My first trip to Korea in 1999 was unexpected. I was planning to visit Taiwan and Japan when a huge earthquake struck central Taiwan just over a week before my trip.
Deciding to follow the British government’s advice not to go I decided to go to Japan but instead of Taiwan to go Korea as a friend from Korea was planning to visit me in Taiwan.
So I went there for 5 days not knowing a word of Korean however my friend guided me.
Since then I have been back to Korea and additional 7 times and all over the (south) Korean peninsula. Although these photos are just from the last few and mostly from Seoul my album I filled with many more beautiful pictures that are unfortunately not digital.
Korean is quite different from much of Asia. Like much of East Asia, Buddhism is a predominate religion but so are major Christian traditions. Both amount to around 25%
What is remarkable about Korea is how it has retained its language and culture despite years of colonisation from Japan and attacks from the Mongols, and various other incursions for foreign powers.
Seoul while not an architecturally beautiful city has plenty to see. It has numerous palaces some of them like Gyeongbokgung are in very beautiful settings.
I recommend visiting them. You can visit the changing of the guard at Gyeongbokgung. Korean guards had beautiful costumes
The hospitality in Korea can be very good (although nationalistic pride and attention can flare up in an ugly way when perceived abuses by the US Army go unpunished). The deaths of two schoolgirls by a tank lead to reports of US customers being refused service at a restaurant).
However I can remember times such as when I had no phone credit to call a friend I was meeting at a station and a Korean guy I didn’t know not only gave me directions but he lent me his phones. Younger people in general are very willing to help.
Service is usually good and school children and the ajummas and ajeossi curious and friendly.
Given the wish to promote a positive image of Korea you would likely be treated in a most hospitable way.
I am fortunate to have many Korean friends who have shown me kindness in guiding me.
Some of the most interesting paces in Seoul include Insadong, Mokdong, Namsan and Myeongdong.
But the list is endless. There is enough to do in Seoul even if you skipped (the interesting palaces).
On Insadong you may see street performances, cultural shows and best of all beautiful tea houses. Myeongdong has a big Catholic cathedral and an interesting market. Hongdae, a vibrant University area is one of my favourite places for the many independent and attractive coffee shops. Perhaps my favourite.
If you are into museums there are no shortages too.. Whether the Kimchi museum, Seoul national museum or visit the ex Japanese colonial prison – Sodaemun.
Korea was a nice and increasingly popular cuisine. A lot of dishes rely on chilli hence it is known for being spicy.
Some Koreans consider their food to be the spiciest in the world but that is not an opinion I share. I have eaten more spicy cuisines although I would classify a lot of Korean dishes as spicy.
However some dishes are quite spicy and as a foreigner (in what they perceive to be your own interest) you be given less spicy food, or in my experience of Korean air when I used them from Vietnam to Korea, not given spicy food at all.
I noticed on my flight I wasn’t given the gochujang (Korean hot peer) sauce despite Koreans being given the same. I found it a bit too patronising given that I have eaten it many times like it and Lufthansa will give you it and it says hot pepper sauce on the tube anyway. I felt slightly annoyed I had to ask for it.
The integral part of Korean cuisine is Kimchi. If staying in a Korean home you may be given it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is a side food but accompanies all meals. You can even buy Kimchi chocolate but that is not traditional!
Kimchi is cold (unless cooked as part of a dish) spicy cabbage. Main dishes that are warm may be Kimchi rice or Kimchi chigae (kind of soup) both are nice. Apparently Kimchi is an acquired taste among foreigners. My mother doesn’t like but I do although I don’t eat it anywhere near as often as the average Korean.
My favourite Korean disk is dalkgalbi (or barbecued chicken, there is a beef dish galbi also nice).
A lot of Korean foods are either vegetable or if meat beef based. There are chicken and pork dishes too but I have yet to see lamb. It would appear judging by the Koreans I have met, lamb is not too popular among Koreans.
A spice not too popular among Koreans is coriander for some reason.
Some restaurants offer fire chicken. I tried it in Korea and liked it although I prefer medium spiced foods in general.
If eating spicy foods and not used to it one can eat it with rice and drink a milk (not skimmed) based drink these are good for countering the capsicums. Contrary to popular belief water is not.