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Republic of Korea
대한민국 (大韓民國)
Flag Coat of arms
AnthemAegukga (애국가)
The Patriotic Song
Capital Seoul
37°35′N 127°0′E / 37.583°N 127°E / 37.583; 127
Official language(s) Korean
Official scripts Hangul
Demonym South Korean, Korean
Government Semi-presidential republic
 -  President Lee Myung-bak
 -  Prime Minister Chung Un-chan
Legislature National Assembly
 -  Founding of Gojoseon 2333 BC[1] 
 -  Japan’s occupation of Korea August 29, 1910 
 -  Independence declared March 1, 1919 
 -  Provisional Government April 13, 1919 
 -  Liberation August 15, 1945 
 -  Constitution July 17, 1948 
 -  Government Proclaimed August 15, 1948 
 -  Total 100,140 km2 (108th)
38,622 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 0.3
 -  2009 estimate 50,062,000 (24th)
 -  Density 500/km2 (21st)
1,296/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $1.345 trillion[2] (13th)
 -  Per capita $27,692[2] (32nd)
GDP (nominal) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $929.124 billion[2] (15th)
 -  Per capita $19,136[2] (36th)
Gini (2007) 31.3[3] (low
HDI (2007) 0.937[4] (very high) (26th)
Currency South Korean won (₩) (KRW)
Time zone Korea Standard Time (UTC+9)
 -  Summer (DST) not observed (UTC+9)
Date formats yyyy년 mm월 dd일
yyyy/mm/dd (CE)
Drives on the right
Internet TLD .kr
Calling code 82
1 Mobile phone system CDMA, WCDMA, HSDPA and WiBro
2 Domestic power supply 220V/60 Hz, CEE 7/7 sockets

South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea (ROK) (Korean: 대한민국, pronounced [tɛːhanminɡuk̚]  ( listen)) and often referred to as Korea, is a state in East Asia, located on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula. It is neighbored by China to the west, Japan to the east, and North Korea to the north. Its capital is Seoul, the second largest metropolitan city in the world[5] and a major global city.[6] South Korea lies in a temperate climate region with a predominantly mountainous terrain. Its territory covers a total area of 100,032 square kilometers and has a population of over 50 million,[7] making it the third most densely populated (significantly sized) country in the world.[8]

Archaeological findings show that the Korean Peninsula was occupied by the Lower Paleolithic period.[9][10] Korean history begins with the founding of Gojoseon in 2333 BC by the legendary Dan-gun. Following the unification of the Three Kingdoms of Korea under Silla 668 AD, Korea went through the Goryeo Dynasty and Joseon Dynasty as one nation until the end of the Korean Empire in 1910, when Korea was annexed by Japan. After liberation and occupation by Soviet and U.S. forces at the end of World War II, the nation was divided into North and South Korea. The latter was established in 1948 as a democracy. A war between the two Koreas ended in an uneasy cease-fire. After the war and a period of military rule, the South Korean economy grew significantly and the country was transformed into a major economy[11] and a full democracy.

South Korea is a semi-presidential republic consisting of 16 administrative divisions and is a developed country with a high standard of living. It has the fourth largest economy in Asia and the 15th largest in the world.[12] The economy is export-driven, with production focusing on electronics, automobiles, ships, machinery, petrochemicals and robotics. South Korea is a member of the United Nations, WTO, OECD and G-20 major economies. It is also a founding member of APEC and the East Asia Summit.



Like many democracies,[13] South Korea's government is divided into three branches: executive, judicial, and legislative. The executive and legislative branches operate primarily at the national level, although various ministries in the executive branch also carry out local functions. Local governments are semi-autonomous, and contain executive and legislative bodies of their own. The judicial branch operates at both the national and local levels. South Korea is a constitutional democracy.

The South Korean government's structure is determined by the Constitution of the Republic of Korea. This document has been revised several times since its first promulgation in 1948 at independence. However, it has retained many broad characteristics and with the exception of the short-lived Second Republic of South Korea, the country has always had a presidential system with an independent chief executive.[14] The first direct election was also held in 1948. Although South Korea experienced a series of military dictatorships since the 1960s up until the 1980s, it has since developed into a successful liberal democracy. Today, the CIA World Factbook describes South Korea's democracy as a "fully functioning modern democracy".[15]



Before division

Korean history begins with the legendary founding of Joseon (often known as "Gojoseon" to prevent confusion with another dynasty founded in the 14th century; the prefix Go- means 'old' or 'earlier') in 2333 BC by Dangun.[16] Gojoseon expanded until it controlled much of the northern Korean Peninsula and parts of Manchuria, a total territory nearly the size of Western Europe. After numerous wars with the Chinese Han Dynasty, Gojoseon disintegrated, leading to the Proto-Three Kingdoms of Korea period.

In the early centuries of the Common Era, Buyeo, Okjeo, Dongye, and the Samhan confederacy occupied the peninsula and southern Manchuria. Of the various small states, Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla grew to control the peninsula as Three Kingdoms of Korea. The unification of the Three Kingdoms by Silla in 676 led to the North South States Period, in which much of the Korean Peninsula was controlled by Unified Silla, while Balhae succeeded the northern parts of Goguryeo. In Unified Silla, poetry and art was encouraged, and Buddhist culture flourished. Relationships between Korea and China remained relatively peaceful during this time. However, Unified Silla weakened under internal strife, and surrendered to Goryeo in 935. Balhae, Silla's neighbor to the north, was formed as a successor state to Goguryeo. During its height, Balhae controlled most of Manchuria and parts of Russia. It fell to the Khitan in 926.

Jikji, the first known book printed with movable metal type in 1377, which is 62 years earlier than Gutenburg's Printing press. Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris.

After the North-South Period, successor states fought for control during the Later Three Kingdoms period. The peninsula was soon united by Emperor Taejo of Goryeo. Like Silla, Goryeo was a highly cultural state and created the Jikji in 1377, using the world's oldest movable metal printing press.[17]

The Mongol invasions in the 13th century greatly weakened Goryeo. After nearly 30 years of war, Goryeo continued to rule Korea, though as a tributary ally to the Mongols. After the Mongolian Empire collapsed, severe political strife followed and the Goryeo Dynasty was replaced by the Joseon Dynasty in 1388 following a rebellion by General Yi Seong-gye.

King Taejo declared the new name of Korea as "Joseon" in reference to Gojoseon, and moved the capital to Seoul. The first 200 years of the Joseon Dynasty were marked by relative peace and saw the creation of Hangul by King Sejong the Great in the 14th century and the rise in influence of Confucianism in the country.

Gyeongbok Palace is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty.

Between 1592 and 1598, the Japanese invaded Korea. Toyotomi Hideyoshi led the forces and tried to invade the Asian continent through Korea, but was eventually repelled by the Righteous army and assistance from Ming Dynasty China. This war also saw the rise of Admiral Yi Sun-sin and his renowned "turtle ship". In the 1620s and 1630s, Joseon suffered from invasions by the Manchu who eventually conquered all of China.

After another series of wars against Manchuria, Joseon experienced a nearly 200-year period of peace. King Yeongjo and King Jeongjo especially led a new renaissance of the Joseon Dynasty.

However, the latter years of the Joseon Dynasty were marked by excessive dependence on China for external affairs and isolation from the outside world. During the 19th century, Korea's isolationist policy earned it the name the "Hermit Kingdom". The Joseon Dynasty tried to protect itself against Western imperialism, but was eventually forced to open trade. After the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, Korea came under Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945). At the end of World War II, the Japanese surrendered to Soviet and U.S. forces who occupied the northern and southern halves of Korea, respectively.

After division

Despite the initial plan of a unified Korea in the 1943 Cairo Declaration, escalating Cold War antagonism between the Soviet Union and the United States eventually led to the establishment of separate governments, each with its own ideology, leading to Korea's division into two political entities in 1948: North Korea and South Korea. In the North, a former anti-Japanese guerrilla and communist activist, Kim Il-sung gained power through Soviet support, and in the South, an exiled and right-wing Korean political leader, Syngman Rhee, was installed as president.

The Seoul Olympic Stadium, seen from the Han River, hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics.

On 25 June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea with military force which led to the Korean War. At the time, the Soviet Union had boycotted the United Nations (UN), thus forfeiting their veto rights. This allowed the UN to intervene in a civil war when it became apparent that the superior North Korean forces would unify the entire country. The Soviet Union and China backed North Korea, with the later participation of millions of Chinese troops. After huge advances on both sides, and massive losses among Korean civilians in both the north and the south, the war eventually reached a stalemate. The 1953 armistice, never signed by South Korea, split the peninsula along the demilitarized zone near the original demarcation line. No peace treaty was signed, resulting in the two countries remaining technically at war. At least 2.5 million people died during the Korean War.[18]

In 1960, a student uprising led to the resignation of the autocratic President Syngman Rhee. A period of political instability followed, broken by General Park Chung-hee's military coup (the "5-16 coup d'état") against the weak and ineffectual government the next year. Park took over as president until his assassination in 1979, overseeing rapid export-led economic growth as well as severe political repression. Park was heavily criticised as a ruthless military dictator, although the Korean economy developed significantly during his tenure.

The years after Park's assassination were marked again by considerable political turmoil as the previously repressed opposition leaders all campaigned to run for president in the sudden political void. In 1980 there was another coup d'état by General Chun Doo-hwan against the transitional government of Choi Gyu Ha, the interim president and a former prime minister under Park. Chun assumed the presidency. His seizure of power triggered nationwide protests demanding democracy, in particular in the city of Gwangju, in Jeollanam-do, where Chun sent special forces to violently suppress the Gwangju Democratization Movement.

View of the Seoul World Cup Stadium used during the 2002 FIFA World Cup co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.

Chun and his government held Korea under a despotic rule until 1987, when Park Jong Chul—a student attending Seoul National University—was tortured to death. On 10 June, the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice revealed Park's torture, igniting huge demonstrations around the country. Eventually, Chun's party, the Democratic Justice Party, and its leader, Roh Tae-woo announced the June 29th Declaration, which included the direct election of the president. Roh went on to win the election by a narrow margin against the two main opposition leaders, Kim Dae-Jung and Kim Young-Sam.

View of Seoul's Gangnam district today. South Korea's economic success is often called the Miracle on the Han River.

In 1988, Seoul successfully hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics, and continuing economic development led to membership in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1996. As with many of its Asian neighbors, South Korea was adversely affected by the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, however the country was able to recover and continue its economic growth.

In June 2000, as part of president Kim Dae-Jung's "Sunshine Policy" of engagement, a North-South summit took place in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Later that year, Kim received the Nobel Peace Prize "for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular."[19]

In 2002, South Korea and Japan jointly co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup, however South Korean and Japanese relations later soured due to conflicting claims of sovereignty over the Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo), in what became known as the Liancourt Rocks dispute.

Foreign relations

South Korea maintains diplomatic relations with approximately 170 countries. The country has also been a member of the United Nations since 1991, when it became a member state at the same time as North Korea. On January 1, 2007, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon assumed the post of UN Secretary-General. It has also developed links with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as both a member of ASEAN Plus three, a body of observers, and the East Asia Summit (EAS).

Beginning in May 2007, South Korea and the European Union have been negotiating a free trade agreement to reduce trade barriers.[20] South Korea is also negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with Canada,[21] and another with New Zealand.[22] In November 2009, South Korea made its accession to the OECD Development Assistance Committee marking the first time a former aid recipient country has joined the group as a donor member. South Korea has also agreed to host the G-20 Summit in Seoul in 2010.


Historically, Korea has had relatively close relations with China. Before the formation of South Korea, Korean independence fighters worked with Chinese soldiers during the Japanese occupation. However, after World War II, the People's Republic of China embraced Maoism while South Korea sought close relations with the United States. The PRC assisted North Korea with manpower and supplies during the Korean War, and in its aftermath the diplomatic relationship between South Korea and the PRC almost completely ceased. Relations thawed gradually and South Korea and the PRC re-established formal diplomatic relations on August 24, 1992. The two countries sought to improve bilateral relations and lifted the forty-year old trade embargo, and[23] South Korean-Chinese relations have improved steadily since 1992.[23] The Republic of Korea broke off official relations with the Republic of China upon gaining official relations with the People's Republic of China. [24]


Liancourt Rocks has become an issue known as the Liancourt Rocks dispute

Although there were no formal diplomatic ties between South Korea and Japan after the end of World War II, South Korea and Japan signed the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea in 1965 to establish diplomatic ties. There is heavy anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea due to a number of unsettled Japanese-Korean disputes, many of which stem from the period of Japanese occupation. During World War II, more than 100,000 Koreans were forced to serve in the Imperial Japanese Army.[25][26] Korean women were lured to the war front to serve the Imperial Japanese Army as sexual slaves, called comfort women.[27][28]

Longstanding issues such as Japanese war crimes against Korean civilians, the visits by Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine honoring Japanese soldiers killed at war (including some class A war criminals), the re-writing of Japanese textbooks to overlook Japanese aggression during World War II, and the territorial disputes over Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo)[29] continue to trouble Korean-Japanese relations. In response to then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, former President Roh Moo-hyun suspended all summit talks between South Korea and Japan.[30]

North Korea

Both North and South Korea continue to officially claim sovereignty over the entire peninsula and any outlying islands. With longstanding animosity following the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, North Korea and South Korea signed an agreement to pursue peace.[31] On October 4, 2007, Roh Moo-Hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il signed an eight-point agreement on issues of permanent peace, high-level talks, economic cooperation, renewal of train services, highway and air travel, and a joint Olympic cheering squad.[31]

Despite the Sunshine Policy and efforts at reconciliation, the progress was complicated by North Korean missile tests in 1993, 1998, 2006 and 2009. As of early 2009, relationships between North and South Korea are very tense; North Korea has been reported to have deployed missiles,[32] ended its former agreements with South Korea,[33] and threatened South Korea and the United States not to interfere with a satellite launch it had planned.[34] As of 2009, North and South Korea are still technically at war (having never signed an armistice after the Korean War) and share the world’s most heavily fortified border.[35] On May 27, 2009, North Korea declared that the ceasefire treaty, signed post Korean War, is no longer valid due to the South Korean government's pledge to "definitely join" the Proliferation Security Initiative.

United States

The United States engaged in the decolonization of Korea (mainly South, Soviet Union engaged North Korea) from Japan after World War II. After 3 years of military administration by the United States, the South Korean government was established. Upon the onset of the Korean War, U.S. forces were sent to defend South Korea against invasion by North Korea and later China. Following the ceasefire, South Korea and the U.S. agreed to a "Mutual Defense Treaty", under which an attack on either party would summon a response from both. Currently, the U.S. Eighth Army, Seventh Air Force and U.S. Naval Forces Korea are stationed in South Korea. The two nations have strong economic, diplomatic and military ties, although they have at times disagreed with regards to policies towards North Korea. In 2007, a free trade agreement known as the Republic of Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) was signed between South Korea and the United States, but has not yet been approved by the legislative bodies of the two countries.

