Tips for Your First Trip to Korea

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:


  1. 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.
  2. Drink the tap water. It’s safe.
  3. Eat the street food. It’s safe – and probably has higher sanitation standards than some restaurants in the States.
  4. Ride the subway. It’s pretty easy to follow – and especially good during rush hour traffic.
  5. 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.
  6. Use the street and subway maps available outside. Korean Kimchee 'Tapas'Google Maps lists place and landmark names in Korean characters, so it can be frustratingly useless for finding your way.
  7. 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.
  8. Eat the ‘tapas-style’ appetizers they bring you at a restaurant. They really are free, and you can even get refills.
  9. 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.
  10. Eat out. It’s quite affordable.



  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. Talk loudly or make a scene. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb and earn the scorn of the citizenry.
  4. Walking in SeoulTune 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.
  5. Worry too much about pick-pocketing or similar crimes. It is rare here.
  6. Disobey traffic signals. They (those not on motorcycles) follow the lights and rules here, like in Copenhagen.
  7. Be offended if someone pushes you out of the way and doesn’t say sorry. This is fairly normal and not at all personal.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.’
  10. 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.


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