South Korea Wins the Prize

Of all the places we have been so far, South Korea was the most surprising. It was a last minute addition to our itinerary, and over three weeks it solidly earned its place there. We had more funny, unusual, “oh my gosh, what is going on here” experiences in South Korea than any other place we have been thus far, and it was so much fun.

Compared to Vietnam, South Korea felt familiar. It was clean and quiet. It had pedestrian cross walks, cars that stopped at red lights, and more cars than mopeds. More than that, South Korea has developed very quickly, and its modern feel is evident. It felt like home. And yet, in so many ways it was nothing like home.

It seems not many tourists bother to go to South Korea, and we suspect it is because people think it would be boring. The result, however, is that South Korea does not care much about tourists, and that actually makes it a cool place to visit.

  • English is not ubiquitous. In fact, almost none of our communication in Korea was in English. This resulted in some, frankly, bizarre meals and some awkward situations, but it is really what traveling is about… or at least what it used to be about.
  • It was not unusual to find restaurants closed at dinnertime, motels unstaffed, or coffee shops closed until 11am; we could sometimes not give our money away even when we wanted to.
  • Korea’s counting system is based on 10,000 instead of 1,000 which resulted in a surprising amount of confusion about prices. We learned to appreciate creative methods of communicating just how many zeros we were talking about.
  • Sometimes the motel room you paid for might have a heated floor and a stack of blankets in place of a bed – and that’s all you need!
  • The food in Korea is delicious. Despite eating more surprising dishes here than anywhere else in the world, we loved how flavorful everything was. It definitely helped that we were willing to be adventurous.
  • Jjimjilbangs are amazing! They may feel weird and uncomfortable initially, but that feeling definitely washes off as soon as you sit in a 106 degree F jade bath. Trust us, no one is looking at you, even if you are the only person in the place with a bikini tan.

There is so much of South Korea we did not get to see, but we are happy to have experienced so much of a place most people miss out on.

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