Alternative Lodging in Korea

Compared to much of Asia, Korea can be an expensive destination. Staying in western-style hotels is a sure way to kill your budget. Luckily they have a number of alternative lodging options that will not only save you a few won, but also provide a more interesting experience than traditional hotels.

Love Motels

In the States motels are inexpensive, small hotels with basic facilities, but often lack the “new car smell” of other lodging options. In Korea, there isn’t really a concept of an American-style motel; instead, they have what are known as “love motels”.

The love motel experience begins before you enter; many have ridiculous, gaudy, exteriors. Upon entering you’ll find a reception desk that shrouds the face of the receptionist along with a display of the different room types available. Some motels have themes or lavishly decorated rooms with mirrors on the ceilings, round waterbeds and jacuzzis.

[ptcPhoto filename=”LibertyLove.jpg” title=”Love Motel Exterior” caption=”Yes, that’s the Statue of Liberty” position=”center”]

We were a bit taken aback when we were first asked if we wanted the room for sleeping. It took a moment but I realized we were being asked if we wanted the room for the night, or just for an hour, which is available at a lower rate. A typical night in a love motel will cost in the range of $20 to $35, making this one of the more affordable options in Korea. Almost all of the rooms have a refrigerator, water dispenser, bathrobes, clean towels and sheets, along with other basics like shampoo, conditioner, hair dryer, toothbrush, toothpaste, razors, instant coffee and tea.

[ptcPhoto filename=”MuMotel.jpg” title=”Mu Motel” caption=”This one was a little pink for my tastes” position=”center”]

The motels can be a little seedy, offering complementary condoms (sometimes expired, check the dates!) and at least one channel of free porn or a collection of DVDs to borrow.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SweetMotel.jpg” title=”Sweet Motel” caption=”Classy…” position=”center”]

The topic of love motels is controversial in Korea. An article published in a western travel magazine concerning love motels created a strong backlash as some Koreans see them as the dark underbelly of the country, only used by adulterers and prostitutes. We completely disagreed! We thought they were cheap, clean, and quirky – just our style.

Jimjilbangs

Koreans love public bathing. Public baths called jimjilbangs are available in every Korean city and even on their long distance ferries. Jimjilbangs offer gender-segregated showers and bathing areas with numerous hot tubs at varying temperatures; these areas are strictly sans-clothing so anyone afraid of nudity will probably need to skip this option.

[ptcPhoto filename=”FerryBath.jpg” title=”Ferry baths” caption=”Baths on a Korean ferry” position=”center”]

In addition, some jimjilbangs offer an assortment of other facilities including co-ed pools, saunas, restaurants, arcades, movie rooms, internet, and even karaoke.

[ptcPhoto filename=”jimjilbang.jpg” title=”Jimjilbang pool” caption=”A pretty nice pool at a Seoul jimjilbang” position=”center”]

Some westerners we met didn’t realize that you can also sleep at most jimjilbangs. The sleeping area is very basic (just mats on a floor and hard block pillows), but you can’t beat the price, $8 to $15 for 12 hours of access!

Hanoks

Hanoks are Korea’s traditional-style homes. There are no beds in the rooms; instead, you receive mats and blankets to lay down on heated wood flooring called ondol. Hanoks may not be much less expensive than other lodging options, but they’re interesting for a night and in smaller towns they may be the only option.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Hanok.jpg” title=”Hanok” caption=”Dude, Where’s My Bed?” position=”center”]

Couch Surfing

Couch surfing is available in most of the world. For those not in the know, couchsurfing.com is a website that connects travelers with locals and expats that want to share a couch or spare bedroom. There is no fee for this service and it’s a great way to get tips from someone that actually lives in the city you’re visiting. It’s appropriate to bring a small gift as thanks for their hospitality.

