South Korea is an underrated travel destination. The tiny country may not have as many famous landmarks as neighboring China and Japan, but Korea is a truly rewarding and authentic place to visit. Since there are few tourists, it feels raw and real. From ultramodern cities with nightlife and shopping galore to hidden islands, traditional temples, rural villages, and unreal sunrises, there’s something in Korea for everyone. But like every country, there are unique experiences you can only have in Korea. Here are the cool things to do in Korea that you can’t find in other countries.
Cool Things To Do In Korea – Sleep in a Jjimjilbang
Jjimjilbang (찜질방) is a public spa/sauna as well as a place to relax, get a massage, hang out with friends, and sleep overnight. It is a national pastime; many Koreans go to jjimjilbangs weekly.
After a long hike, there’s nothing like soaking in the baths and steaming your pours out in one of the many saunas. Bathing areas are separated by sex, but you must be naked. It may seem awkward at first, but you might surprise yourself and find that it’s not bad after all.
When you’re squeaky clean, change into the pajamas provided, and find your way to the co-ed jjimjilbang area. There might be people huddled Korean dramas on the TV, relaxing in the coin-operated massage chairs, slurping naengmyun (냉면; icy buckwheat noodles), or sleeping. Try out some of the dry saunas; often, there are different “themes” such as salt, green tea, and charcoal. When you’ve had enough for the day, grab a mat and find a quiet spot to sleep for the night.
It’s not luxurious, but at $8-12 USD a night, jjimjilbangs are an affordable and interesting alternative to hotels. Read more details about how to use and find jjimjilbangs.
Cool Things To Do In Korea – Visit the Penis Park
Korea is a relatively conservative culture, so it comes as a surprise to many visitors to learn that there is a park dedicated to all things phallic. The legend goes that a young girl died in the nearby ocean. Because she died a virgin, some villagers wanted to sooth her desiring soul by building statues of penises.
So, there now exists a park on the East Coast of Korea with dozens of phallic statues “erected”. Come here to snap some photos and have a few giggles, but don’t forget to enjoy the scenic coastal views! Read more about the Penis Park if you’re keen to find out more.
Cool Things To Do In Korea – Eat Live Octopus
Yes, octopus, the sea animal with squirmy tentacles that some scientists believe to be aliens. Eating it “live” is a delicacy in Korea and a must-do for adventurous foodies. Even though I am squeamish and don’t normally eat animals, I tried a bite for the experience. And I survived.
The Jagalchi fish market in Busan is the most famed for the freshest of the fresh, but you can find this at most fish markets and restaurants along beaches.
Ask for sannakji (산낙지). The attendant will grab your squirmy snack right from the tank, chop it up mercilessly, and scoop the tentacles onto a plate. The worm-like legs will continue to dance for quite some time, but it’s best to eat it immediately with the accompanying sauce. I’ll leave out too many details so you can experience it yourself, but it’s certainly a unique food to eat while traveling in Korea. Stay tuned for more cools things to do in Korea Part 2!
About the Author
Lianne is a Korean American adoptee who returned to Korea to teach English and foster the relationship with her birth family. She fell in love with the country, food, and a fellow American, Adam. In 2015, Adam and Lianne left Korea and have been traveling slowly through Asia and Australia, seeking meaningful experiences through CouchSurfing, HelpX, and housesitting — all on $15 a day. Lianne is passionate about sustainability and leads a minimalist lifestyle. She writes about frugal travel tips, cultural immersion stories, teaching abroad, and life as an adoptee. Check out her website Lianne Bronzo for more travel inspirations.