1. Cheap spas or jjimjilbangs.
From hot and steamy waters to cool and icy, these group baths throughout Korea are part of the reason everyone’s faces here are glowing. Investing a few extra won for the scrub down of a lifetime from an ajumma is never a bad choice for dead skin and neither is lounging in the sauna afterward to calm down a weary body. Dragon Hill in Seoul or Spa Land in Busan are perfect places to start the jjimjilbang experience. Oh, and it’s worth mentioning most of these places accommodate guests overnight, sometimes for free…Being naked with strangers never felt so wonderful.
2. Korean BBQ.
It’s obvious the Korean culture respects group activities. Korean BBQ is no exception and it’s a delicious one. Some of the finest memories are with friends, chopsticks, and maegju around a grill sharing chicken, galbi, and banchan while attempting to maintain sobriety over soju drinking games. Geonbae!
3. Scissors & meat (of any kind).
This may seem like a weird combination, but it’s brilliant. Here, there’s no need for “steak knives.” No one uses them. Meat is cut with scissors and after trying it once, there’s really no other way to slice.
4. Singing all night long.
After the spa, the bbq, and the booze, there’s the obvious choice: norebang. From the outside, these are holes in the wall places that, once inside, have endless possibilities of rooms and songs to choose. This is the second best place to go with friends and maybe the best one to sneak in 1,000 won soju bottles to sip on while screaming into a microphone. Some spots even have special costumes you can rent during the hour(s)! Take that, karaoke.
5. Fancy public bathrooms.
Who needs toilet paper when there’s a button on the side for a bidet? The toilet seats here are warm and it’s not because someone else was sitting there a while. They’re heated! Have stage fright? Hit the button and you’ll hear waterfall sounds. Given, this isn’t everywhere, but the special seats are in enough places that getting used to the convenience is inevitable.
6. Skincare, makeup, and beauty.
It is known: Korea rocks at this game. Perusing the streets of Seoul, Busan or even a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, there’s a store close by that will sell you a life-changing face mask. Walking down the streets of Myeongdong and Itaewon in Seoul or Seomyeon or Centum City in Busan, they’re all like entering a never-ending Sephora. Whether it’s Too Cool for School, Olive Young, or Skin Food — each store has its own personality from quirky to sophisticated. It’s endearing and also addicting. There’s always someone around to help find the perfect color for skin, lips, eyebrows or nails. Let it never end.
7. Outdoor drinking.
Forget open containers. Embrace them! Walking down the street with a cool, fresh can of Cass is just another way to spend summer. Or Monday. Whatever. Paper bags are not necessary to hide any adult beverage.
8. Food delivery.
Even in the middle of summer in Busan on the beach, drivers walk onto the sand to deliver fried chicken, pizza, tteokboki — who knows! Food delivery is everywhere here. Most delivery services provide both English and Korean and are even online. McDonald’s will bike right up to any apartment, as will most pizza shops. That said, nothing can beat Shuttle Delivery, though. Kudos always to the delivery guys. Pay in cash, credit, debit, or online.
9. Health insurance.
Thank goodness for Korean National Health Insurance! Getting a work physical is free. A visit to the dentist is 10,000 won (less than $10US) for a teeth cleaning, and fracturing a kneecap will set you back about 400,000 won (less than $400US) in total for six weeks of check-ups, x-rays, a cast, and medication. In the next year, there are talks of plastic surgery being added to the list. Women’s healthcare is also not overlooked; a regular gynecologist exam is less than 80,000 won (less than $80US) including all tests for STIs and birth control is OTC. No need for insurance on the latter. What a world.
10. An accessible country for travel.
Despite living in Seoul, it’s easy to be on the other side of the country by KTX, the Korean fast train, in about 2.5 hours for 50,000 won (less than $50US). Yes, bringing a bottle or two soju or Hite or whatever you care to imbibe is fine by everyone.
No one likes being robbed. It’s the worst to realize a phone or wallet is missing after traveling hours cross country or to another one (way worse). Here, smartphones left in taxis are returned. Strangers take unknown wallets found on the street to the police, money and credit cards still intact. Living in a country where honesty is valued is a relief.
12. Love motels.
It doesn’t matter if you’re with a lover, with a group of friends or alone, the cost is cheap and the staff (of usually one person) friendly. In most places, they even give you a tiny kit filled with all the things people forget or don’t even need on vacation: shampoo (1), body wash (1) toothbrush (2), toothpaste (2), condoms (2), hair combs (3 for some reason). Always clean and dependable, sometimes with a flair for the dramatic (like the jail themed ones), love motels are the fancy hostels of Korea.
13. Cute things in convenience stores.
We live in a rare, innocent place in the world where the 7-11 sells way more than old hot dogs. There are microwaves in all the 7-11s, GS25s, and CU Marts to heat up ramen or the little rice gimbap triangles. Loads of snacks are 2 for 1 and adorable baby hairbrushes and socks with Kakao characters on them are almost always available. And, once the warm weather sets in and cherry blossoms are blooming pink and white all about the country, these stores are perfect hubs to sit and share a cold brew with friends after work. They all have patios.