The ‘Land of the Morning Calm’, South Korea has become a melting pot of modernity and tradition. The name Korea is derived from Goryeo, a dynasty which ruled in the Middle Ages. This country has style and substance in abundance, yet far from being weighed down by its history and cultural traditions, South Korea is also ultra-modern, producing many of the luxury technology goods that we enjoy today. Known for its green, hilly countryside dotted with cherry trees and centuries-old Buddhist temples, it’s also home to a thriving K-Pop scene which adds to the fun of this country!
Small Group Tours
Experience the highlights of beautiful South Korea and mesmerising Japan.
South Korea Facts & Tips
Did you know?
- South Korea has an impressive 12 World Heritage sites, including royal palaces, tombs, shrines and the well-preserved hanok villages (hilly settlements with traditional Korean houses)
- 64% of the country is covered by forests which offer visitors spectacular natural landscapes and experiences.
- Children born in South Korea are considered “one year old” when they are born and will turn two on the next Lunar New Year. 100 days after their birth, a celebration is held for the baby.
- Taekwondo is the national sport of South Korea. It’s believed to have been invented approximately 2,000 years ago.
- “Have you eaten well?” is a common greeting in South Korea, used the way an Australian may ask “How are you?”
- Almost half of all Koreans have Kim, Lee or Park as their surname.
Visas & Passports
Australian passport holders travelling to South Korea do not need a visa at this time.
We require that your passport is valid for travel for at least six months from the date you are planning to return to Australia. Your passport must be valid to travel internationally and must be machine-readable. You also need to carry a valid return ticket on you.
Whether travelling on an Australian passport or the passport of another country, all travellers require visas for a number of countries, and it is your responsibility to secure what may be required before departing Australia. You can consult with your travel agent, but it is also recommended that you check the foreign embassy website for your respective destination as it can also provide you with useful information.
Australian Embassy in South Korea:
19th Floor, Kyobo Building
1, Jong-ro, Jongno-gu
Ph: +82 2 2003 0100
Fax: +82 2 2003 0196
The Korean Won (KRW; symbol ₩) is the official currency of South Korea. A single won is divided into 100 jeon. Notes are in denominations of ₩1,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 50,000. Ensure you change a small amount into small denominations.
Advise your bank of your travel plans so that they can make a note of it, otherwise they may cancel your credit card as a safety measure due to the overseas transactions. Also make a note of the 24-hour emergency contact number of the bank or building society which issued your credit card in the unlikely event that your card is lost or stolen.
Whenever possible use ATMs when the banks are open (Mon – Fri) so that if a machine ‘eats’ your card you can then deal with it straight away. It is always advisable to carry a supply of cash in addition to your credit card.
If you don’t have any South Korean Won with you on arrival, we advise you to exchange some money into the local currency at the airport even if the exchange rate is not the best, this way you’ll have money to get a drink, snack or give a tip during those first few hours of arrival. Your guide will be able to advise you on where the best places are to exchange money.
- The price of a cappuccino in Seoul is approximately 4,800KRW.
- The price of an inexpensive lunch is approximately 8,000KRW.
- The price of dinner in a moderately-priced restaurant is approximately 25,000KRW.
- The price of a beer in a local pub is approximately 5,000KRW.
Korean cuisine is largely based upon rice, vegetables, and meats. Traditional Korean meals are noted for the number of side dishes (banchan) that accompany steam-cooked short-grain rice. Commonly used ingredients include sesame oil, doenjang (fermented bean paste), soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes and gochujang (fermented red chilli paste).
Across the country ingredients and dishes vary. Certain regions are especially associated with some dishes (for example, the city of Jeonju with bibimbap) either as a place of origin or for a famous regional variety. Bibimbap, translated as “mixed rice” is a bowl of warm white rice topped with namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables) and gochujang. A raw or fried egg and sliced meat (usually beef) are common additions. The ingredients are stirred together thoroughly just before eating and it can be served either hot or cold.
Main dishes are made from grains such as bap (a bowl of rice), juk (porridge), and guksu (noodles). Soups are another common part of any Korean meal but are generally served as part of the main course rather than as an entrée. Soups known as guk are often made with meats, shellfish and vegetables but can be made into more formal soups known as tang. Jjigae are a thicker, heavier seasoned soup or stew.
