Top Ten Things to Do in Korea (with Photos)


Here’s a list of the top ten things you should do if you visit South Korea. These suggestions are based on my experience when I lived in Seoul. The activities will give you a good taste of what Korea has to offer. My ranking is based on how fun they are and how close they are to Seoul.

1. Walking tour (Seoul): Take a walking tour of Gyeongbokgung, the royal palace of Korea’s last dynasty, the Joseon.

Gyeongbokgung

Gyeongbokgung (2)

Stop by the Chongwadae, or Blue House, the official residence of the South Korean president.

Blue House

Walk along Cheonggyecheon, a canal walk just two blocks south of Gyeongbokgung off the main thoroughfare downtown, Sejongno.

Cheongyecheon

Cheongyecheon (2)

Sejongno

Keep walking a couple blocks south to Seoul’s City Hall. There aren’t many residential or shopping areas in the heart of downtown, but you will feel the pulse of Korea there.

Seoul City Hall

2. Shopping (Seoul): Shop for souvenirs and good deals at any one of a number of open-air markets and shopping districts in Seoul. The most popular are Namdaemun, Dongdaemun, Myeongdong, and Insadong. Namdaemun is the most famous and lies near Korea’s #1 Treasure, Namdaemun Gate. It’s your best bet for Korean souvenirs. For more traditional arts and crafts, try Insadong. Myeongdong is a trendy shopping area. Dongdaemun is less touristy and a bit off the beaten tourist path.

Namdaemun

Myeongdong

Night Market

3. Namsan Mountain (Seoul): Take a cable car to the top of Namsan Mountain in the heart of Seoul for some of the best panoramic views of the city. N Seoul Tower is more functional than beautiful but has a great view. Explore the paths in Namsan Park and check out the frequent events held there.

Seoul Tower

Seoul Tower (2)

Then visit nearby Namsangol Hanok, a traditional Korean village in Pildong on the north side of the mountain, for a taste of pre-modern Seoul.

Namsangol (2)

Namsangol

4. Dining and Entertainment: The dining and entertainment options in South Korea are endless. Great Korean food is available throughout the country; the best international cuisine is in Seoul and Busan. Try something different than bulgogi. Have some galbijim (beef ribs), bibimbap, or spicy takgogi along with kimchi and other banchan (side dishes). For vegetarians, dine at a Buddhist restaurant.

Korean Food

Korean Food (2)

Wash it down with soju, a Korean rice alcohol that some say tastes like vodka, or baekseju, a sweet alcohol.

Night Life (2)

Then head out for noraebang (karaoke) and sing your heart out with friends. Enjoy the nightlife in Hongdae, the bohemian area of Seoul, or trendy Gangnam. Seoul is a happening place in the evening. If you’re out late and need to refresh yourself, try some haejangguk (hangover soup) and then head to the jimjilbang (sauna) to relax.

Night Life

5. Panmunjom / DMZ Tour: Take a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Joint Security Area (JSA) between North and Seoul Korea. No visit to Korea would be complete without a tour of the de facto border between the two countries. If possible, visit the “Truce Village” of Panmunjom and take a bus tour of the No Man’s Land between the two Koreas. Not all foreign nationals are allowed to tour Panmunjom, so check with a tour guide to see if you’re allowed to visit.

DMZ

DMZ (2)

6. Korean Folk Village: Located in Yongin, 45 minutes south of Seoul, the Korean Folk Village was built for tourists but is arguably the best example of Joseon-era Korean life. The attraction also has a lot of kiddie rides great for children. A fun daytrip from Seoul.

Folk Village

Folk Village (2)

Folk Village (3)

7. Seoraksan National Park: With great hiking and awesome views, Seoraksan is considered by many Koreans to be the most beautiful national park in South Korea. Visit a nearby hot springs to relax after a long hike.

Seoraksan

Seoraksan (2)

Seoraksan is not far from other great destinations in mountainous Gangwon Province, including Pyeongchang, future site of the 2018 Winter Olympics; Yongpyong Ski Resort in Pyeongchang, made famous by the biggest Korean drama of all time, Winter Sonata; and Odaesan National Park.

Yongpyeong

Yongpyeong (2)

8. Busan: Korea’s second largest city and its busiest port, Busan came into its own when it hosted the 2002 Asia Games and 2005 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. Stay on the beach in the suburb of Haeundae and try the bokguk (pufferfish soup) — if you dare. If not, Busan is famous for its charcoal-grilled bulgogi.

Haeundae

The most notable attraction in the area is Beomeosa, a Buddhist temple. It’s a daytrip just north of Busan.

Beomeosa

Beomeosa (2)

9. Gyeongju: Head to Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom (57 BC – 935 AD). The historic area is full of artifacts, including grassy burial mounds holding the tombs of the Silla kings and the Cheomseongdae Observatory. The area offers beautiful views of the Korean countryside. Numerous Buddhist temples and statues are hidden in the hills, and the Pacific Ocean is a half hour drive away.

