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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Hanliu / Hallyu (한류)


Hanliu (한류), also known as hallyu or the “Korean Wave,” refers to the Korean cultural phenomenon now sweeping across East and Southeast Asia.  Korean culture is hot right now, especially in Japan and China.  Asians are discovering the uniqueness and intrigue of a place once known as the Hermit Kingdom.  The phenomenon started with the spread of a 20-parent Korean drama series produced a few years ago called “Winter Sonata.”  You might have even heard of this series in the news.  Right now it’s the hottest thing in Japan and very popular throughout Asia.  Other Korean drama series that are popular right now include “Summer Scent”, “Fall Fairy Tale”, and “Stairway to Heaven” (yes, the Led Zepplin classic is one of the featured songs).  I enjoy watching these dramas to improve my Korean, but they are not my kind of movie.  They can be slow, and the plotlines are too simple and have too many coincidences for my taste.  Rather than using violence to create suspense, these dramas tend to inflict characters with illnesses–blindness, amnesia, and heart failure.  Nothing like a good heart transplant to bring people together.

My wife, who grew up in Asia, is crazy about these movies.  Her favorite actor is a hunk who makes every woman in Asia weak in the knees, Bae Yong Jun (배용준).  Very few actors have made the same kind of splash in the U.S. as BYJ has in Asia.  The rapid rise of Leo DiCaprio after the release of the movie “Titanic” is probably the best comparison to Bae hysteria in Japan and Asia.  Interestingly, the popularity of “Winter Sonata” has cooled in Korea because it’s already a few years old.  I imagine that when the new “Spring” series comes out–the last of the four “seasons” dramas, it will be immensely popular in Korea and Japan.

Korean movies have heightened interest throughout Asia in other aspects of Korean culture, including music, technology, martial arts (tae kwondo), and language.  In Japan the wave of Hanliu is still on the rise.  It’s rare that the Japanese embrace another culture so quickly and feverishly.  Korean dramas are especially popular with Asians because many closely identify with the dramas’ main themes–love, love triangles, family duty, personality conflicts and manipulation, innocence, intimacy, and tragedy.  Korean culture itself is intriguing because it still embodies many Confucian principles, and Asians are revisiting these principles, perhaps for the first time.  This is especially true in China, which lost some of its Confucist character following World War II and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

For Christmas I bought my wife the “Winter Sonata” soundtrack and a Bae Yong Jun T-shirt.  After an exhaustive search I found just one to buy on the Web.  (I found it at Kpopmusic).  I told my mother, and she exclaimed, “You bought her a T-shirt?!”  An American, she doesn’t understand.  At this moment that’s the best gift I could give her.  She plans to wear it proudly and show it off to all the Koreans she knows.