An Introduction to South Korea

South Korea (대한민국) is located in East Asia, on the Southern half of the Korean Peninsula. It's official name is the Republic of Korea, and it's Northern border separates it from North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea). It is a fairly small country (around 1,000,000 square kilometres), with a population of around 50 million – with almost half of these people living in Seoul and the surrounding areas.

The country has a turbulent history, with the Korean War only 'ending' in 1953, and many small conflicts and problems occurring between the North and the South in the years since. The border between the two countries is now the most heavily fortified in the world, and Korean men still enter into compulsory military service for two years each. Looking at the history, and hearing stories in the media, it can be easy to form misconceptions about what life must be like in Korea, and feel uneasy about travelling or living here – especially in areas close to the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ). However, Korea is an extremely safe and peaceful country, and makes for an interesting and diverse travel destination. It is amazing to witness the technology and economy that exists here, especially when you consider how recent the end of the War really was.

South Korea is now the fourth largest economy in Asia, and is growing rapidly. The internet speed here is the fastest in the world, and Koreans have one of the world's highest percentages of mobile phone use – you will almost never lose phone signal – even when inside caves or on top of mountains! Some areas, especially more urban districts or poor farming communities still look fairly 'rough around the edges', and by no means feel or look similar to most Western countries – there is still very much the haphazard 'Asian' feel to this place. However, this is part of what gives Korea it's charm, and it is the traveler who is willing to look past this and seek out the real beauty and history of the country who will be most rewarded here.

Crime in Korea is extremely low in comparison to Western countries – with petty crime such as burglary and muggings almost unheard of, especially in rural areas. It is very common to see Koreans and Westerners here leave purses and handbags unattended, and keep house doors unlocked, without ever fearing that anything will be stolen. You will find Korean people to be extremely kind and friendly, if a little bewildered at the sight of foreigners sometimes! The tourist industry here is still very much in development, and as such, many Koreans have little or no experience with foreign tourists, and English is not always widely spoken. However, this again adds to its charm and sets it apart from many other Asian travel destinations – you will find almost no-one on the streets pressuring you to buy things, or trying to scam you out of money; taxis are inexpensive; and you won't have to live in constant fear of pickpockets. And it's almost always possible to get by in non-English speaking environments with a bit of miming and some patience! Korean people will go out of their way to help you if you have a problem – it is very common to ask for directions, and then find yourself being personally escorted to your destination!

For more detailed information, check out the Wikipedia article on South Korea.