Travelling in South Korea
South Korea is a fascinating country that offers a rich blend of modernity and tradition, nature and culture, and adventure and relaxation. If you want to experience the best of South Korea, one of the most rewarding ways is to travel by car. Driving in South Korea gives you the freedom and flexibility to explore the country at your own pace, discover hidden gems, and enjoy scenic routes. In this article, we will share some tips and tricks on how to rent a car, get an International Driving Permit, follow the road rules, respect the culture, and savor the cuisine in South Korea.
What are the best ways to rent a car in South Korea?
Renting a car in South Korea is relatively easy and affordable, as long as you have the required documents and meet the eligibility criteria. You will need a valid driver’s license from your home country, an International Driving Permit (IDP), a passport, and a credit card. You must also be at least 21 years old (or 26 for some luxury cars) and have at least one year of driving experience.
There are many car rental companies in South Korea, both local and international. You can compare prices and book online through websites like Kayak, Rentalcars, or Skyscanner. Alternatively, you can visit the car rental counters at the airports or major train stations. Some popular car rental brands in South Korea are Lotte Rent-a-Car, AJ Rent-a-Car, Kumho Rent-a-Car, and Hertz.
When choosing a car, consider your itinerary, budget, and preferences. If you plan to visit remote areas or drive on rough roads, you may want to opt for an SUV or a 4x4. If you want to save on gas and parking fees, you may prefer a compact or an economy car. If you want to enjoy the views and the breeze, you may splurge on a convertible.
Before you accept the car, make sure to inspect it for any damage, check the fuel level, and test the brakes, lights, and air conditioning. Take photos of any scratches or dents and report them to the staff. Also, ask about the insurance coverage, the mileage limit, the toll fees, and the return policy.
Importance of having an International Driving Permit when traveling in South Korea by car
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is a document that translates your driver’s license into multiple languages, including Korean. It is mandatory for foreigners who want to drive in South Korea legally. Without an IDP, you may face fines, penalties, or even imprisonment if you get caught driving without one.
You can obtain an IDP from your home country before you travel to South Korea. The process and cost may vary depending on your country of origin, but usually it involves filling out an application form, providing a passport photo, a copy of your driver’s license, and a fee.
An IDP is valid for three years from the date of issue. You must always carry it with you along with your original driver’s license when driving in South Korea. An IDP does not replace your driver’s license; it only serves as a supplement.
Places that are must-visit for a traveler on the vehicle
South Korea has many amazing places to visit by car that are not easily accessible by public transportation or too far from the main tourist attractions. Here are some of them:
Seoraksan National Park: This is one of the most beautiful national parks in South Korea, famous for its stunning mountain scenery, diverse flora and fauna, and ancient temples. You can drive along scenic roads that offer panoramic views of the peaks, valleys, waterfalls, and rock formations. You can also hike various trails that suit different levels of difficulty and enjoy activities like cable car rides, zip-lining, rafting, and camping.
Jeonju: This is one of the best places to experience traditional Korean culture and cuisine. You can drive to Jeonju Hanok Village, where you can see hundreds of hanok (traditional Korean houses) that date back to the Joseon dynasty. You can also visit cultural attractions like Gyeonggijeon Shrine, Jeondong Cathedral, Jeonju Hyanggyo Confucian School, and Omokdae Pavilion. Don’t miss trying Jeonju bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables and meat), one of the most famous dishes in South Korea.
Boseong: This is one of the largest green tea producers in South Korea and a popular destination for tea lovers. You can drive to Boseong Green Tea Plantation, where you can see endless rows of green tea bushes that create a mesmerizing landscape. You can also tour the tea factory, taste different varieties of tea, and buy some souvenirs. If you visit in winter, you can see the plantation covered in snow, creating a fairy-tale-like scene.
Gyeongju: This is one of the most historic cities in South Korea and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can drive to Gyeongju Historic Areas, where you can see the remnants of the Silla kingdom (57 BCE–935 CE), one of the longest-ruling dynasties in Korean history. You can also visit cultural attractions like Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto, Cheomseongdae Observatory, Anapji Pond, and Daereungwon Tomb Complex. Gyeongju is also known for its cherry blossoms, which bloom in spring and create a spectacular sight.
