If you’ve read this site for a while, you know I like to write posts that deal with all the logistics of visiting a new country — little things like how are the public restrooms? What about the currency? How about a jist of the geography? Whelp, I realized I haven’t done a proper Korea trip planner in all my posts about the country, so here it is!
Trust me, this is a bare-bones, uber-practical guide, so if you’re looking for more fun things, try these posts I have about visiting South Korea:
- 50 South Korea Travel Tips
- 102 Unbelievably Beautiful Places in Korea
- A Korea Itinerary for One Month and 4 2-Week Itinerary Guides
- Seasonal Guides for Winter, Autumn, Spring, and Summer
But if you have little detail questions you want quick answer to as you put together you trip, then this post is for you!
Want to explore Korea with me? Join my May 2020 tour!
Korea Trip Planner: The Logistics
Korea is broken up into provinces and cities. The main cities are Seoul, Incheon, Daegu, Daejeon, Gwangju, Sejong, and Ulsan. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to these cities in the sections of the provinces they’re in.
Gwangwon is the furthest north and borders the DMZ. It gets the coldest up here by a landslide, but it’s also incredibly beautiful along the East Sea. It will be most popular for snow activities in the winter and for a slightly cooler escape in the summer. It’s famous for Sokcho, Ulleungdo and Dokdo (the famously disputed island), and Seoraksan, one of Korea’s most important mountains.
For Gangwon Posts:
Chungcheongbuk-do (충청북도) + Chungcheongnam-do (충청남도)
I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize I hadn’t really been to either of these provinces until sitting down to write this post. While my bus goes through both of them to get to Seoul, I’ve never been interested in going to one town specifically. Daejeon sits right in the middle of these two provinces.
For Chungcheong Posts:
Gyeonggi-do is essentially the area that surrounds Seoul and Incheon. You can reach a lot of the province from Seoul’s subway system.
For Gyeonggi Posts:
For Seoul Posts:
- A Quick Guide to Seoul
- 13 Free Things to Do in Seoul
- Experiencing a Korean Cooking Class in Seoul
- 10 Quirky Things to Do in Seoul
Along the East coast, Gyeongsangbuk borders with the East Sea (or the Sea of Japan). Daegu is the closest major city. It is most famous for its role during the Silla dynasty, and you can still see many remanents from that era today. Places to see include Ulsan, Gyeongju, Andong, and Ulleungdo.
Gyeongsangnam-do is in the southeast of Korea right under Gyeongsangbuk-do. It’s the province that surrounds Busan. Some notable places to visit are Jinju, Tongyeong, Hwagae, Namhae, and Geoje.
For Gyeongsangnam Posts:
- Top Things to Do in Busan
- Gamcheon Culture Village
- Hwagae Cherry Blossom Festival
- Quick Guide to Tongyeong
Jeollabuk, along with Jeollanam, is famous for being the food province of Korea. Both provinces play significant roles in Korea’s traditional history as well. There are rumors, according to my friends and co-teachers, that if North Korea were ever to really attack, Jeolla is the safest area because Kim Jong Un’s ancestors are buried here! Major cities in Jeollabuk are Jeonju, Gunsan, and Namwon, and you can access Jirisan from this province. You’ll also find the best bibimbap here ;)
For Jeollabuk Posts:
Starting south of Jeollabuk, Jeollanam is surrounded by the Yellow and South Seas with access to a ton of islands. Gwangju sits towards the top as well. Places to see include Suncheon, Boseong, Mokpo, Naju, Jindo, and Yeosu.
Not to be biased, but this is my favorite province, and if I were ever to host my own tour, I’d based it all here. There’s just SO much to see in one area vs. every other province.
Jeju! Ahh, I really do love Jeju. I’ve visited three times during my teaching contracts, and I just love it so much. This is Korea’s main island, and there’s a ton to see and do. It’s a much slower pace in general, so just go to enjoy the scenery and relax.
For Jeju Posts:
Hello – An-nyeong-ah-sae-yo
Thank you – gam-sam-ni-da or go-map-seum-ni-da
Goodbye – an-nyeong-gi-ka-se-yo or an-nyeong-gi-geh-sey-yo or chal-ga-yo
Do you speak English? – Yeong-oh hae-yo?
The Korean alphabet is incredibly easy to learn if you plan on traveling around Korea, and it will come in handy if the signs don’t have English translations. If you’d like to learn more, check out my beginner’s guide to Korean.
The two main airports are Incheon and Busan. Chances are you’re most likely to fly into Incheon. It’s up near Seoul, and it’s considered one of the best airports in the whole world. Lies about an ice rink aside, it’s a huge and easy-to-navigate place. You can easily find taxis, buses, airport buses, and the subway.
