A Journey Through South Korea in Pictures

When people ask me where South Korea is, I usually tell them it’s a wonderful country, located between China and Japan.

If the same person proceeds to ask “But where is China and Japan?” then I tell them that the country directly to the north of South Korea is North Korea. And that the country directly to the south of North Korea is South Korea.

Fortunately, many people in this day and age are able to point to South Korea – along with China and Japan – on a map.

This is a good thing.

Expectation versus Reality

There are still people who have certain preconceived notions of South Korea.
Most of these notions arise from ignorance.

The most egregious of this would be:
South Korea is a developing country, right?

The Reality is:
From 1971 onward, South Korea has gone through one of the most amazing transformations ever seen on the world stage, hurtling from developing to developed country status at breakneck speed.

The South Korea of today is a highly advanced developed country.

I mean, this is Seoul’s skyline at night:

Seoul city skyline and Han River at night.
Seoul city skyline and Han River at night.

And this is the first functional bipedal walker prototype developed by South Korean robotics firm, Hankook Mirae Technology. They call it METHOD-2. It weighs 1.5 tons and is 13-feet tall.

Mecha Dreams Come True. Bad ass or what?
Mecha Dreams Come True. Bad ass or what?

Expectation: But isn’t South Korea just a land of skyscrapers and urban steel jungles, and the only thing people can do is eat and shop?

The Reality is:
South Korea, like its neighbors, China and Japan, is a country where modern, gleaming skyscrapers jostle for space with temples and buildings sporting more traditional, ornate architecture.

Walk at a languid pace at Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul, where you can bear witness to the architectural beauty of Korea’s traditional hanok houses:

Old-world atmosphere can be had in Seoul.
Old-world atmosphere can be had in Seoul.

One could visit, Gyeongju, a peaceful city and once the capital of the ancient Silla Dynasty.
It is very accessible and about 2 hours by high-speed rail (KTX) from Seoul.

Bulguksa Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bulguksa Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If you like mountains, whether for the stunning views, the fresh air, or to live out your Highlander/mountain-man fantasies, you can head up to Seoraksan or Jirisan:

Dance with the clouds. Seoraksan is famous for its deep, winding valleys.
Dance with the clouds. Seoraksan is famous for its deep, winding valleys.

If you decide to go for Seoraksan, you’ll be in Gangwon Province (Gangwondo).
There are quite a few spots in Gangwondo where, if you have the proper equipment, and place yourself in the proper spot, (and hope that the weather is all well and good), you can take some gorgeous shots of the night sky:

Twinkle, twinkle little star…
Twinkle, twinkle little star…

Then there’s Jeju Island, also known as the Hawaii of Korea.
Yes, yes it can get a little touristy at times.
It can be a challenge to navigate through the crowds at the popular touristy spots.
Yes, yes, it can get a little overpriced.
There are a couple of tacky, cheesy museums you might want to steer clear of.

But, if you want to see something a little different from the mainland, and you’ve got a couple of days to spend, or if you, like me, enjoy cute women calling you 오라방 (orabang) – Elder Brother in the Jeju language, used by women for men – then Jeju Island is as good a spot as any.

There’s hiking to be had.
There’s hiking to be had.
Like the female ama divers in Japan, Jeju Island has its own tradition of female divers, who are known as the Haenyo.
Like the female ama divers in Japan, Jeju Island has its own tradition of female divers, who are known as the Haenyo.
Camellia Hill, also very pretty during the winter.
Camellia Hill, also very pretty during the winter.
Jeju is famed for its Hallabong, a variety of mandarin orange.
Jeju is famed for its Hallabong, a variety of mandarin orange.

Expectation: I think Spring and Autumn are the best times to visit South Korea.

The Reality is:
Yes, Spring and Autumn are generally considered the most pleasant seasons to visit South Korea.

In Summer, it can get crazy hot, crazy muggy, and you might have to end the pitiful existence of a mozzie or two. The temperature can easily reach 38 C ( 100 F ).