Armed forces

A long history of invasions by neighbors and the unresolved tension with North Korea have prompted South Korea to allocate 2.6% of its GDP and 15% of all government spending to its military, while maintaining compulsory conscription for men.[36] Consequently, South Korea has the world's sixth largest number of active troops,[37] the world's second-largest number of reserve troops[37] and the twelfth largest defence budget. The Republic of Korea, with a regular military force numbering 3.7 million regular personnel among a total national population of 50 million people, has the second highest number of soldiers per capita in the world[37], after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.[38]

The South Korean military consists of the Army (ROKA), the Navy (ROKN), the Air Force (ROKAF), and the Marine Corps (ROKMC), and reserve forces.[39] Many of these forces are concentrated near the Korean Demilitarized Zone. All South Korean males are constitutionally required to serve in the military, typically for a period of two years. However, there have been debates about shortening the length of the military services, and even dismissing the mandatory service itself. The government recently allowed some male students who were in the process of earning a university bachelor's degree and master's degree to dismiss the military requirements to allow them to further study and research their fields. Furthermore, Koreans of mixed race are exempt from military duty if they "look distinctively biracial".[40]

Along with ROK soldiers, some Korean males are selected to serve two years in the KATUSA Program. [41]

The South Korean army has 2,300 tanks in operation,[42] including the K1A1 and K2 Black Panther. The South Korean navy has the world's sixth largest fleet of destroyers, including the King Sejong the Great class destroyer, which has an Aegis guided missile system.[43] The South Korean air force operates the ninth largest air force in the world,[44] including American fighters such as the F-15K, KF-16, and the indigenous T-50 Golden Eagle.[45]

ROKN guided-missile destroyer Sejong the Great (DDG 991)

From time to time, South Korea has sent its troops overseas to assist American forces. It has participated in most major conflicts that the United States has been involved in the past 50 years. South Korea dispatched 320,000 troops to fight alongside American, Australian, Filipino, New Zealand and South Vietnamese soldiers in the Vietnam War, with a peak strength of 50,000. Most recently, South Korea sent 3,300 troops of the Zaytun Division to help re-building in northern Iraq, and was the 3rd largest contributor in the coalition forces after only the US and Britain.[46]

The United States has stationed a substantial contingent of troops in South Korea since the Korean War to defend South Korea in case of a North Korean attack. There are also approximately 29,000 U.S. Military personnel stationed in Korea,[47] most of them serving one year of unaccompanied tours. The American troops, which primarily are assigned to the Eighth United States Army are stationed in installations at Osan, Yongsan, Dongducheon, Sungbuk, and Daegu. A still functioning UN Command is technically the top of the chain of command of all forces in South Korea, including the US forces and the entire South Korean military. Although, if a sudden escalation of war between North and South Korea were to occur, as of currently, the United States would assume control of the South Korean Army in all military and paramilitary moves. However, in September 2006, the Presidents of the United States and the Republic of Korea agreed that South Korea should assume the lead for its own defense. In early 2007, the U.S. Secretary of Defense and ROK Minister of National Defense determined that South Korea will assume wartime operational control of its forces on April 17, 2012. U.S. Forces Korea will transform into a new joint-warfighting command, provisionally described as Korea Command (KORCOM).[48]

Administrative divisions

See also Special cities of Korea and Provinces of Korea
Principal divisions of South Korea
General map of South Korea

The major administrative divisions in South Korea are provinces, metropolitan cities (self-governing cities that are not part of any province), and one special city.

Namea hangul hanja population
Special city (Teukbyeolsi)a
1 Seoul (Special City) 서울특별시 首爾特別市 10,421,782
Metropolitan cities (Gwangyeoksi)a
2 Busan 부산광역시 釜山廣域市 3,635,389
3 Daegu 대구광역시 大邱廣域市 2,512,604
4 Incheon 인천광역시 仁川廣域市 2,628,000
5 Gwangju 광주광역시 光州廣域市 1,415,953
6 Daejeon 대전광역시 大田廣域市 1,442,857
7 Ulsan 울산광역시 蔚山廣域市 1,087,958
Provinces (Do)a
8 Gyeonggi-do 경기도 京畿道 10,415,399
9 Gangwon-do 강원도 江原道 1,592,000
10 Chungcheongbuk-do (Northern Chungcheong) 충청북도 忠淸北道 1,462,621
11 Chungcheongnam-do (Southern Chungcheong) 충청남도 忠淸南道 1,840,410
12 Jeollabuk-do (Northern Jeolla) 전라북도 全羅北道 1,890,669
13 Jeollanam-do (Southern Jeolla) 전라남도 全羅南道 1,994,287
14 Gyeongsangbuk-do (Northern Gyeongsang) 경상북도 慶尙北道 2,775,890
15 Gyeongsangnam-do (Southern Gyeongsang) 경상남도 慶尙南道 2,970,929
Special self-governing province (Teukbyeoljachi-do)a
16 Jeju-teukbyeoljachido (Jeju-do) 제주특별자치도 濟州特別自治道 560,000

a Revised Romanisation.

Geography and climate

Topography of South Korea
Boseong tea field.

South Korea occupies the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula, which extends some 680 miles (1,100 km) from the Asian mainland. This mountainous peninsula is flanked by the Yellow Sea to the west, and the Sea of Japan (East Sea) to the east. Its southern tip lies on the Korea Strait and the East China Sea.

The country's total area is 38,622.57 square miles (100,032.00 km2).[49]

South Korea can be divided into four general regions: an eastern region of high mountain ranges and narrow coastal plains; a western region of broad coastal plains, river basins, and rolling hills; a southwestern region of mountains and valleys; and a southeastern region dominated by the broad basin of the Nakdong River.

South Korea's terrain is mostly mountainous, most of which is not arable. Lowlands, located primarily in the west and southeast, constitute only 30% of the total land area.

About three thousand islands, mostly small and uninhabited, lie off the western and southern coasts of South Korea. Jeju-do is located about 100 kilometers (about 60 mi) off the southern coast of South Korea. It is the country's largest island, with an area of 1,845 square kilometres (712 sq mi). Jeju is also the site of South Korea's highest point: Hallasan, an extinct volcano, reaches 1,950 meters (6,398 ft) above sea level. The most eastern islands of South Korea include Ulleungdo and Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo), while Marado and Socotra Rock are the southernmost islands of South Korea.

South Korea has 20 national parks and some popular nature places like Boseong Tea Field, Suncheon Bay Ecological Park in South Jeolla province.


Climate chart (explanation)
average max. and min. temperatures in °C
precipitation totals in mm

South Korea tends to have a humid continental climate and a humid subtropical climate, and is affected by the East Asian monsoon, with precipitation heavier in summer during a short rainy season called jangma (장마), which begins end of June through the end of July. Winters can be extremely cold with the minimum temperature dropping to -20 °C in the northernmost part of the country: in Seoul, the average January temperature range is −7 °C to 1 °C (19 °F to 33 °F), and the average August temperature range is 22 °C to 30 °C (71 °F to 86 °F). Winter temperatures are higher along the southern coast and considerably lower in the mountainous interior.

Rainfall is concentrated in the summer months of June through September. The southern coast is subject to late summer typhoons that bring strong winds and heavy rains. The average annual precipitation varies from 1,370 millimeters (54 inches) in Seoul to 1,470 millimeters (58 inches) in Busan. There are occasional typhoons that bring high winds and floods.


Cheonggyecheon, a stream running through downtown Seoul, was restored after being paved over for a motorway.

During the first 20 years of South Korea's growth surge, little effort was made to preserve the environment.[50] Unchecked industrialization and urban development have resulted in deforestation and the ongoing destruction of wetlands such as the Songdo Tidal Flat.[51] However, there have been recent efforts to balance these problems, including a government run $84 billion five-year green growth project that aims to boost energy efficiency and green technology.[52][53]

The green-based economic strategy is a comprehensive overhaul of South Korea’s economy, utilizing nearly two percent of the national GDP.[52] The greening initiative includes such efforts as a nation wide bike network, solar and wind energy, lowering oil dependent vehicles, backing daylight savings and extensive usage of environmentally friendly technologies such as LEDs in electronics and lighting.[54] The country - already the world's most wired - plans to build a nationwide next-generation network which will be 10 times faster than current broadband facilities in order to reduce energy usage.[54]

Seoul's tap water recently became safe to drink, with city officials branding it "Arisu" in a bid to convince the public.[55] Efforts have also been made with afforestation projects. Another multi-billion dollar project was the restoration of Cheonggyecheon, a stream running through downtown Seoul that had earlier been paved over by a motorway.[56] One major challenge is air quality, with acid rain, sulphur oxides, and annual yellow dust storms being particular problems.[50] It is acknowledged that many of these difficulties are a result of South Korea's proximity to China, which is a major air polluter.[50]

South Korea is a member of the Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity Treaty, Kyoto Protocol (forming the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG), regarding UNFCCC,[57] with Mexico and Switzerland), Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, and Whaling.[58]


South Korea's real GDP growth from 1960 to 2007, in billions of US dollars. This rapid growth is termed the Miracle on the Han River.
The $40 billion Songdo International City in Incheon Free Economic Zone is the largest private real estate project in history.[59]
Hyundai Kia Automotive Group is the world's largest automaker by profit[60] and fourth biggest in terms of units sold.[61]
The KTX-II developed by South Korea is the world's fourth high-speed train to exceed the 350km/h mark.[62]

South Korea is a developed country and had one of the world's fastest growing economies from the early 1960s to the late 1990s.[63] Its rapid transformation into a wealthy and industrialized economy in this short time was termed the Miracle on the Han River. This growth surge was achieved through manufacturing oriented exports and a highly educated workforce.[64] As of 2009, South Korea is the world's eighth largest exporter.[65]

A member of the OECD, South Korea is classified as a high-income economy by the World Bank, an advanced economy by the IMF and CIA[66][67] and a developed market by the FTSE Group. It has a very high HDI, measuring particularly high in the Education Index, where it is ranked first in Asia and seventh worldwide. South Korea is currently ranked as the most innovative country in the world among major economies in the Global Innovation Index.[68]

South Korea is the current chair of the G-20 major economies and will be the first country in Asia to host the G-20 summit when it does so in Seoul in November 2010. It is one of the 24 selected (including the European Commission) OECD members in the Development Assistance Committee, a group of the world's major donor countries contributing to development aid and poverty reduction in developing countries. It is also a founding member of APEC, ASEAN Plus Three and EAS.

The South Korean economy is led by large conglomerates known as chaebol. These include global multinational brands such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai-Kia.

The 10 largest South Korean companies by market value in 2009 were Samsung Electronics, POSCO, Hyundai Motor, KB Financial Group, Korea Electric Power, Samsung Life Insurance, Shinhan Financial Group, LG Electronics, Hyundai Mobis, LG Chem.[69][70]

As the largest of the Four Asian Tigers, the South Korean economy is the fourth largest in Asia and 13th largest in the world. In 2009, South Korea surpassed the United Kingdom, Russia and Canada to become the world's eighth largest exporter.[65] South Korea is a major trading partner of the world's largest economies - it is the third largest trading partner of China and Japan,[71][72] the seventh largest trading partner of the United States[73] and the eighth largest trading partner of the European Union.[74]

South Korea is the world's largest shipbuilder,[75][76] and the fifth largest automobile maker in the world.[77] It is Asia's largest exporter of oil products,[78] and dominant in the global construction industry, in which South Korea's Samsung C&T built Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building.[79] The country's industrial powerhouse, Ulsan, has a GDP per capita of $63,817 and would be the world's third wealthiest economy if ranked.[80] It is home to the world's largest automobile assembly plant operated by Hyundai Motor,[81] the world's largest shipyard operated by Hyundai Heavy Industries[82] and the world's largest oil refinery owned by SK Energy.[83]

Its capital, Seoul, is consistently placed among the world's top ten financial and commercial cities[84][85] and was named the world's sixth most economically powerful city by Forbes[84] with a GDP per capita of $32,171 in 2008.[86][87][88][2]

South Korea is pursuing a large number of multi-billion dollar developments, most notably the Digital Media City in Seoul, Centum City in Busan and Songdo International City in Incheon. The 133-floor supertall Digital Media City Landmark Building is slated to become the world's second tallest building in 2015, housing the world's tallest observatory and hotels, while the 151-floor supertall 151 Incheon Tower will become the world's tallest twin towers in 2014. Centum City is home to the world's largest department store, the Shinsegae Centum City, which set a new Guinness World Record in 2009.[89]

High-tech industries

South Korea's Samsung Electronics is the world's largest electronics and technology company[90] and Samsung Group is the world's largest conglomerate.[91]
LG Crystal's transparent keypad developed by South Korea's LG, the world's third largest cellphone maker.[92]

South Korea is ranked first in the world in the Digital Opportunity Index, and first among major economies in the Global Innovation Index. The Digital Media City in Seoul is the first high-tech complex in the world for digital technologies and a test-bed for new futuristic concepts such as ubiquitous computing.

South Korea has a high-tech infrastructure and is the most wired country in the world,[93] with the world's highest broadband internet access per capita,[94][95] and the fastest average Internet connections with a nationwide 100Mbps fibre-optic network that is currently being upgraded to 1Gbps by 2012.[96]

In consumer electronics, South Korea is the world's largest LCD, OLED, CRT and plasma display maker.[97] The South Korean companies Samsung and LG are among the top three manufacturers of televisions[98] and mobile phones.[99] Samsung is currently the world's most valued consumer electronics brand.[100]

South Korea is one of the world's leading technology innovators, having the third largest number of patents in force worldwide, after Japan and the United States.[101] It has the world's highest patent filings per GDP and the highest patent filings per R&D expenditure, as well as the second highest patent filings per million population. Among developed countries, it has the fastest patent filing growth at over 14.8% in 2007.[102]

The government is also investing in the robotics industry.[103][104] There are also plans to develop other sectors, including financial services, biotechnology and aerospace industries.

South Korea was the first country to start Digital Multimedia Broadcasting in 2005,[105] which has now rolled out nation-wide. South Korea's telecom industry developed WiBro, a high-speed mobile broadband internet service, which was launched for the first time in the world in 2006. South Korea also possesses an advanced 3G HSDPA coverage extending to even mountains and underground subway lines.[106]

Transportation and energy

Incheon International Airport, rated the best airport worldwide consecutively since 2005 by Airports Council International.[107]
Moonlight Rainbow Fountain in Seoul is the world's longest bridge fountain.[108]

South Korea has a technologically advanced transportation network consisting of high-speed railways, highways, bus routes, ferry services, and air routes that criss-cross the country. Korea Expressway Corporation operates the toll highways and service amenities en route.

Korail provides frequent train service to all major South Korean cities. Two rail lines, Gyeongui and Donghae Bukbu Line, to North Korea are now being reconnected. The Korean high-speed rail system, KTX, provides high-speed service along Gyeongbu and Honam Line. Major cities—including Seoul,[109] Busan, Incheon, Daegu, Daejeon and Gwangju—have subway systems. Metropolitan Cities (gwangyeoksi, self-governing cities that are not incorporated into any province) have express bus terminals.

Construction of South Korea's largest airport, Incheon International Airport, was completed in 2001. By 2007, the airport was serving 30 million passengers a year.[110] The airport has been selected as the "Best Airport Worldwide" for four consecutive years since 2005 by Airports Council International.[107] Other international airports include Gimpo, Busan and Jeju. There are also seven domestic airports, and a large number of heliports.[111]

Korean Air, founded in 1962, served 21,640,000 passengers, including 12,490,000 international passengers in 2008.[112] A second carrier, Asiana Airlines, established in 1988, also serves domestic and international traffic. Combined, South Korean airlines currently serve 297 international routes.[113] Smaller airliners, such as Jeju Air, provide domestic service with lower fares.

South Korea is the world's sixth largest nuclear power producer and the second-largest in Asia.[114] Nuclear power in South Korea supplies 45% of electricity production and research is very active with investigation into a variety of advanced reactors, including a small modular reactor, a liquid-metal fast/transmutation reactor and a high-temperature hydrogen generation design. Fuel production and waste handling technologies have also been developed locally. It is also a member of the ITER project.

