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South Korea is a fascinating country with an even more fascinating history.
They have interesting customs that can be a bit shocking to Westerners, and they lead the world in several areas, despite being a relatively new country.
But what is South Korea famous for exactly?
I’m glad you asked. Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
- TL;DR — What is South Korea known for?
- What is South Korea famous for producing?
- South Korea’s famous foods
- Famous places in South Korea
- Fascinating South Korea facts
- Bad facts about South Korea
TL;DR — What is South Korea known for?
South Korea is a sprawling tourist attraction with a rich history that dates back to the middle of the 20th century.
It formed after World War II when the peninsula it sits on split from its less-friendly neighbor, North Korea.
Despite being a modest-sized, relatively new country, it’s already staked its claims as a leader of the technology and entertainment world.
Not only is it home to Samsung, the largest mobile phone producer in the world, it’s also known worldwide as the originator of K-Pop (Korean Pop).
Yes, this means that South Korea is responsible for the BTS-mania that’s taken over the United States. But whether or not you celebrate them or begrudge them for introducing the world to this ultra-famous pop group, there’s a lot more to South Korea than meets the eye…
What is South Korea famous for producing?
South Korea is the 7th largest car producer in the world. In 2020, the country pushed out 3.51 million vehicles, despite the pandemic.
If you’re from the West, you probably already know South Korea is known for Kia Motors and Hyundai. But the country currently has five car manufacturers in all.
The other three are Renault Samsung, GM Korea, and Ssangyong Motors.
Unlike North Korea, which prioritizes military vehicles over everyday cars, South Korea is a robust supplier of non-military vehicles that are enjoyed by people all over the world.
South Korea’s cars are also lauded for being some of the safest vehicles on the road.
South Korea’s leading export is electronics. It’s been a major player in the electronic world for many decades, generating billions of dollars for itself.
Samsung is responsible for most of the company’s electronic revenue. It produces everything from computer chips to laptops to televisions. But its real bread and butter are smartphones and tablets.
Apple might have been the first to launch a smartphone in 2007, but Samsung quickly caught up. In recent years, it’s proven itself to not only be Apple’s fiercest competitor, but it even surpassed Apple in total number of phones produced.
Fun fact: Samsung actually produced many of Apple’s computer chips for its iPhones and iPads in the past. And rumor has it, they may start producing parts for Apple’s new M1 chips.
So if you think about it, they win either way.
It wouldn’t make sense for South Korea to produce more smartphones than any other country, then not have the internet network to support them.
It’s only fitting that, at one point, the country boasted the fastest mobile internet speeds in the world as well. That said, recently the United Arab Emirates surpassed South Korea for mobile internet speeds, bumping them down to number two.
Find more statistics at Statista
The U.S. doesn’t even fall in the top 10.
According to Statista, 98% of South Koreans are connected to the internet, which beats also beats the U.S., which has roughly 90.8% in 2021.
Part of what makes South Korea’s internet so fast and accessible is thanks to the Korean government. Because it strives to be a technologically sound society, the government subsidizes internet service and laptops for impoverished citizens and optimizes its networks for maximum output.
If you’re a digital nomad looking for a country with blazing internet speeds, South Korea should be top on your list.
Speaking of travel jobs, South Korea is one of the best countries for English teachers. Many schools provide accommodation, so most of what you earn goes straight to savings.
There are also plenty of sites to teach English to Korean students online.
South Korea’s famous foods
The world is full of fine cuisine, but South Korea’s food is on a whole other level. As a country that prioritizes social culture, its food has naturally benefitted. In South Korea, you can find everything from street food to comfort food to traditional Korean delicacies.
Kimchi is the unofficial food of South Korea. It’s a dish made of fermented cabbage and spices. It’s not only delicious, but also calorie-friendly and great for gut health.
South Koreans have just over 200 varieties of the dish, which can be eaten as a side dish or as a main course. The dish is served with practically every meal, so it’s probably best that there’s a variety of flavors to choose from.
Okay, alcohol technically isn’t food, but since it’s edible, it still counts.
Asian countries are known to be on the conservative side, and while South Korea has customs that might seem so compared to Western countries, its stance on drinking boils down to…it’s five o’clock somewhere.
Seriously. Koreans have traditions of drinking all throughout the day.
In the past, farmers drank a special wine with breakfast.
Nowadays, drinking plays an interesting role in the workplace. Korean organizations often eat meals and drink together to enhance networking and social relationships.
Sometimes employers even ask about alcohol consumption in interviews to make sure a candidate will fit in (and there may even be an “alcohol interview” to test how they can hold their liquor).
Up until recently, there was a problem with supervisors forcing employees to go out drinking. Thankfully, courts have since ruled this a “violation of human dignity”.
Public intoxication also isn’t as frowned like it is in the U.S. As long as you’re not trying to operate heavy machinery or put anyone in danger, it’s basically a free for all.
Hangover stew (Haejangguk)
It’s only fitting that a country with such lax views on drinking would have a simple, easy, delicious remedy for hangovers — the famous Korean hangover stew.
Even if you’re not a heavy drinker, you can benefit from hangover stew. It’s a hearty cabbage-based soup, flavored with various spices, broths, and meats. Mmm, get in ma’ belly!
The jury is still out on whether hangover stew actually helps alleviate your hangover, but there’s no harm in giving it a try.
Korean fried chicken
Last, but certainly not least, you can’t think about South Korea’s food without mentioning their chicken. Especially their fried chicken.
You don’t often think of fried chicken as a dish that can be improved upon, but South Korean people have done just that.