In Winter, South Korea is easily colder than Japan.
It can drop to as cold as -15 C ( 5 F), depending on where you are.

Still, for the intrepid traveler, there are many sights one can behold in South Korea during the Summer and Winter months.

The flowers that bloom in Summer.
The flowers that bloom in Summer.
Hiking in Winter is just as fun. And gorgeous to boot.
Hiking in Winter is just as fun. And gorgeous to boot.

Expectation: Okay, great, great. But what about the food? I’ve read/seen/heard that Korean food is spicy. The only spice I use is salt and pepper. How can I possibly cope with all that spiciness?

The Reality is:
Yes, many Koreans do like their food spicy.

But, seriously, just how spicy can it get?

Well, in 2017, many YouTubers were doing the Nuclear Fire Noodles challenge, where they proceed to tuck into Samyang brand’s Limited Edition Hot Chicken Flavor Ramen 2x Spicy.
It is said to be spiciest instant noodle in the world.

Hot Chicken Flavor Ramen 2x Spicy has a heat rating of 12,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).

Just to give you an idea of how spicy that is:

The normal flagship variety Tabasco pepper sauce is around 2500 – 5000 SHU.
The Tabasco habanero sauce is considerably hotter at around 7000 – 8000 SHU.
Serrano peppers are around 10,000 – 25,000 SHU.

So, these Nuclear Fire Noodles, at 12,000 SHU?
Pretty spicy.

Nuclear Fire Noodles.
Nuclear Fire Noodles.

Then of course, there’s 디진다 돈까스 which translates literally to something like “You Die”/”Killer”/”Deadly” Pork Cutlet. Very ominous sounding, innit?

There are places where you can eat this for free, as long as you finish it within a certain amount of time (around 20 minutes). If you don’t – and honestly, many people do not – you pay about $15- $20 for the dish.

If you think the spicy sauce in Chipotle is fiery, you should not attempt this challenge.
It will turn your heart and your insides into ash.
For your reference, the spice level is about 9,900 SHU.

Killer Pork Cutlet.
Killer Pork Cutlet.

Of course, the above dishes are not commonly eaten dishes – they’re on the extreme end of the Spicy spectrum.
They’re just the answer to “How crazily spicy can the food get?”
Many Koreans will tell you that the above food items are not meant for consumption by humans.

So, what if you can’t take spicy foods?
What are some of the options available to you?

You could have kalguksu, which translates literally to “Knife noodles”.
They’re basically handmade, knife-cut wheat noodles served in broth.

Clam Kalguksu.
Clam Kalguksu.


In Busan, you can enjoy 어우동 (eoudong), which is a type of udon noodle made from fishcake. Not just noodles WITH fishcake, but the noodles are actually made FROM fishcake.

Noodles made from Fishcake.
Noodles made from Fishcake.

Expectation: Koreans are always bowing and courteous. They’re a meek people, aren’t they?

The Reality is:
Yes, there are a handful of different speech levels and honorifics in South Korea.
One chooses which to use depending on a variety of factors, including one’s own age relative to the other parties in the conversation, one’s seniority in the work place, etc.

But I would not associate Koreans with meekness.
Ever.
If they’re united behind a cause, Koreans are very, very quick to band together in order to stand up for their beliefs and principles.

I mean, does this look meek to you?

Protestors at an anti-government rally in central Seoul in November of 2016.
Protestors at an anti-government rally in central Seoul in November of 2016.
Protestors calling for the resignation of ex-South Korean President Park Geun Hye in November of 2016.
Protestors calling for the resignation of ex-South Korean President Park Geun Hye in November of 2016.

Ever wondered how South Korea reached its advanced, developed status in a handful of decades?

Working life in South Korea is brutal, and the number of hours South Koreans work consistently puts them in the Top 3 in the world.
South Korea did NOT get to where she is by adopting a 9-to-5 work culture.

Life moves at an incredible speed in Korea.
Cities (and some citizens) are said to never sleep.

