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South Korea country information

South Korea map
Republic of Korea (South Korea)
Area: 100,032 sq km
Population: 49,044,790
Population density: 493 per sq km
Capital: Seoul
Passport & Visa
Passport Required?
British Yes
Australian Yes
Canadian Yes
Other EU Yes
Visa Required?
British No
Australian No
Canadian No
Other EU No


Passport valid for a minimum of three months required by all nationals referred to in the chart above.


Not required by all nationals referred to in the chart above for the following durations:
(a) nationals of Australia and EU countries for stays of up to 90 days, except nationals of Italy and Portugal who may stay for up to 60 days, and nationals of Cyprus who may stay for up to 30 days;
(b) nationals of Canada for stays of up to six months;
(c) nationals of the USA for stays of up to 30 days.

Note: Nationals not referred to in the chart above are advised to contact the embassy to check visa requirements.

Types of Visa and Cost

Single-entry (up to 90 days): US$30. Single-entry (more than 90 days): US$50. Multiple-entry: US$80. For US citizens, multiple entry visa fee is US$45. The same fees apply for both business and tourist visas. Nationals of Italy, Spain, Sweden and UK can obtain a visa valid for up to six months free of charge.

A new visa for medical tourists has been introduced. Visitors who require short-term treatment may apply for a 90-day visa; visitors who need long-term care will be able to apply for a one-year visa.


30, 60 or 90 days.

Applications to:

Consulate (or consular section at embassy).

Working Days Required

Note more South Korea visa information can be found on the Hi-Korean e-government website
Getting there

Getting There by Air

The national airlines are Asiana Airlines (OZ) (website: and Korean Air (KE) (website: ).

Approximate Flight Times

From London to Seoul is 11 hours; and from New York is 13 hours 30 minutes.

Main Airports

Seoul (SEL) Incheon International Airport (ICN) (website: ) is 40km (25 miles) west of Seoul on Yongion. To/from the airport: Limousine buses, taxis and coaches operate regular routes between the main urban areas (journey time - 1 hour 30 minutes). A ferry service operates a daily service between the airport ferry pier and Wolmido/Yuldo on the coast of Incheon city (journey time - 15 to 20 minutes). Facilities: Left luggage, banks/bureaux de change, chemist, duty-free shops, business centre/post office, mobile phone rental, games room, Internet, golf course, hotel, restaurants, stopover shower and relaxation area, transit tours and tourist information.

Busan (PUS) (Kimhae) is 27km (17 miles) from Busan (in the far south). The airport receives flights from Fukuoka, Osaka and Tokyo. To/from the airport: There are bus, subway, coach and taxi services to the town. Facilities: Currency exchange, post office, duty-free shop, snack bar, gift shop, restaurant, travel information service and car hire.

Jeju (CJU) (Jeju), located on the island of Jeju, is 4km (2.5 miles) from the town centre. To/from the airport: Buses and coaches are available to the town. Limousine buses and taxis are also available from the airport terminal. Facilities: Currency exchange, post office, duty-free shop, snack bar, gift shop and travel information service.

Note: Seoul (SEL) Gimpo (GMP) airport is the main domestic airport, although a few international flights (mainly to Hong Kong) do still depart from there.

As of 2009, metro line 9 connects Gimpo Airport with the city centre.
Departure Tax
None. There may be a KRW4,000-17,000 passenger service charge to pay if this has not been included in the cost of the ticket.

Getting There by Water

Main ports: Busan (in the far south), Jeju (website: ) and Incheon (due west of Seoul) (website: ).

Passenger lines: Sailings to Japan from Busan include Korea Ferry (website: ), Mirejet (website: ) offers the speedy 3-hour service to Fukuoa, and Pukwan. There are many options to sail to China from Incehon: the fastest is Hwadong Haeun's (website: ) service to Shi Dao, which takes 12 hours. Others include Weidong Ferry (website: ) from Incheon to Qingdao. See the tourist board's site for useful details of Korea-China crossings.

