South Korea is a beautiful country that every traveler should add to his or her travel bucket list. Recently, Travel Advisor Rani Cheema traveled to the vibrant city of Seoul and came back with a few keen observations you should keep in mind if you're contemplating a vacation there. From recommendations on where to stay to places to avoid, take a look at Rani's quick list of travel facts you should know before you go.
1. Instead of using Google maps use NAVER. NAVER is South Korea’s Google & it’s amazing! Download the English version.
2. Download Kakao Talk. It’s the “WhatsApp” of Korea that does more than just let you text people. Email is less used in South Korea. I’ve booked spa, hotel, and dinner reservations through Kakao Talk.
3. The best hotels – like Shilla, Banyan, Conrad, Park Hyatt, and JW Marriott – are not central. I recommend staying at the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul if you plan on staying 1-2 nights in Seoul. It’s located in the city center, walking distance to all the sites and neighborhood one wants to see in a short amount of time.
For business travelers, I’d recommend staying at The Plaza Seoul because its location is the best of all the hotels. And it’s great only if want to stay in the highest category suites. There are a million room categories, and just FYI, the Junior Suites are small. The Westin Chosun Seoul is also a great recommendation and the neighborhood has a very business vibe. Both hotels are next to each other.
4. Korea is one of the safest countries in the world. Female solo travelers might get a random older Korean men in the city center at night saying “Hello!” Be aware that this is considered rude.
5. Purchase your bus tickets at the station if you want to venture out beyond Seoul for a day trip. Korean bus websites sometimes provide an “English Booking” version, which is difficult to navigate and confusing. When it’s all said and done, you will have to visit the front desk or customer service at the station.
6. Leave Seoul to explore the countryside. South Korea is so much smaller than you think. It’s so easy to get around. In fact, the longest drive can be 5 hours to the other end of the country, and 2 hours on the KTX bullet train.
7. Avoid going to Seoul’s night markets if you’re a foodie. The markets are fun experiences, but it’s usually not the best place to go to find the best Korean food. Sometimes you’ll find western foods with a Korean twist at night markets. Save that valuable space in your bellies and consult a South Korean travel specialist to help you find the best places to eat in Seoul.
8. Be aware of your dietary requirements before eating. Most Korean restaurants and eateries can customize dishes when it comes to most food allergies. For example, I’m allergic to sesame seeds which are in every food! All I say is “I’m allergic to sesame seeds” in Hangul (writing), and I get my food without sesame seeds. Just FYI, there is no vegetarian cuisine in Korea. It’s either vegan or all-day-meat-fest! That’s it. Even a tofu stew may use pork broth.
9. Koreans are amazing... bottom line. They are friendly, and unlike Japan, 90% of the population speak English. They will go above and beyond to help you.
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