We had our first couch surfing experience in Busan, South Korea where Cynthia and Jon hosted us. Not only did they lend us a spare room, their washing machine, kitchen, and adorable dog, but they took us out for a fun evening with other expats. It’s nice to crash for free, but even better to meet such great people.

[ptcPhoto filename=”CouchSurf.jpg” title=”Late night swim” caption=”We may have ended the night by swimming in our skivvies.” position=”center”]

With all of these options, why stay in a boring hotel!

Seoul on a Shoestring

With efficient and inexpensive public transportation, countless sights and excellent food, Seoul was our favorite city in South Korea. Compared to other world cities it has a lot to offer for a small price, and it’s the kind of place where you can spend a month and still have more to explore.

Planning a visit? Here are some things that kept us entertained on a small budget.

Festivals

Keep an eye on the calendar for festivals in Seoul, and you may find opportunities to really mix in with the locals. We were fortunate enough to be in town for the Queer Culture Festival, an annual event that draws attention to gay rights in a country that doesn’t have any legislation concerning the GLBT community. We usually attend Pride Fest in Denver, so it was nice to show our support in Seoul.

There were some differences, though: Denver’s PRIDE is notably more flamboyant, and in Seoul you have to sign up for a photo pass in order to photograph the event. Many people don’t want to be photographed at all, which is understandable considering they can still be fired from jobs for being gay.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SeoulFest.jpg” title=”Seoul QCF” caption=”I was glad to have permission to take this photo.” position=”center”]

This site is a good resource for information on festivals in the city.

Cost: Free

A Day Trip to Suwon

The city of Suwon is a short distance from Seoul and can be reached by metro. There you’ll find the Hwaseong Fortress, an impressive eighteenth century structure with tall brick walls and and commanding gates. If you visit during the heat of summer, hop on the dragon-headed trolley to get out of the sun.

The fortress in itself is worth the trip, but we visited because it’s a good place to try your hand at archery. With more Olympic medals than any other country, the South Koreans can teach us a thing or two about the bow and arrow. And considering how often I missed that target, I need all the help I can get.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Archery.jpg” title=”Suwon Archery” caption=”They should move the target closer.” position=”center”]

Cost: The entry fee for Hwaseong Fortress is ₩1,000 ($1), and the trolley costs ₩1,500 ($1.50). The cost to participate in archery is ₩2,000 ($2) for ten arrows.

Open Spaces

Seoul Forest

Seoul Forest is the perfect place to get outside and go for a run or bike ride. Aside from a ton of green space, it also has an ecological forest, butterfly garden, and waterside park. There’s an insect pavilion, but the majority of its inhabitants have been stuck with pins which makes for a somewhat macabre visit.

One section of the Forest is fenced off for a small population of deer. If you’d like to bring them a treat, there’s a vending machine near the entrance that sells deer biscuits.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SeoulDeer.jpg” title=”Seoul Deer” caption=”They also like dandelions, which you can pick for free.” position=”center”]

Namsan Park

If you’re sightseeing in Seoul, the Tower will probably be near the top of your list. Since you’ll be in the area, be sure to check out Namsan Park as well. It’s a popular spot for panoramic views of downtown and it offers hills of green forest, hiking trails, and a shady walking path edged by a babbling brook.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Namsan.jpg” title=”Namsan” caption=”An afternoon walk in Namsan” position=”center”]

Cost: Free

Folk Villages

Koreans love to share their heritage with visitors, and many of their cultural attractions are offered free of charge. A good example is the Namsangol Hanok Village where you’ll find five traditional Korean homes called hanok. The homes are furnished and show how people from different walks of life would have lived during the Joseon era.

