South Korea

Annyong Haseyo, and welcome to SouthKorea.co.uk. We’re here to give you the lowdown on a country we love. We’ll be covering the cities, countryside and culture that make this particular corner of East Asia a special place to travel, to take a career break or even to settle down and build a family. How do we know about South Korea? We’ve spent large parts of out lives there. We’ve got past hating Kimchi and started to crave it. We’ve suffered the infamous Soju hangovers and we’ve travelled to the rural corners and sat amongst Buddhist monks in remote mountainside caves. We’ve flittered across the border into the secretive north (before the border was shut down for tourism) and this site is dedicated to preparing your for your trip to South Korea.

If you’re looking for somewhere to travel, you’ll be welcomed to a destination that’s relatively affordable, clings steadfastly to its traditions and celebrates foreigners as revered guests, giving you the opportunity to experience a culture in an intimate and personal way. It’s not unusual to walk around the streets of Seoul and be offered free tours by those who just want to practice their English (don’t worry, we’ve never heard reports of this being a scam), and the colorful old sites are uniquely Korean, often surrounded by startling and entertaining mythology.

Capital Seoul is a bustling metropolis, one with a manic pace of life and all the entertaining trappings of a modern city. There are dozens of must-see old sites (make sure you join the waiting list for the stunning Secret Garden), enchanting restaurants and coffee houses, an intense nightlife centered on the university district of Hongdae and some playful cultural asides to feast on. Be sure to sample the Korean form of karaoke, ‘Noraebang’, the abundance of wacky street food and fume-ridden Soju tents.

Elsewhere on this hilly peninsula, take the chance to enjoy the seasonal aspects of Korea. Spring brings carpets of beautiful cherry blossom. Summer is the time to hit the (crowded) beaches or lounge around one of the country’s party-focused rooftop pools, and in Autumn the hiking season is at its peak, with locals and visitors alike hitting the soaring hills as the leaves form a weave of splattered colour. During the biting winter, cuddle up to your ‘Ondol’ under floor heating and hit the slopes for some skiing. To the north you’ll find the sobering sites of the North/ South border, and the chance to explore the tunnels once used by the North Korean army in an attempt to invade undetected. The tropical island of Jeju is the south’s crown jewel, with a cratered volcano at its heart and traditional female diver fishing – which involves plucking shellfish unassisted from the ocean floor – still part of every day life. The east brings with it mountains, while in the heart of the country you’ll find traditional capital Gyeongju and it’s ancient monuments. To the west, a craggy shoreline complete with one of the world’s oddest attractions, the annual ‘miracle walk’ – a tidal phenomenon that enables you to ‘walk on water’ to an offshore island 3kms away.

Korea’s extremely accessible. ‘Love hotel’ accommodation – a touch sleazy for some but a great budget option – comes in at around $30 a night outside of the capital, and can be as good as a mid-level hotel room if you can live with the sex toy machines in the corridors (some even have private saunas). Up market hotels are relatively affordable, and private accommodation in the houses of local people – referred to as ‘minbak’ accommodation – is a great option for those on a tight budget. You can flit between towns on the extremely regular bus services, which also come in at impressively little (you can travel the length of the country and back for $30).

If you’re looking for more than a holiday, though, South Korea is also a great option. TEFL teaching is a particularly common choice here, and almost all of the foreign residents fall into either the TEFL or American military category. Jobs are fairly easy to come by, as there’s always a shortage of teachers across the country, and salaries are far more than you’re really likely to spend. It’s very possible to stay in South Korea for a year or two and clear debts whilst still having a great time, as nights out and social activities tend to make a minimal dent in salaries compared to what they would at home. A typical starting salary for an inexperienced (or even first time) teacher is in the region 2 million to 2.5 million Won in Seoul, and a few hundred thousand less elsewhere (you’ll make up the difference in accommodation savings), and the only complex visa requirements are that you come from an English speaking country and have a degree. At the time of writing, the UK equivalent is around £1,200 upwards. You’ll also be required to take a health check before starting work.

If you choose to work in Seoul, you’ll find a large and friendly expat community waiting for you, though some prefer the more sedate lifestyle of the countryside, or smaller (and hotter) southern cities like Busan and Daegu. A typical job is at a ‘Hogwan’ (private school), and it’s worth thinking carefully about whether you’re looking to teach adults or children (it’s a very different experience), and considering the hours, which can be anything from light and well paid (especially if you can land a University job, which regularly includes five months of paid vacation) to intense and frustrating. Other employment options include journalism, diplomacy (though you might have to work hard in advance to snag that one) and a wide selection of international engineers.

Korean culture seems to reveal itself in layers, which makes a long term residence an appealing option: even after several years you’ll still be uncovering and reveling in new scenes, new sights and enticing travel options for your weekends. It’s not always an easy experience (living abroad rarely is), but if you’re looking for a combination of travel, cultural exposure, a fun-loving lifestyle and some saving on the side, it’s difficult to argue with. Of course, this is just a quick hello, and we’ll be doing our best to tell you about all this stuff – pros, cons and general useful info on South Korean lifestyle and travel – throughout this site. So dig in, feel free to query us if you can’t find what you’re looking for, and enjoy! We hope SoKo is everything you imagined.