The first time I landed in South Korea, all I knew beforehand was that South Korea was the second most mountainous country in the world, and that it’s incredibly safe. Plus, I was arriving at a time when everyone else is trying to leave. Trust me, monsoon season, June through mid-August is like living in not quite boiling soup. I ended up bicycling around the country and when it was time to leave, there was an internal feeling that I’d be back.
Plus, Koreans are friendly, super helpful when you have questions, and will leave you alone if you are busy. That last bit is valuable to anyone who has traveled much of Southeast Asia!
Here are some of the noteworthy places you might want to know about before traveling around in the Republic of Korea.
Seoul – The capitol of South Korea. My favorite part was Sungkyunkwan near Hyewha station line 4 due to light crowds compared to most of the city.
Changdeokgung Palace – This is a beautiful temple for a small fee. I’d advise going in through the east entrance which is relatively close to the lake and garden.
Seoul Plaza – If you have a plan free night, come here. Oft times there is some entertaining event and plenty of vendors nearby.
Mt. Bukhansan – This is a nice 4 to 6 hour roundtrip hike behind Seoul. At the summit you’ll be treated to a wonderful view and rock climbers scaling giant pillars nearby.
Dondaemun Market – If you want to buy some clothing you can spend at least 2 days here.
Yongsan Electronic Market – Come here for your tech needs. I’d suggest buying an external hard drive so you can download whatever you want while enjoying the fastest internet in the world.
Bukchon Hanok Village – I found the Hanok village a little overcrowded, but if you are limited on time, Bukchon is a great Hanok village to experience traditional Korean culture. I found the Jeonju Hanok Village to be the better of the two.
Cheonggyecheon – A stream with a modern 5.2 mile (8.4 kilometer) recreational path alongside. It is enjoyable no matter the weather conditions. I’ve found that walking the path in the rain is a good way to take your mind off things.
Itaewon Market - Come here to browse for souvenirs.
Express Bus Terminal - You’ll be able to reach anywhere on the mainland in 5 hours or less by bus.
Korean War Memorial – An extensive collection of Korea’s war history. They sometimes host events nearby, like outdoor League of Legends videogame tournaments.
Suwon – You can reach Suwon by the Subway, taking the yellow line.
Suwon City Wall(Hwaseong Fortress) – Pretty cool walk on old fortress walls. Took me three hours to walk around, but I walk really fast so I’d advise planning for 4-5 hours if you prefer taking your time.
Jeonju – This city is considered the best place to eat Bibimbap, a cultural dish. I liked it, but since I’ve only eaten it in Jeonju I don’t actually know how it compares to elsewhere.
Seung Am Sa Temple – This temple is a 15 minute walk out of Jeonju Hanok Village. If you go past the entrance for another 5 minutes you’ll reach Martyr Mountain.
Martyr Mountain – A pretty cool hike with graveyards. Halfway up the trail there is a fork with a long and short path. My hint is to take the long path(take the long path!). You’ll come across a church near the top. There will be guard dogs, but they are pretty chill. If you climb up the stairs on either side of the church you’ll reach a Korean tomb and if you keep going up, there is a sightseeing platform where the path finally ends.
Hanok Village – This Hanok Village is the best one that I visited. It was raining the entire time I was here and it was quite fun exploring. You’ll be running into tons of foreigners here.
Gwanju – A Transportation hub in the southwest part of Korea. If you plan on taking a ferry to Jeju from Mokpo, I’d advise sleeping in Gwanju, then taking the 6:30am bus to Mokpo to catch the early morning ferry at 9am.
Mokpo – Take a taxi if you just got in from Gwanju to the ferry. It’s a long walk and if you take too long you might miss the ferry departure.
Ferry – The ferry to Jeju takes 4 hours. If its sunny and you are sleepy from waking up to catch the early morning ferry, feel free to snooze on the upper deck.
Jeju – A great destination for hiking, biking, and sightseeing. It is also a popular
Biking – Jeju is awesome for biking and there will be more than a few people out there taking advantage of this. It is about 210 kilometers around, with quite a few beaches to camp on. Just a heads up, there is very little shade alongside the road from the southwest part of the island around Hamo Beach to Seogwipo so try and bike this stretch doing a cool part of the day.
Coastal trails -
Jeju City – The main city in northern Jeju
Ferry – There are ferries to Busan, Incheon, and Mokpo. Make sure you arrive at the correct dock or you might miss your ferry!
