Olympic Fever | Korean culture tips for a first time visitor

Olympic Fever | Korean culture tips for a first time visitor

With the 2018 Winter Olympics only a matter of weeks away, some of you are already feeling the Olympic Spirit, some of you are even heeding the call and departing soon for Korea.

Why we think it's a special place and what you should note before you go

Whether your first foray into Asia or simply a re-introduction to the region via the Korean Peninsula, it's easy to overlook just how special Korea really is.

Here are our top picks for themes and perceptions to give you a head-start in enjoying your vacation and to get that little bit more out of your trip to Korea.

Korea is, by its very existence, an inspiring place

Think about it...

Sandwiched between China and Japan, two vastly larger populations of people, and experiencing a great deal of conflict from empires past and present, the fact that Korea has maintained its language and culture is almost a miracle.

We won't get into the minutiae of phonemes, but suffice to say that the Korean system of writing has become unique to the region.

Over thousands of years, the use of ancient Chinese characters has become a basic part of written communication in Japan.

Korea, on the other hand, uses its own unique set of actual characters to spell things out in a way that is far more familiar to those of you reading this very article (in English).

Korean food is a regional phenomena

Chinese and Japanese food have become staples to many people throughout the developed world, we tend to have an understanding of at least the basic dishes.

While there are similarities, the fresh, tasteful food of Korea is something even we hadn't expected until first arriving in Busan in 2010.

Korean food can be unbelievably spicy, but it is always flavourful.

So much so, that Korea is a popular destination for Japanese tourists, simply so they can try the exciting food!

Our favourites are relatively simple: The stone pot served bibimbap or a side of spicy kimchi, a spiced, fermented cabbage dish that is traditionally made in clay pots, buried in the earth!

Soju is possibly the world's most popular alcohol

A short few years ago, there were some estimations that Jinro Soju was the top selling spirit on the planet, selling as much as three times the volume of even old Uncle Smirnoff.

Some people swear they can't discern the taste from rubbing alcohol, but with such a wide range of alcohol-contents available and so many outlets to try, including home-brewed, there's surely a Soju for everyone!

Even if your first sip isn't for you, make sure you try at least a couple of different brands before throwing in the towel.

If you are brave enough to try the home-brew sold by street vendors, maybe look for a local suggestion as to the food-safety or just limit yourself to one bottle (of street-side Soju) during your entire visit.

How to drink like a local

A sure-fire way to make local friends is to ask for somac, which sounds a lot like 'Sonic'. We're referring to the little blue hedgehog of Sega fame here.

Basically, you just tip your shot glass of soju into your pint of beer and wash down your spicy meal en route to a little karaoke!

BBQ is a whole experience

Back to food - it's possible that you've tried a local Korean barbeque in your home town, but we're willing to bet the experience is rather different when you show up in Seoul.

The table should feature an extractor fan and you'll have to cook your own meats. Don't be alarmed, just go for it and don't be afraid to use the scissors!

Skip the chopsticks and just use a leaf to make little wraps, or, try a whole new level of chopstick to master...

The chopsticks are Level 10 difficulty

Back to culture again, the chopsticks are another throwback from ancient history.

In days of empires past, it became pretty popular to try and kill the reigning dignitary with some manner of poison.

The poisons of the time tended to be very reactive chemicals and a popular way to thwart such attempts on royalty was to use silver in the manufacture of utensils.

The metal reacts and discolours quite readily in the presence of such toxins and it would rapidly become clear that your meal was unfit for consumption / it was time to get new friends.

With time, the style was passed on to the wealthy and later to the country as a whole.

Korean chopsticks are just that little bit trickier to manage, as the round, slick metal tips can be more difficult to master than what you might have experienced elsewhere.

Have fun in PyeongChang

Korea is a fantastic and exciting place, often overlooked for its renown neighbours.

You're bound to have an exciting time and the festivities surrounding the Olympics should make it all the more enjoyable, even for those of you without seats to view a competition.

We'd love to hear about your trip to Korea and we're certainly here to help answer your questions about the practicalities of travel to either the North or the South.

Share with us on social media or, more discreetly, via direct message

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