Compared to the West, their chicken is somehow both lighter and crispier than anything you could find on our side of the pond. This results from breading the chicken in a light cornstarch mixture and double frying it. Then there’s the seasoning that takes advantage of their love for concentrated, spicy flavors.
There are numerous ways to batter and fry Korean fried chicken, but many people opt to dress the chicken in delicious sauces after cooking.
For an insider look into the interesting foods you can find in South Korea, check out this video:
Famous places in South Korea
South Korea is a perfect mix of gorgeous, futuristic architecture and natural, scenic views. Despite only having 51 million citizens, it’s packed to the brim with interesting places for tourists to visit.
Seoul isn’t just South Korea’s capital and largest city, it’s one of the largest cities in the entire world. With 10 million citizens, it packs nearly one-fifth of South Korea’s population in just 233 square miles.
It’s also one-third of the Seoul Capital Area, which is shared with the Incheon Metropolis and the Gyeonggi Province. Together, these metropolises house 25 million citizens, or half of the entire population. With that many people to keep happy and entertained, it’s no wonder that it boasts so many inviting attractions.
The city buzzes with nightlife and leisure activities, such as cafes, museums, and concert halls.
The sleepy, shiny skyscrapers give visitors a glimpse into the future, as the architecture is light years ahead of much of the developed world.
Then there are the historic areas that give visitors a glimpse into its tumultuous military history.
There’s so much to do in Seoul that many travel agents suggest planning to stay at least a week to take in the most important attractions. But even that would just scratch the surface.
Huwon Park (The Secret Garden)
Despite South Korea’s embrace of modern times, it still preserves many historical landmarks that provide deep insights into its rich and varied past.
One such landmark is the Huwon Secret Garden, located at the Changdeokgung Palace.
The Changdeokgung Palace served as the residence for several kings and rulers between the 17th and 19th centuries, long before South Korea became an official country.
Because of fervent preservation efforts, much of the palace’s original charm and character remain intact.
But it’s the Huwon Garden that is the real star of this show. Used as a relaxation ground for the royal family, the garden was originally a secret little piece of paradise. The family often used it to hold banquets and other formal gatherings, along with military drills.
Unlike the current city of Seoul, which has fully embraced modern times, the Huwon Garden is a natural landscape that builders created to work with the natural givings of the land. It’s the home of beautiful, 300-year-old trees, on-site rivers, and cool stone formations.
Fascinating South Korea facts
South Koreans age differently
For much of the world, gauging a person’s age is as simple as counting the number of years they’ve been alive. But it’s a little different for people born in South Korea.
Instead of counting the years after a person’s first birthday, South Koreans are one year old on the day of their birth. This puts them a year ahead of babies born in different countries.
And if that isn’t enough of a headscratcher, get this — everyone turns a new age on the New Year, not their actual birth date. Crazy, right?
4 is an unlucky number
Superstition around certain numbers is nothing new. In the West, the number 13 is considered bad luck. It’s the reason that many buildings don’t have a 13th floor and why some people believe that if you’re born on the 13th, you’re cursed.
Well, in South Korea, 4 is the number to avoid. In their language, four is closely related to the word that means death, so they see it as a harbinger for their demise.
To avoid these feelings, many buildings in South Korea don’t have a fourth floor. Instead, it’s replaced with an F, an abbreviation of four. But even that’s not enough to ward off fears.
To this day, it’s extremely hard for real estate agents to sell apartment buildings with multiple fours in the address.
South Korea is a popular plastic surgery destination
Globally, Asians are known for their dewy, glowing skin which is achieved by rigorous skincare routines and relatively healthy diets.
And South Korea has aligned itself as one of the most popular plastic surgery destinations in the world, with over 600 clinics in Seoul alone.
South Koreans have insanely high beauty standards and are obsessed with being perfect. Because of this, they’re not afraid to go under the knife to achieve their perfect look.
And it’s not just adults, either. Teenagers as young as 16 are known to make a few adjustments before they’ve even reached adulthood.
Because of South Korea’s fixation with looking perfect and the widespread access to medical clinics, it’s one of the safest places in the world to get cosmetic surgery.
Bad facts about South Korea
As awesome as South Korea is, there are pros and cons to living in any country.
Its prioritization of social culture has unfortunately led to a widespread alcoholism problem. The average South Korean takes just over 13 shots of liquor a week.
Drinking is free for all. People are allowed and encouraged to drink anywhere and everywhere as long as they’re not putting themselves or others in harm’s way.
This has led many people to develop a dependency on alcohol that, unfortunately, isn’t always easy to shake.
There’s always a threat of war
South Korea shares the Korean Peninsula with North Korea, but the bodies that govern them couldn’t be more different.
North Korea is a fiercely militaristic state where its citizens get very little personal freedom and are at the mercy of their leader, Kim Jong-un.
Meanwhile, South Korea is a democratic, bustling conglomerate of richly cultured people.
It’s no surprise, then, that these two countries are still at odds with each other, decades after they split off into separate countries.
And while they’ve technically been under a truce since 1953, North Korea constantly wields its military power to make threats to its neighbor to the south. Whether or not it’s an intimidation tactic or an unfulfilled promise remains to be seen.
If you’re visiting, it’s just another reason to pick up a good travel insurance plan!
Mitch is your typical nomadic backpacker. Or at least, he was. But after stopping in Colombia to take “one week” of salsa lessons, his life took a sharp left turn. He met a cute Colombian girl in dance class, fell in love, and got married. Over half a decade has passed since he left his career to travel the world as a digital nomad, and he’s never looked back.
Nowadays, he’s the blogger behind Project Untethered—where he runs an awesome email newsletter and Youtube channel teaching adventure-craved wanderlusters how to escape the rat race, earn money from anywhere, and build an “untethered life”.
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Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).