Dongmun Market -
Coastal Seawall – The seawall near the port in Jeju City is a gathering place at night for various activities so check it out.
Seogwipo – I just passed through this city on my way from Hamo Beach to Pyoseon Beach, so all I remember is that it was ridiculously hilly.
Manjanggul Caves – The longest lava tube caves in the world. I went while it was raining and since the ceiling is porous lava rock, it was raining down in the caves as well, so make sure to take an umbrella.
Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak – An ancient volcano crater off to the east side of Jeju. It is a short hike, and the view from the top is worth the ticket price. Watching the sunrise is popular with tourists so wake up early to beat the bulk of the crowd.
Mt. Hallasan – The highest mountain in Korea. The summit hike is only available on weekends and takes about 5 hours to reach the top. There are other trails available seven days a week. You’ll have to catch a bus which will take you to the base of the mountain.
Pyoseon Beach – I felt like this was the best beach campsite in Korea. During low tide the beach extends quite a bit further out. There’s even a facility for campers and beachgoers to take a shower available from mid-August through mid-September. I came back just to camp and relax here after bicycling around Korea.
Busan – Both times I stayed here were during typhoons so I didn’t get the full experience here. However, the atmosphere here during the sunny days is much more relaxed compared to Seoul and people don’t seem to be in as much of a hurry. The Seomyeon area near the Lotte Department Store is a good spot to find a place to stay.
Bus Station – Located at the northern edge of the city, it is definitely out of the way.
Haeundae Beach – The beach is beautiful, but the water is cold. Can get crowded with umbrella’s covering the beach, but still worth taking a camera.
Lotte Department Store – Definitely visit this mall. You can enjoy the view from the top free of charge and there is an hourly fountain show in the center of the store.
Ferry – Ferries to Jeju and Japan. The ferry to Japan is every other day and you’ll probably have to get help from a Korean to navigate and purchase your tickets.
Boseong – The Green Tea Fields are around 10 kilometers outside the city so grab a taxi near the bus station. It will cost around 10,000 won and the taxi driver I had rounded down so he didn’t have to take change! They’ll also give you a card so you can call them back once you’ve walked around for an hour or two.
Green Tea fields – Go here during May or early June. I enjoyed it and ended up taking lots of pictures. It’s a simple hike to reach the summit overlooking the plantation and you can see the ocean in the distance over a few mountains.
Gyeongju – There’s definitely a ton of stuff to visit here. Has two UNESCO World Heritage sites, temple ruins, preserved fortresses, burial mounds, and the Royal Tomb complex.
Sokcho – A simple fishing town in the northeast part of South Korea.
Seoraksan National Park – Just outside Sokcho, has great camping.
Namhae – An island connected to mainland Korea by bridge, you’ll most likely come here to visit Darangi Village. You can get on a local bus to Gacheon for 3,500 won.
Gacheon/ Darangi Village – A village with rice terraces overlooking the ocean, it was popularized in a Korean commercial. It is beautiful with mountains in the background, rice terraces down to the rocky back, and islands in the distance. Once you are done exploring and taking pictures it’ll be 3,800 won to take the bus back to the Namhae Bus Terminal.
Wando – While leaving Jeju my ferry to Mokpo was cancelled so I took a ferry to Wando instead. With the ferry ticket you can get a bus to Haenam or Gwanju for 1,000 won. Just make sure to hold onto the ferry ticket because the bus driver will take it at your destination.
Haenam – The southernmost city on mainland Korea. Just breezed through it, but supposedly has great seafood.
*NOTE – Conveniences, experiences, culture.
Jimjillbangs – A Korean bathhouse with showers, hot tubs, and sauna’s. You can also get a massage for a small additional fee. You can also sleep at jimjillbangs and they’ll give you clothes to sleep in while you are there. These were my favorite places in Korea and the things I miss the most back home. Nothing quite like daylong physical activities then going to a jimjillbang to soak in a hot tub/shower, then going to sleep. Once you wake up soak, dress, and it’s a new day!
PC Bangs – A Korean LAN café. At the very least take a peek inside once. This is how many young Koreans socialize and most are open 24/7. Will usually cost 1,000+ won per hour.
Pavillions – Located just about anywhere in Korea, you can get out of the sun and rain or just relax.