This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Korea guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip.
Meeting Mr Kim by Jennifer Barclay (2008) is a recent addition to the limited selection of travel literature on South Korea – a few things are dated since it’s based on the author’s experiences in 2000 but overall it’s an amusing, easy read with some fresh insights into Korean culture.
Brother One Cell by Cullen Thomas (2008; cullenthomas.com) reveals a side of Korea that few visitors ever get (or would want) to see – the inside of a Korean prison. A kind of Korean Midnight Express, it’s the author’s memoir of his 3½-year incarceration for smuggling hashish into the country in 1994.
Korea Bug by J Scott Burgeson (2005; www.kingbaeksu.com) is a Seoul ’zine turned book, featuring interviews with a fascinating set of Seoul characters, including a shaman, a gisaeng (similar to a Japanese geisha), artists and directors.
A Peep into Korea by Kevin J Hayes (2006) documents the sporadic adventures of the author and his Korean wife across the country, including to places seldom visited by Western tourists.
Diamond Dilemma by Tariq Hussain (2006) is an outsider’s perspective on how Korea is shaping up economically in the early 21st century and how it needs to change to achieve its full potential.
Korea Unmasked by Rhee Won-bok (2002) takes an illuminating and humorous look at contemporary Korean attitudes in a cartoon format by comparing Korea to neighbouring rivals China and Japan.
Korea by Simon Winchester (1988; www.simonwinchester.com) sees this talented writer vividly describing encounters with Korean monks, nuns, artists, marriage arrangers, US generals and, most memorably, a barber during his journey from Jeju-do to Seoul.
Korea and Her Neighbours by Isabella Bird (1898) is an account of the intrepid Victorian author’s travels around Korea at a fascinating time in its history – when it had only recently emerged from its hermit-like existence and was starting to be colonised by Japan.
More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found here.