If you don’t want to worry about getting to your hotel or navigating the taxis, buses, or subway, then you have two options:
- Book the AREX train to take you from Incheon to Seoul Station. Check here for prices and times. You can book up to a day before you land.
- If you’re not staying near Seoul Station or you want something more private, you can also rent a van.
There are quite a few smaller airports scattered around Korea beyond the main two. Beyond flying to Jeju, if you choose, you don’t really need to be concerned with them. It’s much easier to just train or bus around the country!
If you prefer taking trains over the buses, you might want to look at the KR Pass. It has a few different options, and you might be able to save quite a bit of money if you know where you want to go during your trip. It’s not that great if you’re solo-traveling, but the Saver option is good for 2-5 people traveling. In general, I use letskorail to book my tickets in advance.
Most of the time, the cheapest way to get around is via the intercity buses (Goseok or Shiwae). Nearly every city in Korea, small or large, has a bus that leaves from Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal or Dongbu Terminal. It’s also easy to navigate between cities if you don’t want to constantly return to Seoul.
The only two places it’s worth it to take a subway are in Seoul and Busan (other cities have them, but it’s just easier to taxi or bus versus all the time it takes to figure out the subway lines). Seoul’s subway is fantastic and ridiculously easy to navigate. Download the app and it will give you timing for everything as well. It even tells you which doors are fast for transfers!
Another way to get around if you really don’t want to taxi is figuring out the bus system in any city. They’re kind of easy to use, but often times they’re more of a headache than they’re worth. You’ll have to talk to where you’re staying for guidance and use the actual bus stop for times or even locations. I gave up in Gyeongju because we couldn’t figure out times for the life of us.
Seriously, it’s the easiest way, and your chances of getting super scammed are low. Taxi drivers should always have their meters on, and rates start around 3,000 KRW depending when and where you are. Most smaller areas should never take you more than 10,000 KRW to get around, but some places are more spread out and may take a while. I know some people have issues with Seoul drivers either not wanting to take them or, on very rare occasions, appearing sketchy, but I’ve never had any issues. I also take them regularly in smaller cities and they’ve always been perfect!
Download the Kakaotaxi app if you don’t want to take your chances trying to find one. Uber/Lyft are banned from Korea for now, so this is kind of their “substitute.”
It’s a mixed bag. On one hand, you have the toilets of the future, seat bidet and all, and on the other hand, you may be left with squat potties. Most toilets fall somewhere in the middle, and you may still find areas asking you to throw your toilet paper away rather than flush it.
Pro Tip: If you’re in Seoul’s Express Terminal, don’t use the bathrooms on the first floor where the main terminal is. The toilets are fine, but there’s usually a line. If you just go up a floor, you get the fancy Shinsegae bathrooms, seat bidet and polite music to boot.
Water quality is totally fine and drinkable. It is hard water, though, so if you’re here long term, grab some toothpaste and mouthwash with fluoride.
I mean, you know Korean food is a trendy thing, right? ;P You’ll be quite happy with all the Korean food you’ll be able to eat, and most of the time it’s a little Mom + Pop (or really Ahjumma) shop off the side of the road where you sit on the floor and get a crap ton of side dishes. You don’t need to worry about street food being contaminated either, it’ll be just fine!
All the countries listed in this link can 30 or more days without a visa. US Citizens have up to 90 days.
220-240 Voltage, Type C/F. If you have European style plugs, you’ll be fine.
There is no tipping for anything in Korea. I’ve seen some jars at cash registers in Seoul once in a blue moon, but overall no tipping. You’ll actually get confused looks if you say, “Keep the change.” Someone once told me it was offensive to tip a Korean like you think they look poor enough to need free money, but I’m not entirely sure how true that is.
If your phone is unlocked, you can pick up a prepaid SIM card at the airport for a relatively low cost. There is also wifi in the majority of places, so if you don’t need to be plugged in 24/7, you can get by on airplane mode and waiting for cafes or your room.
If you want a data only 4G plan, get one here. If you’re traveling with other people, you might actually want to rent a Wi-Fi Egg. This one is only a little more than $4/day, connect 3 people without losing speed, and has 1 GB 4G and unlimited 3G daily.
If you want a data + call/text 4G plan, get it here.
Everything is in Korean Won. 1,000 KRW is a little less than 1 USD.
If there’s one country where you will never worry about connecting to wifi, it’s Korea. Cafés, restaurants, the subway, bus stations… There’s fast wifi everywhere, and it’s some of the fastest in the world. To be honest, most owners will be surprised if you don’t ask or look for their wifi password (if they have one at all).
For example, my local city buses in Suncheon all have wi-fi on them!
And there you have it– a logistical Korea trip planner! Do you have any tips for visiting Korea?