Gyeongju

Gyeongju (3)

Gyeongju (2)

10. Jeju Island: A large island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, Jeju Island is beloved by many Koreans for its beauty, warm weather, interesting rock formations created by volcanic lava flows, and a local culture unique to Korea. Stay in Jeju City and explore the island’s beaches, parks, and towns in several daytrips.

Jeju (2)

Jeju (3)

Jeju (5)

Jeju (4)

The island’s main symbol, phallic statues called harubang, are considered guardian spirits to ward of evil. It’s likely that they were inspired by, well, Jeju’s rock formations.

Jeju (6)

Jeju

Extra! Yeosu: Visit Yeosu, site of the 2012 World Expo, in South Cholla Province. The World’s Fair runs from May 12 to August 12, 2012. The theme of the Expo is “The Living Ocean and Coast.” Wolchulsan National Park, also in South Cholla not far from Yeosu, is a great place to hike. Many Koreans say that the Cholla region serves up some of the country’s best Korean food.

Wolchulsan (2)

I couldn’t list everything you can do when you visit Korea. Some honorable mentions include the National Museum of Korea, the War Memorial of Korea, and Bukhansan National Park in Seoul; Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon; and Ulleungdo, an island off the coast of Korea.

War Museum

War Museum (2)

Suwon Fortress

Spring is lovely, especially when the cherry flowers blossom in April and May. Summers in Korea are hot and humid, especially during the monsoon season, but the trees and flowers are in bloom, and the country is a sea of green. Watch out for yellow sand from Mongolia around June and heavy monsoon rains from the South China Sea in July-August.

Bukhansan

Bukhansan (2)

Winters are cold, but the snow blankets the land with a brilliant white.

Snow

Snow (2)

The best time to visit Korea is in the fall, when it’s not too hot or cold and the leaves turn into bright fall colors. The country is ablaze with shades of red, orange, and yellow.

Wolchulsan

Anytime of the year, Korea is naturally beautiful.

Wolchulsan (3)

Map picture

 

Note:  This is an updated version of an earlier entry posted in 2007. This update includes photos and some new destinations.

M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He recently published a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories available as an ebook and in print on Amazon.com. His upcoming book, Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, will be released on March 31, 2012. He lived in Seoul, Korea in 2005-07 and now lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

 

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

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100-day birthday celebration


We spent the evening at a friend’s place celebrating his son’s 100th day birthday.  My friend is a World Adventurers reader, so I’m sure he’ll read this post.  He’s welcome to post a comment, but I’ll leave it to him to reveal his identity.  He’s always good for a quicky witted, pithy comeback, so I’m sure he’ll take the bait.  Yesterday I told him we planned to bring gifts for the entire family, but he protested, “Please don’t buy any gifts if you haven’t already.  I feel guilty [taking gifts].”  Well now, let’s see.  Although he is American and his wife is Georgian, true to Korean custom they threw a 100-day celebration (Baek-il, or 백일) for their son.  As is Korean custom, guests should come bearing gifts whenever they are invited over to someone’s home.  Therefore, our friends must accept our gifts with glad hearts.  I also bribed them with some cilantro, which they have had difficulty finding in Korea. 
 
I did a little research to understand why the 100-day celebration is such a significant milestone in a child’s life.  The 100-day celebration is also observed in Chinese culture; it is virtually unheard of in western cultures.   Baek-il is the second of three events in a child’s first year of life celebrating his or her continued health.  According to Korean tradition, these events should only be celebrated if the child is healthy.  The first event, the 21-day celebration, celebrates the child’s first 21 days of life.  It is not as well known as Baek-il because at 21 days the child and mother are traditionally confined to the home and are not allowed to see guests.  The child’s family members traditionally observe the day in absentia by praying for the child.  Baek-il is the official coming-out ceremony for most Korean child.  The child’s first birthday, or Tol (돌), is the third and perhaps most important of the three events.  Once the child passes their first birthday happy and healthy, it is very likely that they will live a longer life.  It’s easy to forget in this day and age that many of our cultural celebrations such as birthdays originated out of the need to survive.  Child mortality was very high in Korea until the 1960’s, and these celebrations are testaments to the fact that many Korean children did not live to see their first birthdays.
Now that you’re thoroughly depressed, let me share the happier side of these celebrations.  Baek-il and tol are opportunities for families to come together and meet the newest members of the clan.  It is often the impetus for family reunions, just as Chuseok (추석), a day to remember one’s ancestors, brings together Korean families every year.  These celebrations give families an excuse to share their bounty with family and friends.  They serve foods that are typically served only at special occasions, such as rice cakes, or deok (덕).  Food becomes even more significant on the child’s first birthday, when the child is seated in the midst of a variety of foods.  Korean tradition maintains that a child’s future will be determined by the first food that they touch.  (I wondered whether that led parents to game the system by putting the most desirable food closest to the child.)  Traditionally, the children have received money, gold trinkets, or clothing as gifts, although modern families may give more eloborate gifts such as toys or tech gadgets.  Thus, it is customary for guests to bear gifts to these types of events, just as we did.  If I didn’t, I couldn’t call myself Korean.  Oh wait, I’m not Korean.  That’s OK.  He better accept them anyway.
For more information on Korean birthday celebrations, visit:
 