Science and technology

Yi So-yeon, South Korea's first astronaut in space.[115]

Aerospace research

South Korea has launched two satellites, Arirang-1 in 1999 and Arirang-2 in 2006, as part of its space partnership with Russia.[116]

Naro Space Center, the first spaceport of South Korea, was completed in 2008 at Goheung, Jeollanam-do. The Korea Space Launch Vehicle was launched from Naro in 2009 but failed.[117]

In April 2008, Yi So-yeon became the first Korean to fly in space, aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-12.

Albert HUBO, developed by KAIST, can make expressive gestures with its 5 separate fingers.


Robotics has been included in the list of main national R&D projects in Korea since 2003.[118] In 2009, the government announced plans to build robot-themed parks in Incheon and Masan with a mix of public and private funding.[119]

In 2005, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology developed the world's second walking humanoid robot, HUBO. A team in the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology developed the first Korean android, EveR-1 in May 2006. EveR-1 has been succeeded by more complex models with improved movement and vision. Next models are scheduled to be completed by 2010.


Since the 1980s, the Korean government has actively invested in the development of a domestic biotechnology industry, and the sector is projected to grow to $6.5 billion by 2010.[120] The medical sector accounts for a large part of the production, including production of hepatitis vaccines and antibiotics.

Recently, research and development in genetics and cloning has received increasing attention, with the first successful cloning of a dog, Snuppy, and the cloning of two females of an endangered species of wolves by the Seoul National University in 2007.[121]

The rapid growth of the industry has resulted in significant voids in regulation of ethics, as was highlighted by the scientific misconduct case involving Hwang Woo-Suk.[122]


Education in South Korea is regarded as being crucial to one's success, and competition is consequently very heated and fierce. In the 2006 results of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, South Korea came first in problem solving, third in mathematics and eleventh in science.[123] South Korea's education system is technologically advanced and it is the world's first country to bring high-speed fibre-optic broadband internet access to every primary and secondary school nation-wide. Using this infrastructure, the country has developed the first Digital Textbooks in the world, which will be distributed for free to every primary and secondary schools nation-wide by 2013.[124]

A centralised administration in South Korea oversees the process for the education of children from kindergarten to the third and final year of high school. South Korea has adopted a new educational program to increase the number of their foreign students through the year 2010. According to Ministry of Education, Science and Technology estimate, by that time, the number of scholarships for foreign students in South Korea will be doubled, and the number of foreign students will reach 100,000.[125] The school year is divided into two semesters, the first of which begins in the beginning of March and ends in mid-July, the second of which begins in late August and ends in mid-February.The schedules are not uniformly standardized and vary from school to school.


South Korea is noted for its population density, which at 487 per square kilometer is more than 10 times the global average. Most South Koreans live in urban areas, due to rapid migration from the countryside during the country's quick economic expansion in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.[126] The capital city of Seoul is also the country's largest city and chief industrial center. According to 2005 census, Seoul had a population of 9.8 million inhabitants. The Seoul National Capital Area has 24.5 million inhabitants making it the world's second largest metropolitan area. Other major cities include Busan (3.5 million), Incheon (2.5 million), Daegu (2.5 million), Daejeon (1.4 million), Gwangju (1.4 million) and Ulsan (1 million).[127]

The population has also been shaped by international migration. Following the division of the Korean Peninsula after World War II, about four million people from North Korea crossed the border to South Korea. This trend of net entry reversed over the next forty years due to emigration, especially to the United States and Canada. South Korea’s total population in 1960 was 25 million.[128] The current population of South Korea is roughly 49,540,000.[129]

South Korea is a homogeneous society with an absolute majority of the population of Korean ethnicity.[130] Although small, the percentage of non-Koreans has been increasing.[131] As of 2009, South Korea had 1,106,884 foreign residents, more than double the 2006 total. Migrants from the People's Republic of China (PRC) make up 56.5% of the total; however, many of them are Joseonjok, PRC citizens of Korean ethnicity.[132] The roughly 33,000 Mongolian immigrants are believed to be the largest community of Mongolian citizens residing abroad.[133][134] Another notable group is women from Southeast Asia who comprised 41% of new marriages with Korean farmers in 2006.[135] There are also 31,000 US military personnel.[136] In addition, about 43,000 English teachers from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and South Africa temporarily reside in Korea.[137]

South Korea's birthrate is the world's lowest.[138] If this continues, its population is expected to decrease by 13 percent to 42.3 million in 2050,[139] South Korea's annual birthrate is approximately 9 births per 1000 people.[140] The average life expectancy in 2008 was 79.10 years,[141] which is 40th in the world.[142]

Cities of South Korea

The figure below lists the twenty largest cities within administrative city limits; the figures below only include long-term residents.

Largest cities of South Korea


Cities Provincial level divisions Population Cities Provincial level divisions Population


1 Seoul Seoul 10,456,034   11 Bucheon Gyeonggi-do 854,348
2 Busan Busan 3,596,076   12 Yongin Gyeonggi-do 677,665
3 Incheon Incheon 2,741,217   13 Ansan Gyeonggi-do 670,884
4 Daegu Daegu 2,512,601   14 Cheongju Chungcheongbuk-do 628,150
5 Daejeon Daejeon 1,494,951   15 Anyang Gyeonggi-do 625,426
6 Gwangju Gwangju 1,434,625   16 Jeonju Jeollabuk-do 623,060
7 Ulsan Ulsan 1,126,879   17 Pohang Gyeongsangbuk-do 508,051
8 Suwon Gyeonggi-do 1,090,678   18 Cheonan Chungcheongnam-do 506,788
9 Seongnam Gyeonggi-do 958,349   19 Changwon Gyeongsangnam-do 504,118
10 Goyang Gyeonggi-do 950,750   20 Gimhae Gyeongsangnam-do 436,640


South Korea religiosity
religion percent
No religion
Roman Catholic Church
Other religions
Won Buddhism

As of 2005, just under half of the South Korean population expressed no religious preference.[143] Of the rest, most are Christian or Buddhist; according to the 2005 census, 29.2% of the population at that time was Christian (18.3% professed to being Protestants and 10.9% Catholics), and 22.8% were Buddhist.[144][145] Other religions include Islam and various new religious movements such as Jeungism, Daesunism, Cheondoism and Wonbuddhism. The earliest religion practiced was Korean shamanism.[citation needed] Today, freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution, and there is no state religion.[146]

Christianity is South Korea's largest religion, accounting for more than half of all South Korean religious adherents. There are approximately 15 million Christians[147] in South Korea today, with more than two-thirds of Christians belonging to the Protestant group, while about 15% belong to the Catholic group. The largest Christian church in South Korea, Yoido Full Gospel Church, is located in Seoul. Roman Catholicism has been the fastest growing denomination in South Korea since the late 1980s.[148] South Korea is also the second-largest missionary-sending nation.[149]

Buddhism was introduced to Korea in the year 372.[150] According to the national census as of 2005, South Korea has over 10.7 million Buddhists.[147][151] Today, about 90% of Korean Buddhists belong to Jogye Order. Most of the National Treasures of South Korea are Buddhist artifacts. Along with Neo-Confucianism, Buddhism was also a state religion during the periods from Three Kingdoms of Korea to Goryeo before suppression under the Joseon Dynasty.[152]

Islam in South Korea has an estimated less than 30,000 native followers, in addition to some 100,000 resident foreign workers from Muslim countries,[153] particularly Bangladesh and Pakistan.[154]


South Korea shares its traditional culture with North Korea, but the two Koreas have developed distinct contemporary forms of culture since the peninsula was divided in 1945. Historically, while the culture of Korea has been heavily influenced by that of neighbouring China, it has nevertheless managed to develop a unique and distinct cultural identity from its larger neighbour.[155] The South Korean Ministry of Culture and Tourism actively encourages the traditional arts, as well as modern forms, through funding and education programs.[156]

The industrialization and urbanization of South Korea have brought many changes to the way Korean people live. Changing economics and lifestyles have led to a concentration of population in major cities, especially the capital Seoul, with multi-generational households separating into nuclear family living arrangements.

There are nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Korea.

The cheongja Unhak Sanggam Mun Maebyeong from the Goryeo Dynasty.


Korean art has been highly influenced by Buddhism and Confucianism. Korean pottery and porcelain like baekja and buncheong are well known throughout the world. Also Korean tea ceremony, pansori, talchum and buchaechum are popular Korean performing arts. Hanbok is the traditional Korean dress. Nowadays, people wear it during traditional festivals and celebrations. It has many germants like dopo (clothing), durumagi and jeogori, so it is worn as semi-formal or formal wear.


Modern skyline of Seoul and the Deoksugung palace.

Pre-modern Korean architecture may be divided into two main styles: those used in palace and temple structures, and those used in the houses of common people, which consists of local variations.

Korean's ancient architects adopted the bracket system and is characterized by thatched roofs and heated floors called ondol. People of the upper classes built bigger houses with tiled roofs. The roofs were elegantly curved and accentuated with slightly uplifting eaves. There still are many sites like Hahoe Folk Village, Yangdong Village of Gyeongju and Korean Folk Village where the traditional Korean architecture is preserved.


Sujeonggwa, a traditional Korean fruit punch, garnished with pine nuts
Bulgogi, a Korean barbecue dish made of either beef or pork

Korean cuisine, hanguk yori (한국요리, 韓國料理), or hansik (한식, 韓食), has evolved through centuries of social and political change. Ingredients and dishes vary by province. There are many significant regional dishes that have proliferated in different variations across the country in the present day. The Korean royal court cuisine once brought all of the unique regional specialties together for the royal family. Meals consumed both by the royal family and ordinary Korean citizens have been regulated by a unique culture of etiquette.

Korean cuisine is largely based on rice, noodles, tofu, vegetables, fish and meats. Traditional Korean meals are noted for the number of side dishes, banchan (반찬), which accompany steam-cooked short-grain rice. Every meal is accompanied by numerous banchan. Kimchi, a fermented, usually spicy vegetable dish is commonly served at every meal and is one of the best known Korean dishes. Korean cuisine usually involves heavy seasoning with sesame oil, doenjang (된장), a type of fermented soybean paste, soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger, and gochujang (고추장), a hot pepper paste.

Soups are also a common part of a Korean meal and are served as part of the main course rather than at the beginning or the end of the meal. Soups known as guk (국) are often made with meats, shellfish and vegetables. Similar to guk, tang (탕) has less water, and is more often served in restaurants. Another type is jjigae (찌개), a stew that is typically heavily seasoned with chili pepper and served boiling hot.

Contemporary Music and Film/TV

In addition to domestic consumption, South Korean mainstream culture, including televised drama, films, and popular music, also generates significant exports to various parts of the world. This phenomenon, often called "Hallyu" or the "Korean Wave", has swept many countries in Asia and other parts of the world.

Until the 1990s, trot and ballads dominated Korean popular music. The emergence of the rap group Seo Taiji and Boys in 1992 marked a turning point for Korean popular music, also known as K-Pop, as the group incorporated elements of popular musical genres of rap, rock, and techno into its music. Hip hop, dance and ballad oriented acts have become dominant in the Korean popular music scene, though trot is still popular among older Koreans. Many K-Pop stars and groups are also well known abroad, especially in Asia.

Since the success of the film Shiri in 1999, Korean film has begun to gain recognition internationally. Domestic film has a dominant share of the market, partly due to the existence of screen quotas requiring cinemas to show Korean films at least 73 days a year.

Korean television shows, especially the short form dramatic mini-series called "dramas", have also become popular outside of Korea, becoming another driving trend for the Korean Wave in Asia and elsewhere. The trend has generated internationally known Korean stars and has boosted the image of Korean popular culture. The dramas are popular mostly in Asia. The stories have a wide range, but the most prominent among the export dramas have been romance dramas, such as Winter Sonata, Autumn Fairy Tale, Full House (2004 TV series), All About Eve, and historical/fantasy dramas, such as Dae Jang Geum, The Legend and Goong.

Technology culture

PC bangs are popular LAN gaming centers in South Korea.
Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB) on a mobile phone

South Korean corporations Samsung and LG are the second- and third-largest mobile phone companies in the world, respectively. An estimated 90% of South Koreans own a mobile phone. Aside from placing/receiving calls and text messaging, mobile phones in the country are widely used for watching Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB) or viewing websites. Over one million DMB phones have been sold and the three major wireless communications providers SK Telecom, KT, and LG Telecom provide coverage in all major cities and other areas.

In recent years online games have become a significant part of Korean culture. StarCraft, the real-time strategy game, is by far the most popular televised game in South Korea. Game tournaments, recorded in places like the COEX Mall are often broadcast live on TV stations such as MBCGame and Ongamenet. Professional StarCraft players can command considerable salaries in South Korea as members of pro-gaming teams that are sponsored primarily by cell phone providers. PC games are usually played in PC bangs which are basically internet cafes, dedicated to LAN games of popular titles like Kart Rider, Maple Story, World of Warcraft, Mabinogi and Lineage.


A taekwondo practitioner demonstrating dollyo chagi technique.

The martial art taekwondo originated in Korea. In the 1950s and 60s, modern rules were standardised and taekwondo became an official Olympic sport in 2000. Other Korean martial arts include taekkyeon, hapkido, tang soo do, kuk sool won, kumdo and subak.

Baseball was first introduced to Korea in 1905 and has since become the most popular spectator sport in South Korea.[157] The first South Korean professional sports league was the Korea Baseball Organization, established in 1982. South Korea finished third during the 2006 World Baseball Classic and second during the 2009 World Baseball Classic. In the 2008 Summer Olympics, South Korea won the gold medal in baseball.

World Peace Gate at Olympic Park, Seoul

In 1988, South Korea hosted the Summer Olympics in Seoul, coming fourth with 12 gold medals, 10 silver medals and 11 bronze medals. South Korea regularly performs well in archery, shooting, table tennis, badminton, short track speed skating, handball, hockey, freestyle wrestling, baseball, judo, taekwondo, Speed skating, Figure Skating, and weightlifting. South Korea hosted the Asian Games in 1986 (Seoul) and 2002 (Busan), and will host again in 2014 (Incheon). It also hosted the Asian Winter Games in 1999, the Winter Universiade in 1997 and the Summer Universiade in 2003.

In the 2002 FIFA World Cup, jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan, the national football team became the first team in the Asian Football Confederation to reach the semi-finals.

South Korean athletes have won more medals in the Winter Olympics than those of any other Asian country. After the 2010 Winter Olympics, South Korea has won a total of 45 medals (23 gold, 14 silver, and 8 bronze). South Korea is especially strong in short track speed skating.

In 2010, South Korea will host their first Formula One race to be staged at the Korean International Circuit in Yeongam, about 400 kilometres (250 mi) south of Seoul. In 2011, the South Korean city of Daegu will host the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Athletics.

South Korea has three horse racing tracks of which Seoul Race Park in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi-do is the biggest.

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  • Cumings, Bruce (1997). Korea's place in the sun. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-31681-5. 
  • KOIS (Korea Overseas Information Service) (2003). Handbook of Korea, 11th ed.. Seoul: Hollym. ISBN 1-56591-212-8. 
  • Nahm, Andrew C. (1996). Korea: A history of the Korean people (2nd ed.). Seoul: Hollym. ISBN 1-56591-070-2. 
  • Yang, Sung Chul (1999). The North and South Korean political systems: A comparative analysis (rev. ed.). Seoul: Hollym. ISBN 1-56591-105-9. 
  • Yonhap News Agency (2004). Korea Annual 2004. Seoul: Author. ISBN 89-7433-070-9. 
  • Dennis Hart (2003). From Tradition to Consumption: Constructing a Capitalist Culture in South Korea. Seoul: Author. ISBN 89-88095-44-8. 
  • Michael Breen (2004). The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0312326092. 

