Known as the “Land of the Morning Calm”, South Korea (officially called the Republic of Korea) is located on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula east of China, and is bordered by communist North Korea (officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). The country’s capital, Seoul, is the 2nd largest metropolitan city in the world and is also a major global city. South Korea is one of the G-20 major economies, has a fully democratic government, is considered a developed country (like the U.S. and Canada), and has the 4th largest economy in Asia. It’s superb economic credentials and insatiable appetite for technological advancement, coupled with its citizens’ can-do attitude translates into endless developmental possibilities for the country.
South Korea is filled with top-notch private hospitals and clinics, which account for 93% of all medical facilities. There is one hospital that is accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI) located in the capital city of Seoul, which boasts world class facilities, VIP rooms, and physicians who are fluent in English, Korean, Japanese, French, and Chinese. Also, many private hospitals have international departments that understand and cater to the needs of foreign patients. In order to modernize its healthcare sector, the South Korean government revised its Medical Act to enable the use of electronic order communications and electronic medical records by doctors, therefore increasing the efficiency of hospital information systems.
Popular procedures sought in South Korea are cosmetic, gynecology, stem cell therapy, neurology, endocrinology, otolaryngology (ENT), dental, eye, laser treatments, cardiology, transplants, and medical checkups.
The official language of South Korea is Korean, however English is understood in tourist areas.
The South Korean climate is temperate with four distinct seasons that coincide with the northern part of the United States: spring, summer, fall, and winter; and its terrain is mostly mountainous. The monsoon and typhoon seasons run from late June to late August in which the country gets 60% of its annual rainfall. Also during that time, when it’s not raining, the weather is hot and humid with an average July temperature ranging from 72.5oF to 77oF (22.5oC to 25oC). The winter time is usually cold and dry with average January temperatures ranging from 23oF to 27.5oF (-5oC to -2.5oC). Thus, the best time (weatherwise) to visit South Korea is during the spring (mid-March to the end of May) or the fall (September to November).
U.S. citizens do not require a visa for stays up to 90 days and neither do Canadians for stays up to 180 days, however a valid passport is required for citizens of both countries.
South Korea has many airports including:
The following airlines have flights to South Korea:
A room in a budget hotel, hostel, or guesthouse usually costs $14 to $22 USD per person per night. A room in a 3 star hotel starts at $50 per night for a double occupancy room. If you prefer luxurious accommodations, South Korea has many highly rated hotels located between modern skyscrapers in the city of Seoul, resting on the slopes of a mountain, overlooking the Pacific Ocean on an island such as Cheju (Jeju), or juxtaposed to a casino. Such 5 star habitations start at $146 USD per night.
The currency of South Korea is the Won (KRW). The exchange rate of U.S. dollars to South Korean wons is $1 USD to 1,261 KRW (exchange rate subject to change).
Architectural and religious buffs will be astounded by the thousands of historic Buddhist Temples scattered throughout South Korea. Many of these temples are located in remote mountain areas and national parks have been established around said temples that offer a myriad of outdoor activities including hiking and mountain climbing. The Beopjusa Temple Complex in Songnisan National Park houses a statue of Buddha that stands 82 feet (25 meters) tall and the Haeinsa Temple located in Kayasan National Park is the home of a set of 13th century printing blocks.
Those of you who love the fast-paced lifestyle of the city will enjoy Seoul, Busan, and Daegu. Busan is the country’s 2nd largest city and is home to a famous fish market, hot spring spas, and the U.N. Cemetery (where fallen U.N. soldiers from the Korean War are buried). For a spectacular view of the city and faraway islands, head to the Busan Tower, which stands 394 feet (120 meters) tall. Daegu is the 3rd largest city in South Korea and is home to many shops, the 5th century Donghwasa Temple, and the Gatbawi Mountain located in Palgongsan Provincial Park. Of course Seoul is the nation’s hub for culture, economics, and government. Luckily, the South Korean government has invested in a convenient and economically-friendly subway system that makes traversing the city easy.
If you are used to an upscale lifestyle, then take a ride to Gangnam (Gangnam Station subway stop), which is known as the “Beverly Hills of South Korea”, and Itaewon (near the Samgakji Station) is the most Americanized district in the city and has the highest concentration of non-Koreans and Koreans mingling in the street. The more popular sites in the city include the 63 Building, which stands 63 stories high and offers wonderful panoramic views of the city; Caribbean Bay, which is a theme park that offers water-related attractions; Gyeongbok and Changyong Palaces, built in the 14th and 15th century, respectively; and the Children’s Grand Park, which is one of the largest children’s parks in Asia and is home to an amusement park, a botanical garden, and a zoo.
Like Singapore, South Korea is a good place to shop. One of the most popular items to purchase is Korean Ginseng, which is known to balance the “chi” in one’s body and is good for overall health. Many believe that it relieves menstrual cramps and improves memory and cognitive abilities. Another popular item is amethyst, and South Korean jewellers are known for their expert workmanship.
If antiques are of more interest to you then check out the shops in the city of Insadong, which used to provide everyday items to the privileged class, and the city itself was the residence of the centuries old Joseon Dynasty. Now these items are antiques and come in the form of old furniture, ceramics, woodenware, old paintings, and metalware. Like other Asian countries, South Korea has top-notch tailoring for a fraction of the price compared to many western countries. The Shinjang Shopping Mall is where you can go for inexpensive, custom made suits or shoes. Last but not least, electronics buffs will enjoy the Yongsan Electronics Market, which houses about 5,000 stores that sell merchandise up to 30% less than other markets.
Seoul is the epicenter of South Korean nightlife, with most nighttime venues concentrated in the Dongdaemun region as well as the university region of Gongdae, in which the latter is rife with students and thus cheap clubs, bars, and pubs. Koreans love music, especially country and the blues, and you will find many karaoke bars with a wide array of music that you can sing along to while indulging in your favorite beverage or dish.
The Gyeonggi Province is rife with museums including The Korea Folk Liquor Museum, the Changjo Natural History Museum, the Ho-Am Art Museum, the Korean Camera Museum, the Korean Folk Village Museum, the National Palace Museum, and the National Science Museum. Other popular museums include the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the Ewha Woman’s University Museum, and the Seoul Museum of Art. There is also a plethora of art galleries such as the Arko, Gana, and Rodin Galleries. If you prefer to see moving objects as opposed to stationary ones, the Daehangno district is the place to enjoy plays and musicals. The larger cultural and theatrical venues are the LG Arts Center, the National Theater of South Korea, the Sejong Center (the largest arts and cultural complex in Seoul), and the Seoul Arts Center, which houses a music hall, calligraphy hall, arts center, archives, market place, outdoor theater, education hall, and traditional Korean gardens.
There are a few English language newspapers in South Korea including The Korea Herald, The Korea Times and The Seoul Times.