South Korea is a land of opposites existing in conjunction with each other. It combines ancient Oriental tradition with modern technology. In downtown Seoul, one can find traces of its 5,000 year history in its palaces, city gates, and temples, yet the country is also a rapidly developing nation in terms of industry, trade, and commerce.
Over 70% of the land is mountainous with the eastern regions consisting of mainly rugged mountain ranges and deep valleys. Many people enjoy hiking in the foothills and mountains. Most of the larger rivers and forests are located in the west. The coastline is dotted with bays and it has some of the highest tides in the world. The eastern coastline has many sandy beaches, while the western side consists mainly of mud flats and rocky shores.
Rice is the staple of the Korean diet and appears at almost all meals. A typical meal includes rice, some type of soup, sometimes a main dish of meat or pork or poultry, and various side dishes. Kimchi, the most common group of side dishes, includes various vegetables (cabbage, radishes, and various roots) fermented with spices (garlic, red pepper, and ginger). Korea produces several types of grain alcohol, most notably soju. Nowadays, many people eat more and more Western, Japanese, and Chinese food, with pizza becoming more popular than kimchi among the younger generation.
Korea’s currency is the won (W). In some tourist areas, merchants may be willing to accept U.S. dollars or Japanese yen, but the exchange rate will be worse than the official rate. Most banks and hotels can exchange money, and most will also take travelers checks. Cash advances on non-Korean credit cards can be made in most subway stations and banks. Many international banks have offices in Seoul, and a few have branches in Pusan.
As all the tourist books will tell you, Korea has four distinct seasons. The summers are very hot and humid, and the winters are cold and dry. The springs and autumns, which finish much too quickly, provide a welcome relief from the extremes of summer and winter.
The rainy season (changma) starts in late July and lasts through mid-August and often causes flooding of low areas. Don’t go anywhere without an umbrella during this time!