External links

Redirecting to South Korea

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to South Korea article)

From Wikitravel

Asia : East Asia : South Korea
Quick Facts
Capital Seoul
Government Republic
Currency South Korean won (KRW)
Area total: 98,480 km
land: 98,190 km2
water: 290 km2
Population 49,044,790 (July 2007 est.)
Language Korean, English widely taught in junior high and high school
Religion No Affiliation 46%, Christian 26%, Buddhist 26%, Confucianist 1%, Other 1%
Electricity 220V/60Hz(Western Europe plug type)
Calling Code +82
Internet TLD .kr
Time Zone UTC +9

South Korea (한국, 韓國 Hanguk) [1], formally the Republic of Korea (대한민국, 大韓民國 Daehan Minguk) is a country in East Asia. South Korea occupies the southern half of the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea to the north, China across the sea to the west and Japan a short ferry ride to the southeast.



Archeological finds of prehistoric toolmaking on the Korean Peninsula date back to 70,000 BC, and the first pottery is found around 8000 BC. Comb-pattern pottery culture peaked around 3500-2000 BC.

Korea's history begins with the founding of Gojoseon (also called Ancient Chosun) by the legendary Dangun in 2333 BC. Archeological and contemporaneous written records of Gojoseon as a kingdom date back to around 7th-4th century BC. Gojoseon was eventually defeated by the Chinese Han Dynasty and Korea was governed as four commanderies. The political chaos following the fall of the Han Dynasty in China allowed native tribes to regain control of Korea and led to the emergence of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, namely Goguryeo, Silla and Baekje. Despite repeated attempts by China, namely the Sui Dynasty and later the Tang Dynasty, to conquer the Korean Peninsula, northern-based Goguryeo managed to repel them. Eventually, Goguryeo fell to a Silla-Tang alliance, which had earlier defeated Baekje. This unified Korea under the Silla dynasty. Even though Tang later invaded, Silla forces managed to drive them out, thus maintaining Korea's independence.

Unified Silla was replaced by the Goryeo (also called Koryo) dynasty, from which the modern name "Korea" derives. One highlight of the Goryeo dynasty was that in 1234 the world's first metal movable type was invented by a Korean named Choe Yun-ui (200 years before Gutenberg's printing press). Goryeo was replaced by the Joseon (also called Chosun) dynasty, after a coup by one of its generals. The Joseon dynasty ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910, being one of the longest actively ruling dynasties in world history. It was during the early part of the Joseon dynasty that Korean technological inventions such as the world's first water clock, ironclad ship, and other innovations took place. During the rule of King Sejong the Great, the world's first rain gauge was invented and the Korean alphabet known as hangul was created.

In the late 16th century, Korea experienced the first invasions by the Japanese, then led by the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. However, an alliance between the Joseon dynasty and China's Ming dynasty eventually defeated the invaders, and this, in addition to the untimely death of Hideyoshi, forced the Japanese to pull out of Korea. Throughout most of its history, the various Korean states were tributary states to Chinese dynasties, resulting in heavy Chinese influence in Korea, though native elements were and still are well preserved in the local culture.

Korea's status as a Chinese protectorate ended in 1895 after China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War and the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Under the terms of the treaty, Qing Dynasty China was to recognize the independence of Korea, allowing Japan to exert its influence. In 1910, Japan officially annexed Korea, thus beginning a 35-year occupation of the country. There were numerous rebellions, but through suppression and a cultural assimilation policy that included forcing Koreans to take Japanese names and forbidding them to speak the Korean language, Japan maintained colonial control.

After Japan's defeat in World War II, Soviet forces occupied the northern half of Korea while US forces occupied the southern half. North and South each declared independence as separate states in 1948, with Kim Il-Sung establishing a communist regime with the support of Soviet Union in the north, and Syngman Rhee establishing a capitalist regime with the support of the United States in the south. The disastrous Korean War, which destroyed much of the country, began in 1950 when Kim Il-Sung attacked the south. US and other UN forces intervened on South Korea's side, while the Soviet Union and China supported the North. An armistice was signed in 1953 splitting the peninsula along a demilitarized zone, with no significant territorial gains made by either side. But a peace treaty has never been signed, and the two Koreas remain technically at war with each other to this day.

Despite initially being economically outdone by its northern rival, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth starting in the 1960s under the leadership of former military general President Park Chung Hee. As one of the East Asian Tigers, the South Korean economy's industrialization and modernization efforts gained traction in the 1980s and 1990s, with per capita income rising to 20 times the level of North Korea. In 1996, South Korea joined the OECD or "the rich nations club". Today, South Korea has been recognized as an industrialized, developed economy with some of the world's leading high technology corporations such as Samsung and LG.

Demands for greater freedom of press and human rights fomented to nationwide demonstrations that led to democratic elections in 1987, just prior to the South Korean capital of Seoul hosting the 1988 Summer Olympic Games.

South Korea is now a liberal democracy and the 10th largest economy in the world. In June 2000, a historic first summit took place between the South's President Kim Dae-jung and the North's leader Kim Jong-il (leading Kim Dae-jung to be awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize for South Korea), but the peace process has moved at a glacial pace.

In recent years, a phenomenon known as the "Korean Wave" (or Hallyu) in which the popularity of South Korean film, television, music, food and other culture aspects has swept most of Asia and many other parts of the world has brought increased attention to the country.

Namdaemun Gate, Seoul (presently under reconstruction)
Namdaemun Gate, Seoul (presently under reconstruction)

South Korea is a very homogeneous country, with nearly all native residents identifying themselves as ethnically Korean and speaking the Korean language. The largest resident minority are the Chinese, numbering around 20,000-30,000. However, there is a number of foreign laborers from China, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Southeast Asia and other parts of world as well as English teachers from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland. In addition, about 30,000 American military personnel are stationed throughout the country, especially near the DMZ. South Korea's large and growing economy has attracted people from all over the world and Seoul's status as a leading financial center has brought many financial workers from North America, Europe and Japan. Today, over one million foreigners reside in South Korea.

Although it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, South Korea has one of the world's lowest birthrates (1.16 children per woman nationwide and this figure is even lower in Seoul), and dealing with this will be one of the major problems for this country in the 21st century. The sex ratio is skewed strongly male, with about 112 men for every 100 women encouraging many Korean men in rural areas to seek wives from other countries such as China, Vietnam and the Philippines. About 85% of South Koreans live in urban areas.

Though East Asian tourists have been visiting Korea in droves since the turn of the millenium due to the Korean Wave (also known as 한류 hallyu), it is still largely off the radar of most Western tourists. As such, having locals stare or listen to your conversations is still somewhat a common experience among Westerners visiting Korea. Children in particular will approach you or shout a "Hi!" in passing. Much of this is done out of curiosity and eagerness to hear English spoken by native speakers. Although most Koreans have been educated in English since elementary school and most companies set a premium on possessing a certain level of fluency, in general the people will find it difficult to understand or speak it. However, most in the city will be able to read and write English proficiently. Tourists will normally find Koreans to be quite friendly and helpful when trying to find their way around.

Decoration of a royal palace, Changdeokgung, Seoul
Decoration of a royal palace, Changdeokgung, Seoul

Having been a a tributary state of China for much of its history, substantial Chinese influences are evident in traditional Korean culture. Nevertheless, many fundamental differences remain and Korea has managed to retain a distinct cultural identity from its larger neighbour. Koreans are fiercely proud of their heritage and their resistance to outside domination.

During the Joseon dynasty, Korea's dominant philosophy was a strict form of Confucianism, perhaps even more strict than seen in China where Confucianism was founded. People were separated into a rigid hierarchy, with the king at the apex, an elite of officials and warriors and a small group of nobility below him, a middle class of merchants below them, and then a vast population of peasants. The educated were superior to the uneducated, women served men, and everybody stuck to a defined role or faced severe consequences. While Korea adopted its own version of the imperial examination system used in China to select officials, unlike its Chinese counterpart which was open to the general public, the Korean imperial examination was only open to those from the aristocratic or yangban class. Buddhism and its supposedly dangerous notions of equality and individual spiritual pursuit were suppressed.

While the Joseon dynasty ceased to exist in 1910, its legacy lives on in Korean culture: education and hard work are valued above all else, and women still struggle for equal treatment.

Koreans believe that the things that set them the most apart from other Asian cultures is their cuisine, their language and their hangul script. Outsiders will note their extreme modernity, tempered by a well-developed artistic and architectural joyfulness. Nothing goes undecorated if it can be helped, and they have a knack for stylish interior design. South Korea also has a vibrant film industry, and the country is one of only a few countries in the world in which local films have a greater market share than Hollywood films.

Korea has a significant number of Christians (26%) and Buddhists (26%). However, some 46% of the country profess to follow no particular religion. Christianity is the dominant religion in Seoul and other major urban centres, while in more rural parts of the country, people generally practise a mix of Buddhism, Shamanism and other folk beliefs.


Baseball was brought to Korea by American missionaries in 1905 and at one point was the most popular sport in the country. However, this has been surpassed by football (soccer) since the South Korean national team reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2002. Nevertheless, baseball still retains a strong following, with many Korean players becoming famous MLB players in the United States, and the Korean national baseball team is regarded as one of the strongest in the world.

Badminton, table tennis and bowling are also popular and facilities for the public are widely available in cities. Korean martial arts such as taekwondo are also popular. Golf also has a strong following, with membership fees for Korea's top golf clubs being more expensive than those in neighbouring Japan or even the United States. Also, many of the world's top female golfers originate from Korea or are of Korean descent.


A long and complicated relationship, contact between the West and Korea have lead to a plethora of books on the Korean experience. Here's a list of books that would be available in the two major book centres in Korea as of June 2008.


  • Battle for Korea: The Associated Press History of the Korean Conflict by Robert J. Dvorchak (1993) - great journalistic photography accompanied by short descriptive narratives
  • Korea Old and New: A History by Carter Eckert and Lee Ki-Baik (1991) - simply stated writing, good overview of Korea's history
  • Korea Witness: 135 years of war, crisis and new in the land of the morning calm by Donald Kirk and Choe Sang Hun (2006) - compilation of articles from foreign correspondents starting from 1871, notably from Jack London, a war correspondent from 1903-4
  • True Stories of the Korean Comfort Women by Keith Howard (1996) - unflinching look at the atrocities committed during occupation period


  • The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies by Michael Breen (1999) - anectodal accounts and insights of a British journalist on the country he spends half the year in, informative and entertaining
  • Social Change in Korea published by Jimoondang (2008) - compilation of articles written by academic experts on Korea
  • The Discovery of Korea: History-Nature-Cultural Heritages-Art-Tradition-Cities by Yoo Myeong-jong (2005) - amazing scenic views on Korea


Korea's traditional holidays follow the lunar calendar, so they fall on different days each year. The two biggest, Seollal and Chuseok, are family holidays and entail everybody returning to their hometowns en masse, meaning that all forms of transport are absolutely packed.

  • Shinjeong (신정),means New Years day : on the 1st day, January
  • Seollal (설날), on the 1st day of the 1st month in the lunar calendar, is also known as "Korean New Year". Families gather together, eat traditional foods-especially Ddugguk (떡국) and perform an ancestral service. The public holiday lasts for 3 days, which includes the eve and second day.
  • Sameeljjeol (삼일절,3.1절) : 1st, March, in commemoration of the March 1st resistance movement against the invading Japanese Imperial Army in 1919.
  • Orininal (어린이날) : means children's day, 5th, May
  • Buchonnim osinnal or sawolchopa-il : means Buddah's birthday, 8th, 4th month in the lunar calendar
  • Hyeonchung-il (현충일) : means memorial day, 6th, June. In commemoration of people who gave their lives to the nation.
  • Gwangbokjjeol (광복절) : means independence day, 15th, August. In commemoration of the liberation of Korean peninsula from the Japanese rule with the end of the second world war.
  • Chuseok (추석), often dubbed "Korean Thanksgiving", is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the year (usually August-September). Koreans celebrate by eating traditional foods, notably a rice cake called songpyeon (송편) and playing folk games. The public holiday lasts for 3 days
  • Gaecheonjeol (개천절) : 3rd, October. In commemoration of the first formation of the nation of ancient Korea
  • Christmas (성탄절) has become a major holiday in Korea due to the large number of Christian converts in recent times. As such, it is an ideal time to visit and soak up the festive mood, and maybe listen to a couple of Korean renditions of popular Christmas songs.
  • Spring is a great time of year to be in Korea. The temperatures are warm, but not hot and there's not too much rain either. However, spring is also the time when yellow dust blows over from China. Some days can be horrible to breath because of this.
  • Summer starts with a dreary rainy season (장마철,jangma-cheol) in June and turns into a steambath in July-August, with extreme humidity and the temperature heading as high as 40°C. Best avoided unless heading to the beaches.
  • Fall, starting in September, is perhaps the best time to be in Korea. Temperatures and humidity become more tolerable, fair days are common and the justly renowned fall colors make their appearance.
  • Winter is a good time to go skiing or hot-spring hopping, and the Korean invention of ondol (floor heating) helps defrost any parts that froze outside. However, January and February can be bone-biting cold due to Siberian winds from the north.


South Korean households and hotels use the same dual round sockets for their electrical outlets as are found in most of Continental Europe. Anyone bringing an electronic device is advised to bring some adapter should their charger's plug be something other than the dual round type. However, some hotels may provide an adapter for you to use which you can query from reception. However, they may ask you for a deposit should you want to borrow.

surrounding Seoul and covered in its urban sprawl
natural wonderland; Seoraksan National Park, east-coast beaches and ski resorts.
North Chungcheong
landlocked province filled with mountains and national parks
South Chungcheong
central western part of the country. Flat area made up of rice paddies. Point where main train lines and highways converge. Notable Places: Daejeon, hot springs, Mt. Gyeryongsan.
North Gyeongsang
largest province and richest area for historical and cultural sites. Notable places: Andong, Gyeongju and the islands of Ulleungdo.
South Gyeongsang
known for its gorgeous seaside cities and most respected temples. Notable Places: Busan, Haeinsa Temple.
North Jeolla
Great Korean food.
South Jeolla
Lots of beautiful small islands and landscape, fantastic food (especially seafood along the coast) and good for fishing.
Korea's honeymoon island, built by a volcano. Great scenery with wild flowers and horseback riding. One of the few places you may need a car.
  • Seoul(서울) — the dynamic 600 year old capital of South Korea, a fusion of the ancient and modern
  • Busan(부산,釜山) — the second largest city and a major port city of Korea.
  • Daegu(대구,大邱) — a cosmopolitan city, rich with ancient traditions and sights
  • Daejeon(대전,大田) — a large and dynamic metropolis located in Chungnam province
  • Incheon(인천,仁川) — busiest port in the country, location of the country's largest international airport
  • Jeonju(전주,全州) — once the spiritual capital of the Joseon Dynasty, now a leading center of the arts filled with museums, ancient buddhist temples, and historical monuments
  • Gwangju(광주,光州) — the administrative and economic centre of the area, the largest city in the province
  • Gyeongju(경주,慶州) — the ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom
  • Chuncheon(춘천,春川) — capital city of Gangwon province, surrounded by lakes and mountains and known for local dishes, dakgalbi and makguksu
  • Seoraksan National Park — spread out over four cities and counties, the country's most renowned national park and mountain range
  • Andong — historically rich in Confucious traditions and home of living folk village
  • Guinsa — spectacular mountain headquarters of the Buddhist Cheondae sect
  • Panmunjeom — the only tourist site in the world where the Cold War is still reality
  • Boseong — rolling hills blanketed with green tea leaves where you can stroll along a wooded path and stop at a nearby spa to drink the home grown tea and take a seawater bath.
  • Yeosu — one of the country's most picturesque port cities especially at night, nominated to host the 2012 World Expo. Famous for its seafood and beaches, you can visit some of the islands in Hallyeo Ocean Park with cruise or watch sunset from its fabulous Dolsan Bridge or romantic cafes near marinas.
  • Somaemuldo — an hour off the coast of the South Gyeongsan province there's a hidden island surrounded by aquamarine waters and a breathtaking view that will stop you in your tracks
  • Jindo — commonly associated with the dog native to that area, the Jindo, every year people flock to the area to witness the parting of the sea and participate with the accompanying festivities
  • Ulleungdo — scenic remote island off the east coast of peninsula

Get in

The nationals of 109 countries and territories, including all the usual suspects, will receive a visa on arrival valid for 30 to 90 days. Rules for visiting only Jeju are even more lenient, allowing in everybody except citizens of 11 countries. See the the Hi Korea web-site[2] for the latest details. Don't overstay, even by a single day — this incurs heavy fines and possible jail time, and you'll probably be banned from re-entering.

