How To Get Out And Explore Rural Korea

For the majority of people visiting or traveling through South Korea, Seoul (or maybe Busan) is the extent of their experience. These ultra-modern cities offer a great deal to a person wanting to experience today’s Korea, but offers very little if you are wanting to experience something more authentic. Don’t get me wrong, Seoul and Busan are fantastic cities. They provide endless entertainment and a wide variety of cultural elements all rolled into one. Cultures cross pollinate and blend in major cities and this happens in Korea in a really interesting way. For exploring more of South Korea, we recommend exiting these major cities in favor of the more remote and secluded provinces like Gangwon or Jeolla if you are interested in getting a feel for what Korea is really like if you strip away the imported cars, high fashion, and high rise apartments.

HOW TO EXPLORE RURAL KOREA


 

Rural Korea, Real Korea?

One of the most obvious differences between urban and rural Korea is landscape. Korea has roughly 731 billion mountains. I’m not sure about this number’s accuracy, but it’s pretty close. Since it is difficult to build a large city on mountains, the largest cities are naturally located in the biggest valleys. Once you leave these metropolital areas, though, you’re guaranteed to be on a winding road or rail that has to avoid the 14 trillion mountains or tunnel through. Luckily, the mountains here are beautiful. In every pocket and each valley you’ll find little communities and small cities where life has a markedly different feeling.

Hadong –  Gyeongsangnamdo

After you bow to the overwhelming number of mountains, you’ll notice that travel is slowed. To go anywhere in Korea you have to avoid mountains and this adds time. This change of pace is reflected in the attitude of Koreans living in more rural provinces as well. The bali-bali (“hurry hurry”) culture that is written across every high-heeled woman sprinting through Gangnam’s face is forgotten (to an extent- don’t get me started about taxis). People are more relaxed and willing to share a smile. Very rarely have we found the same hospitality and warmth from Koreans that we see daily living in Jeollanam-do in larger cities.

Seoraksan National Park – Gangwondo

The food is also much better outside of Seoul. While you won’t find the selection of foreign food that you might enjoy in the city, Korean food greatly improves as you move south. The seafood near the southern coast is fresh and delicious but all forms of Korean cuisine seem to be more flavorful outside of Seoul. This is especially true when you can find out what city is famous for certain foods. Andong is a city we visit frequently for their awesome cultural heritage sites as well as being the home to Andong Jjimdak, our favorite Korean food. Likewise, bibimbap lovers should visit Jeonju, dakgalbi fanatics should pilgrimage to Chuncheon, and those looking for seafood should visit just about any southern coastal city. You’ll be amazed by how much better the food outside of Seoul is.

Andong – Gyeongsangbukdo


Getting There

Public transportation in Korea is exceedingly simple and typically very easy to navigate. Leaving the city may seem daunting and extra foreign with language barriers, but it generally proves itself to be easier than you’d expect. The main modes of transportation when lacking your own wheels is train or bus, but there are also ferries, taxis, and airplanes.

Buses

Buses are probably the most commonly used transportation and the network of bus routes crisscrossing South Korea is massive. Nearly any city can be reached by one of the two bus terminals in Seoul, and reserving a ticket is very easy. With no Korean language skills, you can generally book a ticket just knowing the name of the city you want to go to. Time tables are generally in English as well, so times can be determined with pen and paper. I’ve also found many bus terminal workers to have enough English skills to assist you. Like travel in most of the world, showing up and being patient will typically lead to you getting whatever ticket you need. The same can be said for trains and planes with the added benefit of easy online booking. You can check out bus information online in English HERE, but this website does not allow you to book in advance. THIS site is used for making reservations, unfortunately it is not in English and can be difficult to navigate. We recommend getting help from someone who can speak Korean, or just go to the bus terminal the day of and buy your tickets. Most rural city destinations will not be completely sold out.

A very rural bus stop. You will likely never have to use these. Buses and taxis are readily available in even the most rural towns.