Depending on the day you visit, you can catch moving musical performances, play traditional games, and work on craft projects. We happened to be there during an enactment of a traditional Korean wedding. Given that it was in Korean we didn’t understand most of it, but we got the idea.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KoreaBride.jpg” title=”Korean Bride” caption=”The beautiful bride” position=”center”]

Cost: Free

The Markets

We usually make a beeline for the markets when we arrive to a new city. They always provide some insight into the daily life of a city’s people – from what they wear and eat, to what sorts of products they buy for their homes, to the process of buying and selling itself. Asia’s cities have some of the liveliest, most fascinating markets around, and Seoul is no exception. As a bonus, most marketplaces have street food stalls with cheap, tasty food on the go.

Here are a few we really enjoyed.

Myeongdong Market

Myeongdong, meaning “bright town”, is one of Seoul’s most popular shopping and tourism districts. There are some pricey designer stores there, but you can also find more affordable options for clothing and shoes. Like everywhere else in South Korea, there are skincare stores galore. The area is packed with a younger crowd, and it’s a great place to sip some boba tea and people-watch.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Myeongdong.jpg” title=”Thumbs Up” caption=”The Happy Police” position=”center”]

Namdaemun Market

Only ten minutes’ walk from Myeongdong is what many consider to be the largest traditional market in Korea: Namdaemun. It’s also one of the oldest continuously operating markets, dating back to 1414. The place is huge, so stop in to one of the information booths for a map showing what they sell in each section. Namdaemun may not have the glitz of Myeongdong, but the traditional ambiance more than makes up for its lack of neon lights.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Namdaemun.jpg” title=”Namdaemun” caption=”The main road through Namdaemun Market” position=”center”]

Noryangjin Fish Market

When you smell the fish upon exiting Noryangjin Station, you’ll know you’re in the right place. This market sells over eight hundred types of sea creatures including blue crabs, snapper, clams, octopus, and sea cucumber. Feeling hungry? Pick anything that looks tasty and ask the fishmonger to slice it up into sashimi, or take it upstairs to the row of restaurants where they’ll cook it for you. It shouldn’t be a problem to find English menus so you can see how they prepare each item.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Noryangjin.jpg” title=”Seafood” caption=”You’re sure to find something new.” position=”center”]

Gwangjang Market

Gwangjang is a smaller market where you can see rich silks and traditional Korean clothing on display. It’s also full of food stalls – make sure to try the pajeon (green onion pancake) for a cheap, delicious snack.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Gwangjang.jpg” title=”Pajeon” caption=”Spring onion pancake” position=”center”]

Cost: It’s free to visit all of the markets (as long as you don’t give in and buy souvenirs!).

These ideas will get you started, but there are many free museums and affordable palaces around Seoul as well. Enjoy the Special City!

Twelve Reasons We Love Korean Food: Part Two

Some time ago, Part One
of this series focused on some overarching reasons to love Korean food. But now we get to talk specifics.

#6: Banchan

Banchan, or side dishes, are served free with every meal in Korea. While some restaurants serve the same types of banchan, most are made in-house so the tastes vary according to region, preference, and season. The side dish for which Korea is best known is kimchi, which is made by fermenting cabbage with other ingredients like brine, scallions, spices, ginger, radish, and garlic.

Koreans consume a LOT of kimchi. They’re so far behind in domestic cabbage production, 90% of Chinese cabbages are earmarked for kimchi processing.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Kimchi.jpg” title=”Kimchi” caption=”Varieties of kimchi at a market” position=”center”]

It’s tangy and a little spicy, and you may not like it at first. But I found that kimchi is like a gateway drug into all Korean food. Once you develop a taste for it, it becomes addictive. There is kimchi in Japan as well so I tried to satisfy my cravings there. Sadly, it’s not the same.

Aside from the ubiquitous kimchi, common banchan dishes include fermented bean paste, tiny dried fishes, tofu, pickled radish, bean sprouts, and seaweed.

[ptcPhoto filename=”JeonjuBanchan.jpg” title=”Banchan” caption=”It’s almost a meal in itself” position=”center”]

#5: If There’s Food, There’s Soju (and Beer)

Korea has one of the highest per capita alcohol consumption rates in the world. On one hand, this may not be the best thing for their population. But on the other hand, beer. This is a good place to come if you love beer. Unfortunately like everywhere else in Asia they only have lager. We’re learning not to be so picky.

