Travel Matters Ltd

29th March 2021

South Korea – a combination of Modernism and Ancient History

South Korea, in the heart of East Asia, is one the continent’s economic and cultural leaders. It is visited by millions of Asian tourists yearly, although it is still not as developed for international tourism compared to popular Asians destinations for Westerners such as Thailand or Japan.

I visited South Korea in April 2019. It was my first trip to an Asian country! Why did I choose this destination? That’s easy – Think ancient temples, spotlessly clean streets, cherry blossom, modern skyscrapers, Korean cuisine and a country enriched with history (and let’s not forget premium skincare).

One of the first things I noticed in the capital city Seoul, where I spent my hotel stay, was the Koreans’ sense of community. As an English & French native and speaking fluent Spanish, I was quite surprised to find out most Koreans do not speak any European languages! It was a challenge to speak with them but so rewarding, as it was the first time I went to a country where I could not properly communicate with a local community. It is important here to respect Koreans, to be patient in understanding each other and using body language.  

However, the locals are so welcoming and will help you if you get lost in the City. They are not used to seeing Westerners, so they feel privileged to see responsible visitors come to their small, traditional restaurants and are eager to share their culture.  

(Travel Matters Tip: Koreans love their spicy food, so if they tell you that Ramen is not very spicy, watch out, you may need a few glasses of water on the side!)

A contentious topic that I was determined to understand a little more about was regarding the use of the Hanbok (or Chosŏn-ot – a traditional clothing worn during formal occasions) by tourists –

Do you think international tourists should be given a choice to wear this traditional clothing?

Is it considered as cultural appropriation?

The Hanbok (pictured below) is an ancient traditional attire consisting of the dress, headgear and accessories. I asked locals regarding this subject, and whilst everyone can have their own opinion, Koreans mostly do not mind it. In fact, they encourage travellers to try on the dress as they feel proud it is part of their national culture and they love to share this with foreigners. Indeed, it is very common to pass by small shops that offer a day Hanbok rental!

So, is South Korea on your bucket list of responsible travels?

(Sophie travelled to South Korea in April 2019)

By Karen Simmonds
29th March 2021