South Korea

10 Awesome Overseas Vacation Ideas for English Teachers in South Korea

Nick Paul

Nick Paul

January 30, 2017

If you’re still trying to pick out a teach abroad program and have contemplated South Korea, you probably already know that it’s easy to make a lot of cash in this fast-paced, high-tech country. But what might sway your decision is all the incredible places you can visit direct from Seoul. And sure, South Korea isn’t a tropical paradise like Thailand or Vietnam, but with those great pay perks you’ll have the money to explore far further afield than teachers in those warmer countries down south ever could.

Japan

Why it’s a great choice

An obvious choice, South Korea’s frenemy and former colonial master, Japan has a long and complicated history with its neighbour, but when it comes to business and tourism, they look past all that. Between Seoul and Tokyo alone there are now over 30 flights in each direction every single day. Japan has a ton to offer travellers from hip, quirky and uber-modern Tokyo to classical old-world Kyoto; if it’s culture and scenery you’re after, your search stops here!

Kinkaku-ji Zen Buddhist Temple in Kyoto

Kyoto’s Kinkaku-ji Zen Buddhist Temple is a major drawcard for the country. But it’s just one of many in the city you can explore. Image credit.

Tokyo is the centre of the most populous urban mass on earth, it’s famous for its technology-mad culture, but mixed into all this are glimpses of the old world along with unusual subcultures rebelling against what is often a very rigid national culture. There are tons of things I could list for you to do, but there are guide books for that. All I’ll say is don’t try to see everything, just take it easy and take it all in as you stroll the streets and explore the city, its appeal is in both the small details and seeing the beast as its whole crazy, frenetic self.

Japanese girls in Harajuku Tokyo

Tokyo has a wealth of subcultures, the most famous is probably the girls of Harajuku, the city’s teenager hotspot. Image credit.

If you’re after more traditional culture, while you will find some in Tokyo, head out to other towns and cities, like those in the Samurai district north of Tokyo. Arguably though, Kyoto is where you should be headed if you’re after seeing some seriously impressive historical architecture and experiencing the Japan of days gone by. The country has had more than 2000 years of documented history so to list every place you could see is unfortunately impossible. Go and discover!

Not to be left out though is the country’s wealth of outdoor activities, particularly for hikers. Being a chain of volcanoes and fold mountains thrust into a wet and temperate climate, if it’s epic peaks and stunning scenery you’re after – you’ve hit the jackpot. Right up and down the length of the country there are incredible trails for anyone from serious mountaineers to casual strollers to explore.

Kegon Falls in Nikko National Park, Japan

The central regions of most Japanese islands are very mountainous and full of excellent hiking spots for all adventure levels. Pictured here are the Kegon Falls in Nikko National Park. Image credit.

Getting there

Flights:

  • From Seoul to Tokyo from ± $149 round trip, ± 2hr30 each way
  • From Seoul to Osaka (2 hours train from Kyoto) from ± $141 round trip, ± 2hrs each way
  • From Busan to Tokyo from ± $195 round trip, ± 2hr30 each way
  • From Busan to Osaka from ± $107 round trip, ± 1hr30 each way

Visas

For passport holders of the following countries, a visa is not needed for stays of up to 90 days: Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Australia, New Zealand. For South African passport holders a visa is required in advance of travel and costs approximately $25 (R305).

 

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China

Why it’s a great choice

Okay so China is a mammoth of a country with so much to see you could go 20 times and still have most of it to go. From ultra-modern megacities to jungle-covered peaks and the serene monasteries of the Tibetan Plateau, China is anything if not diverse.

Hong Kong at night

China’s cities are epic and well worth exploring on foot. Pictured here is Hong Kong, one of China’s biggest draw cards. Image credit.

The cities are an obvious and easy choice. Beijing is the capital and has a modern infrastructure and culture to rival any other metropolis in the world and slap-bang in the middle is it’s massive and awe-inspiring imperial complex: the Forbidden City. The city is also a great place to start if you’re after historical stuff, the Great Wall is a day trip away and other ancient cities like Xi’an (for the famous Terracotta Army) can be reached in just a few hours bullet train ride.