Military personnel travelling under the SOFA for South Korea are not required to possess a passport for entry, provided they hold a copy of their travel orders and a military ID. On the other hand, dependents must hold a passport and A-3 visa for entry.

By plane

South Korea has 7 international airports: Busan(Gimhae Airport),Cheongju, Daegu, Jeju, Muan, Seoul(Gimpo Airport and Incheon Int. Airport).

Incheon International Airport, about 1 hour west of Seoul, is the country's largest airport, with good connections throughout the world. This is also arguably the best run and best designed airport in the world - a pleasure to use, although if you arrive late watch out for pushy taxi drivers lying about the hotel buses and trying to get you to pay 3x the normal fare. There are direct inter-city buses to many locations throughout South Korea just outside the international arrival hall. You can buy the tickets at the airport.

Busan's Gimhae airport and Jeju field significant numbers of international flights, links from the rest being limited to nearby major Japanese and Chinese cities. The "city shuttle" services from Seoul's otherwise mostly domestic Gimpo Airport to Tokyo-Haneda and Shanghai-Hongqiao are quite convenient though.

Korean Air [3] and Asiana [4] are the principal carriers to and from South Korea. Air France, KLM, Lufthansa, Finnair, Aeroflot and Turkish Airlines serve Seoul-Incheon and Busan(Munich-Seoul-Busan) from Europe(including Russia). United, Northwest and Delta all serve Seoul-Incheon from the United States, although many flights stop over in Tokyo-Narita. Singapore Airlines [5] has nonstop flights from San Francisco.

By train

Travel from North Korea (and hence anywhere else in Asia) to South Korea by train remains impossible in practice. There have been a few test runs on the newly rebuilt railroad connecting the two, but it will likely remain more of a political statement than travel option for some time to come. However, for travelers coming from or continuing on to Japan, special through tickets [6] are available, giving discounts of 30% on KTX services and 9-30% on Busan-Fukuoka ferries as well as Japanese trains.

By boat

Busan Port International Passenger Terminal [7] is the largest seaport in the country and offers ferry rides mostly to and from Japan. There are fairly frequent ferry connections from Busan to Japan. JR's Beetle hydrofoil service from Busan to Fukuoka manages the trip in just under three hours with up to five connections a day, but all other links are overnight slow ferries, such as Pukwan Ferry Company [8]'s services to Shimonoseki from cost from $US60 (one-way). A Busan-Osaka ferry is operated by Panstar Line Co., Ltd. [9].

Incheon's International Ferry Terminal 1 (Yeonan Budu, 연안부두) has services to several cities in China, such as Weihai, Dandong, Qingdao and Tianjin. The largest operator is Jinchon [10], but Incheon Port has full listings on their website [11]. The Chinese ports of Rizhao, Rongcheng and Lianyungang, all in Shandong province, can also be accessed by ferry from Pyeongtaek.

There are also weekly departures from Sokcho (Gangwon-do) to Vladivostok from US$270 operated by Dong Chun Ferry Co. Ltd. [12].

By land

Due both to its location at the end of the Korean peninsula and the political situation with North Korea, entering South Korea overland is practically not possible. The border between North and South Korea is considered the most heavily fortified border in the world, and while some crossings have occurred at the truce village of Panmunjeom, one of the cases (a Soviet defector in 1984) was shot at by both sides and, although he survived, you might not be so lucky. In the 80's and the early 90's most of those who crossed the border either way would be arrested and prosecuted for reasons mostly referred to as 'threatening national security'.

Get around

South Korea is fairly compact and you can get anywhere very fast if you fly, and reasonably fast even if you don't. Subways are available in most of the cities in metropolitan area including Seoul and other big cities have serviced or been on the way to make its subways. And you can easily get on buses or taxis. But it would be much cheaper and better to ride a bus.

By plane

South Korea is small enough that flying is more of a luxury than a necessity, with the notable exception of connections to the island of Jeju. The long-standing domestic flight duopoly of Korean Air [13] and Asiana [14] was broken in 2005 by the arrival of low-cost competitors Hansung Airlines [15] and Jeju Air [16], which offers flights not only to Jeju, but also serves the Seoul-Busan sector with lower fares than the KTX express train.

KTX network map    Shared track (KTX)       Gyeongbu Line (KTX)      Gyeongbu Line (normal)      Honam Line (normal)
KTX network map     Shared track (KTX)        Gyeongbu Line (KTX)       Gyeongbu Line (normal)       Honam Line (normal)

National train operator Korail [17] connects major cities in South Korea. Neglected for a long time, a large amount of money has been plowed into the network in recent years and trains are now quite competitive with buses on speed and price, and much safer and more comfortable to boot. The main problem is that the network is still a little limited and services in rural areas are limited, with trains only once every few hours.

Particularly useful are the high-speed Korea Train eXpress (KTX) [18] services between Seoul and Busan via Daegu and Daejeon, which use French TGV technology to zip along at up to 300 km/h. The full trip currently takes 160 minutes, a figure which is expected to improve to 116 minutes by 2010 when the second stretch of high-speed track is taken into use. The KTX trains have 18 cars with the first 3 being first class and the rest reserved economy seating except the very last car (number 18) which is open seating. There are drink vending machines on board and an attendant that comes by with a snack cart which includes reasonably priced beer, soda, cookies, candy, sausages, hardboiled eggs, and kimbap (rice rolls).

Seoul to Busan by train
Type Time Price
KTX 2:40 W48,100
Saemaeul 4:45 W39,700
Mugunghwa 5:30 W27,000

Non-KTX trains are poetically ranked as Saemaeul (새마을, "New Village"), Mugunghwa (무궁화, "Rose of Sharon") and Tonggeun (통근), corresponding roughly to express, semi-express and local services. Saemaeul trains are a little pricier than buses, while Mugunghwa are about 30% cheaper. However Saemaeul trains are extremely comfortable, having seats that are comparable to business class seats on airplanes. Though with the introduction of the KTX, there are much fewer Saemaeul and Mugunghwa services, they are worth trying them out. Tonggeun, formerly Tonggil, are cheapest of all, but long-distance, non-aircon services have been phased out and they're now limited to short stopping commuter services. Most longer-distance trains have an entertainment car with a small cafe/bar, computers with internet access (W500 for 15 minutes) and a few trains even have private compartments with coin-operated karaoke machines!

Smoking is not permitted on any Korean trains or stations (including open platforms).

Seoul also has an extensive commuter train network that smoothly interoperates with the massive subway system, and Busan, Daejeon, Daegu and Incheon also have subway services.

Tickets are much cheaper than in Japan but more expensive than other Asian countries - although the damage can be lowered by travelling on local trains rather than KTX. Buying tickets is fairly easy - self-service terminals accepting cash and credit cards are in multiple languages and are very simple to use. Station staff can usually speak basic English. Most stations are clean, modern and have good signposting in Korean and English, and compared to China or Japan, Korea's rail system is very user-friendly.

KR Pass

The KR Pass [19] is a special rail pass introduced in 2005 for non-resident foreigners only, allowing unlimited travel for a set period on any Korail train (including KTX) and including free seat reservation. The pass is not valid for first class or sleeping cars, but you can upgrade for half price if you wish. The regular pass costs US$76/114/144/168 for 3/5/7/10 days, with additional discounts of 10-20% for youths (age 13-25), students and groups of 2-5 traveling together. Note that the pass must be purchased before arrival in South Korea, either via a travel agent or online, and you'll need to do quite a lot of traveling to make it pay off.

By bus

Buses (버스 beoseu) remain the main mode of national transport, connecting all cities and towns. They're frequent, punctual and fast, sometimes dangerously so, so fasten the belts you'll often find in the seats.

There is a somewhat pointless division of long-distance buses into express buses (고속버스 gosok beoseu) and inter-city buses (시외버스 si-oe beoseu), which often use separate terminals to boot. Express buses are marginally faster on long runs, but inter-city buses go to more places. For additional comfort, look for Udeung buses (우등 버스) which have just three seats across instead of the usual four; these cost about 50% extra.

  • Korean Express Bus Lines Association [20]
Timetables and fares of the Express bus routes in South Korea

By boat

Ferry boats surround the peninsula and shuttle out to Korea's many islands. The main ports include Incheon, Mokpo, Pohang, and Busan. The most popular destinations are Jeju-do and Ulleungdo. However even at peak times, the mostly undiscovered and scenic islands off of Incheon can seem almost deserted. Foreigners as well as locals will opt for the warmer shores of the South and East.

By car

An International Driving Permit (IDP) may be used to drive around South Korea. In general, road conditions are good in South Korea and directional signs are in both Korean and English. Car rental rates start from ₩54400 a day for the smallest car for about a week. Traffic moves on the right in South Korea.

However, if traveling in the big cities, especially Seoul, driving is not recommended as the roads are plagued with traffic jams, with parking expensive and difficult to find, and many drivers tend to get reckless under such conditions, weaving in and out of traffic. Drivers would often try to speed past traffic lights when they are about to turn red, though they would still stop if the light turns red before they reach the junction. Driving habits in Korea, while not the best, are still significantly better than in China. Note that road courtesy is almost non-existent in Korean cities and it is best to read up on Korean road culture before attempting to drive.

Handwritten hangul in an advertisement
Handwritten hangul in an advertisement
See also: Korean phrasebook

Koreans speak Korean, and knowing a few words of this will come in very handy. Unfortunately the language is rather drastically different from any Western language in its grammar, and pronunciation is rather difficult for the English speaker to get right (though not tonal). Depending on which part of the country you go to, various different dialects are spoken, though standard Korean, which is based on the Seoul dialect, is understood and spoken by almost everyone. Most notably among the dialects, the Gyeongsang dialect spoken around Busan and Daegu is considered to be rather rough and aggressive compared to standard Korean, and the Jeju dialect spoken on Jeju island is known for being almost incomprehensible to speakers of standard Korean.

Written Korean uses a unique phonetic writing system called hangul (한글 hangeul) where sounds are stacked up into blocks that represent syllables. It was designed by a committee and looks like it, at first glance all right angles and little circles, but is remarkably consistent and logical and quite fast to pick up. Many Korean words can also be written with much more complex Chinese characters, known as hanja (한자,漢字) in Korean, and these are still occasionally mixed into text, but are increasingly few and far between. Nowadays, hanja are mainly used for disambiguation if the meaning is ambiguous when written in hangul. In such instances, the hanja is usually written in parentheses next to the hangul. Hanja are also used to mark janggi (장기,將棋) or Korean chess pieces, in newspaper headlines as well as in personal names on official documents.

Learning to read hangul before you arrive in Korea will make traveling much easier, as many signs and menus are written in hangul only. Even basic pattern-matching tricks come in handy: for example, if you know that a circle at the bottom of a block is read -ng, you can already distinguish Pyongyang (평양) from Seoul (서울). Further, the Korean words for many common products -coffee, juice, computer- are often the same as the English words, but will be written in Hangul. If you can read hangul, you'll find survival Korean surprisingly easy.

The spelling of Korean words in Roman letters can be quite inconsistent, so don't be too surprised to see adjacent signs for Gwangalli and Kwanganri — it's the same place. In 2000, the government officially standardized on the Revised Romanization system also used in Wikitravel, but you will frequently encounter older McCune-Reischauer spellings and just plain weird spellings. Notably, words beginning with g, d, b, j may be spelled with k, t, p, ch instead, and the vowels eo and eu may be spelled o and u. The letters l, r and n also get swapped often, and the vowels i and u are sometimes written as ee and oo respectively. In foreign words imported into Korean, f turns into p, so don't be too surprised by a cup of keopi or a round of golpeu.

All Koreans who have attended elementary school have taken English lessons as part of their education, and the English level of the country is being improved by government policy and investments. However, due to lack of practice (as well as fear of mispronunciation), many Koreans have little more than a very basic grasp of English phrases in actual conversation. If you're in a pinch and need someone who speaks English, your best bet would generally be the high school or university students. Reading and writing comes much easier however, and often people will be able to read and understand a great deal of English even without any practice with real conversation. Nonetheless, travellers can get by in major cities with English only; however it goes without saying that learning basic Korean phrases will enrich your travel experience.

A common experience for western travellers in South Korea is to be approached by children interested in practicing their English skills. They will often take a picture of you, as proof they really talked to you.

Older folks may also still speak some Japanese. The city of Busan, being a short trip from Fukuoka in Japan has a larger number of Japanese speakers per capita, and the dialect itself is more similar to Japanese in the same way that the Japanese dialect in Fukuoka also has a large Korean influence. However, many Koreans (especially older ones) still resent the Japanese for the atrocities committed during the occupation, so try not to address a Korean in Japanese unless you have no other choice. Thanks to the "Korean wave" (hallyu) of Korean pop music and soap operas throughout East Asia, many shopkeepers in touristy areas speak some Japanese, Mandarin or Cantonese.


The currency of South Korea is the won (₩), written 원 in hangul. As of December 2009, the exchange rate was approximately 1150 won to the US dollar. You can check the exact rate at [21]

Coins come in denominations of ₩10, ₩50, ₩100 and ₩500, while banknotes come in denominations of ₩1000 (blue), ₩5000 (red), ₩10,000 (green) and ₩50,000 (yellow). ₩1 and ₩5 coins, while they exist, are very rare. The largest bill currently in circulation is only ₩50,000 (US$39, €27), which makes carrying around large sums of currency a bit of a chore. ₩100,000 "checks" are frequently used, and some of the checks go up to ₩10,000,000 in value. These checks are privately produced (by banks, etc.) which can be used as "c-notes".

A new series of notes was released in 2006/2007, so expect to see several versions floating around, and be prepared for hassles with vending machines which may not accept the new or old versions.

ATM are ubiquitous, but most Korean ATMs don't accept foreign cards, only special Global ATMs do. These can be found at airports and some subway stations in major cities, as well as in many Family Mart convenience stores, so stock up before heading to the countryside. Citibank cashcard holders can withdraw in every Citibank branches(ATM) in South Korea with charge of US$1 and check balance of checking account for free.(Chinese, English and Korean services are available on ATM.) Credit card acceptance, on the other hand, is very good, and all but the very cheapest restaurants and motels will take Visa and Mastercard. (It is illegal to refuse credit cards unless it's a very small shop)


Korea is fairly expensive for an Asian country, though notably still cheaper than Japan. A frugal backpacker willing to eat, live and travel Korean-style can squeeze by on under ₩60,000 per day, but if you want top-class hotels and Western food even ₩200,000/day will not suffice. Seoul has been particularly expensive in recent years, by some measures even more so than Tokyo, but the current financial crisis has caused a big decline for the Won against the U.S. Dollar and Yen, making South Korea considerably less expensive for American and Japanese tourists.


