Nuts-and-bolts information to plan your trip, plus a checklist of essentials to include when you pack and a list of links to local media
Entry Requirements: U.S. citizens need a valid passport to enter the Republic of Korea; no visas are required for visits up to 30 days.
Security: In terms of street crime, Seoul is one of the safest cities on Earth. However, some female Western travelers report harassment after dark, so, if possible, travel with a companion in the evening.
Time: Seoul is 13 hours ahead of U.S. eastern standard time.
Money: The currency of Korea is the won, often written KRW. For current conversion rates, go to OANDA Currency Converter. www.oanda.com/convert/classic
Phone Calls: To call Seoul from abroad, dial the country code 82, followed by the Seoul code 2, and then the local number. From inside Korea, the area code for Seoul is 02 and you will need to dial this when using a cell phone, but not from public telephones and landlines within the city. Most international mobiles do not work in South Korea, but you can rent cell phones at Incheon International Airport or at the major hotels.
When to Go: Seoul suffers long, gray winters—from late November until March, and wet, muggy monsoon summers—from July until the of end August. The best times to visit are spring, from April to June, and fall, from September to late November, though occasional typhoons can delay travel in the fall.
Getting There: Seoul is widely served by international airlines, which land at the spectacular Incheon International Airport, “The Winged City.” It is a 30-minute limousine bus ride ($10-15, depending upon your destination in the city) to and from the airport. There is no train service, as yet, though there is a subway (line 5) connection to the domestic Gimpo Airport, which is close to Incheon International and easily accessible by shuttle bus.
Getting Around: Traffic snarls both the downtown city center north of the Han River, and Gangnam, south of it, as well as the bridges across the river, for much of the day. The subway is cheap and efficient, but gets jammed at rush hours, and most lines close just before midnight. Buses are crowded, lack English route maps, and often drive dangerously. The best transport bargains in the city are the cheap (gray) taxis, which have a starting rate of only $1.50, and free telephone interpretation services. The black mobom (deluxe) taxis cost around twice the price.
Name Cards: Koreans are fanatical about name cards and present them (with two hands) on all occasions. They not only give a sense of who you are (What is your job?) and how you fit into the all-important hierarchies (What is your position?), but also provide contact details (mobile phone number and e-mail address). If you are meeting a number of persons for the first time, it is fine to place the name cards on the table in front of you, to remember who’s who.
Sensible Clothing: Despite a few pockets of rap culture, such as around the liberal Hongik University area, Koreans are conservative, if fashionable, dressers. The old, torn, and faded look never really caught on here. When visiting temples and (oddly) the DMZ, a conservative “smart casual” look is advised.
Seasonal Clothing: Korea has four distinct seasons: Winter (cold and dry), spring (cool and dry), summer (hot and wet) and fall (temperate and variable). Bring the appropriate gear.
Hiking Gear: Mountain hiking—even in central Seoul—is a popular weekend pastime, so consider bringing boots and a backpack.
Deodorant: While the male personal hygiene industry is growing by leaps and bounds, aftershaves and deodorants for men can be difficult to find, so bring your own.
Money: According to some surveys, Seoul is now more expensive than Tokyo.
Seoul Global Center
Must-go, one-stop-service center eases life for both expatriates and tourists. On the third floor of the Korea Press Center Building, just behind City Hall, close to City Hall subway station. It also offers a handy, English speaking Travel Information Service, tel. 82 2 723 3207. global.seoul.go.kr
City Hall’s English-language tourism website. english.visitseoul.net/visit2007en/index.jsp
Korea Tourism Organization
Information on travel and events all over the country, including Seoul. www.visitkorea.or.kr
Expatriate-run site with reviews and information on clubs, bars, and restaurants and an event calendar. http://seoul-style.tumblr.com/
The Marmot’s Hole
Lively, Korea current affairs-focused blog, widely read by expats. Also offers Seoul photography and threads on popular culture. www.rjkoehler.com
Everything you wanted to know (and probably more) about Korean food and drink. www.zenkimchi.com/FoodJournal
Just what the name indicates: A hotel information and booking site.
Korea’s top-selling English language newspaper, but most of website is subscriber only. www.koreaherald.co.kr
The local, English-language insert in the International Herald Tribune. Feature articles on culture, politics, people, and health, also a website with film and restaurant reviews, and the latest news.
Another English language paper, with lively columns and a free website. www.koreatimes.co.kr
Glossy, City Hall-sponsored magazine. Beautifully illustrated with cultural features and plenty of “What’s On” information. Pick it up free in major hotels and tourist offices. No website.
Korea’s wire agency English site. Updated news, also daily temperatures. english.yonhapnews.co.kr/
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.