The Similarities and Differences between Korea and China

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own, and I tried to be honest. If you know something different, let me know!

Jinli street in Chengdu crowded with people

I’ve been living in Chengdu for about a year now and I think it is time to go over some similarities and differences between China and Korea. This is mostly regarding my life in Chengdu versus Incheon two large cities in both countries.


1. Excellent Transportation

Want to go somewhere cheap and quick? You can take the metro or a bus! Both countries have extensive transportation networks for very cheap travel between the two places. That includes long distance bus travel. A bus ticket from Chengdu to Ruo’er gai (Zorge) about 9 hours by bus is only about 160 rmb ( 25$) one way. (My memory isn’t the greatest when it comes to prices.)

Chengdu is cheaper than Incheon when it comes to public transportation. I have never paid over 5 rmb (~80 cents) for a one-way ride. Korea’s transportation starts around 1,200won and goes upwards of 3000 won (although this could have changed in the last few years) The won is similar to the dollar but not quite the same.

2. Cheap Local Food. Expensive Coffee.

Bingfan, a local dessert in Chengdu costs about 8 rmb (~$1.25)

In both countries local food is cheaper depending on what you choose to eat. In Korea, if you go to a kimbap house you can easily find a meal for under 5,000 won. ($5) In Chengdu you can eat street food or at a small local restaurant for under 20 rmb (~$3) Although Chengdu is cheaper this may not be true for larger cities like Shanghai or Beijing where the cost of living is higher.

A latte from my favorite coffee shop, Charu.

Coffee is more popular in Korea than in China, especially Chengdu, which is known as a tea city. Although Korea’s coffee boom has only been in the last six years or so, so I assume China will follow suit with coffee chains everywhere, as well as, independent coffee shops. Interestingly coffee is slightly cheaper in China, although it is still more expensive to indulge in a coffee than to eat a local cheap meal. An Americano at Familymart costs 10 Rmb (~$2). Whereas at most coffee shops an Americano is about 25 Rmb (~$4). In Korea, you can find an Americano from 2,000 – 4,500 won depending on the coffee shop. There are also cheap vending machine coffees, but I believe those might becoming less and less common.

3. It’s Crowded.

Tourists visiting (창덕궁) Changdeokgung in Seoul.

When people think spaces back home are crowded they don’t really know what crowded is until they move to the large cities in Asia. Walk through Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, or Chengdu at rush hour and you will think it’s a living hell. In Korea, it was crowded, but I never saw subway pushers at the major stations. I know this is a thing in Japan and I was surprised when I saw it in Chengdu the first time. I was going to take Line 1, but then saw an entire platform filled with a sea of people and as the train approached only one person was able to enter each car as the security pushed people to stay inside as the doors closed. Needless to say, I decided to walk 45 minutes to my destination rather than stand in that. I also avoid the rush hour when I can.

It’s not only crowded during the work week, but national holidays also create larger crowds and traffic. Because both countries have national holidays where most citizens have the time off, many people are traveling to the same destinations. Chengdu has a population of 10 million people. Sichuan province is home to an estimated 80 million people. Incheon is home to 3 million people. Just for some perspective.

4. Non – Accessible Cities

These share bikes are everywhere in Chengdu. (Not sure about the rest of China) But they are an accessibility issue on narrow sidewalks.

Just like many cities back home, most cities here are not wheel-chair accessible. Many buildings have stairs or have no elevators. I am sure this will change as time goes by and the building codes are addressed to include this like other countries have in the past. Most metro stations have an elevator and many shopping malls have flat escalators, found in chains like Walmart, Carrefour, Homeplus, and Lotte World.

5. Social Media – Messaging Apps

Both countries have their own platforms that they enjoy for social media. Everyone in Korea uses kakaotalk as their go to messaging app. Other apps such as Facebook and Instagram are also popular there. China has its own social media apps. Almost everyone uses WeChat for messaging. Other popular apps are Weibo, QQ, and Douying. So, if you plan to travel to or live in these countries for any point in time you should definitely download either kakaotalk or wechat!

6. Don’t Drink The Water

Boiling water at home to drink in Chengdu.

Both Korea and China do not have drinkable water. Most locals will either boil the water or have a water machine in their house that dispenses cold and hot water. I’m a cheaper person so I have a Brita water filter.

In Korea, I used the water for cooking without thinking much about it, I just used filtered water for drinking. However, in China I use filtered water for cooking as well. In China it is still recommended to boil the filtered water as well because of bacteria.

Gray skies in Incheon.

