Travel Warnings for travelers in South Korea
Contrary to popular belief, it is actually extremely safe to travel in South Korea (it’s only North Korea you have to worry about!) In fact, South Korea is one of the safest places in the world to live and travel. Crime statistics, especially for violent crime, are extremely low in comparison to both first-world and third-world countries, likely due to South Korea’s prominent police force (every male citizen over the age of 18 must complete two years of mandatory military service; if they are not guarding the border, they are sent into the police force or assigned to other community projects).
Generally, unless you provoke trouble, I can confidently say that wandering around alone at night, even in the city as a woman, is completely safe. Most of the crimes that do occur tend to fall among cyber crimes, burglary, or corporate corruption. Gun possession and sale is not permitted in South Korea, and, therefore, guns are only carried among members of the military and occasionally among police or security forces.
Once place you don’t want to be, however, is stuck in large crowds or protests. Although all protests are always flooded with police, many of them have become violent, turned into virtual moshpits, or have even ended up with the police force turning on the protesters themselves. Even though it might sound interesting to be in the midst of, if you are under 200 pounds or short, it’s probably better to watch it on the news.
Avoid street drugs in South Korea
Keep in mind that drug use and drugs of almost every kind are neither legal nor permitted for possession in South Korea. This includes drugs such as cocaine, heroin, psychedelic drugs, and marijuana. Aside from tobacco, all drugs must be sold in pharmacies or given by prescription. Compared to most Western countries, the penalties for drug use or possession are much stricter in South Korea, so don’t risk it.
Use caution when driving
If you plan on driving in the cities, do it at your own risk. Due to the severe congestion of the roads and the rapidly increasing population of cities, driving in major cities can be both a headache and a risk if you are not alert. There have been several cases of reported deaths or accidents especially involving “Quick” deliverymen on motorbikes. These deliverymen are usually under pressure to deliver food within a certain time and often do not adhere to safety or speed restrictions.
You don’t need vaccines to travel to South Korea
Unlike most third world countries, you will not need any vaccines before traveling to South Korea. Last year, Koreans did encounter a massive flu outbreak, but the heyday of it has since passed. Cases of food poisoning or virus outbreaks such as E.coli are extremely rare, but as in any country, be sure all meat is fully cooked and that the food establishment looks clean and trustworthy (most Koreans believe that kimchi kills most viruses anyway).
During monsoon season (July through early August) air becomes extremely heavy and humid, which could be a boon to those who suffer from respiratory diseases, so be sure to keep air circulated and of course take measure to protect yourself from heavy rains and flooding.
If you suffer from seasonal allergies or are allergic to mold, take some caution and come prepared with some medication. Koreans do not find mold, in particular, to be hazardous or serious, and during the rainy season some houses and even workplaces become infested with it. If you have a mold allergy, you must be willing to report this wherever you are staying and try to inspect the rooms you’re in prior to booking them.
Like any city, certain areas of Seoul can be quite polluted, so take caution there as well if you are sensitive to certain pollutants. Most well-known allergy medications can be found easy and cheaply in local pharmacies if you find yourself in need of them.
What about North Korea>
Now, to answer the number one question that’s probably still on your mind: what about North Korea? Contrary to the attitude of Western news outlets, Korea media and citizens in general treat the frequent “threats” of Kim Jong-il far more lightly. After all, his banter has continued on for years without much promise, and most Koreans consider it mere bluffing. Yes, the country is still technically at war, and yes, there will therefore always be the risk of a full-out war breaking out, but the likelihood at this point in time is slim. During annual war drills most Koreans remain in their current locations and don’t even blink an eye. Basically, if something serious were about to occur, you would definitely know (whether you could understand Korean or not).
Since some South Koreans have been separated from family members in the North and do still feel a connection to the North Korean people, speaking sourly about the North will not earn you favor among anyone.
Generally speaking, no one in South Korea is expecting a bomb to drop on them anytime soon, and live with the attitude that they should not restrict their daily activities by living in constant fear. You will likely find much more hype about the “Crisis on the peninsula” on American news channels than you ever will in South Korea itself, and I would take it from the people who know their country best.
Read more about South Korea
- Vagabond Wiki South-Korea
- Travelogue entries about South-Korea