Note see following websites for ferry crossings:
Ferry crossings from China to Korea and vise versa
Ferry crossings to and from Japan
Kampu Ferry services between Japan and Korea

Getting There by Rail

Test trains crossed the border to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in May 2007 for the first time in over 50 years. However, there are no passenger services at present. North Korea can only accessed by train from China, with services between Beijing and Pyongyang. For details of China-North Korea tours, try Koryo Tours, run by Westerners based in China (website: ).
Rail Passes
Korea-China Through-ticket and Korea-Japan Through-ticket provide discounts on travel between the countries, including transport by ferry and train. For more information, contact the tourist board (see Contact Addresses).
Cycling & Maps
An interesting link to Han Rivers Riders Bicycle Club in South Korea.
Cost of living
South Korea: all prices in Korean Won (KRW)
drinks food: local markets; restaurants; and stores


soft drink (can)
soft drink (bottle)

1 litre
1.5 litre
1.6 litre
bread loaf-white
bread loaf-whole grain
yemen pot noodles
average meal rest
ready made soup

227g pot
per person


500ml bottle
pitcher (1.6 litre)
udon noodles (fresh)
rice cakes (fresh)
rice (white)

3 x 200g


filter coffee
Nescafe instant

mini vending cup
226g jar


tomato pasta sauce
mushrooms-king oyster
845g jar
per dozen
400 g pack
magnum icecream
1 litre
potatoes - sweet
rice crackers
130-150g pack
110g packet

cherry tomatoes
pineapple tinned
corn oil

bean buns
museli bars
chocolate (dark)
biscuits (simple)
biscuits (cream)
80g slice
3 x 26g
72g block
150g packet
160g packet
peanut paste (skippy)
accommodation personal
budget city hostel
budget city hotel
10000-18000 per dorm bed
25000 double with ensuite
deodorant roll-on
toothpaste disposable razor
toilet paper
5 pack
10 rolls
camping fees vary from 3000-6000 won per day depending on tent size. 3500-7000 in peak times
internet 2000 per hour

* tba = price to be announced
* January 2009: at time of writing 1.00 USD = 1100 KRW
all prices have been taken from internet resources such as wikitravel, hostel world, leading supermarket chains, travel blogs, forums and of course our own travel experiences and purchases of everyday products in food markets, bazaars and local shopping facilities. They are only an indication and designed to give you a general impression of the cost of living in South Korea. Items are geared towards the budget conscious traveller with an occasional craving for a bit of luxury.

Accommodation and where to sleep
The best value for money accommodation for the budget traveller in Korea are the motels, often typified by an "onsen" symbol on their sign: simplified it is like an "C" lying horizontal with three heat waves coming off it). They are also known as yeogwan and are similar to the Japanese love motel but much more akin to a backpackers wallet and you don't have to pay by the hour. In 2008, a double room cost around 25,000 Won.

Guesthouses are also prominent in larger cities and tourist destinations, though a little pricier (In 2008: 30-40,000 Won for a double with share bathroom). But of course, these travel institutes come complete with the added bonus of a share kitchen, washing facilities, internet and lots of other voyagers to exchange information with.

Camping in Korea
There are some official camping areas in and around nationally reserved land or prime tourist locations in South Korea. (see the National Parks website or World Wildlife Adventures for details about where and how much it costs to camp). Price is determined on your tent size and whether it is high or low season. Like Japan wild camping is tolerated in South Korea, however, seeing as you are cycling through the third most densely populated country of the world, it means having a keen eye. Much of the land is farmed, but luckily the plots are not always fenced off, so you can occasionally find a suitable spot in a grassy field. Most of the time though, you'll be confined to river banks close to bridges as this is usually the only access point to get your bike down the usually rocky or sandy terrain.

South Koreans use the river for recreational purposes as well, so expect a few friendly visits if you set up before dusk. Near more densely populated areas it is almost impossible to find anything appropriate and away from prying eyes: a hotel is your only real option. The military presence in South Korea, especially in the northern regions will also hamper your wild-camping opportunities. A 10 kilometre band running the length of the North and South Korean border is strictly no-go for cycling (no maps will show this), unless you have a special permit.

