I often rave about Korea and have been there about 4 or 5 times but hardly ever written about it. That changes now! Here’s a list of reasons why I think you should totally go.
1. Koreans know how to party
It’s true. Koreans are very underrated in the party department. It only takes a stroll around Seoul on a Friday or Saturday night (or any night actually) to realise this- you’ll see numerous bars and clubs pumping, while the flower beds are filled with business guys in suits passed out drunk. (Unfortunately some Koreans can’t handle as much alcohol as they like to consume.)
When I have done business in Seoul in the past, with a very major electronics company, they wanted to take us out and party every night, which was great. On one occasion we had work the next day, so my colleague and I went home at 1 am. When we arrived at work the next day, we were surprised to find that the entire group we were out with had stayed out until 4 am, before arriving for work at 7 am. I thought that was some pretty serious partying and they hassled us for being too weak to stay and party with them.
Koreans like to play drinking games, as you can see in the video below. They also like to hang out and eat fried chicken before going clubbing. Some of the funnest nights out I’ve ever had have occurred in the Itaewon and Gangnam areas of Seoul.
Speaking of Gangnam, you’ve probably Psy’s Gangnam Style video and been surprised at the intensity of the Korean sense of humour. In fact, Psy to me represents perfectly many of the Koreans I have met. They have a great sense of humour and both guys and girls love to party. And they like to party with westerners too.
2. Seoul is an awesome capital city
Damn right it is. Again, you’ve probably heard of Seoul, you might even remember the Seoul Olympics. But you probably never considered visiting Seoul. You should! Seoul is a mix of beautiful temples, amazing history, delicious noodle joints, incredible bars, sublime mountains and great hiking spots all within the city.
Located surprisingly close to the North Korean border, Seoul is an impressive 21st Century capitalist metropolis with some of the world’s most successful companies represented. It has entertainment areas that are just simply awash with neon light, beautiful flower gardens and parks, and the locals are extremely friendly. And it has some of the most pleasingly loopy market areas you’ll ever lay eyes upon.
You can also rent a bike and ride for literally miles along the river, taking it all in.
3. Korea’s got Asian craziness without being too chaotic
Let’s face it, we love going to Asia because Asia has a certain buzz that you don’t get in the West. It’s the smells in the air, the bright colours, the size of everything, the masses of people, and the electric, humid atmosphere.
In Korea you get all of this, the bright lights, the cartoon imagery, the over-the-top marketplaces selling everything from socks with bizarre faces on them to cute Hello Kitty phone covers and odd-looking blindfolds. There are the street parades with coloured-paper lanterns, the traditional performers beating drums and dancing, the tea-houses with all sorts of weird and wonderful refreshing concoctions.
But Korea is also very civilised. You won’t find any dirty buses, or snarling traffic, or crumbling footpaths, or people pushing past you rudely, or the smell of open sewage in the air. It’s probably one of the most orderly and efficient Asian countries I’ve ever visited, along with Japan.
4. Korea has great beaches
Just when you think Korea is all temples and skyscrapers and forests, you arrive at the coast. Korea has a fantastic coastline of rocky inlets, fractured green islands and warm sandy beaches.
Busan, the second-biggest city, is Korea’s version of Rio de Janeiro. It has jungly mountains, skyscrapers, shanty towns, and famous stretches of sand like Haeundae Beach. There you can swim, sunbake and people watch, while the nearby hills provide amazing look out points for sunsets and moonrises.
5. The last vestiges of the Cold War are still playing out here
The Korean peninsula has a ton of recent political history which has shaped the world- and unlike Europe for example, in Korea it’s still playing out.
Subject to one of the worst military conflicts since World War 2, the Korean War began in 1950 between the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the North, and the capitalist Republic of Korea (ROK) in the South, both backed by the usual powerful supporters. The fortunes of each side lurched back and forth until finally they agreed on an armistice which divided the peninsula around the 38th parallel in a similar manner to the Iron Curtain which once divided Europe into East and West. To avoid accidental engagements and misunderstandings, troops were required to retreat 2km back on either side, and to take their heavy weaponry with them. The 4 kilometre strip of land in the middle became the De-Militarised Zone or DMZ.
Barely 50 km away from Seoul, complete with minefields, lookout posts and secret tunnels, the DMZ and Joint Security Area (JSA) is now one of the world’s most macabre tourist attractions. It’s also the scene of more than 700 acts of violence since the war supposedly ended. If you’re interested, you can read more about my trip to the DMZ here.
6. Oh yeah, and the food is great!
While cold buckwheat noodles and pickled cabbage with hot chilli might not sound amazing at first thought, you need to give it a chance. When you do, you’ll discover a cuisine that is refreshing, delicious, an quite unlike anything you’ve tried anywhere else, including other parts of Asia. And if the local nosh still doesn’t appeal, they do donuts, cheeseburgers and fried chicken pretty well also.
Have you visited Korea? Anything else you love (or don’t love) about it?