Also served with many meals is soju, the local rice liquor (aka Korean firewater). Like kimchi, when you first try soju your throat will burn and you’ll wonder what the big deal is. After a while, though, going out for Korean barbecue won’t be the same unless you have an ice-cold bottle of soju to go with it. Be careful with this stuff – one small bottle is usually plenty, and too much of it guarantees you won’t be sightseeing the next day.

We should also mention makgeolli, a milky wheat and rice liquor that is much lighter and sweeter than soju. Makgeolli is brewed all over the country, and we found that different regions had their own brands to offer.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KoreanBusinessman.jpg” title=”makgeolli” caption=”Enjoying some makgeolli with lunch” position=”center”]

All of these drinks are enjoyed at any time of day, but rarely without food. And if you’re in Korea, there’s really no reason not to have food in front of you at all times. Which brings us to:

#4: Soups and Stews

Soup is also served with most meals in one form or another. Served in hot pots or bubbling away atop burners on the tables, they usually include some combination of rice noodles, meats, and vegetables. One type that we enjoyed was the aptly named budae jigae, or “Army Base Stew”. A hodgepodge dish that became popular after the Korean War, it commonly features Spam, hot dogs, baked beans, and other random leftover ingredients from the US Army bases.

[ptcPhoto filename=”EverythingStew.jpg” title=”Army Base Stew” caption=”Army Base Stew” position=”center”]

Another tasty example is sundaeguk, a soup made with Korea’s version of blood sausage. The sundae itself is commonly made of pig intestines stuffed with cellophane noodles, barley, and pork blood. Here it was floated in a spicy tomato broth along with shredded carrots, rice cakes, and spring onion.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Sundae.jpg” title=”Sundae” caption=”The cellophane noodles give the sundae a springy texture” position=”center”]

#3: Bibimbap

A signature Korean meal, bibimbap is a rice bowl topped with vegetables and chili paste. There are many variations of this simple dish, but dolsot bibimbap, made in a stone pot, is our favorite. This kind has raw egg and beef, and the piping hot bowl cooks the ingredients as you eat them. It also fries up the rice at the bottom so there are crunchy bits at the end.

We found this version in Jeonju, a city that claims to have the best bibimbap in Korea.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Bibimbap.jpg” title=”Bibimbap” caption=”Stir it well so everything cooks” position=”center”]

#2: Seafood

Given their geography, Koreans have access to some extremely fresh seafood. It was never difficult to find some delicious water creature to eat. Perhaps our favorite experience was trying sannakji, live octopus. Although raw octopus isn’t the most flavorful option out there, eating it is definitely an interactive cultural experience. Our poor little eight-legged friend was chopped up seconds before arriving at our table (the chef was very fast, so I don’t think he experienced too much pain). The tentacles continued to move for a surprising amount of time as we ate them. Some sesame oil is used to help keep the tentacles from gripping onto your mouth and throat (with limited success). Here’s a video, if you’d like to see them in action.

#1: Korean Barbecue

And here it is. The culinary masterpiece that has me contemplating how we might go back to Korea again – not just for a month, but long term – to partake in the unctuous, salty, spicy, sizzling bits of pork skin and brisket on a more routine basis.

Korean barbecue is fun because it’s interactive. As people who loved to cook at home and no longer have a kitchen, it was nice to have some involvement with our food apart from pointing to something on a menu. The process is usually the same: you choose some type of raw meat, normally some cut of marinated pork or beef. The server will bring it out along with many dishes of banchan and start the grill going, and you munch away while the meat cooks on the grill.