In smaller towns and more rural areas, the police can also help you out with locating a spot for spending the night. More often than not, they have a detailed map of the area and know where locals and truck-drivers usually camp overnight. Some of these places can even come complete with a porta-loo. There is nearly always an abundant supply of fresh running water, which will need filtering of course. When we travelled there in 2008, we found the police to be friendly and incredibly helpful by not only sending us to perfect camping areas, but also allowing us to use their telephone and internet services as well.

It is also interesting to note that Yeongjong Island, 60 odd kilometres from Seoul and where Inchun International Airport is situated, has a couple of official camping areas. The parks along the highway are also unofficially used by local fishermen and perfect if you want to get a spot of wild camping in before your early flight out of South Korea.

Cycling in Korea
Korea is not for the unfit, nor the faint hearted: it is one mass of mountains. And while they might not be that high boy, oh boy, they are steep. Everyday will be a relentless series of sweaty grunts and groans uphill followed often by a tunnel and then a silent but well-earned relief, coasting down again. If you want your sanity to remain with you throughout your cycling adventure, then it is best to stick to the three-digit highways, as frequently they are quieter and more rural. Frequently, it also means a more challenging route.

City outskirts are habitually overrun with industry and the associated heavy traffic and exhaust. Seoul and a few other larger cities have great bike lanes along the river, which can take you some of the distance without the hassle of excessive traffic and stop lights. The only problem is directions are somewhat lacking and it is difficult to read highway signs from such a vantage point. Other towns also have bike lanes leading you directly to the centre, though they are not always suitable for the loaded bike: usually being not wide enough to get you and your bags through the concrete obstructions, nor paved suitably for anything other than a well shockered mountain bike. Quite routinely they will end abruptly with an inconvenient hurdle over obstacles or an irritating backtrack immediately following to get you back on the highway.

Riding on any of the major highways can be physically and mentally exhausting. Not only the undulating nature of the road network, but traffic in general has little respect for your cycling plight. The usual arrogance and impatience from truck, bus and taxi drivers is felt as much in built-up areas of South Korea as anywhere respective in the world. It pays to spend a bit of time researching your route prior to cycling it and plot a course through the more pastoral regions and the National Parks . It is by far the more scenic way to go.

Highway madness aside, Korea is not only a rewarding challenge as far as pedalling is concerned, but familiarising yourself with the people and their customs is culturally inspiring. The most enchanting asset of South Korea is that there is nowhere like it in the world. It is completely unique.

Acommodation we used while in South Korea (July 2008): (prices based on two people sharing)
The rest of the time we actually camped wild everywhere, no problem in Korea.
Star system explained: from 0 to ***** where 0 is a total disaster and ***** is luxurious (and out of our price range)
City / town: Name accommodation: Our experience: Price: Stars:
Busan Blue Backpackers busy, friendly, clean, WiFi KRW 30,000 ***
Doldonjae Woraksan NP campground dirty, no electricity KRW -- ½
Gyeongju Hanjin Guesthouse pretty grotty really KRW 30,000 *
Hwanyangdong Songnisan NP campground gravel pitch, facilities basic KRW 3,000 *
Seoul Kim's Guesthouse nice place, friendly owner KRW 38,000 ***
Sokcho Seoraksan NP campground grassy pitches, ample facilities KRW 8,000 **½

Useful links:
National Parks of Korea
Tour2Korea (official Korea Travel site)
Food & drink

Korea's staple crop is rice and the cuisine certainly reflects this. It also utilises noodles, tofu and a wide variety of vegetables, which are quite commonly served raw in a salad or zested up in a pickled brine. In fact, Korea is quite famous for this latter method of preservation. The most popular being kimchi, which is without a doubt served at almost every meal. The most common recipe uses baechu [napa cabbage], fermented in a brine of ginger, garlic, scallions, and chilli pepper, but there are endless other varieties using daikon, cucumber, winter greens and other seasonal vegetables.

Fermented vegetable recipes were developed early on in Korean food history as a means of providing the population with the necessary proteins and vitamins during the bleak winter months. Traditionally, kimchi is made with a salty shrimp, but these days there are clearly marked varieties on supermarket shelves produced especially for vegetarians. (The little sticker will help you out here). Another type of kimchi, known as mulgimchi [water kimchi] is salted in a broth clear of any fish paste what so ever.

