Anywhere you live, there will be things you love and things you hate about the place. Korea, is a place where the good overwhelmingly surpass the bad. I won’t lie and say that it is flawless, as there are also things I dislike about Korea (that list will be coming soon!) but I thought it would be best to start on a positive note.
I have been fortunate enough to have been able to live in this country for the last 3.5 years and I must say that they have been the best years of my life. Whoever told you that those days would be in college must have been loaded or something because I really couldn’t afford to do a tenth of the things I have done after college. Anyways, I am going off on a tangent, so without further ado, here are five things I love about Korea.
5) Foreigner Friendliness
Now I know that many people will say the complete opposite about Koreans. The claims are that they often talk about foreigners behind their (our) backs and just put up a front of friendliness. While I think this may be true in some limited cases, most Koreans tend to like and treat foreigners very well. How many countries can you name where you can get by for years without making any attempt at learning the language? While I don’t recommend this, so many people do it because, it is just not necessary to live comfortably. Good luck getting by in the US without knowing English.
My first day in Korea is a good indicator of this. I arrived at the airport with instructions to “take a bus to Daejeon city.” This is something easy enough for me to do now, but extremely hard for a first timer who had never traveled outside of the US. I asked a middle aged man who didn’t speak a word of English for directions. He didn’t understand me, but went out of his way to find someone who did so that he could help me. This type of situation happens all the time. In addition, foreigners often get the “foreigner discount” which is not offered to locals. Places like this amusement parks for example have a 30% off if you’re foreign. In many occasions, I’ve had to pay less, or have gotten a freebie for no other reason than being a foreigner. I can’t think of anywhere else on Earth where this happens. If you do please tell me!
4) No Tipping (and Sales Tax is included)
Imagine a place where the people in the service industry do a good job, not because they are expecting (yeah I said it) a fat tip, but because it is their job to provide good service. No, I am not smoking anything, such a place exists, and that place is South Korea! I hate tipping, and I do it where it is customary to save face, not because I like it. I know servers get paid below minimum wage in the US, so they should get tipped to make up for the difference, so I am not pinning it on them, but as a customer, I think it is a dumb custom.
In addition, the math involved sucks. I know Americans are used to it, but try to explain to anyone else in the world that when they read “$14.99” on a menu, they should really expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 because of tax and tip. Now, I happen to actually be good at math and I still dislike the dishonesty behind it all. In Korea, if something says 10,000 Won, it means 10,000 Won, and that is a wonderful feeling.
3) Public Transportation
Maybe I had a terrible frame of reference, being subjected to the worst population to public transportation availability in the world. You guessed it, I am from Los Angeles where the buses are infrequent and the word ‘subway’ means a fast food chain that periodically offers $5 sandwiches.
The public transportation in Korea is fantastic. For starters, the subway system in Seoul, the second most used subway in the world, expands far beyond the city boundaries reaching up to 60% of the country’s population and serves 2.5 billion riders a year. This doesn’t even include the subways in cities outside of Seoul, expanding the reach to 75% of the population.
If that is not enough, the bus system is also highly developed. There are a number of different color coded buses depending on their traveling distance. Anything from red buses (long distance) to small green buses (very short distance) go everywhere and are always on time.
In addition, the train system is phenomenal, and poised to be able to reach 95% of the population within 5 years by high speed rail (300 kph). In comparison to Europe, the trains are very reasonably priced and again, are always on time.
Finally, did I mention that Incheon international airport was voted the best airport in the world for 8 years in a row? I guess this isn’t something I use every day, but hey, why not throw it in.
2) Korean Food
If I ever decide to leave Korea for good, it won’t be without a good supply of cookbooks and ingredients. Before coming here, I thought that I had a decent grasp of Korean food. After all, I did occasionally go out for Korean BBQ with my friends (hint: that’s not even FROM Korea) which made me feel pretty knowledgeable. Let me just say that “didn’t even scratch the surface” is a bit of an understatement.
The problem with finding Korean food in other countries is that you don’t really know what to look for. I’ll let my previous multiple articles give you a better description (here, here, here and here) but believe me when I say, nothing is better than Korean food.
So what could I possibly love more than the food?!
1) There is so Much to Do
There is only one type of article I have written more often than about Korean foods and snacks, and that is about things to do in Korea. Check out my countdown to the top 30 things to do in Seoul (#30-21, #20-11, and #10-1) just to give you a taste. I wouldn’t have spent a month writing my South Korea Travel Guide if I didn’t believe there were enough things to do in Korea to make it worth a visit and the things to do in Seoul are only half the story.
Knowing what I know now, if I had never been to Korea, I would definitely put it on my top 3 list of places I just have to visit. The history, the energy, and the people provide a plethora of things to do here. I can guarantee that if you spend 3 months here, you can find something new to do every day without having to stretch it with things like “take a walk on the park.” I am talking real, unique things you can only do in Korea.
I hope you liked my sales pitch, now go ahead and click “purchase” on that Kayak.com one-way flight ticket you just looked up, you won’t regret it.