Area : 38691.0 km2
Population : 48875000 inhabitants
Jet Lag : +9hours
14 hours direct flight. Seoul is 5,500 mi from the UK. British Airways and Korean Airlines operate direct flights leaving from the UK.
Incheon international airport is 32 miles from Seoul. Traffic is often congested, so allow for one or two hours to reach the city centre. By taxi, a trip will cost you between 30,000 and 45,000 wons (£17-£25), depending on traffic congestion.
There are no particular security problems in South Korea; the country is very safe all over. As always when travelling, try not to tempt the devil: do not carry expensive items or large sums of money on you. All the same, be careful of pickpockets in very packed crowds.
Korean is the official language, and few Koreans speak foreign languages, however, the young generations are currently learning English en masse.
To enter South Korea, no visa is required for European citizens, provided that the stay does not exceed 90 days. You need a passport that is valid for at least six months after your return date.
Koreans are mostly Buddhist (46%), however Christian religions are quite deeply rooted, (which is uncommon for an Asian country) with 39% Protestants and 13% Catholics. There is a marginal but significant persistence of shamanic practises, originating from Siberia.
The Korean currency is the South Korean Won (KRW).
ATMs accept foreign credit cards and are available 24 hours a day. Remember, too, to bring cash or travellers cheques, which are widely accepted. Payment by credit card is not overly common; it is largely accepted in department stores, larger hotels and international restaurants but less likely to be accepted in small local shops. Banks are generally open from 9:30am to 4:30pm during the week and from 9:30am to 1:30pm on Saturdays.
Travelling to, and getting around, South Korea, is as easy as it is pretty much anywhere in the world. If you are coming into the country from outside Asia then you will land at Incheon International Airport, which is located 32 miles to the west of Seoul. If you are heading straight to Seoul after landing then there are several options. The cheapest and quickest way to the city is by the Airport Railroad Express (AREX). Both the commuter line (53 minutes, 4,050KRW + 500KRW deposit for card) and express line (43 minutes, 14,300KRW, no deposit, 20% discount for Korean Air/Aisiana Airlines passengrs) leave from the Airport Transportation Center on Level B1 of the airport. Once at Seoul Station you will have to make your own way to your hotel by taxi (see below) or subway (see below).
If you prefer to take a bus to the centre of Seoul then go for the limousine bus. There are two types of limousine bus: deluxe (14,000-15,000KRW) and standard (9,000-10,000KRW). Passengers can buy tickets for the bus outside the Passengers Terminal (Arrival Area) on Level 1. Although it takes far longer to reach the city by bus, the advantage is that they make multiple stops, including to most of the major hotels. They are also comfortable, clean, air conditioned and frequent.
Alternatively you could take a taxi driectly to your hotel. There are two types of taxi: regular (ilban and deluxe (mobeom. Regular taxis' base rate is 2,400KRW for the first 2km with 100KRW for every 144m thereafter, while deluxe taxis charge 4,500 for the first 3km and 200KRW for every 164 thereafter. The deluxe cabs are more spacious and comfortable and the drivers are meant to speak English.
For flights to and from Asia you will be passing throgh either Gimpo International Airport in Seoul or Gimhae International Airport in Busan.
As far as getting around the country is concerned, the only place where getting a domestic flight is necessary is for Jeju Island. There are many flights each day from various major cities to the Special Autonomous Province off the southwest coast of the country. For all other destinations, while there are domestic flights available, it is cheaper and probably quicker to take the train.
The KORAIL network is pretty extensive and covers most parts of the country. The fastest way to get to Busan (three hours), Gwangju (two and a half hours) or Mokpo (three hours) from Seoul is by KTX. This bullet train travels at almost 200mph and is spacious, comfortable and efficient (and not necessarily expensive). For other major cities you have the Saemaeul train, while for everywhere else you can take the Mugungwha train (more frequent stops than the Saemaeul or the Tongil (stops at every station). If you plan to travel a lot by train it is worth getting the Korail pass which allows you unlimited travel for a defined amount of time. You can find out more about the pass here: http://www.korail.com/2009/htm/htm41000/w_htm41120.jsp.
The cheapest way to get between towns and cities remains the bus, of which there are a couple of types: express (gosok) and intercity (sioe. You will be able to get a bus to pretty much anywhere you wish to go although for the smaller destinations the frequency will not be very high. Bus stations can also be confusing places to it helps to have the name of your destination written down in Korean. The express buses high the highways and do not make stops unless it is for a break on a long journey. The intercity buses use regular roads and make stops along the way to its final destination. Some cities have separate express and intercity bus stations so make sure you know which bus you need and where to catch it!
Within major cities (Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Daejoen and Gwangju) the best way to get around is by subway. Spacious, rapid, air conditioned and relatively cheap, they are probably the quickest means of transport too. All indications are in both Korean and English and stops are numbered which makes it much easier. Nonetheless, it can be a little confusing so be patient. In Seoul, when buying a one-way fare, the price will include a 500KRW deposit which you get back when you return your card.
City buses are very cheap but can get caught up in traffic jams in the major cities.
Taxis are also pretty good value. Ilban taxis and coloured silver, white or orange while mobeom taxis are black.
No particular vaccine is required to enter Korea. The country does not show any specific sanitary risk. Normally, tap water is drinkable without any problem. Subscribe to good medical insurance, because in the event of a health problem the cost of medical care in the country can be relatively high. Avoid consuming raw or half-cooked food, in particular meat and eggs. Wash your hands regularly.
Voltage is 110V and 220V, but the latter tends to be found more frequently. Most hotels are equipped with a voltage of 220 V. Electrical outlets are usually compatible with the pins of your appliances, but there are exceptions. Bring an adapter, just in case.
Every year, some 5 million visitors go to South Korea.
A tax of 10% is collected by the State on goods and services in Korea, but this is included in marked prices. Only the hotel industry adds 10% to its rates. This hotel tax can be up to 20% in upscale establishments (value added tax + service). Tipping is not common practice in Korea.
The telephone code for South Korea is 82. The country's different regions each have a specific local code. Seoul's is 02, however, you take off the initial 0 if you are calling from abroad. There are three international codes there: 001, 002, 008.
To call Korea from the UK: 00, then 82, then the regional code (for example, 2 for Seoul), then the number of the other party.
To call the UK from Korea: 001 (or 002, or 008) + 44 + town's code + the number of the other party, without the initial zero. The mobile phone is extremely advanced in Korea. Most mobile phone numbers begin with 011, 016, 017, 018 or 019; when you want to reach someone on a mobile, these codes replace the regional codes, wherever they are. To get the police: 112. For the firemen: 119. To get an operator: 0077.
Korea Tourist Office
London Office, 3rd Floor, New Zealand House Haymarket, London SW1Y 4TE. Tel: (44 20) 7321 2535.
Korea Cultural Centre
Ground Floor, Grand Buildings, 1-3 Strand, London WC2N 5EJ. Tel: (44 20) 7004 2600.
60 Buckingham Gate, SW1E 6AJ London. Tel: (44 20) 7227 5500.
Taepyeongno 40, 4 Jeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul 100-120. Tel: (82 2) 3210 5500.
Korean National Tourism Corporation (KNTC), KNTC Building, 1O, Ta-dong, Chung-gu, in Seoul. Tel: (82-2) 729 9498.
http://sca.visitseoul.net is a new website in English. It has various photos and videos of the town's cultural sites (national treasures, historical sites, etc). For all information, contact the tourist department of the Seoul Town Hall. Tel: (82 2) 3707 9547