A couple of finer dining points

If you do get invited or you opt to eat in a traditional restaurant, the Korean dinner table is unique in that it will flaunt an amazing number of different banchan [side dishes] served together with your bowl of rice. Now, unlike in China and Japan, the rice bowl is not lifted from the table while eating, which is why your utensils will include a metal spoon as well as chopsticks.

The placement of dishes on the table is also a baffling ritual and it is best to simply remember where you got something from initially and put it back there throughout the meal. Basically the rules go like this: spoon and chopsticks belong on the right of the rice bowl; cold foods are placed on the left side of the table while hot foods remain on the right; stew and soup bowls will be positioned to the right of your personal table setting and vegetables are set on the left, near your rice. Finally dipping sauces are placed in front of the kimchi, above your food.

And if the table placement decorum isn't enough to keep your wits about you, then here are a few table manners you'll need to bear in mind as well:

*Don't pick through the dishes for certain items.

*The spoon should be clear of all food particles before being used to serve food.

*Don't reach across the table for a banchan, ask someone to pass it to you.

*Place one hand over your mouth when using a toothpick after the dinner.
I don't eat meat = Gogi han mogoyo
What is there that doesn't have meat? =
Gogi han droguh-nun mo issoyo?
Don't put in any meat = Gogi no chi maseyo
A person who only eats vegetables = chaesikjuwija
chicken = dargogi / chikin
beef = sogogi
fish = saengseon
ham = haem
sausage = soseji
cheese = chijeu
eggs = deolgyal / gyelan
[fresh] vegetables = [shinseonhan] yache
[fresh] fruit = [shinseonhan] gwail
I want ... = Jeoneun ... eul wonhamnida
I want a dish containing ... =
Jeoneun ... eul / reul pohamhaneun yorireul meoggo shibsumnida.
please = jwe-song-ha-ji-mahn
thank you = gahm-sah-hahm-ni-da
you're welcome = chon-mahn-eh-yo

Adding to the excitement of Korean food, the customary spice kitchen is full of rich and delicious seasonings, mostly in the form of pastes and oils: doenjang [fermented soybean paste], gochujang [red chili paste] soy sauce, garlic, ginger and sesame oil. And lucky enough for the vegetarian, suitable cookery can be traced back to strong Buddhist influence and hence there are small vegetarian establishments dotted all over the country. Not all of them, however, are well advertised.

The Korean monastery restaurants are obviously a safe haven for vegans and vegetarians alike, whose cuisine apart from using honey, is completely animal and dairy free. In recent times, it has become relatively trendy to eat in these places so it can prove an expensive exercise. HappyCow has a list of some restaurants in the larger cities, though most of these are limited to a buffet style arrangement.

So far everything sounds pretty good for the vegetarian, but here come the problems you'll face as a non-meat eater in South Korea. Firstly, although vegetarianism is becoming ever so slightly popular, most people do not really understand the concept of not wanting to eat meat. If you ask for your dish to be prepared "no gogi" you could well expect seafood to be included, or worse still that the dish is prepared as per usual and the obvious chunks of meat removed before you get it. One way around this is to say you are a chaesikjuwija: a person who only eats vegetables.

The second issue you will face is that most of the Korean jjigae [stews] use fish stock, especially myeol-chi which is derived from anchovies. And even though there are many banchan [side dishes] suitable for vegans and vegetarians, it is not normal to serve a traditional Korean dinner with these alone. Appropriate street food is certainly available, but you will need to hunt around a bit and possibly do a bit of negotiation and investigation before you order.

If all else fails, you can always self cater: hostals and guesthouses quite often come with a communal kitchen and the supermarkets are fully stocked with a bountiful supply of fresh and packaged food products, as are the wonderfully vibrant market places.

