South Korea from a Solo Woman Traveler’s Perspective

Near the start of this South Korean trip report by solo traveler, kja, she warns us readers that the report is quite long and we should “feel free to skim”.

All due respect to kja, you should NOT take her up on that offer.

The report is long, but it is written with such style, and chock full of so much useful and interesting information that choosing not to skim doesn’t really take any effort – as kja just draws you in from the start and never lets go.

She begins the report with an extensive and very well written list of “What I like least” and “What I liked most”, including:

Liked Least:

In many areas, seemingly incessant and frankly unnecessary, irritating noises. Music blaring, people shouting, cartoon-like commercials and announcements (SO irksome, whether auditory or visual!), honking cars, sounds of hacking and spitting, etc., all (of course) against the “usual” street noises one encounteres anywhere. I remember one hike when — just as I was thinking about how nice it was to experience a few moments of silence, broken only by an occasional bird call or the rustle of the leaves as a breeze caught them — my thoughts were interrupted by blaring karyoke from a radio somebody was carrying. Seriously? And if someone is going to share his/her music with everyone else, does it really need to be Korean-dubbed disco music, decades-old pop music, or “White Christmas” (in May)?!? Sigh.

The seeming absence of consensually acknowledged rules of the road other than stopping at a red light, so that just about every time I took a taxi, it was with the sense – no, make that the certain knowledge!!! – that I was risking my life.

The lack of a top-is-north convention for maps. (I think the convention may be that the top is what you are facing, but I’m not certain.) I didn’t realize that it wasn’t top-is-north until well into my trip, but I was soon aware that I was having great difficulty using publicly posted maps. That was disconcerting, as I am usually pretty good with maps.

Liked Most:

the food! One of the few words I learned before going to Korea was “delicious,” and I definitely had opportunities to use it! More often than not, I sat, laughing, as plate after plate after plate (“banchan” or small dishes) was put before me, sometimes even before I ordered. I don’t have the most adventurous of palates, but OMG, just about every dish was amazingly delicious!

the attentiveness of bus drivers throughout Korea. There were, at most, only a few times when a bus driver failed to make absolutely certain that I got off at the place I wanted to go, and most of them also made sure I knew which direction to walk once I got off.

Public toilets. Seriously! Even in the middle of forested parks, public toilets were common, clean, and generally had Western-style toilets. I only came upon one public WC that had only squat toilets; a few had both Western and squat options, most had Western only. And almost all had plenty of toilet paper and soap. 🙂 There were even a surprising number of toilets, even in parks, that had those fancy Japanese toilets with heated, padded seats and a set of controls that provide all sorts of options. Awesome!

From that executive summary overview, kja delves into the planning and the details of her day-to-day experiences. Throughout the account of her trip she, in my opinion, achieves a near perfect balance – just enough description of the minutiae and background stories to help us appreciate the extraordinary moments of the trip and her sense of the overall experience, and South Korea as a whole.

Whether or not you are planning a trip, or plan to plan a trip to South Korea, this thread is well worth a read. And who knows, if South Korea wasn’t on your to-do list before, it might be after you read this.

Read the thread in its entirety: 4 wonderful solo weeks in South Korea

Image: “Songgwangsa-Temple, in South Korea” by Heui Jong Kim. CC BY 2.0.

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