Backpacking in South Korea
South Korea is a great destination for those looking to get off the beaten track - and it’s also a popular gap year option to stop and earn some cash by teaching English in Korea. Whether you’re here for pleasure or work, here are the five things you must do when passing through The Land of the Morning Calm!
Spend some time in a jimjilbang
Popular with young and old, the Korean jimjilbang (or naked sauna) should definitely feature on your Korea bucket list. Not just a sauna in the traditional sense, these bathing rooms resemble something more akin to a Turkish bath, with separate areas for massage, icy cold plunge pools and hot tubs. Most saunas are gender segregated and they also have a cafeteria and chill out area where you can re-commune and hang out with friends of the opposite sex. In the larger towns and cities the saunas will generally be open 24 hours so if you’re on a very tight budget (or your just visiting another town and don’t want to pay for accommodation) they’re a great place to get your head down – just grab one of the free sleeping mats and hit the floor.
How much does it cost? About 7,000 won (approx. £4) for 24 hour access to all areas, though if you want a massage or food you’ll have to pay a little extra.
Fire & meat – it’s one of man’s oldest and most delicious combinations! From the caveman lighting a fire to roast his catch and the enthusiasm whipped up by a sunny day and a hot barbecue - the Koreans have also created their own version in the form of galbi. Popular with travellers, expats and citizens alike grab a few friends, grab a few beers and get munching.
How much does it cost? If you go with a group of friends galbi and a couple of beers will cost you around 8,000 won per head (approx. £4.50), but as they say – some things in life are priceless!
Visit the DMZ
Coined the ‘scariest place on Earth’ by Bill Clinton during his visit in 1993 - the recluse state North Korea has inspired many an intrepid traveller to wonder what life is like there. Unfortunately travelling in North Korea is very expensive, with tours costing upward of £2000, not to mention the flight to the point of departure (probably Beijing). However, there is an easier way to get a glimpse of life under Kim Jong Un and that’s by travelling to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) between the two countries of the Korean peninsula.
How much does it cost? Independent travel in this area is out so you’ll want to look into a tour operator (these depart mostly from Seoul and are surprisingly cheap at around 40,000 won (£25) for the day.
Take a trip to Loveland
Located on the volcanic (and pretty) island of Jeju, Loveland is one tourist attraction bound to make you blush. This erotic theme park features statues, models and even of people locked in toe curling sexual positions and is very popular with honeymooning couples – perhaps who are looking for a little advice?!
Gap Year Tip: Fondly described by the locals as the ‘Hawaii of Korea’, make sure that you check out the rest of the island, particularly HyeopJae beach and the waterfalls. If you’re feeling energetic you could try hiking up Halla Mountain, Korea’s largest dormant volcano and the home of some crazy crater lakes.
Go shopping in Myeongdong, Seoul
Rub shoulders with Russian, Japanese and Chinese tourists in this popular shopping district. You’ll find everything from ‘Hello Kitty’ merchandise to high end Marc Jacob's handbags, all amidst a cloud of steam coming from the various street vendors. They’ll be serving up everything from silkworm lavae (bondaeggi) to sizzling cinnamon pancakes (hodeok) so make sure to bring your appetite!
Traveller tip: After a busy day of shopping, you’ll be probably ready to flop. Take the opportunity to relax Korean style by taking the short subway trip to Insadong and parking yourself in one of the traditional tea rooms. Just make sure to enjoy a brown rice & green tea for me!