7. Don’t Flush The TP

 In Korea and China you really shouldn’t flush anything down the toilet, including toilet paper. There is always a waste bin next to the toilet for you to toss it in. Granted some bathrooms it might be piled high next to the toilet. Luckily for me this wasn’t hard to get used to as one of the houses I grew up in had old pipes so we always had only one ply toilet paper that had to go in a basket as well.

Blue skies in Songdo, South Korea.


1. Smoking Bans

When I lived in Korea the first year it was still okay to smoke inside buildings and many places on the streets now you cannot smoke inside and there are smoking bans in place. They also raised the price of cigarettes to curb smoking.

China is very much a smoking country even though there are smoking bans in place they are not strictly enforced. I have seen people smoke in taxis, on the streets, in restaurants, in teashops, at bars, or in the teacher’s room at schools.. Many people also smoke in the bathroom, which was also common in Korea. So, if you are in China expect there always to be a smoker around you somewhere. Hopefully over the next few years the smoking ban will become more strictly enforced than it is now.

2. Metro Security

Metro security in Chengdu.

One big difference between the transportation systems here is that the only security I ever went through in Korea was at the airport. I never needed it for a train, bus, or subway which was really nice.

However, in China, you need to pass through security before boarding the metro. This means they will scan your bag and if you have any beverage on you, you need to hand it over to be checked before you can pass through the gate. For the first month I found this to be a huge annoyance, but now I am used to it. Also expect to go through security for inter-buses and trains.

3. Fashion

When I lived in Korea, I always felt underdressed, especially if I made a trip into Seoul. Although fashion in Korea has changed it is still mostly expected for women to have on make- up when walking around and their hair always looks nice. This was not me so I found it hard to fit in as I’m a more comfortable lady.

In Chengdu, the fashion is more relaxed and you will see people wearing similar trends, but many women don’t wear much make-up or any at all. Which is a refreshing change. Another local fashion is that when it begins getting hot and humid you will see the men with their shirts up or off and their stomachs out, whether eating or as the store attendant.

Blue skies in Chengdu.

4. The Internet

In Korea, I could watch whatever I wanted when I wanted. I could access Facebook, Instagram, Google and YouTube with no problem. It was only when I wanted to watch Netflix that I found a free VPN to use it. I really enjoyed that freedom of just logging on and going to the website I wanted.

In China, all of my most frequented apps/websites are blocked. (Facebook, Instagram, Google, Gmail, Reddit, YouTube, Twitter, WhatsApp) I’m sure there are others, but those are the only ones I can think of at the moment. So, it’s really important to have a free VPN or a paid one before arriving in China if you would like to use those to stay in contact with everyone outside of China.

Gray skies in Chengdu.

5. House Visitors

I lived in Korea for 4 years and the only thing that visited me was a giant ass spider when I lived in the countryside. That was super easy to deal with. I never had to deal with cockroaches or rodents. Maybe I was just lucky?

China is not the same. Chengdu is not the same as Incheon. Cockroaches and Rats are normal. The only buildings without them will be the brand-new well-built apartments, which also happen to be very expensive. Possibly twice what I currently live in. I lived in a fairly newer building and I had a rat visit me on the 18th floor. So I really don’t care what floor you live on, they can come visit if it isn’t properly sealed. I currently live in an older building and I have killed quite a few cockroaches. I saw one the other day and it died, but they are mostly gone now that the weather has cooled down. I currently have a rat hiding in my kitchen and I set out a trap, and I haven’t seen it since, go figure. I was told its normal and the locals live with it so don’t really expect much else. The standards are different so keep that in mind.

6. Recycling

Recycling and Trash bin in Chengdu.

Korea’s recycling programs are very good! They have bins for everything outside of your apartment complex which is great! My only pet peeve was there were no trash cans anywhere on the streets because they were deemed unsightly. I believe they are now currently being reinstalled so the streets don’t have a ton of trash.

China (Chengdu) is the opposite. It has trash can’s everywhere! You can always find one, they are always being emptied and the streets are always being swept day and night. My apartment has recycling, but it isn’t really followed from what I can see. It appears that most things are all thrown in together. So, although recycling is here it isn’t strictly implemented yet. I assume that will also change with time.

7. Squatter Toilets

These are squatter toilets out in the countryside of China. Most public bathrooms are more modern squatters.

Although both Korea and China do have these types of toilets, Korea for the most part has more western toilets these days so I think this can be seen as a slight difference. In China, especially here in Chengdu, squatter toilets are the norm. Even at both of my schools these are the only toilets available including in the newly built school. So if you come to China prepare to squat a lot!

2 comments / Add your comment below

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox: