server in Korean restaurants

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This is the most interesting information you’ll get from these South Korea tips. We’ve already discussed how important it is to observe silence in Korea’s public transportation systems. But ironically, tourists are also encouraged to shout at their restaurant servers to get their attention. This is considered the norm and not at all impolite. 

This is because Korean servers don’t wait on customers and they don’t normally stand near the tables. Therefore, they actually prefer it when you raise your voice so that they can hear you. Either that or you can ring the bell should your table have one. If you need to call out to your waiter, just say “Cheo gi yoh!,” which means “Over there!”

9. Know your Korean taxis

South Korea tips

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Knowing the four different types of taxis in South Korea will really help you out as a tourist since these also determine the kind of service you’re going to get. The four taxis are the General Taxi, International Taxi, Model Taxi, and Large Taxi.

In Seoul, the General Taxi is an orange coloured vehicle. In other cities, they’re silver or white. These taxis are the most common taxis and it isn’t a guarantee that the driver will know how to communicate with you in English. They are, however, the most affordable cab in Korea. 

The International Taxi looks a lot like the General Taxi as both of them are orange. You’ll need to look closely at the signs on the car to know if the cab is the International Taxi. These service vehicles were launched for international tourists, so expect to receive free translation services in English, Japanese, and Chinese. That said, these taxis can only be booked online or through phone call reservations. 

The Black Taxi is basically a posh vehicle with an expensive rate due to the spacious interiors and the drivers being able to speak some English. The drivers are also trained to open the door for their passengers and assist them with their luggage. 

Meanwhile, the Large Taxi by definition is the largest one of the bunch that can accommodate multiple passengers at one time. These vehicles usually have “JUMBO TAXI” written on their sliding doors. 

Also read: 13 Fun Facts About South Korea You Should Know About Before You Visit!

So to the first-time South Korea travellers out there, prepare your mind, body, and heart for a fun and cultural experience. Since South Korea has several customs ingrained in their society, you can’t just travel there in naiveté. Let these South Korea tips guide you on your first SK adventure!

About Author

Therese Sta. Maria
Therese Sta. Maria

Therese's close friends know that if they haven’t seen her around recently, then she’s probably having an adventure with her luggage and camera in hand. Though she loves staying at home and spending lazy afternoons with friends, there are times when she has to be "away from home to feel at home," — that’s when she’s bitten by the travel bug. See her travels on Instagram @reesstamaria.