Why Korea? Why is this country in East Asia the next one you should visit if you want to be splashed in Asian culture? When I found out that I would experience my exchange semester in South Korea a bunch of questions came into my mind and I realized that, in fact, I had no idea about Korean culture. After all, I made it. I went there and fell in love with every single thing I saw in Korea. That’s why I always tell people looking for a 180-degree change that South Korea is the best option for changing their lifestyles, and here are the main 5 reasons you should visit it at least once in your life.
Perfect Balance Between Korean Tradition / Futuristic Modernity
Korean history is quite thrilling, and one of the most iconic vestiges of this is the number of tombs, palaces, and temples that you can visit there and that are considered as World Heritage Sites for UNESCO. Mixed in perfect balance, the other face of Korea is the technological architecture their buildings have, Dongdaemun Design Plaza is one of the many proofs of this futuristic modernity Korea has to offer. It’s not uncommon to see girls wearing Hanbok (traditional dress) while taking selfies with the newest Samsung mobile near Seoul’s City Hall.
If you are there, don’t hesitate in being part of the many festivals that you can find in South Korea throughout the year. From Cherry Blossom season, when people go to the streets to enjoy this pink natural show, to the amazing lantern parade that celebrates Buddha's Birthday. There is always fun across the little alleys of the Hanok Villages that coexist harmoniously with the contrast of futurism in Korea.
Whether you are a fan or not of K-POP, personally I am not, the impact of Korean popular culture is worldwide recognized. The fashion trends that rule the world today have their origins in Korean streetwear, that you can buy in street markets as Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, and Gangnam for a good price. Also, the innovations that K-POP stars have when setting up a show is something we all MUST witness once in a lifetime. That leads us to… Storytime! When I arrived in Korea, I was not very enthusiastic about K-POP and I was not familiar with the music that was made in that Asian country. Even with this skepticism I must say that one of the best moments of my stay there was when I had the opportunity to see PSY performing totally for free as part of the festival of my university and I must say that I was surprised by the quality of the show and I stayed clear why the interpreter of “Gangnam Style” is the greatest musical exponent of South Korea.
Not everything is fashion, also make-up and skin care routines which are already part of the trends we see on social networks have all their origins guess where: in Korea, of course.
When I first arrived in Korea I had no idea of what I was going to eat for the next months, no kidding, I starved myself the first night because everything was written in Hangul (Korean alphabet) in 7eleven. To my surprise, I found tons of restaurants that offered me unlimited kimchi and water that accompany a really good variety of dishes based on rice, meat, vegetables, and noodles. Asian food, in general, is well known for being both delicious and healthy, but what makes Korean cuisine unique is the particular preparation food has. Kimchi, for example, is a mix of salted and fermented vegetables that have to be in a jar for months before being ready to eat it, and it is offered in every place for free. The taste is spicy and takes time to get used to the flavor if you are not used to, but it ends up liking to almost everyone that has the luck to try it.
Personally, I had trouble while adapting to the food. Since I am a lover of meatless meals, the classic Korean BBQ was a little out of the ordinary despite being delicious and with a little time I could appreciate them as It’s due and I ended up loving Korean food, especially Bulgogi Bibimbap: a mixture of seasoned vegetables and meat over a bowl of rice, usually topped with a fried egg, and then mixed up and eaten with some Korean red pepper paste called Gochuchang.
Besides restaurants, I recommend the street food in night markets like Nandaemun Market, where you can find really good dumplings and seafood snacks.
Nightlife in Korea is, for me, one of the things I won’t find anywhere else. Given the safety index that exists in the country, it is very common to party all night in several clubs or karaokes in Itaewon, Hongdae or fancy Gangnam. In addition, it is not illegal to drink on public roads, which makes young Koreans real party monsters. For Koreans, entertainment is a big thing. That is why there are many rare establishments to visit and spend time in Korea. From theme coffee shops to PC and DVD rooms to watch movies or play video games, Korea is well known for their activations in almost every time of the year.
Unique Landscapes and Nature
One of the things that really surprised me from Korea was the combination of mountains and coastlines that turns it into a destination for nature lovers. Since it is a peninsula you can find sandy beaches all across the country, being Busan the most popular in the mainland. In the other hand Jeju Island, in the most southern part of Korea, is considered one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. The island offers paradisiac landscapes that mix mountains and beautiful beaches that make it the number one tourist destination for Koreans. There you can find Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, that is an archetypal tuff cone formed by hydrovolcanic eruptions upon a shallow seabed about 5 thousand years ago. You have to go hiking for about an hour to get to the highest point, but once you’re there it’s all worth it.
And the best part: the well-connected railways can take you almost everywhere in the country in a few hours. From Seoul to lush rice terraces and hidden temples all along the territory.