There will always be a special place in my heart for South Korea. It’s essentially where Chris and I really got to know each other. We had to live together in a tiny studio apartment with a HUGE cat, all while experiencing a new country and culture for the first time. We fell in love with each other and with Korea relatively quickly. And now we want YOU to fall in love with it too. So, we’ve concoted a list of five reasons why you should travel to South Korea right NOW.
1. The food.
South Korea is the land of BBQ. Not in the traditional American way that you might think, but in the grill-it-yourself-at-your-table-with-a-plethora-of-side-dishes way. It’s amazing. We’re big fans of samgyupsal. It’s like thick pieces of bacon that you cook to perfection that is then wrapped inside a large piece of lettuce that’s filled with sprouts, roasted garlic, a spicy bean paste, and kimchi. Are you drooling yet?
Another favorite is the savory haejangguk. We would order this meal at least once a week while we lived in Korea. It’s a spicy soup made from oxtail and coagulated blood. Let’s just go ahead and state right here that there aren’t many Korean meals that cater to vegetarians. That being said, I’m not a big fan of strange food (read: blood) but I found this dish to be oddly addicting. It’s great with a side of rice and kkakdugi kimchi.
2. Winter treats.
You might think I’m cheating with this one, but let me explain. There are a few dishes that can only be found in South Korea during the colder months. As spring is almost here, it is imperative that you hop a flight to South Korea to enjoy some of these morsels before they disappear for another 6 months.
I have two favorites when it comes to winter treats and both are found from street vendors. Bungeoppang is a ridiculously tasty dessert that is basically a fish-shaped doughnut that’s stuffed with either red bean paste or cream. I’m a big fan of the latter although both are served up warm and gooey and wonderful. The best part is the crispy outside that’s coupled with the warm sweet treat awaiting your tastebuds within.
Another special treat is hotteok. Don’t tell the bungeoppang, but I might like hotteok better. It’s basically a fried pancake that is stuffed with a medley of sugar, cinnamon, and nuts. It’s also served piping hot and the filling tends to drizzle all over you as you eat it- hence the plastic cups. Check the excitement over my first hotteok of the season below.
South Korea is home to some of the most stunning and unique temples we’ve ever seen. One of my personal favorites is the dragon temple located just outside of Pohang. The outside is clearly shaped like a dragon and the inside is reminiscent of a windy cave. There’s little to no light, low ceilings, and hundreds of lanterns hanging throughout. It’s easily one of my favorite places in the country.
Definitely head to Korea and check out the temples. They come in all shapes and sizes and will welcome you with open arms. May 25th is the day that Buddha’s birthday will be celebrated in South Korea and there’s really no better time to explore the temples than this.
4. The [cat] cafes.
Korean’s take their coffee very seriously. There’s a plethora of unique coffee shops littered across the country. I’m a big fan of the cat cafes that have been popping up in the last few years. I don’t necessarily go there for the coffee… I go for the allergies. Kidding. I love being able to drink a latte, play with cats, and then leave before the litter box needs empyting.
Kitties aside, I love Korean coffee culture. Latte art usually accompanies every cup and most shops will give you a “service” or free treat. My only complaint is that it can be hard to find any milk substitutes. Those that are lactose intolerant might have to stick to americanos or drip coffee, but even those can be fancied-up.
5. The Markets
One of my favorite past times in Korea is visiting the local markets. Jukdo market was the place to be on the weekends. I loved strolling through the market, watching fisherman unload the catch of the day, smelling whatever the vendors were cooking, and partaking in some of the best people watching around. It’s also a great way to take in some of the culture. You can find traditional meals, pottery, paintings, and even a multitude of souvenirs for your friends and family back home.
Just remember that South Korea isn’t just a place to visit if you’re going to teach ESL. It’s a country that is absolutely stunning with some of the friendliest people around. And if you DO end up going, let us know. We have a ton of recommendations for you. Spoiler alert: Most involve food.