Tips on Traveling to Korea
One of my friends from Chicago recently received a referral for a baby boy in Korea, and her family will be soon traveling to pick up their new son. This was such fun news to hear, especially since we will soon be in a similar position. How exciting to know that you will soon be saying "Well hello" to a new little member of your family. Chris jokes that by the time we pick up Miss G, she will likely be big enough to walk right up to us and say "Whas' up peeps?"
Because this was on my mind all day, I found myself compiling a list of tips for traveling in Korea for my friend that may (or may not) be useful. It was really the only thing I could think of to do to be even remotely helpful. I am sure that you all have tons of things to add that I have missed, but here is my list.
1) For the most part, there is no tipping in Korea. If you try to give a taxi driver or a family restaurant staff person extra money, s/he may be confused. If you stay at a big Western hotel, though, the people will likely be spoiled and may expect tips anyway.
2) Unless you have a super secret special cell phone, it will not work in Korea. They have their own system and 99% of the world's cell phones do not work there. Even if you think it will work, it will not. Even if the dude at Cingular said it will work, it will not.
3) The best food around is in small family restaurants that you just stumble into. If you are adventurous, the local food can be fabulous. Avoid the "Pizza Huts' and similar chains that look familiar to you because they are normally VERY WRONG and you will be disappointed that it is not like you expected. That said, McDonalds is usually a good bet anywhere if you crave Western food.
4) My parents flew Korean Air over Christmas and they said the food was horrendous, even when they got upgraded to Business on one leg. So bring a sandwich.
5) If you can, watch 5-10 minutes of US Military TV when you are in Seoul. It is hilarious. Korean soap operas are really funny too, especially when you cannot understand anything.
6) The Seoul subway rocks - clean, efficient and easy to navigate. Remember to hold on to your ticket because you need it when you exit. I screwed that up once and had to jump over a turnstile to flee (true story).
7) If you travel to any city outside of Seoul, then you will see great examples of the less modern side of Korea. If you are only staying in Seoul, then make sure to wander down some side streets or anywhere that you can see some crazy looking market areas. They are definitely worth perusing.