Kimchi is served often, sometimes at every meal and refers to fermented vegetable dishes usually made with napa cabbage, Korean radish, or sometimes cucumber, commonly fermented in a brine of ginger, garlic, scallions, and chili pepper. South Koreans eat an average of almost 20kgs of kimchi each year. Guksu (noodle dishes) have been eaten in Korea since ancient times. Wheat noodles (milguksu) were specialty foods for birthdays, weddings or auspicious occasions because the long and continued shape were thought to be associated with longevity and long-lasting marriage. Jajangmyeon, a staple Koreanized Chinese noodle dish, is extremely popular in Korea as fast, take-out food. It is made with a black bean sauce usually fried with diced pork or seafood and a variety of vegetables, including zucchini and potatoes.
Important: When dining at buffets (i.e. breakfast) please refrain from taking food away with you to ‘save’ for later! If you feel that you’ll need snacks between meals, pack some dried fruit, nuts, muesli bars etc.
If you have specific food allergies and/or preferences, we highly recommend you take every precaution before your tour, including carrying a small card with your food allergy listed in each language of every country you are travelling to show to table staff when ordering. Whilst we take all dietary requirements seriously, due to the serious nature of potential allergic reactions, it is your responsibility to be as prepared as possible.
South Korea’s climate is humid continental and humid subtropical. It is affected by the East Asian monsoon which means that its highest level of rainfall occurs in summer in what is called ‘jangma’ (in June and July). Summers are hot and humid. The winters can be extremely cold with it being slightly milder along the south coast. South Korea often experiences what is called the ‘sam-han-sa-on’ – when a cold wave passes across the Korean peninsula - it lasts for 3 cold days followed by 4 warmer days before repeating.
Want to get out and explore on your own?
Getting around South Korea is easy and public transport is very well-priced. All transport works on the Korean ppallippalli (hurry hurry) system. This means that the buses and trains leave on time, and that the buses and taxis tend to be driven fast. Taxis are colour coded according to the level of service offered. A grey or white taxi is typically a basic car with a not very experienced driver, whereas a black cab denotes a luxury car with a more experienced driver. The drivers will appreciate if you tell them to “keep the change” (or jandon gajiseyo in Korean) for small amounts.
When catching taxis, make sure you have small change on you and choose one with a meter, if it doesn’t have one then negotiate the price before getting in. We recommend you ask your guide or hotel staff the names of reputable taxi companies.
So, you’d love to bring home a special souvenir from South Korea…
Koreans love to shop, with markets and mega malls found in abundance across the country. It’s also possible to find many smaller boutique stores that specialize in crafts including pottery and hanji (handmade paper). The country’s capital Seoul has plenty of markets where you can find a great buy. Don’t miss the sprawling general ones at Namdaemun or Dongdaemun, both of which remain active around the clock. Also worth checking out is the Dapsimni Antiques Market. You can barter in the open markets for lower prices, but make sure you do so politely. Of course, bargaining is becoming a rare sport as most stores now have fixed prices. Myeong-dong is Seoul’s premier shopping district, its streets lined with vendors and dazzling neon signs. For a more serene retail experience explore the twisting byways of Insa-dong, Bukchon, Samcheong-dong and Tongui-dong – the areas around the royal palaces; here you can browse for traditional crafts and contemporary art pieces. Seoul also has a herbal medicine market, but an equally large and famous one is located in Daegu. Everything closes late, with most stores open until at least 11 pm. Some of the markets stay open even later if you want to experience a true late-night shopping experience.
- Never point your chopsticks or pierce your food with them. They should be returned to the table after every few bites and when you drink or stop to speak. Indicate you are finished eating by placing your chopsticks on the chopstick rest or on the table. Never place them parallel across your rice bowl.
- Do not pick up food with your hands. Fruit should be speared with a toothpick.
- Bones and shells should be put on the table or an extra plate.
- Avoid touching Korean people. They consider it a personal violation to be touched by someone who is not a relative or close friend.
