South Korea (officially named the Republic of Korea) is an East Asian nation that makes up the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. Though the region has a long and varied history since it was first inhabited circa 2000 BCE, it wasn’t until modern times that the peninsula was divided into north and south, and the South Korean republic was founded in 1948. Affectionately known as the “Land of the Morning Calm,” South Korea is a country that blends ancient traditions with breathtaking natural landscapes and a vibrant contemporary culture. While you may be familiar with South Korea through K-Pop music and the futuristic skyscrapers of Seoul, you probably didn’t know these seven fascinating facts about the country.
More Than Half of South Korea Is Covered in Forests
South Korea covers a relatively compact area of around 38,600 square miles — roughly the same size as the state of Indiana. While it’s famous for its modern urban centers, South Korea is also a place where natural and human-made landscapes beautifully coexist. In fact, an incredible 63.5% of the country is covered by forests. These forests occupy over 6 million hectares and include 1,049 native tree species and 22 endemic species.
With so much forest squeezed into a relatively small area and a superb transportation infrastructure, it’s easy for locals and visitors alike to access the country’s natural riches. In South Korea, major cities are home to woodland parks and surrounded by forest-covered mountains. Among the top spots for “forest bathing” and hiking in and around Seoul are Seoul Forest and Bukhansan National Park. Other notable places include Hallasan National Park, on the island of Jeju, and Wondae-ri Birch Forest, in the northeast.
More Than 3,000 Islands Dot the Coastline of South Korea
Love island hopping? If you were to visit one of South Korea’s islands each day, it would take just over nine years to see them all. Called do in Korean, the 3,358 officially confirmed islands are situated within a few hours of the mainland. Several are home to some of South Korea’s most popular attractions, while others have been designated as marine national parks.
Jeju, one of the most popular to visit, is South Korea’s largest island, located to the south of the mainland in the Korean Strait. Known for its volcanic landscape, beaches, and seaside resorts, the island was voted one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. The island of Ulleungdo is popular for scuba diving and snorkeling, and Udo boasts the country’s only coral beach, Seobinbaeksa Beach. And residents of Seoul only have to go to the banks of the Han River, which runs through the capital, to experience island life. Yeouido is a residential and business island district home to scenic riverfront parks.
There Are More Than 100 Types of Kimchi
With its roots in the ancient agricultural practices and nomadic customs of the Korean peninsula, South Korean cuisine has a strong association with its natural environment. One thing that you’ll always see on the menu is kimchi. This traditional side dish of fermented vegetables was created as a way to preserve vegetables in winter. Originally made with pickled cabbage in a salty brine, kimchi can also be made using other vegetables such as radishes and cucumbers, and the dish has developed to include varied spices and hot pepper flakes.
Koreans love kimchi so much that there are now over 100 variations in existence. The many different types of kimchi are influenced by the climate and environmental conditions of regions throughout the country. Baechu kimchi is one of the most widely consumed. It features fermented salted napa cabbage seasoned with chili flakes, garlic, fish sauce, and other spices. Another is kkakdugi, which follows a similar seasoning method but with radish as the main ingredient. Kimchi is also lauded for its nutritional benefits. The fermentation process creates a bacterium that aids digestion, fights harmful bacteria, and boosts the immune system.
Superstitions Are Common in South Korean Culture
Koreans have a long list of superstitions. Enter a building or elevator in South Korea, and it’s almost guaranteed that the number four will be replaced with the letter “F.” That’s because the pronunciation of the “four” in Korean sounds very similar to the sound of the character 死, which symbolizes death. The letter “F” thus serves to remove any fear for those who need to reach the fourth floor.
Animals are often associated with both good and bad luck, and in South Korea, the pig represents prosperity. This superstition stems from the Korean character for money and the Chinese character for pig being similar. Visitors to the UNESCO-listed Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju often touch the golden pig statue in the hope of being blessed with wealth. On the subject of animals, boyfriends and girlfriends avoid feeding their partners chicken wings because doing so is said to encourage extramarital liaisons.
Students should be aware of food superstitions, too. Miyeokguk (seaweed soup) supposedly brings bad luck if eaten before an exam, because scores could slip (akin to the slipperiness of seaweed). Meanwhile, eating a syrupy and sticky candy called yeot is said to be beneficial, as it helps ideas and knowledge stick to the memory.
Men Are the Ones Who Get Spoiled on Valentine’s Day
Throughout much of the world, Valentine’s Day is a day when, among straight couples, men pamper women and bestow them with gifts such as chocolates and flowers. This annual celebration of love and romance works the opposite way in South Korea (and nearby Japan). Here, it’s customary for women to give chocolates to the men as a sign of affection. It’s all part of Korea’s 12 days of love, which fall on the 14th day of every month. When March 14 (known as White Day) comes around, it’s time for the men to return the chocolate favor.
Other notable days of love are Kiss Day (June 14), when it's encouraged to display one’s affection. Green Day (August 14) is about enjoying nature and drinking soju, an alcoholic beverage that coincidentally comes in a green bottle. Those who aren’t in a relationship might look forward to Black Day (April 14), which is a celebration of single people.
It’s Normal to Ask and Talk About Someone’s Blood Type
Fielding questions about blood type is usually only required when making a blood donation or preparing for a medical examination. That’s not the case in South Korea. When people start getting to know each other — especially on dates — there’s a high chance that blood type will come up in conversation. This owes to the fact that many Koreans believe that it can predict personality traits in a similar way to horoscopes and the signs of the zodiac.
According to this theory, a person with Type A blood is said to be caring and friendly but uncomfortable at parties. On the other hand, people with Type B blood are extroverted and optimistic, yet sometimes self-centered. The ideal blood type for a romantic match is a Type-A and a Type-O.
South Korea Has a Walkable Roller Coaster With Sea Views
Some people live for the thrill and adrenaline of a roller coaster. Others may like the thought but don’t have the stomach for traveling at breakneck speeds. Space Walk in Pohang’s Hwanho Park, South Korea’s largest walkable art installation, offers the best of both worlds. The 1,092-foot-long sculpture rises to a height of 82 feet and has 717 steps. It features inclines, declines, sharp curves, and a vertical loop (although the latter is for aesthetic purposes only).
The brains behind Space Walk are German artists Heike Mutter and Ulrich Genth. Inaugurated in 2021, it’s the second walkable roller coaster the duo has created. The first, called Tiger and Turtle Magic Mountain, opened in 2011 in Duisburg, Germany. By day, SpaceWalk affords uninterrupted views of Yongil Bay, the Pohang skyline, and nearby mountains. After dark, the silver tracks are illuminated with LED lights to resemble a sigil, a symbol with connections to ancient mythology.