Tips and tricks: Road Rules, cultural insights for a driver on the road when driving in South Korea
Driving in South Korea is not very difficult, but there are some things you need to know and follow to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. Here are some tips and tricks:
Drive on the right side of the road and overtake on the left.
Follow the speed limits, which are usually 60 km/h (37 mph) in urban areas, 80 km/h (50 mph) on national roads, and 100–120 km/h (62–75 mph) on expressways.
Pay attention to the traffic signs and signals, which are mostly written in Korean and English. Red means stop, green means go, and yellow means caution. A flashing green light means that the light will change to yellow soon.
Use your seat belt at all times and make sure your passengers do the same. It is mandatory and crucial for safety.
Avoid using your mobile phone while driving, unless you have a hands-free device. It is prohibited and can lead to fines.
Do not drink and drive. South Korea has strict laws against driving under the influence of alcohol. The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.03%, which is very low. If you exceed this limit, you may face severe penalties or even imprisonment.
Be aware of the toll fees on expressways and highways. You can pay by cash, credit card, or using the Hi-Pass electronic system. Some rental cars may already have a Hi-Pass device installed, but you need to make sure that there is enough balance on it.
Be careful of wildlife, especially at dawn and dusk. South Korea has various animals that may cross the roads, such as deer, raccoons, boars, and monkeys. Drive slowly and cautiously to avoid accidents.
Respect the local culture and etiquette when driving in South Korea. Some things to remember are:
Use your horn sparingly and only when necessary. Honking excessively or aggressively is considered rude and may cause road rage.
Do not gesture or swear at other drivers or pedestrians. This is also considered rude and may provoke a confrontation.
Do not park illegally or block other cars. This is not only disrespectful but also illegal and may result in fines or towing.
Acknowledge other drivers who let you pass or merge by flashing your hazard lights briefly. This is a common courtesy and a way of saying thank you.
South Korean cuisine, culture, and things that are important to know before going to South Korea
South Korea is a country with a rich and diverse cuisine, culture, and history that will surely delight any visitor. Here are some things that are important to know before going to South Korea:
Cuisine: South Korean cuisine is largely based on rice, vegetables, seafood, and meat dishes that are seasoned with various spices and sauces. Some of the most popular dishes are kimchi (fermented cabbage), bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables and meat), bulgogi (marinated beef), samgyetang (chicken soup with ginseng), tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), kimbap (rice rolls), and sundubu-jjigae (soft tofu stew). South Korean cuisine is also known for its street food, such as hotteok (sweet pancakes), odeng (fish cakes), mandu (dumplings), twigim (fried snacks), and bungeoppang (fish-shaped bread). South Korean cuisine is also influenced by regional specialties, such as Jeonju bibimbap, Busan seafood, Jeju black pork, Andong chicken, Gyeongju bread, and Boseong green tea.
Culture: South Korea has a unique and dynamic culture that reflects its ancient heritage and modern trends. Some aspects of South Korean culture that you may encounter are:
K-pop: This is a genre of popular music that originated in South Korea and has become a global phenomenon. K-pop artists are known for their catchy songs, impressive choreography, fashionable outfits, and loyal fan bases.
K-drama: This is a term for Korean television dramas that are popular among domestic and international audiences. K-dramas cover various genres, such as romance, comedy, thriller, historical, and fantasy.
K-beauty: This is a term for Korean cosmetics and skincare products that are renowned for their quality, innovation, and effectiveness. K-beauty products often use natural ingredients, such as snail mucin, green tea, and ginseng. Some of the most popular K-beauty brands are Innisfree, Laneige, Sulwhasoo, and Dr. Jart+.
Hanbok: This is the traditional Korean dress that is worn on special occasions, such as weddings, festivals, and holidays. Hanbok consists of a jeogori (jacket) and a chima (skirt) for women, and a jeogori and baji (pants) for men. Hanbok is characterized by its vibrant colors, elegant lines, and graceful movements.
In summary, driving in South Korea is a great way to experience the country’s diverse landscapes, rich culture, and delicious cuisine. By renting a car, obtaining an IDP, following the road rules, respecting etiquette, and exploring the hidden gems, you can have an amazing journey through the land of the morning calm. So, pack your bags, grab your keys, and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime in South Korea!