Nice garden and lake inside Gyeongbokgung palace, one of the five grand palaces built by the Joseon dinasty - Seoul, South Korea

One of the greatest hidden gems in all of Asia, South Korea is known as “Korea” to the locals. It sits nestled between the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, landlocked by its rival, North Korea. In spite of its threatening neighbor, South Korea offers visitors from the West an ideal locale to experience an eastern culture without too much culture shock, as it has a variety of areas of visit, many of which have embraced many aspects of Western culture.

If you are visiting South Korea, chances are you are going to fly into Incheon International Airport, one of the best full-service airports in the world. With a sleeping lounge, shower facilities, and educational cultural experiences, all for free, this airport also boasts an extensive mall with luxury stores ranging from Louis Viton to Rolex. It’s not a shabby place to kill a few hours (or even a day or two) if you have a long wait for your flight or a layover. Plus, the airport offers free tours for visitors and will take you out on a bus to see temples and other tourist destinations, and they will make sure you get back in time for your flight.

The public transit system out of the airport is easy to follow with a fully automated system, instructions in a variety of languages, and announcements in both Korean and English, not to mention its very helpful English-speaking information staff. The trolley system runs right from Incheon into Seoul, one of the most culturally rich cities in the world and the bleeding heart of South Korea. There, the main streets offer the comforts and conveniences Western travelers have come to expect from major world cities, while the smaller side streets provide an immersive, small-town vibe with cobblestone paving, pull carts, and small storefronts crammed side by side along the webs of streets.

As you walk through the city, ancient temples sit couched among the modern high-rises, and a river runs right through the center of town with multiple waterfalls and wildlife chirping in the foliage. Scattered around the city are the five grand Palaces you can visit, from Changdeokgung to Gyeongbokgung. There is also an abundance of ancient Buddhist temples to visit scattered among the skyscrapers.

If you make it through all that Seoul has to offer, you can check out Beomeo-Sa temple in Busan, an architectural wonder, or the rich culture of Gamcheon, a quirky community that boasts a world-famous Fish Market. Or, if natural wonders are more your style Seongsan Ilchul-bong on an island in the extreme south offers hiking opportunities to one of South Korea’s four volcanoes. You can also catch the Seongsan Sunrise Festival if you are there during the New Year. Moreover, you can visit one of South Korea’s 22 national parks, ranging from Wolchulsan, its smallest at just over 51 square kilometers all the way up to Dadohaehaesang National Park at 2,325 square kilometers.

Whatever you choose to do in South Korea, just remember a few simple tips: be careful with your chopstick usage–don’t point with them and don’t stick them in your rice, receive items and drink from cups with two hands, and most of all, be respectful to those around you, especially older people. These tips will keep you out of trouble, so you can make friends and come back to visit.

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