A photo of a "grandfather" sculpture on Jeju Island with the text "five tips to travelling to South Korea as a vegan"

Vegan Travel: South Korea

February 23, 2024
Sarah Fay

In November, VegTO went on a vegan tour to South Korea. We spent a week touring the country from Seoul to Jeju Island, to Yeosu; eating vegan food, learning about Korean culture, and taking in the breathtaking sights. We’re here to tell you that South Korea is a great place to visit, and if you’re planning to travel there this year, here are 5 tips for travelling there as a vegan.

First off, if you’re planning a trip to South Korea this year, check out the Korea Tourism Organisation’s website here and their guide to vegan restaurants here. There is so much information in these two links!

Visit a temple, for the day, or spend the night.

Korean Templestays are one of the most unique things to do on your trip. We visited Baegyangsa temple and spent the day there. Korean temple food is vegan by default, as the Buddhists don’t believe in causing harm to any living thing, so you can feel safe eating there.

We had dinner in the temple’s communal dining area. Food is served buffet style, and as a visitor you serve yourself and are responsible for cleaning your place after, washing your dishes and putting them back. Meals are eaten in silence, which is a really unique opportunity to reflect on your meal.

Visiting the temple was definitely the highlight of our trip to Korea. Be sure to take a tour of the grounds; Baegyangsa is nestled in the mountains, and the scenery was stunning.

Google Translate is your ultimate companion for navigating South Korea, making it feel like you're living in the future.

Make use of it's amazing camera feature to scan ingredients on products, signs and menus. It’s not 100% perfect of course, but it’s quick and simple and a great way to check for meat, dairy, fish and eggs.

You can also leverage Google Translate for conversations with locals. The split-screen feature allows for real-time translation, facilitating smoother interactions and bridging language barriers. You can ask a question in English and the translation pops up in Korean on the other side of the screen, allowing the Korean person to read it and if necessary type an answer. We found this very helpful when asking questions at take-out restaurants.

No oat milk options? No problem! Make sure you get your caffeine fix and carry oat milk.

Indulge in South Korea's vibrant coffee culture while staying true to your plant-based lifestyle with oat milk. As the third largest consumer of coffee worldwide, Korea has coffee everywhere, but not all offer plant-based milk options. Thankfully, some hotels and major chains like Starbucks cater to vegans, providing oat milk for your lattes. For a hassle-free experience, we discovered single size juice boxes of oat milk are available at most convenience stores, so we bought those and kept them in our bags, ensuring coffee just the way you like it, wherever your adventures take you.

Kimchi is the national dish of Korea, and it is a fermented delight, but watch out for the fishes! 

When dining out in South Korea, be mindful of fish sauce lurking in traditional dishes. We found that red kimchi was often the biggest offender. Especially in non-vegan establishments, inquire about fish sauce usage to ensure your meal aligns with your values. Opting for white kimchi varieties is often a safer bet for a fish-free dining experience. Stay vigilant and enjoy exploring the vibrant flavors of Korean cuisine with confidence!

Navigating South Korea as a vegan is often smoother in bustling cities like Seoul, where an abundance of vegan-friendly eateries await discovery. Make sure you take advantage of lists like like Happy Cow or this guide published by the Korean Tourism Organisation. In urban centres, dining at vegan restaurants is a breeze, offering a diverse array of plant-based options. However, venturing further from city limits can pose challenges, with vegan dining options becoming scarce, unless visiting a temple. In more remote areas like Jeju Island, finding vegan-friendly fare may prove more difficult, underscoring the importance of planning ahead. If all else fails, find a market and indulge in a fresh fruit and vegetable banquet with the amazing array of local produce.

you might also like

An image of Mexico City

Vegan Travel: Mexico City

February 23, 2024
Marc Goldgrub

Digital Nomad’s Guide to Mexico City.

read more
Avocado sushi on a white plate

Vegan Travel: A Staycation in Toronto

February 23, 2024
Kimberly D'Oliveira

The ideal staycation in Toronto is all about food, culture and exploring the outdoors.

read more