So You're Heading to Seoul: How to Prepare for a Trip to South Korea
At Seoul's Gyeongbokgung Palace
Forget "Gangnam Style" for a moment and consider what influence the tiny country of South Korea has on the planet. Own anything by Samsung or LG? Ever tried Taekwondo or tasted Red Mango yogurt? These are all Korean contributions to the world. Finally more airlines are figuring out that Seoul is awesome enough to warrant nonstop flightslike American Airlines' nonstop from Dallas-Ft. Worth starting tomorrow (May 9).
If you're not scared off by North Korea's threatsand you shouldn't be because everything is progressing normal as pie in South Koreaand you're hopping a flight to ICN soon, then there are a few steps you can take to prepare for a trip to Seoul:
· Register with the State Department's STEP Program
STEP, or "Smart Traveler Enrollment Program," used to by the less jazzy title of "State Department Travel Registration," but its function is still the sameto make the US embassies to which you're traveling aware of your presence. Should there be a weather disaster, civil unrest, or other emergency occurrence, the embassy will have your contact information and know that you're likely in need of assistance along with other American in the country. In times of peace and sunny weather, the program occasionally sends an email with the latest travel alert news on the destination.
We actually register with STEP for any trip we take lasting over one week, or to any country with even the least bit of weirdness.
· Add the Wall Street Journal's "Korea Realtime" blog to your daily reading
This is what's actually happening in the country, what's making the headlines of their morning papers and being discussed over lunch. Articles focus on everything from the status of the DMZ tours to pop culture trends (like the current ubiquity of "Gangnam Style").
· Check to see if the DMZ tours are still operating
For foreigners visiting South Korea, there is an option to take a bus from the USO in Seoul up to the demilitarized zone at Panmunjom, between the two Koreas. It's a tourist must-do and it is awesome, despite the tour's tagline of "explore the excitement of silence."
The tours will continue so long as there's no live firing or other intense threat at the border. Even last month, with Senator Kerry's visit to the North during talks of a missile launch, the DMZ tours continued to haul photo-happy tourists to within meters of the landmines. Our friend just went on the tour last week!
· Have a glance at the Korean Tourism Organization's website
First off, we recommend checking out the "Korea News" section for upcoming events, like the Lantern Festival. It's also here you'll find the address of their Tourist Info Booth in Seoul, basic phrases, popular TV dramas, etiquette and etcetera.
A sign at Incheon Airport gets multiple translations
[Photos: Cynthia Drescher]