Trains

Train tickets can easily be purchased in English from THIS site and private airlines operating out of the smaller airports will have their own booking sites, usually in English as well. When travelling by train there are several options. The KTX is Korea’s high speed bullet train. By far the fastest, this option is also the most expensive and has the fewest stops throughout the country. All of the trains are of about the same comfort level if you’re riding Economy, so if you have time, riding the Mugunghwa will take a little longer but save you about half of the cost of a KTX ticket. There are other options like the ITX and Nuriro, but they aren’t as common. One of the benefits of train travel is getting to see the countryside while you’re travelling. Because of the mountains you’ll spend a good amount of time in tunnels, but there’s nothing quite like passing through farm country and terraced rice fields on a train.

Countryside views from the train The KTX train

There’s much more to Korea than just Seoul. Like most countries, the experiences you’ll have in the rural areas among normal everyday people will be enriching and memorable. Leaving the comforts of Seoul is not only very simple, but also rewarding. Korea is diverse and beautiful outside of the concrete jungle. There are even sunsets and stars at night (I know Seoulites have forgotten about the existence of such things, but we almost cried the first time we saw them after leaving Seoul). If you’re in Korea or planning to visit, please make an effort to explore beyond the capitol city and Busan. We moved south after our first year and we’ve never looked back. Sure, there are things we miss in the big city, but there’s a magic to Korea that exists in the rural areas; a heartbeat that is uniquely Korean. I don’t care how you do it.

RYAN

 

2017-03-06T09:21:18+00:00 By |Guides|18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Hallie June 27, 2015 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    Great post. I love getting out of the cities and just enjoying the peace and quiet. I shared this on The Soul of Seoul Facebook page. I hope more people get out and about. ^^

    • Hedgers Abroad June 27, 2015 at 2:49 pm - Reply

      Thanks for sharing! The more rural areas are definitely worth checking out ?

  2. Laura June 30, 2015 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    I love taking weekend trips out of Seoul, and this post offers some great ideas that I will be adding to my bucketlist. I always love reading your blog, so thanks you two!

  3. Lindsay @ The Neverending Wanderlust July 1, 2015 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    What a fantastic post! I live in Daegu but do try to get my butt out of the city to see more of the country at every opportunity. It gives me hope that you say that traveling to these smaller places is easier than one would think (as it makes me nervous sometimes)! I haven’t seen the HTicket site before, so THANK YOU for passing that along ^^

  4. usaabroad July 3, 2015 at 11:19 am - Reply

    I couldn’t agree more with this post! I lived in a semi rural part of gyeonggido and the food was some of my favorite in all of Korea! There is so much natural beauty in Korea AND people are nicer outside of Seoul! (Like any major city I suppose)

    • Hedgers Abroad July 13, 2015 at 11:31 am - Reply

      Glad you’ve been able to experience what we’re talking about! It really is a different Korea outside of the cities. Where do you live and what food would you suggest to anyone wanting to see your corner of Korea?

  5. Duke Stewart July 3, 2015 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this, Ryan. I agree that the rural parts of Korea are home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. The train rides along the south coast are also some of the most beautiful. The food varies according to the towns and yeah, that Chuncheon Dak Galbi is pretty fantastic! Personal experience dictates that.

    Anyway, keep the informative posts coming. Loving it over here!

    • Hedgers Abroad July 13, 2015 at 11:34 am - Reply

      Thanks, Carl. Blogs like yours have been great for finding inspiration whether it’s landscapes, culture, or regional cuisine. There is so much to see in Korea’s countryside and exploring the remote areas of this country has been one of our greatest pleasures. Thanks for the compliments, and keep the posts coming on you page as well. We’ve always found it to be rich with inspiration.

