About life in South Korea and what tour operators forget to talk about

“They live in their own world” South Korea has opened up to Russians. What awaits tourists there?

For those who have never been to South Korea, knowledge of the country is usually limited to popular stereotypes. K-pop music, doramas, dog dishes, kimchi cabbage and the acclaimed TV series Squid Game – these are probably all the associations that many people name on the fly. Meanwhile, a small Asian country has a lot to offer tourists: a long history, the careful attitude to the traditions, architecture as if from the future and dissimilar to anything else national cuisine. About how to get to South Korea and what to do there, – the article “Lenta.ru”.

Closer than you think

Two and a half years after the start of the pandemic coronavirus South Korea began to return to normal life and open to international tourism. Thus, on April 1 the country resumed visa-free travel with Russia, and on June 8 it lifted quarantine for unvaccinated travelers. Another pleasant bonus is that in July some stores began accepting cards of the Russian payment system “Mir”.

Photo: sayan uranan / Shutterstock

Nevertheless, some restrictions for arrivals still apply. Regardless of vaccination status, tourists are required to take either a PCR test 48 hours before entry or an antigen test 24 hours before arrival. In addition, to cross the border without a visa for up to 60 days, foreigners must obtain a special electronic permit (K-ETA) at least 72 hours before departure. Registration costs 10 thousand South Korean won (about 500 rubles), the document is valid for two years.

As in many countries, it is now possible to fly to South Korea only with a connection. According to the Aviasales service, in October the cheapest round-trip tickets from Moscow can be purchased for 75 thousand rubles, including baggage. The trip will take 17-20 hours on the wings of Etihad Airways and change in Abu Dhabi. A faster option is to fly via Alma-Ata for 105 thousand rubles round trip from Aeroflot and Air Astana. Convenient connections can also be found with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul, with Qatar Airways via Doha, and with Uzbekistan Airways via Tashkent.

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Cheapest airfare to South Korea

Following the gradual opening of the country, Russian tour operators have announced several tour programs to South Korea. For example, the company China Travel offers a combined tour to Seoul and Jeju Island. The cost of a six-day trip is at least $ 2.4 thousand (about 145 thousand rubles) for one person without the flight. Overview tour with a medical examination of “VEDI Group” will cost $ 1.7 thousand (102 thousand rubles).

Photo: DiegoMariottini / Shutterstock

However, South Korea is still not a budget travel destination. According to Maya Kotlyar, the tourism expert and the owner of travel agency MAYEL Travel, the average cost of tours for seven days is two thousand dollars (120 thousand rubles), another 120 thousand for airfare. “Not every Russian can afford such expenses for a trip, so we can’t talk about any mass demand for tours to South Korea. Among long-haul destinations Latin America and Africa are winning now,” the specialist told “Lente.ru”.

According to her, the reception of cards “Mir” also has little effect on demand because of the limited coverage – now you can not pay for the domestic plastic card in all ATMs and only in certain places.

Wealthy people who actively travel have long ago acquired cards of foreign banks in Dubai or Tashkent. For them, the Mir card is not the biggest motivation for travel

A City of Particular Subordination

Most tourists begin their travels in Korea in Seoul, the 10-million-strong metropolis that has everything: countless skyscrapers, palaces with pagodas, parks, bizarre art objects and markets. The city was founded in 18 BC and as only not called. It was first called Viresong, the capital of the ancient Baekje State, and then passed into the possession of other rulers.

In the 14th century, the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled the land, made the settlement the capital of its empire. The city was called Hanyang and was surrounded by a seven-meter-high wall that protected it from enemies and wild animals. During the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, Seoul suffered a lot – many buildings were destroyed and the streets were filled with refugees. Now Seoul – one of the leading financial centers of East Asia, the main economic and cultural center of the country, which in documents is listed as a “city of special subordination.

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Photo: Martina Katz / imagebroker.com / Globalookpress.com

“Usually the minimum for every tourist includes at least one of the royal palaces of the Joseon Dynasty, Gwanghwamun Square, Bukcheon Folk Village and Cheonggyecheon Creek,” says Seoul guide Elena Pinchuk, who has lived here for nine years. However, besides tourist classics, the Russian woman advises to pay attention to the monuments of modern architecture.

