It’s our first time in Asia, so we did a bit more research. Here are our tips for having a good first trip to South Korea:
- Learn the words for ‘hello’ (ahn-yeong ha-seh-oh), ‘thank you’ (kha-m-sah hah-mn-ee-da), and ‘goodbye’ (ahn-yeong-ee geh-seh-oh). That last one in particular will cause shopkeepers everywhere to be very impressed with you, though it seems like a very low bar. The reason is because there are two different ways to say goodbye: one for when you are departing, and one when the other person is. But, since tourists are usually the ones leaving a place, the other version is not very necessary. (Though it’s only a few letters off, so it’s easy enough to learn). Neither ‘excuse me’ nor ‘do you speak English?’ has been very useful to me so far, and they don’t have a word for ‘please’ because politeness is built into all phrases.
- Drink the tap water. It’s safe.
- Eat the street food. It’s safe – and probably has higher sanitation standards than some restaurants in the States.
- Ride the subway. It’s pretty easy to follow – and especially good during rush hour traffic.
- Buy a T-Money card for the subway. It’s much easier than paying for each fare separately. We got ours in a kisok/tabac in the airport’s subway station.
- Use the street and subway maps available outside. Google Maps lists place and landmark names in Korean characters, so it can be frustratingly useless for finding your way.
- Use the many free and clean restrooms available throughout the city, like in every subway station. Finding a bathroom here is not a hunt for Carmen Sandiego.
- Eat the ‘tapas-style’ appetizers they bring you at a restaurant. They really are free, and you can even get refills.
- Look for silverware in a box on the table; it may look like a tissue box. One place had it in a drawer built into the table, but this seemed unusual.
- Eat out. It’s quite affordable.
- Tip. It is not the practice here. One exception: feel free to let a cabby keep the change. (Though don’t say, ‘Give me 5,000 won back,’ as that won’t make any sense to them.)
- Sit on crowded subway trains. They are serious about giving up seats to the elderly, pregnant, or infantile. You could sit and then pay a lot of attention to who boards, but in the interest of not being the obnoxious foreigner, it’s likely better to stand when it’s packed.
- Talk loudly or make a scene. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb and earn the scorn of the citizenry.
- Tune out. Since motorbikes sometimes even ride up on to the sidewalk, it’s a good idea to keep your eyes open. They’ll generally watch out for you, but better safe than sorry.
- Worry too much about pick-pocketing or similar crimes. It is rare here.
- Disobey traffic signals. They (those not on motorcycles) follow the lights and rules here, like in Copenhagen.
- Be offended if someone pushes you out of the way and doesn’t say sorry. This is fairly normal and not at all personal.
- Be scared by the evacuation and explosion explanatory videos in the subway cars. They’re not any more prone to danger there than any other subway system.
- Go into raptures about Japanese things. There is still (understandably) animosity towards the occupation by the Japanese. So, for example, don’t call it ‘karaoke;’ call it ‘norebang.’
- Eat or shop in the super touristy areas, or you’ll overpay. You can often walk 3-6 blocks into a less busy area and save a lot.