As a rule, tipping is not necessary anywhere in Korea, as is not practised by locals, although bellhops, hotel maids, taxi drivers and bars frequented by Westerners will not reject any tips you care to hand out.


At certain retail outlets with a "Tax Free Shopping" or a "Tax Refund Shopping" sign, you can obtain a voucher and get a large percentage of your taxes refunded. When you leave Korea, go to customs and have it stamped then go to the "Global Refund Korea" or "Korea Tax Refund" counters near the duty-free shops. However to get a refund you must leave within 3 months of purchase.

Bargaining is common at outdoor markets and applies to everything they may have to offer. However stating a monetary amount would be a mistake. Normally what you would say is ssage juseyo (싸게 주세요). That means "cheaper, please." Doing this once or twice would suffice. The drawback is you will rarely be discounted more than a few dollars. Refrain from doing this in any indoor venue whether there are price tags or not.

  • Ginseng: Korea is the ginseng (인삼 insam) capital of the world. Thought to have medicinal properties, it is found everywhere in Korea. In addition to ginseng tea and various foods flavored with ginseng, there are even ginseng-based beauty products. There are many grades of ginseng, with the best grades fetching millions of US dollars in auctions. A good place to check out the different types of ginseng include Gyeongdong Herbal Medicine Market in Seoul.
  • Traditional items: Visitors looking for things to bring home can find a wide variety of choices. You can find a blue-jade celadon from the Goryeo Dynasty, handmade traditional costumes, paper kites and ceramic pieces that depict human emotions in their designs at the numerous markets and souvenir shops. Insadong in Seoul would be the first place to shop around. After a while one store might start to look like every other store but chances are you'll find what you need.
  • Fashion: Keeping up with the latest trends, shoppers and boutique owners alike flock the streets and markets every weekend. Centred largely in Seoul with popular places such as Dongdaemun, Mok dong Rodeo Street and Myeong dong, fashion centres can be divided into two large categories; markets and department stores. Markets are affordable and each shop will have trendy similar type clothing that appeal to the masses. Also, be aware that you cannot try on most tops. So better to know your size before shopping there. Though department stores will have areas or floors that have discounted items, they are considered overpriced and catering mostly to an older, wealthier crowd.
  • Antiques: For all things considered antique, such as furniture, calligraphic works, ceramics and books, you can go to Jangangpyeong Antique Market in Seoul. Be careful, as items over 50 years old cannot leave the country. Check with the Art and Antique Assessment Office at 82-32-740-2921.
  • Electronics: They are widely available, especially in larger cities like Seoul and Busan. Korea has most of the latest gadgets available in most Western countries, and much more. In fact, when it comes to consumer technology, South Korea is probably second only to Japan. However, you would probably have to contend with having the instruction booklets and functions being written in Korean.
  • Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs): Korea's greatest contribution to the gaming world. While they may not have been invented in Korea, Korean MMORPG's were a key factor in making the genre popular worldwide. Unlike in Japan, where their comics or manga are often made into cartoon serials or anime, popular Korean comics, known as manhwa(만화) in Korean are often made into MMORPG's. However, all games sold will be in Korean and for console games, the regional coding for Korea is NTSC-J, which is used for Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and most of the rest of East Asia, so you might not be able to play them on your European/Australian(PAL), North American(NTSC-U/C) or mainland Chinese(NTSC-C) consoles.
  • Pop culture: South Korea is the origin of the hallyu ("Korean wave") phenomenon that took East Asia by storm at the beginning of the 21st century, so you might want to buy some of the latest Korean drama serials or movies when in Korea. Fans of K-pop may also like to buy the latest Korean music CDs by popular singers such as DongBangShinKi. However, drama serials and movies sold in Korea are for the Korean market and usually do not have subtitles. In addition, South Korea is in DVD region 3 so the discs bought here would work well in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, but may not be playable by players bought in North America, Europe, mainland China, Japan or Australia. If you wish to buy, ensure that your DVD player can support it.
Example of a Korean meal: bibimbap with (from left) pickles, eomuk jorim sauteed fishcake, kimchi, pajeon pancake, a pot of gochujang and doenjang soup
Example of a Korean meal: bibimbap with (from left) pickles, eomuk jorim sauteed fishcake, kimchi, pajeon pancake, a pot of gochujang and doenjang soup

Korean cuisine has becoming increasingly popular outside of Korea, especially in other parts of East Asia. However, few Westerners would fall in love with Korean food at first sight, as it is known for many spicy and fermented dishes. Nevertheless, like all acquired tastes, it is addictive once you get used to it and Korean food is definitely in a class of its own, mixing spicy chillies and copious amounts of garlic with delicate ingredients like raw fish. Although Korean food is quite low in fat, a fact attested to by the observation that very few South Koreans are overweight, those with sodium-limited diets should beware, as Korean cuisine can be heavy in salt.

A Korean meal is centered around rice and soup and likely a fish or meat dish, invariably served with a vast assortment of side dishes known as banchan (반찬). The humblest meal comes with three types while a royal banquet may well feature twenty types of banchan. In addition to kimchi (see below), typical side dishes include bean sprouts (콩나물 kongnamul), spinach (시금치 shigeumchi), small dried fish, and much more.

The ubiquitous kimchi (김치 gimchi), made from fermented cabbage and chili, accompanies nearly every meal and may be a bit of an acquired taste for visitors as it can be quite spicy. In addition to the common cabbage type, kimchi can also be made from white radish (깍두기 ggakdugi), cucumbers (오이 소박이 oi-sobagi), chives (부추 김치 buchu gimchi) or pretty much any vegetable that can be pickled. Many different dishes are made using kimchi for flavoring, and kimchi is served as a side dish as well. It is not uncommon to find Korean tourists carrying a stash of tightly packed kimchi when travelling abroad.

Two more condiments found in almost every dish are doenjang (된장), a fermented soybean paste akin to Japanese miso, and gochujang (고추장), a hot (or not so hot) chilli paste.

While many of these dishes can be found throughout Korea, every city also has its own regional specialities, such as dakgalbi (닭갈비) in the city of Chuncheon on the east coast. See the various city articles for more details.

A common perception amongst Koreans is that foreigners simply don't like spicy food, so you might have to spend some time convincing people otherwise if you really want to eat something hot. Also, while Korean food undoubtedly has the neighboring bland-dieted Japanese and northern Chinese breathing fire, if you're accustomed to (say) Thai or Mexican food you may wonder what the fuss is about.


Koreans use chopsticks with a twist: alone among the peoples of Asia, they prefer chopsticks of metal. Typically, restaurants have stainless steel chopsticks, but fine silver ones are also available. Unfortunately for the chopstick learner, these thin and slippery sticks are not the best implements to practice with, but if you can eat with wooden or plastic chopsticks you'll manage with some fumbling. When eating as a group, communal dishes will be placed in the center and everybody can chopstick what they want, but you'll still get individual portions of rice and soup. Unless you are eating royal cuisine, most dishes are served family style.

In many traditional households, children were taught that it was impolite to speak during meals. Don't be surprised if there's complete silence while eating. People, particularly men, will use mealtimes to quickly eat up and move on to other things. This can be attributed to the short mealtimes during military service that most young Korean men must perform.

Some etiquette pointers:

  • Do not leave chopsticks sticking upright in a dish, especially rice. This is only done when honoring the deceased. Similarly, a spoon sticking upright into a bowl of rice is also not a good sign.
  • Do not start eating unless the eldest at the table has begun to eat.
  • Do not lift any plates or bowls off the table while eating, as Koreans consider this to be rude.
  • You can use your spoon to eat your rice and soup. Koreans will normally use a spoon to eat their rice and use chopsticks to eat the other dishes.
  • Don't be self-conscious of whether you're doing something right or wrong. Just use your common sense of politeness and good manners, and everything will be fine.


Going hungry in South Korea would be difficult. Everywhere you turn, there is always somewhere to eat. Korean restaurants can be divided into a few categories:

  • Bunsik (분식) are snack eateries that have cheap, tasty food prepared quickly.
  • Kogijip (고기집), literally meaning "meat house", are where you'll find grilled meat dishes and fixings.
  • Hoejip (회집), "raw fish house", serve slices of fresh fish akin to Japanese sashimi, known as hoe in Korean, and complementary side dishes. You'll normally find these restaurants cluttering the shores of any waterway.
  • Hansik (한식). The full course Korean meal, short for hanjeongsik (한정식), this Korean haute cuisine originated with banquets given at the royal palace. The course starts with a cold appetizer and porridge juk (죽). The main dish includes seasoned meat and vegetable dishes that can be either steamed, boiled, fried or grilled. After the meal, you are served traditional drinks such as sikhye or sujeonggwa.
  • Department Stores have two types of food areas: a food hall in the basement and full service restaurants on the top levels. The food hall areas have take-away as well as eat-in areas. The full service restaurants are more expensive, but typically have the advantage of picture menus and good ambience.

Hound by the pound

Yes, it's true — Koreans eat dog. While theoretically illegal, in practice the law is not enforced and dog meat soup (보신탕 bosintang or 영양탕 yeongyangtang) remains a popular dish among those looking to improve male virility or just beat the summer heat. It is not popular among most younger Korean people or women though. Another option is suyuk (수육), which is just meat boiled with spices to eliminate smell and make the meat tender.

Aside from the cultural taboo, there are some issues regarding how the dogs are raised, butchered, and processed. These days, dogs are generally not beaten to death to improve the taste, but calling the conditions in which dogs are raised and butchered humane would also be an exaggeration. Even in Korea, where many people are pet owners, people get quite opinionated on this matter. So take anything you hear with a grain of salt.

In any case, you're unlikely to end up chewing on Snoopy by accident, as dog is only served by speciality restaurants, and as they rarely advertise you will have to actively seek them out. If you do make the effort, a bowl can go for under W10,000 and you'll find that dog tastes broadly like beef or veal, if perhaps a tad gamier.

Galbi on the grill and the fixings around it
Galbi on the grill and the fixings around it

"Korean barbeque" is probably the most popular Korean dish for Westerners, split in Korea itself into bulgogi (불고기), which uses cuts of marinated meat, and galbi (갈비), which uses ribs, usually unmarinated. In both, a charcoal brazier is placed in the middle of the table and patrons cook their choice of meats, adding garlic to the brazier for spice. The cooked meat from both of these is placed on a lettuce or perilla leaf along with shredded green onion salad (파무침 pa-muchim), raw (or cooked) garlic, shredded pickled radish (무채 muchae) and some chili-soya paste (쌈장 ssamjang) and then devoured. All are optional, so be creative.

The cost of a barbeque meal depends largely on the meat chosen. In most Korean restaurants that serve meat, it is sold in units (usually 100 grams). Pork is by far the most common meat ordered. It's much cheaper than beef and according to diners tastier. You'll rarely see filet mignon, instead common cuts of meat include ribs, unsalted pork bacon (삼겹살 samgyeopsal) and chicken stir-fried with veggies and spicy sauce (닭갈비 dakgalbi). Unmarinated meats tend to be higher quality, but in cheaper joints it's best to stick with the marinated stuff.

Rice dishes

Bibimbap (비빔밥) literally means "mixed rice", which is a pretty good description. It consists of a bowl of rice with all sorts of condiments on top (vegetables, shreds of meat, and an egg), which you mash up with your spoon, stirring in your preferred quantity of gochujang (고추장 chili sauce), and then devour. Particularly tasty is dolsot bibimbap (돌솥비빔밥), served in a piping hot stone bowl (watch your fingers!) that cooks the rice to a crisp on the bottom and edges.

Another healthy and tasty option is gimbap (김밥), sometimes dubbed "Korean sushi". Gimbap contains rice, sesame seed, a Korean variety of spinach, pickled radish, and an optional meat, such as minced beef or tuna, all neatly wrapped in dried seaweed, topped with sesame oil and sliced. A single roll makes a good snack or meal depending on one's appetite, and they travel well. Basically what differentiates Korean gimbap and Japanese sushi is how they prepare rice: Korean style gimbap usually use salt and sesame oil to flavor the rice, while Japanese style uses sugar and vinegar.

More of a snack than a meal is tteokbokki (떡볶이), which resembles a pile of steaming intestines at first sight, but is actually rice dumplings in a sweet chili sauce that's much milder than it looks.

Soups and stews

Soups are known as guk (국) or tang (탕), while jjigae (찌개) covers a wide variety of stews. The line is fuzzy, and a few dishes can be referred to with both (eg. the fish soup-stew dongtae jjigae/dongtaetang), but in general, jjigae are spicier while tang/guk are milder. Both are always eaten with plenty of white rice on the side.

Common versions jjigae include doenjang jjigae (된장찌개), made with doenjang (Korean miso), vegetables and shellfish, and gimchi jjigae (김치찌개), made with — you guessed it — kimchi. Sundubu jjigae (순두부찌개) uses soft tofu as the main ingredient, usually with minced pork added, but there's also a seafood version called haemul sundubu jjigae(해물 순두부찌개) where the meat is replaced by shrimp, squid and the like.

Budae jjigae (부대찌개) is a interesting type of Korean fusion food from the city of Uijeongbu, where a US military base was located. Locals experimenting with American canned food like Spam, sausages, and pork and beans tried adding them into jjigae, and while recipes vary, most of them involve large quantities of fiery kimchi. Most places will bring you a big pan of stew and put it on a gas stove in the middle of the table. Many like to put ramyeon noodle (라면 사리) in the stew, which is optional.

Popular tang soups include seolleongtang (설렁탕), a milky white broth from ox bones and meat, gamjatang (감자탕), a stew of potatoes with pork spine and chillies and doganitang (도가니탕), made from cow knees. One soup worth a special mention is samgyetang (삼계탕, pron. saam-gae-taang), which is a whole spring chicken stuffed with ginseng and rice. Thanks to the ginseng, it's often a little expensive, but the taste is quite mild. It's commonly eaten right before the hottest part of summer in warm broth in a sort of "eat the heat to beat the heat" tradition.

Guk like the seaweed soup miyeokguk (미역국) and the dumpling soup manduguk (만두국), but a few like the scary-looking pork spine and ox blood soup haejangguk (해장국), a popular hangover remedy, are substantial enough to be a meal.


Koreans are great noodle lovers too, and the terms kuksu (국수) and myeon (면) span a vast variety of types, sold in fast-food noodle shops for as little as W3000-4000. Wheat-based noodles are a staple of Korea.

Naengmyeon (냉면) are a Korean speciality, being thin, chewy buckwheat noodles served in ice cold beef broth, and hence a popular summer dish — although it's traditionally winter food! They're also a classic way to end a heavy, meaty barbeque meal. The key to the dish is the broth (육수 yuksu) and the recipes of well known restaurants are usually closely guarded secrets.

Japchae (잡채) is made from yam noodles, which are fried along with some vegetables (commonly cabbage, carrots, onions) and sometimes beef or odeng (fishcake). Mandu (만두) dumplings are also very popular and are served up in steamed or fried as an accompaniment to other foods, or boiled in soup to make a whole meal.

Ramyeon (라면) is Korea's variant of ramen, often served with kimchi (what else?). Korean ramyeon is well known for its overall spiciness, at least when compared to Japanese ones. Try shin ramyeon (신라면) for example.

Jajangmyeon (자장면) is a noodle with a black sauce that usually includes pork, onions, cucumber, and garlic.