If you come to Seoul for the ancient streets and antiques – most likely you will be disappointed. For me it is much more interesting to look at futuristic new buildings which look more like giant blimps or alien ships.

One of the most impressive buildings is the Tondemun Design Plaza, designed by architect Zaha Hadid. The multifunctional complex, where exhibitions are sometimes held, was built on the site of a former stadium and can safely claim to be the brightest example of modern architecture in Seoul. The building combines everything that Koreans value so much – respect for nature with lawns on the roof and modern design.

A riot of color

According to the guide, Seoul has a strong sense of the changing seasons – it can be unbearably hot in the peak summer season and humid, windy and slushy in winter, so the best time to visit the capital is spring and autumn.

In March, South Korea’s forsythia, plums, apricots, and peaches blossom, and the wild cherry blossom season begins in early April. At this time, many citizens and tourists go to Hangang Park, Thapsa Monastery, or Ssangsa with the most spectacular gardens. “The sakura, which is traditionally associated with Japan, is also found in Korea. We have a special name for it: potkkot. It’s best to watch the blossoms in Seoul Forest, near Seokcheon Lake and in Yeoido Park, where wild cherry trees form a snow-white-pink tunnel of flowers,” Elena Pinchuk advises.

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In the fall, during the red maple season, the city looks very different. In early October, pink, cotton candy-like sakura crowns give way to fiery scarlet leaves of maples. For the most spectacular views, it’s worth heading out of town to watch the bright red leaves fall against a backdrop of waterfalls and mountains. Korea’s national parks are designed for such leisurely strolls, as they are easy to navigate, landscaped, and most are easily accessible by public transportation.

Fish dealers wait for customers at a fishery market in Seoul

Photo: Lee Jae-Won / Reuters

Soraksan National Park, the largest national park in the country, covers 398 square kilometers. On its territory has 30 peaks, dozens of hiking trails for different levels of training. One of the most interesting trails includes climbing Ulsan Bawi Mountain – the last 888 steps have to be overcome on a steep cliff.

Difficulties of translation

However, beautiful nature is not the only thing that strikes tourists in Korea. Another thing that shocks many Western travelers is the mentality and the local way of life. “Nowhere else have I felt as helpless as in South Korea. It’s not a country for the faint of heart,” says Alexei, who recently returned from a three-week trip across the country. According to him, even in high-tech and advanced Seoul, tourists face a lot of everyday difficulties, which sometimes pisses them off.

For example, almost no one in South Korea knows English or tries to learn it at the most basic level. The farther away from Seoul, the more likely it is that you will encounter a Korean who speaks at least a little English. In popular tourist places in 9 out of 10 cases, you’ll have to resort to an interpreter – even staff at museums and airports may not know English. “The menu in a foreign language is out of the question,” adds Alexei.

Photo: sayan uranan / Shutterstock

“A separate quest for me was the cab – without a local residence permit you can’t call a car through an app like Uber, and you have to catch a car right on the street. I must admit, a week is annoying, “- complained the interlocutor,” Lenta.ru.

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Similar experiences shared with “Lenta.ru” Alena, who lived in the capital of South Korea for six months, an exchange student at Seoul National University of Science and Technology. Korean students seem very closed – she said that although they are happy to help foreigners in difficult situations and are happy to support the conversation a couple of duty phrases, to build a strong friendship with the locals is very difficult.

It’s as if they live in their own world and don’t let anyone in. Koreans are crazy about their culture, fanatical about local food, music and traditions, but not at all equal to modern Western trends.

Nevertheless, if you prepare carefully for your trip in advance by downloading various online guides, interpreters and clearly plan your itinerary, as well as learning the mentality of the locals, a trip to South Korea will be memorable for a long time. Koreans are in awe of everything around them, and you can feel it in every detail. They think of every detail of space, protect their nature and make sure that every day the comfort of everyday life becomes more and more accessible.

According to Seoul student Seo Yoon-soo, many Koreans often don’t even want to leave the country, because it’s endless to travel around Korea and discover it over and over again. “We have everything you need for a happy life – high security, beautiful parks and architecture, the sea, mountains, a stable economy, restaurants, bars and coffee shops open 24 hours a day, and 24-hour home delivery for every taste!”

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