  6. Wendy Flor July 5, 2015 at 11:30 pm - Reply

    Wow! My 9 years (yes!) here in Korea is just within Seoul and I feel guilty of all of the above. I do feel that Korea’s attraction is its fast-paced environment and lifestyle and its technology. But looking at the landscapes in this post… makes me wish I experience some of them. The most rural I experienced of Korea was in Cheonan. My son had a movie shooting there (short film only) and I felt lost. We were accommodated in a small inn and I panicked already hahaha. The location shoot was all fields. So there! That’s my most rural experience of Korea. Tsk

    • Hedgers Abroad July 13, 2015 at 11:37 am - Reply

      Hahaha, that’s really funny. Seoul is easy to get caught up in, and most of our friends that live in the big city are more than hesitant to leave the confines of the modern capitol. We thought getting accustomed to cities without subways and foreign food would be difficult, but it’s made us appreciate trips back to Seoul that much more. Life and travel outside of the major cities is more difficult, but the rewards are well worth the effort. I’m glad you got to see Cheonan! We visited there when we lived in Seoul, too. Really nice area with a great Independence Hall.

  7. Nathan Anderson July 6, 2015 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    Funny you mention almost crying after seeing the stars again, I felt the same way! It’s amazing how clearer the skies are outside of those big cities.

    The essence of Korea is really in the rural areas. As you mentioned, that’s where the food is the best and the people are the kindest. It’s such a vastly different experience from walking around the cool areas in Seoul or Busan. Hopefully more people will be inspired to visit the countryside after reading this 🙂

    I’m really excited, I’m probably going to be spending Chuseok in Jeonju this year (I’ve never been before). My goal is to eat so much bibimbap I can’t stand. Wish me luck!

    • Hedgers Abroad July 13, 2015 at 12:23 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Nathan. We hope people are inspired is see the rest of this country. Each area has its own charm and personality that we find to be well worth the visit to almost any city in Korea. Being outside of the city, though, like you said is a game changer. We love being able to enjoy clear nights in the country side or from out rooftop. We never really had storms or natural phenomena living in Seoul, so it’s a welcome change.

      Let us know how you like Jeonju! We have had the city at the top of our “Must visit” list for a while now, but we keep putting it off. I’m sure we’ll love it, but right now we are in beach-camping-mode. Maybe this fall!

  8. The angles of your photos are so interesting! Love the bus photo.

    I like that you say food tastes better OUTSIDE of Seoul. Whenever I get to leave my “rural” city, I can’t wait to stuff my face with “western food”, thus almost always avoiding Korean food for a few days. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten “korean food” in Seoul.

    If I’m not driving my car around Korea, I prefer trains because of the toilet facilities, and the fact that they generally have a nicer view and more leg room. However Korea is awesome in terms of comfortable buses, especially the ones with the big fat seats.

    • Hedgers Abroad July 13, 2015 at 12:29 pm - Reply

      Absolutely agree. While we used to eat Korean while in Seoul mixed with expensive Western food; now it’s almost all foreign food because we wouldn’t bother with most of it because we have Korean food every day down south.
      We also have a car and have enjoy it immensely, but it’s nice to let someone else drive from time to time. We always take the train when we are going to Seoul because there’s just no reason we’ve found to bother with parking and driving when Seoul has such great transportation.
      And you’re right, the buses aren’t bad, but the big luxury version ones are quite nice. I prefer trains to skip towns and lights, but the buses are on par as long as they have their a/c or heating settings correct. Have you ever been on a bus in winter cross-country where they blast the heat and everyone ends up losing 10lbs from sweat? Not my favorite.

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  10. Helena April 13, 2016 at 1:55 am - Reply

    “For ton”? I’m guessing that’s a typo but can’t figure out what it’s supposed to be.

    • Hedgers Abroad April 13, 2016 at 2:14 am - Reply

      Thank you! I hope we’ve corrected this mistake and it is clear now. Lets us know if it’s not!

      • Helena April 13, 2016 at 5:13 am

        Yes! All clear. 🙂

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