Shanghai in the country’s east is China’s largest city, home to 34 million people, it’s also another great place you can start out your lucrative teaching English in China career. It’s a coherent mix of old and new, European and Asian and it will give you the best impression of China at its most modern and slick – it even has a real-life maglev (hovering) train which takes you from the airport to the heart of the Pudong financial district at a blistering 431kph (268mph)!

Down south is where you’ll find the Cantonese-speaking metropolises like Guangzhou and Hong Kong, the latter being a must-see for any visitor to China. Both are shopping meccas with Hong Kong being a little more Western seeing that it was a British Crown Colony for more than 150 years; it also has a ton to do from theme parks to chic dining, great street food and even a few scenic hiking trails.

Li River in China

The Li River winds through Guangxi province which borders Vietnam. Image credit.

Speaking of hiking, there is a lot of outdoor stuff you can do in China proper meaning you won’t have to trek out all the way to the Himalayas in Tibet (though who wouldn’t want to?) to get your fix. Rural China is nothing if not mountainous and at times it’s impressively scenic. The Li River in the South winds through thousands of limestone pinnacles and traditional fishermen fish lazily from rafts using trained cormorant birds. 

Tianmen mountain is wildly popular with local tourists and features several impressive cliff-top walkways including a newly opened 300m glass-bottom one for those without a fear of heights. And, if you’re after some seriously adrenaline packed hiking make your way out to Huashan near Xi’an, it’s packed with rock-hewn staircases and precarious cliff-side wooden walkways bolted into the mountain – hair-raising stuff but definitely epic!

A climber on Huashan, China

Huashan is a mountain near Xi’an, popular with adrenaline junkies and hiking enthusiasts. Image credit.

Getting there

Flights:

  • From Seoul to Beijing from ± $167 round trip, takes ± 2hrs each way
  • From Busan to Beijing from ± $213 round trip, takes ± 2hrs each way
  • From Seoul to Shanghai from ± $163 round trip, takes ± 2hrs each way
  • From Busan to Shanghai from ± $176 round trip, takes ± 1hr45 each way
  • From Seoul to Hong Kong from ± $180 round trip, takes ± 4hrs each way
  • From Busan to Hong Kong from ± $255 round trip, takes from ± 3hr30 each way

Visas

China is one of those countries which makes almost everyone have a visa to enter. If you’re teaching English in South Korea you almost definitely hold a passport which requires a visa. There are visa application centres in Seoul and the visa ranges in cost from ± $50 for South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders, British and Irish passport holders to ± $100 for Canadian and ± $170 for American citizens.

Philippines

Why it’s a great choice

With over 7000 islands, the Philippines is an absolute treasure trove of tropical beaches, coral reefs and stunning jungle terrain. It’s probably one of Asia’s most underrated destinations but it really is starting to take off lately, earning itself the nickname of “hipster Thailand”. As with most Asian cities, the Philippines’ biggest, Manila and Cebu, are massive with the former having a skyscraper studded skyline and giant malls to compete with the likes of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. That being said, I personally would recommend ditching the cities as fast as possible and heading out to the smaller islands.

Diniwid Beach in Boracay, Philippines

Boracay is probably the most popular island to visit in the Philippines due to its exquisite beaches, top quality resorts and night life. Image credit.

The most famous is Boracay, which is actually a tiny speck of an island off the coast of much bigger Panay island which you’ll find right in the middle of the country. It’s got swathes of white sand, luxury resorts and beach bars much more akin to something you’d see in Phuket, albeit a bit more low key. You can’t get there direct by plane so fly into Kalibo or Caticlan airports and then catch a shuttle and ferry to the island.

Islant in El Nido Philippines

The area around El Nido is full of towering limestone islets, each with small beaches only accessible by boat. Many have small bars on them for cocktails in the sun.

My personal favourite though would be Palawan, it’s the long thin island on the far west of the country stretching from near Malaysian Borneo up towards Manila. It’s the northern tip that most people are drawn to. After flying to Puerto Princesa, it’s a 6 hour drive up to El Nido, “the nest” in Spanish, so named for the abundance of swallow nests in the area harvested to make the delicacy ‘birds nest soup’.

This part of the Philippines is rustic, tranquil and stunningly beautiful. Beaches are often very quiet and clean and there are tons of hidden ones to kayak to or to reach on day trips by outrigger boat. It’s got some great diving spots too.

