One of my highlights of the exchange programme is being able to explore new places in South Korea while studying. During vacations, one would usually visit Seoul, the capital, but in my four months stay, I was able to look around other cities and immerse myself in the rich culture and heritage of Korea.
The public transportation system is efficient and it is easy to commute around with navigation applications such as Naver Maps and Kakao Maps. The main transportation options is the KTX (train), subway, bus and taxi. For travelling to other cities, you can take the KTX or intercity bus. The KTX is more expensive than the bus but it provides a smoother and faster journey. Within the city, you can take buses, subway or taxis. In places where the subway is not accessible, taxis are convenient and relatively affordable especially when travelling in groups.
There is always something to see at the traditional markets which are bustling with activity during the weekends. A wide range of products ranging from local produce, street food to textile products is sold here. While it has similar vibes with wet markets in Singapore; filled with chatter, the traditional markets here occupy a much wider space, and you may get lost in the rows of stalls and intersections.
I tried many authentic Korean dishes during my exchange in Korea. Besides the obligatory KBBQ tasting, I have tried and highly recommend unique dishes such as the stir-fried octopus (nakji-bokkeum 낙지볶음) and cold noodles (naengmyeon 냉면).
The main dish always came with side dishes (banchan 반찬) such as kimchi and yellow pickled radish. The offerings differs depending on the eatery and region in Korea.
One of my favourite snack is the Korean style sweet pancake with brown sugar filling (hotteok 호떡). This snack and other well-known ones like spicy rice cakes (tteokbokki 떡볶이) are comfort food for the locals.
There are also cafes on “every” corner of Korea just as we see bubble tea shops everywhere in Singapore. They are a source of fuel for people, supplying their daily fix of caffeine.
Festivals are organised to celebrate different occasions and attract attendees of different age groups. I was able to enjoy some of them such as the Jinhae Gunhangje (Naval Port) festival, Buddha’s Birthday and Pohang International Fireworks Festival. Everyone is welcome to soak in the atmosphere free of charge with the cost being only for transport, food and special workshops. The festivals consisted of a combination of parades, food trucks and activity booths where there are games or crafting workshops.
1. Jinhae Gunhangje
With the trees swaying gently and petals drifting with the wind, there was a contagious cheerines in the air. Festival-goers enjoyed the themed food on sale and the abundance of photospots. The navy marching along the streets amidst the stunning display of cherry blossoms with the crowd cheering was also an unforgettable sight.
2. Lotus Lantern Festival
In Singapore, Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated as Vesak Day. The festival brought together temples from around Korea in celebration of the special occasion. Roads became car-free and replaced with booths and a stage for the festivities. With more tourists visiting since borders have reopened, there was a booth specially for international participants to join in a lantern making activity with the guidance of members from the temple.
3. Pohang International Fireworks Festival
The annual competition known to host innovative displays by companies from around the world drew a sizeable crowd for the spectacular fireworks display.
There are many beautiful walking trails and hikes around Korea where you see many senior groups enjoying the view while having some exercise. The weather in spring was also perfect for taking walks as you can feel a nice breeze while enjoying the serene and tranquil surroundings.
I shared about my experiences in the posts below:
① Discovering South Korea – Travel Highlights (this)