If you decide to go to South Korea you will come into contact with the won, which is their national currency. North Korea also uses the won but it is a distinctly different currency.
The won is a decimal currency and it is subdivided – at least in theory – into 100 jeon. In reality you won’t actually come across the jeon as the coins are not used any more. The symbol for the won is a capital W with two horizontal lines drawn through it similar to an equals sign.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
There are six coins in use in South Korea at the moment. These range from the smallest 1 won coin to the largest 500 won coin. In between you will also see the 5, 10, 50 and 100 won coins.
There are four banknotes as well, which are the 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 50,000 won notes.
From past to present – the history of the South Korean won
We can trace the beginnings of the won right back more than a century to 1902. However the one we know today was launched in 1962. Before this, when the Second World War ended, Korea was divided into North and South Korea. Each country then had its own won and the first version in South Korea lasted until 1962 when it was replaced by the version we have today.
How to get hold of the South Korean won
Since South Korea is not one of the most popular countries tourists head for, you may find you have to pre-order your won before you leave. Don’t expect to walk into a bureau de change and pick up the South Korean won without giving notice of how much you need first. You might be lucky in a large branch but it is best not to assume and leave it until the last minute.
When you arrive in South Korea you will of course be able to get more currency from cash machines situated across the country. One thing to be aware of is that the withdrawal limit on some machines can be low so it is often best to take out what you can and then use the next cash machine you find as well. If you do find one with more generous limits you should take advantage. You might also find cash machines are closed when you come across them, as they are not always available 24-hours a day, 7-days a week.
You can use cards to pay for purchases as well, but make sure you alert your card providers that you are going to South Korea so they know it is you making the payment each time. This saves the embarrassment of getting your card stopped and then finding you can’t use it for the duration of your trip.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the South Korean won
Any currency converter should have the South Korean won included in its list of currencies you can convert from and to. If you come across one that only has the most popular currencies you might have to look elsewhere for a converter that provides a long list of the main currencies in use around the world.
If you are interested in travelling to South Korea for any reason, you might find it useful to visit the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the UK, which covers Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The easiest way to find out more is by going to their official website at http://gbr.mofa.go.kr/english/eu/gbr/main/index.jsp.
Travelling safely with the South Korean won
Most people will be aware that South Korea is separated from North Korea and this has been the case since the Korean War ended in 1953. The two halves of the country are separated by a de-militarised zone.
However while peace is tenuously maintained between the two countries there is no telling if or when this could change. It is always an uneasy peace and it is best to check the latest travel information and advice for South Korea prior to your trip.
Minor crimes such as theft and pickpocketing are quite few and far between in South Korea, but they do sometimes occur. Victims tend to be those who leave their valuables in plain sight and make it easy for pickpockets to take things. If you carry cash around with you it is a good idea to separate it into different pockets so you can preserve some of it even if you are picked on. It is also wise not to travel alone if you can possibly help it, and not to travel in quieter more isolated areas or at night.
Where to spend your won in South Korea – and what to spend them on
If you decide to visit South Korea you may be wondering where you should go to experience some of what the country has to offer. Seoul is the capital and this is well worth a visit, as it boasts several iconic sights as well as being home to the Summer Olympics in 1988.
Among the sights worth seeing here are the Changdeokgung Palace Complex, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of several you will find in the city. This one was built in the early 1400s and today it offers you the chance to see some impressive structures, including Donhwamun Gate and Geumcheonyo Bridge. Another major attraction and UNESCO site consists of the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. Some of these are located in Seoul while the remainder are in Gyeonggi-do.
Seoul also offers a fascinating mix of both ancient and modern architecture, providing you with a great opportunity to explore the city on many levels. One of the best places to begin is in Jongno, which translates into Bell Street. This is a major street in the city and you will find sights such as Tapgol Park along this street.
But what does the rest of South Korea have to offer? Well, the country has many delightfully attractive naturally occurring landmarks as well as those that are manmade. For example you can see the Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, which is a stunning sight on Jeju Island, a short distance off the coast of South Korea. The island is part of the country and it is well worth making a trip there to see the waterfall if nothing else. The island itself is the best part though – it is a volcanic island and you can visit the many lava tubes the island is known for. These were created when lava flows underneath the lava above it, and eventually drains out while the above lava solidifies. Mount Hallasan National Park is also on the island.
The city of Gyeongju also makes a nice contrast to visiting Seoul. Located in south eastern South Korea, the city is based on the coast and it has many sites which give you an insight into what life was like here long ago. There are many historic areas to be found which once again have been recognised by UNESCO. You will come across ruins, pagodas and much else besides when you explore the area in more detail. It comes as no surprise to learn that many refer to it as an outdoor museum, such is the scale of the remnants and buildings left behind from an almost forgotten time.
Another example of a wonderful site is the Seokguram Grotto which is just one part of an overall complex. If you have an interest in Buddhism you will appreciate the large Buddha on display here, but even if you have no connections to Buddhism at all it is worth visiting to see how impressive it is.
When you are exploring what South Korea has to offer, you will no doubt want to spend some of your won on some food and drink. The food here is based on a long history of many changes, but the basics are recognisable to us all. Many dishes are comprised of rice and various meats, along with a selection of vegetables. Sometimes a variety of side dishes or banchan will form a meal, instead of having one main dish as you might be used to.
One good way of exploring the many taste sensations on offer in the country is to indulge in some street food. Noodles are many and varied and you can have them served in all manner of broths depending on taste. Another popular choice is dakkochi, which is a skewer packed with meat and vegetables before being finished off with a sauce of your choice. If you are brave you may even try the so-called blood sausage, which really does have animal blood in it, usually from a pig. As you can see, while most South Korean cuisine consists of tasty and healthy dishes, the odd one might seem very odd to you indeed!
South Korea has much to offer to the tourist looking for a different kind of holiday. It is packed with history that stretches far back into the past and there are many wonderful sights to see while you are there. Wherever you intend to stay in the country, you will be glad you chose it as an unusual yet engaging holiday destination.