South Korea Travel Guide
Despite the fact that South Korea is becoming more and more popular destination for travellers and adventurers in recent years, the Korean peninsula remains teasingly unexplored and certainly unspoiled which are some good news for those of you who do not enjoy overcrowded touristic destinations and places. Although this piece of East Asia is just starting to grow in popularity it already has a lot to offer to the visitor in an effortless style. South Korea is a beautiful land of pine forests and mountains, misty archipelagos and rice paddies, emerald green terraces and dynamic cities. Despite the dramatic past and troublesome history of the country, South Korea is sturdily emerging and blooming, celebrating its unique traditions and distinctive culture that promises the foreigner an exciting adventure.
After the catastrophic Korean War in 1953 both parts of Korea have gone their separate ways and nowadays they feel and appear so different that is hard to believe that back in time they used to be two parts of a whole. The two Koreas are today separated by the spiky twin frontiers of the Demilitarized Zone and while the northern side is pretty much closed to the tourist with the strict and demanding Communist rule, South Korea is more than welcoming and hospitable. Despite the fact that many people around the world tend to think that South Korea is just as impossibly accessed as its northern neighbour, this is far from the truth and once again shows how good the secret of this amazing and mesmerising place is kept. In fact, there is not that hard to fall in love with the country and its lively, vibrant, and buzzing capital city Seoul, the finger-licking good national cuisine and the infamous kimchi, the taekwondo tradition, the historical and natural beauty of this glittering land, and so much more that somehow remains little known to the outside world but certainly deserves attention.
After the end of the war and the embracing of democracy, South Korea is simply blooming in development and progress, owner of a powerful and dynamic economy nowadays. The South Korean cities are cosmopolitan and unique at the same time, bursting with life and places to go, explore, and enjoy. Every city offers plenty of opportunities for the best shopping spree in your life, from the cutting-edge modern malls and shopping centres to the lively and buzzing food markets that are a real feast for the eyes and the stomach.
National cuisine is just as good as you have heard everyone speaking and there is no wonder that South Korea is the birthplace of mukbangs. Set foot outside the dynamic urban centres and you will feel like you have somehow managed to teleport to another planet. The furtherer you travel from the big city, the more you will be impressed by the rural areas where time seems to has stopped somewhere at the start of the “Economic Miracle” of the 1970s, little islands exist without ever witnessing a foreigner, and the relaxed and laid-back vibe of these impressive lands and impressive people is what will never leave your heart and mind.
Despite its enormous progress and impressive development, South Korea remains a land of amazing traditions and customs. With an unbroken line of more than a hundred kings back in the past and for almost 2000 years, there is no wonder that you can explore a very rich and spectacular history when in the country. The capital Seoul is a home to a number of palaces that date back as far as the 14th century and ensure a beautiful juxtaposition of ancient charm and cutting-edge modern, while golden relics and historic remains can be seen anywhere in the country.
The wooden hanok housing remains one of the cultural symbols of South Korea to this date and you will never be more than a walk away from a spectacular and colourful Buddhist temple. At the same time, Confucian-style ceremonies and customs continue to play a big role in the lifestyle of locals and as surprising it is to the foreigner – some mountains still host shamanistic rituals. This is how colourful, quirky, and unique South Korea is!
When it comes to the Korean people, you will be happy to meet them. With a sassy and spicy character just like their food, Koreans are very straight-forward yet well-meaning people who are simply impressive in the children-like enthusiastic way they meet foreigners. Koreans certainly know how to have fun, in fact, going out and having fun is a deeply rooted tradition in their lifestyle so you are guaranteed to meet new friends and enjoy a night out every single day of your visit.
As already mentioned, South Korea remains a pretty unknown territory despite the beauty and charm it has. More than a half of all its visitors go no further than the capital Seoul. The capital is definitely a place worth visiting, showcasing an amazing juxtaposition of traditions, history, and culture and being one of the most technically advanced examples of a cosmopolitan city at the same time.
Whenever you want to dive into the rich Korean history you will be able to do that by visiting the fourteen-century palaces, imperial gardens, teeming markets, and mysterious tearooms. In a contrast, a maze of skyscrapers, cutting-edge shopping malls, and plenty of hip cafes and clubs dedicated to a number of quirky sub-cultures are going to make your visit unforgettable. Start your trip from Seoul and anywhere else in the country you would like to visit is no more than a day-long trip. The best day-trip by far is to the DMZ that is the strip of land separating the two Koreas.
The province that surrounds Seoul is called Gyeonggi and it is an unappealing land divided into millions of parts by the bunch of roads and railways that provide an access to the capital. However, two of its cities still deserves a visit – Suwon is a home to a UNESCO-listed eighteen-century fortress, Incheon is a cosmopolitan city with an amazing local cuisine is the perfect getaway to the islands of the West Sea.
The neighbouring province Gangwon provides the perfect contrast to Gyeonggi, an unspoilt and beautiful land jam-packed with attractions, national parks with the craggy Seoraksan being the most visited one, unspoilt beaches, colonial caves, the small and beautiful city of Samcheok, the sleepy fishing village Jeongdongjin. The traditional Gyeongsang provinces stretch down from Gangwon to the South Sea. This stretch of land is a home to some of the best highlights in the country, starting from the gorgeous capital of the Silla dynasty for almost a thousand of years Gyeongju, the grassy burial tombs of many kings and queens, the small mountain area Namsan and its many trails, tombs, and intriguing Buddhas, the UNESCO-listed Bulguksa temple.
Andong is a small and relaxed town you will enjoy visit and it is the perfect getaway to the remote Confucian academy Dosan Seowon, the charming village of Hahoe that is a bright example of the traditional Korean lifestyle and customs. The windswept island of Ulleungdo showcases the rustic charm and atmosphere of South Korea, where you will be able to experience the natural beauty of a volcanic land rising from the East Sea and plenty of tiny fishing settlements.
Korea’s second city is called Busan and offers a charming urban vibe, however, significantly more different than Seoul but also a home to the best nightlife outside the capital, the best fish markets in the country, and a number of amazing beaches. The Jeolla provinces make up the southwest region of the peninsula. The main city of the area and a regional capital is Gwangju which is notably known for the violent political protests of 1980 but aims to position itself as a city of art and progressive business.
Jeonju is a city with a similar vibe but in addition, it offers a dive into a more cultural and historical part with the traditional hanok housing in the area and a great experience for the foodies with its wonderful and flavoursome cuisine. Reaching the breath-taking beautiful West Sea islands starts from the earthy Makpo. The islands themselves are dotted with plenty of atmospheric fishing villages and national parks.
The Chuncheong provinces are located right in the middle of South Korea. Although not overcrowded with tourists, this area offers some great things to see and experience. The old Baekje capitals of Gongju and Buyeo offer a glimpse of a dynasty long non-existent while the annual mud festival is held in Daecheon beach along with plenty of beautiful temples in the area, while the most spectacular one of them is the gigantic golden Buddha at Beopjusa surrounded by impressively high peaks.
Just a short ferry ride from the mainland and you will reach the southern island Jeju that is the most popular honeymoon destination for Koreans. Hand down, Jeju seems like the typical touristic place at first but it has way more to offer than that, starting from its remote and intimate beaches that are not overcrowded with tourists, climbing the volcanic cone of Hallasan, walking through the lava tubes of Manjanggul, the beautiful Yakcheonsa temple, and more.