[ptcPhoto filename=”BBQ2.jpg” title=”BBQ2″ caption=”Exhaust is key” position=”center”]

After the first flip, you can cut the meat into smaller bite-sized pieces using the supplied tongs and scissors. Sometimes you’ll have vegetables like potatoes and mushrooms, and at times they’ll throw the kimchi on the grill too. Before long the smoke clears and it’s time to eat! Lettuce is provided to make little wraps, but I prefer to savor each piece with a bit of doenjang (fermented bean paste).

Of course, if you don’t feel like making your own food (or if you in any way look like you don’t know the process), the server will gladly take care of the cooking part. We always wanted to do the cooking, but sometimes it’s best to let them prepare the meat since they have it down to a science.

[ptcPhoto filename=”BBQ1.jpg” title=”BBQ1″ caption=”Our first barbecue meal in Korea” position=”center”]

YUM!

And, Some Things We Didn’t Love

To allay any suspicion that we might be unrealistically enthusiastic about Korean food, I’ll add that we didn’t enjoy every single dish. Our monolinguality occasionally forced us to choose randomly from menus when there weren’t photos or English menus available, a handicap which led to some disagreeable meals. We only had trouble a couple of times, and really, the worst meals were those we intentionally chose to broaden our culinary horizon. Here are a few things we didn’t love as much:

Pig Feet

We kept passing them in the markets, and just looking at them you’d think they’d be pretty tasty. It appears they’ll be meaty claws of crispy pigskin and bits of gristle that are full of flavor and texture. Well, the latter is certainly true. We found that the texture is something like pork-flavored rubber gristle Jell-O. We kept searching for meaty morsels that might be hiding amongst the cartilage and fat, but found very few pieces we could really enjoy. The feet aren’t crispy, but a little soggy with the pig’s own lard and the oil used to cook them.

[ptcPhoto filename=”PigFeet.jpg” title=”PigFeet” caption=”Maybe it’s an acquired taste” position=”center”]

The $23 Vegetable

The small town near the popular Songgwangsa Temple is mostly a stop-and-go for visitors, so there are limited dining options there. We saw a photo at one of the few restaurants and thought, “No problem – that must be chicken or seafood”. What we should have done was test our Lonely Planet Korean skills and ask if it was indeed a meat dish. A short time later we were presented with a plate with some type of plain grilled vegetable. Maybe it was a delicacy, because these few shards of roughage cost ₩25,000 ($23).

[ptcPhoto filename=”25Veg.jpg” title=”Roughage” caption=”We’ll always wonder what exactly this was” position=”center”]

Bingsoo

Traveling in Asia has shown us just how sweet our deserts are in the West. Here they love the azuki bean, a red bean found in deserts throughout the region. A favorite in Korea is bingsoo, a desert of shaved ice, condensed milk, and sweet chewy rice cakes topped off with a generous spoonful of red bean paste. Overall the taste isn’t bad, but sometimes we just want a sugary hot fudge sundae to round out a good meal.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Bingsoo.jpg” title=”Bingsoo” caption=”This serving was much larger than necessary” position=”center”]

Thus concludes our culinary journey of South Korea. If you go, pack a healthy appetite!

South Korea Costs: $105 a Day

Even if it’s way more affordable to travel in South Korea than in, say, Western Europe, we still had a bit of sticker shock after traveling in places like India and Nepal. But Korea brought our expectations of cost back up to a healthy level after getting used to $2 meals and $6 hotel rooms. Maybe we could have cut back in some areas (like nice meals and alcohol), but it was definitely worth the extra costs to indulge in good ‘ole South Korean voracity. After all, when will we ever find another culture that so wholeheartedly embraces meat and liquor?

We experimented with several types of lodging in Korea, which is known for its love motels and bathhouses (called jimjilbangs). While some love motels are seedy (and can be rented by the hour), we found that they were a great value – most offer reasonable rooms for less than $40 a night. Some jimjilbangs offer sleeping rooms and only charge $10-12 for 12 hours in the facility. There are separate rooms for men and women, and the sleeping space includes a simple mat and a block for a pillow. But considering the spas are included, they’re a bargain. We also tried couch surfing for the first time in Korea, and making new friends made free lodging even better. We’ll write an article soon about some of South Korea’s alternative accommodation options.