Finally, u-dong (우동) are thick wheat noodles, similar to the Japanese udon.


Since Korea is a peninsula, you can find every type of seafood (해물 haemul), eaten both cooked and raw. Restaurants where you pick your own fish — or bring it from the fish market next door — are popular, but can be very expensive depending on what you order.

Hoe (회), pronounced roughly "hweh", is raw fish Korean-style (similar to sashimi), meaning it's served with spicy cho-gochujang (Korean hot pepper sauce with vinegar) sauce. Chobap (초밥) is raw fish with vinegared rice, similar to Japanese sushi. If ordering fish as hoe/chobap, the bony parts not served raw are often made into a tasty but spicy soup called meuntang (매운탕).

Another cooked specialty is haemultang (해물탕), a spicy red hotpot stew filled crab, shrimp, fish, squid, vegetables and noodles.


Jeon (전), jijimi (지짐이), jijim (지짐), bindaetteok (빈대떡) and buchimgae (부침개) are all general terms for Korean-style pan-fried pancakes, which can be made of virtually anything. Pajeon (파전) is a Korean-style pan-fried pancake laden with spring onions (파 pa). Haemul pajeon (해물파전), which has seafood added, is particularly popular. Saengseonjeon (생선전) is made of small fillets of fish covered with egg and flour and then pan fried, and nokdu bindaetteok (녹두빈대떡) is made from ground mung bean and various vegetables and meat combined.

If barbequed meat is not to your taste, then try Korean-style beef tartar, known as yukhoe (육회). Raw beef is finely shredded and then some sesame oil, sesame, pine nuts and egg yolk are added, plus soy and sometimes gochujang to taste. It's also occasionally prepared with raw tuna or even chicken instead.

Sundae (순대, pron. "soon-deh") are Korean sausages made from a wide variety of ingredients, often including barley, potato noodles and pig blood.

A squirmy delicacy is raw octopus (산낙지 sannakji) — it's sliced to order, but keeps wiggling for another half hour as you try to remove its suction cups from your plate with your chopsticks. Sea squirts (meongge) are at least usually killed before eating, but you might be hard-pressed to tell the difference as the taste been memorably described as "rubber dipped in ammonia".

Dietary restrictions

Vegetarians will have a tough time in Korea. As in most of East Asia, meat is understood to be the flesh of land animals, so seafood is not considered meat. If you ask for "no gogi" (고기) they will probably just cook as usual and pick out the big chunks of meat. One good phrase is to say you are chaesikjuwija (채식주의자), a person who only eats vegetables. This may prompt questions from the server, so be prepared!

Most stews will not use beef stock, but fish stock, especially myeol-chi (멸치, anchovy). This will be your bane, and outside of reputable vegetarian restaurants, you should ask if you are ordering any stews/hotpots or casseroles.

Spicy (red) kimchi will almost certainly have seafood, such as salted tiny shrimp, as an ingredient. Since it disappears into the brine, you will not be able to visually identify it. Another type of kimchi, called mulgimchi (물김치, "water kimchi") is vegan, as it is simply salted in a clear, white broth with many different vegetables.

On the bright side, vegans and vegetarians are perfectly safe at Korean monastery cuisine restaurants, which uses no dairy, egg, or animal products, except perhaps honey. There has been a recent vogue for this type of cuisine, but it can be rather expensive.

There is an increasing number of vegetarian restaurants in Korea - most are in the larger or medium-sized places. Some of these are run by Seventh-Day Adventists or Hindus.


Alcoholics rejoice — booze is cheap and Koreans are among the heaviest drinkers in the world. Due to the strict social norms in effect at the workplace, the drinking hall tends to be the only place where inhibitions can be released and personal relationships expressed. Significant business deals are closed not in the boardroom, but in the bar. Promotions, grants, and other business advancements are secured over drinks at singing rooms, late night raw fish restaurants, and restaurant-bars. Many Korean men are what would be considered heavy drinkers in the west, and as alcoholism is being recognized as an ailment, public moves have begun to attempt to curb alcohol intake. Don't be surprised to see businessmen in suits lying around sleeping it off, and be careful not to step in the puddles of vomit common on the sidewalks in the mornings. The drinking age in South Korea is 19.


Compared to Western drinking habits, Koreans have adopted slightly different ways to enjoy their night out. Sure, you can find Western style bars easily, but going to a Korean style bar can be an interesting experience. Hofs (originally German, but 호프 hopeu in Korean) are just normal beer places, which serve beer and side dishes. Customers are supposed to order some side dish to go along their drinks at most drinking establishments in Korea. Recently, due to growing competition, many hofs have started to install various gadgets for entertainment.

Booking clubs are the Korean version of night clubs. What makes them interesting is the "booking" part of the name. It's basically a way to meet new people of the opposite sex by introduction of the waiters (who usually bring women to visit tables of men, but increasingly vice-versa). Booking clubs are slightly more expensive than normal bars and hofs, but can be extremely fun. These can be different from American-style clubs, in that in addition to a cover charge, you are pretty much expected to order booze and side dishes (which can be quite pricey in W200,000-W500,000 range and up). But other than that, the dancing and atmosphere is about the same.

One of the customary things to do at a booking club is to "dress-up" your table or booth by purchasing expensive liquors and fruit plates, which signals your 'status' to the other patrons of the club (especially your gender of interest). Scotch whisky is especially is marked up a great deal in Korea, so don't be surprised to pay very high prices for that innocuous bottle of Johnnie Walker. On the other hand, it is a better value overall to buy a bottle of liquor or a "liquor set" than to purchase drinks individually.

On the other end of the spectrum, many locals go out to drink and eat with their friends at the many Korean grillhouses found throughout the city. It is not uncommon for people to consume several bottles of soju (see below) each, and mixing beer and hard liquor is encouraged. Group bonding over liquor and food is a cultural feature across South Korea.

For those who love singing as well as drinking, karaoke is popular and therefore widely available in South Korea, where it's called noraebang (노래방). In addition to Korean songs, larger establishments may include some Chinese, Japanese and English songs.


There are a few etiquette rules to observe when drinking with Koreans. You're not supposed to fill your own glass; instead, keep an eye on others' glasses, fill them up when they become empty (but not before), and they'll return the favor. It's considered polite to use both hands when pouring for somebody and when receiving a drink, and to turn your head away from seniors when drinking.

Younger people often have a difficult time refusing a drink from an older person, so be aware when asking someone younger than you if they want to drink more as they will often feel unable to say no to you. Of course, this works both ways. Often times, if an older person feels you are not keeping up with the party, he may offer you his glass, which he will then fill and expect you to drink. It is considered polite to promptly return the empty glass and refill it.


The national drink of South Korea is soju (소주), a vodka-like alcoholic beverage (usually around 20%). It's cheaper than any other drink — a 350ml bottle can cost slightly over W3000 at bars (as little as W1100 at convenience stores!) — and also strong. Usually this is made by fermenting starch from rice, barley, corn, potato, sweet potato, etc, to produce pure alcohol which is then diluted with water and other flavors.

Traditionally, soju was made by distilling rice wine and aging it, which created a smooth spirit of about 40%. This type of traditional soju can still be found, for example Andong Soju (안동 소주) — named after the town of Andong — and munbaeju (문배주). These can be expensive, but prices (and quality) vary considerably.

History tells that there were numerous brewers throughout the country in the past until late Chosun dynasty and before Japanese colonization. However, by the Japanese colonization and the oppressive and economy-obsessed government in the 60-70s, using rice for making wine or spirits was strictly prohibited. This eliminated most of the traditional brewers in the country and Korea was left with a few large distilleries (Jinro 진로, Gyeongwol 경월, Bohae 보해, Bobae 보배, Sunyang 선양, etc), that basically made 'chemical soju'. Brewery distribution and markets were regionalized, and until the 1990s it was difficult to find a Jinro soju anywhere else than Seoul (you would have to pay premium even if you found one), Gyeongwol soju outside Gangwon, or Sunyang outside Chungcheong.

Also, there are soju cocktails such as "socol" (soju + coke), ppyong-gari (soju + pocari sweat - sports drink) and such, all aimed at getting you drunk quicker and cheaper.

Cheongju vs. sake

There are two major differences between Korean rice wine and Japanese rice wine. The first is that Korean wine uses nuruk, while Japanese wine uses koji. While both can be considered yeasts, nuruk contains various kinds of fungi and other microorganisms, while in koji a more selected breed of fungi does its job. The treatment of rice is also different: traditionally rice for making cheongju is washed "a hundred times" (paekse 백세), but for sake, the rice is polished until the grain size is as little as 50% of its original size. Therefore, some people comment that in general cheongju tastes more complicated and earthy, while sake tastes "cleaner" and "sweeter".

Traditional unfiltered rice wines in Korea are known as takju (탁주), literally "cloudy alcoholic beverage". In the most basic and traditional form, these are made by fermenting rice with nuruk (누룩), a mix of fungi and yeast that breaks down starch in rice into sugar, for a short while (3-5 days usually). Then this is strained, usually diluted to 4-6% and imbibed. However, as with the case of traditional soju, unless explicitly stated on the bottle most takju are made from wheat flour and other cheaper grains. Makgeolli (막걸리) is the simplest takju, fermented once and then strained, while in dongdongju (동동주) more rice is added once or more during the fermentation to boost the alcohol content and the flavor. Typically you can find a couple of rice grains floating in dongdongju as a result.

Yakju (약주) or cheongju (청주) is filtered rice wine, similar to the Japanese rice wine sake. The fermentation of rice is sustained for about 2 weeks or longer, strained, and then is kept still to have the suspended particles precipitate. The end result is the clear wine on top, with about 12-15% alcohol. Various recipes exist, which involves a variety of ingredients and when and how to add them accordingly. Popular brands include Baekseju (백세주) and 'Dugyeonju (두견주).

Those with an interest in the wine production process and its history will want to visit the Traditional Korean Wine Museum in Jeonju.

Ginseng wine

One expensive but tasty type of alcohol you can find in Korea is Korean ginseng wine (인삼주 insamju), which is believed to have medicinal properties and is particularly popular among the elderly. It is made by fermenting Korean ginseng, just as the name implies.


Western-style lagers are also quite popular in Korea, with the three big brands being Cass, Hite and OB, all of which are rather light and watery and cost around 1500 won per bottle at a supermarket. Korea's version of the beer pub is the hof (호프 hopeu), which serve pints of beer in the W2000-5000 range, although imported beers can be much more expensive. Note that you are expected to order food as well, and may even get served grilled squid or similar Korean pub grub without ordering, for a charge of W10000 or so.

Tea and coffee

Like their neighbors, Koreans drink a lot of tea (차 cha), most of it green (녹차 nokcha). However, the label cha is applied to a number of other tealike drinks as well:

  • boricha (보리차), roasted barley tea, often served cold in summer, water substitute for many household
  • insamcha (인삼차), ginseng tea
  • oksusucha (옥수수차), roasted corn tea
  • yulmucha (율무차), a thick white drink made from a barley-like plant called Job's tears

Coffee (커피 keopi) is also widely available, especially from streetside vending machines that will pour you a cupful for as little as W300, usually sweet and milky. Latte snobs will also be glad to know that Starbucks and assorted copies are spreading like wildfire. Starbucks is particularly widespread in Seoul and the drinks served taste exactly as they do in Starbucks locations in the United States, so make sure you hunt around for a decent cup.

Other drinks

Some other traditional drinks worth keeping an eye out for:

  • sikhye (식혜), a very sweet, grainy rice drink
  • sujeonggwa (수정과), a sweet, cinnamon-y drink made from persimmons


Whilst not as popular as in Japan or China, many Korean men and an increasing number of Korean girls smoke, and it's fairly cheap compared to much of Europe and America. A 20-pack costs around W2500, and cigarettes can be bought from all convenience stores. Koreans favour mild cigarettes (around 6mg tar) so Korean-made cigarettes may taste bland and flavourless compared to those from America or Europe, and even the Korean-produced Western cigarettes are much lighter than the originals (e.g. Full-strength Marlboro Reds in Korea have only 8mg tar, the same as Marlboro Lights in the US). If you prefer stronger cigarettes it's wise to bring some duty-free cigarettes with you.

Smoking is forbidden in most public buildings, public transport and restaurants, although it's permitted in most bars. Internet cafes have smoking and no-smoking sections and karaoke parlours, DVD-bangs, hotels etc give you a choice of smoking or no-smoking rooms.


There's plenty of accommodation in all price brackets in South Korea. Note that prices in Seoul are typically about twice that of anywhere else in the country.

Some higher-end hotels offer a choice of both Western-style and Korean-style rooms. The main feature of Korean rooms is an elaborate Korean-invented floor-heating system known as ondol (온돌), where hot steam (or, these days, water or electricity) heats stone slabs under a layer of clay and oiled paper. There are no beds; instead, mattresses are laid directly on the floor. Other furniture is typically limited to some low tables (you're also expected to sit on the floor) and maybe a TV.


Some of the cheapest accommodation in South Korea are in what are locally termed motels (모텔 motel) or yeogwan (여관), but these are rather different from motels in the West and closer to Japan's "love hotels". Motels in South Korea are generally very cheap hotels targeted at young couples aiming to spend 'time' together away from their elders, complete with plastic beds, occasionally vibrating, with strategically placed mirrors on the ceiling, as well as a VCR and a variety of appropriate videos. However for the budget traveller, they can simply be inexpensive lodging, with rates as low as W25,000/night.

The easiest way to find a motel is to just look for the symbol "♨" and gaudy architecture, particularly near stations or highway exits. They're harder to find online, as they rarely if ever show up in English-language booking sites, but Hotel365 [22] (Korean only) has comprehensive listings for the entire country.

In some motels picking your room is very easy, as there will be room numbers, lit pictures and prices on the wall. The lower price is for a "rest" (휴식 hyusik) of two to four hours, while the higher price is the overnight rate. Press the button for the one you like, which will go dark, and proceed to check-in. You'll usually be expected to pay in advance, often to just a pair of hands behind a frosted glass window. English is rarely spoken, but the only word you need to know is sukbak (숙박, "staying"). You may or may not receive a key, but even if you don't, the staff can usually let you in and out on request — just don't lose your receipt!


Full-service hotels can be found in all larger towns in Korea. Cheaper hotels blend into motels with rooms from W40,000, while three and four star hotels are closer to W100,000-W200,000 and five-star luxury hotels can easily top W300,000. Outside peak season you can often get steep discounts from the rack rates, so be sure to ask when reserving.


In rural areas in and near national parks, you can find a minbak (민박). Most of these are just a room or two in someone's home - others are quite fancy and may be similar to yeogwans (motels) or hotels. Generally, they have ondol rooms with maybe a TV and that's about it. You don't usually get your own bathroom in your room, although some of the fancier ones do have an en suite. Minbaks usually run around 20,000 won off-season though the price may go up quite a bit during high season.


Very similar in concept to a Minbak, these aren't limited to just rural areas or near national parks. Since the World Cup in 2002, many families around the country have opened their doors and hearts to foreigners looking for a good place to sleep and a breakfast included in the price. These can run between 30,000 and 35,000 won per night. Try eg. Homestaykorea [23] or LABO [24].


For the budget traveller public bath houses known as jjimjilbang (찜질방) can offer a great way to sleep. Entrance costs around W5,000-W10,000 to get in, and includes a robe or pajamas to wear. Inside the facilities can be expansive, including showers, public baths, restaurants, computer/video game rooms, a room with DVD movies, and places to sleep, although this often means little more than a quiet, warm room with maybe some wooden blocks to rest your head on. These places are more often meant for families or couples coming in for the day and as such are not perfectly catered to travelers. When you leave you have to take everything with you, and pay to get back in. There is no secure place to leave your things except a single locker. Aside from these drawbacks, jjimjilbang offer a very relaxing place to sleep and bathe.


