In case you haven't heard about it; Korea has 4 distinct seasons, it's wonderful. Perhaps you can detect more than a hint of sarcasm? Well, this will be understood by my fellow NET readers, but for the rest of you the reason for this is because we here about it a lot from Korean people. They are really quite proud of the fact, which is not something to be ridiculed as such, in fact I think it is quite nice that they are in touch with the nature of their own country and pride is not necessarily a bad thing all the time. It is, however, a way of looking at your country's climate that I never thought of. So, although I am not knocking it I don't really understand why they are so proud of their 4 seasons. My country has the same seasons and at the same time of year and I have never met anyone who has pride in it, perhaps we should.
So as we are coming out of Winter and heading into spring, here is my breakdown of the seasons in Korea, starting with Summer.
Summer is the season in Korea that I dislike the most, contrary to England where it is undoubtedly the best. In England we get the odd really hot day but generally it is warm rather than hot and affords me the opportunity to get outside enjoying the countryside and playing cricket. In Korea Summer is stiflingly hot and for the period of about a month or so it becomes almost unbearable to spend any time outside, I just sit at home under the air conditioning wearing only my underwear. I try to fight the heat by rising early in the morning and running at 6.30am but to no avail, the heat saps all the strength right out of me. Sleeping also becomes difficult and I have to ignore warnings from many Korean people about fan death (the funny little superstition that if you sleep with the fan on it could lead to your untimely end) and have the fan and the air conditioning on overnight sometimes .
In the middle of summer (mid to late July) there is also the monsoon season, it's hot, humid, and rainy and no clothes can dry on the clothes hangers in our apartments. If the rain doesn't make you wet, your own sweat will. I remember leaving a pile of clothes in the washing machine one time for a couple of days over a weekend and because they were so sweaty, when I returned they smelled pretty funky and most stayed that way and I had to chuck them.
I think it is fair to say that even after just a couple of months of summer I am longing for Autumn and Winter.
What to do in Summer
- Stay inside, and if you go outside make sure you make regular stops for air conditioning. Or, if you must go outside.....
- Go to a valley and enjoy the mountain streams.
- Go to the beach, but you can't in the monsoon season very easily and it can be almost too hot if you find a weather window.
- Go hiking. While it is initially difficult, you can get some relief from the heat near the tops of the higher mountains, although beware of heat exhaustion.
What not to do in Summer
- Eat sushi and seafood generally. I have been warned by a few different Korean people that eating sushi in summer can cause the odd stomach upset.
- Wear grey T-shirts. Even walking for 2 minutes to catch a bus causes unwelcome sweat patches.
- Exercise outside (apart from hiking and swimming). Going for a run in summer almost feels dangerous, if you do make plenty of water stops.
The beginning of Autumn also brings the celebration of Chuseok, Korea's Thanksgiving day that has much to do with remembering their close relatives who have passed away. This can be a bit of a nuisance for the foreign population in Korea, however, because of the extreme amounts of traffic on the roads down to people migrating out of the major cities to go back to their home towns for the holiday. On the plus side it is a culturally rich time of year, and I myself am right in the thick of it with my Korean family which is sometimes a good thing and that I am honoured to be a part of but also it can be a real test of patience as long hours of family time (with lots of people) is not what I am used to back in England.
What to do in Autumn
- Go outside. Hike, run a marathon, start an exercise regime, go to the park, have a picnic, even go to the beach (it is often still warm enough, especially in early Autumn).
- Get your camera out. Trees on the mountains are everywhere and they look beautiful, you never have to go far for a great shot.
- Go on a trip. Comfortable temperatures mean this is the time to go away for the weekend and visit historic cities, go to Seoul or Busan, or wonder around for the weekend somewhere new.
What not to do in Autumn
- Honestly, I can't think of anything.
Although freezing cold, and consistently so, I quite enjoy Korean Winter. I find that it is the time of the year that their food really tastes even better than normal. I am a real fan of Korean street food, which is absolutely perfect for warming yourself up with; tteokpoggi, odeng, sundae, pajeon, ho duk, and pungopbang all do the trick very nicely. Korea's normally spicy food seems perfect for the chilly Winters.
Winter back home in England is a bit of a dark and dismal affair. It is dark by 3 o'clock sometimes and very often cloudy, so getting out and about and being outside doing activities is very difficult. Korean Winter, on the other hand, is very cold but sunny and dry with more hours of sunlight in the day. This affords the opportunity for hiking, skiing, and generally being a bit more active outside. The only drawback is that in my area of the country is rarely snows and this makes for a rather drab, brown, and dead appearance to all of the nature around. It is therefore not the prettiest month, at least not for me down south.
What to do in Winter
- Go skiing. It is very affordable but it is very often extremely busy. If you are already a good skier, the harder slopes are much less busy in places like Muju.
- Eat street food.
- If you are a hardy kind of person, hiking in the Winter to some of the National parks is really beautiful. But be warned the thick snow and plunging temperatures are not for the faint-hearted or ill-prepared.
- Go on a vacation. The Winter cold can drag on and a trip to a warm country to break things up is very welcome.
What not to do in Winter
- Go to the coast. The freezing cold wind makes it feel even colder when you are by the sea.
- Be stuck in the house. Sometimes people can just hibernate in the Winter, but Winter in Korea also harbours some of the clearest weather with a good deal of sunshine. Try to find ways to wrap up warm and go outside.
Spring is a good time to visit Korea, outside of the dust storms, because of the many festivals that are running in the Spring months. These festivals take place all over the country and usually celebrate the particular foods, animals, and general qualities of the area in question.
What to do in Spring
- Go to a festival. Towns and cities all over Korea have lots of festivals celebrating what is special about their particular area so are good places to get your culture fix.
- Go hiking (hang on, I think I have said this for every month). Spring is the month for the blooming of flowers of course, the Royal Azaleas on the mountains can be really pretty.
- Go to a place with Cherry Blossom trees and have a picnic.