Chocolate Hills, Bohol, Philippines

The naturally formed Chocolate Hills on Bohol Island are sadly not made of chocolate but are named for the colour they turn in the dry season. Image credit.

Speaking of diving spots, Bohol, another island in the centre of the country, a short ferry ride from Cebu is where you can go diving with whale sharks. The island is big and literally ringed coral reefs, but the south, on the opposite side from Cebu is where you’ll find most of the most popular dive spots.

Bohol is also famous for the bizarre looking and bizzarely named Chocolate Hills, 1776 conical grass covered mounds which look almost man-made – they’re a great photo op. The Philippines is vast and I have definitely not done it justice with this short review, so read up more and pay a visit!

Getting there

Flights:

  • From Seoul to Manila from ± $181 round trip, takes ± 4 hours each way
  • From Busan to Manila from ± $351 round trip, takes ± 4 hours each way
  • From Seoul to Cebu from ± $220 round trip, takes ± 4hr30 each way
  • From Busan to Cebu, rather fly from Seoul

Taiwan

Why it’s a great choice

Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (it’s a long story), is situated off the south east coast of mainland China. It’s the last remaining territory of China’s pro-capitalist government which lost control of the mainland during the civil war which followed WWII. 

As such the country is somewhat different to China proper (though the latter is catching up to full blown capitalism fast) and offers you all those things you’d expect from a modern first world country: bullet trains, very very tall buildings and safe travelling. It’s also quite small compared to its neighbours, about a 3rd the size of South Korea. But packed into it is a ton to see.

Fish cake vendor in Taipei

Street food in Taipei is a big deal. Dishes are usually small so you can hop from stand to stand and try a variety of items at the same time.Image credit.

The biggest cities are crammed into the low plains along the west coast with the centre and east of the country being full of jungle-clad, mist-drenched mountains and canyons. Taiwan has plenty to offer both the city-slicker and the outdoor enthusiast. Taipei, the capital, is at the Northern tip and makes a great place to begin your journey.

Home to the former world’s tallest building, Taipei 101, from a distance the city at times appears a jumbled mess of fluorescent lights and grey apartment blocks, up close though it’s a different story altogether. Packed into those crazy streets and are a ton of fascinating stores and of course, restaurants big and small; if you’re a foodie, Taipei will be heaven.

Bridge at Tianxiang in Taroko Gorge, Taiwan

Taroko Gorge is a must if you love stunning scenery and exploring peaceful temples. Image credit.

Probably the biggest natural drawcard for Taiwan is the Taroko Gorge (though there are plenty of other stunning outdoor places to explore too). It’s located on the eastern slopes of the Central Range and contains the winding Route 8 road which ducks in and out of tunnels and overhangs.

It’s peppered throughout with picturesque temples and shrines perched on the cliffs – one, the Eternal Spring Shrine even has a waterfall sprouting out from under it. Taroko is popular with cyclists and tour buses alike, so if you plan on cycling the route, be sure have your wits about you!

Panorama of Taipei skyline showing Taipei 101

Taipei’s skyline is dominated by the 101 floor, 509m high Taipei 101 building. Image credit.

Getting here

Flights:

  • From Seoul to Taipei from ± $202 round trip, takes ± 2hr30 each way
  • From Busan to Taipei from ± $148 round trip, takes ± 2hr30 each way

Visas

For holders of the following passports, no visa is required for stays of up to 90 days: Canada, USA, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Australia, New Zealand. South Africans will need to apply for a visa in advance of travel for approximately R750 (56,000 Won).

Other options

Vietnam

This is one where you can teach English in Vietnam if you like. If you’ve got a couple of weeks, fly into Hanoi and make your way by train down to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) or vice versa. Explore the picturesque highlands around Sapa, take a cruise on Ha Long Bay, cafe-hop in downtown Saigon and discover the ancient history and spectacular buildings of Hoi An and Hue.

historic doorway in Da Nang

Hoi An (pictured) and Hue are Vietnam’s two most historic cities.

Flights and visas:

Visas are required by most nationalities, these can either be applied for at a consulate or online. Check with a local consulate for clarification. Flights cost from ± $172 round trip and take from ± 5 hours each way for example to Hanoi.