Most of the sights in South Korea are priced very reasonably, with temples, museums and palaces ranging from $1-3 for admission. Open air markets are some of our favorite attractions, and they don’t cost anything as long as you can resist the temptation to load up on souvenirs. There are also a lot of free (or almost free) parks to explore, like Seoul Forest and the Tomb parks in Gyeongju.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Yorkie.jpg” title=”How much is that doggy” caption=”In retrospect, the ukulele isn’t so impractical” position=”left”]

It should be noted that there are shopping arcades around every corner in Korean cities, and our budget for incidentals grew as a result of our clothes shopping. It was about time to replace some gear anyways, after months of wearing all the same outfits. I also commandeered a ukulele in Seoul. That expense is omitted here since it’s a completely random purchase and doesn’t fairly represent the cost to travel in South Korea.

The daily average cost for our visit was $104.99 (or $52.50 per person per day), so we came in close to our goal of $100 a day.

Here is a breakdown of all our costs during our stay. This table does not include costs to enter the country, which included an $89 flight from Kathmandu (we used miles for this flight and only paid taxes).

Type of Expense Total Cost
(for 35 days)
Daily Average Notes
Lodging $1,205.29 $34.44 Our lodging choices ranged in price from $27 in Gyeongju and on Jeju Island to $54 in Busan.
Food $1,250.76 $35.74 For $6-8, you can usually find a tasty, healthy meal.
Transportation (within country) $524.97 $15 Buses between cities are very cost effective, as are Busan and Seoul’s modern metro systems.
Entertainment $95.85 $2.74 Includes a baseball game, Hwaseong Palace, archery, Seongsan Crater, and Haeinsa Temple.
Alcohol $368.84 $10.54 Bottles of soju (local rice liquor) are only around $1 in convenience stores.
Incidentals $228.87 $6.54 Includes the costs for items like sunblock, internet, clothes and donations.
Grand Total* $3,674.58 $104.99 *Total reflects expenses for two people. It does not reflect costs to enter the country (i.e., visas or airfare)

Some Examples:

Korean BBQ dinner for two – ₩25,000 ($22.50)
1.5L beer from a convenience store – ₩5,750 ($5)
Metro fare, one way – ₩1,200 ($1)
A boba milkshake (try one, they’re good) – ₩4,900 ($4.50)

Twelve Reasons We Love Korean Food: Part One

We’re adventurous eaters by nature – what some might call aspiring foodies. So we felt right at home in South Korea, a country that some speculate has the highest restaurant-to-person ratio in the world. Their feasts of meat and alcohol verge on excess, and by the end even we felt a little guilty for our level of consumption. But when in Seoul…wait, is that the right idiom? Anyways, here are twelve reasons we loved eating in Korea.

#12: It Takes You by Surprise

With the exception of one so-so meal at a Korean restaurant in Nepal, neither of us had tried Korean food before we got to Seoul. Back in Denver we dabbled in a lot of different types of food, from Vietnamese to Ethiopian – but somehow it never occurred to us to try anything from the Land of the Morning Calm. Not having any expectations made our visit that much better, since we couldn’t have guessed it would be so downright wonderful.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Gimbap.jpg” title=”Gimbap” caption=”Udon seafood soup and gimbap (rice rolls)” position=”center”]

We can’t be the only people to have this experience, as Korean fare tends to be some of the most underrated, underrepresented world cuisine. Maybe that’s because Korea is nestled in between two culinary powerhouses – Japan and China – whose food has made it to most dinner tables in one form or another. While both countries’ cuisine has certainly informed gastronomy on the peninsula, Koreans have crafted many dishes that are distinctive and oh-so-tasty.

