Far different from the images seen in the media, South Korea is a land of cultural attractions and welcoming people where families can find great fun.
Unfortunately, most of our knowledge of this land called Korea comes from history books, news clips, and M*A*S*H reruns on TV. However, travelers wanting to experience this part of the world, problems and all, will find a number of destinations, from Seoul to the countryside, welcoming tourists and offering good value for our buck.
During these tumultuous times there are a number of countries that have experienced tragic circumstances, making news headlines. South Korea has had its share of trouble over the years, from the Korean War 40 years ago, to past political unrest, student riots and a recent financial crisis. Neighboring North Korea has experienced famine, floods and shot-off misguided missiles.
To counteract all the bad publicity, President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea has taken to singing the praises of his country in television commercials airing across the world. The President is joined by a choir of local celebrities in singing, “Welcome to Korea with Love.”
A Proud History
Korea can sing about 5,000 years of history. Unlike its neighbors, China to the west and Japan to the east, Korea isn’t as popular an Asian destination for North Americans. After the bailout by the International Monetary Fund a few years ago, Korea is looking to increase its foreign currency by promoting tourism.
The 99,268 sq. km. Korean Peninsula extends southward from the end of the Asian continent. Korea is divided just slightly north of the 38th parallel. The Republic of Korea in the south and communist North Korea are separated by a Demilitarized Zone. The 70 million people in both North and South Korea long for reunification. Officials from both governments are planning to meet and seek ways to collaborate in promoting tourism in the near future.
Beautiful People, Beautiful Countryside
Although Koreans are of Mongolian stock, they are now a highly homogenous ethnic group with their own unique culture, customs and language. They are very friendly and genuinely happy to see tourists.
Korea enjoys four distinct seasons. The spring brings sunny days; summer brings lush vegetation and unfortunately, monsoons. Fall brings out the colorful leaves on the trees and is perfect for golfing at one of the many courses throughout the country. Winters in Korea are cold and dry with occasional rain and snow. There are 13 ski resorts in the Republic, a fact known to many avid sportsmen and women, from Southeast Asia and Japan.
The Capital, Seoul
Seoul is the capital of Korea. Seoul was a seat of government during the Paekche Kingdom, 1,500 years ago. It became the capital of the Choson Dynasty from 1392 -1910.
Attractions are plenty, and include the Kyongbokkung Palace. Many brides use Kyongbokkung as a backdrop for their wedding photos. Korean television shoots a weekly saga at the palace, so tourists may find themselves surrounded by warriors.
Other attractions are the Ch’angdokkung Palace and Piwon – a secret garden, the changing of the Royal Guards in front of Toksugung Palace, the presidential – Blue House and the Seoul Tower. Shopping is fantastic in Seoul. Custom made suits can be purchased in It’aewon. Bargains can be had at the Namdaemun Market. At midnight, this shopping area becomes a wholesaler to retailers across the country, specializing in purses, clothing, accessories, food and ginseng. All night owls are welcome.
Traditions and Temples
The Korean Folk Village east of Suwon, one hour south of Seoul houses artisans, entertainers and historical structures. Korean school children can be found touring the village, many of them dressed in traditional fashions. Visiting westerners are as exciting to these children as the folk village itself.
Kyongju is three hours southeast of Seoul, by train through scenic countryside. A Kyongju tour includes Pulguksa (Buddhist) Temple, Tumuli Park, with its collection of royal Shilla Dynasty Tombs, the Anapchi Pond, the Pomun Lake Resort and the Sokkurum Grotto, an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pusan is the second largest city next to Seoul. Be sure to wear a nose plug at the extremely stinky, Chagalch’i Fish Market. Yong San Park offers a spectacular panoramic view of this port city.
Less than one hour by plane from Seoul and less than an hour from Pusan, lies the subtropical resort island of Chejudo, a favorite honeymoon destination for Korea’s newlyweds. Attractions include the Cheju Folk Village, the Sung San Sunrise Peak, where the energetic can scale the mountain, Pun Jae Artpia – a bonsai park, the Manjanggul Cave and the natural sculpture collection at Tamla Mok Sok Won. The Yellow Submarine ride below the East Sea is breathtaking.
Korea is ready to be seen by the world’s travelers.
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