Quick Guide South Korea: Visa-free travel for South Africans
If you want to visit a country where everything works on time, you can dive into the most delicious noodles or want experience the fastest internet in the world, South Korea is heaven for tech fundies.
Besides a modern lifestyle that looks like it belongs in the future, you can also travel back in time to the Josean Dynasty in city palaces that look likes it belong in a movie.
You can also take a political tour to the Korean Demilitarised Zone that it shares with its controversial neighbour North Korea to understand the division better.
As the recent host of the Winter Olympics, South Korea knows how to welcome visitors to this part of Asia.
Here we take a look at one of the top Asian destinations for South Africans and what you need to know should you want to visit:
Visa Requirements: Visa on arrival for tourist purposes for up to 30 days for South Africans with a valid passport. Passport must be valid for up to six months after date of departure.
Continent: East Asia
Medical requirement: Take precautions against Japanese encephalitis in rural areas between June and October.
Currency / Exchange Rate: Won
National Carriers: Korean Air
Main airports: Incheon International Airport (Seoul), Jeju International Airport, Gimpo International Airport (Seoul), Gimhae International Airport (Busan), Cheongju International Airport, Daegu International Airport
Time Zone: 7 hours ahead of SA
Plugs: European round-pin plug
Public transport: Almost everyone uses public transport in South Korea, which is very efficient. Buses is the main mode of travel throughout the country, with trains transport also available between major cities. The country also has islands which can easily be reached by ferries.
Best time to visit: March to May (Spring) and September to November (Autumn) as summer and winter has very extreme conditions.
Climate: Extreme humidity and rain in summer, with snow and below freezing temperatures in winter.
Food specialities: South Korea is most known for kimchi, which is mostly fermented cabbage and other vegetables with chilli. Locals are inclined to eat copious amounts of hot food, especially when it comes to fire noodles. When visiting a restaurant, try out galbi, a Korean barbecue where you cook your own meat in oil. The common local spirit is soju, which can come in many flavours and can also come in a mixed cocktail in bars.
Language: Korean (Official), English
My name is ….
Je ireum-eun … imnida
Do you speak English?
Where is [hotel/toilet/beach etc.]?
… eodi issseubnikka?
- Although it has a long history of hostility with its neighbour North Korea, many locals are not too bothered by Kim Jong-un’s weekly threats and this shouldn’t deter you from visiting South Korea.
- South Koreans are very conservative and although they are not bothered by women showing leg, they are not fans of women showing cleavage or shoulders, so a T-shirt instead of a strappy top will help avoid unwanted stares.
- If you are having drinks or dinner with any locals, be prepared for excess. South Koreans not only can eat large meals that will make even a South African feel bloated, they are extremely heavy drinkers and be wary of trying to keep up with them. Alcohol is also allowed in public places, which means a lot of soju-drinking on beaches and in parks.
- South Korea is an extremely technologically advanced society and has the fastest internet speeds in the world – also the best place to buy any electronic devices if you want to save some money instead of buying at home.
- Double check your dates so that it doesn’t coincide with big family holidays, like Seollal and Chuseok, where every South Korean is trying to make it back home and long-distance travel becomes the traffic jam to end all traffic jams, including sardine-packed public transport.
Top attractions in South Korea
- Korean Demilitarised Zone
There's a small section of land that's seen as neutral between the two Koreas, and the closest you can safely get to see North Korea. Peace villages are built on both sides, with the North making it seem like they have all the luxuries of the South, but it's been claimed that the village is just a facade.
- Gyeongbokgung, palaces in Seoul
You can follow in the footsteps of royalty at the Gyeongbokgung Palace, once the home of the Joseon dynasty. It's a must-see in Seoul, and hard to miss with its sheer size that will keep you busy most of the day. Within its walls you can find a few museums that showcase the Korea from long ago.
- Banpo Bridge
While it might not sound so exciting to see a bridge, the Banpo Bridge likes to put on a show. It comes alive with its Rainbow Fountain show where water is sprayed to reflect a multicolour music show, and there's a different one for night and day. It operates every day four to six times from April to October for 20 minutes at a time.
- Jeju Island
Seen as the biggest holiday destination in South Korea, Jeju Island is a playground for the rich, with beach resorts, volcanic landscapes and the highest mountain in the country. You can walk inside giant lava tubes, or you can explore your wild side at Loveland, where erotica is on display through sexy sculptors aiming to give honeymooners some advice for their marriage.
- Boryeong Mud Festival
Taking place every summer, the Boryeong Mud Festival is the biggest in the country where revellers can spend their weekend rolling in mud. You can wash yourself off in Daecheon Beach's crystal waters after a day of well-being activities at the festival. There are also mud races and survival games on offer for those who want to get extra dirty.