Food also plays an important role in the drinking culture in South Korea too and if you are partial to beer or soju or two, then you'll undoubtedly find yourself in the extraordinary ambience of the Korean Hof (also known as a Hopeu). The menu comprises a list of beer and beer quantities, soju and Anju [side dishes specifically consumed with alcohol]. As a customer, you are obligated to order a selection of these appetisers with your beer. As a vegetarian, you will find it difficult to hit upon something meat-free on the menu.

While the increasingly popular maekju [beer] market is currently dominated by three major brands: OB, Cass and Hite, Soju, a clear grain spirit often fermented from rice, is traditionally synonymous with South Korea. These days other varieties derived from potatoes and barley can also be found, though grain Soju is regarded as the more superior. Yakju, also brewed from rice, is a refined pure liquor while Takju is unrefined, producing a thick, milky rice wine. There are also many fruit and herbal wines on the supermarket shelves in South Korea, though their palate is not the conventional flavour of wine as the western world knows it to be. Some popular selections available include: plum, ginseng, cherry, quince, and pomegranate. The South Koreans even blend their own wine with French and American varieties to create Majuang wine. Not only imported but good local wine is relatively expensive compared to other alcohol purchases.

For more general information about Korean food have a look at the Food in Korea website.

Why not try these for starters?

Sometimes referred to as bibimba; bibimbab; b-bop; or even bibimbop, this straightforward Korean dish literally translates as "stirred meal". What is really boils down to, is a simple bowl of warm white rice, which you mix together with the namul and gochujang, [sautéed vegetables and chilli pepper], topping.

Namul can contain a selection of the following vegetables when in season: oi [cucumber, hobak [zucchini], mu [daikon], carrot, any of the numerous beoseot [mushroom] varieties available, doraji [bellflower root], sigeumchi [spinach], kongnamul [soybean sprouts], or gosari [bracken fern stems]. Furthermore an egg, either raw or fried, might compliment the dish as can fresh dubu [tofu]. More often than not though, sliced meat comes along with the deal and vegetarians will need to ask for this addition to be left out.

An offshoot version is Kimchi bokeum-bap: a garlicky fried rice with kimchi [fermented spicy cabbage] and sesame seeds. Also served with a fried egg and traditionally ham or sausage, but it is easy enough for non-meat eaters to ask for this dish minus the meat elements.

Occasionally dubbed the Korean Sushi, this totally healthy seaweed roll is modestly filled with sesame oil flavoured rice, sigeumchi [spinach], carrot or oi [cucumber], sesame seeds. Rolled and sliced it is accompanied with either and danmuji [pickled radish] or kimchi [fermented spicy napa cabbage]. And it doesn't stop here: not only a pick-me-up snack but served with some with saengchae or sukchae (see below), a couple of gimbap make a nutritionally delicious meal at any time of day.

Saengchae or Sukchae
Both saengchae or sukchae are a vegans perfect side dish. Saengchae literally translated as "fresh vegetables", is known for its simple zest by the addition of vinegar, chilli powder and salt to anything vegetable seasonally available. Contrastingly, Sukchae or "heated vegetables" partially cooks them and spices up the dish with soy sauce, sesame oil, chopped garlic, and just a hint of chilli.
Bindaetteok or Bindaebyeong
In South Korea, jeon or buchimgae is the general term for any savory wheat flour pancake.

In earlier times it was deemed that wealthy people ate meat while the underprivileged ate bindaetteok or bindaebyeong: the later literally translating as "poor man's pancake". This type of jeon is made with ground mung beans, pa [scallions], kimchi, sesame oil and chilli pepper. Lightly fried in an oiled pan and served piping hot, it is commonly accompanied with a dipping sauce of slightly sweetened vinegar, soy sauce and chilli flakes.

Other popular varieties include: hobakjeon: made with squash; yeongeunjeon: made with lotus root; gochujeon: made with chili peppers; dubujeon: made with tofu; and nokdujeon: made with mung beans. Plenty of choice for the hungry vegetarian.

Banchan [side dish] are small uncomplicated dishes served with the South Korean main meal. Surprisingly enough, there are plenty of vegetarian options available. Below are just a few to get you started.