Thailand

Another country you can teach English, Thailand is popular with backpackers and resort tourists alike and offers a wealth of scenery to explore. Whether it’s diving in Koh Tao, dancing the night away at a full moon party in Koh Pha Ngan, shopping up a storm in Bangkok or exploring the jungle-covered Mae Hong Son loop by motorbike, Thailand is sure to be an exceptional holiday.

Thailand Boat

Be prepared to get a little wet in Thailand, whether that’s from a tropical shower or spray from the sea while island hopping. It’s all part of the adventure.

Flights and visas:

Visas aren’t required for visitors to Thailand for most passport holders for stays of 30 days or less. Flights cost from ± $213 for a round trip and take from ± 5hrs30 each way.

Cambodia

An outstanding choice for those of you who love ancient (and not so ancient history). The world-famous ruins of Angkor Wat are on more bucket lists now than ever before. The capital of Phnom Penh, hosts museums dedicated to Cambodia’s grim history under Khmer Rouge rule during the 1970s but is now also a hip and exciting city drawing more and more sophisticated travellers from across the globe.

Overgron ruins Angkor Wat, Tha Phrom, Cambodia

The overgrown ruins of Tha Phrom at Angkor Wat.

Flights and visas:

Visas, if required can usually be obtained on arrival, provided one is flying in. Flights cost from ± $238 round trip (non-direct) with direct flights costing from ± $486 taking ± 5hrs30 each way.

Malaysia

A much more massive country than most people realise, Malaysia is divided between a smaller mainland peninsula and a much larger swathe of jungle-covered land on the island of Borneo. You can be sipping a cup of locally grown tea at an upmarket Kuala Lumpur cafe in the morning and be hanging out with orangutangs on Borneo in the rainforest by the afternoon, it will feel like a completely different planet.

Night time swimming in Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is a modern metropolis with many clubs, rooftop pools and bar

Flights and visas:

Visas are not required for most passport holders for travel to Malaysia when stays don’t exceed 90 days. Flights cost from ± $249 round trip and take ± 6hrs30 each way.

Indonesia

With more islands than one can count, let’s try keep is simple for you. You’ll probably be drawn to Bali here with it’s many Hindu temples and a warm, welcoming culture and a just as welcoming tropical sea. Next door to the east is slightly quieter Lombok for those wishing to avoid crowds and hike spectacular volcanoes.

To the west is Java, the most populous island on Earth, it’s home to the country’s modern capital, Jakarta and tons of historical sites like the spectacularly well preserved 9th century Borobudur stupa.

Lying next to the pool in Ubud Bali

Ubud in the inland, jungle-covered areas of central Bali is packed full of peaceful yoga retreats and resorts for all budgets. Image credit.

Flights and visas:

Visas are usually not required for many travellers to Indonesia, if they are required one can pay cash on arrival in USD at the airport. Flights cost from ± $392 round trip for non-direct flights and from ± $650 for direct flights which take from ± 7hrs each way for example to Denpasar in Bali.

Singapore

Arguably Asia’s coolest city, Singapore has a ton to do. It’s so clean you could probably eat off the sidewalks and manicured within an inch of being mistaken for a theme park conjured up by Disney himself. That being said it has lots on offer and even for the most city-hating individual it will be hard not to fall in love with.

Explore the jaw-dropping Marina Bay district with the botanical gardens, Singapore Flyer (observation wheel) and Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

Shop ’til you drop on Orchard Road and sample some of the finest cuisine from Turkey to Vietnam, and Italy to Lebanon in its many restaurants. And, if the theme park thing is for you, check out Sentosa Island for a smorgasbord of rides guaranteed to elicit an adrenaline fuelled scream.

cloud forest exhibit in Singapore

Singapore’s Garden’s by the Bay are an absolute must-do. Make sure you buy a Singapore Explorer card as it gets you entry to tons of places at a fraction of the price.

Flights and visas:

Visas are usually not required for many passport holders who visit Singapore for less than 30 days. Flights cost from ± $275 each way for non direct flights and cost from ± $542 for direct flights round trip take from ± 6hrs30 each way.

 

Interested in Teaching English in South Korea? We’ll send you more info!

INQUIRE NOW ›

Or learn more about our Teach English in South Korea program

 

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