There’s always someone, somewhere, up and about doing something (eating is a favorite pastime).

Rain can't stop the hustle and bustle of a night market. Bupyeong Market, Busan. Photo courtesy of rjkoehler.
Rain can't stop the hustle and bustle of a night market. Bupyeong Market, Busan. Photo courtesy of rjkoehler.

However, despite all that, South Koreans know how to smile and have fun:

Performers at Bamdokkaebi (Night Goblin) night market at Banpo. Photo courtesy of Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market.
Performers at Bamdokkaebi (Night Goblin) night market at Banpo. Photo courtesy of Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market.

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Conclusion:

In 1960, 72% of South Korea’s population lived in the countryside.
Now, robotic companies are developing mecha-bots, Kpop has spread across the globe, and Korean culture and cuisine has infiltrated the global awareness.

For those who are still stumbling in the dark, it’s great to leave your expectations and preconceived notions at the door and walk toward the light at the end of the corridor.

I hope this has been an educational article for you.
Thank you for making it this far!

A Journey Through South Korea in Pictures
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Most Helpful Girls

  • SueShe

    Excellent myTake and very well presented.

    I know South Korea fairly well inside out and I would agree on the overall positive image you give of it.

    Thanks to hard working people, South Korea has managed to emerge from a third world like country to a technology giant and leader.

    But also, thanks to the fact that the military oriented government was able to be changed relatively peacefully in the 80's to a civil type of government, was this step into democracy possible.

    To those wanting to visit Korea, I would recommend to invest at least one full week, just to see the most important sights, starting from the 38th. parallel in Panmunjom all the way down to Jeju (formerly Cheju) island.

    And for those that ask why have North and South Korea not been reunited until now, there are a number of factors that speak against it, starting with the opposition of at least 4 nations to a reunification for various strategic and economic reasons.

    Keep up the good job with those myTakes.

    Is this still revelant?
    • I mean I've had some people go: "Why you never highlight the bad things?"
      I know that every country has its dark side, and South Korea is no stranger to having a dark side as well.
      (My personal "favorite" are the 환빠, that tiny fraction of men (and it always seems to be men) who go around claiming that Koreans ruled all of Eurasia in the ancient era!)

      But why focus on those tiny little things when there's so much great stuff to highlight?
      Especially to those people who might want to get to know South Korea better, perhaps even go for a trip there sometime soon.

      Thank you for the very insightful and inspiring comment!

    • SueShe

      I am personally a big fan of the Korean cuisine and my all time favorite would be a stew (Bibimbap) with a large quantity of hot red sauce (Gochujang) and a choice of Kimchi. As a starter I would settle for Pajeon or one of the many hot (spicy) soups like Jjigae.

      The only drawback of Korean cuisine is the extensive use of garlic. You need to take a break from your friends for 48 hours if they did not eat together with you.

      Bon appetit!

    • This is why I always carry a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste with me. :)

    • Show All
  • saeyamazaki

    Ah~ I love this article. Jeju island is definitely the best

    Is this still revelant?
    • Can you speak/understand 제주 방언?

    • I can barely understand it. It's not even Korean at this point ahha

    • That is the exact same feeling I have... To me, it's almost like a different language compared to Standard Korean. All the other dialects are dialects, as in 사투리. They may sound a little different, but you understand it. But Jeju language is like another language altogether...

    • Show All

Most Helpful Guys

  • JimRSmith

    Very interesting and informative, as always.

    I am certainly curious about visiting South Korea. I also feel there's been a meteoric rise in the country's profile in the last few years.

    A friend of mine's father was there on business in the 1960s, and I heard from him what it was like then. I don't think many countries will have changed as much, in so little time...

    Is this still revelant?
    • A multitude of factors, among them a very high R&D intensity, and ease which one can do business in the country. That, and the plans and actions of ex-President Park Chung Hee, who while he did indeed lead an authoritarian regime (and was ultimately assassinated), forged all the necessary conditions and motivations for South Korea's remarkable transformation.