- Do not cross your legs or stretch your legs out straight in front of you. Keep your feet on the floor, never on a desk or chair.
- Always pass and receive objects with your right hand (supported by the left hand at the wrist or forearm) or with two hands.
- To beckon someone, extend your arm, palm down, and move your fingers in a scratching motion. Never point with your index finger.
Celebrations & Public Holidays
Buddha’s birthday is celebrated according to the lunar calendar. If you visit to one of the many Buddhist temples in South Korea, you will see lotus lanterns that cover the entire temple and surrounding yards and streets. Many temples provide free meals and tea to visitors. In the temple parks, traditional games, mask dances and acrobatic shows can be seen.
A 3-day celebration, Chuseok is also known as Korean Thanksgiving and is one of the most important and festive holidays of the year. Traditionally, Koreans return to their ancestral hometowns to celebrate with their families. The holiday falls on a full harvest moon and Koreans give thanks to their ancestors for the plentiful harvest. A popular food served on Chuseok is songpyeon – a round rice cake filled with sesame seeds, chestnuts or red beans.
Other national public holidays to be aware of include:
- New Year’s Day
- Korean Lunar New Year (Seollal) (February)
- Labour Day / May Day (May 1st)
- Buddha’s Birthday (May)
- Memorial Day (June 6th)
- Liberation Day (August 15th)
- Chuseok (September/October)
- Christmas Day
South Korea Highlights
South Korea’s capital, Seoul, is the largest city in the country with a population of more than 10 million people. It has more than 2,000 years of history, founded in 18BC by one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. As well as being home to much of Korea’s cultural and educational facilities, Seoul also has an abundance of historic sites including Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces and Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, as well as places of traditional culture like Gwang Jang Market and Insadong street. As the birthplace of K-pop and the Korean Wave, Seoul is a modern city full of cutting edge fashion, technology, music and architecture. It was named the 2010 World Design Capital by UNESCO and one of the United Nations most livable cities – ranking higher than New York City, London and Melbourne. Photo credit: Kalyakan
Busan is South Korea’s second largest city and home to the largest beach and longest river in the country. It served as the temporary capital of the Republic of Korea during the Korean War as it was one of the only cities that did not fall to North Korea. The city is one of the busiest port cities in the world yet still has some charming gardens and parks to soften its industrial side. A must-see in Busan is the Gukje Market, the largest traditional market in Busan and steeped in history. This market humbly began during the Korean War in 1950 as a place for war refugees to try to eke out a living which then grew into a large and busy market. Photo credit: Cozyta
With strong ties to Korea’s ancient history, Gyeongju has had a civilization in the region for centuries. In fact, Gyeongju was settled by the Shilla Dynasty in 57BC, who ruled there for over a thousand years. The town itself is home to many historic buildings, temples, burial grounds, palace ruins and other national treasures – more than any other place in Korea. Gyeongju is also home to Korea’s first UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple. Seokguram Grotto is one of the best kept Buddhist sites in Korea, where you can see a seated Buddha surrounded by 2 sets of 12 royal guards. Bulguksa Temple is another amazing example of Buddhist art, possibly the finest in Korea. Photo credit: dudlajzov
Centrally located in the middle of Korea, Jeonju is lovely city of rich cultural and historical significance. Some of the best things about Jeonju is its fresh produce, delicious local delicacies (including the Bibimpbap, a delicious dish of rice and other things mixed together with a hot sauce, which is native to Jeonju) and wonderful Hanok architecture. The Jeonju Hanok Village is a fantastic place to experience a variety of Korean culture as you wander among traditional Hanok houses. Photo credit: dudlajzov
See the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, marvel at the beauty of Tonle Sap Lake and discover Cambodia's friendly people.
From its intriguing ancient history to contemporary modern culture and stunning natural scenery, there are so many sides to the fascinating Japan.
Shop at the morning market in Vientiane, visit beautiful Buddhist temples in Luang Prabang and discover the cascading Kuang Si Waterfalls.
Explore lush jungles, ancient temples and tropical beaches, visit the medieval capital of Polonnaruwa and sip on tea in Nuwara Eliya.