South Korea is somewhat overshadowed on tourist itineraries by its close neighbours Japan and China, although it does attract large numbers of westerners looking to teach English, as these jobs are quite easy to pick up there and provide a good opportunity for exploring the country as well. But South Korea has a lot to offer the independent traveller as a destination in its own right, and with cheap car hire readily available here too it’s an ideal spot to head out for and explore in greater depth.
The cost of living in South Korea is not as high as in Japan, although it’s not the cheapest in SE Asia either. Also, as it’s so near to both China and Japan, South Korea can be made to fit in very well on a trip that also takes in those two countries, as the ferry services between them are regular and reliable.
South Korea is well served by a modern and well-maintained road network, and the scenery is usually impressive. As more than seventy per cent of the country is mountainous the views from the car can often be stupendous, and in late October the blankets of trees that cover their slopes are absolutely spectacular. This also applies in the spring months, when the beautiful cherry blossom is swiftly followed by a blanket of azaleas.
South Korea is so compact that you can cross the country from one coast to the other in less than one day, so on even a relatively short visit you can get to experience most of what it has to offer. Hiking is a particular pastime here, and getting to the start of the many trails by car is a great convenience if you’re looking for full independence and not rely on a package all-inclusive deal that sees you shunted about in groups.
Seoul, South Korea’s capital, has plenty of sights to keep you busy for a day or more and it’s not too congested either. Parking is not a problem here, and even in the ground of the five imposing royal palaces you’ll find space to put the motor before setting out on foot. Some of these palaces go back to the 15th century, and they have the added attraction of being set in some of the most spectacular and gorgeous gardens in the country. Like their Japanese neighbours, the South Koreans are avid horticulturalists and have a passion for exotic blooms, which they regard with an almost religious affection. Some of the finest are to be found in the Changdokkung Palace, and the best of these is the Piwon, a landscaped complex of pavilions and ponds. The Kimchi Museum is also well worth a visit. This ornamental building is dedicated to exploring the history and uses of South Korea’s national dish, the pickled cabbage.
A hire car also allows you easy access to Kyonglu, the ancient capital and one of the top 10 most important cultural sites on earth, and numerous other places of interest such as the Korean Folk Village near Seoul, which is much more interesting than its naff name might suggest.
David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities. Written in conjunction with carhiremarket.com.