When you think of wellness travel what comes to your mind first? Fitness in Costa Rica? Wine tasting in Napa Valley? Meditation in India? All classic examples of popular wellness vacations, but I’m here to open your eyes to another destination: South Korea.

The Land of the Morning Calm.

If you are anything like my friends and family, then your first thoughts of Korea are most likely geared toward the crazy antics in the north.

Let me tell you, South Korea is more than North Korea’s neighbor. It’s more than Psy and Gangnam Style. Dog meat is not sold on the corner, and people here eat other food besides kimchi.

The point is, there is so much more to South Korea than immediately meets the western eye. In particular, the accessible, inexpensive and ample opportunities for healthy living.

Wellness is taken seriously; healthcare is affordable, food is healthy, and a favorite national pastime is hiking. Obesity is rare, and in general people care about how they look, feel and function.   

When you visit Korea (which you should!) here are a few things to do that will reset your body, mind and soul.

Pick out a Fun Pair of Glasses

Picking out a new pair of frames while in Korea is a fantastic idea. Making a statement with glasses of various shapes, sizes and colors is something that Koreans do well. Getting a new pair is quick and easy. Go into any glasses shop, and pick out a pair of frames that you like. If you don’t have your prescription, the salesman will check your eyes and get your prescription right there for you, no appointment necessary.

The glasses will be ready super fast, like not even a day. Best of all, they are cheap. The lenses are really inexpensive, and if you choose one of the cheap fun frames, it should cost you about 30,000won.

Stock Up On Beauty Products

My mom is obsessed with these panda creams from Tony Moly

Koreans take their beauty routine seriously. In cities, you can barely walk ten feet without seeing a makeup/skincare store. The best thing to get are face masks, they are cheap, fun and actually leave your face quite moisturized. Other things to get are BB Creams, moisturizers, and anything that is a bit different from your normal beauty routine – snail cream anyone?

Get Your Hair Did

Wellness in Korea: Get Your Hair Done

Crazy contraption for hair curling!

There are about as many hair salons as there are makeup stores …so a lot. Most of them do a great job and are inexpensive. Korean’s typically have thick and straight hair, so many stylists don’t have experience with different texture hair. If you want to do something seriously drastic, I would look into a stylist that has experience with whatever kind of hair you have. Just getting a shampoo and blow dry will set you back only $15.

My biggest recommendation is to get magic straight or magic perm. I have forever wanted to permanently straighten my very curly and frizzy hair. In the US, I couldn’t justify spending nearly $500 on a straightening process.

In Korea though, it is a fraction of the cost. My hair is long and curly and magic straight cost me 150,000won. At the time of writing this, I got it done 8 months ago and have not yet had to do it again (my roots have grown in curly, but nothing a flat iron can’t fix). Highlights and full dye jobs are a fraction of the price they are in the US, and a cut, shampoo and blow dry will set you back just 17,000won.

My friend Natasha over at Live, Learn, Venture wrote about her experience with magic straight.

Fix Those Eyes: Get Lasik

Getting Lasik eye surgery is a popular procedure in Korea. The notable doctors do tons of these surgeries and the price cannot be beat. About 600,000 won to get both eyes lasered. Compare that to $2,000 in the US.

Get Squeaky Clean in a Traditional Korean Bathhouse

Wellness in Korea: Getting comfy at the Jimjilbang

Getting comfy at the Jimjilbang

The traditional Korean spa is called the jimjilbang.

Jimjil=heated bath

bang=room

So it directly translates to heated bath room.

The jimjilbang is a huge part of the Korean culture; the first record of a modern day jimjilbang dates back to the 15th century! Generations of women and men gather on their segregated sides and bathe each other. Girlfriends gossip, men chill out, co workers de-stress, and kids play…all totally nude.

Jimjilbangs are all over Korea. Many gyms, hotels and apartment buildings have jimjilbangs in the basement. These community bathhouses have hot tubs, cold tubs, steam rooms and saunas. They are a great place to relax and destress, though they can take some getting used to.

Technically a jimjilbang means there is a sleeping area. Though,a sauna is pretty much the same thing. Look for signs that say: 짐 질 방 OR 사우나

Also check out my first time at the jimjilbang, and these crazy stories from the jimjilbang.

Get a Treatment at a Medical Spa

Dermatology, plastic surgery, and eastern medicine are the most popular forms of treatment at a medical spa. Medical tourism in Korea is quickly growing, and people from all over the world make their way here for some kind of treatment. The level of medical care in Korea is top notch and innovative. If you are interested in medical tourism, check out this site for more information 

Relax and Detox at the Hot Springs

Hot Springs in South Korea are not exactly what you might immediately picture when you think of a hot spring. They are not natural springs in the mountains, but man made facilities that widely differ. There are open air springs out in the country, upscale resort springs in cities, and family friendly water parks. Each hot spring focuses on something different; some are just a place for families to spend time together playing pools, while others focus on wellness.

Try out a Temple Stay

Wellness in Korea: Beopjusa Temple, South Korea

A way to experience Korean Buddhism is through a temple stay program. Learn about the culture and experience the daily rituals of living in a monastery. Typically, a temple stay involves meditation, tea ceremony, 108 prostrations, monastic meals, and communal work. You can do a full day and spend the night in the temple, or just a day program. There are many temples across Korea offering temple stay experiences.

Explore Gyeongdong Market

This traditional market in Seoul is the place to go to see the traditional shops selling holistic remedies to every kind of ailment. Here, locals gather to buy ingredients like ginseng and spices as well as see traditional doctors. It’s the largest herbal medicine market in South Korea, and a unique thing to do while visiting. Stroll up and down the aisles checking out the herbs, spices, leaves, flowers and roots piled high.  

Learn to Cook Korean Food

Korean Food, Kimbap

If you travel to eat, then participating in a cooking class is something to add to your list of things to do in Korea. Learn about the traditional Korean foods to get a full understanding of the culture. Usually the cooking classes will take you through the steps of making popular foods like bibimbap, kimchi and ddeok. You can find cooking classes and schools all over the peninsula, just do a google search.

Get Those Teeth Cleaned

The dentist is another place to stop while traveling in Korea. If you don’t have dental insurance back where you come from, getting your teeth cleaned or a dental procedure will save you a lot of money. Since I have been in Korea I have gotten multiple cleanings, a root canal, a new cap, and a wisdom tooth pulled. I have insurance, and I still haven’t broken $100 on all of those procedures combined. It will obviously cost more without insurance, but well below what it costs in the states.

Eat Healthy Food 

Korean Food - Samgyetang

Many of the dishes in Korea have long histories as to why they are eaten today. On top of that, food and drinks are meant to nourish and heal the body, and many of the things eaten today reflect that. Here are a few things to try if you are feeling under the weather while visiting:

Kimchi- fermented vegetables

Benefits: Gives your body good bacteria to help boost your immune system. The garlic and chili in kimchi aid in lowering cholesterol.

Dried Fruit Traditional Teas

Benefits: Helps treat colds and flu and muscle pain.

Hot Soups

Benefits: Warm your body on a cold day or invigorate you in the hot summer weather.

Which one of these things appeals the most to you? Would you do any of them/Have you done them?!

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South Korea is more than kimchi and Kpop music. It is a country where wellness is taken seriously, As a visitor in Korea, there are many opportunities to relax, rejuvenate and refresh your health.