 
Note to Quemino’s WorldWelcome back to Seattle.  I hear there’s been some snow in the area.  It was great meeting Alex and you for dinner and drinks in Busan.  I hope you had a great trip to Thailand…at least better than your last day in Busan!  Sorry to hear about the bummer ending to your APEC trip.  How did I blog during the APEC Summit?  Well, when you are stuck at a hotel near the airport, as far as you can get from the action, and you get back to your hotel room too late to do much, your family is five hours away, and the cable TV features one English channel but has an Internet connection, you cope by posting blog entries.  I’ll see you in July when we return to Seattle for a visit.

I Survived Eating Pufferfish


I was extremely busy last night and crashed when I returned to my hotel.  It’s physically draining to be running around all day, hurrying up, stopping, waiting, springing into action.  Tomorrow night will be a very busy day for me as the most important dignitaries arrive here in Busan for the APEC Summit.  To read all about the APEC Summit and the goings-on here in Busan, visit http://www.apec.org/ or http://www.apec2005.org/.  The latter site goes into much more depth about what’s happening now here in Busan than what I could describe in a single blog entry.  It is quite an exciting time to be here in Busan.  I’m amazed to be on the front lines watching the action and advance preparations unfold.  I’m not a spectator, mind you, but I am watching while I work hard doing my small bit to make sure the show goes on smoothly.  The big show, the APEC Economic Leaders’ meeting, is yet to come on November 17, 18, and 19.  I will be here all the way through the Summit and will watch the last major plane fly away a few days later.
Yesterday I tried “bokguk,” or pufferfish soup.  The pufferfish, also known as the blow fish, is a spiny creature that blows itself up into a balloonish shape when it is frightened by potential predators.  The defense mechanism is one way for it to appear larger than life, scaring away the predator.  The pufferfish is also poisonous, secreting a poisonous toxin intended to kill its predator.  Many Americans know that Japanese enjoy eating pufferfish, better known in Japanese as “fugu.”  Stories occasionally come out of Japan claiming that someone died from eating “fugu,” typically caused by the improper preparation of the “fugu” dish.  In Japan, chefs receive extensive training on preparing “fugu” properly, removing the poison glands so that the puffin fish meat remains untainted.  It is considered a delicacy in Japan.

I did not realize that Koreans also eat pufferfish, although this fact makes perfect sense since Busan is just a few hours by boat off the coast of southern Japan.  In Korea, pufferfish is not generally considered a delicacy, and here in Busan, numerous shops serve the fish in a soup for about 5,000 Korean won (about $5.00).  The soup includes bean sprouts and chives and can be served either spicy or mild (depending on whether you want to eat it with red pepper paste.  It is typically served with rice and a variety of panchan, or side dishes.   The pufferfish meat is cut into large chunks and served in the soup.  One typically eats every part of the fish except the head, organs, and spine.  The meat is delicious.  Served fresh, the taste and texture do not taste like fish at all.  To use an overused cliche, the meat tastes more like chicken.  (Actually, it tastes more like frog leg.)  Perhaps best of all, the pufferfish has so few bones that it is very easy to eat. 
I’ve wanted to try “fugu” ever since I first read about it when I was a teenager.  Perhaps I’m crazy wanting to eat something that kills some people (I think the victims are typically children or the elderly).  I have no desire to eat live octopus, which here in Korea the cephalopod is occasionally known to kill an unwary diner if the struggling animal lodges itself in the diner’s throat and suffocates the diner, as happened to an unfortunate Korean man in the past year.  I personally think it’s cruel to eat live animals and would rather that my food not move on my plate while eating it.  I have the same apprehension whenever my wife’s family eats “drunken shrimp,” a Chinese delicacy featuring live shrimp soaked in alcohol.  I just cannot bear to eat an inebriated shrimp starting up at me with those big black eyes, as if to say, “Hey dude, surf’s up!”
According to Wikipedia, all species of pufferfish off the coast of Korea are considered poisonous.  It mentions a hilarious episode of “The Simpsons” in which Homer Simpson eats pufferfish and is mistakenly told he has just 24 hours to live.  Like Homer Simpson, I too ate pufferfish and lived to tell about it.  Perhaps more daringly, I ate pufferfish at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant I’m sure is run by a Korean family as a small business.  I’m positive the cook did not attend professional pufferfish culinary training.  Well, I survived anyway.  Will I try it again sometime?  Oh, I suppose I will, depending on the occasion, now that I know how delicious it is.  Hopefully next time I will try it at an upscale restaurant, where I would feel more comfortable about how my meal has been prepared.