Jogye (조계사), Korea's largest Buddhist sect, runs a popular Temple Stay program where visitors get to spend 24 hours living at a Buddhist temple. Korean ability helps but is not necessary at some temples, but you will be expected to work at the temple and get up at 3 or 4 AM to participate in morning prayer. In exchange for three meals and a basic bed for the night, a "donation" of W50,000-80,000 is expected. Reservations are necessary and can be made at the Temple Stay site [25] or via Korea Travel Phone, tel. +82-2-1330. Some Jimjilbangs have safety boxes and almost all counters will secure your valuables as anything lost in the locker is not a responsibility of the establishment. Of course, you will need to speak Korean or bring some Korean with you when you visit these fomentation sauna complexes.

  • Taekwondo — If you're interested in martial arts, you should learn Taekwondo. Taekwondo is originally from Korea, and you can study at any of the numerous schools all over the country. Taekwondo is a very courteous sport.
  • Chang or Pansori — If you like music, this will be good for you. It's a unique traditional Korean form of singing. If you want to learn about Pansori through film, "Seo Pyen Je" would be an excellent choice.
  • Korean — Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University(in Seoul) provide Korean language programs. You can meet people from all over the world while studying Korean.
  • Korean Traditional Dance — You can go to a dance studio and learn Korean traditional dance. You will wear "Han Bok" - Korean traditional cloths.
  • Baduk — Korean name for the ancient board game called Go in English. Many Koreans play the game, and among them are some of the world's finest players. There are even schools that specialize in Baduk.
  • Janggi — Also known as Korean chess, a board game similar to Chinese chess, with which it shares its origins, though the rules have diverged significantly from Chinese chess.


Work as an English teacher is available through various companies, with the desired minimum level of education being a Bachelor's degree. Schools prefer native English speakers, and some prefer North American accents. In most instances, native English speakers from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, and the UK are the only applicants that can be considered because the South Korean government usually (information has been inconsistent) just accepts those from the aforementioned pre-approved English-speaking countries.

Native speakers of English who have four-year university degrees may find it easy to obtain employment in one of Korea's many private academies (hagwon). These schools have proliferated in response to perceived failings of the public education system, although there are also hagwons aimed at adult instruction. Often, people interested in these teaching positions find them via professional recruiters. There are pros and cons to teaching ESL in the hagwon system. On the plus side, the money can be quite good. As of late 2005, the average monthly salary is approximately 2 million KRW, and housing is usually provided. It's possible to live comfortably on half of one's salary, and to save the rest. However, it is important to evaluate each prospective employer before accepting an offer; tales of unscrupulous academy owners and incompetent directors abound. Dave's ESL Cafe [26],WorknPlay [27], and ESL Jobs World [28] have general Korean job ads. Korea-specific sites include a blog called The Daily Kimchi [29], a job ads site called HI Teacher [30] and the Hagwon Blacklist [31]. A web search will turn up many more.

University employment is also possible. Those who have a graduate-level degree, preferably in TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language) may find professional opportunities at the postsecondary level preferable to teaching in private academies.

Caution: Korean employers tend to be more discriminatory towards people of color, especially Blacks and Indians. Korean job applications usually require you to attach a photo of yourself, along with other information usually considered private in the Western world, such as height, weight and marital status; if you are a person of color, your application will be more likely to be denied. Discrimination based on race, unfortunately, is still legal in Korea. Please be advised when looking for jobs. However, the public schools typically are more colorblind in regards to accepting applicants compared to hagwons.

See also Teaching English.

Stay safe


South Korea is a relatively safe country, with reported crime rates significantly lower than in Western countries, although theft, assault and hotel burglary might happen in major cities such as Busan or Seoul. Take care especially in known tourist areas. Nevertheless, violent crime is especially rare and you are unlikely to be a victim of one as long as you stick to your commonsense and do not go around provoking people. Use only legitimate taxis. Illegitimate taxis run even from the airport, and their safety and honesty cannot always be guaranteed. Be also careful late at night in some areas of Seoul, such as Itaewon. Should you be assaulted or mugged in Korea, DO NOT defend yourself. The police will always take the side of the Korean and you will be expected to pay compensation, and might even face jailtime. See also the travel topic articles on pickpockets and common scams.

Korean police have been known to ignore crimes commited by Koreans against foreigners, while vigorously investigating any crimes committed against locals, and any crime you become a victim of is unlikely to be investigated unless your country starts a diplomatic row with the government. The press is also known to sensationalise crimes commited by foreigners, but not report at all on crimes committed against foreigners, leading to stereotypes that foreigners only enter their country to disrupt their social order. As such, visitors should always be prudent in major cities, especially in areas frequented by foreigners, and try to avoid any signs of trouble. Single women should opt for high security apartments as there have been reported cases of women being raped in their apartment by someone who broke in through the window.


South Korea is a very homogeneous country and there is occasionally some prejudice against foreigners. In official Korean history text book (중학국사), it is written as a good thing that Korea is the most ethnically homogeneous country in the world (in Korean: 세계 유일의 단일민족, dan-il minjok), and the racial purity is often considered as a unique power of South Korea. [32]

As a result, there are systemic discriminations in South Korea. For example, children of mixed descent are barred by law from military service, and will likely be picked on and discriminated against in local schools.

For the foreign tourists, the most common form of hate crimes in Korea is a verbal abuse. For example, Korean people tend to look down on the foreigners with dark skin. [33] Also, the society tends to look down on the Korean ladies who walk around with white westerners, and the female might be showered with verbal abuse by a Korean man. Recently, the young Korean generation made a slang to call such Korean ladies (who have a white boyfriend) as one of the most ignorant Korean female.(된장녀 in Korean) Also, the racism against white tourist sometimes associates with its own anti-Americanism in Korea. There is a huge debate on American military base in South Korea, and the foreign policy of the USA in regards to North Korea.

Violent hate crimes are rare, but nevertheless do occur from time to time. Your best bet is to ignore the abusive words by some ignorant people in Korea, and avoid political conversations all together just to avoid any possible problems.

Nevertheless, if you are applying for work in Korea, especially in teaching positions, many employers prefer lighter skinned Caucasians over other races. (Which may be one of the reasons they ask for a picture on your application.) Unfortunately, racial discrimination is still legal in Korea.


With one of the highest rates of traffic deaths, Korean motorists will speed through pedestrian crossings, jump red lights and come within a hair-width distance to pedestrians and other cars alike. Even when the light turns, drivers will not stop. So, beware. Motorcyclists are particularly reckless weaving in and out on crowded sidewalks. It is up to you to avoid them.

Pedestrian crosswalks stay green for a very short period of time. When the walk signal is yellow and you are still at the curb do not cross. Instead, you should wait and be ready for the light to turn green. The moment it turns green, wait for about 3 to 5 seconds and see if other pedestrians start to cross, and if all the traffic has indeed stopped, then walk briskly to cross safely. It is safer to take underground passageways at busy intersections.

Civil Unrest

In the heart of the political centre of Seoul, near Gwanghamun and City Hall, you will see daily processions. As a reaction to the militant policies against public protests of the mid-80s, groups will routinely gather at the foot of the 'Blue House', the administrative centre of the country to demonstrate against one cause or another. It is advisable to keep away from the protests since they have the tendency to turn violent.

Local Laws

Ignorance of the law here is no excuse for breaking them and can even be seen as a reason for harsher punishment. Penalties concerning drug offenses may seem particularly harsh to westerners. They include heavy fines, lengthy jail sentences and immediate deportation. Submitting fraudulent documentation for obtaining visas can result in the same and detainment as well. Even giving somebody an English lesson can get you deported (you have to get a special visa to be allowed to teach English, and then only at your place of employment).

Natural Hazards

South Korea is considerably less prone to natural disasters than its neighbours. Earthquakes are rare occurences, though minor ones occasionally occur in southwest of the country. While typhoons do not occur as often as in Japan, Taiwan or the Philippines, they are nevertheless an almost yearly occurance, and are occasionally known to be deadly and cause major property damage.

  • Police: 112 from a phone and region code-112 from a cellular phone
  • Fire and ambulance services: 119 and region code-119 from a cellular.

Emergency-service English interpreters are available 24 hours a day.

Stay healthy

The quality of health care will vary depending on where you are. However the sheer number of hospitals and specialized clinics in the country will also offer you a greater amount of choice. In general the quality is very good and on par with Western countries.

  • Most doctors will not be able to communicate in English. In the larger hospitals in big cities the doctors will be more able to accommodate people with little or no command of the Korean language.
  • Although health care in South Korea is not free, it is heavily subsidized by the government and is very cheap more so in the clinics compared to the United States. For expat workers who have a medical insurance card (this is required), it is even less expensive (although still not free).
  • In addition to Western medicine, Oriental medicine is quite popular in Korea. Herbal supplements can be bought in most pharmacies as well as from shops which produce their own. The most popular herbal supplements (such as Ginseng) can even be bought in convenience stores in the form of energy drinks, tea, gum, and alcohol.
  • Pharmacies are usually located near hospitals, as hospitals in Korea are not allowed to dispense take-home prescriptions; prescriptions are dispensed in small paper packages.
  • Although there are no official vaccinations that are required or recommended for visitors, Hepatitis A attacks the liver and is transmitted through food and water. It is an issue all over the country. But once infected time is the only cure. The Center for Disease Control [34] designates the prevalence of infection in Korea to be intermediate.
  • A good basic rule to follow when travelling is when it comes to food, do what the locals do especially when it comes to water. Most will have it filtered or boiled before drinking. Although tap water in Korea is perfectly safe to drink, you may want to follow the local habits only if to get rid of the chlorine smell.


Korea is a land of strict Confucian hierarchy and etiquette. As a visitor you will not be expected to know every nuance, but making an effort will certainly be appreciated.

Traditionally, Koreans bow to each other to show their respect when they meet. Today, they may also shake hands at the same time. However, with people you are friendlier with a quick nod of the head and a simple "annyeong haseyo"(안녕하세요) meaning "hello" should suffice.

When picking something up or taking something from somebody older always use two hands. If you have to reach to get it and this is not possible, you can simply support your right arm with your left hand. Likewise, when shaking hands with somebody older support your right arm with your left hand.

It is also customary that you must take off your shoes in the house and also in many traditional restaurants.

As with anywhere, politics is a poor topic of conversation. In particular, avoid bringing up the Japanese occupation, the Korean war of the early 1950s and US foreign policy, as these delicate topics are certain to get you on someone's bad side and can lead to intense debates. Also, Koreans are particularly proud of their cuisine, and do not welcome criticism of it — although they do understand that foreigners may find some dishes too spicy.

Many Koreans still have negative feelings towards the Japanese due to the atrocities committed and "cultural assimilation" policy during the Japanese occupation. However, these have subsided somewhat in recent times as the Korean Wave or hallyu of Korean soap operas and pop music has drawn many Japanese tourists to Korea, with Japanese tourists now being the biggest spenders in Korea. Even though there is resentment towards the Japanese government, Japanese people visiting Korea are unlikely to run into any major problems. Nevertheless, some Koreans, particularly those born before the early 1930s, will still feel very offended if you associate them, their country or Korean culture with the Japanese in even the slightest way. Some Koreans also harbor some degree of resentment towards China, their other former colonial master and North Korea's main supporter.

Koreans in general have very strong nationalistic views, and would view any criticisms of their country with varying degrees of hostility. To avoid getting into the bad books of your hosts, it is advisable to only praise the country and avoid bringing up anything negative about it no matter how true you may believe it is. While Chinese, and to a much lesser extent, Japanese influences can be seen in Korean culture, it is unwise to mention this as most Koreans will feel very offended by such comments and will think that you are trying to present Korea as a watered down version of China, and this would almost certainly trigger a hostile response from everybody around you. Anyhow, many Koreans believe that their country had significant cultural influence on early Japanese civilization and that Japan has adopted more from Chinese culture than Korea has.


By phone

International dialling prefixes in South Korea vary by operator, and there is no standard prefix. Check with your operator for the respective prefixes. For calls to South Korea, the country code is 82.

Mobile phone coverage is generally excellent, with the exception of some remote mountainous areas. The country has three service providers: KT [35], SK Telecom [36] and LG Telecom [37]. They offer prepaid mobile phone services (pre-paid service, PPS) in South Korea. Incoming calls are free. Phones and prepaid services can be acquired at any retail location found on any street. Second-hand phones are also available at selected stores in Seoul, also you can rent korean phones at the international airports.

South Korea uses the CDMA standard and does not have a GSM network, so most 2G mobile phones from elsewhere will not work. Even quad-band GSM phones are useless. However, if you have a 3G phone with a 3G SIM card, you can probably roam onto the UMTS/W-CDMA networks of KT or SK Telecom; check with your home operator before you leave to be sure.

All the carriers offer mobile phone rental services, and some handsets also support GSM SIM roaming. They have outlets at the international airports in Incheon, Seoul (Kimpo) and Busan (Kimhae). You can find service centers for KT SHOW and SK Telecom at Jeju airport as well. Charges start from W2000/day if you reserve in advance via the visitkorea website [38] for a discount and guaranteed availability.

The 1330 Korea Travel Phone service is a very useful service provided by the Korea Tourism organization. It is a 24 hour service and offered in four different languages (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese). The operator will answer questions on bus schedules, accommodation, museum hours, etc.

By net

South Korea is the world's most wired country and Internet cafes, known as PC bang (PC 방, pron. BAH-ng), are ubiquitous through the country. Many customers are there for gaming but you're free to sit and type e-mails as well, typical charges are about W1000 to W2000/hour. Like anything, it may be more expensive in more "luxurious" places. Also, snacks and drinks are available for purchase in most PC bangs. PC bangs are often divided into smoking and non-smoking areas.

By mail

Korea Post [39] is fast, reliable and reasonable price. Postage for a postcard anywhere in the world is W350. Check your local post office for the latest rates.


Korea has several English language media sources for daily news and other information.

Daily Newspapers


  • Arirang TV [43] available via cable
  • AFN Korea [44] available to US military community or via cable


  • TBS e-FM 101.3 FM
  • AFN channel 1530 AM and 102.7 FM
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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Wikipedia has an article on:




Proper noun

Map showing location of the Republic of Korea

Republic of Korea


Republic of Korea

  1. A country in East Asia, the southernmost of the two states born of the partition of Korea following the Korean War.


  • Afrikaans: Republiek van Korea
  • Aragonese: Corea d'o Sur
  • Arabic: كوريا الجنوبية
  • Asturian: Corea del Sur
  • Azeri: Koreya Respublikası
  • Bosnian: Republika Koreja bs(bs) f.
  • Chinese: 大韓民國 (traditional) 大韩民国 (simplified)
  • Croatian: Republika Koreja hr(hr) f.
  • French: République de Corée
  • Greek: Δημοκρατία της Κορέας
  • Hebrew: רפובליקת קוריאה
  • Ido: La Republiko di Korea
  • Italian: Repubblica di Corea
  • Japanese: 大韓民国 (だいかんみんこく)
  • Korean: 대한민국 (大韓民國, Daehan Minguk)
  • Latin: Respublica Coreae
  • Romanian: Republica Coreea ro(ro) f.
  • Russian: Республика Коре́я
  • Polish: Republika Korei
  • Spanish: República de Corea
  • Thai: สาธารณรัฐเกาหล
  • Vietnamese: Đại Hàn Dân Quốc

See also

Simple English

Redirecting to South Korea


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