      It's hard to believe that before 1960, North Korea actually had a higher GDP per capita than South Korea! From what I've read (I wasn't alive during that time..), people were finding it hard to cobble up one meal per day, let alone three!

      And yes, you should definitely visit South Korea!

    • JimRSmith

      Thanks for MHO!

  • Lynx122

    I was in Seoul and Jeju last February and it was an amazing experience. Especially the new people I met and the ones I already knew really made it special. I wanna go back again and experience more things that I couldn't the first time.

    Is this still revelant?
    • I hope you have a great trip!

    • SueShe

      @EllaLovehard Sorry to have to report you for active prostitution.
      Every single reply you posted is a link for a prostitution site.

    • Lynx122

      Thanks man :)

What Girls & Guys Said

118
  • Salmon4056

    This is a very educational my take. I usually just know south korea for its media entertainment. I will be traveling to tokyo, japan by next year hopefully

    • I hope you have a great trip. If you go during spring, you'll catch the cherry blossoms! But any time can be a great time to visit Japan!

    • Salmon4056

      Thank you. Yeah I hope to see their cherry blossoms in spring. In my town we have many grown cherry blossoms, but I know there will be many more in Japan🌸.

  • Informative as always and very Beautiful😌

    I’m ready to get a ticket lol 🌸🌸🌸

  • Butterfly_ch

    I heard that South Korea is quite culturally isolated - e. g. most people only listen to Korean music and watch Korean films. Is that true?

    • No, no, no. Definitely not! In fact, one of the most popular Netflix shows in South Korea is Stranger Things. I even spoke to a friend who watched Derry Girls (an Irish Netflix series). Marvel films are really popular as well. Many people watch American movies and TV series and listen to American songs. The movies in the theaters are played in the original English audio, with Korean subtitles.

  • WolfsRoze

    Wow, I really liked this, very beautiful pictures. I'd feel like I would like visiting there. Thank you for this!

    • You're most welcome!

    • WolfsRoze

      @dantetheexplorer hey could it be possible to provide a link to buy some of them noodles? Looks so yummy!!! there seems to be a few different results for it but they have different Packaging so I'm not too sure if that's the right kind on Amazon...

    • www.amazon.com/.../ref=sr_1_3

      Make sure the brand name is Samyang.

    • Show All
  • Avicenna

    Wow, great job on this. Underrated tourist destination.

    • Thank you. And yes, it really is!

    • Avicenna

      I've been there, by the way.

    • From the sound of it, you must have enjoyed your trip!

    • Show All
  • Kavya190

    My experience with Koreans is that they do bow to people older than them, even if they are one year or a few months older than them. Most of them don’t believe in God or follow Buddhism. And yes, there’s Korean spicy noodles. South Korea is also known for highest rates of plastic surgery and I’ve read that parents give money to kids for plastic surgery as their graduation gift.

  • beautifuljoan

    K-pop, k-drama, k-culture and k-food. I like their spicy noodles and their Samgyeopsal. And everytime I go there, I also think of Tae-kwon-do. I also like Hyundai and Kia.

  • Kit_Kat88

    I've been to Tokyo, Seoul, and Bangkok this summer! Seoul is very nice

  • markscott

    South Korea is a beautiful country, and has very nice people.

  • John_Doesnt

    Nobody can discuss South Korea without mentioning K-Pop and Mukbang.

    Did you ever try yelling "BTS" when you were in South Korea?

  • IHateBeingaMan

    its definetley a place I hope to visit someday, also, I wonder if North and South Korea could possibly become unified again someday

  • DeeDeeDeVour

    Very educational & quite interesting.

  • nerms123

    One of my best friends is from rural south korea

  • spartan55

    Cool read, thanks!

  • Thanks so much for the walk through.

  • leahzrc

    Asian countries make america look like poo poo

  • Marina69

    My home ❤️, Nice myTake rlly ! 👌

  • ❤️❤️❤️❤️

  • Lmnop22

    Love this post! 😍

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