Backpacking in South Korea doesn’t normally come on top of bucket list destinations for most travellers, and to be honest it was not for me either.
But after my month of solo backpacking in the Philippines, the cheapest country to fly to was Korea and that was enough for me to decide to go there!
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After spending 3 weeks backpacking in South Korea, the country was a wonderful surprise.
I went to beautiful places, met lovely people and had some of the best food in Asia! now I recommend everyone to go there!
After a few months of my solo backpacking adventures around Asia, arriving to Korea felt quite different as it was until that moment the most expensive country I visited (later surpassed by Japan). So I had to be more creative to maintain my tight budget on a sustainable level.
These are some of the things that I learnt on my 3 weeks backpacking in Korea and that helped me have an amazing time!
Where to go in Korea?
Most people I met settle for the three main places: Seoul, Busan and Jeju. And that’s fair enough, but there’s a lot more to see when you’re backpacking in South Korea!
I personally loved my days in Danyang, this is a small town in the middle of the country with plenty of nature around.
Quite a few good hikes and incredible food as everywhere in Korea.
The town of Gyeongju was very interesting from a historic perspective. There are lots of Unesco World Heritage Sites here and can be easily reached from Busan (bus tickets only 5400KRW)
I got really good feedback about Sokcho in the north east coast, although I couldn’t squeeze a visit there I wouldn’t mind going back to Korea to explore this place as it looks stunning!
How to move around the country?
South Korea is a relatively small country and it’s easy to move around by bus, train and flying.
Don’t assume the bus is the cheapest and always compare all options!
To compare all this, I was normally using Rome2rio, Skyscanner, Google Maps and Kakao Maps.
Some flight routes such as Seoul-Jeju or Busan-Jeju have departures every 20 minutes or so, and it’s super cheap to fly. With some tickets costing just around US $8! Check out on Skyscanner to get the best deals!
As the transport was not really expensive, I didn’t hitchhike in Korea so I cannot say how easy it may be to do it.
Buy a T-Money card to save a little bit on the subway and bus fares (all over the country!).
You can buy it at some subway stations and convenience stores and return it at the end of your trip. It cost 4000KRW which will be refunded upon return of the card.
Accommodation in Korea
Together with Japan, hostels in Korea are (a lot) more expensive than in the rest of Asia. So if you’re on a tight budget, make sure to use couchsurfing.
Couchsurfing helps on your budget and allows you to meet wonderful people. Please don’t use couchsurfing as just a network to find a place to crash as the spirit of the platform is to discover, share and meet people from all over the world.
A short workaway experience also helps to keep the costs down while having fun meeting locals and other travellers.
Should you get a SIM card in Korea?
NO! there’s actually no reason for it, you’ll find free wifi connections pretty much everywhere you go, even in some remote places.
If you’re concerned about your cyber-security on free wifi networks, get a VPN! I did my homework comparing lots of VPN providers before I went solo backpacking in China and decided to get it with Surfshark, it worked pretty well for me (and still does)
Food in Korea
Some of the tastiest and healthiest food I have had in Asia was in Korea. Surely they’re famous for Kimchi and Korean Fried Chicken (KFC), both of them are great. But what I liked the most is their tradition of eating many side dishes.
Whenever you go to a restaurant, with your main dish you will normally get as well at least 6 different side dishes (once I got 12!) and if you like them you can repeat as much as you like!
As with all countries, the price will vary depending on the sort of food and place you visit. But you can consider to budget between 5000-10000KRW per meal.
Talking with the locals
Comparing to other countries in Asia, there’s not a wide use of English in Korea. I met lots of people with some basic knowledge but consider almost certain that if you go out for food you will have to communicate with some sign language.
As in pretty much every country, the two most important phrases to learn are:
Hello – An-nyeong-ha-se-yo.
Thank you – Kam-sa-ham-ni-da.
Go to Korea!
If you’re planning to go backpacking in South Korea, you should definitely do it! I had no expectations at all before arriving to Seoul and I left utterly happy.
The country surprised me in so many ways that now it enters into that select list of countries I would definitely visit again!
Feel free to ask anything if you’re looking to visit Korea or drop some more tips for other travellers!
Check out the rest of my adventures backpacking in Korea for more ideas on your next trip!