Chwinamul: a collective group, including the aster scaber, of wild scented greens, lightly sauteed and believed to have a multitude of health benefits if consumed.
Kong Jang: sweet and sticky soya beans.
Gamja Jorim: gamja [potatoes] and red peppers in a sweet soy sauce.
Kongnamul: parboiled soya bean sprouts seasoned with sesame oil, soy sauce, scallions, sesame seeds, garlic, and a just a hint of chilli powder. Soya bean sprouts are a main ingredient of the several other popular South Korean dishes as well: kongnamul-bap [sprouts and rice]; kongnamul-guk [sprout soup]; and logically kongnamul-gukbap; sprouts and rice soup].
Sundubu Jjigae
Something to warm and fill you up at the same time: a hot and spicy Korean stew, traditionally boiled at your table over a hot fire. This one is bountifully full of dubu (tofu), onions, fresh vegetables, mushrooms and gochu garu [chilli powder]. A raw egg is put in the jjigae [stew] while it is still boiling and served with a bowl of cooked white rice. Often several banchan [side dishes] come along with the deal. This all-time favorite in South Korea is frequently prepared with myeol-chi [anchovy fish stock], but this doesn't have to be the case, so make sure you ask before ordering.
This small pancake-come-donut is extremely popular in the winter in South Korea, but you'll find this street treat delicious the whole year round. Round balls of sweetened dough, griddled flat and filled with a crunchy crumble of brown sugar, chopped peanuts, cinnamon and sesame seeds. Guaranteed yo9u wont want to stop at one. And for the self-caterer, life is really sweet with ready-made dry ho-tteok mix commercially available at markets and food stores.

Tguk Hangwa [Korean Confectionary]
Koreans are certainly known for their sweet tooth and there are many different types of desserts and confectionary available in supermarkets or in specialty shops. For a quick understanding of the selection available take a look at the very informative Food in Korea website.

One all time dessert favourite is tteok. While there are several varieties to chose from, in a nutshell, they are chewy rice-flour cakes filled or smothered with sweetened bean paste, nuts, pumpkin and/or honey. Delicious as an energy boosting snack or just something a little sweet after your meal.

is also a very popular street stall desert and uses tteok as one of its ingredients: Basically one big delicious mix of shaved ice, pat [sweetened azuki beans], chopped fruits and tteok, fruit syrup, cereal, jelly bits and sweetened condensed milk. Sometimes yoghurt, cream or ice cream will also be added to make this the perfect summer cooler.
Bike shops
climate chart Pusan South Korea climate chart Seoul South Korea
Road distances
Detailed distance chart from our trip through South Korea June / July 2008 (km/alti)    

Busan - Hangyeryong Pass (Seoraksan National Park) - Sokcho - Incheon International Airport (Seoul)

total km
Busan Haeundae
Haeundae Gyeongju
Gyeongju Bugye
Bugye Gunwi
Gunwi Sangju
Sangju Hwabuk Songnisan National Park
Hwabuk Hwayangdong
Hwayangdong Doldonjae Woraksan National Park (281)
Dondonjae Chungju (114)
Chungju Sinlim Chiaksan National Park (328)
Sinlim Wonju (131)
Wonju Gapcheon (193)
Gapcheon Seoseok (300)
Seoseok Sangnam (382)
Sangnam Hyeon-ri (301)
Hyeon-ri Hangyeryeong Pass (920)
Sokcho Misiryong (767)
Misiryong Gwanchi tunnel (525)
Gwanchi tunnel Yomi
Yomi Ocheon tunnel (456)
Ocheon tunnel Haesan tunnel (688)
Haesan Hwacheon (131)
Hwacheon Woncheon (129)
Woncheon Sacheong (300)
Sacheong Hao tunnel (582)
Hao tunnel Sinsul (415)
Sinsul Jadong (282)
Jadong Dongmak
Dongmak Yeoncheon
Yeoncheon Yul-Gol (Freedom Bridge)
Yul-Gol Munsan
Munsan Seoul
Seoul Incheon ferry terminal (Yeongjong Island)
Yeongjong Island ferry terminal Incheon international airport
  * approx. distance: we camped further up the road and had to cycle back the next day.
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