#11: It’s a Great Value

Eating out always takes its toll on a traveler’s budget, but we found that most restaurants in Korea had reasonable prices. If you stick to bibimbap and stews (more on those later), meals are usually priced around ₩6,000 ($6) each. Side dishes called banchan are included with every meal, adding to the value. Ambling through Korea’s many outdoor markets, you’ll find all sorts of stalls that sell piping hot street food for only a couple of dollars. Want something to wash it all down? Bottles of soju (the local rice liquor) are sold for as little as ₩1,200 ($1.20) at the convenience stores that dot almost every city street.

[ptcPhoto filename=”AffordableFood.jpg” title=”Food at a market” caption=”Markets are full of cheap eats” position=”center”]

#10: It’s Everywhere

Koreans love to eat out, meaning that the next restaurant is always right around the corner. You’ll rarely have an issue finding a place to eat – rather, the problem is always choosing where. On days when Eric and I were feeling indecisive, we might walk around for an hour before finally settling on a restaurant. However, if you’re in Seoul or any of the other major cities, it’s hard to make a bad choice since most eateries seem to have their signature dishes down pat.

It’s also useful to note that many restaurants will convey their specialties by displaying them in tanks out front (in the case of seafood), or by hanging signs with photos of the types of animal they serve. In many cases the animals portrayed will look happy-go-lucky (sometimes they’re even popular characters from children’s shows), much to the chagrin of vegetarians passing by.

[ptcPhoto filename=”RestaurantAnimals.jpg” title=”Restaurant signs” caption=”Can you guess what these restaurants serve?” position=”center”]

#9: It’s Communal

It’s unusual for people to eat out alone at sit-down restaurants in Korea since culturally, the emphasis is on sharing. Eating out is as much about enjoying the company of your friends, family and colleagues as it is about the food. The banchan and main meat dish are always communal, and sometimes the soup will be as well. Normally you’ll be served your own bowl of rice but otherwise it’s a free-for-all, with chopsticks digging through all the plates on the table. Korean barbeque is almost always served in portions large enough for two or more, and some restaurants won’t even seat you if you’re eating alone since you’d be using a table that could seat a larger party. So if you visit Korea alone (or with a vegetarian), you may have a very different experience.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Cheesy.jpg” title=”Cheesy” caption=”Although I could have eaten this cheesy concoction all by myself” position=”center”]

If you do find yourself in Korea without a dining partner, noodle dishes, soups and hotpots can generally be served in smaller portion sizes. There’s also an increasing number of western-style restaurants available, although opting for American or Japanese food might diminish your experience somewhat.

#8: It’s Interactive

A lot of places allow the diners to cook for themselves. There’s something about being involved in the creation of the dishes that makes us appreciate them that much more. If you’re out for stir-fry or barbecue you’ll be presented with a hot grill and a slew of raw ingredients, and the eating doesn’t begin until everything has been cooked to perfection. The anticipation builds along with the aromas that waft throughout the restaurant and spill out onto the street, beckoning new customers to join in on the fun. The servers will dash from table to table, monitoring progress and assisting when necessary. So it’s like everyone in the restaurant is a chef of sorts, taking part in a symphony of stirring, cutting, flipping and frying.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Interactive.jpg” title=”Interactive” caption=”Cutting dinner into bite-sized pieces” position=”center”]

#7: It’s Fresh

One benefit of a place where everyone eats out all the time is that the food turnover is high – meaning that the ingredients are always fresh. You really can taste the difference when the food came from the the butcher (or out of the sea) that very day. There are many fish markets throughout the country where you can pick your fish or seafood while it’s still swimming and watch them prepare it for you. It’s not for the squeamish, but it doesn’t get much fresher than that.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Fresh.jpg” title=”Fresh” caption=”Fresh from the ocean” position=”center”]

Want to see our favorite dishes? Stay tuned for Part Two!